This article was written by Jim Sandoval
“Hello, Foxy Grandpa, I’ve read about you!” With those words addressed to the legendary Honus Wagner, brash rookie Wally Rehg introduced himself to the major leagues. Wagner himself told the story of a time when Rehg was sent up as a pinch hitter by manager Fred Clarke.
“Rehg grabbed a bat and stepped right into the box, ignoring umpire Bill Klem. ‘Who are you batting for,” demanded Klem. ‘Why for myself, for Walter Rehg’ the rookie replied and Klem almost tossed him out of the game.” Another account has Klem asking Rehg how to spell his name and Wally responding, “You don’t spell it, you whistle it.”
Called the “Freshest Man in Baseball,” he lived up to his reputation as a bench comedian throughout his career in baseball. In March 1913 he approached the plate wearing a false mustache and said to umpire Brick Owens “I am batting in place of Rehg. Please announce it.” An undated story by James Jerpe describes Rehg as the “world’s sassiest player, freshest, noisiest and most cussedly impudent ‘rooky’ that ever battled for a job.”
Rehg saw limited playing time in a 7-year, 263-game major league career with the Pittsburgh Pirates, Boston Red Sox, Boston Braves and Cincinnati Reds. With Cincinnati in 1919, he was released to the minor leagues early in the season and missed a chance to be part of the team that won the championship over the White Sox in the infamous Black Sox Scandal series.
Walter Phillip Rehg was born August 31, 1888, in Summerfield, Illinois, according to most sources. Some sources list a birth year of 1890 or 1891. He was the oldest of three sons and two daughters of Conrad G. Rehg, of Illinois and Mary (Antoine) Rehg, born in St. Louis. On his World War I draft registration he was described as being of medium height, medium build with grey eyes and light colored hair.
Conrad Rehg sold insurance and then was a merchant in a coffee house. The Rehg family moved frequently. According to the US census in 1900 they lived in Peru, Illinois. By 1910 the Rehg family lived in St. Louis, where Walter got his start playing baseball. By 1920 the family lived in Wichita, Kansas.
Rehg began his playing career in the semi-professional St. Louis Trolley league in 1909. He signed his first professional contract with Bob Connery, who was the manager of Hartford. Wally struggled in his first season, hitting .224 while playing shortstop and leftfield.
Rehg returned to Hartford for the 1911 season, improving to a .286 batting average while mainly playing shortstop. The Boston Red Sox purchased his contract and placed him on their reserve list that fall. In March of 1912 he was released to Pittsburgh. Wally made his major league debut on April 14, 1912, pinch hitting for pitcher Howie Camnitz. In 8 games with the Pirates he went 0-9, scoring 1 run before being released on option to St. Paul of the American Association.
With St. Paul he had a strong season, hitting .307 with 7 doubles, 16 triples, and 2 home runs. In April of the following year Rehg was again released by manager Fred Clarke to St. Paul. He had another fine season, hitting .297 with 15 doubles and 18 triples. His contract was then sold in August for a reported price of $10,000 to the Boston Red Sox.
Rehg was now primarily playing the outfield, which to his detriment was the strength of the Sox. In Boston he had to try and break into the outfield of Duffy Lewis, Tris Speaker and Harry Hooper. Lewis was a lifetime .284 hitter, and Speaker and Hooper went on to Hall of Fame careers.
In January 1914 it was reported that Rehg was negotiating with officials of the new Federal League, established as a rival to the National and American leagues. He chose, however, to stay with the Red Sox.
On July 11, 1914, a kid pitcher named Babe Ruth made his major league debut pitching against Cleveland. In the game in Boston Rehg batted 7th, played right field, going 0-4 at the plate. Ruth got the win, beginning his long and memorable career. According to the book The Ballplayers, in 1914 Rehg led the American League with 10 pinch hits and 36 pinch hit at bats. Overall Rehg hit .219 in 88 games.
Rehg began 1915 with the Red Sox, but after seeing action in just 5 games he was released to Providence of the International league. That summer he developed water on the knee, apparently dating back to an injury sustained two seasons before. A player slid head first into his knee, causing swelling; no other damage appeared till this occurrence. He stayed with Providence into the 1917 season when his contract was purchased by the Boston Braves National league club.
In January of 1917 it was reported that in his hometown of Wichita, Rehg was robbed. Two gunmen got away with a $300 diamond scarf pin, $23 in cash, a knife and a gold watch. Rehg used his fists to try to prevent the robbery, but two guns shoved under his nose soon overcame his left hook.
