This article was written by John Fuqua
In the sandy soil of Carteret County, North Carolina, young boys were schooled in a tough brand of baseball. They emulated their fathers, uncles, and community leaders who held regular jobs during the week in the whaling and fishing community of Morehead City and played baseball in leagues on the weekend. The spirited local nine was tough, smart, scrappy, and hard-working, and on occasion settled slights and disagreements with their fists. These men played the game because they loved it. Baseball was not their occupation. It was their avocation. They shared this love with their sons.
Jacob Fields Wade Jr. was born on April 1, 1912, in Morehead City, North Carolina. His father, Jacob Sr., was a whaler and shipbuilder in this Southern coastal community. He married Love Styron and together they raised a family of 11 children. The four boys were Rupert, Charles Winfield “Wink,” Jake, and the youngest brother, Ben. The daughters were Carita, Maidie, Eudora, Duella, Eleanor, Hazel, and Josephine.
Jake Wade attended the Charles S. Wallace School in Morehead City from 1918 to 1929. He played high school baseball for Wallace, where he started as a first baseman because of his 6-foot-plus height, but the coach quickly moved him to the pitching staff where he developed into a dominant pitcher. His competitors hated to bat against him, and often spoke of his wicked curve and sinker, and how he would enhance his pitches with a special foreign substance often used by pitchers of his day.
Baseball was to become a family business for all three Wade boys. Older brother Winfield was the first to graduate from Wallace School. Wink, also known locally as “Croaker,” was an excellent player and went to North Carolina State College to play baseball. Jake followed his brother to State College, which he attended from 1929 to 1931. Again, Jake started out at first base, but quickly became a pitcher based on the strength of his arm and his ability to get movement on his pitches.
After college, Wink played outfield in the minor leagues and spent eight seasons with eight different ballclubs; his final assignment was player-manager with the Richmond Colts in 1934. During 1930, he played in the Texas League with the Beaumont Exporters (he later worked in Beaumont as an engineer). It was there that he met Tigers scout Jack Zeller. Wink told Zeller of his little brother’s high hard fastball and sweeping curveball. It did not hurt that the strapping 6-foot-2 Jake was a left-handed hurler at North Carolina State. Zeller signed Jake Wade and placed him with Raleigh in the Class C Piedmont League. Later, Jake assisted younger brother Ben in making the move from Wallace School baseball to becoming a right-handed pitcher in professional ball. Ben pitched in the National League during the 1940s and 50s for Chicago, Brooklyn (he was 11-9 with the 1952 pennant winners), St. Louis, and Pittsburgh. Ben worked as a scout for the Dodgers organization after 19 seasons in baseball.
In his pro debut, in 1931, Jake pitched in nine games for Raleigh, with a 1-0 record. In 27 innings he allowed 30 hits, struck out 23 batters, gave up 20 walks, and had a 4.67 ERA. During the season he moved up to Evansville of the Class B Three-I League, where he compiled a 4-3 record with a 3.43 ERA in 18 games, pitching 97 innings, allowing 97 hits, striking out 57 batters, and walking 60.
Before the start of the 1932 season, Evansville released Wade to Decatur of the Three-I League; in turn, Decatur released him to Moline (Illinois) of the Class D Mississippi Valley League. He pitched in 33 games for the sixth-place Plow Boys, with a 10-18 record, pitching in 221 innings, allowing 212 hits, striking out 200, walking 135, and finishing the year with a 3.87 ERA. His year included a one-hit, 2-0 shutout of Davenport on June 27. He was named a second-team league all-star. At the end of the season, Jake was promoted to Beaumont of the Class A Texas League.
As the Texas League season began, Wade pitched ineffectively. He won 1 and lost 5, giving up 58 hits and 40 walks in 52 innings, with a 6.23 ERA. In May he was released to Shreveport of the Class C Dixie League where his pitching improved at the lower level. In 30 games, he was 9-9 in 182 innings, allowing 206 hits, 107 strikeouts, and 84 walks. Jake finished with a 5.09 ERA, but pitched two shutouts.
