Which ageless shortstop / future hall of famer said, "Fred Hancock is the best fielding aspirant for my job I ever have seen in a White Sox camp."? Find that out and so much more about Fred Hanckock courtesy of Ron Paglia, writing for the The Valley Independent (08-08-2011), who truly does look "beyond the stats":
Hancock signed his name to pro baseball history
Tuesday, May 10, 1938 was a cool day with temperatures only in the mid-40s as the Donora Dragons and Charleroi Cougars prepared to square off in a WPIAL Section 6 baseball game at Legion Field in Donora.
Few in the sparse crowd realized they would be watching two future Major League players in action that afternoon.
Granted, the word was out in this Mon Valley about the lanky lefthander who would be pitching for Donora a young kid named Stanley Musial. Knowledgeable observers including professional scouts proclaimed "... the kid has all the tools for a bright future in baseball."
But Charleroi also had an unheralded young shortstop who was destined to write his name in the history of the play-for-pay version of America's past-time. He was Frederick James (Pete) Hancock, a 5-10, 150-pound senior from Allenport.
It should be noted that Hancock was playing varsity baseball for the first time that season. The Charleroi School Board endorsed baseball as a varsity sport at the high school earlier in the year. According to The Charleroi Mail archives, only football, basketball and tennis, which was added in 1935, had represented Charleroi High in varsity sports competition until that time.
Musial outlasted Charleroi hurler Peck Dooley in the game 73 years ago at Donora. Both went the distance as the Dragons nipped the Cougars 9-8. Dooley struck out 12 and was tagged for 12 hits while Musial scattered nine hits and fanned eight Charleroi batters. One of the Charleroi hits was a towering home run by Hancock that cleared the left field fence. Hancock also had a single in four trips to the plate. Musial gave another preview of what would become a Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Cardinals as he went 4-for-4.
Donora won the sectional championship that season and Charleroi finished second.
While Musial had another year of scholastic competition ahead of him, Hancock graduated from Charleroi in June 1938. He kept busy by playing sandlot ball in Charleroi for veteran manager John "Scissors" McIlvain.
As the late John Bunardzya, longtime sports editor of The Charleroi Mail and The Valley Independent, pointed out in an excellent series on Hancock's professional career on June 21-22, 1949, it was while playing for McIlvain's team that Hancock "attracted the sharp eye of the late Billy Doyle, a famous talent hunter for the Detroit Tigers."
"At McIlvain's request, Doyle came to Charleroi to look over Pete and several other players, namely Paul Trembley, a catcher, Bob Fisher, an outfielder, and Bill Silver' Cowell, a pitcher who later did go into organized ball," Bunardzya wrote. "As Mac, who takes pride in Hancock being the first of his boys to become a Big Leaguer, tells it, Doyle was so impressed by Hancock's fielding and sharp hitting that he signed him to a Detroit contract on the spot."
Hancock reported to the Lake Charles (Louisiana) Skippers of the Class D Evangeline League in 1939. He also played there in 1940 before moving up in 1941 to the Little Rock, Arkansas entry in the Southern Association. He was sent to Winston-Salem, NC of the Piedmont League later that year for more seasoning.
The year 1942 was an eventful one in Hancock's baseball playing career.
"After a big season with Winston-Salem he reported back to Little Rock and this time there was no going back," Bunardzya wrote. "Playing for Willis Hudlin, the one-time Cleveland Indians pitching ace, Pete clicked from the very beginning and that season Little Rock grabbed the Southern Association pennant."
Like countless other athletes of that era, Hancock's career was interrupted by World War II as he served with the U.S. Army.
"But he kept in shape playing on service teams everywhere he went and was given Most Valuable Player honors in a Texas servicemen's circuit," Bunardzya said.
Hancock returned to professional baseball in 1946 at Little Rock, this time with Bill Dickey, the former New York Yankees All-Star catcher, as his manager. His contract was sold at the end of the season to Memphis, where he alternated between shortstop and third base and caught on as a favorite of the Chicks' fans.
"In 1947, his first season as a Chick, Pete did so well and impressed so much that his contract was bought by the Baltimore Orioles of the Triple A International League," Bunardzya said. "It meant being right next door to the dream of every ballplayer the Big Leagues."
Hancock reported to the Orioles at their spring training camp in Florida in 1948, but a hitch developed "when he and the Baltimore front office couldn't see eye to eye on salary terms," Bunardzya wrote. "According to some sources, Pete felt the pay offered by the Orioles wasn't commensurate with his advancement from Class AA to Triple A."
"It was a difficult decision to make, especially for a fellow Pete's age he was 28 which is starting over the hill as far as baseball playing days are concerned," Bunardzya continued. "But he made up his mind to go back to Memphis and it proved the right choice."
