Last month's article described Hall of Fame pitchers who returned to the minors after their major league playing careers had ended. In this second of two chapters we will look at their non-pitching colleagues.
Like the pitchers, this group returned to the minors for a variety of reasons, including money, pride, and a love for playing the game. However, a greater percentage of position players than pitchers ended their playing days while phasing into managerial careers. Since even the eroding playing skills of a future hall-of-famer could bring fans to the ballpark, it was not uncommon for them to give the crowd a thrill as a semi-regular or pinch-hitter.
We will now take a look, in alphabetical order, at the non-pitching, 20th Century Hall of Famers, whose final playing days were spent in the minors.
Earl Averill, having been released by the 1941 Boston Braves, returned to his home state to finish the season with Seattle of the PCL, settling for a .247 average and one home run.
John Franklin "Home Run" Baker also returned to his home, which for him was the Eastern Shore of Maryland. As a playing manager of the 1924 Easton Farmers, Baker's last five home runs could not lift the team out of last place and a similar losing start in 1925 resulted in a managerial change.
Dave "Beauty" Bancroft ended his major league career as a player-coach with the 1930 New York Giants. After managing the Minneapolis Millers to a 1933 Western Division championship, he returned for one last game in the field while managing the Western League's Sioux City Cowboys in 1936.
Jim Bottomley succeeded Rogers Hornsby as manager of the last-place Browns during the 1937 season. Since the change failed to produce a winning team, Gabby Street was hired to replace him during the winter and "Sunny Jim" returned to the minors as manager and occasional first baseman and pinch hitter with Syracuse. His limited batting appearances resulted in one hit and no home runs in fourteen at bats which coincidentally were the same numbers he achieved in his first minor league stint with the 1920 Sioux City Packers.
Hazen "KiKi" Cuyler was released by the Dodgers after the 1938 season and began a decade of managing the Southern Association. His first stop there was at Chattanooga, where he played as a semi-regular in 1939 and concluded his playing career the following year with a hit in his only 1940 at-bat. One more season as non-playing skipper of the Lookouts was followed by four more in Atlanta immediately after the war. In 1949, KiKi served as a Red Sox coach and he died that winter at the age of fifty.
Bill Dickey returned from World War II to spend his last season as a Yankee player in 1946. Early in the season, Joe McCarthy resigned and Dickey took over the reins as Yankee manager. With no assurance that he would be retained as manager the following season, he resigned in September and was replaced by Johnny Neun. In 1947 Dickey managed the Little Rock Travelers and suffered through 103 losses while batting .333 in a limited role. After a season out of the game, he returned to the Yankees in 1949 and earned another measure of fame as the man who taught Yogi Berra how to catch.
One of the relatively few players to enter professional baseball as a major leaguer, Larry Doby followed his 13-year major league career by playing in nine games with the 1960 PCL's San Diego Padres. Six hits in nine games convinced Doby that his playing days were through. Eighteen years later Bill Veeck, the same man who signed Doby as the first black player in the American League, brought him back to become baseball's second black manager. During his half-season with the 1978 White Sox Doby failed to match his success as a player, but he received the ultimate tribute with his election to the Hall of Fame in 1998.
Jimmie Foxx followed his 534-home run career with a variety of endeavors as his personal misfortunes grew. His final appearance as a player came in 1947 as a pinch-hitter during his partial season of managing St. Petersburg in the Florida International League. Among his non-playing activities was serving as the historic model for Tom Hanks' character, Jimmy Dugan, in the movie A League of Their Own.
Leon "Goose" Goslin joined the ranks of former players who returned to the minors as a manager in their home states. From 1939 to 1941 Goose managed the Trenton Senators of the Inter-State League, and for the first two of those seasons he also performed as a pinch-hitter and outfielder.
Old Tomato Face, Charles Leo "Gabby" Hartnett, followed his playing and managing days for the Cubs with one final major league season, 1941, as a player-coach for the Giants. After that he returned to the minors and managed for several seasons before ending his baseball days as a member of the Kansas City A's office staff. As a manager, he also played occasionally while with Indianapolis (1942) and Jersey City (1943-44).
Billy Herman's major league playing days ended as he managed the 1947 Pirates to a last-place tie with the Phillies. The next season saw him take over during mid-season with Minneapolis and, after a season away from baseball, he served under Charlie Dressen in Oakland, ending his playing career with a typical .307 season.
Harry Hooper, who found his way to Cooperstown with a lifetime .281 average and a total of 75 home runs, finished his playing days in his native California with the PCL Missions.
Monte Irvin, whose major league career began after he turned thirty, spent parts of four seasons in the minors, two at the start and two at the end. He left the field after a brief stint with the 1957 Los Angeles Angels. In addition to his accomplishments as a major league player and executive, Monte's minor league record is highlighted by a career .375 batting average.
Travis Jackson spent fifteen years as an all-star and Hall-of-Fame shortstop, all of them with the New York Giants. His final major league season was 1936, after which he continued in the Giant service as the manager of their minor league Triple-A affiliate in Jersey City. His reputation as a winner in the majors did not follow him there as his 1937 team finished last and the 1938 version improved by only one position, only without his services by season's end. During infrequent playing appearances his batting averages for the two seasons were .250 and .294.
George "Highpockets" Kelly spent more years than most in the minors following his big league career. After sixteen major league seasons, Kelly spent time with Minneapolis and Jersey City before finally calling it quits with Oakland in 1933.
