Grave Story: Lee Stine (1913-2005)

Here lies Lee Stine, who started pitching professionally at an incredibly young age and never really took a break for years afterward. He was also a very good hitter and may have had a better career as an outfielder if he started at it from the beginning. Stine played for the Chicago White Sox (1934-35), Cincinnati Reds (1936) and New York Yankees (1938).

Lee Elbert Stine was born on November 17, 1913, in Stillwater, Okla. He was the oldest of three brothers born to Charles and Xenia Stine. They were among the early Oklahomans who made the exodus to California, at least a decade before the Dust Bowl made such a trip a regular occurrence. Charles, according to the 1920 U.S. Census, was a carpenter by trade. His oldest sons, Charles Jr. (17 years old in 1920) and Barker (15), were employed as a grocery store clerk and a deliveryman, respectively. Charlie Stine would play baseball too, though his play was limited to semipro teams like the Scott Grocers

Lee Stine’s niche at Riverside National Cemetery, Riverside, Calif.

Lee Stine was active in American Legion baseball. He played on the Shamrocks in 1928 and Long Beach in 1929-30. Sixteen-year-old Stine was particularly busy in 1930. The Long Beach team won the state Legion championships, and he was one of the two primary starting pitchers, along with Jack Hile. The team competed in the regional championships, ultimately losing to New Orleans, the Southern champion. Stine started that game in center field before coming in to relieve. But he was the hitting star with a home run and 4 runs driven in. After the Legion season had ended, Stine signed with the San Francisco Seals of the Pacific Coast League in September. Seals manager Dick Williams (not that Dick Williams) saw Stine in the Legion playoffs and was impressed. He was the youngest player in the league – by a year or two – and had a 3.65 ERA in 12-1/3 innings. He also played a bit in the outfield. Then in December, he pitched for a Kuster-Wetzel ballclub and threw a no-hitter against the North Long Beach Merchants.

“Stine showed exceptional speed and poise for a kid of 17 years and is looked upon as a live mound prospect,” reported the San Francisco Examiner in 1931.

The Seals sent Stine – who was still a high school student – to the Arizona-Texas League for the summer of 1931. Then he pitched for a Rich’s Bakery team in the offseason. Thanks to the accommodating climate of California and the Seals’ lack of concern for preserving a young pitching prospect’s arm, Stine pretty much pitched year-round for several years. He returned to the Seals in 1932 and picked up a 7-13 record and 5.17 ERA in 44 games, throwing 167 innings. Then he pitched for South Pasadena before preparing for the 1933 season with San Francisco. He even threw both ends of a doubleheader against Sacramento in 1933. He won both games, but the manager (Ike Caveney in this case) had him hurl 244 innings over 47 games that season. Stine gave up 296 hits, walked 122 batters and finished with a 12-14 record and 4.72 ERA. Stine’s workload was pretty consistent with that of other pitchers on the team, but he was anywhere from eight to 18 years younger than the other starters.

Incidentally, Stine was no longer the youngest player on the Seals by 1933. Joe DiMaggio, who was almost exactly a year younger than Stine – he was born on November 25, 1914 – debuted with the team that year.

The Seals sold Stine to the Chicago White Sox in early 1934, and he joined the club in spring training in California. He made a favorable impression on Sox manager Lew Fonseca. Stine’s advantage was that he had been pitching for the previous couple of months in winter ball, while the rest of the pitchers were just getting into shape. The Sox had four veteran pitchers – George Earnshaw, Ted Lyons, Milt Gaston and Sad Sam Jones – to anchor the starting rotation, but the rest of the staff was to be filled out by more inexperienced hurlers like Phil Gallivan, Whit Wyatt and Stine. Stine made his major-league debut on Opening Day – April 17, 1934, against the Tigers. Detroit scored 8 runs on Jones and reliever Les Tietje, and Stine entered into a bases-loaded, no-out situation in the top of the eighth inning. Marv Owen hit an RBI groundout, and Stine threw a wild pitch to let another run score, but both runs were charged to Tietje. He was much better in his second outing on April 29 against the Browns. With the Sox losing 6-2, Stine sailed through the final two innings, allowing just 2 walks.

