Benny Wanger, Yale’s designated hitter and occasional first baseman, who was just unanimously named All-Ivy League, was a perfect fit for Yale and New Haven, apart from his baseball talents.
His achievements as a member of Yale’s league champions are noted in an accompanying article on SportzEdge, but few, if any times, has the media reported what is to follow. Some of it may even surprise Wanger himself.
Grandfather roomed with Bob Barton at Yale
Responsible for uncovering many of these details is Bob Barton, a retired sportswriter and copy editor for the New Haven Register. He and Benny’s grandfather, Stephen Wanger, were roommates at Yale. “Steve Wanger and I graduated in 1957 – he with high honors,” Barton told me.
They had known each other since being high school buddies at Albany (NY) Academy and briefly played on the school’s baseball team.
Stephen Wanger’s “only personal baseball achievement was replacing me in center field on the Albany Academy seventh-grade team,” Barton disclosed.
He explained that it was “really a low level of competition. We had no uniforms and probably only one or two kids owned spikes.” If he was alive today (he died in 2011), Benny’s grandfather undoubtedly would have been proud to see how his grandson was handsomely attired in Yale’s new Under Armour uniforms this season.
Grandfather Wanger was to become a leading neurologist at what was known then as the Lahey Clinic in Boston. (In 1980 the facility moved to Burlington, Mass., and is now affiliated with Tufts University as the Lahey Hospital & Medical Center.) Dr. Wanger managed to mix his interests in medicine and baseball by being a season ticket holder of the Boston Red Sox.
Although it would have made a better story if we could write that Benny’s parents were both Yale graduates, that’s not the case. But the next best thing is that they are fellow Ivy Leaguers.
David Wanger probably had mixed feelings when his son decided to enter Yale, for he is a Harvard alum and played one season for the Crimson as a left-handed relief pitcher. Today he is an attorney.
Gwen Wanger, who is Benny’s mother, went to Brown University where she played on the field hockey and lacrosse teams from 1980 to 1982. Today, she is a rheumatologist at the Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. Both parents graduated from college in 1984.
Benny’s sister, Emily, is a member of the Yale class of 2013 and recently completed her second year at the Yale Law School. She starred in basketball at the Winsor School in Boston, and then walked on to the Yale team during her freshman year. After retiring as an intercollegiate athlete, she became an editor for the Yale Daily News.
Benny’s brother Daniel is a member of the Bowdoin College Class of 2017 and was a three-year starter as a defensive lineman on its football team.
Grandmother from New Haven
Benny Wanger’s ties to Yale and Connecticut go back prior to his grandfather’s time at Yale. The former Nancy Kushlan of New Haven is his grandmother. She was born and raised in New Haven and graduated from what were then known as The Day Schol in New Haven and Connecticut College for Women in New London, where she conducted a choral group and played tennis. Jim Greenidge, then of the Boston Globe, told Barton that Nancy Kushan did well in club tennis tournaments into her sixties.
Great-grandfather a Yale MD
In 1932 Dr. Samuel Kushlan, Benny’s great-grandfather, graduated from Yale’s Sheffield Scientific School and in 1935 from the Yale School of Medicine, where he would later become Professor and Associate Physician-in-Chief at Yale-New Haven Hospital.
An obituary published in 2010, which Bob Barton found in the Hartford Courant microfilm, states that Dr. Kushlan played on a Connecticut state championship high school basketball team in Bristol. He was 98 when he died.
Samuel Kushlan was the first person in the Wanger ancestry who has been verified to attend Yale and be a member of a sports team. He played freshman basketball, with one of his teammates being the legendary Albie Booth. In recognition of over 70 years of distinguished service to Yale, Dr. Kushlan was awarded the Yale Medal in 2007.
Dr. Kushlan and his wife, Ethel, lived for more than half a century in their home on Whitney Avenue in New Haven, from which they frequently ventured to Yale’s campus to attend events.
“Their son David Kushlan, who is now a retired business executive living in Farmington, has fond memories of his father taking him to Yale Field in the late 1940s to see the Yale baseball team that featured George H.W. Bush at 1st base.”
It seems only fitting that Benny’s full name is Benjamin Kushlan Wanger.
Baseball at Yale Field in May 2017
Today the Wanger legacy on the athletic fields of Yale is continuing. Normally, by this time in mid-May, Yale Field’s gates would be locked, the grass would be overgrown to the delight of the pigeons and other birds, the public address system silent and the scoreboard blank. This “field of dreams,” which has rightfully earned the informal title of “Historic Yale Field,” would have been put to rest for the summer
But because the Bulldogs are now Ivy League champions, the team will be remaining on campus after commencement on May 22nd and the departure of the other students.The players will be working out prior to leaving for a yet to be a determined site to take part in one of the NCAA’s 16 regionals. Yale was the second team to qualify for the 64 team field.
Meanwhile, Yale is hoping to schedule some extra games next week to stay sharp. A strong possibility is Holy Cross, which just won the Patriot League tournament. Yale has defeated the Crusaders in three of four games this season.
Any extra games, as well as those in the double-elimination NCAA tournament, will count in the official records. But the Ivy League book is closed, and it shows that Wanger had 35 RBI’s, five home runs, 50 total bases and a slugging percentage of .694 in 20 games, not including the championship series. His batting average for all games so far is .352, the team’s high.
Wanger’s final game against an Ivy opponent was the clincher in the championship series against Penn on May 16th, which Yale won 11-7. He hit a two-run homer in the first inning and a three-run round-tripper in the third.
He was the indirect beneficiary of a near Yale meltdown when the Quakers closed what earlier was an 11-run deficit to a four run difference going into the last inning. That’s when Coach John Stuper called on his closer, Griffin Dey, who had to move over from his starting position at first base.
So with the spot vacated. Stuper called on Wanger, the DH, to play first base. It gave Benny the opportunity to be on the field when the final out was made and the wild celebration began.
It was a fitting moment for the young man from Newton, Massachusetts, virtually in Harvard’s backyard, who always seemed destined for Yale.