May 9 – Happy Birthday Tiny Wolff

Tiny Wolff as a Rugmaker at 19.
Tiny Wolff as a Rugmaker at 19 years of age.
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Tiny Wolff in his eighties.

World War II had a dramatic impact on the city of Amsterdam. Hundreds of healthy brave young Rug City men left their families and their jobs to fight for our country. That lost productivity and purchasing power was felt by every business and retail merchant in this town. We also lost the Rugmakers. The Canadian American League made the decision to suspend play for the balance of the War, after the 1942 season. Amsterdam summers suddenly became a lot quieter.

Following the Allied victory in 1945, the CanAm League resumed play in 1946. With all of the Amsterdam boys who survived the battles in North Africa, Europe and the Pacific safely back home, the restoration of a full schedule of baseball activity at Mohawk Mills Park must have been eagerly anticipated.  As a way to ensure every player returning from military service had the best shot to make the Majors, big league active rosters had been expanded by ten extra players. Since that meant a total of 160 of the very best minor league players would now spend the entire ’46 season in the Majors, the ripple effect forced the remaining farm teams to suck the best possible talent from the lower leagues upward. An indication of just how shallow the talent pool at the C-level of the minor leagues was that year was 40-year-old Amsterdam manager Solly Rufkin having to put himself in 73 games as a first baseman and outfielder.

Today’s Amsterdam Birthday Celebrant, Fred Wolff was a member of Amsterdam’s 1946 starting rotation and one of only two southpaws on that Rugmaker pitching staff. You didn’t need a scorecard to pick out Wolff because at 6’3″ tall and weighing 230 pounds, the Pennsylvania native was the biggest guy on the team, which of course explains why he was nicknamed “Tiny.” The Yankees had originally signed him right out of high school in 1943 and sent him to a D level Pony League affiliate they had back then in Wellsville, PA.

Wolff’s debut in professional ball had been a decent one. Despite a so-so, 6-6 won-loss record he posted an efficient ERA of 2.75. He then joined the Army and after becoming the heavyweight-boxing champ of Fort Lee, VA, he saw action in the Pacific. It took him a while to get discharged and by the time he made it to Amsterdam, the Ruggies’ season had already begun.

Wolff had a blazing fastball but the best he could do for Amsterdam during that ’46 season was another break-even record of 8-8. He wasn’t helped by the Rugmakers’ atrocious defense that year but his ERA of over four runs per game was not impressive either. The team, however, was able to win more than it lost, finishing in fourth place in the league standings and as a testament to how much Amsterdam welcomed them back, they led all Cana ball clubs in attendance.

Wolff actually made it all the way up to Triple A ball before his career ended in 1948. That fastball and his huge physical size made the Yanks think he could make it as a reliever. When he failed to do so, he returned to his native Pennsylvania, raised a family, taught kids how to play the trumpet and retired from Quaker Oats. He passed away in 2013 at the age of 87.

 

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