Tex Wisterzil

This article was written by Chris Rainey

Tex WisterzilHow much is a ballplayer’s time worth? In 1912 Tex Wisterzil was released by the Indianapolis Indians of the American Association but incoming manager Charley O’Leary asked him to stay in town in hopes of retaining him. Wisterzil waited around for three days until it was decided that he was going to Wichita in the Class-A Western League. That winter Wisterzil filed a claim with the National Commission to be paid for those three days. The Commission sided with Wisterzil and he was awarded $27.50.1

George John Wisterzil was born on March 7, 1888, in Detroit, the second child of William W. and Mary (Kronschnabel) Wisterzil. William Wisterzil came to America from Austria in 1875 and married in 1882. Mary’s family were of German descent. William was a tailor who moved the family to San Antonio, Texas, in the 1890s. George attended school in San Antonio and graduated from the local high school after starring as a pitcher and third baseman on the baseball team.

Wisterzil frequently appears in newspapers and box scores as Westerzil. After his time in the Federal and Pacific Coast Leagues, the correct spelling became the dominant form in the 1920s. Since he hailed from Texas, the nickname of Tex was a no-brainer for fans and teammates. He was also referred to as Wisty by some writers.2

Wisterzil played semipro baseball in the San Antonio area with teams like the Lockharts and the San Antonio Paste Works. In 1908 the third baseman for the San Antonio Bronchos, Monroe Stark, broke his leg early in the season. After trying a couple of other players, manager George Leidy signed Wisterzil, who was still a teenager. He paid immediate dividends with his bat and glove, helping San Antonio win the Class-C Texas League title. His .301 batting average topped the team and he added five home runs in 58 games. Stark returned late in the campaign and Wisterzil played outfield the last few games.

The champion Bronchos were given a civic banquet to honor their victory. It would be another 55 years before another San Antonio team stood atop the standings. By that time a playoff system had been instituted and Beaumont defeated San Antonio, diminishing the accomplishment. The banquet in 1908 was held “in one of the large plush ‘houses of pleasure’ on the West Side.”3 Owner Morris Block gave each player a $100 bill under his plate at the banquet table. The bonus money was impressive considering that Wisterzil had signed for $90 a month before wangling a raise to $125.4

Wisterzil’s performance caught the attention of scouts. He was drafted by Kansas City of the American Association and in mid-March of 1909 went to training camp with them. The Blues looked at Wisterzil and Gus Hetling during camp and decided to keep the 23-year-old Hetling because he had more experience. On April 10 Wisterzil was purchased by Wichita in the Class-A Western League.

Manager Jack Holland of the Jobbers installed Wisterzil at third base. In 155 games Wisterzil batted .266, tied for the team lead in triples, and was second in total bases. His fielding drew raves as the Jobbers finished in fifth place. He returned to Wichita in 1910 to play in 165 contests. He batted .305 and led the team with 38 doubles. He spent much of the season batting third in the lineup and split time at third base and shortstop. Wichita finished in fourth place. He was the best fielder in the circuit and was one of “the finest ever developed in the Western League.”5

Pat Newman of the St. Louis Browns started a winter league in San Antonio. Wisterzil was one of the early signees. While he was playing playing winter ball, the Detroit Tigers purchased his rights from Wichita for $3,000. They brought Wisterzil to spring training in 1911. He aggravated a knee injury, needed a cast, and was sent home to San Antonio to recover. In May he was sent to Baltimore for surgery. Reports were that Wisterzil would rejoin the Tigers late in the season, but he never did. Exact details are elusive, but the Tigers placed him on the suspended list at the close of the season. Wisterzil had improved enough to play winter ball again in San Antonio.

Wisterzil signed with the Tigers in January 1912 and reported to training camp in Monroe, Louisiana. Manager Hughie Jennings worked Wisterzil all over the diamond in camp and games. His fielding suffered while his arm bothered him from excessive work.6 On April 15 Wisterzil was optioned to Indianapolis in the American Association. The Tigers kept Baldy Louden at third and retained both Charley O’Leary and Ossie Vitt as utilitymen.

Wisterzil got off to a poor start at the plate with Indianapolis. He was batting a mere .206 when the decision to send him down was made just as O’Leary was being sent to manage. He was sold to Wichita but did not leave the Indians soon enough to be spared a lousy hotel dinner that made him and many on the team sick.7

With Wichita, Wisterzil found his batting eye again and on July 8 was hitting .293. But he struggled in the field and had a .920 fielding average.8 His batting tapered off to .225 and on August 8 he was sold to St. Joseph, also of the Western League. This put Wisterzil into the pennant race with the Drummers, who finished second. He took over the sixth spot in the lineup. His hitting improved and he closed out the season batting .245. Over the winter Wisterzil and Mary Adele Burns were wed. She was a Texas native and they made their permanent home in the San Antonio area. The couple were childless.

