Obituary: Stefan Wever (1958-2022)

RIP to Stefan Wever, a very good pitcher in the minor leagues who injured his rotator cuff in his one and only major-league appearance. Multiple online reports reported his death on December 27, 2022, at the age of 64. No cause or place of death had been released, but a Facebook post from a few days before his death mentioned that Wever, a long-time San Francisco resident, was unhappy living in Portland, Ore., and was going to move back to California. Wever pitched for the New York Yankees in 1982.

Stefan Matthew Wever was born in Marburg, Germany, on April 22, 1958 — one of only 44 major leaguers to have been born in Germany. His mother was professional singer named Dorothy Barnhouse, a mezzo-soprano who trained at Harvard and Muskihochschule in Berlin. While living in Germany, she and her then-husband had twins, Stefan and Kirsten. She moved with the kids to Boston when they were 6 years old and settled in San Francisco when they were 12. You can find some of Dorothy Barnhouse’s songs on Spotify and Apple Music. She sang the National Anthem during at least one of her son’s pro games, in 1981.

See Stefan Wever on Baseball Almanac

Wever was introduced to baseball by his cousins when he first came to Boston, and he fell in love with it. He attended Lowell High School in San Francisco and was a talented pitcher. Given his height — he would reach 6’8″, according to Baseball Reference — Wever was a player on the school’s varsity basketball team as well. He made the baseball team at University of California, Santa Barbara as a walk-on player. With a good fastball and curve, Wever pitched well enough to be drafted by the New York Yankees in the Sixth Round of the 1979 June Amateur Draft.

Stefan Wever at the plate while attending Powell High School in San Francisco.

Wever debuted professionally with the Class-A Oneonta Yankees of the New York-Penn League in the summer of 1979. He started 9 of his 10 appearances and won six of them, with 4 complete games and 2 shutouts — good for a 1.77 ERA. In the postseason, Wever threw a 5-hit shutout against the Geneva Cubs on September 1. He struck out 9 and walked 5 in the 3-0 win.

Wever made a big impression early on with the Yankees. Doug Holman, the manager of the Yankees’ Fort Lauderdale affiliate in the Florida League, called him an outstanding prospect. “His fastball explodes at the plate and he already has a major-league breaking pitch,” the manager said. Wever was an English literature major but had a pretty good knowledge of the physics of baseball and how his height could be used as a weapon.

“I worked it out with my physics professor, that if a pitcher releases the ball two feet closer to the plate, it adds seven miles per hour to his fastball,” Weaver said. With his 6’8″ frame, he naturally threw the ball closer to the plate than most pitchers.

Wever went 7-3 with a 3.64 ERA for Fort Lauderdale in 1980. He struck out 67 batters and walked 54 in 94 innings. His control was a little shaky, but his biggest problem was his feet — or at least finding shoes to fit his feet. Wever wore size 14 cleats, and the team had a tough time trying to find replacements when his first pair wore out. “Every company claimed they can make them. So I have ordered at least a pair from each company, hoping that at least least one pair will come in before he pitches again,” said team trainer Paul Grayner. “If every pair of shoes we’ve ordered comes in, Stefan will never have to worry about baseball shoes again.” Wever’s old cleats were more tape than actual shoe leather by the time he replaced them.

Wever hit his stride in 1981, when he was 23 years old. In a total of 21 games for Fort Lauderdale and the Double-A Nashville Sounds, he had a 12-5 record and 2.02 ERA, striking out 119 batters as well. His only issue was that he missed some starts with a sore arm. He topped himself in 1982, winning the pitching triple crown with Nashville — he led the Southern League with 16 wins (tied with Nashville teammate Clay Christiansen), a 2.78 ERA and 191 strikeouts. When he was named the Sounds’ Opening Day starter, he felt that it was a sign from the Yankees that he was completely healthy and on the fast track for the majors.

“I visited a therapist during the offseason, and he got me started on a good exercise program. I have no more pain, and my arm is stronger,” he said early in the season. “I haven’t got that zip yet, but it will come. I’ve never thrown that well in the spring.”

