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Chick Stahl

Chick Stahl

Position(s):
OF, P
Born:
January 10, 1873
Bats:
Left
Throws:
Left
Height:
5' 10"
Weight:
160 lbs
Major League Debut:
4-19-1897 with BSN

Chick Stahl hit over .300 during the course of a ten-year major league career and was considered one of the best defensive outfielders of his day. He became manager of the Boston Americans late in 1906 but committed suicide the following spring at the age of 34.

Beginnings

Stahl was born in Avilla, IN in a German catholic family of 24 children (according to an interview Stahl gave in 1898). However, teammate Jake Stahl was not related to him, although a number of reference sources have erroneously claimed over the years that they were brothers. Chick Stahl grew up in Fort Wayne, IN and continued to reside there in the off-season. He began his career in organized baseball in 1895 for the Roanoke Magicians of the Virginia League. A .311 batting average, 13 triples, and brilliant fielding led to a contract with the Buffalo Bisons of the Eastern League the following year. There he hit .336, scored 130 runs, stole 34 bases and slugged 23 triples. Stahl led the EL in triples and runs. He was ready for the major leagues.

 

A star in the National League

Manager Frank Selee of the Boston Beaneaters drafted Stahl for the 1897 season. Originally given a utility role, he quickly claimed the regular right field job, hitting an outstanding .354, a mark that is still a Braves franchise record for rookies through 2006. Boston won the pennant in both 1897 and 1898, when Stahl hit .308. The team fell down in the standings in 1899, but Stahl had an outstanding all-around season, hitting .351 with 202 hits, 19 triples, 7 homers, 284 total bases, 72 walks, 33 stolen bases and scoring 122 runs.

Another Boston Team

After the 1900 season, his teammate Jimmy Collins signed a contract to become player-manager of the new American League franchise in Boston, which would later become known as the Boston Red Sox. He enticed a number of his former teammates, particularly other Roman Catholics, to join him, and Stahl took the bait. He continued to play well for his new team, hitting .309 in 1901 and .323 in 1902 as Boston's starting center fielder. He suffered a leg injury in April 1903 which limited him to 77 games. He was back in full form in time for the inaugural World Series where he started all eight games, and collected 10 hits including 3 triples in Boston's upset win over the Pittsburgh Pirates. He played the full season in 1904, as Boston repeated as American League champions, hitting .290 with 27 doubles and 19 triples.

The heart of Boston's team was composed of players like Stahl who had starred in the National League in the 1890's, and by 1905, they were all getting old together. Stahl's batting average fell to .258 that year, with only 21 extra-base hits, as Boston finished fourth, 16 games behind the Philadelphia Athletics.

Player-Manager

Things went from bad to worse in 1906, as Boston lost over 100 games and tumbled to last place. Stahl rebounded a little, hitting .286 with 51 RBI, but his teammate Collins was fed up with the losing and quit as manager. Stahl was known for his leadership qualities - in 1901, he and teammate Ted Lewis had intervened to protect umpire Joe Cantillon from a mob of angry Boston fans after a controversial call - and was therefore chosen to succeed Collins as player-manager. The team went only 5-13 under Stahl's leadership, and while he was convinced by management to keep the position for the 1907 season, he did so only reluctantly. On March 25, with spring training nearing its end in Little Rock, AR, he changed his mind, offering his resignation as manager.

Tragedy Strikes

Because Chick Stahl's decision to quit as manager was so sudden, he was asked to stay on for a brief period until a successor could be designated. He was thus still acting manager when the team pulled into West Baden, IN on March 27 for an exhibition game on its way back to Boston. The following morning, Collins saw him stumble and fall as he came into his hotel room; he had just drunk a glass of carbolic acid, a medication used to treat a sore on his foot, and died from poisoning within 15 minutes. The death was a suicide, but seemed inexplicable, given that Stahl was a very popular player, had been married only the previous November, and seemed to have taken a huge weight off his shoulders by resigning as manager to concentrate on his play.

Chick Stahl's death has still not been satisfactorily explained to this day. He was known as a ladies man, even though a devout Catholic, and in 1902 had been involved in a delicate moment in Fort Wayne: a young woman named Louise Ortmann had approached him with a gun with the obvious intent of shooting him but was arrested by police before she could harm the baseball player. It was a case of a relationship gone wrong, and rumors that some other lady may have been black-mailing Stahl surfaced at the time of his death, although these were never proven. What is known is that Stahl was suffering from what would today be diagnosed as recurrent depression; speculations about a possible homosexual relationship have also surfaced, although the real causes of the tragedy may never been known now that 100 years have passed.

Pitcher Cy Young was named Boston's interim manager after Stahl's passing. George Huff and Bob Unglaub would also spend some time as interim managers until Deacon McGuire was appointed on a more permanent basis later that season.

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Boston Americans, Boston Beaneaters, Chick Stahl

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