#CardCorner: 1972 Topps Fred Stanley

Written by: Craig Muder

Fred Stanley appeared in more than twice as many games in the big leagues as he had base hits and is the only non-pitcher in history with at least 800 games played and fewer than 60 extra base knocks.

And yet Stanley played in the majors for 14 seasons, won two World Series rings and became the last member of the Seattle Pilots to appear in an MLB game.

Overall, a pretty impressive career for the man called “Chicken”.

Born in Farnhamville, Iowa, on Aug. 13, 1947, Stanley moved with his family to the year-round sunshine of Whittier, Calif., when he was 10. But Stanley always claimed the northwest Iowa hamlet as his hometown.

“You never saw him without a glove and a ball,” Little League teammate Mike Johnson told the Des Moines Register in 1976. “I knew when he left he would be a pro – that’s all he ever wanted.”

Fred Stanley began the 1972 campaign in Cleveland, but a June 11 trade sent him to San Diego after he'd logged just 15 plate appearances that season. (Topps baseball card photographed by Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Stanley’s father, Blair, was a pitcher for the Farnhamville town baseball team in the 1950s and stoked his son’s interest in the sport. In 1954, Blair Stanley hand painted a sign for Fred to hold at a community picnic that read: “I’m going to be a big leaguer – with the Yankees.”

Blair Stanley was the manager of a grain elevator in Farnhamville but moved his family to Southern California when 3-M promoted him to a position managing overseas shipping operations. Fred starred for youth teams in Whittier – and started at quarterback for three seasons at Whittier High School, drawing interest from several colleges – before being selected by the Astros in the eighth round of the 1966 MLB Draft after finishing high school.

“There was no future for me in football,” Stanley told the Wichita Eagle in 1971. “I weighed 170 pounds.”

Stanley appeared in 64 games for two Class A teams in 1966, hitting .246 with a .371 on-base percentage. He missed virtually the entire 1967 campaign while serving in the military, returning that fall to play in the Florida Instructional League. 

In 1968, Stanley spent the season with Dallas/Fort Worth of the Double-A Texas League, hitting .196 in 106 games – most of which came at shortstop. He began the 1969 season back in Double-A with Savannah before being promoted to Triple-A Oklahoma City. Then on Sept. 8, the Seattle Pilots – finishing up their first and only season in the American League – purchased Stanley’s contract from the Astros.

Three days later, Stanley made his big league debut as a pinch-runner in Seattle’s 6-3 loss to Oakland. He appeared in 17 games as the season wound down, hitting .279 while totaling three extra base hits – what would become more than five percent of his career total.

When the Pilots moved to Milwaukee to begin the 1970 season, Stanley found himself with Triple-A Portland and hit .268 in 88 games for the Beavers before appearing in six games for the Brewers in September – five of which came as a pinch-runner.

On March 26, 1971, the Brewers sold Stanley’s contract to Cleveland as part of a series of deals. Stanley reported to Triple-A Wichita, where he impressed observers with his sure hands and quick feet. With the Indians getting virtually no offensive production at shortstop, Cleveland brought Stanley to the big leagues on May 20. He saw sporadic playing time over the next three months before taking hold of the starting shortstop position in mid-August and holding it through the end of the regular season, finishing the year with a .225 batting average and .361 on-base percentage (on the strength of 27 walks) over 60 games.

In 1969, three years after the Astros selected him in the eighth round, Fred Stanley made his big league debut with Seattle and hit .279 in 17 games. (Topps baseball card photographed by Milo Stewart Jr./National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum)

Following the season, Cleveland acquired shortstop Frank Duffy along with Gaylord Perry from the Giants in exchange for Sam McDowell, setting up a three-way battle among Stanley, Duffy and Jack Heidemann for the starting job.

“There’s not much difference between the three of us,” Stanley told Mansfield (Ohio) News-Journal in Spring Training. “As for me, all I need is an opportunity. There could be a trade. If that happens, then Duffy is in the driver’s seat because the Indians got him in a trade.”

Stanley proved to be correct when – after appearing in just six games – he was dealt to San Diego on June 11 in exchange for pitcher Mike Kilkenny. He spent the rest of the season with the Padres in a utility role, hitting a combined .196 in 45 contests. 

