The Obit For Dick Whitman

Major leaguer batted in 2 World Series

Connie Cone Sexton
The Arizona Republic
Mar. 9, 2003 12:00 AM

He couldn't get a base hit when it mattered most but Dick Whitman wouldn't have traded the chance to be in the spotlight at Yankee Stadium for anything.

How many other guys in the country, he'd ask, would get to bat against the New York Yankees? In back-to-back World Series?

Even though his teams (the 1949 Brooklyn Dodgers) and (the 1950 Philadelphia Phillies) fell short in both World Series bids, the experiences remained among the most exciting times in Whitman's life.

"He loved baseball, loved playing the game," said his wife, Joan Whitman, 82. "It was his life and he made it a great life."

Whitman died Feb. 12 of an apparent massive heart attack. The Peoria resident was 82.

Throughout his life, he enjoyed telling stories of his professional baseball career, which included not only the Dodgers and the Phillies but also the St. Paul, Minn., Saints and as manager of the San Jose JoSox. For much of his career, he was a pinch hitter and a reserve outfielder. But in 1950, he hit .250 overall and led the National League with 12 pinch hits in 39 at-bats, ending with a .308 average.

As thrilling as it was to play in two World Series, Whitman found nothing compared to the Phillies' efforts to get there, ultimately capturing the National League pennant in 1950. The Phillies, which were battered and missing a few key players, had a roster filled with some of the youngest players in the league. Despite their inexperience, the team came together and were holding on to a seven-game lead in the league near the end of the season and in the process had won the hearts of Philadelphians, Joan Whitman said.

But their joy turned to dismay as the Phillies went on to lose eight of 10 games, leaving them with only a one-game lead on the final day of the season. They were up against the Brooklyn Dodgers, who most thought would stop the Phillies. But they held on, winning 4-1 and bringing the pennant home to Philadelphia for the first time in 35 years.

"It was really quite a terrific time for them all," Joan Whitman said. "They all have such camaraderie. Dick was honored to be among them."

For the team's never-say-die efforts by such young players (many were 24 and younger), sportswriter Harry Grayson dubbed the team the "Whiz Kids."

Whitman was a bit older but certainly a part of the youthful spirit and zest of the team, remembers Hall-of-Famer Robin Roberts, who was the Phillies starting pitcher at the time.

"Dick was quite an important part of the team," said Roberts, now 76 and living in Florida. "When you win a pennant with a short margin like we did, we needed his help."

Not many of the Whiz Kids are still alive, said Roberts, who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1975. "With Dick's passing, I think there are 11 or 12 of us left our of about 30, including the coaches."

Whitman retired from baseball in the late 1950s and worked for a water company in San Jose until he retired in the 1980s. The Whitmans moved to Peoria about 11 years ago.

"He was thrilled to see the rise of the Diamondbacks," Joan said. "He loved watching them and was an armchair coach."

Whitman was also an avid golfer, whose golf cart carried a sign hanging on the back: "No sniveling."

It summed up his belief that hardships come along in life and you have to just deal with them, Joan said.

He was never one to brag about his time in World War II, she said. But in the Battle of the Bulge, his back and ear were injured by shrapnel and he later suffered from frostbite. He came home from the war with a Bronze Star, Purple Heart and three battle stars.

Survivors include his wife, Joan; daughter Alison Mettler of Arroyo Grande, Calif.; sons Richard of Yuma and Joseph of Sacramento; sister Virginia Read of Eugene, Ore.; five grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren