- 2B, 3B, SS
- July 31, 1913
- 5' 7"
- 160 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-15-1936 with CIN
Lee Elmer Handley (July 13, 1913 - April 8, 1970) was a second baseman/third baseman who played in Major League Baseball between 1936 and 1947. Nicknamed "Jeep", Handley batted and threw right-handed. He was born in Clarion, Iowa. His younger brother, Gene, also played in major league from 1946-47.
If ever a black cloud hung over a player during his major league career, it was singles hinting third baseman Lee Handley.
Listed at 5' 7", 160 lb., Handley was a flashy infielder and a disciplinated hitter as well. He reached the majors in 1936 with the Cincinnati Reds, spending one year with them before moving to the Pittsburgh Pirates (1937–41, 1944–46) and Philadelphia Phillies (1947). He was a rookie Pirate regular at second base in 1937, and a full- or part-time third baseman from 1938 through 1941. His most productive season came in 1938, when he posted career-numbers in games played (139), runs (91), hits (153), doubles (25), home runs (6) and runs batted in (51). He also was considered in the Most Valuable Player vote.
Lee “ Jeep” Handley came up with the Cincinnati Reds in 1936 hitting .308 in 78 at bats. In November of ’36 Commissioner Landis decided that the Reds had violated baseball rules by covering up Handley and another player by the name of Johnny Peacock on minor league rosters, declaring them both free agents. The Pirates took advantage by paying $20,000 to sign the small 5’7” infielder and immediately turned over the reigns at second to him in 1937, a season where he would lose time due to a leg injury.
Handley was moved to third the following campaign, and after an injury free 1938 season, he was beaned in an exhibition game in New Orleans by Johnny Allen of the Cleveland Indians. The bad break came during a year when Handley was having a breakout offensive season, hitting .285 while leading the circuit with 17 stolen bases. As it turned out the bean ball proved almost fatal, he lost almost 30 pounds and had gotten so run down he developed a whooping cough causing manager Pie Traynor to send him home before the season ended so Handley could regain his strength.
He recovered from the incident and went on to hit a career high as a regular of .288 in 1941 while finishing third in thefts with 16. Lee’s season once again ended early when he was chasing after a foul bunt with Pirate pitcher Johnny Gee. When they met Gee fell over Handley’s foot harshly cutting him.
After the season was over, Handley again was involved in a mishap, this one more serious and having worse overall consequences. He was in a serious automobile accident in Illinois in early December, which, as the story goes, only was able to survive because he had borrowed a friend’s convertible and was thrown through the canvas roof. Had he used his own sedan, he would have been stuck in the car and possibly been killed. Jeep suffered a severe gash over his head and seriously hurt his right shoulder and arm. He had laid by his car for an hour before somebody finally passed and picked up Lee, driving him to the Hospital. He went to spring training in the spring, but was unable to throw the ball across the diamond. He was sent to a specialist in Los Angeles, but despite his positive outlook, was out of the game for two seasons.
Return to playing
Handley eventually battled back to make it once again to the show in 1944 where he would reclaim his starting spot at third by 1946, his last season as a Pirate. Unfortunately his clouds did not leave him alone as Handley would pass away at the relatively young age of 56 in 1970 of an apparent heart attack. Black clouds aside Handley’s determination to return to the majors, is certainly a story to admire.
In 1939 Handley hit a career-high average of .285 and tied for the National League lead in stolen bases (17), despite suffering a serious beaning that kept him out of the lineup for 52 games. He also was hurt in an automobile accident before the 1942 season, but returned in 1945 to hit .298 in 98 games.
In a 10-season career, Handley was a .269 hitter with 15 home runs and 297 RBI in 968 games, including a solid 1.31 walk-to-strikeout ratio (267-to-204).
* Cincinnati Reds (1936)
* Pittsburgh Pirates (1937-1941, 1944-1946)
* Philadelphia Phillies (1947)
Career highlights and awards
* National League stolen base champion: 1939
Pittsburgh Pirates Encyclopedia
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