Johnny Bilton Wockenfuss (born February 27, 1949), sometimes known by the nicknames "Fuss" and "Johnny B.", is a former Major League Baseball player and manager, known for his strong throwing arm, unorthodox batting stance, and ability to play at multiple positions.
|Born: February 27, 1949|
Welch, West Virginia
|August 11, 1974, for the Detroit Tigers|
|Last MLB appearance|
|August 15, 1985, for the Philadelphia Phillies|
|Runs batted in||310|
Wockenfuss began his baseball career as a pitcher in high school. He was drafted by the Washington Senators in 42nd round of the 1967 amateur draft and spent five years in the Senators' farm system. He was acquired by the Detroit Tigers in December 1973 and played 10 seasons for the club from 1974 to 1983, first as a backup catcher and then as a utility player whose assignments included first baseman, designated hitter, outfielder, third baseman, and pinch hitter.
Wockenfuss was traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in 1984 and played two seasons there, playing principally at first base, catcher, and as a pinch hitter.
After his playing career ended, Wockenfuss worked as a minor league manager for several years, including four years in the Detroit Tigers farm system (1986–1990), two years in the Pittsburgh Pirates' farm system (1992–1993), and two years with the Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs (1996–1997). He was inducted into the inducted into the Delaware Sports Hall of Fame in 1993.
Wockenfuss was born in 1949 in Welch, West Virginia. He attended John Dickinson High School in Wilmington, Delaware. One of the best all-around athletes Dickinson High ever produced, he lettered in football, basketball, baseball, and track. He played baseball as a pitcher. He played quarterback for the football team and gained note for his use of a drop kick technique to kick extra points after touchdowns.
Wockenfuss was drafted by the Washington Senators in the 42nd round of the 1967 Major League Baseball June Amateur Draft. He spent five season in the Senators' farm system, including stints with the Geneva Senators (1967–1968), Burlington Senators (1969), and Pittsfield Senators (1970–1972). During his time in the minors, he converted from a pitcher to an outfielder and then a catcher.
In June 1973, Wockenfuss was traded by the Texas Rangers (successor to the Senators) to the St. Louis Cardinals along with Mike Nagy in exchange for Jim Bibby. The Cardinals assigned Wockenfuss to their farm team, the Tulsa Oilers. In 60 games for Tulsa, he compiled a .266 batting average and .357 on-base percentage.
1973 to 1975 seasonsEdit
In December 1973, the Cardinals traded Wockenfuss to the Detroit Tigers in exchange for shortstop Larry Elliott.
Wockenfuss began the 1974 season with the Evansville Triplets, appearing in 84 games and hitting 11 home runs. When Detroit catcher Jerry Moses was injured, Wockenfuss was called up by the Tigers in August, appearing in his first major league game on August 11, 1974. He struggled in his first major league season, batting only .138 in 13 games.
In 1975, Wockenfuss considered quitting baseball and working full-time at the pizzeria he opened with his brother in Christiana, Delaware. He ended up appearing in 35 games with the Tigers, including 32 games as the team's starting catcher. He hit .229 with four home runs.
1976 to 1979 seasonsEdit
Wockenfuss continued as the Tigers' backup catcher, starting 43 games at the position in 1976 and 33 in 1977. His offensive production improved significantly from .222 and three home runs in 1976 to .274 and nine home runs in 1977. He receive negative press in 1976 when he tagged a runner out at the plate, gently rolled the ball to the mound on the incorrect assumption that it was the third out, allowing Mickey Rivers to score from second base. Wockenfuss later said, "I don't think [Ralph] Houk ever forgave me for that mistake."
Wockenfuss underwent another transformation on May 8, 1976. During a locker-room speech by an evangelist, Wockenfuss recalled that he found god and became a born-again Christian. Previously plagued by bitterness and a fierce temper, he later recalled: "I found that it changed my life. I settled down on the field, was able to concentrate, and it made my home life better."
Wockenfuss's offensive improvement in 1977 followed the adoption of an unorthodox batting stance: feet close together and touching the back line of the batter's box, much of his back facing the pitcher while looking over his left shoulder at the pitcher, bat held above his head, and the fingers on his right hand waggling before each pitch. He began using the new stance while playing in the Puerto Rican Winter League prior to the 1977 season and batting around .390. Wockenfuss credited his new batting stance for his offensive turnaround.
In 1978, with Milt May and Lance Parrish having locked down the catching duties for the Tigers, Wockenfuss moved to the outfield, starting 49 games in right and left field. His offensive production also continued to improve with a .283 batting average and .357 on-base percentage. In 17 at bats as a pinch hitter during the 1978 season, he hit .353.
