Infielder Larry Wolfe spent two full seasons in the major leagues, 1978 with the Minnesota Twins and 1979 with the Boston Red Sox, and a partial season for each team, too. He attracted enough interest in high school and college that he had been drafted by both the Dodgers (in 1971) and the Yankees (in 1972) before finally being drafted a third time, in 1973 by the Minnesota Twins. Then began the hard work of trying to make it to the big leagues.
Laurence Marcy Wolfe was born in Melbourne, Florida, on March 2, 1953. “My father was in the Air Force,” Wolfe explained in a June 2020 interview. “Walter A. Wolfe. He got moved around. We ended up in France for a little while. We ended up moving out to California when I was 4 years old. This is where I’ve been ever since. He got stationed out at Mather Air Force Base. He retired as a lieutenant colonel. Most of the time he worked on aircraft.
“My mom was a housewife. Virginia Katherine Wolfe. She was always home. I had an older brother, Dale. He was about 10 years older than I am. I give him a lot of credit because I leaned so much from him, being so far apart in age. I got a chance to watch him play. He helped me a lot as far as growing up and becoming a good baseball player.”1
The family settled in Rancho Cordova, California, in Sacramento County.
Dale Wolfe was an inspiration to his younger brother. “My brother had a serious problem, like cancer in his eye when he was really young, like 4 or 5. He ended up losing his eye — but he still ended up playing high school baseball and basketball. He was really good. It was amazing to watch somebody with one eye — he was the starting shortstop at Folsom High School. He was really good.
“I went to Cordova High School. They’re probably about eight miles apart. I got drafted out of high school.”2
In the June 1971 amateur draft, the Los Angeles Dodgers selected Wolfe #504 in the 21st round as a shortstop/pitcher. The Dodgers had actually talked to him about becoming a catcher, he says. Rather than sign, though, he elected to begin his studies at Sacramento City College.
An element of fandom might have applied as well. “I’ve always been more of a Giants fan, so I never really thought about playing with the Dodgers [laughs]. Plus, I didn’t think the money was right at the time. I ended up going to junior college for two years.”
The New York Yankees selected him in the fourth round of the January 1972 secondary phase draft, those who had previously been drafted but not signed. Once more, Larry chose not to sign. No team took him in the 1972 draft, but — perhaps having indicated his willingness to Minnesota Twins scout Lee Irwin — he was picked in the ninth round of the June 1973 draft and this time he put pen to paper and joined the Twins organization.
He was ready. Why hadn’t he signed with the Yankees? “It wasn’t an organization I felt would be a good fit for me. The Yankees had always been stockpiled with a lot of good players and I just felt like it wasn’t right for me. I didn’t feel ready to play pro ball at the time. It turned out to be the right move for me. I really felt like I wasn’t mature enough to leave yet. Taking the two years of college really benefitted.”
Wolfe was right-handed and stood 5-feet-11 with a listed weight of 170 pounds.
His first assignment was to Low-A ball in the New York-Penn League, playing for the Geneva Twins, mainly at shortstop. He hit for a robust .327 average with 19 RBIs in 29 games. This earned him a promotion to the Class-A Midwest League on July 31, to play for the Wisconsin Rapids Twins. There he got into 26 games, playing third base. He was not as successful at the plate, hitting .207. His OBP for the two teams was .408 and .309 respectively in 1973. Throughout his career, he took a patient approach at the plate — his on-base percentage in both the minors and the major leagues was nearly 100 points higher than his batting average.
On-base percentage wasn’t something players, or teams, focused on as much at the time. Wolfe acknowledged that what he was thinking about most was driving runners in. “I never really thought about that. When I was playing, I always liked hitting when people were on base. I never liked leading off an inning. My concentration always picked up when I had people on base.”
