“King of the Natural Hitters”

25 Jan

Percival Wheritt “Perry” “Moose” Werden began his baseball career as a pitcher for the semi-professional team of his employer; the Ira Perry Pie Company in Saint Louis.  He was discovered by the St. Louis Browns who offered him a contract but ultimately signed with the Saint Louis Maroons in the Union Association.

(An oft-repeated story that Werden’s discovery involved him leaving a pie wagon unattended to join a game, resulting in the wagon being destroyed is almost certainly apocryphal, although it has been repeated as fact with little or no support by several writers)

In 1884 the 22-year-old was 12-1 with a 1.97 for the Maroons who at 94-19 won the Union Association pennant by 21 games; despite the strong start, Werden would never pitch in the Major Leagues again.

The Maroons joined the National League the following season and Werden ended up with the Memphis Reds in the Southern League.  He was primarily a catcher a first baseman, and his career as a pitcher pretty much ended; he appeared on the mound in only three games that season and had only 14 more minor league appearances over the next 10 years because of arm trouble.

Perry Werden, 1908

Perry Werden, 1908

From 1886-88, Werden played with five minor league teams and played three games in the National League with Washington in 1888.  In 1889, Werden joined the Toledo Black Pirates in the International League, where he became a great hitter.

Werden hit .394 for Toledo; in 424 at-bats, he had 167 hits, which was the hit record for the franchise for nearly 100 years, finally broken by Greg “Boomer” Wells in 1982 (Wells had 182 hits in 541 at-bats).

Toledo became a Major League franchise the following season, joining the American Association as the Maumees, Werden was the their starting first baseman, hit .295 and led the team in hits, runs, triples, and RBIs.  The Maumees finished 68-64 in their only season.

Werden was sold by Toledo to the Baltimore Orioles in 1891 and had another solid season, leading the team in hits, triples and RBI’s.  The following season he was signed by the Saint Louis Browns to replace Charles Comiskey at first base; Comiskey had jumped the Browns to join the Cincinnati Reds.

Werden hit .256 and .290 in two seasons with the Browns.  In 1894, he returned to the minor leagues with the Minneapolis Minnies in the Western League.  That’s where he became a legend.

In 1894, Werden exploded.  He hit .417 with 43 home runs.  In 1895, he improved to .428 with 45 home runs.

The Western League was no doubt a hitter’s league; eight players with at least 100 at-bats hit .400 or better in 1894 and 11 did so in 1895.  And the Minnies home field, Athletic Park, where Werden hit most of his home runs, was by all estimates a hitter’s paradise with a short (some sources say 250 feet) fence.

Regardless, 45 home runs would remain a professional baseball record until 1920. The Duluth News-Tribune said several years later that Werden hit seven home runs in a double-header in 1895; under the headline “Perry Werden was King of the Natural Hitters:”

“It was one of the greatest batting feats ever seen on a baseball lot anywhere.”

Werden had one last season in the Major Leagues.  At 35-years-old in 1897, he hit .301 for the Louisville Colonels, then returned to the minor leagues where he continued to hit well; .330 for his minor league career.

Werden became an umpire in the American Association in 1907, and became a baseball pioneer in 1908 when he joined the Indianapolis Indians in the same league; he was one of the first full-time coaches in professional baseball.  The Associated Press said:

“Perry Werden will go to Indianapolis to act as assistant manager, coach and advisor in general of the Indianapolis baseball club this year.”

In October The Indianapolis News declared Werden a success in the new role:

“Werden was one of the biggest factors in bringing Indianapolis her first pennant since 1902.  Without his services it’s highly probable the flag would have flown elsewhere”

The Indianapolis Star predicted that Werden’s “novel position,” would become the norm with the Indians, and throughout baseball.

Werden eventually returned to umpiring, working in the western, Dakota, South Dakota and Northern leagues.

His 43 home run season became news again in 1920 as Babe Ruth was closing in on Werden’s professional record.  Werden said there was one player in his era who was Ruth’s equal as a hitter.  Who was it?

Read about it on Monday.

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4 Responses to ““King of the Natural Hitters””

Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. “One of the Two Greatest Sluggers” « Baseball History Daily - January 28, 2013

    […] Kerr of the Chicago White Sox, breaking the Major League record he had set the previous season.  Perry Werden, working as an umpire in the South Dakota League was largely […]

  2. Things I Learned on the Way to Looking Up Other Things #1 | Baseball History Daily - March 7, 2013

    […] once, at the beginning of the sixth inning, when one of the liberated birds swooped down past big Perry Werden (Minneapolis Millers first baseman) as he stood guard over the initial bag…(Werden) raised an […]

  3. Jimmy Rogers | Baseball History Daily - September 16, 2013

    […] the season as the team’s starting second baseman; thirty-five-year-old minor league home run king Perry Werden, acquired from the Minneapolis Millers of the Western League played first base for […]

  4. “The Montgomery Team Threw to us Three Games by Arrangement” | Baseball History Daily - November 12, 2013

    […] to improve it; as the team battled for the pennant in the final month the roster included veterans Perry Werden, Joe Delehanty, and Charles “Dusty” […]

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