Tony Lazzeri was a solid member of the Yankees' "Murderers' Row" despite the fact that his major league home run peak was eighteen. Lazzeri spent five years in the minors after his release by the Giants in 1939. In the three-hundred games he played during those seasons, there were only nine home runs, and his baseball career ended with the Eastern League's Wilkes-Barre Barons in 1943. Less than three years later, "Poosh-Em-Up" Tony was dead at forty-four.
Ernie Lombardi, hit harder, ran harder, and moved slower than almost anyone the game has known. After one-thousand eight-hundred fifty-three major league games and one-hundred ninety home runs, Ernie spent his last year in baseball as a forty year old catcher with Sacramento and Oakland in 1948. After hitting .264 with eleven home runs, "The Schnozz" called it a career and spent his remaining years making a living at whatever he could as his baseball earnings evaporated.
Henry (Heinie) Manush had four major league seasons of .350 or better. After being released by Pittsburgh in 1939, he spent the next five seasons managing in the minors before moving on to scouting and coaching. Each of his managerial jobs included a few at bats, with the final one coming in 1945 with Martinsville of the Carolina League.
Walter (Rabbit) Maranville's Hall of Fame credentials have been questioned over the years. A career .258 hitter, Rabbit's major league playing days ended with the 1935 Boston Braves. Two minor league seasons followed, with the curtain falling after a .118 effort with the 1939 Albany Senators of the Eastern League.
Joe Medwick was an offensive force with both his bat and disposition. After a seventeen-year major league career, he was sent by the Cardinals to Houston in 1948 and subsequently managed for three more seasons. His final season was typical Medwick, with three extra base hits in nine at bats for Tampa in the Florida International League.
Ray "Cracker" Schalk was an honest member of the 1919 White Sox and was portrayed by Gordon Clapp (NYPD Blue's Greg Medevoy) in the film Eight Men Out. The real Schalk spent all of his major league days with the White Sox except for his final five games with the 1929 New York Giants. In 1932, he began a lengthy minor league managing career with the Buffalo Bisons, for whom he played one game, with two singles in three at bats.
George Sisler batted over .400 twice in his career and played in the minors only after his big league days were over. Following a successful 1930 season with the Boston Braves, he was signed by the Cardinal's Branch Rickey to replace Rip Collins with the Rochester Red Wings. One season later he became playing-manager of the Shreveport-Tyler Sports of the Texas League, batting .287 for a last-place team.
Enos "Country"Slaughter hustled his way through nineteen major league seasons, beginning with the 1938 Cardinals and ending at age forty-three with Milwaukee. Slaughter's spirit outlived his legs by several seasons and he continued as a pinch-hitting manager with Houston (.289) and Raleigh (.341) before heading home to Roxboro.
Tris Speaker spent his last major league season with Connie Mack's 1928 A's. Having managed the Indians from 1919 to 1926, leadership was not new to Speaker as he returned to the minors with the 1929 and 1930 Newark Bears. While his batting skills remained (.355 and .419 in a part-time role), the losses exceeded the wins and Speaker left the Bears midway through the 1930 season.
Joe Tinker's fame comes from his being a part of the Cubs' Tinker-to-Evers-to-Chance double play combination (second only to Miksis-to-Smalley-to-Addison Street). A lifetime .263 hitter, Tinker left the field for a variety of minor executive roles. His final playing days were spent in 1921 with the Orlando Tigers, the pennant winning team of the Florida State League.
Paul Waner's major league career ended in 1945, the same year as brother Lloyd's. "Big Poison" began the season with the Yankees and was released in May while Lloyd lasted the season with Pittsburgh. Paul went on to one season as a manager, watching his 1946 Miami Sun Sox finish last and batting .325 at age forty-three.
Zack Wheat was a career Dodger except for one final season with the Philadelphia A's in 1928. Following a .324 season with the A's he returned to the minors to end his career with Minneapolis where he hit .309, packed his bags, and went home to Sedalia.
Lewis Robert "Hack" Wilson seems to be a fitting finale to this group from a hard-playing, hard-living era. Finished as a major leaguer at thirty-four, out of baseball at thirty-five, and dead at forty-eight, Wilson packed a great deal in a short body and a brief lifetime. His final season in the game came with the 1935 Albany Senators, where he posted an unspectacular .263 with three home runs.
In the best of all possible worlds, baseball greats would be swept in a whirlwind to Cooperstown in a manner resembling Elijah. Joe DiMaggio running in from center field to celebrate a victorious World Series, Ted Williams circling the bases after home run number 521, George Brett kissing home plate. These three and others paint the ideal. Sadly, the real is at least as common and much less glorious. Ernie Lombardi worked as a press box attendant. Tony Lazzeri managed in front of crowds under 1,000 only a few years after taking the field at Yankee Stadium with Gehrig, DiMaggio, and Dickey. Hack Wilson found a place in Cooperstown only seventy miles from his final playing stop but more than thirty years after his untimely death.
Baseball players are the heroes of youth. Some live up to that status and transcend failure. Others are wonderfully gifted individuals who fall victim to their own shortcomings. The rest use their gifts, enjoy their fame, and move on gracefully to another life when those gifts fade. In the end, each member of the Hall of Fame did enough to convince the voters that he belonged, no matter the route or the detours.