Under manager Johnny Goryl, the Wisconsin Rapids team won the league playoffs in 1973. Wolfe drove in all five runs in the first game of the opening round, a 5-4 win over Danville, and then four more runs in the 10-1 rubber game. Goryl and team finished with by far the best record (80-48) in the league in 1974 and Wolfe was named the league’s all-star third baseman. They failed to make it past the first round of the playoffs, however.
On January 12, 1974, Wolfe married Stephanie Lee Hale. “I went to rookie ball my first year and, being away from home and everybody, was going out to bars after the game. I know that wasn’t going to work well for me, so I thought, ‘We’ve got to get married. It’s not going to work out well for me.’ That was another one of the best moves I ever made.”
In the 1974 season, Wolfe played in 127 games, hitting for a .303 batting average with 14 homers and 77 RBIs. Both of the latter marks proved to be career highs, though he matched the 77 RBIs in 1977 with Charleston and the home runs in Japan in 1982.
Wolfe spent the next two years in Double A, playing for the Orlando Twins in the Southern League. He appeared in 138 games in 1975 and 136 in 1976. The first year he hit .250 (.343 OBP) and the second year .265 (.355). He improved significantly from one year to the next in terms of extra-base hits (10, with four homers, in 1975 to 40, with 11 homers, in 1976). His RBIs went from 42 to 61.
In 1977 he was promoted twice — first to Triple A and then to the major leagues. He started the season “on loan from Minnesota” with the Charleston (West Virginia) Charlies, a Houston Astros affiliate in the International League.3 The reason for the loan was that the Twins wanted him to play in Triple A but they wanted Dan Graham to play third base at their own affiliate in Tacoma.4
How does a player feel when his team lends him out to another team? “I remember that really well. I was having a really great spring training with Minnesota. They had another kid. He was from Arizona and we were both trying to make the team. We both had really good springs. They ended up taking him to Triple A. They wanted me to play Triple A, too, so they optioned me out to the Houston Astros. They asked me, ‘This is our plan. It’s a chance for you to play Triple-A baseball. Would you do it?’ I said, ‘Absolutely.’ It turned out to be the best thing that ever happened to me.
“There was a manager there who was phenomenal. Jim Beauchamp. I had a really good year there. We ended up winning the whole league. It was just a phenomenal year.”
There he drove in 77 runs, thanks to 33 doubles, six triples, and nine home runs. He hit for a .304 average (.389 on-base percentage), and scored a career-high 71 runs.
In 1975 and 1977, Wolfe’s teams made it to the playoffs, falling short in 1975 but sweeping four games from Pawtucket in 1977. His ninth-inning sacrifice fly won Game Two. On September 15, he hit an eighth-inning home run to drive the final nail into the PawSox coffin.
During the season, Beauchamp had wanted to pay him more, but the Twins scotched that idea.
“In Triple A back then, I think the minimum…the least amount of money you could make in Triple A was $900 [per month]. That’s what I was making. All the Astros players were making at least $1,400 or $1,500. The manager told me, ‘Look, I called our organization and I got the okay to give you $600 more, but your organization said no.’
“The Twins were really cheap back then. They were really conservative about money. They didn’t really care. All they were trying to do is save a buck somewhere. Even though the money was coming out of somebody else’s pocket, they didn’t want that. It was not a good organization. But it worked out good for me.”
On September 16, he was officially promoted to the Minnesota Twins. His major-league debut came that very evening, two hours after arriving for the game at Arlington Stadium, the Twins visiting the Texas Rangers.5 Twins manager Gene Mauch started Wolfe at third base, batting fifth in the order. The Twins were in fourth place in the AL West, the Rangers just two games ahead of them in the standings. Though they were 12 games behind the division-leading Kansas City Royals, there were only 2 1/2 games out of second place.
Facing Texas starter Roger Moret, Wolfe stepped in for his first major-league at-bat and popped up foul to the catcher. He lined out to second base in the fifth. In the top of the seventh, with the Rangers holding a 3-2 edge, Wolfe led off and reached on an error by the left fielder. He was forced out at second base, but the Twins batted around and he came up a second time in the inning. Minnesota had scored four runs and taken a 6-3 lead. Batting against reliever Darold Knowles, with two outs and the bases loaded, he singled to center field, driving in two runs. He grounded out, short to first, in the top of the ninth, but he’d gotten his first base hit, his first two runs batted in, and been part of a win in his first game.
