This article was written by Bill Nowlin
Ted Wingfield’s start in professional baseball had to wait until he finished fighting in Europe. When the United States entered the First World War, he was 17 years old but was able to convince the recruiting officers that he was old enough to fight. He spent 14 months in Europe serving with the 112th Machine Gun Company of the US Army’s 29th Division. He was in several battles, including the Argonne Forest offensive, where he received “more than his share of mustard gas” and spent two months in the hospital as a result. He was discharged as a corporal and returned home.
He was born Frederick David Wingfield in Bedford, Virginia, to a mother named Elizabeth and a father named Walter, a farmer, on August 7, 1899. Wingfield played some ball in school and some semipro ball in Elizabethton, Tennessee, where the family had moved in his youth. His first pro ball was with the Chattanooga Lookouts from 1921 through 1924, where he played shortstop and pitched. That was Class A ball in the Southern Association. The Lookouts finished in last place in ’21 and in sixth place in ’22. Wingfield hit .225 his first year, .243 his second, .265 in 1923, and .272 in 1924.
Wingfield had a peculiar progress through baseball. Boston sportswriter John Drohan wrote that former big league catcher George Gould recommended Wingfield to the Lookouts’ manager, Sammy Strang. Strang, born Samuel Nicklin had left baseball after 10 seasons to pursue becoming a singer, traveling to Europe where he studied under the masters for a few years. Back in baseball, managing in Chattanooga, he was about to release Wingfield when he heard young Fred singing on the bench and joined in. “The manager took such an interest in him he became a regular member of the team,” wrote Drohan. Wingfield wasn’t that solid an infielder, and when the team needed some pitching, he volunteered and proved he could hack it. [Unattributed clipping in Wingfield’s player file at the Hall of Fame] Catcher Jack Ryan, though, felt that as a pitcher, Wingfield was such a good fielder with the Boston Red Sox that “When he was pitching, we always said we had five infielders at work.” [Hartford Courant, August 14, 1929]
Wingfield pitched some each of his first two years at Chattanooga, going 2-2 in 1921 and 6-8 the next year (with a fairly good 2.83 ERA). At one point, one of his pitches almost incited a riot when on April 17 he hit the Little Rock first baseman with a pitch and the batter charged the mound. The players flocked around and fans even began to crowd the field (it was a home game for the ’Noogans), eventually requiring a “large squad” of police to restore order. [New York Times, April 18, 1922] Wingfield was fined and suspended, but both punishments were later lifted by the league president who determined that Wingfield’s actions after being approached on the mound were in self-defense. Wingfield got in another fight, in Birmingham on June 10, and was fined $3 in police court.
In 1923, he was 8-16 (3.91) and then 11-6 his last year (4.60). His batting average was getting better each year, but his earned-run average was getting worse.
But by the end of 1923, the “strapping youngster” [Washington Post, September 14, 1923] had a chance to join the Washington Senators and get a taste of the big league. It wasn’t much of a taste – one inning of work on September 23. He faced three Cleveland batters in the top of the sixth and final inning of a six-inning 6-0 second-game loss to the Indians (in relief of Walter Johnson) and got them all out, one with a strikeout.
In 1924, Wingfield was seen to offer some promise, “a better pitcher than his record shows. He worked for a club last year that threw away many a ball game for him. He shows promise.” [Washington Post, April 1, 1924] He opened the season with the Senators and appeared in four games between April 22 and May 5, not letting in a run the first three times but touched for two in his last appearance. Without a win or a loss after seven innings of work, he was sent to Chattanooga on May 12 to get more seasoning, and won 11 games to his six defeats.
On August 30, 1924, Wingfield was sold to the Boston Red Sox, and he appeared in four games for them, too, between September 13 and 23, starting the last three of them. His ERA was 2.45 (in 25 2/3 innings), slightly better than the 2.57 with Washington, but with Boston he was 0-2. The Senators won the World Series that year in arguably the most exciting Series of all time; the Red Sox – as they did almost every year in the 1920s – finished near the bottom (this was one of their better years; they escaped being in last place by a half-game).
Wingfield played three more seasons for the Red Sox, 1925-1927, and they finished dead last each year. They weren’t even close: 49½ games behind the pennant-winning Senators in 1925, 44½, behind the Yankees in ’26, and 59 games behind the Murders’ Row Yankees in 1927
Wingfield, a 5-foot-11 right-hander weighing in at 168 pounds, won 12 games in 1925, three more than anyone else on the staff. He lost 19. In addition to his 27 starts, he relieved in 14 other games. The team ERA was 4.97, so his 3.96 was pretty good by comparison. He pitched 254 1/3 innings, a real workhorse, and had two shutouts to his credit. The only other shutout of his career came in 1926, when he won 11 and lost 16, with a 4.44 ERA. Again, he won three more games than any other Red Sox pitcher. And his ERA was better than the team’s 4.72.
Slim Harriss’s league-leading 21 losses in 1927 were poor enough, but Wingfield’s 1-7 record was pretty bad. At least Slim won 14 games, his 40 percent winning percentage better than the team’s 30.1 percent winning percentage with their record of 46-107 and one tie. It was Wingfield’s last year in the major leagues. A poor relief performance on August 27 was his last outing, and he was released by the Red Sox on September 1, sent to the Portland, Maine, club (New England League) on option, and released outright to the Nashville Volunteers on September 17 as part of a deal to acquire catcher Doug Taitt. With Nashville, Wingfield was 3-3 with an even 5.00 ERA.
The Minneapolis Millers gave him a job in 1929, playing in the Double A American Association, and his one decision in seven appearances was a victory. Wingfield was acquired by the Hartford Senators of the Single A Eastern League in early July, but he was hammered so hard (14 hits) in his July 14 debut that it didn’t augur well. His record for Hartford was 0-6, not good at all. He did get in some play at second base filling in when player/manager Heinie Groh was injured, and he did better there, but truly his time was up and he was released on August 16.
Some seven years after his playing days were over, Wingfield became president of the Elizabethton Betsy Red Sox, a farm club of the Boston team from 1937 through 1939. He died on July 18, 1975, in Johnson City, Tennessee, a week after suffering a heart attack. When he first joined the Red Sox, he was married with one daughter.
When Wingfield started pitching for Chattanooga, there were a couple of other Wingfields playing as well, one pitching for the Atlanta Black Crackers in the Negro Leagues (no relation) and another playing outfield for the Washington Braves, also a Negro Leagues team. Ted probably wouldn’t have appreciated being confused with a prize racehorse of the day, Red Wingfield.
How he came to reside in the record books as Ted Wingfield is not known. Every news story canvassed in researching this biography referred to him as Fred, except his obituary in The Sporting News, which gave him the nickname Ted.
Seeing an earlier version of this biography online, great-grandson F. David Robinson contacted us by e-mail on July 31, 2011. He said that Wingfield had been known as “Papa Ted” in the family, and then added this tale:
So how did he get the name “Ted?” The story goes that he was on a baseball team at some point early in his career with two other Freds. The manager found that was much too difficult and as legend would have it one day in the dugout the three Freds were sitting beside each other on the bench when the manager looks at the three of them and says “Fred!” He stopped as he realized no one knew who he was addressing. “That’s it,” the manager yelled. “From now on, you’re Ned, you’re Ted, and you’re Fred!” I guess Papa Ted was the one sitting in the middle. The name stuck.
In addition to the sources cited above, the author relied upon the online SABR Encyclopedia, retrosheet.org, and Baseball-Reference.com.