The next year, 1934, was pivotal for Wade. He returned to Beaumont, and had his best year yet: 14-11, with an impressive ERA of 2.70. The next year, the Tigers invited him to spring training at Lakeland, Florida. An Associated Press story datelined March 6 says that manager Mickey Cochrane watched Wade “burn up the plate with a fastball this afternoon, but the rookie failed to satisfy.” Though it had been thought he’d likely be returned to Beaumont, before camp broke, the big league club sent him on option to Portland of the Pacific Coast League. He pitched in 40 games during the Beavers’ 173-game season, won 17 games and lost 15, struck out 153, with a 3.98 ERA in an impressive 263 innings. His best game was a June 15 one-hitter against the Hollywood Sheiks. He still allowed a large number of baserunners (235 hits, 166 walks, 8 hit batsmen). Dick Dobbins spins a delightful tale in his book Nuggets on the Diamond:
During the 1935 season, the Mission Reds were playing a series in Portland’s Vaughn Street Park. It was “Jake Wade Day,” with Wade pitching the first game of a Sunday doubleheader. Reds center fielder Lou Almada was having a field day against Wade. Anything Wade tossed up to the plate, Almada hit out of reach of the Beavers’ defenders. The two began jawing at each other. Wade became angrier with each Almada success, and by the end of the game, he was angry and embarrassed. Between games, both teams retired to their respective clubhouses. After a few minutes, there was a knock on the Reds’ clubhouse door. Outside stood John “Moose” Clabaugh, the burly Portland outfielder. Clabaugh was there as Wade’s second for a showdown with Almada. Manager Gabby Street told both players to take off their cleats and go out to settle their differences. Almada made quick work of Wade as Clabaugh passively stood by. Beavers pitcher Sailor Bill Posedel later told the Missions’ George McDermott that Clabaugh had urged Wade to challenge Almada. Clabaugh didn’t care at all for Wade and was confident Almada could beat him. Ah, teammates.
Wade’s nickname was Whistling Jake, which did not reflect his fastball but rather his fondness for imitating songbirds. A Detroit sportswriter once said of Jake, “He whistles like a mockingbird and he pitches like a kangaroo.” The sportswriter was referring to Wade’s lack of control. He fought his control his entire major-league career (440 walks in 668 innings).
In 1936 Wade again made the trip to Lakeland with the major-league ballclub. This time he broke camp on the Tigers’ roster. He made his major league debut on April 22, 1936. He lasted just one inning pitching in relief in a 12-4 loss at the hands of the St. Louis Browns, giving up three runs on five hits, and was soon sent down to Montreal of the International League. There he compiled a record of 6-8 with a 4.88 ERA in 24 appearances. In late July, he was recalled by the Tigers because of injuries to the Detroit pitching staff. By year’s end, Jake had pitched in 13 games for the Tigers amassing a 4-5 recording including four complete games and an August 6 shutout of the Indians among his 11 starts. Indicative of the difficulties he had with his control was the September 2 start against the Senators. He got the tight 3-2 win, allowing only three hits through eight innings, but walked seven batters. When he walked the first man he faced in the ninth, Vic Sorrell was called on in relief. Wade had a lackluster 5.29 ERA for his 78 1/3 innings, gave up 93 hits, struck out 30, and walked 52.
In March 1937, Wade married the former Rosalie Watson. That year proved to be his best season in the major leagues; the whistling left-hander posted a 7-10 record for manager Mickey Cochrane in 33 appearances, including 25 starts, seven complete games, and one shutout; but his ERA was still a disappointing 5.39 ERA. Two of the wins were four-hitters thrown against the league-leading New York Yankees on June 7 and 26. And one of the losses was a heart-breaker. He dueled Wes Ferrell of the Senators in a 1-1 June 16 game through 11 ½ innings, only to lose it in the bottom of the 12th on a bases-loaded wild pitch.
Wade hurled his best game on the last day of the season, October 3, at home. Undefeated Cleveland Indians pitcher Johnny Allen was going for his 16th consecutive victory. A win would tie Allen with Smoky Joe Wood, Walter Johnson, Lefty Grove, and Schoolboy Rowe for the most consecutive wins in one American League season. Wade matched Allen pitch for pitch, and carried a 1-0 lead deep into the game. H.G. Salsinger, sports editor of the Detroit News, wrote, “It was about time for Wade to crack. He had a well-earned reputation as a crumbling pitcher. He got nervous and excited and tightened up in the tough going and the going on this afternoon was tough, if it ever was.”
