Aloysius Jerome Egan was born in Evart, Michigan in 1881. By the time he was playing baseball, the “Aloysius” had given way to the much easier to say, “Wish.”
Wish Egan. Could there a better name for an old time ballplayer? When he played for the Tigers back in 1902, Wish shared the Bennett Park locker room with guys named Kid and Sport and Ducky and Deacon, but “Wish” still sounds the most like something that could turn up in The Natural.
Because he was a pitcher, once on the playing field, Wish shared the mound with George Mullin and Win Mercer – something that just could be the reason why he pitched only 22 innings that year (Mullin and Mercer were out there for 260 and 281 innings respectively).
As a matter of fact, Wish Egan’s entire major league career lasted just two more years, ’05 and ’06, with the St. Louis Cardinals. He did a little better in the minors, where he tallied 84 wins over six years, but his still was not a history from which legends were made.
And yet, Wish Egan is a legend – not for his prowess on the playing field, but for his uncanny ability to spot talent and reel it in for the Detroit Tigers, to whom he returned in 1910.
From that year until his death in 1951, over forty years, Wish coached and scouted, but mostly scouted, for the Tigers. The players he signed included Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Hal Newhouser. He also corralled Roy Cullenbine, Hoot Evers, Art Houtteman, Johnny Lipon, Barney McCoskey, Stub Overmire, and Dizzy Trout – all names with which to conjure. Although he was particularly known for his ability to see talent in its infancy (he began scouting Newhouser when Prince Hal was barely 15 and actually taught him to throw a curve prior to signing him), he could spot greatness in mature ballplayers as well. When he saw future Hall of Famer George Kell playing for Connie Mack’s Athletics, it was Wish who put the most pressure on Tiger owner Walter O. Briggs to send McCoskey (who had been an Egan prospect) to Philadelphia for Kell.
Maybe Wish’s most publicized success was also his best known, and perhaps only, failure. Dick Wakefield was the first bonus baby ever. Wish signed him for $52,000 and a car – in 1941 an astronomical amount – and Wakefield didn’t disappoint, at least not at first. He hit .316 and .355 in his first two full seasons with the Tigers and knocked in a career-high 79 RBIs, but it was wartime, and the draft caught him. The service took something out of the big outfielder, and he was never the same again. He remained just as charming, but when he came home at the end of the war, it was to hit .268, and his average never climbed much above that point again. In 1949, he was traded to the Yankees for Dick Kryhoski, and his career ended with the Giants the following year. Wish was heartbroken at the trade. He wrote New York Times columnist Arthur Daley at the Yankees’ spring training camp in St. Petersburg. “I’d appreciate it,” Wish penned, “if you’d browse around and let me know off the record what chance Dick has of making the Yankees. I still love the boy in spite of his faults.”
The faults in question involved a lack of hustle, occasional refusal to acknowledge that rules sometimes applied to people named Wakefield, and a tendency to flaunt his money. But Wish Egan was a surrogate father to every boy he signed, and fatherhood is like marriage – for better or for worse.
In over 40 years of scouting, Wish Egan never lost his personal touch. The boys that he signed remained his boys, and for good reason. He knew them well. He’d investigated them before he signed them, being sure that they had no bad habits. He checked out family backgrounds. He was sensitive enough to his prospects to spot where they felt most comfortable (and therefore would be most productive) on the playing field. [He moved Dick Wakefield from behind the plate to the outfield for that reason – and one cannot resist the aside that, sixty or seventy years later, he likely would have left Brandon Inge at third base from the get-go.]
For over forty years, Wish was an ambassador for the Tigers, representing the team the way it wanted to be represented. The Times’ Daley wrote that “he was big, hearty, friendly, loyal, wise and generous with genuine class sticking out all over him…his own personality reflected the personality of the ball club which knowing baseball men will tell you comes pretty close to the top.”
At the time that he died, Wish Egan was probably the most genuinely loved man in the game. And, yes, he was a legend.