Obituary: Gene Stephens (1933-2019)

R.I.P. to Gene Stephens, an outfielder who had a 12-year career in the major leagues from 1952-64. He died on April 27 in Granbury, Texas, at the age of 86. Stephens played for the Boston Red Sox (1952-53; 1955-60), Baltimore Orioles (1960-61); Kansas City Athletics (1961-62) and Chicago White Sox (1963-64). He is one of two players since 1900 to collect three hits in one inning.

Glenn Eugene Stephens was born on January 20, 1933 in Hiwassee, Ark. His obituary (see below) says Gravette, but Stephens’ SABR bio helpfully explains that the two towns consolidated while he was in high school. Stephens attended the University of Arkansas on a baseball and basketball scholarship, according to his obituary. He was soon signed by the Boston Red Sox. In his first professional season of 1951, the 18-year-old Stephens was incredible. He hit .337 and slugged .587 for the High Point Hi-Toms of the North Carolina State League, with 32 doubles and 22 home runs. He was so impressive that he was brought to the major leagues when he was just 19.

There was one huge problem. Stephens was a left fielder, and the Red Sox already had a left fielder named Ted Williams. Stephens played in a fair amount of games for Boston, appearing in more than 100 games in four seasons, but many of those games were as a late-inning replacement or a fill-in when Williams was injured, resting or in the military. He never reached 300 at-bats in a full season with the team. Stephens was saddled with the title of “Ted Williams’ caddy,” which was accurate but unfair at the same time. His lack of playing time didn’t have much to do with his abilities, as he probably would have been a starting outfielder on most MLB teams. He just happened to be stuck behind one of the best left fielders of all-time.

Ted Williams and Gene Stephens, in Stephens’ rookie year of 1952. Source: The Boston Globe, May 2, 1952.

Despite the fact that they both played the same position, Williams and Stephens got along well. Williams praised the rookie’s speed and ability in his autobiography, and Stephens always said nice things about Williams.

“He was mighty fine with me, and for that matter, with most people,” he told The Indianapolis News in 1963. “It was just a few sports writers in Boston that he had trouble with. They just got too personal.”

Not that Stephens didn’t have his moments in the sun with the Sox. He hit .260 or higher in four seasons, with a high mark of .293 in 1955. He had a good eye at the plate and had good speed and occasional power, too. In 1958, which was one of his weaker seasons, he still hit 9 home runs in spite of a .219 average.

His biggest accomplishment took place on June 18, 1953, when he was part of a Red Sox assault on the Detroit Tigers’ pitching staff. The Sox whipped the Tigers 23-3 and scored 17 runs in the seventh inning, setting or tying 16 offensive records in the process. Stephens was the second batter in the inning and singled off of Steve Gromek, scoring on a Tom Umphlett single. When the Sox batted around, Stephens doubled off of Dick Weik, scoring two runs. He scored on a Johnny Lipon single. He came up again against pitcher Earl Harrist and singled, driving in another run. He was stranded at third base when the Sox, out of charity or exhaustion, got to three outs.

Stevens got 3 hits in 3 at-bats off of 3 different Tigers pitchers, scoring twice and knocking in 3 runs. That feat had only been accomplished three times before then, when Fred Pfeffer, Tom Burns and Ned Williamson all got three hits in the same inning of the same game on September 6, 1883. It has only happened one time since, when Johnny Damon did it on June 27, 2003 against the Marlins.

The stars of the Red Sox’ 23-3 beatdown of the Detroit Tigers: Sammy White, Ellis Kinder, Stephens and Tom Umphlett. Source: The Boston Globe, June 19, 1953.

In Stephens’ 8 seasons with the Red Sox, he played in 693 games and had a .247/.327/.362 slash line. He was traded to Baltimore in June, 1960, but he struggled with the Orioles. Almost a year to the day later, Baltimore traded him to Kansas City for “Marvelous” Marv Throneberry. He batted .208 for the A’s in 1961 and missed most of 1962 due to a knee injury, suffered when he crashed into another outfielder. He joined the White Sox after being released by the A’s, but he spent most of 1963 in the minors, where he hit .305 with 17 home runs for the Indianapolis Indians. His final MLB season was 1964, when he batted .234 for the White Sox in 82 games, with 3 home runs and 17 RBIs.

For his 12-year career in the majors, Stephens slashed .240/.325/.355 for a .680 OPS. He had 460 hits, including 37 home runs, and he scored 283 runs while driving in 207. Stephens played in the minors until 1967 and also spent 1966 with the Chunichi Dragons of the Japan Central League. He hit .224 with 5 home runs for the Dragons as one of two Americans on the roster (along with former Twin Jay Ward).

During the offseasons in his playing days, Stephens sold well-drilling equipment in Oklahoma City. After his retirement from baseball, Stephens worked for the Oklahoma oil and gas company Kerr-McGee Corp. in Oklahoma City. He and his late wife, Jean, moved to the De Cordova Golf Community upon his retirement.


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