The 1913 St. Joseph Drummers had a young, energetic squad. A 21-year-old, George Boehler, led the pitchers while Joe Kelly, Dutch Zwilling, and Wisterzil led the offense. Kelly led the league in stolen bases with 68 while hitting .318. Zwilling paced the offense with 12 home runs among his 65 extra-base hits. Wisterzil led the league with 20 triples and batted .306 to help the Drummers to a third-place finish. The leaders graduated to the majors the following season.

On January 22 newspapers carried the news that Wisterzil and Zwilling had met with the Chicago Federals and both men signed two-year contracts.9 ChiFeds manager Joe Tinker felt confident about his infield. He had himself, Rollie Zeider, and the two Drummers to fill the four spots. Second baseman Fred Beck was added to the mix. When it was decided to play Zeider at third base, Wisterzil was sent to the Buffalo Feds.10 At least that’s what the newswire reported. When rosters came out the next week, Wisterzil was listed with the Brooklyn Tip-Tops.

Brooklyn was managed by veteran third baseman Bill Bradley. The team gathered in Columbia, South Carolina, for camp. Bradley had every intention of playing third. After seeing Wisterzil perform, Bradley handed the hot-corner job to the youngster. Brooklyn opened the season on the road and did not play at home until May 11. Wisterzil was batting .250 at the time and his batting average did not fluctuate that much during the season even though he was something of a streak hitter. His hottest stretch coincided with the weather in mid-July. From the 17th to the 24th he went 11-for-21 with a double, triple, and seven RBIs. He posted an 11-game hitting streak in late August. He led the Tip-Tops in plate appearances and won praise from around the league as the best fielding third baseman in the circuit.

Lee Magee took over as manager for Brooklyn in 1915. Wisterzil opened the season at third base and batted sixth in the lineup. The home opener against Buffalo was a slugfest won by the Tip-Tops 13-9. Wisterzil scored four runs and drove in two, reaching base on a walk, a hit batter, a single, and a triple. His bat stayed hot through April 19, when he badly injured his ankle. He was unable to return to the lineup until May 10. His average dropped to .264 by the end of May but he opened June with a nine-game hitting streak to raise it back to .320.

Brooklyn picked up Freddy Smith from Buffalo and he paid instant dividends when he entered the June 8 game vs. Baltimore. Wisterzil was having a bad day in the field and had let a few hits go by. Smith replaced him in the eighth. In the ninth the newcomer came to the plate with the bases loaded and launched a grand slam. Wisterzil lost his job and pinch-hit just three times before being sold to the Chicago Whales.

The Whales had jettisoned Wisterzil in 1914 when they decided to move Rollie Zeider to third, but now Zeider was ill and they turned to Wisterzil to plug the hole. He spent over a week with the Whales, starting five games before he was released. The St. Louis Terriers picked him up when their third baseman, Charlie Deal, fell ill with typhoid fever.

Wisterzil spent eight games with the Terriers before he was returned to Chicago. Back with the Whales, he took over at third from August 2 to September 12. He was spiked and had his right thumbnail torn off on September 12 in the second game of a doubleheader against Baltimore. He had a most unusual first game that day. The game went 15 innings with Baltimore scoring in the top of the 15th. In the bottom of the inning, Chicago tied the game when Wisterzil laid down his third sacrifice bunt of the game and the opposing third baseman threw wildly. Joe Weiss singled to win the game for Chicago. Wisterzil closed out his Federal League career playing 242 games and batting .260.

Trades, releases, and sales in the Federal League were handled poorly. When Wisterzil was spiked, Harry Fritz substituted for him. Fritz had supposedly been swapped to Baltimore, but the paperwork had not been processed and he was still available for the Whales to use.11 Earlier in the season, Wisterzil’s transactions created an issue when he spent more than 10 days with the Whales on what Brooklyn thought was a 10-day conditional deal. There was a good deal of wrangling as to which team owed him his pay. How the issue was resolved is uncertain.

Wisterzil signed with San Antonio for the 1916 season. It was considered quite a coup for a Class-B franchise to snare a man of his repute. Fans of the Bronchos wished a few more men of his caliber had been signed as the squad finished in a tie for sixth. Wisterzil led the team with a .305 batting average. The following season he was unable to come to terms and went to Arizona to play in an outlaw league in copper country about 100 miles east of Phoenix.

Copper country in Arizona made headlines in 1917 because of a strike that began in June and was ended in mid-July by the mass deportation of the strikers. A “posse” of nearly 2,000 men escorted the strikers away from the mines. The strike and deportation occurred around Bisbee, Arizona. The baseball season was going on during the strike, but its games were played in Gila and Pinal County, which are 150 miles from Bisbee.

It is unclear whether Wisterzil had to work for the copper company or if he was there solely to play ball. He chose to play in Arizona over Texas because the money was comparable or perhaps better. He played for the Mill team against the Smelter squad and the Mines team, according to available box scores.