With the arrival of Sparky Anderson as Detroit's manager in 1979, Wockenfuss saw an increase in playing time. He appeared in 87 games, including 35 games at first base, 20 games at catcher, six games in the outfield, and 14 games as the team's designated hitter. He also hit 15 home runs with 46 RBIs. On August 9, 1979, he hit two home runs, including a grand slam, for five RBIs and the best game of his career. In January 1980, Wockenfuss was voted by the Wilmington Sportswriters and Broadcasters Association as the Delaware Athlete of the Year for 1979.
1980 to 1983 seasonsEdit
Wockenfuss' career peaked in 1980 as he appeared in 126 games for the Tigers (52 at first base, 28 as the designated hitter, 25 at catcher, and 23 in the outifeld) and compiled a career-high .390 on-base percentage. He also tallied career highs in home runs (16), runs (56), RBIs (65), and bases on balls (64). One sports writer in July 1980 referred to Wockenfuss, who was also used as a pinch hitter, as "the most versatile player in the majors today."
Wockenfuss continued to be valuable role-player for Detroit from 1981 to 1983, appearing in 232 games, including 93 as the designated hitter, 58 at catcher, 55 at first base, 12 in the outfield, and two at third base. In 1982, he compiled a career-high .301 batting average.
1984 Trade to PhiladelphiaEdit
In mid-March 1984, Wockenfuss noted that he would be happy to be traded to Philadelphia, a 50-minute drive from his home in Wilmington. He drew criticism with further public complaints about his low pay ($200,000) and limited playing time and the high salaries being paid to unnamed "clowns" among his teammates. Mike Downey wrote at the time: "Wockenfuss is someone the Tigers count on. Nobody in baseball is a better hit-and-run man." Unfortunately, Downey added that Wockenfuss also had a reputation as "the clubhouse carp," and his indirect criticism of the Tigers' owner was a "cardinal sin."
Wockenfuss played two seasons for the Phillies, appearing in 118 games, 46 at first base, 23 at catcher, and two at third base. In 1984, he compiled a .289 batting average and .390 on-base percentage. In 1985, he dropped by more than 100 points to a .162 batting average in 37 at bats, mostly as a pinch hitter. In July 1985, Wockenfuss asked to be traded, preferably to an American League team where he could extend his career as a designated hitter. He later expressed bitterness at how the Phillies treated him in 1985: "They had me there as a bullpen catcher, carrying buckets of balls to the bullpen. They made me feel like a fool. Like a bum."
He ultimately gave the Phillies an ultimatum to play him or release him. On August 19, the Phillies granted him an unconditional release. Wockenfuss's salary in his final year with the Phillies was $275,000.
Comeback attempt in 1986Edit
In the spring of 1986, Wockenfuss showed up at the Tigers' training camp, offered to pay his own way, and begged for another chance to play. He also showed up at the Boston Red Sox training camp, but was turned away. Unable to find any other takers, Wockenfuss signed with the independent, Single-A Miami Marlins in the Florida State League. Wockenfuss said at the time that he was still "hungry" and hoped to sign with a major league club before the end of the season. He ended up staying with the Marlins through the 1986 season, and Miami sports writer Tom Archdeacon wrote: "Although his hair is graying, his knees a little banged up from 15 years of catching and his age nearly twice that of most of his teammates, he is still the anchor of the Marlins' team." For the 1986 season, Wockenfuss compiled a .269 batting average and .375 on-base percentage with 10 home runs and 80 RBIs in 136 games.
In 12 major league seasons, Wockenfuss appeared in 795 games, including 266 as a catcher, 184 as a first baseman, 144 as a designated hitter, 110 as an outfielder, and four as a third baseman. He also appeared in 837 minor league games over 10 seasons. He compiled the following career statistics in his 12 major league seasons:
In October 1986, the Detroit Tigers hired Wockenfuss to manage their minor league club, the Lakeland Tigers. He took a Lakeland squad that finished 54–79 in 1986 and led them to a 74–61 record in 1987. In 1988, he was promoted to manager of the Tigers' Double-A team in Glen Falls, New York. After leading a turnaround at Glen Falls, Wockenfuss was again promoted, becoming manager of the Triple-A Toledo Mud Hens in 1989. He led Toledo to a 69–76 record in 1989. He was fired as Toledo's manager in late April 1990, after the team started with a 10–14 record.
In 1992, Wockenfuss returned to minor league coaching as manager of the Pittsburgh Pirates' Class-A Salem club in the Virginia League. He was promoted in 1993 to be manager of the Class-AA Carolina Mudcats in the Southern League. He missed portions of the 1993 season after undergoing two back surgeries in April and August to address severe back problems. In January 1994, he announced: "My baseball career is over."
Wockenfuss organized the Tri-State Baseball/Softball Academy in 1994 and worked on that business in 1994 and 1995.
In March 1996, returned to organized baseball as manager of the independent Albany-Colonie Diamond Dogs. He led the team to the Northeast Independent League title in 1996 and returned as manager in 1997.
