Scouting Great Bill Wight dies
Bill Wight, a well-respected major-league pitcher and scout and an influential figure on Sacramento baseball, died Thursday morning from a heart attack in Mount Shasta.
He was 85.
Wight, a resident of Carmichael since 1969, was vacationing with his wife of 60 years, Janice. In addition to his wife, Wight is survived by his son Larry Wight, a professor at Sierra College, granddaughter Susan Walters of Seattle and grandson Bill Wight of Orange County.
Funeral services are pending.
As a left-handed pitcher in the American League, Wight played from 1946 through 1958 for the New York Yankees, Chicago White Sox, Boston Red Sox, Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians.
In 1953, he battled for a spot in the Indians rotation that featured future Hall of Famers Bob Lemon, Bob Feller and Early Wynn. In 1958 with an aching arm, he wound up in the National League with the Cincinnati Reds and St. Louis Cardinals. His career major-league pitching record was 77-99 with a 3.95 earned-run average.
Wight debuted with the Yankees in 1946. His best year was 1949 with the White Sox, when he was 15-13 with a 3.31 ERA.
Born in Rio Vista, Wight grew up in Oakland. He was signed to as contract with the Yankees by Joe Devine in 1941, according to a story published by The Bee in 1984. He broke in at Idaho Falls of the Pioneer League, pitched the next year for Binghamton, and in 1942, he entered the Navy at St. Mary's Pre-flight School where his manager-coach was future Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer.
After the war he made the Yankees' big-league roster as a reliever.
He had one of the best pick-off moves in the game, catching dozens of off-guard base runners during his career. Even as a young pro, he was so proficient with his move, he was asked to work with Yankees pitchers and base runners before the 1941 World Series.
"He had the best move I've ever seen," said longtime friend Ronnie King, who scouted for the Los Angeles Dodgers, Pittsburgh Pirates and Philadelphia Phillies.
Wight played with Hall of Famers Joe DiMaggio, Ted Williams and Yogi Berra. He met Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig.
"He always kicked himself for not getting their autographs," said Bill Wight, his grandson.
Wight sold real estate after his playing career ended before becoming a professional scout with the Houston Astros in 1962.
Wight spent the next 37 year peering through backstops and filling out scouting reports, with the Astros for five years and with the Braves for the remainder of his scouting career.
With the Astros, he signed Hall of Famer Joe Morgan and as the person overseeing regional scouts for the Braves, he signed two-time N.L. MVP Dale Murphy. He also signed Bob Horner and Sacramento-products Dusty Baker, Jeff Blauser, Rowland Office, Taylor Duncan and Andy Finlay.
Throughout his scouting career, he expended a lot of bonus money.
"It has to be in the millions," he told Bee columnist Bill Conlin in 1984. "I've spent it in about every state in the Union."
Conlin wrote: "When you spend that much of the bosses' money, you have to enjoy their confidence, which Bill plainly does."
Wight was named Scout of the Year in 1992 and in 2005 was inducted into the San Diego Padres Pacific Coast League Hall of Fame. His plaque is next to Ted Williams at Petco Park in San Diego.
"Bill is one of the nicest guys I've ever met in the game," King said. "He was some scout, too."