C “Dick” Wakefield was born on May 6, 1921 in
Chicago, Illinois. One of four sons of
John Wakefield, a
turn-of-the-century American League catcher, Dick graduated from the University of Michigan and was baseball's first bonus
baby signing with the Detroit Tigers in 1941 for $52,000 and an
Immediately joining the
Tigers, the 20-year-old outfielder appeared in seven games – six as
a pinch hitter – before being assigned to Winston-Salem of the
Piedmont League where he batted an even .300 in 55 games.
Wakefield spent 1942 with
of the Texas League where he led the league with a .345 average, 192
hits and 44 doubles. Not surprisingly,
was a Tiger regular tin 1943. He played 155 games and batted .316,
leading the American League with 200 hits and 38 doubles. He was
also the league starting left fielder in the all-star game and went
2-for-4 with a double and an RBI.
On October 15, 1943,
entered military service and attended the Navy’s
at Iowa City.
But because of a decreased need for flyers, only half of the
graduating class was retained for air service and
was discharged in July 1944.
“I’ll probably go back into
the service,” he said upon his return to
Detroit. “I’ve already reported back to my
draft board and I’ve applied for a commission in the Navy. It might
be five or six weeks before I get a call. Meanwhile, I could be
playing with the Tigers – if they want me.”
The Tigers did not intend to
look a gift horse in the mouth.
played 78 games and batted an outstanding .355 with 12 homers and 53
RBIs, as he helped his team to within one game of the American
League pennant. Despite only playing half the season,
was even in the running for league MVP.
rejoined the Navy November 30, 1944. Following induction in Detroit as an apprentice
seaman, he was sent to Great Lakes Naval Training Station for boot
training. In the New Year, he was assigned to
Maryland, where he began training
in the physical instructor's school and playing baseball for the
formidable Bainbridge Commodores ball team alongside Stan Musial. Wakefield summer an injury to his foot during
the early summer months which interfered with his swing, made his
average take a nose-dive, and, almost unbelievably, saw him riding
the bench at times.
In June 1945,
left Bainbridge for Hawaii and was
stationed at Aiea Hospital where he continued to play ball.
He also spent time at Shoemaker Field in California before receiving his discharge in
January 1946. All four Wakefield boys had served in the
military during the war. Bob was with the Marines at Iwo Jima, Jack
was a captain with the Infantry in Texas, and Jim served with the
Dick Wakefield played four
post-war years with the Tigers but failed to match his pre-war
performance. He suffered a broken arm when he crashed into the
grandstand at Fenway Park
while chasing a foul ball in July and his batting average slumped to
.268. His best year after military service was 1947, when he hit
.283 in 112 games. He was traded to the Yankees in 1950 but spent
most of the season with Oakland of the Pacific Coast League and ended his playing
days, aged just 31, with
of the American Association in 1952.
Wakefield returned to the
area following his retirement and worked in a variety of jobs,
including public relations for a food manufacturer and as a probate
Dick Wakefield died of
cancer on August 26, 1985 in
Detroit, Michigan. He was 64.