Wheeler, the son of Samuel Edgar Wheeler and Ella (nee Catledge) Wheeler,4 was born and raised in Little Rock, AR. As a teenager, Wheeler severed two of the fingers on his right hand in a machine shop accident.5 6 Despite this, he was a multi-sport athlete at Dunbar High in Little Rock, as well as a star basketball player at Philander-Smith College in Little Rock.7 In the mid-1940s, Wheeler moved with his family to St. Louis, MO where he lived most of the rest of his life.
Wheeler was a tall and powerful athlete8 who was best known as a member of the Harlem Globetrotter's basketball team, though he additionally spent several seasons as an outfielder in Negro baseball. His professional basketball career began with the local St. Louis Argus team. While a member of the Argus club in March 1945, Wheeler was used as a substitute player for the Kansas City Stars in an exhibition game in St. Louis.9 The Stars were an affiliate team of the Harlem Globetrotters owned by sports mogul Abe Saperstein. Wheeler played well in the exhibition, scoring 27 points for the Stars. This performance caught the attention of Saperstein, who quickly signed Wheeler for the Stars and Globetrotters. Saperstein also had multiple interests in professional baseball, and in the summer of 1945, Wheeler made an impression playing with the local St. Louis Blue Sox baseball team.10 Thus, in 1946, Wheeler was signed to play with the Portland Rosebuds, a member of Saperstein's upstart West Coast Negro Baseball League.11 Later that season, Wheeler was shifted to Saperstein's Cincinnati Crescents, an independent barnstorming team.12 In 1947, Wheeler was sent to play with Saperstein's Harlem Globetrotters baseball team.13 He returned to the Globetrotters for the 1948 baseball season, but was loaned in June to the New York Cubans of the Negro National League, yet another team owned in part by Saperstein.14 15 Wheeler hit a grand slam in his first game with the Cubans,16 but his performance was otherwise poor.17 In July, he was returned to the Globetrotters where he became teammates with his younger brother Leon. At the end of that season, Wheeler toured with the an aggregation of Negro players on a team billed as the Negro American League All-Stars.18 He continued to play alongside Leon for the Globetrotters baseball team for two more seasons in 1949 and 1950 before leaving Negro baseball to focus solely on basketball. He remained a prominent member of the Globetrotters basketball team for several more years and also later played for other black teams, including the Harlem Magicians and Harlem Court Jesters.
After retiring from basketball, Wheeler worked as a public relations representative for ITT Continental Baking Company in St. Louis for many years.19 20 He died on April 16th, 1989 in St. Louis, MO.21 He was buried in Calvary Cemetery in St. Louis, MO.22 23
"Sam Wheeler, the other forward who is also prominent in major league Negro baseball, comes from St Louis. He's 6-2 1/2 and weighs 180. A college "hotshot" at Philander Smith college in Arkansas, he was picked up by the Kansas City club soon after the start of last season when he was proving a sensation with the St. Louis Argus five. He was with the Harlem Globetrotters last spring when they won 17 games in succession in Hawaii."24
"Sam (Boom-Boom) Wheeler, who was known for his comical antics on the basketball court as a Harlem Globetrotter and for his service to the young and needy, died Sunday night at Jewish Hospital. He was 64 years old. The cause of death was not disclosed. Mr. Wheeler was born in Little Rock, Ark., on Nov. 15, 1924. In 1945, he joined the Globetrotters baseball team, which is no longer in existence. He moved to the basketball Globetrotters around 1950 and spent seven years playing center and forward for them. Mr. Wheeler was one of the main comics on the team, badgering a referee or a fan or bouncing in a shot off his head to get a laugh. Mr. Wheeler was also known for his volunteer work at hospitals and schools."25
Statistics at Baseball-Reference.com.
Statistics at Seamheads.com.
1 Wheeler does not appear to have been called "Boom Boom" during his baseball career.
3 Wheeler's mother, Ella (nee Catledge) Wheeler was the sister of Beulah (nee Catledge) Spearman, the wife of Charles Spearman and the mother of Charles Jr. and Frederick Spearman.
8 Wheeler's WWII draft card, enumerated when he was 18, listed him as 6'0". Newspaper reports from Wheeler's basketball career often suggested he was as tall as 6'4".
24 Ogden Standard Examiner, 12/29/1946
25 New York Times, 4/18/1989