The Rangers won the next three games in the four-game set. Wolfe played in both games of the Sunday doubleheader, picking up another couple of hits and another run batted in. Over the last couple of weeks of September, Wolfe appeared in eight games, with six hits and six RBIs. His batting average was .240.
It had been quite a year. Not once in his career had he even been invited to spring training with the major league club. As late as September 15, he hadn’t even been on the major league roster. He’d been unhappy at being shuffled off to Charleston. “I felt the Twins were giving up on me,” he said, “and that was disappointing. I mean, I had been with the Twins for four years. They knew what I could do. I felt going to Charleston I would have to start over and prove myself again. And for what? For a team that didn’t own my contract and had no interest in me?”6
As it turned out, he was pleased to find that Charlies manager Jim Beauchamp was welcoming. “[He] was great and offered me a lot of help. So I felt that it the Twins were giving up on me that I would use this as a chance to start over. That if I did well, I’d impress some other organization.” He did, and the Twins must have still been watching — despite his saying that “during my entire year at Charleston, not one person from Minnesota saw me or called me. I thought…the Twins had forgotten they still owned me, or that I ever existed.”7 But then he got the summons and acquitted himself well in those last couple of weeks.
Wolfe spent the full 1978 season with the Twins. He appeared in 88 games, mostly at third base, platooning with Mike Cubbage. His 11th inning single won the April 15 game over the Mariners. Wolfe’s June 3 game in Detroit stands out. Coming into the game batting .220, he drove in the first run of the game with a single in the second inning. In the fourth, he hit his first major league home run, a solo homer to deep left-center off Bob Sykes. That gave the Twins a 3-2 lead. Then he hit a three-run homer to the same spot off reliever Steve Foucault in the top of the fifth. The Twins won, 9-2, and five of the runs had been driven in by Wolfe.
At the end of the season, Wolfe had driven in 25, batting .234 (with a .332 on-base percentage).
The Boston Red Sox wanted to build up their bench. They were specifically in the market for a reserve infielder as a backup for third baseman Butch Hobson On February 3, 1979, they traded Dave Coleman to the Twins for Wolfe.
Manager Don Zimmer was impressed by Wolfe in spring training. Noting that Gene Mauch had platooned him, Zimmer saw something more in him as early as mid-March: “This spring, he’s swinging a good bat. I never thought there was any doubt he’d make the team.”8
When Hobson pulled a hamstring in June and second baseman Jerry Remy tore up his left knee at home plate, Wolfe got more work in June and July. Second base was a position he had never played before 1979, save for three games back at Geneva in 1973.
On June 13, he had his second two-homer game, both hit off Kansas City’s Larry Gura, the first one leading off the top of the third inning and the second following Dwight Evans’s leadoff home run in the fourth. Both were hit to deep left field at Royals Stadium.
On July 19, he earned himself a minor fine when he failed to comply with a bunt signal and hit a two-run homer instead. “I thought the hit-and-run was on,” he said after the game. “I found out I was wrong when I got back to the dugout and they told me it will cost me $2 in the kangaroo court.”10
In late July, comedian Don Rickles visited the Red Sox clubhouse at Fenway Park, lobbing insults at almost everyone in sight. He had one for Larry Wolfe: “Hey, Wolfe. Get ready. Brohamer just got hit by a bus. No personality, huh? Just keep walking around the clubhouse and maybe somebody will recognize you.”11
The same day the article appeared, Stephanie Wolfe delivered a daughter, Katherine Lee. “I have a daughter who was born in Boston in ’79 and a son who was born in ’84 here in Sacramento,” Wolfe said. The Wolfes have been married more than 46 years.
