The Stanford Coach

Harry Wolter while with the Highlanders

Harry Wolter while with the Highlanders

Continuing my look at members of my 1910 fantasy team, it’s time to write about one who had a decent, but not great baseball career. Harry Wolter wasn’t a bad ballplayer, but he found his calling in another job. He became a successful college coach.

Harry Wolter was of Hispanic origin on this father’s side, making him one of the first Hispanic players in the Major Leagues. There were others going back into the 19th Century, but Wolter was still among the first. He was born in Monterey, California in 1884, graduated from high school, and attended Santa Clara College. He graduated in 1906, again taking his place as one of the first college graduates in the big leagues. While still in college he played some minor league ball with the San Jose Prune Pickers (God, I love old-time minor league names). After graduation he again took up minor league employment, this time for the Fresno Raisin Eaters (see what I mean about old-time names). He was primarily a pitcher and racked up a 12-22 record with an ERA in the low threes. They decided to use him in the outfield when he wasn’t pitching and he hit .307.

All that got the Major Leagues interested in him. He began in Cincinnati in 1907, hit a buck 33 in four games, moved on to Pittsburgh where he went oh-for-one, then got into sixteen games for the Cardinals. All that got him a trip back to the minors. He played some for San Jose, refused an assignment to St. Paul, and ended up not playing at the big league level for all of 1908.

In 1909 he got another chance at the big leagues when the Red Sox picked him up. He had first to pay a fine for refusing to play in St. Paul, Doing so, he reported to Boston. He still pitched some (4-4 with a 3.51 ERA and more walks than strikeouts) but he was becoming primarily an outfielder. He hit .240, and ended up waived by Boston.

The Highlanders (now the Yankees) picked him up and made him an outfielder (primarily the left fielder). He remained with New York through 1913, hitting .277 in 396 games. During 1912, he dislocated a kneecap and spent most of the season injured. In need of new blood, the Yanks released him after 1913 and he ended up with Los Angeles for the minor league season.

With LA he was great. He won two batting titles (1914 and 1915), led his league in triples in both 1914 and 1916, and in hits in 1914. In 1915 his owner bet him he couldn’t drive in 40 runs over an unknown number of games. I checked several sources and there seems to be no agreement on the number of games involved. Whatever the number of games, Wolter got the 40 RBIs and a new suit worth $50, which was an expensive suit in 1915. While playing in the minors, he used his spring time to coach the Santa Clara College baseball team in both 1914 and 1915 (remember it was his alma mater).

In 1917, the Cubs brought him back to the big leagues for one last season. He hit .249 and ended up back in the minors. He stayed there through 1920.

During his off-season time, he’d begun working with Stanford University, actually coaching the baseball team in 1916. In 1923, needing a new head coach, the university called on Wolter to take the job. He remained there until 1949, with a break in 1944 and 1945 when the school did not field a team because of World War II. He retired and died in Palo Alto in 1970.

For his big league career he hit .270, had a .35 OBP, slugged .331, for an OPS of .655 (OPS+ 95) with 286 runs, 514 hits, 12 home runs, and 167 RBIs. His career WAR is 9.6. While at Stanford he won 277 games. That works out to about 11 wins a year in an era when colleges played much fewer games than they do today. He won conference titles in 1924, 1925, 1927, and in 1931.


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