“FENWAY'S BEST PLAYERS”


 
1912-1913
JAKE STAHL

Big, powerful, and deceptively fast, Garland “Jake” Stahl parlayed the skills he first demonstrated as a college football and baseball star at the turn of the century into a successful major-league baseball career, primarily with the Boston Red Sox. At 6-foot-2 and 195 pounds, the right-handed Stahl was one of the most intimidating sluggers of the Deadball Era’s first decade.

Jake Stahl holds a special place in Red Sox history. He remains the first and only Red Sox player who was on two different Boston World Championship teams in two different decades: 1903 and 1912. In 1903, Jake played 40 games as a rookie catcher behind Cy Young-favorite Lou Criger. He did not play in the subsequent 1903 World Series, and his keen disappointment at missing that opportunity became one of the key forces driving him throughout the remainder of his playing career.

In 1912, Jake skillfully managed the famous “Speed Boys” to an American League pennant-winning 105-47 season record. Ninety-eight seasons later, the 1912 won-lost season record still stands as the best in Red Sox history. His Boston team subsequently won the 1912 World Series from the McGraw-led New York Giants.

Garland Stahl was born on April 13, 1879, in Elkhart, Illinois, the third son of Henry and Eliza Stahl. Henry was a front-line Union veteran of the Civil War who survived the horrors of the bloodbath at Shiloh. After the war, Henry and Eliza opened a thriving general store in Elkhart. In naming her third son, Eliza used the name of one of her brothers-in-law, Garland.

After graduating from high school (which at that time went only to the 10th grade) and working at the family store, Stahl enrolled at the University of Illinois. His fraternity brothers nicknamed him Jake. University of Illinois football coach George Huff (who briefly managed Boston in 1907) encouraged him to try out for the team.

With forward passes not allowed yet, no offensive/defensive specialization employed, and only rudimentary protective equipment used, the resulting two-way game was particularly brutal. As he matured physically, Jake became both an outstanding running back on offense and a smart, quick lineman on defense. He had his best year as a junior in 1901, when he was named to the All-Western Conference football team. He was named captain of the Illinois football team in 1902. In his first formal leadership position, Jake was required to address not only his personal needs but the needs of the entire team. It was a skill he would continue to hone throughout both his baseball and subsequent banking career.

Huff also coached baseball at the University and encouraged Jake to join his highly successful squad. As the starting catcher, Jake batted .441 his sophomore year, and in his senior campaign, led Illinois to a Western Conference Championship.

Exhibiting an outstanding ability to organize and focus his efforts, Jake graduated with a law degree in 1903. Although his athletic and classroom activities clearly were his first priorities, Jake was no social wallflower in college. The University of Illinois yearbooks of the time contain two references to Jake’s social activities, including a poem describing his carriage ride with a young woman named Clara. Jake met his future wife, Jennie Mahan, at the university.

In the spring of 1903, as Boston suffered a potentially debilitating blow to their pennant hopes with the injury of their backup catcher “Duke” Farrell, team owner Henry Killilea hurriedly traveled to Chicago to sign Jake to an American League contract on the playing field immediately after a late-season university ballgame. Jake got into his first game on Opening Day and appeared in 40 games as a catcher for Boston in 1903, hitting .239. More importantly, Jake’s work enabled Boston to keep Criger fresh for the postseason. As noted, Jake himself did not play in the 1903 World Series. When pinch-hitting opportunities arose in both Games One and Four, Collins twice used the still-recovering Farrell (who had played in only 17 games the entire season) and the veteran outfielder Jack O’Brien (who hit .210 in 1903.) Jake’s personal disappointment was a key factor that helped shape the rest of his professional baseball career.

With Farrell fully recovered, Boston no longer needed Jake as a backup catcher. Ban Johnson, however, grateful for Jake’s role in Boston’s successful 1903 season (Boston’s World Series victory ensured the long-term viability of his new American League), envisioned Jake achieving long-term baseball success as first baseman. During the winter of 1903-04, Boston shipped Jake to the floundering Washington franchise.

The frustrated Washington owners replaced Jake as their manager during the 1906-1907 offseason, urging him to concentrate on playing first base. Seeing the team transition that Boston was undertaking, Jake asked to be traded back to Boston. Washington management declined, trading him instead to the Chicago White Sox. Jake refused to report and spent the 1907 season working in his father-in-law’s bank, managing the University of Indiana’s baseball team, and playing semiprofessional baseball in Chicago.

In 1908, Chicago traded Jake to Clark Griffith’s New York Highlanders. When Griffith resigned in midseason, Jake was traded back to Boston to play first base. As the future Boston stars (Wood, Speaker, Hooper, Lewis, Gardner) developed, the hard-hitting Stahl anchored the Boston lineup from 1908-1910. In 1910, Jake led the American League with 10 home runs and ranked fourth best in RBIs (77) and triples (16). He also stole 22 bases.

Despite his baseball success, Jake’s off-the-field banking successes were even greater and paid more. Given the financial uncertainties associated with a baseball career at the time and the fact that he had just started a family, Jake opted to retire. He served as vice president of the Washington Park National Bank on Chicago’s South Side. Attempts to lure him back to baseball in 1911 were fruitless.

After a change in ownership late in the disappointing 1911 season, new Red Sox team president Jimmy McAleer convinced Jake to come out of retirement. Both he and his father-in-law became part-owners of the club, Jake becoming the player-manager-owner of a talented but uninspired Boston club. Jake signed a two-year contract. Using the same inclusive management and disciplinary styles he used earlier in Washington, he effectively focused the previously-uninspired team. Boston ran away with the 1912 American League pennant. Jake finished the year with a career-high .301 batting average. Facing the New York Giants in the 1912 World Series, Jake both outplayed the Giants’ Merkle at first base, and, according to Connie Mack, consistently out-managed McGraw. Jake invested his winning World Series share in his father-in-law’s Chicago banks.

In 1913, Boston started slowly and Jake suffered a serious foot injury requiring the removal of part of a bone in his right foot. Although he continued to manage the team, he could not play first base. Within a tense atmosphere of newspaper reports claiming internal dissension within the team and rumors that Jake would replace him as team president, Boston president McAleer publicly demanded that Jake return to first base.

Upset that he was being publicly portrayed in the newspapers as somehow losing control of his team, conniving for personal gain, and shirking his first-base playing duties, Jake met McAleer in Chicago during a July road trip. In the heat of the moment, the Boston president released him, paying off the remainder of his contract.

McAleer’s hasty action was immediately condemned by much of the baseball community, including Ban Johnson, who called the move “hasty and ill-advised.” Bill Carrigan, one of the players that Jake often consulted with, was named the new Boston manager. In October, Jake announced he was through with baseball. For his nine-year major league career, Jake posted a .261 batting average with 894 hits, which included 149 doubles, 87 triples, and 31 home runs. He also stole 178 bases, with his single-season high of 41 in 1906.

 Jake immediately began his second career as a full-time banker. With his father-in-law serving as president, Jake became vice-president and board member of Washington Park National Bank. Jake continued as vice-president until he assumed the presidency of Washington Park in 1919. During his years of involvement, he put in long hours at the bank, helping it more than double its deposits in three years. But the hard work came with a heavy price: in 1920, Jake suffered a nervous breakdown and was placed in a Monrovia, California, sanitarium. Though he spent two years in California, Jake’s health gradually worsened and he contracted tuberculosis. With his wife and son at his bedside, Jake died on September 18, 1922. He was just 43 years old.