Bill Webb

Here lies Bill Webb, who pitched one inning of one game for the 1943 Philadelphia Phillies. He is the first member of the One-Game Wonder Club I’ll be profiling here, but there are many more to come.

Webb, a well-known amateur pitcher in his hometown of Atlanta, Ga., signed with the Phillies after taking the unorthodox step of inundating the Phillies front office with letters about himself. Let’s hear it for salesmanship. His letter-writing campaign proclaimed that he was better than Ike Pearson or Rube Melton, both of whom pitched on the ’42 Phillies team. He said he’d gone 4-1 with Mobile in 1941 and batted .464. Mobile and several other clubs wanted him in 1942, but he went back to semipro pitching, he also explained. He originally started his campaign by writing Phillies owner Gerry Nugent. When Nugent sold the club, Webb kept on by writing the new owner and manager Bucky Harris. When that didn’t draw interest, he started calling them long distance – with the charges reversed. Today, Webb would probably get a letter from the Phillies lawyer asking him not to contact the team any further. This being 1942, he got a contract and an invitation to Spring Training.

Webb may have fudged his resumé a little. One article on him called him a 24-year-old righty, when he was in fact 29. Prior to 1943, he’d pitched in a total of 44 professional innings, with a 3-3 record in Mobile and Macon in 1941 and 1942. He’d had much better luck in the Atlanta Amateur Federation and pitched for Dixie Steel and Exposition Mills in 1942. In announcing his deal with the Phillies, the Atlanta Constitution said that he’d been sought by a number of professional teams and that Harris called him the “Dizzy Dean of the Phils’ training camp at Hershey, Pa.”

In comparing Webb to Dean, Harris was paying him a bit of a back-handed compliment. Webb’s direct-mail advertising campaign also gave him a bit of a reputation as a flake. However, after watching the pitcher in Spring Training, Harris began to think that the Phils had found a genuine prospect.

“I certainly like his motion,” Harris said in the papers. “He has the free and easy delivery I like in a pitcher. The kid looks as if he’d be strong and pretty fast, too.”

Webb made the team, but he didn’t pitch until May 15, 1943. With the Phillies down 5-3 to the visiting St. Louis Cardinals, Webb made his debut in the 9th inning. The very first pitch he threw in the major leagues was sent over the fence by Cardinals pitcher Mort Cooper. Not exactly the stellar debut Webb was hoping for. Cooper hit 6 homers in his 11-year career, so he was no slouch at the plate, but still.

The very next batter, Lou Klein, walked. Webb was saved from a rougher inning when the next batter, Harry Walker, hit a line drive to first baseman Jimmy Wasdell, who snagged it and stepped on first for an unassisted double play. Webb then retired Stan Musial on a grounder to first to get out of the inning with one run allowed.

Webb never pitched in another game with the Phillies. He did start an exhibition game against some soldiers from Camp Holabird and beat them 10-1, allowing 7 hits in 6 innings while striking out 5. He was sold to the Montreal Royals in May 29 and spent the rest of his pro baseball career in the minor leagues. Webb had a few good seasons in him. He split time with the Royals and the New Orleans Pelicans in 1943 and had a combined 7-4 record and 3.12 ERA. In 1947, Webb won 22 games for the Carrollton (Ga.) Hornets with a fine 2.40 ERA. While not all of the minor league stats from that era are available, Webb had a 69-35 record in 9 seasons in the minors.

When his playing days were done, Webb returned to the Atlanta area, where he became a fireman. He retired from the Atlanta Fire Department in 1974 after 27 years of service. He died on June 1, 1994 at Cobb General Hospital in Austell. He was 80 years old. He’s buried in Cheatham Hill Memorial Park in Marietta.

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