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May 25, 2010
You Can Blog It Up
DPOTD: Stan Hack for the Hall of Fame
Dead Player of the Day (Stan Hack Edition)
In which I open the encyclopedia to a random page and riff on what I find.
#24 Stan Hack 3B 1932-1947 (1909-1979)
Cubs fans don’t get a lot of chances to talk about great World Series performances by their heroes. The Cubs have won ten modern pennants. These can be sorted into two major groups with a few one-offs in between: the Frank Chance Years (1906-1908, 1910) and the Gabby Hartnett Years (1929, 1932, 1935, 1938). If you had two classify the remaining two World Series teams, I would group them under Weird War Pennants (1918, 1945). The position player who best performed in the postseason for the first group was Chance himself, who hit .300/.402/.371 in 20 games. Close behind, at .321/.368/.420 in 21 games, was Wildfire Schulte. The best World Series hitter of the Hartnett period, and probably the best postseason Cubs hitter of all, was Stan Hack, who hit .348/.408/.449 in 18 games.
Not a lot has been written about Hack over the years, in spite of the fact that “Smilin’ Stan” was a handsome, popular idol in his day and was a terrifically good player. Sometimes a player can be popular, an All-Star (five times in Hack’s case), and a postseason regular—not many career Cubs could boast of playing in four World Series, or any—and still not be well-remembered beyond the fact that he played. Yet, Hack was very good, the best, most consistent third baseman of his time. A career .301/.394/.397 hitter with speed, Hack was a natural and effective leadoff man and by reputation an excellent fielder. His resume reminds one of a more consistent Chone Figgins. He scored over 100 runs seven times, and took 85 or 90 walks a year. He somehow never led the league but ranked in the top five in walks seven times. More significantly, he did lead his league in times on base three times, and was a top ten finisher in OBP eight times. His game lacked only power; despite playing in Wrigley Field, he hit only 57 home runs. Despite that, he still stacks up quite well with the great third basemen, compiling a career .297 TAv:
HOT CORNER FACTORYMEN: ALL-TIME THIRD BASEMEN RANKED BY TRUE AVERAGE (5000 PA min.)
*Al Rosen fell a little short on the PA requirement, but it’s my blog post and I say he stays.
It is entirely appropriate that we make Hack the standard-bearer for his generation of postseason Cubs, as Chicago’s bugaboo ever since his day has been patience and getting on base. Only nine Cubs in modern franchise history have drawn 100 walks in a season, and just four of those seasons came after World War II. Hack remains the Cubs’ career leader in walks drawn, 63 years after he last played.
Hack’s developmental story is fairly simple. After some hesitation about embracing a pro career which saw him take a bank job out of high school and reduce his ballplaying to semi-pro games on weekends, he made his pro debut at the highest level of the minor leagues, breaking in with the Sacramento Senators of the Pacific Coast League in 1931. He hit .352 in 164 games, and Bill Veeck, Sr., then running the Cubs, said, “Holy Moly!” and bought him for $40,000. He played part-time with the Cubs in 1932 but wasn’t ready, hitting .236/.306/.365, and was farmed out to Albany of the International League for most of 1933. There, he hit .299/~.396/.419, earning his way back to the majors.
In the Putnam history of the Cubs, Warren Brown wrote that “one of [Hack’s] many claims to baseball fame is that he is the only cub of his time who didn’t have fans or sports writers mad at him at one time or another. No one is ever mad at Hack, nor is Hack ever mad at anyone.” This wasn’t quite true. The only moment of real conflict or controversy in Hack’s career came after the 1943 season, when he retired to raise cattle at 33 because he disliked playing for then-manager Jimmie Wilson. Fortunately, Wilson was fired 10 games into the 1944 season and replaced by a skipper more amenable to Hack, his friend and former teammate “Jolly Cholly” Grimm. Hack unretired. Grimm gave him a few pinch-hitting appearances before returning him to the lineup in late June. According to “The New Era Cubs” by Eddie Gold and Art Ahrens, “Grinning like a Cheshire cat, Grimm hauled Stan out of the dugout in a wheelbarrow and dumped him on third base.” Hack had one more strong season in 1945, but the effects of a broken finger in 1946 hastened his slipping into part-time play and permanent retirement.
Hack never received much support from Hall of Fame voters, and his candidacy probably wasn’t helped by his three seasons as manager of miserable Cubs teams from 1954 to 1956. On the positive side, he presided over the integration of the Cubs; Ernie Banks and Gene Baker played briefly under Hack’s old teammate Phil Cavarretta in September, 1953, but Hack handled their full-season debuts. Hack’s ascension was unusual as well; Cavaretta became the first manager in history to be canned in spring training, ostensibly for giving the owner too honest an answer to the question, “How are we going to do this year?” Hack wasn’t handed a great deal to work with. The defensive alignment he inherited had 31-year-old Ralph Kiner and his bad back in left, the 35-year-old Frank Baumholtz in center, and 37-year-old Hank Sauer in right. Kiner and Sauer could hit, but there must have been a good number of triples hit against the Cubbies that year.
In the 1935 World Series, the Tigers led the Cubs 3-2 going into the sixth game at Detroit. The game was tied 3-3 going to the top of the ninth inning. Hack led off the frame against Tommy Bridges and launched a ball to deep center, past center fielder Gee Walker for a triple. Bridges, the subject of a previous DPOTD, struck out Billy Jurges, got pitcher Larry French—who Grimm controversially (and rather idiotically) allowed to bat for himself—to tap back to the mound, and induced a harmless fly to left field from Augie Galan to end the inning. Hack, already at his position, simply picked up his glove and got ready to field in the bottom of the ninth—when the Tigers scored the Series-winning run.
Flash forward six years, and Hack is in the All-Star game, leading off for the National League. The game is held at Detroit. Arriving at the ballpark, Hack went out to check on third base. “Just wanted to see if I was still standing here waiting for somebody to drive me home,” he said.