Rams’ last manager never realized MLB dream

Dick Wentworth

Dick Wentworth‘s importance to the Anniston Rams’ tepid legacy is weakened, though not dissolved, by his relative insignificance. As with most things involving the city’s Southeastern League team, a three-time playoff squad that rarely rose from the circuit’s lower rungs, it’s complicated.

Wentworth, a catcher and pitcher, managed the Rams’ final game, a 9-8 loss at Selma in 1950.

But he managed the Rams for a scant three weeks, winning just three of 19 games and posting the second-worst winning percentage of the 15 managers in Anniston’s 10-season history.

Wentworth was only 25 when he became a minor-league manager.

But he led the Rams only because manager Lou Bevil was seriously injured in a car accident that killed another player, and the team he inherited was so unrepairable that it finished 21-73 and folded in midseason.

Boiled down, Wentworth answers a quintessential Rams trivia question — Who managed their final game? — and illustrates the talent that cycled through Anniston in the days just before its team’s death. He’s unforgettable and unremarkable, an odd baseball combination.

A 1943 clipping from the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Born in Fort Thomas, Kentucky, just across the Ohio River from Cincinnati, Wentworth became a Reds farmhand when he was barely 17. Four of his brothers joined the military before and during World War II. Samuel Wentworth, the oldest, served with the Coast Guard artillery. Col. Paul Wentworth fought in World War II, Korea and Vietnam and is buried at Arlington National Cemetery. Francis Wentworth, an aviation radio chief in the Navy, died in an airplane crash at Naval Air Station Norfolk in 1943. Laurence Wentworth also served in the Navy.

Dick Wentworth, the youngest of the Wentworths’ six sons, enlisted in the Navy following his first professional season and was sworn in on the day Francis was killed along the Virginia coast. When an injury during training caused him to be declared 4-F — unfit for service — it not only removed him from military duty but allowed his baseball career to continue unabated. Released by the Navy in the spring of 1943, he signed with the Birmingham Barons in April. His hopeful march to the Major Leagues rolled on.

That ascension didn’t happen because Wentworth wasn’t good enough, truth be told. His high-water mark happened when he batted .295 with the Barons in 1945, after which he was optioned to Class B Charlotte and called “a great prospect” by Hornets manager Spencer Abbott. “Unless I miss my guess, he’ll be back at (parent club) Washington in a year or so. He reminds me of Gabby Hartnett.” But Wentworth never hit for power and his defense was a liability; he made 33 errors in his first pro season in Class D Erwin, Tennessee, and 21 more with the Barons in ’45.) That he couldn’t break into the Major Leagues, either as a catcher or pitcher, during the talent-depleted war years signaled the eventual termination of his career. After the 1946 season, he never again rose above Class B.

Dick Wentworth, center, while with the Birmingham Barons. (1945 clipping in the Birmingham News)

The following summer, he hit just .238 for the SEL’s team in Pensacola and rotated through four minor-league stops in 1948. And then, he quit. It was time. His MLB dream wasn’t possible. At age 24, he went home to Fort Thomas in 1949 and managed a men’s softball team.

This was the player the Rams’ front office bought from Fort Lauderdale in May 1950, a player with experience but surely unable to improve their fortunes. For Wentworth, something must have happened that spring, perhaps a longing to give pro ball another shot, when he signed on with the Class B Braves. Anniston, however, was a dead-team walking, seven weeks before its funeral, mired in irreversible financial misery, when Wentworth made his Rams debut on June 2.

A month later, on July 3, Bevil was injured in a car crash between Birmingham and Anniston that killed 21-year-old Rams infielder Anthony Smeraglia and two others. The Rams’ season, if not their existence, grew grimmer by the day. Wentworth, who’d never managed, took over the club and split a doubleheader against Gadsden on July 4. Two days later, the Rams attended Smeraglia’s funeral in Birmingham and returned to Anniston for a game against Meridian. And the losing rarely abated.

Overflowing with debt and drawing only a few nightly fans to Johnston Field, the Rams’ ownership returned the last-place club to the SEL on July 15. Wentworth remained manager of the renamed Ramblers, who played nearly two weeks as a road team team. They folded July 25, a team no longer worth the financial trouble.

The league sold off the Rams’ salvageable players and released the rest. Wentworth, the Rams’ catcher-manager, was returned to Fort Lauderdale, where he played out most of that season and appeared in a few games late that summer with another Class B team in Florida, Lakeland. He suited up with Fort Lauderdale again in 1951.

(Luther Evans, a sports writer for The Miami Herald, threw shade at Wentworth’s MLB aspirations after the former Ram pitched well for Fort Lauderdale that spring. “Dick Wentworth, who knew he was going nowhere as a catcher, started somewhere as a pitcher on his 26th birthday Monday night by hurling Fort Lauderdale to a 4-1 triumph over Miami before 1,158 Miami Stadium sufferers,” Evans wrote.)

And then, Wentworth was done with baseball, 637 games played and with one brief managerial stint in Alabama’s Appalachian foothills over nine seasons. He returned home to northern Kentucky.

Dick Wentworth died in 1983 at age 60. He’s buried in Fort Thomas. His obituary in the Cincinnati Enquirer didn’t mention his baseball career.

Dick Wentworth’s World War II draft registration card. (Ancestry.com)

2 comments

  1. Enjoyed the sorry. Tony Smeraglia was known to me by virtue of his time with Bartlesville, Oklahoma of the KOM league. Tragic end to a career.

    Like

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