SABR

Wally Shaner

This article was written by Bill Nowlin.

Wally Shaner was an outfielder and occasional first baseman who played a decade of organized ball, including stints with the Indians, Red Sox, and Reds in the 1920s. He appeared in 207 games, batting for a .278 average and drove in 72 runs. He later moved on to a career as a moving picture operator at a theater in Elizabeth, New Jersey, and wound up in Vegas.

Shaner is listed in most baseball databases as Walter Dedaker Shaner, and as such on both the player questionnaire he completed for the Hall of Fame and on his death certificate. There is ample indication, however, that his given name was Dedaker Walter Shaner.

He was born on May 24, 1900, in Lynchburg, Virginia, the son of Mary Ann (Dedaker) Shaner and Walter Phillip Shaner, an agent for the Chattanooga Brewing Co. Within a few years, father Walter was working as a butcher and by 1913 he’d become manager of a local meat market. Working with meats was a profession he practiced for many years, at least through the time of the 1920 census. Both the censuses of 1910 and 1920 show two Shaner children – Margaret and her three-year-younger brother Dedaker. At the time of his registration on September 1918 for the World War I draft, he supplied his name as Dedaker Walter Shaner. He was a student at Virginia Polytechnic Institute in Blacksburg at the time. He reported that he served in the infantry that year, though he’d only registered on September 12, 1918 and Armistice Day came on November 11.

Young Shaner had attended the Monroe Street School in Lynchburg for six years of elementary education, followed by four years at Lynchburg High and three at Virginia Polytechnic Institute. Shaner played fullback for the school’s team. He described himself as of Dutch-Irish descent. He was a stocky 6’1” or 6’2” and 190-195 pounds, and at one point picked up the nickname “Skinny” – a reference to a contemporary cartoon character. (He also bore the nickname “Nig” for a while, but for the most part was just “Wally.”) A Richmond newspaper said he weighed 200 and assigned him “Big Boy” as a nickname.1 Most newspaper stories throughout his ealier playing days referred to him as Dedaker Shaner; it was only when he reached Boston in 1926 that “Walter” began being used. He was right-handed.

Wally’s professional baseball career commenced in 1920, he reported, in the Piedmont League. He’d played for Washington, an independent league team in eastern North Carolina. It was from there he was signed to Danville. He not only played several positions but “has often pitched highly creditable amateur games.”2 He did pitch in at least one game for Danville, one of four pitchers in a 17-7 Labor Day loss in 1922.

SABR’s records first find him playing in 42 games for the Danville Tobacconists, in the Class C Piedmont League, in 1922. He hit for a .344 average with three home runs. On September 6, the Richmond paper reported his contract had been sold to the Detroit Tigers for a trial in the spring.

The Danville team sold his contract to New Orleans in the spring of 1923, from where he was turned over to Cleveland in an April 12 sale.3 He just played in one early game for the Indians – his major-league debut on May 4. The St. Louis Browns were visiting Dunn Field. Larry Gardner pinch-hit (unsuccessfully) for third baseman Rube Lutzke and Shaner came in to play third in the ninth inning. He never got a time at bat, until he returned in September.

For most of the season, Shaner played for a pair of Class A teams - Chattanooga (Southern Association) and for the Springfield Ponies in Massachusetts (Eastern League.) He joined Chattanooga in the latter part of June and played 17 games. He was turned back by Chattanooga and was loaned to Springfield at the very end of July. He hit .231 for the Lookouts and played in 34 games, hitting .310, for the Ponies. He made a mark in the August 8 game against Bridgeport homering to tie the game in the eighth and homering again to win it in the tenth.4 He hit nine homers in his 34 games. There was a dispute over her services, Detroit claiming an oral contract bound him, and he returned to Lynchburg while the case was considered; Ban Johnson awarded his contract to Cleveland.5

He got into two late September games for Cleveland - in Detroit - for manager Tris Speaker. Shaner collected his first big-league base hit in a 1-for-3 game on September 28, coming into the game as left fielder after Ty Cobb’s Tigers racked up a 12-1 lead through the first two innings. His first plate appearance was in the third inning and he drew a walk and scored. In the fifth inning, he led off and singled. In the seventh, he hit into a double play and in the ninth he was the last batter retired on a fly out. On the 29th, he appeared again, pinch-hitting and striking out.

Shaner spent the next two years in the minor leagues, beginning the 1924 season with the Decatur Commodores of the Three-I League but on May 5, he joined Terre Haute, in the same league. He played very well indeed, batting .322 over the full season, playing in 119 games with ten home runs. He led the league in triples and was second in outfield assists.

In 1925, he played for Lincoln in the Western League, working 162 games with a .358 average and hitting 14 homers. Despite being a large man, he had some speed and at one point stole seven bases over the course of seven games, one per game.6

On September 14, Bob Quinn and the Boston Red Sox purchased the contract of “D.W. Shaner” for 1926.7 The news stories of the day said he’d been the property of the Kansas City club but loaned to Lincoln for the season.

The Red Sox trained in New Orleans in 1926 but Shaner’s first game did not come until June 8, after which he spent the rest of the season with the team. He’d broken his leg sliding into third base at Heinemann Park during a Regulars vs. Yannigans game on March 16.8 Manager Lee Fohl had been grooming him as an understudy for first baseman Phil Todt. Shaner already had two hits in the game at the time of his injury. He reported back to the team on May 10. He played either in left field or as a pinch-hitter. His first base hit for Boston and his first run batted in both came in the second game of the June 25 doubleheader against the visiting Yankees.