Family and later yearsEdit
Wockenfuss married his high school sweetheart, Pamela Lennon. They had three children, including son, John Bradley and Jeremy. He and his wife were divorced in the mid-1980s. He later remarried to a second wife, Fran.
- "John Wockenfuss". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
- Jim Hawkins (March 11, 1975). "Wockenfuss Struggles to Stick With Tigers". The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware). p. 12 – via Newspapers.com.
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- "Ill-timed trade keeps John Wockenfuss from Series". Compass. October 11, 1984. p. 4 – via Newspapers.com.
- "John Wockenfuss Minor League Stats". Baseball-Reference.com. Sports Reference LLC. Retrieved July 15, 2019.
- "Wockenfuss, Nagy Traded". The Spokesman-Review. June 7, 1973. p. 16 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Cards trade Wockefuss to Detroit". The Berkshire Eagle. December 6, 1973. p. 31 – via Newspapers.com.
- Matt Zabitka (October 15, 1976). "Wockenfuss would rather forget 1976". The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware). p. 32 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Wockenfuss finds god, inner peace". The Morning News (Wilmington, Delaware). November 27, 1979. p. 24 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Tigers make pitch for prayer". The Windsor Star. August 29, 1981. p. C4 – via Newspapers.com.
- Jim Hawkins (June 9, 1978). "John Wockenfuss: Once trade bait, he's now found a spot". Detroit Free Press. p. 14D – via Newspapers.com.
- Izzy Katzman (January 15, 1980). "Wockenfuss: Versatile Tiger a hit as '79 Athlete of Year". The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware). pp. A12, A16.
- Matt Zabitka (July 6, 1977). "Wockenfuss proving a big hit with Tigers". The Morning News (Wilminton, Delaware). p. 38 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Who's who in trades". Detroit Free Press. March 25, 1984. p. 10D – via Newspapers.com.
- Matt Zabitka (July 11, 1980). "Wockenfuss major success story". Evening Journal (Wilmington, Delaware). p. A17 – via Newspapers.com.
- Bill McGraw (March 13, 1984). "Wockenfuss wouldn't mind trade". Detroit Free Press. pp. 1D, 2D – via Newspapers.com.
- Mike Downey (March 15, 1984). "Johnny B. 'Fuss may have committed the cardinal sin". Detroit Free Press. p. 1D.
- "Wilson, Wockenfuss traded". Detroit Free Press. March 25, 1984. p. 1D – via Newspapers.com.
- Ray Finocchiaro (July 29, 1985). "Wockenfuss seeking trade: As cobwebs mount, Phillie's frustration spills over". Sunday News Journal. p. C6.
- Ira Winderman (May 4, 1986). "Wockenfuss goes full circle – back to square 1". News/Sun Sentinel. p. 7C – via Newspapers.com.
- Ray Finocchiaro (August 20, 1985). "Wockenfuss cut; Stone returns". The News-Journal (Wilmington, Delaware). pp. C1, C3 – via Newspapers.com.
- Joe Falls (March 4, 1986). "Knowing when to call it quits: The painful saga of Ex-Tiger John Wockenfuss". The Ithaca Journal. p. B2 – via Newspapers.com.
- Matt Zabitka (May 28, 1986). "Wockenfuss playing with little fanfare". The News Journal (Wilimington, Delaware). p. C7 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Lakeland manager will be Wockenfuss". Detroit Free Press. October 22, 1986. p. 4D – via Newspapers.com.
- "Tiger system's Mr. Fixit". The News-Journal. August 23, 1988. p. C4 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Hens a tough test for Wockenfuss". Detroit Free Press. April 3, 1989. p. 2D – via Newspapers.com.}
- Matt Zabitka (August 16, 1989). "Mud Hens scratch for playoff berth with Wockenfuss". The News-Journal. p. C1 – via Newspapers.com.
- Matt Zabitka (May 22, 1990). "Wockenfuss still feeling the sting of Tigers' firing". The News-Journal. p. 5 – via Newspapers.com.
- Matt Zabitka (February 7, 1992). "Wockenfuss to manage Class A Salem". The News-Journal. p. C6 – via Newspapers.com.
- Matt Zabitka (March 28, 1996). "Wockenfuss returns to managing". The News-Journal. p. NO17 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Former major leaguer opens business". The News-Journal. January 27, 1994. p. 11 – via Newspapers.com.
- "Wockenfuss Back in Dugout". The News Journal. June 18, 1997. p. C2 – via Newspapers.com.
- Betsy Price (September 12, 2008). "Take a few swings for charity". The News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware). p. E1 – via Newspapers.com.
- Jack Ireland (April 11, 1993). "Raymond goes to head of 1993 class". Sunday News Journal (Wilmington, Delaware). p. C8 – via Newspapers.com.