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Elmer Wachtler

 

Date and Place of Birth: July 16, 1918 Omaha, NE
Date and Place of Death:    January 5, 1945 Lutrebois, Luxembourg
Baseball Experience: Minor League
Position: Pitcher
Rank: Staff Sergeant
Military Unit: 134th Infantry Regiment, 35th Infantry Division US Army
Area Served: European Theater of Operations

The Wachtler brothers were one of the greatest baseball playing families in Omaha sandlot history. But World War II would ruin their dreams of playing in the majors and end the life of a fine pitcher.

Sandlot baseball in Omaha, Nebraska, during the 1930s was all about the Wachtler brothers. Elmer J. Wachtler was the third youngest of six children whose father died when they were young and it fell upon the eldest child, George, to help bring up the Wachtler clan with their mother Mary.

In 1937, Elmer and Eddie Wachtler were playing with the semi-pro West Point team. Elmer was a hard-hitting shortstop and pitcher, while Eddie played third base. By the early 1940s, the four Wachtler brothers were playing for the Storz Brewery-sponsored team in the Community League. In 1941, Storz was the league champions with George playing the outfield and leading the league in hitting with a .452 average. Eddie played third base, Elmer finished fifth in the league with a .339 batting average and an impressive 13-3 won-loss record from the mound, while Billy, the youngest and also an outfielder, finished second in the league with a .429 batting average.

Elmer also played with Tekamah in the Pioneer Night League, barnstorming all over Nebraska and Western Iowa and being closely watched by major league scouts. His greatest successes were wins over former Tigers pitcher Boots Poffenberger and Oad Swigart, who hurled for the Pirates in 1940. In October 1941, it was announced that Elmer had made a trip to St. Louis, at the request of Branch Rickey. Catcher Joe Garagiola rated the youngster's curveball as one of the best he had seen and Elmer returned home to Omaha with a contract from the Cardinals. "The 22-year-old fireballer refused to reveal terms," announced the Omaha World-Herald, "But it was believed he received about one thousand dollars." [1]

A month later, Elmer's younger brother Billy, 19, received a similar bonus to sign with St. Louis. At the end of spring training in 1942, Billy joined the Columbus Red Birds of the Class B South Atlantic League, while Elmer, at the insistence of Branch Rickey, returned home to Omaha to visit his wife Mary and their new born son, Jimmy, before joining the Houston Buffaloes of the Class Al Texas League. "This pro baseball is swell so far," Wachtler declared in April 1942. "They have taught me a lot. I'm glad they are sending me to Houston, because I may be able to be a starter." [2]

Elmer and Billy found playing in the minors a little tougher than they had antici pated and they both spent the majority of the season playing with the Decatur Commodores of the Class B Three-I League. Billy batted .301 playing 90 games in centerfield, while Elmer finished with an 8-7 record in 21 appearances for a 3.25 ERA. It was a somewhat despondent Elmer who told Robert Phipps of the Omaha World-Herald in August 1942 that he was giving up professional baseball because he could not see himself climbing higher than Class AA. [3] But rejection by the military and a change of heart about the game saw Elmer with the Lynchburg Cardinals of the Class B Piedmont League in 1943. While Billy - who was on the National Defense List of the St. Louis Cardinals - was learning to be a soldier, Elmer was 6-12 with a 3.79 ERA for the fifth-place club. When Elmer Wachtler was finally accepted for military service in March 1944, he had been due to report to the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League.

In the fall of 1944, Staff Sergeant Elmer Wachtler arrived in Europe as a replacement with the 134th Infantry Regiment of the 35th "Santa Fe" Infantry Division. Billy was also in Europe, a sergeant with the Army. During the Christmas holidays of 1944, the 35th Infantry Division slipped into Belgium and Luxembourg and, knee-deep in snow, attacked German divisions at Ardennes. On January 5, 1945, during the breakout at Bastogne, 26 year-old Staff Sergeant Elmer Wachtler was killed in action in the vicinity of Lutrebois in Luxembourg. Initially, his wife, Mary, was notified by the War Department that her husband was missing, but his death was confirmed in April 1945. Services were held at St. Cecilia's Church in Omaha that month. Elmer Wachtler was buried at the Henri Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium. His name was also listed on a memorial plaque that hung at Johnny Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska. The plaque is now displayed at historic Brown Park, a South Omaha ballfield. 

As for Billy Wachtler, he safely returned home to Omaha and was on the St. Louis Cardinals' spring training roster for 1946, but a shoulder injury he received in service ended his hopes of further pursuing a career in professional baseball. He retired after 13 games with the Columbus Red Birds of the Class AAA American Association.

Year

Team

League

Class

G

IP

ER

BB

SO

W

L

ERA

1942 Houston Texas A1 - - - - - - - -
1942 Decatur Three-I B 21 122 44 50 92 8 7 3.25
1943 Lynchburg Piedmont B 22 121 51 56 67 6 12 3.79

 

Ed Wachtler

Ed Wachtler (right) with his brother, Billy, as Decatur Commodore teammates in 1942

Elmer Wachtler

S/Sgt. Elmer Wachtler's grave at the Henri Chapelle Cemetery in Belgium

Omaha Plaque

The memorial plaque that had hung at Rosenblatt Stadium in Omaha, Nebraska

Notes
1. Omaha World-Herald, October 13, 1941
2. Omaha World-Herald, April 13, 1942
3. Omaha World-Herald, August 3, 1942

Thanks to Astrid van Erp for help with a photo for this biography

Date Added May 16, 2012 Updated August 3, 2017

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