The Detroit press corps had been tough on Jake, who despite his major-league arm battled control problems throughout his career. But in this game, Wade had given up only one hit and no runs. The Tigers scored a run in the first inning and Wade held Cleveland at bay throughout the game. In top of the ninth, still nursing the 1-0 lead, Wade gave up his fourth walk of the game, to Lyn Lary. John Kroner sacrificed Lary to second base. Earl Averill hit a fly ball, leaving Wade with just one out standing between him and a win.
Hal Trosky, the only Indian to get a hit, was the next batter. Wade bore down and fanned Trosky for the victory that cost Johnny Allen his chance to tie the record. Jake later told reporters, “That’s the way I should have been pitching in April. I do everything backwards.”
But in 1938, the Tigers lost faith in Jake and his control issues. He pitched in 27 games with just two starts, winning three games and losing two. His ERA climbed to 6.56. In 70 innings he allowed 73 hits, walked 48 batters, and struck out only 23. On December 15, he was traded to the Boston Red Sox with Elden Auker and Chet Morgan for Pinky Higgins and Archie McKain. The New York Times noted that the principals in the trade were Higgins and Auker, but – recalling Wade’s game against Allen – added, “Wade may well become an important member of Joe Cronin’s pitching staff.” He was dubbed “a rangy young fellow with a lot of speed but erratic in control.”
Wade and Woody Rich were the two pitchers uncertain to make the team, but both saw action in 1939. They had high hopes for both, but neither really panned out. With the Red Sox, Wade pitched in 20 games including six starts, and had a 1-4 record with a 6.23 ERA, reflecting the 105 runners he put on base in just 47 2/3 innings and including the two runners he forced in with bases-loaded walks in the July 29 game. The Sox had tried to send him down to Louisville in early May to get some more seasoning, but couldn’t get him through waivers and so kept him on the ballclub. On September 6, the Red Sox sold him to the St. Louis Browns, on waivers, for whom he had an 0-2 record in four appearances, including two starts. Pitching in 16 1/3 innings for the Browns, he gave up 26 hits and walked 19. His earned-run average soared to 11.02.
The Browns sent the 28-year-old Wade to the minors in 1940 to work on his control and try to rehabilitate his career. With the Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association, he was 2-2 with a 7.15 ERA. On December 5, the Browns sold Wade to the Cincinnati Reds.
Jake started the 1941 season pitching for Reds’ Indianapolis Indians affiliate in the American Association. He recorded a 0-1 mark with a 9.00 ERA but before too long went home to North Carolina to rehabilitate his sore arm. He signed with the New Bern Bears in the Class D Coastal Plain League as a player-manager and went 12-9 with a 2.44 ERA.
In 1942, Jake got back to the major leagues, purchased by the White Sox on June 3 to help bolster their pitching staff after losing Thornton Lee to an injury and Johnny Rigney to the Navy. The Chicago Tribune noted, oddly, “In 1939 Jake lost his stuff and says he doesn’t know why – no pain, or anything….Jake claims he now is very deceptive and it was on this assurance the Sox signed him.” Wade pitched 85 2/3 innings in 15 games, starting 10 games and compiling a respectable 5-5 record with three complete games and a 4.10 ERA for the sixth-place White Sox. Jake struck out 32 batters, but allowed 84 hits and walked 56. Talk about long relief – on July 1, after White Sox starter Orval Grove had allowed seven runs to score in the first inning without recording an out, Wade was brought on in relief and pitched the rest of the game, securing 27 outs while allowing just three hits. The game, though, was a lost cause, 7-2. On the 12th of the month, he threw a complete game three-hitter against Philadelphia and was 3-for-5 at the plate, all singles. Wade batted .167 lifetime, with but seven runs batted in.
During the war year of 1943 with the White Sox, Wade pitched in 21 games, with nine starts, three complete games, and one shutout. He was 3-7 with a much-improved 3.01 ERA.
