In the spring of 1927, the Wilmington High School baseball team had a problem. They had almost no pitching staff.
Into the box stepped Harold Waterman. He turned out to be a fearsome pitcher and a great leader. By the time he graduated, his pitching record was 7 and 1.
He was dubbed “the one-armed wonder of Wilmington.”
Some 60 years before Jim Abbott rose to a major league career with the Angels, Waterman pitched a no-hitter in a Boston area semi-pro league. He was a great all-around ballplayer, a remarkable fielder, and lightning-fast on the basepaths. A hit to centerfield was not a hit but an out, if Harold was playing.
His throws were on-target and fast. He would catch a ball, toss it in the air, shake off his glove, catch it again and throw, strong and true. Playing against Mitchell Academy, he ran from center to the left foul line for a sensational game-ending catch.
The Boston Globe wrote in 1925 that he completed nine consecutive games without an error or strikeout at bat, stealing seven bases in eight tries. Waterman batted .345 in 1925 and was never below .300 in his high school career. He never hit a home run, but frequently went for extra bases.
In one game, he came to the plate with a 3-3 tie. He hit a double into left, then stole third and scored on an error, winning the game.
His remarkable athletic career is all the more impressive in that he only had one arm. Waterman, then eight years old, had lost his left arm in 1918 after a ladder collapsed while he was helping his father prune a tree at their yard, near the Walker School. The arm developed gangrene, resulting in amputation at the shoulder.
He grew up with the determination to excel, working out and practicing relentlessly. He entered Wilmington High School in 1923, in the old Swain School building. The baseball team played its home games on the Common.
WHS had no yearbook in 1927, but a special edition of the school paper, The Alpha, captures all that would be found in a yearbook. In the class prophesy, Melvin Clarence Putnam predicted a glowing athletic career for him, dubbing him “the one-armed wonder of Wilmington.”
“Harold is an exceptional lad, a decided asset both morally and physically to the team, willing to work, full of vim, and an inspiration to all to all who have seen him play,” WHS Principal Melvin Knight told the Globe. “He has shown what a young man can do when he has the will to succeed and refuses to be daunted by obstacles be they ever so great.”
He was captain of the baseball team, and he also played football and basketball. He ran track and was a member of the Athletic Association. He was also an exceptional student.
Graduating in 1927, Waterman was offered a contract playing professional baseball for a team in New Jersey. He turned that down, choosing to study at Northeastern University, where he immediately became an athletic sensation.
In 1929, he won 30 of 40 games, pitching for the Newton Town Team, even taking on professional clubs.
In 1931, playing semi-pro for the Somerville Criterions, he pitched a no-hitter against the Somerville Town Team. He had joined the team in July, and by Aug. 8, he had won seven of nine games pitched.
The Waterman family lived on Adams Street for about 25 years. Louis Waterman was a mechanic. His wife Lois worked in the school lunch program in the high school. Harold had a sister Ruth, who had an equally compelling story (next week.) Harold Waterman died in Bradford (Haverhill) in November 1978.