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The Yankee who died while living

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Julie Wera was one of the lesser known 1927 Yankees, but came to prominence after something he had nothing to do with.

Chicago Cubs v New York Yankees Photo by Ezra Shaw/Getty Images

Julie Wera played 43 major league games. Despite being a member of the 1927 Yankees, his major league career went mostly under the radar. He was a bit below average at a point in time when the Yankees were mostly way above average. He still made it to the major leagues, he just didn’t spend that much time there.

Wera isn’t quite as anonymous as other random major leaguers. However, the reason for that was something he didn’t do.

Born in Minnesota in 1902, Wera came to prominence playing for amateur teams in the state. In 1924, he was picked up by the St. Paul Saints of the American Association. He spent a couple years there and with the Peoria Tractors (side note: minor league baseball of the 1920s was great) before catching the eye of the Yankees.

In December 1926, the Yankees sent money and two players, one of whom was Leo Durocher, to the Saints to acquire Wera.

Wera played third base, which was a position where the Yankees were set heading into 1927. Joe Dugan was far from the best hitter on that stacked team, but he was a solid player with over 10 years of major league experience. He wasn’t getting dethroned by a rookie. Despite Wera not expected to get much playing time, manager Miller Huggins brought him to the majors to get him experience.

Wera made his major league debut on April 14th, getting one at-bat off the bench. He couldn’t break a 9-9 deadlock and the game finished in a tie against the Athletics.

As expected, Wera got sparse playing time in 1927, but remained with the Yankees for the whole season. He got his first major league hit June 12th, driving in a run with a single. He ended up getting 42 at-bats in 38 games that season. Wera hit .238/.273/.381, picking up one home run. He does go down as a World Series champion, as the 1927 Yankees completed their historic season with a sweep of the Pirates.

Wera would spent all of 1928 in the minors. Before the 1929 season, the Yankees got rid of Dugan, however Wera was not given the third base job. Instead, he was sent back to the minors and spent most of the season there. He came back up and got 12 at-bats in September. He was successful in that small sample, picking up five hits.

Despite that short run of success, those games in September would be the last in Wera’s major league career. He stayed in the Yankees’ organization for a couple years before they included him in a trade to a Pacific Coast League team for Frankie Crosetti. Wera played several years in the PCL, including briefly sharing the field with Joe DiMaggio. He eventually finished out his career with a minor league team in Minnesota in 1937.

After his playing career, Wera became a butcher in Rochester, Minnesota. Lou Gehrig famously visited him at work there while receiving treatment at the Mayo Clinic.

Several years later, Wera seemingly reemerged back in baseball. He was the business manager of the minor league Oroville Red Sox. However, sadly in September 1948, Wera was found dead in his apartment after an apparent suicide.

Problem was, that was not Julie Wera. Julie Wera was still a butcher in Minnesota.

The “Julie Wera” who was found dead was later identified as William Wera, a man with no actual relation to the former Yankee. William had purportedly been passing himself off as the former major leaguer. He had been giving made up quotes and stories to newspapers for years, even marrying a woman under the pretenses that he was former major league baseball player Julie Wera.

William Wera even managed to convince former teammates that he was Julie. He got the job with the Oroville Red Sox from college teammate Specs Toporcer. In addition to fabricating baseball stories, he managed to convince people who knew him that he looked different because of facial injuries he sustained in World War II. At the time William took his own life, it was thought that some people had finally begun to catch on to the hoax.

Meanwhile, the actual Julie Wera went on to live nearly another 30 years in Minnesota. He passed away in 1975.

Had the impostor thing never happened, Julie Wera’s career wouldn’t be of that much note. However, someone did pretend to be Julie Wera, and now it’s one of the stranger stories of any Yankee in history.

Sources

http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/2dc33add

https://sabr.org/bioproj/topic/julian-weras-imposter

https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/weraju01.shtml