There are a lot of bad contracts out there and it can be very easy to make the claim that “all agents are greedy” and players are just “in it for the money” but then you read a story like the biography of John Wockenfuss. Known as “Fuss” for short.
“Fuss” always knew that he wanted to play baseball. He just loved the game. He played most every position in his life, from pitcher when he was younger to third base, catcher, and outfield. When he was drafted out of high school he was offered $500 but the scout remembered that John would have paid $500 to play. Going in to the minor leagues, he wasn’t even dressing for games since the the roster had 45 players but could only dress 25.
He bounced around the minor leagues earning the nickname “Wildman” through various outbursts like trying punch a hole in a dugout roof, throwing stones at fans, and bumping umpires. It was 8 years after being drafted before he made it to the major leagues full time. He almost gave up his dream to go to work running a pizzeria with his brother.
His first day for his permanent stint in the majors was a double header. He caught 17 innings, threw out 4 of 7 stolen base attempts, had 3 hits and his first home run. He finished the season batting .229 with 4 HR in 25 games.
In 1977 he played in the Puerto Rican Winter League and came back to the Tigers in the spring with a new batting stance. He would stand with both feet on the back line of the batters box with his back to the mound. He would claim it kept his bat level. It was truly a unique stance and worth watching the video.
That wasn’t all that changed. “Fuss” claimed that he had found God and combining God and his stance he hit .274 and .283 in 1977 and 1978. He started leading the chapel services for the Tigers. He stopped losing his temper. He taught Sunday school.
In 1979 he hit 15 home runs, stole 2 bases (a remarkable fact considering that Sparky Anderson claimed it would take 3 doubles to score him from first base), and was voted the most versatile player on the club. He signed a 4 year contract with the Tigers that he negotiated himself as he never used an agent. He continued to play solidly as the longest tenured player for the Tigers and after 1983 negotiated a two year extension with a raise to $200,000.
This was a bargain considering the average salary on the team was $60,000 more. The founder of Domino’s Pizza, Tom Managhan, had just purchased the team for $50 million. In 1984 he was traded to Philly where he batted .289. He was released by the Phillies in 1985, a 12 year major league veteran.
Wockenfuss played minor league ball in various positions eventually managing and opening his own baseball academy. In 2018 he married Beck Askins of Watertown but was diagnosed with dementia later that year. He suspected the dementia was from collisions at the plate, one time being knocked out by Buddy Bell. He passed away on August 19, 2022 from complications due to dementia at the age of 73.
“Fuss” was the type of player that was a bargain of a contract. Willing to get hit, talented enough to play multiple positions, and not represented by an agent, he was underpaid for his time in the league.
Making adjustments to his batting stance and fighting to stay in the game at any level, he was interviewed before his death and simply said, “I just wanted to play.”