Bill Werber

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Bill Werber, the oldest living former Major League Baseball player and the first basketball All-American at Duke, died Thursday in Charlotte.

He was 100.

Werber had lived in Charlotte since 1998 at the Carriage Club retirement community to be near daughter Pat Bryant, who closely supervised his day-to-day care.

Even into his late 90s, Werber would stay up past his normal 9 p.m. bedtime to watch Duke basketball games on TV.

He often wore a Duke golf shirt and usually kept a Duke blanket wrapped around his legs.

"For the past few weeks, though," Bryant said Thursday, "Daddy said he was too tired to watch the Duke games. That's when we knew it was time."

Werber died of natural causes and will be cremated, Bryant said.

A superb athlete, he played alongside Babe Ruth for part of Werber's 11-year career in the majors, which ended in 1942. Werber was a solid third baseman and one of the fastest men of his era, specializing in stolen bases.

Werber won a World Series in 1940 with the Cincinnati Reds, batting .370 in that World Series and getting 10 hits.

As a 5-foot-10 guard in basketball, he was an All-American for Duke in 1930, playing for a Blue Devils squad coached by Eddie Cameron that went 18-2.

Werber grew up in what is now College Park, Md. As a pro baseball player, he never made more than $13,500 in any one season.

But he became a successful businessman in Maryland, earning more than $100,000 in his first year selling insurance.

He would later retire to Naples, Fla., living there 28 years before moving to Charlotte.

Werber said in an interview with the Charlotte Observer in June 2008, just before his 100th birthday, that his secret to longevity was this: "I don't drink, I don't smoke and I married a lovely girl who never got mad."

Kathryn "Tat" Werber died in 2000, after she and Bill had been married 70 years.

Werber is survived by the couple's three children – William Werber, Pat Bryant and Susie Hill – as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Funeral arrangements are incomplete.

In the 2008 Observer interview, Werber also recalled a story about his first at-bat in the major leagues in 1930. He played for the New York Yankees then and drew a walk because, he said: "I was too scared to move."

Ruth came up soon thereafter and slammed the ball to deep right field.

"I knew it was going into the right-field bleachers," Werber said. "But I said to myself, 'I'll show these Yankees how fast I can run.' So I put on a burst of speed and ran around the bases. The third-base coach was hollering for me to slow down, but I ran on in at full speed.

"I crossed home plate before Babe got to first base – he took those little mincing steps, you know. When Babe came in to the dugout, he sat on the bench beside me. He patted me on the head and said, 'Son, you don't have to run like that when the Babe hits one.'"

While Werber was proud of his accomplishments in sports, he was even prouder of his kin.

In his apartment at his retirement community, he displayed zero pieces of baseball memorabilia.

He covered the walls instead with pictures of his family.

-- By Scott Fowler, The Charlotte Observer

Published in Charlotte Observer from Jan. 23 to Jan. 28, 2009
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