In the heat of the 1924 pennant race, the Senators acquired veteran minor leaguer Wade Lefler to provide what the team hoped would be a potent bat off the bench. The left-hand hitter did not disappoint.
In four pinch-hit at-bats, Lefler drove in six runs with two doubles and a single. His first hit drove in two runs in Cleveland on September 18 when the Senators trailed 4-0 before winning 9-5. The second double came with the bases loaded against the Red Sox on September 27. It put Washington ahead in a game the Nats won to clinch at least a tie for the A.L. title.
After the Senators finally fought off the Yankees for the pennant, Lefler had two hits playing right field in the last game of the regular season. He ended up 5-for-8 with Washington. He couldn’t be added to the post-season roster because he didn’t join the team until September.
Nearly 28 years old at the start of the 1924 season, Lefler had his first major-league at-bat in April with the Boston Braves. Sent to the minors shortly after that, he led the Eastern League in batting with a.369 average, a point better than Lou Gehrig. Lefler had played several seasons for Jack Dunn’s strong Baltimore teams, but Dunn’s asking price to sell Lefler or others to major league clubs was too high. While with Baltimore, Lefler earned a law degree from what would become Duke University.
The Senators were prepared to add Lefler to the roster for 1925 season, but the player went public with his complaint that his one-fifth share of the World Series money should have been higher. The furor led to the Nats trading Lefler to Memphis in Southern Association. He kept playing through 1933, while also practicing law, but never returned to the majors.
Lefler became a successful and well-known attorney in his native North Carolina, where he lived until his death in 1981.
Washington finished two games ahead of New York to win the 1924 A.L. pennant. Without Lefler’s clutch pinch hits, the Nats might have lost two games they came back to win. It’s unlikely that another player who appeared in just five games played such a crucial role in any Senators’ season.
This also appeared in the March 2023 issue of the Squibber, the online newsletter of SABR’s Bob Davids’ chapter.