Red Sox Memories: George Whiteman was the unsung hero of 1918

BOSTON - 1912. Pre game activity in Boston in new Fenway Park in 1912 is depicted on this color postcard from that year.. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images)
BOSTON - 1912. Pre game activity in Boston in new Fenway Park in 1912 is depicted on this color postcard from that year.. (Photo by Mark Rucker/Transcendental Graphics, Getty Images) /

The Boston Red Sox have had many nobodies play a short time, but one of them became a somebody. George Whiteman the unlikely glue for the 1918 season.

Baseball history has many unsung heroes that surface and suddenly enjoy the spotlight even if briefly. Far too many quickly burn out and return to oblivion such as Bob Hazle who hit .403 for the Braves in 1957 in just 41 games to help spark the Braves to a pennant. The Red Sox also had a notable spark in 1918 in right-hand hitting George Whiteman. Whiteman’s name has surfaced in many Red Sox oriented books and his story interested me.

Whiteman had his first very brief appearance in Boston in 1907 as a 24-year-old left fielder who hit a rather unremarkable .167 in just four games.  Poof goes Whiteman until he pops up in 1913 with the Yankees hitting .344 in 11 games before disappearing again. His reward was being released and back to where he had been in the interlude between Boston and New York – the minors.

Whiteman actually started out in the professional ranks in 1905 in the Texas League. His career is a virtual travel log of the United States as seen by a baseball wanderer. Whiteman did have another shot at the big time before 1918 and it was with the Federal League in 1915, but never played.   The league folded and Whiteman was back on the baseball trail.

World War II created a manpower shortage in the major leagues and a similar short term occurrence happened in the Great War years. As the 1918 season approached the Red Sox were missing left fielder Duffy Lewis – a future member of the Red Sox Baseball Hall of Fame – who was serving in the armed forces. The Red Sox signed Whiteman who was supposedly known to owner Harry Frazee. The Red Sox had their left-fielder.

Lewis may be in the HOF but Whiteman would not get a chance even with a dozen seasons as he had in 1918.  Whiteman hit just .266 in 71 games and hit his only MLB home run the last game of the season in New York. My assumption is a fly ball lofted toward the notorious short porch in right field at the Polo Grounds.

Whiteman shared some left-field playing time in 1918 with Babe Ruth.  Ruth – in just 317 at-bats – led the American League in home runs with 11. Ruth also led the AL in strikeouts (58). Ruth and Whiteman did form a limited version of platoon baseball which was just starting to gain traction. That would prove rather beneficial to Whiteman in the soon to be played World Series against the Cubs.

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Ruth started the first game of the series and the Cubs started lefty Hippo Vaughn so Whiteman not only went to left field and was placed in the clean-up slot going 2-5. Whiteman’s good fortune continued with Lefty Tyler starting for the Cubs in game two and Vaughn returning for game three. The trend continued with Tyler returning and then Vaughn and back to Tyler and the Cubs were done 4-2.

Whiteman may have hit just .250 (5-20) and driven in a lone run, but he figured in eight of the Red Sox runs and made several key defensive plays. If there was an MVP the general consensus is it would be Whiteman. That average may seem low, but it led both teams in what was a pitchers series.

Whiteman went into the service before the 1919 season started and was signed to play, but as circumstances happened with Whiteman he was released and returned to the minors.  Whiteman was far from done and played another ten years of minor league baseball mostly in Texas since he was a native of Houston.

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Whiteman left a substantial statistical legacy in the minors with 3,388 hits, 671 doubles, 196 triples, and 3,282 games played.  Whitman was elected to the Texas League Hall of Fame.

Sources:  Red Sox Century

The Year the Red Sox Won the Series

Baseball Historical Abstract