When it comes to the great baseball players that played during the Deadball era of Major League Baseball, there’s no doubt in my mind that Tris Speaker is one of the forgotten ones. Elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937, the center fielder was overshadowed by the likes of Babe Ruth, Ty Cobb, and Cy Young.
Interestingly enough, Speaker had been called one of the best outfielders that Babe Ruth had ever seen. He’s one of FIVE players to cross the 3,500 hit plateau–a list that only includes Pete Rose, Cobb, Hank Aaron, and Stan Musial. It’s possible that Derek Jeter (3,316) is the sixth player to join that list. Comparing Speaker to Musial in being under-appreciated, as Boston Globe sports columnist Bob Ryan once put it it, is understandable. Speaker holds the record with 792 doubles–one that will never be broken. Together with Duffy Lewis and Cat Hooper, he anchored the Golden Outfield for the Red Sox during the 1910-15 seasons.
Until reading Tris Speaker: The Rough-and-Tumble Life of a Baseball Legend by Timothy M. Gay (published in 2006 by Nebraska Press, reprinted in 2007 by Lyons Press), I didn’t know all that much about Speaker, other than having been a member of the second class elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame. But after reading the long-overdue biography, consider me one of those that believes the Texan’s legacy is largely forgotten.
This is a guy that played on two World Series winners with the Boston Red Sox and took Cleveland to their first-ever World Series championship as player-manager in 1920. It’s probable that Speaker’s legacy is remembered better in Cleveland as Musial’s case is with St. Louis–but there’s no statue of Speaker outside of Jacobs/Progressive Field, only that of pitcher Bob Feller and later this year, Jim Thome.
Spoke grew up very anti-Catholic so playing for the Red Sox may not have been the right fit but I found it interesting that he ended up marrying a nice Irish Catholic girl. Similarly, he was also a racist but toned down later in life when he tutored Larry Doby after Bill Veeck brought him back into the Indians family as a special assistant.
What Gay has done for Speaker is an attempt to right history by giving him the biography that he very much deserves. His has carefully researched his subject and wrote in an engaging manner that keeps readers turning the pages.