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A First-Class Player On Third:

BILL WERBER

         

After moving from eighth to fourth place in 1938, the Cincinnati Reds were favored to keep going and win the National League pennant in 1939. But there was a chink in the armor. The team needed a third baseman.

 

Lew Riggs had been the regular since 1935, but he was only an average fielder and a .250 hitter. Manager Bill McKechnie desperately needed to replace him.

 

Meanwhile, the Philadelphia Athletics were having problems with their crackerjack third baseman, Bill Werber. He was rebelling against a $2,000 salary cut and had not reported to spring training. Werber was determined to stay home until he got the salary he wanted.

 

Philadelphia owner and manager Connie Mack began shopping Werber around to American League clubs but found no one wanting a third baseman who had batted only .259 the year before. Finally Mack asked waivers on Werber to see if any National League teams had an interest. When the Reds were informed, McKechnie and general manager Warren Giles immediately went after Werber. They believed he would be the answer to their problems and they were right.

 

Bill Werber, a product of Duke University, had gained a reputation in the American League as a somewhat haughty individual, a trouble-maker, a big-headed pop-off who had trouble getting along with his teammates.

 

But Werber made a different kind of impression when he was sold to the Reds and reported to the team in Tampa for the end of spring training.

 

"We expected to see a cross between a dyspeptic wildcat and corner-lot bully," sportswriter Whitney Martin wrote after the Reds won back-to-back pennants In 1939 and 1940. "It was a little discomforting to see a dapper, alert young fellow come bouncing up and respond to a greeting with a friendly grin and an I-mean-it handshake. The little guy just oozed personality, and you know that no matter what he might be like on a ball field he'd be right at home in a top-hat-and-tails gathering."

 

Werber spent three years in Cincinnati, batting .289 and .277 In the pennant-winning seasons. He led the National League in runs scored in 1939 with 115, one of the highest single-season performances in Cincinnati history. He was a magnificent fielder and played with intense enthusiasm.

 

"He was the key man of the Cincinnati infield this year (1940)," Martin wrote, adding, " ... the spark which always was there when a blaze was needed. His work in the World Series was sensational, and he at least deserves a place on the honor roll of most valuable players."

 

The Reds traded Werber to the New York Giants after the 1941 season and he played there for one year before retiring. He returned to his home in suburban Washington, D.C., and began a successful career as an insurance executive.

    In 1972 Werber retired again and went to Naples, Florida, where he began writing a book entitled Circling The Bases.

"So many books recently have downgraded baseball. I simply thought I would write about the decent people in baseball," Werber said.

 

Even though he might have been a bit arrogant at one time, Werber was one of those decent people and will be remembered in Cincinnati not only as a standout third baseman but as a first-class person as well.

         
       

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