Times Staff And Wire Reports
January 23, 2009
Werber died Thursday morning of age-related causes after moving into an assisted-care facility in Charlotte, N.C., three weeks ago, his son Bill Jr. told the Associated Press.
A third baseman who led the American League in stolen bases three times, Werber played with Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Jimmie Foxx and Lefty Grove in stints with the New York Yankees and Boston Red Sox.
Werber often told a story from the 1930 season, when he got on base for the Yankees and Ruth came to bat and hit a towering home run. Werber, a nervous rookie, ran as hard as he could toward home plate while Ruth managed his usual mincing trot. Back in the dugout, Ruth patted Werber on the head and said: "Kid, when I hit 'em, you don't have to run all that hard."
As a teammate and then a rival, Werber became well-acquainted with many of the great Yankees of the 1930s.
In his 2000 memoir, "Memories of a Ballplayer," he called Ruth "good-natured, amoral, loving, loud, rough, vulgar, but kind and considerate, especially with the kids."
As for Gehrig, Werber told the New York Times, "Lou was aloof and introverted and didn't like to be ribbed, something like [Joe] DiMaggio. But he was the ultimate team player and stayed in the game through pain and broken bones. I never heard him complain. Woe to the man who didn't give his best for the team."
Werber also played for the Cincinnati Reds, winning a World Series in 1940, as well as the Philadelphia Athletics and New York Giants in an 11-year career.
He left baseball in 1942 with a .271 career batting average and 215 stolen bases.
He had the distinction of being the first player to bat in the first televised major league game, leading off for the Reds in a game against the Brooklyn Dodgers at Ebbets Field on Aug. 26, 1939.
Werber was born June 20, 1908, in Berwyn, Md. An all-around athlete, he attended Duke University and became the Blue Devils' first All-American basketball player.
After graduating in 1930, he joined the Yankees, but he had trouble cracking the Murderers Row lineup in New York. He played four games in 1930 and three in 1933 before he was sold to the Red Sox, where he flourished.
In 1937, Werber was traded to Philadelphia, then owned and managed by the great Connie Mack.
He spent two seasons with the A's before he was sold to the Reds and then to the Giants for his final season.
After baseball, Werber moved back to Maryland and sold insurance at the agency his father founded in 1904.
He and his wife, Kathryn, had three children, who survive him. His wife of 70 years died in 2000.
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