Don Stanhouse – Less Than 6 Degrees of Separation
If you remember 1970’s baseball, you might remember Don Stanhouse. Star athlete from Du Quoin, IL. Played quarterback in high school, and had football scholarship offers from Notre Dame and Missouri. Drafted in the first round, 9th overall as a 3rd baseman/pitcher by the Oakland A’s in the 1969 player draft. Called up to the big leagues at just 21 year old. Enjoyed the after-hour ‘benefits’ of being a big leaguer. Known for his big hair and bigger personality. Let out a Tarzan yell whenever he finished his warm-ups. Wore black jeans and black t-shirts, and drove a black Cadillac. His apartment was described as being furnished as if the Addams Family lived there. His nickname was ‘Stan the Man Unusual’, and later he added ‘Full Pack’ (a reference to his manager smoking a full pack of cigarettes during his eventful relief appearances). He was what we commonly call a ‘character’.
His career performance was very solid – 10 years, 38-54 won/loss record, 64 saves – but not the type of career that would still have us talking about it 30 years later. However, there is one aspect of his career that, fitting his nickname, is so unusual, so incredible, so unique, that it’s likely not matched in the history of baseball. That incredible aspect is that, in joining new teams 5 times in his career, and with some of those teams changing managers while he was there, each time he came in contact with managers that were iconic figures of baseball. Yes, this list of connections tops Kevin Bacon and perhaps even Forrest Gump:
1. 1972 Texas Rangers – Starting out at just 21 years old, Don’s first big league manager is none other than Baseball Hall of Fame member Ted Williams. Williams didn’t get to the HOF due to his managing prowess, but there’s no denying he’s one of the most famous baseball figures of all time, and he’s the first manager Stanhouse had in his major league career.
2. 1973 Texas Rangers – Williams gives up managing after the 1972 season, and is replaced by a young 41 year old getting his first shot at managing -Whitey Herzog. Herzog will go on to win 1,281 games in an 18 year career as a manager, his teams will finish in first place 6 times (plus have the best overall record in the 1981 split-season), he will be voted Manager of the Year in 1985, and in 2010 he will be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.
But we’re not done yet in 1973. Herzog’s first year managing was a rough one, as the team won just 47 games while losing 91 through September 4th, and Herzog was fired. He was replaced by another young manager who only a week earlier had just been fired from his second managerial job. This man would become almost as famous for being fired as for his managerial skill. His name was Billy Martin.
Martin has not YET been elected to the Hall of Fame, but his overall record is extremely close to Herzog’s. He managed for 16 years, won 1,253 games, finished first 6 times, and was also voted manager of the year in 1985. He came to be known for spectacular turnarounds of team performance, for hard drinking, brawling with owners, players, umpires and fans, and for wearing out his welcome at each stop along the way.
3. 1974 Texas Rangers – Martin lasted the entire season as Don’s manager. After the season, Stanhouse was traded to the Montreal Expos along with Pete Mackanin in exchange for Willie Davis.
4. 1975 Montreal Expos – In Montreal, Don’s new manager is Gene Mauch. Mauch managed for 26 years, in 3,942 games (8th all time). In addition to his longevity as a manager, Mauch was noted as one of baseball’s greatest tacticians.
5. 1976 Montreal Expos – Mauch leaves to manage the Minnesota Twins, and for the first time and only time in his career, Stanhouse does not play under a noteworthy manager, as the Expos promote Karl Kuehl, who after 128 games is replaced by Charlie Fox.
6. 1977 Montreal Expos – In 1977 Montreal hires a manger who had already won two world championships – Dick Williams. Williams will have 6 first place finishes as a manager in a 21 year career, win 1,571 games, and will be voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2008. After the 1977 season Don is traded to the Baltimore Orioles.
7. 1978-1979 Baltimore Orioles – Stanhouse goes to Baltimore, where Earl Weaver is the manager. Weaver was the manager that caused Stanhouse to get his ‘Full Pack’ nickname, as Don’s precarious relief appearances caused Weaver to go through full pack of cigarettes to calm his nerves. Weaver was famous for his ‘pitching, fundamentals and the 3-run homer’ philosophy, for ‘The Oriole Way’, for platoon baseball, for arguing with umpires, and for keeping track of individual player pitcher/batter matchup results. In a 17 year career Weaver had a .583 winning percentage and won 4 American League pennants. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1996.
8. 1980 Los Angeles Dodgers – After the 1979 season, Stanhouse became a Free Agent and signed with the Dodgers. The manager of the Dodgers was Tommy Lasorda. After a long stint as a major league coach, Lasorda would manage the Dodgers for 21 years, winning 1,599 games, finishing first 8 times, winning 4 pennants and 2 World Series. He was voted NL Manager of the Year in 1983 and 1988, and voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1997.
9. 1981 – Stanhouse, struggling to perform with an injured back, was released by the Dodgers in spring of 1981, and did not pitch that year.
10. 1982 Baltimore Orioles – Don rejoined Earl Weaver in Baltimore. Continuing to be hampered by injury, he retires after the 1982 season at age 31.
So, in his ten years in the major leagues, Don played for four different Hall of Fame Managers over six seasons, played for probably the greatest Hall of Fame player to be a manager (Ted Williams) in a seventh season, played for a likely future Hall of Fame inductee and very (in)famous Manager (Billy Martin) in an eight season, and played for another long-time, famous manager (Mauch) in season nine.
What did Stanhouse get out of all of this managerial expertise? Guess we’ll never know exactly, but the flaky ballplayer did go on to be a successful businessman, including time as an investment banker, and today he operates Pro Players Legacy Group, where he teaches former athletes how to use their celebrity along with stories from their playing career to make contacts with business leaders. Yes, today Don Stanhouse wears a suit and tie, has been married for 30 years, has three grown children, and drives an SUV!
(A version of this article appeared in the June 6, 2012 issue of Outsider Baseball Bulletin)