1960s Detroit Tigers infielder Jake Wood will be the guest speaker at this year’s Union County Baseball Association Hot Stove Dinner on Sunday, February 9th.
Wood, who was born in Elizabeth in 1937, starred at shortstop for the baseball team at Thomas Jefferson High that won the state championship in 1955. When he began his professional career in the Detroit Tigers organization in 1957, the team made its spring training home in Lakeland, Fla. as it does now. But back then, Lakeland was still segregated.
“When we traveled south of the Mason-Dixon Line, black players couldn’t go into the restaurants with us,” Ted Brzenk told Jim Sargent, who wrote about Wood for SABR’s Baseball Biography Project. “I remember that we had to carry food to Jake on the bus. I don’t know which rest rooms he used. I know when we stayed overnight, Jake didn’t stay with us. Once we reached Pennsylvania, he stayed with us. I was Jake’s roommate in Erie, but that was north of the Mason-Dixon Line.”
In Wood’s rookie season in 1961, he led the American League with 13 triples and stole 30 bases, but he also led the league with 142 strikeouts at a time that they were a much less accepted part of the game. He spent seven seasons in the major leagues, almost all with the Tigers, but finished with the Cincinnati Reds in 1967.
Several Union County athletes will be honored for their accomplishments, including Arthur L. Johnson High School alumni Rob Smorol, who signed a professional contract with the Boston Red Sox organization last year.
Tickets for the dinner are $45 and are available online at http://ucba-nj.org/. It will be held at L’Affaire Banquet Center, 1099 Route 22 East, in Mountainside at 1 p.m. on Sunday, February 9th.
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