Profile by BCB reader gauchodirk
Nicknames are part of the fabric of baseball. From "Cool Papa" Bell to Lou "The Iron Horse" Gehrig, Ted "The Splendid Splinter" Williams to Frank "The Big Hurt" Thomas, and "Oil Can" Boyd to Matt "Orange Guy" Murton, nicknames can help describe a player in ways that statistics cannot. Well, you can add "Smiling Stan" Hack to the list of great baseball nicknames, for Stan Hack was probably the best Cub third baseman that you've never heard of, or at least don't know too much about.
The numbers speak for themselves: 2193 hits, .301 career batting average, .394 career on-base percentage (good for 79th in baseball history!), five All-Star selections, and twice in the top ten in NL MVP voting. Hack was a great contact hitter who was content with singles and doubles, hitting only 57 home runs in 16 seasons, and in not one of those seasons did he strike out more than he walked (finishing his career with a superb total of 626 more walks than strikeouts). But, as with any story, we must start at the beginning.
Stanley Camfield Hack (who, by the way, has a great baseball name; we all know about Hack Wilson, but his real first name was Lewis) hit left-handed, threw with his right arm, stood six feet tall, and weighed 170 pounds. He was born on December 6, 1909 in Sacramento, California. He hit .352 in his first minor league season in 1931 playing for the Sacramento Solons of the Pacific Coast League, which prompted Cubs president William Veeck to personally travel to Sacramento to sign him for $40,000. (In case you're wondering, the team's unusual name was a byproduct of being located in the state capital: Solon was an early Greek lawmaker, and the term "solons" was frequently used by journalists as a synonym for "senators".)
Hack's major league career began in 1932 at the age of 22, and he hit .236 in 72 games, appearing in the World Series (a Yankees sweep) only as a pinch runner for Gabby Hartnett in the eighth inning of Game 4. Hack would play in only 20 games in 1933, spending most of his time in the International League, but he replaced Woody English as third baseman beginning in 1934, and he hit .289 in 111 games. He hit .311 in 124 games in 1935 as the Cubs won 21 in a row in September on their way to the NL pennant; his 14 stolen bases were good for fourth in the league, and he was third with a .406 OBP. However, he hit only .227 in the World Series against the Tigers, and was left on third base after tripling to lead off the ninth in a 3-3 game in Game Six; Detroit won the Series with a run in the bottom of the inning. His 1936 and 1937 seasons were in a similar vein: 149 and 154 games played, respectively, hitting .298 and .297. In both years he finished second in the NL in stolen bases.
By this point Hack was one of the most popular players on the Cubs and in the entire league. In a classic example of his future ingenuity, in 1935 a 21-year-old Bill Veeck (the son of then-Cub GM William Veeck, Sr.) came up with a "Smile With Stan" promotion where fans were given mirrors that had Hack's picture on the reverse. However, in proof that the Wrigley faithful were using giveaways in forms not necessarily intended even in the `30s, fans instead used the mirrors to reflect sunlight into the opposing batters' eyes, and the umpires threatened to force the Cubs to forfeit the game if the fans didn't stop. The league office, already on to Veeck, banned any similar promotions in the future.
Hack's numbers really took off in 1938, the season that climaxed with Gabby Hartnett's "Homer in the Gloamin'" against the Pirates on the way to the pennant. He hit .320 en route to leading the league in steals with 16 and finishing second in hits and runs. His performance earned him his first All-Star selection, and he finished seventh in MVP voting (the Reds' Ernie "Schnozz"/"Bocci" Lombardi, quite possibly the slowest man ever to play major league baseball, and who was reputedly almost thrown out at first on a ball hit off the wall, won the award). Hack hit .471 in the World Series, which resulted in another sweep by the Yankees and was the first of only two Series to be played at Wrigley Field with the ivy on the walls, in its current bleacher configuration.
Hack's 1939 season was good for his second All-Star selection as he hit .298 in a career high 641 at bats; he led the league in steals for the second consecutive season and finished second in hits. His 1940 and 1941 seasons were quite similar: he hit .317 in both with 191 and 186 hits, respectively; both hit totals led the league. He was not an All-Star in 1940 but was in 1941, and he finished eighth in MVP voting in 1940 (Frank McCormick of the Reds won in what could be considered a mild upset over second place Johnny "The Big Cat" Mize, the Cardinal who hit .314 with 43 homers and had an OPS of 1.040). Another notable event occurred in 1940: on May 17 against the Giants at the Polo Grounds, as he led off of third base, Hack suffered a concussion after being struck by a foul ball hit by teammate Hank Leiber.
