July 10, 1918 |
Van Houten, New Mexico
|September 16, 1941 for the St. Louis Browns|
Last MLB appearance
|July 25, 1948 for the St. Louis Browns|
|Runs batted in||55|
Charles Augustus Stevens, Jr. (born July 10, 1918) is a former first baseman in Major League Baseball who played for the St. Louis Browns in parts of three seasons (1941, 1946, 1948). Listed at 6' 1", 180 lb., Stevens was a switch-hitter and threw left-handed. He was born in Van Houten, New Mexico.
Stevens spent 20 years playing, coaching and managing professional baseball, much of it in the Pacific Coast League, but he is best remembered as the player who delivered the first major league hit off pitching legend Satchel Paige.
At a young age Stevens played baseball and basketball, but he also was always interested in music, playing guitar, fiddle and percussion, and became an accomplished tap dancer in his youth. Following his graduation from Long Beach Polytechnic High School in early 1937, he enrolled at the University of California at Berkeley, but he turned his attention to baseball and signed a contract with the St. Louis Browns of the American League before the 1938 season. He went to spring training in San Antonio, Texas before reporting to the Williamston Class-D team of the Coastal Plain League, where he hit .288 with 10 home runs in 97 games. in 1939 was promoted to Class-C Johnstown of the Middle Atlantic League, where he hit .290 in 128 games. His most productive season came in 1940 with Class-B Springfield of the Three-I League, when he hit .316 with 74 RBI for a team that won the league championship. His rapid advancement through theBrowns system indicated that he could be considered a major league prospect. He moved up again in 1940, this time to Class-A San Antonio of the Texas League. He did not hit quite as well (.264 in 158 games), but gained attention for his flashy defense at first base and his aggressive base running. Then he was added to the Browns roster in late September, but did not appear in any games.
In 1941 Stevens joined the Double-A Toledo Mud Hens of the American Association, one step below the major leagues. He had a fine season for the Mud Hens, hitting .290 in 145 games, earning a promotion to the Browns in September. He appeared in four games and went 2-for-13 (.154) with two runs and two RBI. He returned to Toledo in 1942 but had a disappointing season, slumping to .250 and did not get the September recall he was likely hoping for. After the season, he entered the US Army Air Force and spent the next three years in the Pacific Theatre, first in California and later in Tinian, Guam, and Okinawa.
Stevens rejoined the Browns after being discharged before the 1946 season, appearing in 122 games while hitting .248 with three home runs. As always, his defense and base-running were generally first rate, but his lack of power kept him from a longer career in the majors. In 1947 he was outrighted back to Toledo, where he batted .279 in 141 games. He returned to the Browns in 1948, just in time to take part in a bit of baseball history on July 9 at Cleveland Stadium. With the Browns beating the Cleveland Indians 4–1 in the bottom of the fourth inning, Cleveland manager Lou Boudreau pulled his starting pitcher, Bob Lemon, replacing him with the 41-year-old rookie Satchel Paige to start the fifth inning. It was Paige's first game in the major leagues, and the first batter he faced was Stevens, who had faced Paige many times in exhibition matches in California, and remembered hitting him pretty well. In this instance, he spoiled the story by lining a single to left field on the second pitch he saw. Nevertheless, Paige retired the next three hitters to get out of the inning unscathed. During his third stint with the Browns, Stevens hit a .260 average in 85 games, and was sold to the Hollywood Stars (PCL), hitting for them .321 over 38 games at the tail end of the 1948 season.
Stevens played for Hollywood until 1954, and was part of three PCL championships with the Stars in 1949, 1952 and 1953. He was remarkably consistent during this period, hitting .297, .288, .292 and .278 from 1949 through 1952, as well as playing his typical solid defense at first base. The Stars sold Stevens contract to the San Francisco Seals (PCL). He played for his new team for the next year and a half as a reserve player and pinch hitter, also serving as a player-coach for the 1955 season. When the Boston Red Sox purchased the Seals at the end of the season, Stevens was sent along with some of their other surplus players to the Louisville Colonels (American Association). But Stevens had no interest in going to the new team, instead buying out his own contract so that he could take an opportunity to manage the Amarillo Gold Sox in the Western League. He hit .335 for Amarillo in 1956, and also managed his team to the league's title series, earning the circuit's manager of the year award. He later played and coached for the Sacramento Solons (PCL) in 1957, his last professional baseball season.
In a three-season majors career, Stevens was a .251 hitter (184-for-732) with four home runs and 55 RBI in 211 games, including 89 runs, 29 doubles, eight triples, six stolen bases, and a .333 on-base percentage.
Out of the playing field
Following his playing retirement, Stevens worked for a company that acidized oil wells. In early 1960 he served as secretary-treasurer of the Association of Professional Ball Players of America and kept the job for 38 years, until he had reached the age of eighty in 1998. He was instrumental in modernizing the structure of organization, setting up a constitution and bylaws to conform to new tax laws, as his job kept him in a permanent touch with the baseball community. The Chuck Stevens Award, created by the APBPA, is presented in his honor. The award is presented to the Southern California resident who had the most outstanding season in the minor leagues. Previous winners of this award, Sean Burroughs, Keith Ginter, Jason Hirsh, Evan Longoria, Ryan Madson, Jerry Owens and Jeremy Reed have all played in the major leagues.
The Pacific Coast League: A Statistical Record, 1903-1957 is a complete PCL encyclopedia, introduced by Stevens in collaboration with Roger Osenbaugh, which shows complete statistics for every player in the league, presented in year-by-year, team-by-team format, with batting and pitching categories. The book also included leader boards, season and lifetime record holders, league officials, playoff records and attendance. Stevens also parlayed his Hollywood prestige into roles in two baseball related films, appearing in The Stratton Story (Sam Wood, 1949), starred by James Stewart and June Allyson, and The Winning Team (Lewis Seiler, 1952), featuring Doris Day and Ronald Reagan.
Stevens, aged 96, is recognized as one of the oldest living major league ballplayers, and is the oldest living former member of the Baltimore Orioles.
- "Van Houten - New Mexico Ghost Town". GhostTowns.com. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
- Mark Armour. "Chuck Stevens". The Baseball Biography Project. The Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Retrieved 2008-10-30.
- "Chuck Stevens Award". Association of Professional Ball Players of America. Retrieved 2008-10-30.
- The Pacific Coast League: A Statistical Record, 1903-1957, by Dennis Snelling. McFarland & Company (January 1995), ISBN 0-7864-0045-5
- Career statistics and player information from Baseball-Reference