Eddie Stanky, 82, a baseball infielder who was revered by his major league teammates for his scrappiness and hustle and feared by his opponents for his canniness, died June 6 in Fairhope, Ala., after a heart attack.
In 11 seasons, from 1943 to 1953, while playing with five National League teams--Chicago, Brooklyn, Boston, New York and St. Louis--Mr. Stanky was a fired-up second baseman who specialized in 3-D baseball: winning by desire, drive and discipline. They called him "The Brat," and at times, indeed, the brattiness was on display: carrying a handful of infield dirt when stealing second base and heaving it into the face of the shortstop trying to lay on the tag, or, when in the field, waving his arms wildly to distract the batter at home plate.
As a leadoff hitter with a career average of .268, Mr. Stanky perfected the skill of getting on base in the most painstaking style: being hit by a pitched ball. He speciality was getting beaned (hit in the head), leaning in just enough to addle the brain. And that was in the days before batting helmets.
Such intangibles, which did not readily show up in the popular stats of his day, helped bring him to the major leagues after nearly a decade in the bushes. In regard to those intangibles, the great baseball executive Branch Rickey once famously remarked of Mr. Stanky, "He can't run, he can't hit, and he can't throw. But if there's a way to beat the other team, he'll find it.
Mr. Stanky played on three pennant winners, including the 1951 New York Giants when photographers memorably caught him running out on the field to jump into Leo Durocher's arms after Bobby Thomson's game-winning home run.
Mr. Stanky's mental sharpness was sought after by club owners looking for gifted managers. He skippered the St. Louis Cardinals, the Chicago White Sox and the Texas Rangers to a combined record of 467-435. The last stint, with the Rangers, was exceptional. He managed for one day, recorded a victory and then, homesick, returned to be with his family in Mobile, Ala.
Philadelphia-born, Mr. Stanky at 5 feet 8 inches tall and 170 pounds was anything but a hulk. Size did not always matter, he believed. Among his favorite sayings was, "The ants get on base and the bulls knock 'em in."
He had a special regard for unconventional players, including the great knuckleball pitcher Wilbur Wood, who pitched for Mr. Stanky's White Sox in the 1960s.
After leaving the majors, Mr. Stanky became a legendary college coach at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. From 1969 until his retirement in 1983, his teams never had a losing season and ran up a 488-193 record. Big league scouts regularly signed Stanky players.
As a college coach, Mr. Stanky underwent something of a conversion, changing from "The Brat" to "The Mentor." He was one of the few NCAA college coaches who had a no-cut rule: If you came out for the team, you would be on it. Winning or losing became secondary. "I'm a believer in participation," he said. "The one record I care about came in a game against Vanderbilt in 1971. I played 38 men in one nine-inning game. Everyone got in. Some seasons, I've carried as many as 45 players on a team."
One of the most heartwarming Stanky stories involves a player on his 1978 South Alabama team who had plenty of desire but not much else. "I'd hit fly balls to him in practice," Mr. Stanky recalled a few years ago while walking to the dugout opposite South Alabama's Eddie Stanky Field. "He never came closer than three feet to catching one. I wanted to give him some playing time. One day, we were ahead by five and its looked safe to stick him in right field in the ninth inning. Suddenly, the other side rallies. Now we're ahead by only 5 to 4. There are two out, and they have the bases loaded. Their hitter knocks a high one to right field--straight at that fellow who never caught a ball in his life. I gasped. Everybody in the dugout and the stands gasped. He circled around looking for the ball as it came drifting down. There goes the game, we all thought. He sticks out his mitt and somehow the ball falls into it miraculously. The game is over, we won. The whole team ran out to embrace this fellow, as if we had won the World Series.
"Years later, I run into the boy. He went on to make a lot of money in oil. I asked if he remembered that catch, because I sure did. He takes out his wallet and shows me a clipping of the box score that day. There was his name in the lineup. He told me getting into the game that day was one of the greatest thrills in his life."
When asked a few years ago what happened to change brat into a father figure, Mr. Stanky said that he believed the mothers of his college players got to him. He said, "The greatest thrill I have these days is when my players graduate and their mothers come up and embrace me for helping along their sons. There is something about a mother's tears at graduation. I can't weigh it."
Mr. Stanky's innate kindness was mentioned recently while he and his wife, Dickie, were attending Sunday Mass at the chapel of Spring Hill College near his home in Mobile. During the sermon, the speaker in the pulpit singled out Mr. Stanky for his years of selflessness and personal generosity to his student-athletes.
In addition to his wife, survivors include a son and three daughters.
CAPTION: EDDIE STANKY. (1996 PHOTO)