The White Sox continued to use Jake as a spot starter the following year, 1944; as always, he was occasionally brilliant in relief – pitching four hitless innings against the Senators on July 25, and seven innings of three-hit shutout ball against the Indians on August 4, but was 2-4 at season’s end, with a 4.82 ERA. On December 15, 1944, he was traded by the White Sox to the New York Yankees for Johnny Johnson. In February of 1945, Wade, almost 33 years old, joined the Navy. He pitched for the Bainbridge Commodores before being detached and assigned to the Dahlgren Naval Proving Ground. In Fredericksburg, he threw a no-hitter on July 18, striking out 18 while blanking the Indian Head team. He was discharged in January, 1946, and reported to spring training with New York.
Wade pitched in 13 games for the 1946 Yankees with one start, a 2-1 record and a 2.29 ERA. He was placed on waivers in midseason and was claimed by the Washington Senators. He made six appearances for his sixth major-league ballclub, the Senators, throwing just 11 1/3 innings with no decisions and a 4.76 ERA. Jake appeared in his final major-league game on September 12, pitching in relief in a 9-6 Senators’ victory over the Browns. The Senators sold him to the International League’s Jersey Giants on December 16. In announcing the sale, Washington commented, “Wade looked good against us while he was with the Yankees, but didn’t do so well after we bought him.”
In 1947, Wade helped Jersey City in impressive fashion, compiling a record of 17-5 with a fine 2.52 ERA. The Giants ball club, managed by Bruno Betzel, won the International League pennant but was blanked by Buffalo, four games to none, in a playoff semifinal series. For the season, Jake pitched 197 innings in 32 games, 26 of them starts, with 18 complete games and four shutouts. Still battling control problems, he walked 108 batters. Jake and his brothers were honored by their local community, Morehead City, on August 14. The park behind the Charles Wallace School was named Wade Brothers Memorial Park.
In December, Wade was one of three players sent by the Giants, along with $65,000, to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League in exchange for first baseman Jack Harshman.
With San Diego, Jake was 0-4 with a 7.09 ERA, and was dealt to the Buffalo Bisons in midseason. With Buffalo, he was 8-11 with a 5.10 ERA. In 1949, he was 3-4 with a 6.70 ERA for the Bisons.
The 1950 season was Wade’s last in professional baseball as he returned to record a 7-6 mark for Buffalo. One of his wins for the Bisons was a 2-0 no-hitter thrown against the Syracuse Chiefs on August 6. He ended the season with a 4.96 ERA, then retired. He was 38 and had spent almost two decades playing in the pros, with all or part of eight seasons in the majors. He completed his major-league career with a record of 27-40. He made 71 starts, had 20 complete games, and pitched three shutouts. He pitched in 668 1/3 innings in 171 games. His major-league ERA was 5.00. Always fighting his control, Jake gave up 440 walks and 690 hits and had a career WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) of 1.69. He struck out 291.
After returning to North Carolina with his family, he worked as an electronics repairs technician at the Cherry Point Marine Corps Air Station in Havelock, North Carolina. He retired in 1976. During 1999, he returned to Detroit for the last game in Tiger Stadium, where he was on the field with other former Tigers greats in old-style uniforms. In 2005, Rosalie Watson Wade, Jake’s wife of 68 years, died.
Jacob Fields Wade Jr. died on February 1, 2006, at the age of 93 at his residence in the Newport Community of Wildwood, North Carolina. He had suffered a stroke about four years before. When he died, he was the oldest living former player for the White Sox. He was a member of Wildwood Presbyterian Church. Wade was interred at the Historic Bayview Cemetery. He was survived by two sons, Jacob Fields Wade III and William Albert Wade; two daughters, Rebecca Wade Davis and Sara Wade Wallace; eight grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren. He was preceded in death by a daughter, Jo Ann Wade Eaves.
SABR MiLB Database
The Sporting News
Interview with baseball historian Joe (Boy) Willis, Carteret County, North Carolina, June 2008
Dobbins, Dick. Nuggets on the Diamond (Judith Dobbins, publisher, 1994)
Thanks to Bill Francis at the National Baseball Hall of Fame.