Wheezer Dell, born Tuscarora on May 11 1886, Died August 24 1966 at Independence California
His parents had moved to Butte Montana when he was still a tyke, and he grew up there, becoming a star athlete in high school — so good as a football quarterback that he was granted an extra year of eligibility after he graduated.
He had started as a pitcher for the Butte Miners and moved on to the Edmonton Eskimos in the Western Canada League, but when he was drafted by the Cardinals in 1911, he refused. He’d grown up in a working-class family in Butte Montana at a time when labor strife was real and bloody. He was inculcated with life’s lessons by veterans of the IWW and the WFM, staunch union hard-asses and grew up with a grudge against the bosses.
He didn’t want to give up his seniority as a union electrician at the mine in Butte, he wasn’t ready to think of baseball as anything but a lark, and he didn’t like the personal services contract he’d be forced to sign. But when they drafted him again the next year Wheezer was persuaded to go, still grumbling about greed, exploitation and slavery.
So when manager Roger Bresnahan called him into his office early in the season to tell him he was being sent down to the minors, Wheezer told him to go to hell and went home to Butte. (The nickname was a corruption of Wieser Idaho where his wife had lived.)
He finished out the season there, then went to Seattle for two seasons where he did so well he was drafted again, this time by Brooklyn, then called the Robins. Now it’s 1915; he has a wife and a baby coming. Baseball’s not so much of a lark any more. He went, and however the deal irked him, he managed to swallow his resentment.
He started well with the Robins in ’15, winning 11 games vs 10 losses. In 1916 Larry Cheney and Rube Marquard joined the pitching staff and tallied 59 wins between them, helping propel the Robins to the 1916 National League pennant, and even though he’d pitched two consecutive shutouts to start the season, Wheezer was overshadowed and pitched only one inning in the World Series against the Red Sox.
And so the next year when he hadn’t won a game by the 4th of July , his contract was sold to the minor league Baltimore Orioles. Wheezer told Wilbert Robinson to go to hell and went home to Butte.
In 1918 he pitched for Vernon (a small “wet” city in Los Angeles County) in the Pacific Coast League. He had a great year, going 14-7 with a 1.69 ERA while the league fell apart around him because of the World War. In 1919 the movie comedian Fatty Arbuckle bought the team and Wheezer won 24 games.
He won 20 games or more for four consecutive seasons for the Tigers, who traded him to Seattle in ’23. In 1925 he was playing for the Atlanta Crackers and in ’26, his last season, for Beaumont in the Texas League. After that he went to work for Los Angeles Water & Power and retired from that job in 1951.
He pitched 3,591 innings over his 18 years in organized baseball. He gave up 3,109 hits (only 10 homers in that deadball era), 1,272 walks and 919 earned runs. Add in the unknown numbers from his bush leagues, industrial leagues, winter leagues and outlaw leagues, and when he wasn’t playing ball he was working as a union electrician.
You cannot call this man lazy. In fact, he had a strong working man’s attitude, formed out west in the mines, that included a deep, dark distrust of the owners. Newspaperman Abe Kemp called him “a pleasant anarchist” when Wheezer told him “in plain words why he voted for Debs, why tipping is a blight, and why prohibition is a menace.”
He died in 1966, aged 80, and is buried in Independence California.