November 17th, 2012

November 17 – Happy Birthday George Stallings

Today’s Pinstripe Birthday Celebrant succeeded two Hall-of-Famers when he became the third manager in Yankee franchise history. John McGraw skippered the club during its first two seasons in existence while it was still located in Baltimore and known as the Orioles. “Little Napoleon” was followed by Clark Griffith, “the Old Fox,” who would later bring baseball to our Nation’s Capitol and join McGraw in Cooperstown. Unlike McGraw and Griffith, Gentleman George Stallings hardly played any Major League ball, getting just a couple of hits in 20 at bats in the Big Dance. He learned what he knew about the game while spending thirteen years toiling in the minors, at one time or another playing every position on the baseball field except the hot corner.

Stallings started managing in the minors in 1893 for a team located in his home town of Augusta, Georgia. He eventually took over as field boss of the Detroit Tigers, before that team became an AL franchise. He was then hired to manage the Philadelphia Phillies in 1898. He lost that job  two months into his second season and then returned to Detroit where he remained skipper when the Tigers were admitted as a franchise in Ban Johnson’s newly formed American League. Johnson owned a large share of the Detroit ball club and when he suspected Stallings of conspiring to jump the team to the rival National League, he fired him as skipper.

Stallings then returned to manage in the minors and when no minor league team wanted him, he went back to farming in his native Georgia for a spell. He finally got another skipper’s job in Newark, NJ in 1908, so he was just across the river when the New York Highlanders finished the 1908 season, dead last in the AL and Clark Griffith threw his hands up and walked away from his job as the New York’s Manager. Highlander owner, Frank Farrell asked Stallings if he wanted the job and he accepted. He then led the team back to respectability in 1909 as they finished with a 74-79 record. It looked as if Gentleman George had found a home but the incorrigible and highly talented Yankee first baseman, Hal Chase, had other ideas.

Chase had become the regular New York Highlander first baseman in 1905 and remained in that position for a little more than eight seasons and over 1,000 games.  “Prince Hal” was a smart and gifted athlete who immediately became a fan favorite in New York.  It was Chase who first began the now accepted defensive strategy of charging the plate in likely sacrifice situations.  He also pioneered the practice of moving into the outfield to receive and relay cut-off throws.  In addition to being an excellent and innovative fielder, Chase was also a strong hitter and a great base runner.  He had a .291 lifetime batting average and his 248 stolen bases made him the all-time Yankee base stealer until Willie Randolph and Ricky Henderson passed him seven decades later.

Chase, however, had one passion greater than his love for baseball and that was money.  Perhaps, if he lived in today’s era of free agency and multi-million dollar contracts, his story and career would have had a different ending. But at the turn of the century, professional baseball players were not paid royally.  As a result, many of them were forced to earn a living doing other things.

Before the 1908 season, Chase tried holding out on the Yankees, to force team management to pay him more money.  Even though the tactic was successful, Chase still jumped to the outlawed California league and played for the San Jose franchise using a fake name.  Caught in this charade, Chase was suspended by the Highlanders but his immense popularity with New York fans quickly got him reinstated.

It was at that point that George Stallings began to suspect Chase of throwing games.  The skipper’s suspicions grew so strong during the 1910 season, he leveled the charges publicly.  But Chase’s popularity on the field helped him earn enough support with Yankee owner Farrell and League President Ban Johnson to beat back Stallings’ charges and actually get the manager fired.  Adding insult to injury, Chase got himself named to replace Stallings as the team’s field boss.

Although he didn’t realize it at the time, getting double-crossed by Chase and Farrell actually was a career blessing for the fired manager. Stallings went back to managing in the minors for the next two years and then was hired by the Boston Braves, who were one of the worst teams in the National League. That Braves team had finished in last place the previous four seasons in a row, so when Stallings got them to a fifth place finish in 1913, it was considered a minor miracle. But the real miracle took place the following season, when the Braves won the NL Pennant by 10.5 games and then shocked the mighty Philadelphia A’s by sweeping them in the 1914 World Series. It was certainly Stallings finest hour in the big leagues and he continued to manage the Braves through the 1920 season, but he never again led them to a Pennant.

Stallings shares his birthday with this former Yankee reliever and this one-time Yankee broadcast booth partner of Phil Rizzuto.

Rk Year Tm W L W-L% G Finish
4 1909 New York Highlanders 74 77 .490 153 5
5 1910 New York Highlanders 1st of 2 78 59 .569 142 2
Philadelphia Phillies 2 years 74 104 .416 180 8.0
Detroit Tigers 1 year 74 61 .548 136 3.0
New York Highlanders 2 years 152 136 .528 295 3.5
Boston Braves 8 years 579 597 .492 1202 4.6 1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title
13 years 879 898 .495 1813 4.8 1 Pennant and 1 World Series Title
Provided by Baseball-Reference.com: View Original Table
Generated 11/18/2013.