At this time every year, baseball takes a breather. The All-Star break allows teams the chance to gear up for the second half and gives fans the opportunity to see the best players in the game take the field at one time. While, the mid-summer classic showcases today’s stars like Mariano Rivera, Chris Sale, Bryce Harper, and Matt Harvey, baseball often tends to look back at the greats of the past during this juncture of the season as well.
Whenever greats of the game are discussed, the same names seem to come up. Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Willie Mays, Hank Aaron. The list goes on and on. The usual suspects. All worthy. The stats don’t lie. But when you look back at the early days, it seems some players are often left out of the discussion.
Even though none of us saw them play, Ruth, Ty Cobb, Cy Young, Honus Wagner, and many others are still household names. Unless you’re a baseball nut though, some players are not as well known. In the case of Tris Speaker this is a gross oversight.
Speaker was truly one of the best. Right there with anyone you can name throughout our great game’s history. To this day his 792 doubles are the most ever hit in the Major Leagues. The closest active player in that category is Todd Helton. Hundreds behind Speaker. His record is safe for some time to come.
Speaker was no slouch in other areas either. A career .345 hitter, he banged out over 35-hundred hits and batted in more than 15-hundred runs. He won three World Series titles, twice with the Red Sox and one with Cleveland as player/manager. His defense was unmatched. To this day, Speaker still holds the record for career assists, double plays, and unassisted double plays by an outfielder.
Speaker was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1937, so it’s not as if those in the know haven’t recognized him. But, ask any kid today who Babe Ruth is and they will tell you. Speaker? Not unless that kid lives in Worcester, Massachusetts or Hubbard, Texas.
Tris Speaker Little League is based in Worcester and Hubbard is home to the Tris Speaker Youth Club. Hubbard is also home to Tris Speaker. No, not the slugger who passed away in 1958, but his niece who shares his name. Miss Tris Speaker Scott is a retired schoolteacher. At 95 years old she is sharp as a tack and her memories of her uncle are clear and fond. To this day she misses the man she simply referred to as “Unlce Tris”.
Speaker got along well with Scott’s mother and that sibling bond provided some great perks for the baseball fan Scott. “I think my mother had to be his favorite because when he would have spring training or off season all roads led to Hubbard,” Scott said. “He had no children of his own but since he was very fond of children he was very close to us. He’d bring us gifts. He’d throw us up toward the ceiling and my mother would get nervous that he wouldn’t catch us. I wasn’t worried.”
Speaker never did drop any of his nieces or nephews. Rarely did he drop a fly ball. Balls just couldn’t avoid that glove where triples went to die.
Speaker and his wife never had children, but the man nicknamed “The Grey Eagle” was ahead of his time when it came to charity work. Today, many players have foundations. Speaker worked on the behalf of kids when it was unheard of.
Tris Speaker was a good guy. That’s exactly why he doesn’t get the recognition he deserves if you believe his niece.
Scott can chuckle about it to some extent, but she is serious about the treatment of her uncle’s legacy. “He was just a good fella,” said Scott. “Ty Cobb was known for shaving his cleats up and playing ugly. Babe Ruth was a drunkard and a womanizer. Uncle Tris was just a good old guy.”
Athletes like Tim Tebow and others can relate to this convoluted logic. Actually treated worse for doing things right. Unfortunately some things never change.
Scott finds solace in knowing that those who do their homework respect all that Speaker has done for baseball. “During a speech in Cleveland, Indians officials said he was not only a great ball player but a wonderful man,” Scott said. “I think that is a tribute that can’t be replaced.”
Tris Speaker Scott was actually in attendance to see the Indians win the World Series. Not many people can say that. Her uncle played for that club and also served as the skipper. “He played for the love of the game and he managed the same way,’ Scott said. “When he was manager of Cleveland he loved his team.”
Unlce Tris was a man’s man to his family, but when tragedy struck he showed his emotions. Ray Chapman, Speaker’s hard nosed shortstop for the Tribe died hours after being hit in the head by a ball. He remains the only MLB player to have died from being hit by a pitch. Speaker never got over it. “When Chapman was killed, he really grieved as if he lost a son,” Scott said.
A side of Speaker not many saw. Misrepresenting the man often known as “Spoke” wasn’t uncommon.
Miss Speaker Scott moved away from Hubbard for awhile but came back to stay after a long teaching career. She loves baseball to this day and she has plenty of opinions on the game then and now. She feels her uncle’s record for two baggers is safe. “I just don’t think they can break it,” Scott said.
Scott roots for the Texas Rangers and watches as many games as possible. One of her favorites today is Josh Hamilton, an outfielder just like her uncle was. Although unlike her unconditional love for Tris Speaker, she’s a little ticked at Hamilton. “I was real fond of Josh Hamilton, but I got upset with him because he left us,” Scott said referring to Hamilton leaving the Rangers for the Angels. But she concedes he did help bring her beloved team two pennants and she’ll never forget that.
While Scott is Speaker’s eldest living relative, her family is large and she is passing along her uncle’s values and love of baseball to many of them. Some of the younger children play Tris Speaker Baseball. They call the legendary ball player Uncle Spoke because they already have an Auntie Tris. One of her sister’s grandchildren is a Peyton Manning fanatic. Sports runs in the blood of this family.
The memories of her uncle are important to Tris Speaker Scott. She recalls him talking to her students in the classroom where she taught. Sometimes, Speaker would even take Scott’s nephew and some of the neighborhood kids outside to play baseball with them. An all-world talent on the field who shined just as much off of it.
The baseball greats of the past are gone but they’ll never be forgotten. Tris Speaker’s memory lives on. His niece is making sure of that. She knew him better and longer than almost anyone. “He was a volunteer at the fire department, a good golfer, a fisherman, with lots of friends,” Scott said. “Mostly though he was Uncle Tris.”