Then on Oct. 24, 1972, Stanley’s career trajectory changed when the Yankees acquired him in exchange for a minor leaguer. He would spend much of 1973 with Triple-A Syracuse before being recalled mid-August – and when starter Gene Michael went down with a shoulder injury, Yankees manager Ralph Houk installed Stanley as his starting shortstop. Stanley would hit .212 over 26 games.

The Yankees deployed youngster Jim Mason at shortstop in 1974 while Stanley shuttled between Triple-A and the big leagues. But in 1975, Mason’s bat went cold. Stanley, who made the Opening Day roster as a utility player, took over the starting shortstop duties in May and held the job for much of the rest of the season, hitting .222 in a career-high 117 games while earning praise as one of the top fielding shortstops in the American League.

Mason got the Opening Day shortstop nod from manager Billy Martin in 1976. But Stanley – quickly becoming a Martin favorite – started the next two contests and then shared duties with Mason before Martin committed to Stanley in August as the Yankees were battling for their first pennant since 1964. Stanley finished the season hitting .238 in 110 games while posting a .983 fielding percentage, just .0009 percentage points behind Duffy, who led the American League.

Playing in his first postseason games, Stanley hit .333 in the ALCS vs. the Royals while also drawing two walks against no strikeouts. He scored a critical insurance run in New York’s 4-1 victory in Game 1 and was charged with just one error in the series.

In the World Series against the Reds, however, Stanley hit only .167 and committed a crucial error in the bottom of the ninth of Game 2, allowing Ken Griffey Sr. to reach second base on an errant throw with the game tied at 3 and Yankees ace Catfish Hunter one out away from sending the game to extra innings. Martin opted to walk the next batter, Joe Morgan, but the strategy backfired when Tony Pérez singled to left to score Griffey and end the game.

“The ball was hit to (Stanley’s right),” Martin told the Associated Press after Game 2, “and he tried to get rid of it quickly.”

The Reds swept the series in four games, prompting Yankees owner George Steinbrenner to spend lavishly in free agency that winter to build what he hoped would be a dynasty. As part of that improvement project, the Yankees swung a trade two days before the 1977 season opener, acquiring shortstop Bucky Dent from the White Sox in exchange for Oscar Gamble, LaMarr Hoyt and $200,000. Steinbrenner had been opening trying to acquire Dent for virtually the entire offseason.

The deal became official right after Dent agreed to a new three-year deal with the Yankees.

“I hate to see Chicken moved out of shortstop,” Martin told Newsday after the trade, referring to Stanley by his now-familiar nickname. “I’m in Chicken’s corner. I made him my shortstop; he did a hell of a job for me.”

Nicknamed for skinny legs and the way he flapped his arms when he ran, Stanley saw his playing time radically decrease in 1977 but still found his way into 48 games as a utility infielder. On St. Patrick’s Day, he agreed to a new three-year contract.

A calming influence in an increasingly tense Yankees clubhouse, Stanley hit .261 as New York captured its second straight AL East title. 

Stanley got into two games in the ALCS and one more in the World Series – each as a defensive replacement – without coming to the plate as the Yankees won their first title since 1962.

Dent was sidelined for long stretches throughout the 1978 season due to a pull hamstring and a blood clot in his left leg, and Stanley filled in admirably – hitting .219 over 81 games while proving his usual solid defense. After falling behind the Red Sox by more than dozen games midway through the season, the Yankees got healthy and finished the regular season in a tie with Boston.

In the Oct. 2 tiebreaker at Fenway Park, Dent’s three-run homer in the seventh turned a 2-0 Boston lead into a 3-2 New York advantage that eventually became a 5-4 win. Stanley entered that game in the bottom of the seventh as a defensive replacement for second baseman Brian Doyle, who was pinch-hit for by Jim Spencer in the top of the inning.

Stanley grounded out in the top of the ninth and then celebrated on the field in the bottom of the inning after Graig Nettles caught Carl Yastrzemski’s popup to end the game.

