The 6’4″, lefthanded-hitting Wakefield was paid a then-record $52,000 bonus to sign with the Tigers off the University of Michigan campus in 1941. He lived up to expectations – but only for a season and a half. As a rookie in 1943, he led the AL with 200 hits, 38 doubles, and 633 at bats; his .316 average was second only to Luke Appling‘s .328. When the season ended, he entered the Navy as an aviation cadet, but the program was soon discontinued, and he returned in mid-1944 to bat .355 in 78 games.
After naval duties forced Wakefield to miss the 1945 season, he came back to the Tigers in 1946 with his skills diminished, and with what some felt was a lackadaisical attitude. He missed part of the season with a broken arm. He was traded to the Yankees in December 1949 but balked at a cut in pay and was sent down and later released. He tried comebacks with the Indians and Giants, playing three games with New York in 1952 when Monte Irvin was permanently injured and Willie Mays was in the army. His father, Howard Wakefield, was a catcher with the Indians and Senators in 1905-07.