There was an incident in August when he was suspended for breaking training rules – typically a euphemism for excess inebriation.9 By season’s end he had 212 plate appearances in 69 games and hit for a good .283 average (the team average for the last-place Red Sox was .255), with 21 RBIs. He had a .348 on-base percentage. His most productive day was likely August 15 where he doubled just out of the reach of Babe Ruth in the right and drove in two of the four Red Sox runs in the sixth inning, helping beat the Yankees, 5-3. Boston finished 44 ½ games out of first place.

In 1927, Shaner played the full year with the Red Sox, mostly in the outfield and sometimes pinch-hitting. He appeared in 122 games, with an OBP of .311 and an average of .273. He drove in 49 runs, fourth on the team – even though he didn’t drive one in until his 24th game of the season. He hit three homers, one of them an inside-the-park home run on June 30 that boosted the Red Sox from a 5-4 deficit to a 6-5 lead (alas, the Yankees then scored eight more runs and won the game.) His homer on August 27 spared the Red Sox a shutout in a 9-1 defeat at Chicago.

In the second game against the Senators on September 26, he committed an error. This was only remarkable in that it was one of ten errors committed by the Red Sox in just the one game. Washington won, 11-1. The team itself performed poorly in the standings, finishing last again – this year under Bill Carrigan - and wound up 59 games behind the first-place 110-44 Yankees.

On December 7 he was traded to Mobile as part of a seven-player deal. There was some suggestion that his penchant for the ukulele didn’t sit so well with Carrigan. The Tampa Tribune wrote, “He even acquired the habit of taking the ‘uke’ to the Red Sox bench, where Bill Moore, a catcher with a sweet voice, teamed with him. They entertained fans and players alike, but not Bill Carrigan. Their melodies struck a sour note with Bill, and Carrigan – able to stand it no more – has released both to Mobile.”10

He split the 1928 season between Mobile and Chattanooga. On June 10, even though he was hitting .298 for Mobile, he was traded to the Lookouts. He was, it was written, “committing too many errors.”11 He picked up his hitting, anyhow, and played in 156 games, hitting .328 with an even dozen home runs. One of the homers beat Mobile in the ninth inning, a walkoff on July 13. On July 15, he hit another homer, beating Mobile, 1-0. In October, he was taken by the Cincinnati Reds in the Rule 5 draft. Cincinnati’s Pants Rowland held a different opinion of Shaner than had the Red Sox’ Bob Quinn. The Sporting News reported that Quinn felt Shaner “lacked pep” and that “he didn’t think the boy has the ambition to become a big leaguer” whereas Rowland “watched Shaner play quite a bit this year and says he has all the pep and hustle that could be asked for.”12

He played first base more than any other position, but only appeared in 13 games for the Reds, through June 14. He hit for a .321 average, including a pinch-hit homer on May 6 (his last in the major leagues.) He drove in four runs. On July 5, he was released back to Chattanooga once again. In 74 Southern Association games, for the Lookouts and then for Nashville, Shaner hit .298.

In 1930, he was released to Columbus and then dealt to Peoria, then released by Peoria on July 31. He signed on with Little Rock. In 63 games, for the three teams combined, he hit .321. It is difficult to know why he kept moving; presumably it wasn’t his ukulele. He stuck with Little Rock for the full year 1931, batting .314.

In the middle of the year, in July 1931, Miss Ada Mae Thomas became his wife. She was a Texas native who went by the name Mae. The couple appears to have had no children.

Shaner’s last year in organized ball was 1932. He was released by Little Rock around the end of spring training and signed on with the New Haven Bulldogs, but was released in mid-May and then played for four other teams – Scranton, Elmira, and Harrisburg in the New York-Penn League, and with St. Joseph in the Western League. Over the course of all this, he hit .298.

In 1933, Shaner played for Spencer Coals of Chicago in the Wisconsin-Illinois League. He was on a Chicago White Sox contract in 1934, but was placed with the Omaha Packers.

Here we largely lose track of Shaner, though we do know that at the time of the 1940 census he was working as a moving picture operator at a motion picture theatre in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

There was life after operating motion pictures in 1940. By 1968, when he responded to the Hall of Fame in completing a questionnaire, he was working at the Stardust Hotel in Las Vegas as the company manager of the Lido Show. He remarried in November 1955 to Wanda Marchese. Shaner’s 1992 death certificate – he was 92 at the time – shows him as a carpenter working in construction, but whether or not that was an active profession we do not known.

Shaner “entered into rest” in Las Vegas on November 13, 1992 of pneumonia incurred after suffering a massive stroke shortly beforehand. He was survived by his wife Wanda and was buried in Paradise Memorial Gardens, in Las Vegas.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources noted in this biography, the author also accessed Shaner’s player file and player questionnaire from the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the Baseball Necrology, the Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball, Retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.

 

Notes

1 Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 25, 1920.

2 Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 7, 1922.

3 Cleveland Plain Dealer, April 13, 1923.

4 Springfield Republican, August 9, 1923.

5 Richmond Times-Dispatch, September 22, 1923.

6 Omaha World Herald, August 22, 1925.

7 Boston Herald, September 15, 1925.

8 New Orleans Times-Picayune, March 17, 1926, and Boston Herald, March 17, 1926.

9 The Sporting News, August 19, 1926.

10 Tampa Tribune, December 22, 1927. See also the Washington Post, April 3, 1928.

11 New Orleans Times-Picayune, June 11, 1928.

12 The Sporting News, October 11, 1928.

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