By Glen Sparks
George “Tuck” Stainback wasn’t blessed with the most musical surname. Nor did he enjoy the most accomplished career as a Major League baseball player.
Over 13 seasons, from 1934 through 1946, Stainback put on the uniform of seven different teams. He didn’t star for any of them. In fact, he retired with just a .259 career batting average and hit only 17 home runs.
Stainback went to bat 359 at-bats as a 22-year-old rookie for the Chicago Cubs. That was his career-high mark in the big leagues.
Even so, the right-handed batter made his mark, both on the field and off it, even if he did not possess the most powerful bat, the fastest feet or the strongest throwing arm.
Stainback, born in Los Angeles on this date in 1911, attended Fairfax High School, near Hollywood. He broke into pro ball in 1931 with the Bisbee, Ariz., Bees. From there, he played two years with the hometown Angels of the Pacific Coast League and signed with the Cubs.
The rookie outfielder batted .306 in 1934 with Chicago, the second-highest mark of his career. (He hit .327 in just 104 at-bats for the Brooklyn Dodgers.) Stainback lasted four seasons in Chicago and then went to the St. Louis Cardinals. He got into just six games in St. Louis being released. The Philadelphia Phillies picked him up on waivers. Midway through the year, Philadelphia sent Stainback to Brooklyn.
He later played with the Detroit Tigers and New York Yankees and finished up with the Philadelphia A’s
- As a Cub, Tuck led a bench-jockeying episode against umpire George Moriarty. The name calling so infuriated Moriarty that he cleared the Chicago bench.
- That Stainback trade to the Cardinals also involved a pretty good pitcher, Dizzy Dean. On April 16, 1938, St. Louis sent future Hall of Famer Dean to Chicago for $185,000, plus hurlers Curt Davis and Clyde Shoun as well as Stainback.
- The Phillies selected Stainback off waivers on May 28, 1938. Soon after, he single-handedly kept the great Carl Hubbell from tossing a perfect game. He drew a walk and hit a single, the only Phillies player to get on base.
- Stainback played in two World Series, in 1942 and ’43 with the Yankees. He earned a ring in that second Series.
- While the Great Depression was on, Stainback, along with Yankee shortstop Frank Crosetti, helped put together the Majors’ first pension fund. The two solicited donations of $250 from each player as a way to start the fund and assist ballplayers down on their luck.
Stainback settled in the L.A. area after retiring. When the Dodgers left Brooklyn for southern California, he asked Dodgers executive Red Patterson for a job. Over the next few decades, Stainback worked in group sales for the Dodges and also ran the team’s Knothole program, providing free tickets for boys and girls.
Stainback died in 1992 at the age of 81.
Harry “Slugs” Heilmann, befitting his nickname, didn’t get many leg hits. No matter. The San Francisco native smacked plenty of line drives.
Heilmann, born on this date in 1894, retired with 2,660 hits over 17 seasons, most of them with the Detroit Tigers. He batted .342 lifetime, the same as the great Babe Ruth. He won four batting titles, putting together a superb run of odd-numbered seasons (1921, 1923, 1925 and 1927).
One of baseball’s early west coast stars, Heilmann learned to hit while playing on the Bay area sandlots. The Tigers signed him in the fall of 1913 for $1,500. He debuted in Detroit the following season but hit just .225 in 68 games. The outfielder spent 1915 in the minors.
Back with the Tigers in 1916, Heilmann batted .282 with little power (two home runs). He followed that by batting .281 in 1917 and .276 in 1918. It looked like he would be a decent, not great, player.
Something clicked in 1919. He upped his average to .320 and emerged as one of top players in the game. After dipping to .309 in 1920, the right-handed batter put up a .394 mark in 1921. From 1921-1930, Heilmann not only led the American League in batting average four times, he never hit below .328. Typically, he finished in double figures in home runs and with more than 40 doubles and about 10 triples despite not being fleet of foot.
Heilmann knocked in more than 100 runs eight times and finished in the top 10 in the A.L. MVP voting five straight years (1923-27). How good was he? He batted .403 in 1923 and came within just a few hits here and there of topping the .400 mark two other times. Besides that .394 mark in ’21, the Californian finished at .398 in 1927.
Heilmann left for the National League in 1930. He hit .333 for the Cincinnati Reds and retired for one season. He came back–sorta–in 1932 for Cincinnati and hit .258 in 31 at-bats.
His playing career over, Heilmann went up to the broadcast booth. He handled Tigers play-by-play on WXYZ for 17 seasons before being diagnosed with lung cancer. Heilmann died July 9, 1951, age 56.
Ty Cobb, the irascible one, the greatest Tiger of them all, visited Heilman in the hospital near the end. Supposedly, Cobb told Heilmann that he had been elected to the Hall of Fame. It was a kind gesture, but it wasn’t true. The writers finally voted Heilmann into Cooperstown in the summer of 1952.
By Glen Sparks
Few teams can claim the historic star power of the Detroit Tigers. This is the franchise of Cobb and Kaline, of Greenberg and Gehringer. (OK, I just provided some hints to the following quiz.) The Tigers, notable for the “olde English D” logo on their caps, have won 11 American League pennants and four World Series. The team played in Tiger Stadium from 1912-99.
By Glen Sparks
The spankings didn’t take. “Lu” Blue kept going to baseball games anyway.
Why waste your time on such a silly game, the uptight Charles Blue liked to ask his son. Learn grammar and arithmetic instead. Memorize the important dates of history and the Periodic Table. But, Luzerne Atwell Blue, “Lu,” kept going to baseball games anyway.
Lu Blue, born on his date in 1897, blew off school more than a few times. He’d head to National Park, home of the Senators and the great young fire-balling pitcher out of Kansas by way of southern California, Walter “Big Train” Johnson.
Corporal punishment awaited Lu. Baseball was a game for ruffians, not for gentleman intent of making something of themselves in this world, Charles Blue lectured his son. He made his point with a paddle. Lu kept going to baseball games anyway.