His manager was Jack Onslow, a native of Scottdale who was a Major League catcher for several years. Onslow, who built a strong reputation for his shrewd baseball mind as a player, coach and manager, was elevated to the role of manager with the Chicago White Sox near the end of the 1948 season. Little did he and Hancock know that they would be reunited several months later on a higher level.
Indications of that reunion were offered by Dr. Victor Jesick, a native of Fayette City who was working as a foot specialist and surgeon in Chicago, in a letter to Bunardzya in April 1949. The message was accompanied by clippings from The Chicago Tribune that included this quote from Luke Appling, the ageless shortstop of the White Sox: "Fred Hancock is the best fielding aspirant for my job I ever have seen in a White Sox camp."
Appling made that statement after watching Hancock in action at the White Sox training camp at Pasadena, California.
Another story in The Tribune predicted big things for Hancock this way: "The manager (Jack Onslow) appears to be more than high on Fred Hancock, who was his shortstop at Memphis (in the Southern Association) last year, and the kid undoubtedly will stick as a helper for the venerable Luke Appling. And in an emergency he could take over at third or at second. Luke ... is on the watch for somebody to give him a helping hand on doubleheader days."
"From what I've read in the Chicago newspapers," Dr. Jesick wrote in his letter to Bunardzya, "it appears Petey will stick, which certainly would be a nice break for him. I'm sure all the fellows back home are pulling for him as much as I am."
Hancock proved the prognosticators right and made his Major League debut on Tuesday, April 26, 1949 by subbing for Appling in the first game of a doubleheader against the Detroit Tigers at Comiskey Park in Chicago. He took part in a double play but did not get a turn at the plate.
His final game with the White Sox was on Thursday, September 29, 1949 against the Cleveland Indians at Comiskey Park. Hancock, who toiled at third base and in right field as well as shortstop, finished the season with a .235 batting average, nine RBI and a .963 fielding average.
The White Sox released Hancock after the 1949 season and he returned home to Memphis, where he worked in promotions for a brewery. The Brooklyn Dodgers picked him up but "had little to offer him financially or otherwise," Bunardzya reported. Hancock's temporary retirement ended in the spring of 1950 when he signed with the Buffalo Bisons of the International League. The Bisons were looking for an experienced infielder and Hancock filled the bill with his steady work at shortstop and third base and knocked in 69 runs.
In the ensuing years he played for Toronto of the International League and Lincoln (Nebraska) of the Class A Western League.
Returning home in September 1953 to attend funeral services for his father, Arthur "Chappy" Hancock of Allenport, Pete told Bunardzya the 53 campaign might well have been his last one in organized baseball. He said he was ready to call it a career after the 1952 season but the Milwaukee Braves-owned Lincoln club came to his home in Memphis and offered him "an attractive bonus to give it one more fling."
"It was too good a deal to pass up," Hancock said. "Besides, baseball's like any other profession it gets into a guy's blood."
Hancock, who posted a .297 batting average at Lincoln in 1954, ended his professional baseball career in 1956 as player-manager with an industrial league team in Rochester, Minnesota. As the skipper of the Rochester team, he enticed two other former Charleroi standouts, pitcher Freddy Uhlman and outfielder Charley Sedor, to move west and play for him. The move paid off as the Redwings won the regular season pennant. Uhlman posted a 9-4 record while Hancock led the club with a .355 batting average and Sedor helped the offensive attack with a .329 mark.
While baseball was his obvious passion and provided the ticket to the Major Leagues, Hancock's athletic talents were not limited to the diamond.
He was a halfback on Charleroi High's unbeaten 1936 and 1937 football teams. The '36 Cougars were 10-0-0 and were declared WPIAL Class AA champions. The 1937 team was 10-0-1 and missed the WPIAL playoffs because of a 6-6 tie with Monongahela.
Hancock also was a tennis standout with coach Ed Luse's 1938 Cougar netters, alternating with Francis Bodish as the No. 1 or No. 2 singles player and teaming with Harry Colburn in doubles competition in 1938. He finished with a 10-1-0 record in singles matches and helped Charleroi win the WPIAL Section 7 championship. In addition to Bodish and Colburn, his teammates were Bob Jimeson, Walter Kiebler and Joe Connell.
Hancock, whose mother was Sarah O'Neill Hancock, was only 65 when he died Wednesday, March 12, 1986 at his home in Clearwater, Florida. He was an employee of the city of Rochester, Minnesota for a number of years before retiring to Clearwater.
He left this earth with a legacy of athletic excellence that included a journey to the destination that only a select few of the aspirants reach Major League Baseball.
Copyright © 2012, Baseball Almanac, Updated for Baseball Almanac and reprinted with the express written permission of Ron Paglia.
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