Obituary: Eddie Stanky

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The Independent Culture
NICKNAMES, AFFECTIONATE and otherwise, have been common in baseball since before the turn of the century.

Some are legendary: George Herman Ruth Jnr was known variously as "The Babe", "The Sultan of Swat" and "The Bambino", whilst Joe DiMaggio was both "Joltin' Joe" and "The Yankee Clipper". The shortstop Harold "Pee Wee" Reese was so named because he had been a teenage marbles champion whilst Reggie Jackson is forever "Mr October" in tribute to his efforts in five World Series. "Ducky" Medwick's unusual gait led to his unfortunate nickname while Ernie Lombardi's large nose gave rise to his, "Schnoz".

Eddie Stanky was known, quite simply, as "The Brat". Originally dubbed "The Brat from Kensington", in reference to the north Philadelphia neighbourhood of his birth, he was a short, fiery second baseman with a reputation for antagonising opposing players, hence the tag. Phil Rizzuto, the New York Yankees' catcher, said of him, "He plays a snarling, dog-eat-dog kind of baseball".

When at bat he would distract the pitcher by moving around the batter's box and repeatedly fouling balls, making it very difficult to throw strikes. A batter walks (advances to first base) following four pitches outside the strike zone, and Stanky became a master of the tactic, long holding the single season National League record: 148 in 1945. In 1969 Jim Wynn of the Houston Astros equalled his record before it was successively broken by Barry Bonds, who walked 151 times in 1996, and then "Home Run King" Mark McGwire, who last year drew 162. Stanky, however, demonstrated a remarkable consistency at the peak of his career, drawing 137 walks in 1946, 144 in 1950 and 127 in 1951.

On the field, too, he aggravated, often waving his arms to distract batters as the pitcher pitched, a practice that saw him cautioned unsuccessfully by the National League President Ford Frick.

An effective performer, Stanky played with three pennant-winning teams: the 1947 Brooklyn Dodgers, the 1948 Boston Braves and the 1951 New York Giants and had a lifetime batting average - calculated by dividing the number of hits by official times at bat, carried to three decimal places - of .268. He formed a potent partnership with the shortstop and team captain Alvin Dark whilst with the Giants and when Bobby Thompson hit his pennant-winning home run against the Dodgers in 1951, the so-called "Shot Heard Round the World", he jumped on the back of his manager Leo Durocher in celebration and passed into baseball folklore.

The following year Stanky joined the St Louis Cardinals as player-manager, remaining with them until 1955. As manager he advocated the concept of the designated hitter, a hitter who substitutes for the pitcher when his team are at bat, but it took some 20 years before formal adoption of the idea in the game and then only by the American League. He briefly managed the Chicago White Sox and in 1977 the Texas Rangers, for just one game, before quitting because he felt homesick. In all he notched up a Major League win-loss record of 467-435.

He enjoyed greater success at college level, coaching at the University of South Alabama, Mobile, for some 14 years. He later recalled: "I had played in beautiful parks with beautiful locker rooms. At South Alabama, I inherited a rock-pile for a ball field with no dugouts, a four-foot- high fence around it and no grass on the infield." Despite the initially adverse conditions he went on to achieve a win-loss record of 488-193 and steered the college to five NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) tournaments and two Sun Bell conference titles. He retired in 1983.

Pete Phillips, who played under Stanky at South Alabama, remembered that, in some ways at least, "The Brat" hadn't changed: "He was hard to play for. He accepted no excuses, but he showed responsibility for us as a ballplayer and as a person."

Edward Raymond Stanky, baseball player: born Philadelphia, Pennsylvania 3 September 1917; married (one son, three daughters): died Fairhope, Alabama 6 June 1999.