RIP Chuck Stevens; A Baseball Man With a Helping Hand

Editors note: Tuesday would have been the 100th birthday of Chuck Stevens. Stevens, however, passed away in late May. At the time, he was the oldest living Major Leaguer. This is a column I wrote for Baseball America on Stevens, who I first met in the late 1970s when I worked for the Long Beach Press-Telegram, covering the Angels. Stevens, who lived in Long Beach, became a trusted friend who did what he could to educate a kid from Wyoming about the National Pastime.

After a 20-year playing/coaching career in pro ball, interrupted by three years of active duty in the Pacific during World War II, Chuck Stevens decided it was time to move on, and in 1959, he took a job with an oil company in Long Beach, Ca., where he grew up.

It didn’t last long.

A year later, the Association of Professional Ball Players of America (APBAPA), came calling. It needed a new director, and Stevens was considered the perfect fit.

“It wasn’t a job I was looking for,” said Stevens.

But it was a job that fit so well he would spend the next 28 years running the organization that was designed to provide assistance for former players, umpires scouts and other people in the game, at the minor league and big-league levels.

He would oversee assistance from major financial/medical issues to that minor-league player unable to come up with bus fare home at season’s end.

“He was an angel,’’ the late Bob Lemon, who grew up in Long Beach with Stevens, would frequently say.

And now he may well be one.

Stevens, who had been the oldest living former major league player, died on May 28, 43 days shy of what would have been his 100th birthday. The distinction now belongs to former pitcher Fred Caligiuri, whose 100th birthday in Oct. 22. Caligiuri’s career consistent of 18 pitching appearances for the Philadelphia A’s in 1941-42.

Steven debuted with the St. Louis Browns in 1941, appearing in four games, spent the 1942 season in the minor leagues, and then had a three-year hiatus from baseball, serving in the United States Army Air Force.

He would continue to play through 1957, but see big-league time in only 1947 and 1948 with the Browns, option to play for the Hollywood Starts in 1949 instead of the Browns because the money was comparable, even if it was a minor-league team, and he would be closer to home.

Even in his limited time, however, he enjoyed significant events. His first big-league hit came off Hall of Fame pitcher Early Wynn in 1941. His first big-league home run was hit at Yankee Stadium in 1946. Eight of his 184 career hits came off Hall of Famer Bob Feller, the most he had against any pitcher. And it was Stevens, on July 9, 1948, who not only singled off his childhood buddy and Hall of Famer, Lemon, but later in that game singled for the first Major League hit ever allowed by Satchel Paige.

He even had a role The Stratton Story, which featured Jimmy Stewart, as well as other baseball-related films, an outgrowth of relationships he made in Hollywood during his days first as a player and/or coach with the Pacific Coast League Hollywood Starts from 1948-54.

In his later years, however, his focus always returned to the APBPA.

Earlier this year, in a conversation with writer Bob Keisser, Stevens spoke of compiling “the most career saves” in reference to his 38 years with the APBAPA. He told Keisser about different situations in which the association was able to help, including a player left paralyzed, and a player, suffering from terminal cancer, about to be evicted from his home.

“There was a tax lien on his home and the IRS was going to take it,” Stevens said, his memory still strong at the age of 99. “They didn’t care that he was so ill. We were able to take care of the taxes, so he could pay away in his home, and not die in a parking lot.”

To help raises funds he even organized an old-timers game that was a stand alone event, not tied into a pre-game festivity prior to a Major League Game. It debuted as the Cracker Jack All-Star Game at RFK Stadium in Washington, D.C., in 1982, Stevens managing the American League team and making players on both teams played the positions they played during their careers.  The event moved between RFK Stadium and Memorial Stadium in Buffalo, N.Y.

“We weren’t giving great amounts out to anyone, except in the worst cases. The situations often were someone having a rough time who just needed a hand up to take care of the necessities of life. One player called us and all he wanted was enough money for a bus ticket home. I never dwelled on how bad some of the situations were, but I was proud we were able to help, and do it quietly.”

Stevens is survived by Maria, his wife of 77 tears, whom he met in the fourth grade.

 

Tracy RingolsbyComment