Hack hit .300 in 1942, which was the first season he did not score at least 100 runs since 1935, but his total of 91 was still good for fourth in the league, and he also finished fourth in walks and third in hits. Hack's numbers went down somewhat in 1943, when he hit .289 with an OBP 16 points greater than his slugging percentage (.384 to .366), but he still earned his fourth All Star selection. A strained relationship with manager Jimmie Wilson led Hack to "retire" at the end of the season at the age of 34, but when Charlie Grimm returned to manage the team in 1944, so did Hack, and he hit .292 in 98 games.
The last season the North Side of Chicago played host to the World Series, 1945, was also Hack's last great season. He hit .323, good for fourth in the league, was third in on-base percentage and fifth in runs, and was selected for his fifth and final All-Star game. Teammate Phil Cavarretta won the MVP award as the Cubs won the pennant and faced the Detroit Tigers in the Series. Before Game 1 at Briggs Stadium (later renamed Tiger Stadium), Hack was seen gazing wistfully at third base, and when asked what he was looking at, he replied, "I was just looking to see if I was still standing there," in reference to his being left on third base in Game 6 of the 1935 Series. In Game 6 of this Series, Hack doubled with two out in the bottom of the 12th inning to drive in the winning run from first base, giving the Cubs an 8-7 victory that tied the series. However, the Cubs dropped Game 7 by the score of 9-3, which remains the last World Series game they have ever played. (The controversy surrounding this game was Grimm's starting of Hank Borowy [whom the Cubs had purchased from the Yankees in late July] on very short rest after he started Game 5 three days before and had pitched in relief in Game 6 two days before; the Tigers scored five in the first inning off Borowy and cruised behind two-time AL MVP Hal Newhouser. In what we have had occasion to witness firsthand, the Cubs led two games to one heading back to Wrigley for Game 4 and the rest of the Series [a schedule dictated by World War II, even though the war had ended by then], needing to win only two out of the four to claim their third world championship, but, quite obviously, they never got the second win.)
Hack played in 92 games in 1946, hitting .285, and his final season was the 1947 campaign, when he hit .271 in 76 games at the age of 37. At the time of his retirement, his total number of games played at third base was only 27 behind league-leading Hall of Famer Pie Traynor, and he was fourth in NL history with 1092 walks. It was not until 2001 that his career OBP among NL third basemen was surpassed; Chipper Jones performed the feat. He played 1836 games at third base for the Cubs; only Ron Santo has more games at third in franchise history, and both of them played more 3B for the Chicago National League Ball Club than any other two players put together. Perhaps someday Aramis Ramirez will make that statement false.
Hack's playing career may have been over, but he quickly moved into a managerial role, leading three different minor league teams between 1948 and 1953. He replaced Cavarretta as Cubs manager for the 1954 season and led the team to a 64-90 record. This was followed by two more losing seasons: 72-81 in 1955 and 60-94 in 1956 (good for last place, 33 games behind the Dodgers). He managed the Cardinals to a 3-7 mark in ten games in 1958 (a team with a 37-year-old Stan Musial and a 20-year-old Curt Flood), and finished his managerial career with a 199-272 record.
After managing three more minor league teams, Hack retired from baseball, and he died in Dixon, Illinois on December 15, 1979 at the age of 70.
Stan Hack was not a Hall of Famer by any stretch (according to baseballreference.com, his career most closely parallels that of former Giant, Red, and Phillie outfielder George Burns, who was a very capable player from 1911 to 1925), but his career was exemplary in many ways. He was at or near the top of single season National League leaderboards for most of his career, mostly in stolen bases, hits, runs, and walks, and, perhaps most significantly, he was a steady, consistent player for a franchise that won three pennants with him at third base. Like many great Cubs who played before the 1960s, Hack doesn't really receive the acclaim that he should. Here's hoping that this biography brings some much deserved attention to "Smiling Stan," undoubtedly not only one of the best third basemen, but one of the greatest players, in Cubs history.