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Chicago Cubs History: The smiling career of Stan Hack

“Smiling Stan” was one of the greatest third basemen in Cubs history.

Stan Hack leaping during spring training 1933
Bettmann Archive

There are those players, whose careers are steady and respectable, and who manage to create their own kind of enduring legacy, even without the flash and dazzle of award titles or World Series rings. Those players, for their part, deserve the same level of acknowledgement and fame as their glitzier peers, but don’t often receive it. In the case of one-time Chicago Cubs third baseman Stan Hack, who’s been nearly forgotten today, he’s got credentials nearly as good as some third basemen who are in the Hall of Fame.

Hack, who was known as “Smiling Stan” owing to his convivial nature and positive attitude, was a lifelong Chicago Cub. He made his debut with the team in 1932 at the age of 22, and went on to play 16 seasons with the club. He remained one of the most consistent third basemen in all of baseball during that time, hitting a career average of .301/.394/.333. In his time with the Cubs he was an All-Star five times.

Stan was an absolute workhorse of a player, who spent the bulk of his career batting in the leadoff position. From 1936 through 1943, he continued racked up more than 600 plate appearances, and in 1939, he had a whopping 724 plate appearances in 156 games. He was as reliable as they came.

Curiously, and to the ire of many Cubs fans who know of Hack’s accomplishments, he has never been elected to the Hall of Fame. That the Hall of Fame has only 17 third baseman enshrined, the lowest number of any position, certainly begs the question: Why not Stan? Is his name as recognizable as Wade Boggs, George Brett, or Chipper Jones? No. But his career numbers certainly bear a long look.

Hack, beyond his stats above, has a lifetime WAR of 55.8 (according to FanGraphs) and a lifetime wRC+ of 124. According to the JAWS system established by Jay Jaffe to determine the true quality of players by position, Stan Hack ranks 24th overall in the history of third basemen, however there are five Hall of Famers listed below him. Is he a shoe-in for the Hall of Fame Eras Committee? Not by a long shot. But he certainly deserves a long second look.

The man himself is just as interesting as his numbers.

Hack was born in 1909 in Sacramento, California, and began his baseball career in the Pacific Coast League with the Sacramento Senators. They ultimately sold Hack to the Cubs for $40,000 — these contracts helped keep the PCL alive during the Depression — and Hack represented a new influx of young blood for the team.

It’s interesting to note, especially to any tennis fans out there, that in Hack’s early career he was wildly overshadowed by his wife Dorothy Weisel, who was a well-known US tennis star at the time.

At one point during Hack’s career, the Cubs wanted to take advantage of his popularity, part of which hinged on his handsome appearance, and they decided to make a promotional giveaway with mirrors that had Hack’s face on the back. This proved to be an absolute disaster, as brazen fans started using the mirrors to shine reflections on opposing players. The game was almost forfeited as a result, but the fans behaved themselves for the remainder.

Some might wonder why it was that Hack’s service with the Cubs wasn’t interrupted by the outbreak of World War II, but it was only due to his age. Hack was 32 in 1942, which by the draft standards at the time made him too old to be drafted, and he was allowed to keep playing.

Hack’s career came to a close in 1947, and afterwards he was very quickly ushered into a management position in the team’s minor league system. By 1954, he was suddenly thrust into the spotlight, managing the big club, after Phil Wrigley fired Cubs manager Phil Cavarretta for his overly blunt and negative assessment of the team’s prospects that season.

Unfortunately, in spite of managing the rookie season of a guy named Ernie Banks, Hack’s time as a manager for the Cubs lasted only two short seasons, during which the Cubs finished under .500. After being fired by the Cubs he went on to a coaching position with the Cardinals. This didn’t last long either, and after a journeyman period, Hack retired permanently in 1966.

Stan Hack passed away in 1979.

It’s a marvel, now, to look at such a legacy in baseball, and such a long history with the Cubs, and to not see a Hall of Fame designation next to Hack’s name. Everyone from former Cubs manager Phil Cavarretta to Bill James seems to believe Hack deserves a place in Cooperstown, but that decision now rests with the Eras Committee. The next time Hack will be eligible for induction is in when the Early Baseball committee meets in 2020. This group only meets every 10 years, so if Hack isn’t considered in 2020, he won’t be eligible again until 2030.

Further Reading:

SABR Bio Project - Stan Hack — by Eric Hanauer

Smiling Stan Hack, One of the Overlooked Greats in Cubs History — by Billy Fan