In 1918 Wisterzil went to the West Coast and played for the Vernon Tigers of the Pacific Coast League. The Vernon franchise was at its peak and finished first in the war-shortened season, but lost in the playoffs to Los Angeles. Wisterzil returned to the Tigers in 1919, but when the Yankees sent Zinn Beck to Vernon, Wisterzil was sold to Portland on April 26. Wisterzil went from first place to last as Portland was 3-14 at the time of the swap.

The Beavers installed Wisterzil in the second spot in the order. His ability to handle the bat on hit-and-run and to bunt (he had 31 sacrifices) made a perfect fit. He had a slow start at the plate and was batting .222 at the time of the trade. He raised that average to .290 by the beginning of July. According to the 1920 Reach Baseball Guide, he appeared in 149 games and batted .271.

Portland struggled in 1920 and finished last, but not because of Wisterzil. He hit a career-high 42 doubles while batting. 285. He spent the next two seasons with the Seattle Rainiers (a/k/a Siwashes). The transfer to Seattle took place in December. Over the winter Wisterzil was playing winter ball in Southern California. Fred McMullin, one of the Chicago Black Sox, was in the same league. The Rainiers pleaded with Wisterzil to quit for fear of association. The issue was resolved when McMullin withdrew from the league.12

Seattle assembled a strong squad in 1921. Wisterzil filled the two-hole perfectly until he injured a shoulder making a dive at third base and missed most of July. He returned in August, but only for a short while before he was badly spiked. He was held to 106 games. The following season Seattle fell into the second division. Wisterzil returned to health and played in 151 contests. He batted .290.

Seattle attempted to sell Wisterzil to Wichita Falls over the winter, but the deal fell through. Wisterzil signed with Seattle for 1923 and opened the season with the team but was sold to Galveston of the Texas League on April 17.13 The Sand Crabs finished in fourth. Wisterzil led the club with his .295 batting average. The following year the Crabs got off to a poor start. It got worse when they went winless from May 25 to June 11. Paddy Baumann, second baseman-manager, resigned and Wisterzil was appointed manager.14 He guided the team to seventh place in both halves of the season. The team ended the season with a doubleheader sweep of Shreveport to avoid the cellar. Wisterzil batted himself second for most of the year but dropped down to fifth late in the season. He smacked nine home runs, a career high, while batting .289.

The Galveston franchise was shifted to Waco for the 1925 season. Wisterzil was unable to come to terms with the new owners and turned to semipro ball in San Antonio. The Shreveport Sports in the Texas League lured him back to the minors in early June. He became a utilityman for the Sports, playing at first, second, and third. In 82 games he batted .290 and hit six home runs.

Now aged 38, Wisterzil was appointed player-manager of the Texarkana Twins in the Class-D East Texas League. They finished second in the six-team circuit. The following year, 1927, he was player-manager for the Laredo Oilers in the Class-D Texas Valley League. They captured the first-half title, but then had a miserable second half. They were swept in the postseason by Corpus Christi.

Wisterzil left professional baseball but continued to play semipro in the San Antonio area. He was appointed a deputy clerk of courts. In 1938 he took over the top clerk job and held that position until he retired in 1955. Besides his work for the courts, he took part in various old-timers’ events. The most notable one was held in September 1935 that raised money to put a monument on the grave of Ross Youngs.

Mary was very active with the Methodist Church until her death in 1958. Tex earned some notoriety for his green thumb. He had a knack for raising unique flowers. He suffered from heart disease for nearly a decade before he succumbed to heart failure on June 27, 1964. He was buried beside Mary in the Odd Fellows Cemetery in San Antonio.

 

Notes

1 “Value of Investigation,” Sporting Life, December 14, 1912: 4.

2 “Benson Paid for a Good Team,” Houston Post, February 27, 1916: 19.

3 “Civic Dinner for Champs? 1908 Winners Had a Big One,” San Antonio Light, September 8, 1963: 4C.

4 Ibid.

5 “Westerzil’s Success Is No Surprise to Fans Here,” San Antonio Express, August 21, 1910: 14.

6 Ralph L. Yonker, “George Westerzil Is Prime Encouragement Kid of the Squad,” Detroit Times, March 22, 1912: 10.

7 “Ptomaine Poisoning Downs Ballplayers,” Detroit Times, May 29, 1912: 1.

8 “Western League Averages,” Wichita Beacon, July 8, 1912: 5.

9 “Westerners to Federals,” Wichita Daily Eagle, January 23, 1914: 7.

10 “Wisterzil Assigned to Buffalo,” Topeka State Journal, March 2, 1914.

11 “Note of the Whales,” Chicago Tribune, September 13, 1915: 11. Fritz never did join the Terrapins.

12 Jacob Pomrenke, sabr.org/bioproj/person/7d8be958.

13 “Tex Wisterzil Is Sold a Second Time to Texans,” Seattle Times, April 18, 1923: 18.

14 Joe Carter, “Raspberries and Cream,” The Times (Shreveport, Louisiana), June 11, 1924: 8.

Full Name

George John Wisterzil

Born

March 7, 1888 at Detroit, MI (USA)

Died

June 27, 1964 at San Antonio, TX (USA)

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