Friday, July 29, 2011

Ab Wright: Not a workout device

Seriously, this post is somehow not about a piece of exercise equipment1, called the Ab Wright, to help you tone up and have the ladies all up ons.

Rather, this post features Okie two-sport athlete Albert Owen Wright, better known as Ab Wright. After attending Oklahoma State University, Ab stomached 18 seasons in the minor and independent leagues, starting in 1928. He began his career as a pitcher but moved to the outfield in 1930. In the fall of that year, he caught on as the NFL's Frankford Yellow Jackets'2 running back for four games. While that was the extent of his two-sport career, he joined a number of baseball players who played other sports professionally.

Wright's big-league baseball legacy is just 393 plate appearances as a backup outfielder in two seasons, one with the Cleveland Indians and one with the Boston Braves. What makes his career unique is that the two seasons came nine years apart. His stay with the Indians lasted for 1935 and he reappeared in 1944 with the Braves. It would be easy to chalk the interval up to wartime military service, but Wright was apparently not drafted. Wright was 35 when the U.S. entered the war and 37 when he showed up with the Braves3.

Ab instead spent the interim in independent leagues, including six excellent seasons with the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association (AA) from 1939-1944. Ab won the 1939 AA Triple Crown, hitting .369 with 39 home runs and 159 runs batted in. Just two years earlier, some 19-year-old kid named Ted Williams had done the same thing for the Millers.

All told, Ab abbed nearly 2,000 games in the minors, ripped 317 home runs and stomach-muscled a career batting average of .3244. That kind of performance makes it difficult to digest Ab gutting out nearly two full decades in the minors, ending in 1946. But big-league clubs only came calling twice.

Little information on Wright's life after baseball exists. However, there's little doubt that, with the decade in which people would literally buy anything looming, he could have made a small fortune on a device to remove the unsightly flab caused by the newfound leisure time of the decade's pseudo-futuristic lifestyle5.

Wright died in Muskogee, OK6, in 1995, just 80 miles from his place of birth in tiny Terlton. In the years between 1946 and 1995, he must have watched as America got fat and lazy, and he must have seen an opportunity. Somewhere in his estate's personal effects, I'm confident you'll find a yellowed cocktail napkin. It's buried somewhere beneath his barely scuffed football helmet and the dried leather carcass of his old baseball mitt. The napkin features a simple technical drawing. The imprint of a pint glass is unmistakable. In the lower right corner, it rings pencil scrawl, which reads "Ab Wright's Ab Right." The design is perfect.

1 At least it wasn't. But it's hard not to veer in that direction when the player's name is a pun of something that should have existed.

2 The Yellow Jackets were an NFL team in Northeast Philadelphia from 1924-1931. I don't know much about NFL history, but that time period is pretty hard to follow at first glance.

3 I am aware that the draft included players up to the age of 45. But Wright must simply have not been drafted. However, many baseball players did fight in World War II, and they were occasionally replaced by older (like Ab Wright) or even younger players on occasion.

4 While these numbers sound impressive, they are far from records. Buzz Arlett hit 432 home runs in the minors from 1918-1937. He played one major league season in 1931 with the Philadelphia A's, where he absolutely crushed the ball. However, his defense was bad enough that he was sold to the Baltimore Orioles (then of the International League) and never played in the majors again.

5 Can I have my flying car yet? I'll settle for a nuclear-powered car. Or even a turbine-powered one.

6 The 1951 film "Jim Thorpe, All American" was filmed in Muskogee. Like Ab Wright, Thorpe was a multisport athlete from Oklahoma, though Thorpe was much more famous.


  1. Another riveting entry that made me sit-up and take notice!

  2. I'm Ab Wright's granddaughter. I don't mind the few puns that you write about his name. That's kinda funny. However, I don't find the reference to cocktail napkins and beer pints very respectful. Would you like someone referring to your Grandpa like that? You're a great writer, but please always consider that you are writing about people you never met and people still have families out there, OK?