Wever was named to the Southern League All-Star Team, and he was given the Game Three start in the league championship against Jacksonville. He struck out 10 batters in a 2-1 Sounds victory. Nashville won the Southern League championship two days later, and Wever celebrated by getting on a plane to make his major-league debut with the Yankees, against Milwaukee on September 17, 1982.

Source: Fort Lauderdale News, August 28, 1981.

Wever wasn’t given an easy task, as the Brewers were on their way to winning the AL pennant, and the Yankees were just struggling to stay over .500. The first two batters he faced that night in Milwaukee, Paul Molitor and Robin Yount, were in the prime of their Hall of Fame careers. Molitor greeted Wever with a single, and Yount and Cecil Cooper followed with back-to-back RBI doubles. Cooper’s fly to center field might have been an out had center fielder Jerry Mumphrey not misjudged the ball and let it drop in. Ted Simmons reached on an error by shortstop Andre Robertson before Wever finally recorded an out on a fly ball to left field by Ben Oglivie. Gorman Thomas crushed a 3-run home run to make the score 5-0 before Wever was able to get out of the inning by striking out Roy Howell and getting Charlie Moore to ground out.

Somewhere during the Thomas at-bat, Wever’s shoulder began aching. Not wanting to leave his major-league debut, he kept pitching. Unfortunately, the Brewers kept hitting him, and his control abandoned him. In 2-2/3 innings, Wever walked 3 batters and threw 3 wild pitches. Before he was taken out in the third inning, he had surrendered 9 runs (8 earned) on 6 hits, including the Thomas home run. The Brewers knocked the Yankees out of playoff contention with a 14-0 shutout. Wever was left with a 27.00 ERA.

Wever was supposed to face Cleveland pitcher Rick Sutcliffe in his next start, but he didn’t pitch again for the Yankees, that season or ever. His sore shoulder caused him to be shut down, and after a restful offseason didn’t relieve the pain, he was sent to a doctor in spring training in 1983. Wever was interviewed about his brief major-league career for the website This Great Game:

“Billy Martin was the new Yanks’ manager. He told me that I was going to be his Number Five starter. Billy liked big, hard throwing guys, and that’s what I was. Or had at least been at one time. What we didn’t know until a little later was that my arm was done. I used to throw 95, and now I was maxing out at 85. I went to see an expert and in two minutes he knew that my rotator cuff was fully torn. I tried to make a comeback at AAA, but I was simply delaying the inevitable. My baseball career was over.”

Over the next three seasons, Wever played at various levels of the Yankees’ system, pitching in a total of 19 games, 11 of which were starts. He won only 2 of them and walked more batters than he struck out. He retired from professional baseball in 1985 after 5 relief appearances with the Albany-Colonie Yankees of the Double-A Eastern League.

Source: The Tennessean, July 16, 1982.

“What if Pavarotti ruined his voice on his first night singing as a tenor? That’s how I felt when I hurt my rotator cuff,” Wever told This Great Game. “It might be an egotistical way of looking at it, but that’s how I feel. I keep myself going by knowing in my heart that I was one of the very best there was when I was 100%. I could have had a great career, but it didn’t happen. I can’t dwell on it, although when it first happened, I must admit that I was shocked and bitter.”

Wever completed his literature degree at the University of California, Berkeley. He returned to San Francisco and worked as a bartender at several city bars. He was also a talented piano player and coached high school baseball. Wever was promoted to bar manager while working at Silhouettes in North Beach and eventually bought The Horseshoe Tavern, in 1991. He and his business partner added a second bar, Grant and Green, in 2000. He remained in the bar business for a couple of decades before moving to Oregon.

By the 2000s Wever had reverted back to being a die-hard Red Sox fan and Yankees hater. He told the San Francisco Chronicle in a 2001 interview that if he weren’t for his family, he’d quit the bar business to go be a pitching coach for some low-level minor-league team somewhere. In spite of the injustice of having his only game marred by a career-ending shoulder injury, baseball still meant a great deal to him.

“It was both the greatest thing, and the worst thing that’s happened to me, ” he said. “But I don’t think I would ever take it back. I would never wish for it not to have happened.”

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