Forum: January-February 2009

Safe: Werber steals third during eighth inning of 1939 Reds-Dodgers game. 

Safe: Werber steals third during eighth inning of 1939 Reds-Dodgers game. Diamond Images/Getty Images

Field of Memories

I wanted to thank you for the excellent article on Bill Werber '30 ["Oldest Living Major League Ballplayer Tells All," September-October 2008]. It was a great spotlight on an engaging Duke alum, and it shared some very exciting stories from the Golden Era of baseball in the '30s and '40s.

I really appreciated the chance to learn more about Mr. Werber and his experiences and look forward to reading more exciting articles like this in the future.

Michael Schwartz,  M.B.A. candidate, Durham



Regrettably, the history of Bill Werber, one of Duke's great athletes, also includes a less laudable side.

In the 1960s, during the dark days of the civil rights struggle in Durham, several Duke professors who were associated with the civil rights demonstrators were singled out by the segregationists, and calls were heard for their being fired. A small pamphlet written and distributed by Bill Werber added to the clamor. In it, Werber identified several faculty members as sexual perverts, drug addicts, and Communists and urged his fellow alumni to withhold contributions from Duke until the university acted to remove them. I was among those listed by name. As I was neither a Communist, a drug user, or sexually perverted, I filed suit for libel, with the tacit approval of the university's president and the explicit support of the dean of the chapel.

The case was tried in Washington. On the witness stand, Werber admitted to having hired a detective to investigate me, and said he had been told that his charges were mistaken. As Werber nonetheless persisted in repeating his libel (in one letter, he described me as resembling the goats that were the subjects of one of my studies), the judge ordered the jury to bring in a verdict of guilty.

A small amount of damages was also awarded but later set aside on the grounds that I could not show that I had suffered damage to my reputation. Unfortunately, the same could not be said for gifts to the alumni fund, which, evidently, did fall off subsequent to Werber's diatribe.

The judge in the case, incidentally, was Barrington Parker, who was later elevated to the federal court of appeals.

Peter Klopfer, professor emeritus of biology, Durham



In Jon Scher's fine article on Bill Werber, he mentions Dr. Few as umpire. There's another story about Coach Jack Coombs that deserves telling.

It was the first year of the fearsome Wallace Wade's coming to Duke. I was assistant baseball manager and in the dugout during practice. Coach was on the field. He returned to find Mr. Wade sitting on the bench. I think I can quote with utmost accuracy. Coach Coombs: "Mr. Wade, you are the football coach. You have your stadium. I am the baseball coach, and you're sitting on my bench. Get out!"

Without a word, Wade got up and went to sit in the stands. Even Dr. Few would not have had the guts to cross Mr. Wade in those days.

David Henderson '35, J.D. '37, Charlotte


Please consider this a response to the excellent article on Bill Werber.

As I was a Philadelphia Athletics fan since childhood, I saw most of the Duke players on Connie Mack's team: Wayne Ambler '37, Crash Davis '40, Ace Parker '37, Eric Tipton '39, Hal Wagner '38, Chubby Dean '38, and Bill Werber.

And I recall that after the freshman-orientation meeting in the summer of 1947, I went over to the baseball field to see where these guys played and where I would play and hope that, just maybe, I'd follow that lineup back home to the Philadelphia Athletics.

Well, unfortunately, it didn't work out that way. In four years, I pitched and won only two games and was primarily reduced to pitching batting practice.

In '48 and '49, Wake Forest, North Carolina State, and North Carolina cleaned our clock, and we didn't get much better in '50, even though basketball great and future MVP Pittsburgh Pirate shortstop Dick Groat '53 joined us.

However, in '51, we definitely improved, with two strong pitchers, Joe Lewis and Bob Davis, along with a brash, hard-hitting, left-handed freshman first baseman who incurred the wrath of us seniors and juniors with his irritating, constant demand that we hustle more.

The team record that year dramatically improved to 17-8, and we proceeded to win the Southern Conference Championship.

How about that! I finally won my second game against Michigan State when Groat drove in the winning run. The next day, Coach Coombs said, "Your curveball looked good yesterday, Klein."

Well, the coach finally had a winner and was happy, along with everyone else, including, lest I forget, the brash, hard-hitting, left-handed freshman first baseman, I guess one would call "a chip off the old block," Bill Werber Jr. '53.

Lewis P. Klein Jr. '51, Lansdale, Pennsylvania


Fool Me Twice

In the September-October issue's Gazette section is a report about microscopic robots being developed by Bruce Donald, professor of computer science and biochemistry. I wonder if he has read Prey, a novel by Michael Crichton that describes a similar invention with horrifying results.

Jane Romeyn P '71, Vero Beach, Florida


Talking Politics

In a letter in the September-October issue, Herbert Lodder complains about the article in the previous issue on the Ron Paul presidential campaign, saying that the magazine needs more "balancing." In my view, that article provided the balance, since Paul's limited government philosophy is profoundly at odds with almost everything we hear from Democrats, Republicans, and most political writers.

Lodder expresses his opposition to both the Bush administration and Paul (never mind that Paul has opposed the administration on many votes in the House), saying, "there are indications that concerns for the needs of others such as the working class and the poor…are simply not priorities."

Unfortunately, Lodder doesn't understand the case against our enormous state. Paul's argument, which finds a great deal of intellectual support, is that big government is harmful to the poor, the working class, to our civil liberties, to progress and prosperity. What most politicians do is an elaborate deception, pretending to care about "the people" while they support innumerable laws and programs that benefit various interest groups.

The result is to divert resources that would otherwise be directed to productive ends to political ends.

The same politicians who ostentatiously campaign as friends of the poor support an array of policies that keep prices high (such as agricultural price supports and the stupendous folly of ethanol subsidies), stifle competition (such as protective tariffs), and choke off avenues for economic advancement for individuals (such as licensing requirements). Poor people make good political mascots, but they have no idea how much better off they would be if it weren't for the incessant meddling of their supposed champions.

It's a great error to think that the well-off favor laissez-faire. Many prefer to use political influence to channel subsidies and favors their way. Our major political parties are happy to oblige in return for electoral support. The Democrats are not the party of the common man, and the Republicans are not the party of capitalism.

In my experience, people who advocate an expansive state make a quartet of mistakes. They overestimate the problems of a truly free society while underestimating the capacity of free people to solve the problems that do exist. At the same time, they overestimate the ability of government to solve problems and underestimate (and usually completely overlook) the costs of governmental action. That cloud of confusion makes it easy for politicians to practice their con game.

George C. Leef J.D. '77, Raleigh

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