With Willie Randolph sidelined with a knee injury, Yankees manager Bob Lemon – who replaced Martin during the 1978 season – started Stanley at second base in Game 2 and Game 3 of the ALCS vs. the Royals but turned to Brian Doyle, who had two hits in Game 1, in the deciding Game 4. Stanley started Game 1 of the World Series and had a double and a walk in New York’s 11-5 loss. Doyle got the starts in Game 2 and 3, with Stanley returning to the lineup in Game 4.

It was Doyle, however, who became the hero in Games 5 and 6 by going a combined 6-for-9 with four runs scored and two RBI. Dent, meanwhile, was named the World Series Most Valuable Player after hitting .417 with seven RBI in New York’s six-game victory.

Stanley did not appear in Game 5 or Game 6 but once again took home a winner’s World Series share.

“I’m happy with the Yankees but I would like to play more,” Stanley told the Des Moines Register in the spring of 1979. “The World Series bonus checks are nice but I think if I was playing for some team everyday I would be making more money. 

“It was an adjustment for me to learn to sit on the bench. (But) we just have too much talent.”

Stanley reprised his role as a utility player in 1979, hitting .236 in 57 games while reaching the two-home run mark for the first time since 1971. New York would not reach the postseason, but in September, Stanley and the Yankees agree to a new three-year, $385,000 contract that would carry him through the 1982 season.

In 1980, the Yankees again won the AL East, with Stanley hitting .209 in 49 games as he battled left knee and left hamstring injuries. He did not appear in the ALCS vs. the Royals as Kansas City swept New York in three games.

On Oct. 24, the Yankees designated Stanley for assignment even though he still had two years remaining on his guaranteed contract. 

“He’s been a valuable spot player, but when he plays for any length of time, he comes up battered,” Yankees general manager Gene Michael told The Record

For Stanley, who was the longest tenured Yankees player at the time of his release, the move was a shock to the system.

“I never thought I’d be leaving, especially under these conditions,” Stanley told The Record. “I thought I’d play two more years then have to make a decision about my career.”

Stanley would in fact play two more seasons – spending the 1981 and 1982 campaigns with Oakland in a reunion with Martin, then managing the A’s. The Yankees sent Stanley to the A’s in a deal for pitcher Mike Morgan on Nov. 3, and Stanley hit .193 over 66 games in 1981 as Oakland advanced to the ALCS before falling to the Yankees. In five postseason games that year, including three starts at shortstop, Stanley had one hit in nine at-bats.

Stanley indicated midway through the 1982 campaign that he thought he could play another four or five years in the big leagues.

“I think age isn’t so much a factor for a guy like me: A backup or utility infielder,” Stanley told the Des Moines Register. “You don’t see many starting shortstops who are 37 or so, but as a backup I can play until I’m 39 or 40.”

The A’s brought him to Spring Training in 1983 as a non-roster player, but Stanley was among the final cuts on March 31. He turned down a minor league assignment and did not play professional baseball again.

His baseball career, however, was far from over. After remaining in the game in several capacities – including working with the Brewers for nine years before managing in the Giants’ minor league system from 2000-04 – Stanley was named the Giants’ director of player development on Oct. 12, 2007. He quickly helped assemble the San Francisco team that won three World Series titles in five seasons from 2010-14.

“Hopefully, we’ll begin providing the big league club with position players like we’ve done with pitching,” Stanley told the AP after taking his new job. “How long that could take, I don’t know. It could take one year, it could take two years.”

Stanley wasted no time as the Giants took Buster Posey in the first round of the 2008 MLB Draft and quickly added future key players like Brandon Belt, Brandon Crawford and Joe Panik. He remained the team’s farm director through the 2013 season.

In 14 big league seasons, Stanley hit .216 as the quintessential good-field, no-hit shortstop. But his attention to the smallest details of the game kept him in the big leagues and set the stage for a post-playing career where he would add three more World Series rings to the two he won with the Yankees.

It was a philosophy that never failed Fred Stanley even when times got tough.

“It was a little hard for me to understand that,” Stanley told Newsday after the Yankees actively sought to replace him following the 1976 season where he helped New York win the AL pennant. “I led the club in sacrifices and squeezes; I had a good on-base percentage. I moved runners. I took pitches so Willie Randolph could steal. And if a team leads the league in pitching like we did, you’ve got to have some guys who are not letting the ball go through.”

Craig Muder is the director of communications for the National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum

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