There was one game he caught — on August 25, for an inning. It was a 1-0 game against Kansas City and Zimmer pinch-hit for Gary Allenson, leaving him without a catcher. Wolfe caught the last inning, with Mike Torrez pitching. George Brett flied out to left field and the next two Royals struck out. Wolfe had caught in high school, so it wasn’t as though he was entirely untested, but had never caught in the minors.
He appeared in 47 games for the Red Sox in 1979, most of them at second base, batting .244 with three homers and 15 runs batted in.
Early in the 1980 season, it was reported that GM Haywood Sullivan was trying to place Wolfe with another big league team; if he couldn’t, Wolfe would be sent to Triple-A Pawtucket.12 He was the last man cut, and was sent to Pawtucket for the first half of the season, called up to Boston after the All-Star break. His first game back with the Red Sox was on July 20.
With the PawSox, he played in 78 games at third base. He hit .227 with 35 RBIs. Both Glenn Hoffman and Buch Hobson were out, and Jerry Remy was facing surgery, when Wolfe was recalled. “I’m glad to be back,” he said, “I had a bit of a rough start when I went down there. And then I got hurt and was just starting to come back. I sprained my ankle about three weeks ago and couldn’t even play. But it’s OK now, as long as it’s wrapped.” He added that he “never faulted the organization for what happened to me. I know they did all they could to make a deal for me, and they couldn’t. I liked Boston. I didn’t want to leave. But I knew there was nothing I could do about it anyway.”13
He was sent back down on August 9, only to be recalled three weeks later. He appeared in 18 games that year for Boston, mostly at third base, only getting three hits in 23 at-bats: a single, a double, and — his last hit in the majors — a solo home run. His average was .130 and he drove in four runs, one of which was the go-ahead run in the July 23 game against the visiting Texas Rangers.
After the season, he was assigned outright to Pawtucket.
Wolfe had two more years of professional baseball. Released by Pawtucket, he started the 1981 season at home in Rancho Cordova, but at the very start of June was signed by the Triple-A (American Association) Indianapolis Indians to replace injured infielder Skeeter Barnes.14 Indianapolis was in the Cincinnati Reds system, and Wolfe was reunited again with manager Jim Beauchamp. “I ended up almost being like a player/coach for him.”
Wolfe hit .264 and drove in 30 runs over the course of 72 games. On December 15, he was traded to Milwaukee Brewers affiliate Vancouver.15
Beauchamp told him of another opportunity that might await him. “He told me, ‘There’s a good chance you could be going to Japan. Would you be interested?’ I said, ‘Yeah, absolutely.’ That’s how that got started.”
Arrangements were put into motion. On December 15, he was traded to Milwaukee Brewers affiliate Vancouver.16 Three days later, he had his contract sold to a Japanese team. Wolfe played 88 games in Osaka for the Kintetsu Buffalos of the Japan Pacific League. Early in the season, he had another of his two-home run games, in a mid-April game against the Lotte Orions.17 Near the end of May, his two-run homer in the ninth inning beat the Nankai Hawks, 7-6.18 He played third base in 53 games and caught in 27. He hit .224 with 14 homers and 45 runs batted in.
Larry’s wife and young daughter had gone to Japan with him. “We loved it there. We had a great time there. People were really friendly. It was really nice.”
It was time for life after baseball. Wolfe got a job in sales with the Oroweat Bread Company. He worked for the company — now known as Bimbo Bakeries — for 28 years, calling on grocery stores in the Sacramento area. “A long time. I actually retired from there.”
Since 1995, Stephanie Wolfe has worked in the field of interior design and has her own business.
Wolfe is understandably proud of their two children. “Katy, my daughter, and her husband Marc Wrinkle have two wonderful children, Charlie and Maddy. Katy is a regional manager in a national staffing agency. My son, Jeffrey Hale Wolfe, has started a marketing company with a group of partners. They do traditional marketing as well as events, festivals and other innovative campaigns.”19
With a lifelong interest in sports, Wolfe also kept busy with coaching. For 10 years he coached high school basketball at Bella Vista High School. “And these last four years I’ve coached high school baseball. Bella Vista High School. That’s where I did most of my coaching. That kept me active. I just finished my last year at Bella Vista.
