Leagues Ahead

On April 20, 1916, in the first National League game to be played at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs went against the Cincinnati Reds; the first batter up was Wade Killefer, a fiery redhead from Hermosa Beach.

On April 20, 1916, in the first National League game to be played at Wrigley Field, the Chicago Cubs went against the Cincinnati Reds; the first batter up was Wade Killefer, a fiery redhead from Hermosa Beach.

The Cubs prevailed 7-6 in 11 innings. A bear cub was also in attendance, my father, Tom, taking in his dad’s historical moment miles from his California home.

Wade Killefer moved to the Golden State in the winter of 1911 to escape the cold of Michigan and lived on 18th Street in Hermosa Beach almost all of his life. Charlie Weatherby has written a biography of my grandfather, and the following comes from his introduction:

Although there isn’t a strong correlation between hair color and personality, it’s fair to say that the stereotypical redhead is hot-tempered, fiery and passionate. With his carrot-topped thatch, Wade Killefer personifies this description and was a natural to be called “Red” from birth. Add to the mix a stocky 5’9” 175-pound frame, a keen intellect, charismatic charm, and a fanatical work ethic, and you have a formula for success on the baseball diamond and in the business world.

Red Killefer spent 35 years in Organized Baseball as a player, coach, manager, team president and owner. He also had a team named after him. A versatile utility man who had a seven-year, 467-game career with Detroit, Washington, Cincinnati, and the New York Giants, Killefer played every position except for pitcher. A lifetime .248 hitter, he used his speed on the bases to good advantage and also had a knack for getting hit-by-pitches, a category where he was a two-time league-leader.

Red was a man of many nicknames. One of the first was “Lollypop,” for unknown reasons. After he left the major leagues, the sporting press was fond of calling him “Radiant Red,” “Red Dog” and the “Hermosa Hermit.” His Cincinnati Reds teammates called him “Doc” because of his education in osteopathy and penchant for successfully treating their ailments. Red abandoned his studies in 1919 when he was manager of the Los Angeles Angels.

In 1917, Killefer embarked on a 798-game career as a player and manager with the Los Angeles Angels and Seattle Indians of the Pacific Coast League, hitting .296 and becoming one of the most popular figures in the circuit. He was inducted into the PCL Hall of Fame as a player and manager in 1957. With five additional seasons managing the PCL’s Mission Reds and Hollywood Stars, plus another six years at the helm of the American Association’s Indianapolis Indians, Red is 13th on the baseball-reference.com list of minor league managerial wins with a record of 1,940-1,800.

On August 8, the Village of Paw Paw Michigan celebrated the 150 anniversary of its founding with a dedication of a monument to Wade and his brother Bill, graduates of Paw Paw High School, who both went on to play and manage in the major leagues for over 35 years. Among the attendees and speakers at the dedication were members of all four of Wade Killefer’s children’s families, all of whom were brought up or lived for a time in the South Bay. We’re proud to share this local boy’s story.

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