WHITNEY, Tex., Dec. 8 – Tris Speaker, the former great “Gray Eagle” of American League outfields died of a heart attack. He was 70 years old.
The baseball Hall of Fame member was on a fishing trip with a friend, Charles Vaughan, of near-by Hubbard,Speaker’s birthplace.
Besides his widow, Frances, Speaker is survived by two sisters. They are Mrs. Pearl Scott of Hubbard and Mrs. Alma Lindsey of Abilene.
When Tris Speaker was a young cowboy in Texas, he suffered a broken right arm in a fall from a horse and became a left-handed pitcher. Then his left arm was injured in a football accident. Surgeons advised amputation, but he refused. He recovered to become one of baseball’s great hitters and outfielders, a manager of a world’s championship team and seventh member of the game’s Hall of Fame.
The indomitable will of young Speaker attracted a discerning baseball man, Doak Roberts, then owner of the Houston club of the Texas League, in the town of Cleburne in 1906.
The boy, 17, was the sensation of his town after two years at Fort Worth Polytechnic Institute. Not only was he a winning pitcher, but he was a battler. He wanted to be a professional ballplayer, but his mother opposed his being “sold into slavery.” She said she would never give her consent to her son’s going to the Red Sox, even after he had made a success at Houston.
His mother was won over. Mr. Roberts had faith that young Speaker would make the grade, and he sold the youngster to the Sox for $800 – the Boston scout beating the Browns of St. Louis by a mere half-hour.
And in seven years Mrs. Speaker’s boy became the highest-paid player in the American League when he signed a contract with Joseph J. Lannin of the Red Sox for $16,000 a year and a $5,000 bonus on a two-year contract. He later received $40,000, highest until the advent of Babe Ruth.
The Texas youngster played most of 1908 at Little Rock, Ark., where he had been “farmed” for development. But in 1909 he got his first real start. He batted .309 in 143 games for Boston and the team finished third. They bowed to the Athletics of Coombs, Bender and Plank fame in 1910 and 1911, but in 1912 they won the pennant – Speaker batting .363 – and they took the world’s championship from the Giants on the memorable “$30,000 muff” of Fred Snodgrass.
Competed With Cobb
But always in front of Speaker in his striving for the top was another Southerner, Tyrus Raymond Cobb. Two years ahead of the Texan in coming to the majors, the fiery Georgian was the idol of the fans, and it took years of wearing work for the sheer merit of the newcomer to show.
But for the batting prowess of Cobb, who reigned supreme in the years when Speaker was at his best with the Red Sox, the graceful Texan might have been acknowledged the greatest all-around outfielder of his time. Beginning with 1910, he always gave the Georgia Peach a battle for batting honors, finishing second on many occasions with averages that would have been good for titles in other years. Speaker lost with .383 to the Tiger star’s .410 in 1912 and with .365 to .390 in 1913.
That was when he was the pivot man in what is often referred to as the greatest outfield of all time theSpeaker-Duffy Lewis-Harry Hooper combinations in Boston. He batted .338 in 1914 and .322 in 1915, the year he led the Red Sox to a world series victory over the Phillies.
Caught Up With Cobb
It was not until 1916 that Speaker caught up with Cobb. He had been traded that winter to the Indians. He came through the season with .336 and stopped Cobb’s incredible consecutive winning streak at nine seasons to take the American League batting title.
Speaker never won it again, but his lifetime average of .344 attests to his worth on the offense. He reached .388 in 1920 only to fall before Sisler’s .407; .378 in 1922 to find Sisler ahead again with .420 and in 1923 and 1925 he reached .380 and .389 only to come up against Harry Heilmann in his best years with .403 and .393.
But as a defensive outfielder neither Cobb, Heilmann, Mostil, Felsch of the tarnished Black Sox, Hofmann,Carey nor Roush of the National League starts of his time, to name only a few – ever excelled Speaker in covering ground, throwing prowess, canniness as to “playing” hitters and general all-around grace in action. He was remarkable in his ability to go back after a far-driven ball. It was often said that only the fence stopped him. Sometimes it didn’t do even that, for he once jumped over a fence in Washington to make a remarkable catch.
So great was Speaker’s ability at covering ground in center that for years before the lively ball came into play he would anchor himself for many batsmen not more than forty feet behind second base. It is almost legend how he would come in and cover the bag on infield plays. Many times he would slip behind a runner watching the shortstop and second baseman, take the throw from the pitcher or catcher, and tag the amazed victim.
Managed the Indians
Speaker became the manager of the Indians on July 10, 1919, succeeding Lee Fohl. They finished second in 1919 and first the next year. The Indians went on to capture the world championship from the Dodgers underWilbert Robinson, with manager Speaker showing fine judgment in handling his pitchers, and leading his team with hard hitting – he batted .324 and fine fielding.
That was his only pennant and the only pennant Cleveland was to win until 1918. The star of Miller Hugginswas rising in the East and the Yankees won in 1921, 1922 and 1923. In 1921 Speaker finished second. In 1922 he was fourth, in 1923 he was third and then sixth in 1924 and 1925. After he had brought his team home second in 1926 – again trailing the Huggins-trained Yankees – he resigned as a manager.
The next season Speaker was in the outfield for the Senators and Cobb was with the Athletics. The great rivals, curiously enough, closed their big league careers on the same team – playing with Connie Mack on the athletics in 1928. Then Cobb retired and Speaker became the manager of the Newark Bears, a post he held for two years.
Speaker had been associated with baseball in different capacities during later seasons. He turned to broadcasting games and his knowledge of the diamond made him a favorite. He also became a part owner of the American Association.
The announcement of Speaker’s election to baseball’s Hall of Fame was made in January, 1937. At the time he was in the wholesale liquor business in Cleveland and was chairman of the city’s Boxing Commission.
Additional honors were accorded to Speaker in 1952, when he was named to an all-star team of baseball’s greatest performers from 1900 to 1950. The other outfielders were Ty Cobb, the late Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio.