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Delbert Quentin Wilber
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Birth: Feb. 24, 1919
Lincoln Park
Wayne County
Michigan, USA
Death: Jul. 18, 2002
Saint Petersburg
Pinellas County
Florida, USA

U.S. Veterans Gravesites, ca.1775-2006
Name: Delbert Quentin Wilber
Birth Date: 24 Feb 1919
Death Date: 18 Jul 2002
Service Start Date: 9 Dec 1942
Interment Date: 16 Aug 2002
Cemetery: Bay Pines National Cemetery
Cemetery Address: P.O. Box 477 Bay Pines, FL 33744
Buried At: Section C Site 118

Delbert Quintin "Babe" Wilber - 1919-2002
Bygone baseball by C. Philip Francis

As a resident of Branson, Missouri in the early 1990's and a member of SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, I was able to attend a meeting of the prestigious baseball organization held in St. Louis in January of 1993. After a delicious luncheon of peanuts, pop, and hot dogs among other items we sat down to be entertained by the feature speaker, Delbert Wilber, a major league journeyman catcher from 1946 through 1954. Journeyman is another name for a second or third string player who can usually be found in the bullpen, and often traded. He takes over for the regular backstop in the second game in a doubleheader, or relieves an overworked catcher.

That January 1993 baseball assembly easily eased back to mind after reading a report that Del had died in Florida last July at the age of 83. Wilber had caught for the St. Louis Cardinals (1946-'49), Philadelphia Phillies (1951-'52), and the Boston Red Sox (1952-54) compiling a .242 batting average with 19 home runs. He was a backup or reserve catcher for the three big league teams with his best year in 1951 hitting .278 in 84 games. As are a number of other former catchers - Harvey Riebe, Yogi Berra, Joe Garagiola, and Tim McCarver – who have the flair of story telling Del is no exception.

Delbert Quentin Wilber, also known as "Babe", was born in Lincoln Park, Michigan, a suburb of Detroit, on February 24, 1919. Del began to play neighborhood ball, then on to high school and the semi-pros. One day in 1937 a friend heard that the St. Louis Browns club had a tryout in Springfield, Illinois, and decided to drive the 400 miles. Wilber was playing professional ball by 1939, was picked up by the Cardinals, spent four years in the army, and had his major league debut in 1946 when he appeared in four games with four at-bats.

The 6'3", 200-pound Wilber was the least known of the three Cardinal catchers in the late 1940's, the others being Del Rice and Joe Garagiola. It is Del who claims that New York columnist Eddie Dyer coined the Cards backstop trio, "One can't hit, one can't throw, and one can't catch." (Note: You have to make the choice.)

By 1951 Del was with the Philadelphia Phillies backing up Andy Seminick, and it was on August 27th that year when Wilber had a dream or perfect day. It was a doubleheader with Cincinnati with Andy working the first game and Del doing the nightcap. Del was not feeling good that day fighting a very bad cold. During the first game he sat on the end of the bench wearing his chest protector trying to keep warm on this August day. At his first time at bat Del swung on his first pitch, and hit a home run. The next time at the plate – one pitch, and another home run. The next time up, it was again one pitch and one home run all off Ken Raffensberger who gave up only three hits that day – all Wilber home runs. Apparently the illness made him so loose that any swing was a good swing.

At that time Bobby Lowe who played a century ago and Lou Gehrig were the only men who had ever hit a quartet of home runs in one game, and when Del reported the next day he was surprised and disappointed when he learned that Seminick would be catching. Before long, however, Andy quietly suggested that the backup catcher warm up, and before the game began manager Eddie Sawyer told Del, "Seminick is sick, you're catching." But on Wilber's first swing he sent the ball to deep left field for an out, and when he came back to the bench a suddenly healthy Andy Seminick said, "Well, I got you up to bat, anyway."

The big fellow from Michigan had another perfect day when he became baseball's only undefeated major league manger. In 1973 Del was guiding a minor league team for the Texas Rangers when he went to the team's offices in Dallas for a routine reason. As he walked in Del was told that the Rangers skipper, Whitey Herzog, had just been fired, and, "You're the new manager!" Wilber used the same lineup as Whitey had made out, and with a few changes in the ninth, Del had won his first game as manager. His big league job as pilot quickly ended, however, when he was replaced immediately by Billy Martin.

Wilber was a marvelous tale-spinner, and told one about Lou Novikoff, the Mad Russian, who played in the bigs for five years in the early ‘40's. In one minor league game Lou was in left field when the manager noticed Lou had disappeared from the field, and no one was able to find him. After the game finished he was found in a nearby tavern, and was asked, "What happened?" Lou's reply was, "Well, I had to go!" The next morning the local newspaper headlined – WHEN YOU HAVE TO GO…

Del said that the1953 Boston Red Sox team was the greatest group of players he ever played with that included Dom DiMaggio, Ted Williams, George Kell, Mel Parnell, manager Lou Boudreau – and Jim Piersall who was battling mental illness. In one game Jim had struck out three times against Cleveland's Mike Garcia. During his fourth time at bat, Jim swung at the first pitch and missed. He swung again, another whiff. Before the Garcia could deliver the next ball, Piersall walked over to the on-deck circle where Wilber was kneeling. Jim picked up Del's bat, checked it over, and gave it back. The hitter then walked back to the batter's box ready to hit, but without a bat!

There is no rule that says a batter must hold a bat so Jim was standing there emulating a batter's actions with Garcia winding up. Batless Piersall took ball one. Ball two. Ball three, and then ball four. Even without a bat at the plate Mike Garcia could not throw a strike. Jim had now made it to first, quickly stole second, trotted over to third on a balk, and scored on a force play. Jim Piersall had brought in a run without ever touching a Louisville Slugger. 
Family links: 
  Delbert Percy Wilber (1893 - 1970)
  Delbert Quentin Wilber (1919 - 2002)
  Donald William Wilber (1925 - 1994)*
*Calculated relationship
Bay Pines National Cemetery
Bay Pines
Pinellas County
Florida, USA
Plot: Section C, Site 118
Created by: Betty Joan Cogan
Record added: Mar 05, 2009
Find A Grave Memorial# 34483332
Delbert Quentin Wilber
Added by: Guillermo
Delbert Quentin Wilber
Added by: Betty Joan Cogan
Delbert Quentin Wilber
Cemetery Photo
Added by: Vero DiSpirito
Photos may be scaled.
Click on image for full size.

- Lance
 Added: Oct. 12, 2012
On behalf of the Wilber family, thank you for your service to our Country.
- Cousin Joanie
 Added: Mar. 5, 2009

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