In July 1917, Rehg’s contract was purchased by the Braves, and he was installed in the lineup as a regular for the first time in his career. He responded with a .270 average and the first home run of his major league career. On September 4, he hit that home run off Al Demaree of the Giants in the top of the 6th inning at the Polo Grounds. Twice that season Wally had 4 hits in a game. On September 10 he had 4 hits, including a double and a triple in the second game of a double header against the Philadelphia club. He repeated the feat on September 25th, with 4 hits against Cincinnati.
That off season he married Elsie May Doane of Winthrop, Massachusetts. It was reported that the newlyweds would reside in Boston. That may have been just during the baseball season as it appears the Rehgs maintained a home in Wichita during this time. It was also reported with World War I firing up that the Braves expected to lose him to the January military draft.
Rehg remained with the Braves for the first part of the 1918 season before the military called. Wally slapped 4 hits for the third time in his career on May 24 against the Pirates. On June 14 he hit the second and final home run of his major league career, off Wilbur Cooper of Pittsburgh.
In June Wally secured permission from his local draft board in Wichita to transfer to the Navy. He voluntarily retired to join up and was sent to the 2nd Naval District in Newport, Rhode Island. A quote in The Sporting News, referring to his “fresh” personality, said he “started with the Boston Braves, now in Navy–and if he is not in the brig some of the ballplayers will be surprised. He has a reputation as the freshest kid in baseball.”
In July Rehg hit a 2-run home run to lead the 2nd District baseball team to a win over the Cleveland American league club. In December of 1918 Rehg received his discharge.
In February of 1919 he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Russell “Lena” Blackburne. The Sporting News discussing the trade called Rehg the freshest man in baseball. “He is a perpetual breeze of comedy and original ideas and may stick around this time… Some of the stories told of Rehg’s nerve seem impossible, but they are vouched for on good authority.”
While with the Red Sox he and Tris Speaker had become good friends. Just before spring training it was reported that Speaker attended the Stock show of Fort Worth, accompanied by Mr. and Mrs. Walter Rehg of Wichita and the Reds. Rehg was in uniform; Speaker was in the uniform of a Naval Aviation Cadet.
Rehg began the 1919 season with the Reds, a team that would go on to win the World Series without him. His last game major league was on May 10; he was then released because of the purchase of his contract by Indianapolis of the American Association.
Indianapolis picked him up due to an injury to speedy third sacker Fred Brainerd and Rehg filled in at third. He then started what became a great minor league career, hitting over .300 nine of the next ten seasons. From 1919 through 1926 he played for Indianapolis before requesting a trade to another American Association team to obtain more playing time.
In March of 1927 Rehg was turned over to Louisville by Indianapolis in a deal which returned Bruno Betzel to Indianapolis to become manager. In April he was obtained by Columbus from Louisville where his manager was former 1919 Reds teammate Ivey Wingo. In 112 games the veteran outfielder in what had seemed to be the downside of his career proceeded to hit .343, the highest average of his career to that point. He played in 48 games for Columbus in 1928 before being traded for outfielder Joe McNulty to the Hollywood club of the Pacific Coast league.
Rehg played for Hollywood through May of 1930, having been released and then re-signed in 1929. Late in the 1930 season he was signed by the Tucson club of the Arizona State league as manager where he finished his baseball career.
Rehg “went Hollywood” while playing with Hollywood, appearing in two movies. In the 1929 film Fast Company he played himself as a ballplayer. Risking being typecast, Rehg played an uncredited baseball player in the Joe E. Brown, Olivia de Havilland baseball comedy “Alibi Ike” in 1935. Brown plays a brash rookie with excuses and alibis for everything as he leads the Cubs in a pennant chase. Wally’s wife May was listed as an actress, extra in a motion picture studio on the 1930 census.
After his ball playing career ended Rehg worked as an electrician’s helper at Paramount Studios in Burbank until his death.
He died April 5, 1946, and is buried in Grandview Memorial Park in Burbank, California.
California Death Index–Ancestry.com
California Death certificate
Hall of Fame File including National Association cards
World War I draft registration card
US Census 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930
SABR’s Home Run log
National League daily records
The Sporting News
Mike Shatzkin (editor), The Ballplayers, Morrow, 1990.
Lloyd Johnson and Miles Wolff, Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball.
Who’s Who in Baseball, 1921
Aberdeen Daily American
Fort Worth Star Telegram
Grand Forks Herald
Wilkes-Barre Times Leader
Boston Daily Globe
New York Times
Los Angeles Times