“I managed a college summer team for one year. That was a lot of fun, too.” He was head coach for the Sacramento Stealth, a wood-bat collegiate baseball team.
“The last two years I’ve been coaching a summer league team. Last year it was freshmen. This year it’ll be sophomores. Really good group. Really good players.”
Asked what he felt, reflecting on his career in professional baseball, he replied, “You look back at pro baseball and I would imagine that almost everybody who was up in the big leagues for a little bit, most of them would say, ‘I never really got a chance. I never really got the opportunity.’ That’s pretty much what I would say, too. Especially in Boston. It was pretty much the same lineup every day. Zimmer would never change the lineup unless somebody was really hurt. He’s always been like that. It was a hard place to play. You’d sit on the bench for a month and a half and all of a sudden you’re asked to play one game and you’re expected to do well. It’s not that easy.”
Working with young players has been rewarding. “It’s something I really enjoy doing,” he says. But being a former major leaguer doesn’t necessarily come up that frequently. Asked about that, Wolfe allows, “I don’t talk about it very often. It was a dream.”
Thanks to the Boston Red Sox and SABR’s Rod Nelson. This biography was reviewed by Warren Corbett and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Evan Katz.
In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author also consulted Baseball-Reference.com and Retrosheeet.org.
1 Author interview with Larry Wolfe on June 1, 2020. Unless otherwise indicated, all direct quotations which are otherwise not attributed come from this interview.
2 Dale Wolfe became a manager at Lucky Supermarkets, which was purchased by Albertson’s and where he worked for around 30 years.
3 “International League,” The Sporting News, May 7, 1977: 33.
4 Bob Fowler, “Twins Likely to Lose All Six Unsigned Players,” The Sporting News, October 8, 1977: 13.
5 Fowler. “Twins Likely to Lose All Six Unsigned Players.”
6 Bob Fowler, “Larry Wolfe No Longer the Twins’ Forgotten Man,” The Sporting News, April 1, 1978: 34.
7 Fowler, “Larry Wolfe No Longer the Twins’ Forgotten Man.”
8 Bill Liston, “Owners Need More Fans At Gate,” Boston Herald, March 18, 1979: 42.
9 Larry Whiteside, “It’s That Time Again: Opening Day,” Boston Globe, April 5, 1979: 45.
10 “Wolfe Makes Amends,” The Sporting News, August 4, 1979: 36. The fine may actually have been $1.00. See Joe Giuliotti, “Wolfe’s ’Mistake’ HR Keys Sox Victory,” Boston Herald, July 20, 1979: 24.
11 Associated Press, “Rickles ‘Judges’ Beantown Boys,” Trenton Evening Times, July 24, 1979: 40.
12 Peter Gammons, “Wolfe Odd Man Out; Deal Still Possible,” Boston Globe, April 9, 1980: 29.
13 Larry Whiteside, “Wolfe Gets the Call,” Boston Globe, July 19, 1980: 22.
14 UPI, “Wolfe Signed,” Newark Star-Ledger, June 3, 1981: 75, and Tom Shea, “Digging the Minors,” Springfield Union (Springfield, Massachusetts), June 28, 1981: 33.
15 Joe Giuliotti, “Guidry Settles For A Measly $4.6 Million,” Boston Herald, December 16, 1981: 75.
16 Joe Giuliotti, “Guidry Settles For A Measly $4.6 Million.”
17 “Baseball: Americans Star in Japan,” Plain Dealer (Cleveland), April 12, 1982: 35.
18 Associated Press, “Kintetsu Wins on Wolfe’s Homer,” Dallas Morning News, May 27, 1982: 14B.
19 Larry Wolfe, email to author, June 2, 2020.