Eddie Stanky was a gritty, scrappy player, not gifted with natural talent. He worked long and hard to achieve the success he attained. Just 5-feet-8 and 170 pounds, Stanky seemed so much more imposing as he flew into second base with a feet-first, spikes-raised slide to break up a double play. Stanky batted just .243 in his senior year at Philadelphia’s Northeast High School, but his drive was exceptional. His single-mindedness and aggressiveness on the field distinguished him from everyone else, even at an early age.
That ambition helped get Eddie a contract with his hometown Philadelphia Athletics. In 1935 he was sent to play shortstop for the Greenville (Mississippi) Buckshots of the Class C East Dixie League. After a few weeks, a young, homesick, and discouraged Stanky sent his mother a letter asking for money for train fare home. The response was stern. Eddie was not welcome back at home—quitters weren’t wanted in Anna Stanky’s family. Eddie stayed in Greenville and finished the year with a .301 batting average and 80 runs scored in 104 games.
In 1936 Eddie moved to Portsmouth (Ohio) of the Class C Middle Atlantic League. He raised his batting average 36 points and improved in almost every offensive category. Near the end of the season, he was sent to Williamsport of the Class A New York-Pennsylvania League. He played the last 11 games of 1936 and the first 14 games of 1937 for Williamsport before returning to Portsmouth (now in the Piedmont League). Eddie had played shortstop, second, third, and even pitched during his first two years in the minors, but he was now a full-time second baseman.
As the Cubs’ second baseman that summer he hit an uninspiring .245. In 1944 he was traded to the Brooklyn Dodgers. In Brooklyn Eddie replaced the Navy-bound Billy Herman at second base, and in 1945, his first full season with the Dodgers, he started to make a name for himself. Brooklyn fans adored him. The off-field Eddie Stanky was less of a dervish, very attentive, and spent much time learning about what it might take to be a major-league manager.
Days after Eddie signed his 1948 contract, and reported to the Dodgers’ training facility in the Dominican Republic, Branch Rickey traded him, on March 6, to the Boston Braves.
Eddie received the most votes of any second baseman in the National League All-Star voting for 1948, and was hitting well over .300 at the break. But while at Ebbets Field for a July 8th battle against the Dodgers, he collided with Dodgers third baseman Bruce Edwards and emerged with a broken ankle and a torn ligament. He was unable to play in the All-Star Game and did not return to action until September 19th, when the Braves were close to sewing up their first pennant in 34 years. Boston, with Sibby Sisti handling most of the second-base duties in Eddie’s absence, made Stanky a pennant winner for the second year in a row. The Dodgers finished in third place.
In the World Series, the Braves lost to Cleveland in six games. Despite Stanky’s leg being “a little below par,” Boston manager Billy Southworth named him to the starting lineup. Playing through the pain, Eddie had a .524 on-base percentage, with seven walks, and four hits. When doctors operated on him two months later, they removed two bone fragments from his ankle joint.
From the start of spring training in 1949, Southworth began to work his players extra hard, and some of them bridled at this treatment. It was to be the beginning of a long year, filled with controversy, for both Eddie and his teammates. Stanky batted a solid .285 with 90 runs scored. But he started making enemies in the clubhouse, amid rumors that he would take over the managing job from Southworth.
Southworth, reportedly on the verge of a breakdown, left the team on August 16th with the Braves in fourth place at 55-54. Coach Johnny Cooney replaced him as manager, but when Southworth announced that he would be coming back in 1950, Stanky was all but gone from the team. On December 14, 1949 the ax fell, and Eddie and his double-play partner, Al Dark, were traded to the New York Giants.
In December 1951 the St. Louis Cardinals sent pitcher Max Lanier and outfielder Chuck Diering to the Giants for Stanky, who assumed the position of player-manager for the Cardinals. Just a year removed from one of his best seasons ever, and still in his prime, Eddie began to remove himself from the playing field, appearing in just 53 games in 1952 and 17 in 1953.
Eddie tried to manage the same way he played: uncompromisingly and smartly. He tolerated no laziness and had fines for players not in the dugout for the first and last pitch of the game, not advancing runners, and similar infractions. He feuded with players who resented his strict style of play, with umpires whose calls he disagreed with, and with the media, who, for the first time it seemed, weren’t on his side.
Stanky’s method seemed to work. He was The Sporting News’ Manager of the Year in 1952, when the Cardinals went 88-66 and contended for much of the season. In 1953 the club finished in third place for the second straight year. Eddie was no longer an active player in 1954, a year in which the Cards faltered and finished in sixth place. Unpopular with his players, Stanky’s days in St. Louis were numbered. The end came just 36 games into 1955, with the Cardinals mired in fifth place. Beer magnate August A. Busch Jr., the Cardinals’ new owner, had decided that Stanky was too much foam and not enough body, and replaced him.
Eddie took a job managing the Minneapolis Millers of the American Association. The Millers finished in fourth place, and again Eddie was out of a job. Stanky took a job as a coach for the Cleveland Indians under freshman manager Kerby Farrell. He remained there for two years.
Eddie did well in his role as a coach with the Indians. Ultimately, Indians ownership cleaned house, and Stanky left the club at the end of 1958. He returned to the Cardinals as a special assistant to general manager Bing Devine, where his role consisted of scouting and evaluating major- and minor-league talent. Devine was fired by the Cardinals in 1964 and moved on to become GM of the Mets. Stanky joined him in New York, but did not stay there long, as he was quickly hired by the Chicago White Sox to be their manager for the 1966 campaign.
Stanky’s predecessor in Chicago, Al Lopez, was a gentle, soft-spoken man who had been popular with his players. Lopez treated his players with kid gloves; Eddie rode them and pushed them to be the best they could. Lopez played percentage-driven, orderly baseball that rarely employed aggressive plays like the hit-and-run and delayed steals. Eddie was the exact opposite, managing the same way he had played. By 1960s standards, his methods were almost incomprehensibly aggressive. Where most teams never used more than 60 pinch-runners in a season, Stanky used 144 in 1966 and 127 in 1967.
Unable to adjust to their new run-and-gun style, the White Sox finished the 1966 season in fourth place. But by the start of the 1967 season, Stanky had fired many of the coaches he had inherited in 1966, and installed those he thought would help convey his philosophy to the players. Stanky’s forceful managing, able pitching staff, and a solid fielding team that made few mistakes helped keep the White Sox competitive deep into one of baseball’s most gripping seasons.
Notwithstanding a massive letdown that was the end of the 1967 season, Stanky’s contract was renewed for four years by White Sox. But the White Sox lost their first ten games in 1968, and 69 games later, Eddie was asked to resign. Toward the end of his tenure, Eddie was so frustrated with the White Sox’ inability to produce runs that after a third straight loss by one run, he instituted a $5 fine for players who failed in certain clutch situations. It didn’t matter; the White Sox finished the season in eighth place.
Back home in Alabama, Stanky secured the coaching job in 1969 at the University of Southern Alabama. After the relative glamour of the major leagues, college ball was different. Stanky transformed that little school into a great college baseball team. For the next 14 years, beginning in 1969, teams led by Stanky went 488-193. He did not have a single losing season. He sent 43 of his players to the major leagues, as his team became a Sun Belt Conference powerhouse.
Stanky weathered a heart attack and open-heart surgery to coach the school for another six years before retiring in 1983. On June 6, 1999 Eddie Stanky died in a hospital in his hometown in Fairhope, Alabama, after a heart attack. He was 83.