The American League caught up to Stine in May. He was touched for 3 runs on May 1 against Cleveland, including a home run to Earl Averill. Then he was brought into a game against the Yankees on May 10, after New York had pounded Earnshaw for 6 runs in 2 innings. Stine made it through his first inning of work unscathed, and he even struck out two future Hall of Famers – Bill Dickey and Red Ruffing. The floodgates opened after that, though. Lou Gehrig did most of the damage with a 2-run double in the fourth inning and a grand slam homer in the fifth – the 22nd of Gehrig’s career. Stine held the Yankees scoreless over his final 3 innings of work, but he was still charged with 6 earned runs in the 13-3 loss. About a week later, the White Sox released him to Milwaukee of the American Association, with an 8.18 ERA in 11 innings.

Source: Daily News, April 17, 1938.

Stine’s brief time in the majors wasn’t very successful, but the 20-year-old turned it around with the Milwaukee Brewers. He went 17-9 in 47 appearances. His ERA of 4.19 may seem on the high side, but among pitchers with more than 200 innings of work, it was in the Top 10 of the AA. Stine spent the offseason doing what he usually did – pitching. While playing for Joe Pirrone’s All Stars in California, Stine was the starter in the first game of a Christmas Day doubleheader against the Royal Giants, a traveling Negro Leagues team. Stine outdueled Andy “Pullman” Porter in the 2-1 win.

Stine again broke training camp with the White Sox in 1935, but he played in just 1 game. He entered in relief in a game against the Browns on April 20, after Earnshaw had allowed 7 runs in 6 innings. He immediately walked Rogers Hornsby, gave up a single to Ray Pepper and walked Johnny Burnett. After a force out at home plate, Stine walked Rollie Hemsley to force in a run before getting Ski Melillo to ground into a 1-2-3 double play. Outfielder Sam West homered off Stine in the ninth inning to give him a 9.00 ERA in 2 innings of work. He was soon returned the minors, where he topped his 1934 season by winning 18 games for St. Paul. That was good enough for second-best in the American Association. It was also enough to persuade the Cincinnati Reds to purchase his contract for the 1936 season. Again, he showed up to training camp in mid-season form, since he spent the winter pitching for local teams and frequently against tough pitching foes like Henry McHenry of the New York Black Yankees.

For the only time in his career, Stine spent all of 1936 in the majors, pitching in a variety of roles for Cincinnati. He started 12 times and relieved 28 times. He went the distance 5 times in his starts and picked up 2 saves in his bullpen appearances. He threw his first complete game against the Cubs on April 26, though it was in a losing cause, as Chicago cruised to a 5-0 win behind the pitching of Tex Carleton. Stine got a shutout of his own on May 4, when he blanked the New York Giants and Carl Hubbell in a 1-0 pitchers’ duel. He allowed 8 hits, but he didn’t walk a batter and struck out 3. He also got 6 comebackers to the mound, as the Giants struggled to get any hard contact.

That gem of a performance dropped Stine’s ERA below 2, but things went downhill from there. In his next start, he gave up 8 runs in 5 innings against Pittsburgh. When a loss to the Cardinals on July 5 dropped his record to 3-8, he was taken out of the starting rotation. He worked with coach Ivey Wingo to better harness his control, but Stine only made one more start – and it only lasted a batter. Reds Manager Charlie Dressen tried a little gamesmanship with Brooklyn Dodgers skipper Casey Stengel. He started Stine with the intention of replacing him with Bill Hallahan if Stengel started Babe Phelps behind the plate. Instead, Stengel started Ray Berres, so Dressen brought in reliever Benny Frey after Stine retired leadoff batter Jimmy Jordan.

Source: Dayton Daily News, March 29, 1936.

Stine finished the year with a 3-8 record and 5.03 ERA in 121-2/3 innings. He walked 41 batters and allowed 157 hits while fanning 26 batters. He did fairly well as a hitter, with 8 hits (including 2 doubles) for a .296 batting average, and 4 RBIs. One explanation for his sudden ineffectiveness could be that he injured his arm in a fight with the Chicago Cubs in late May. He brawled with the Cubs’ Woody English after a play at the plate and was fined $25. A part of the story that wasn’t reported until years after Stine’s retirement is that during the fracas, an umpire yanked him by the arm to get him off English. In the process, something popped in Stine’s arm, and he wasn’t the same pitcher after the fight.

In December, the Reds sold his contract to Kansas City of the American Association. Stine again struggled with his control and had a poor year, with a 7-14 record and an ERA just over 6. He allowed 211 hits in 154 innings and walked 72 for a 1.838 WHIP.

Even after all his movement in pro ball, Stine was just 24 years old, though it’s likely his arm was several years older than the rest of him. Still, the Yankees took a chance on the right-hander, and he made the team out of spring training in 1938. He appeared in 4 games, all in relief, and three of them were against the Boston Red Sox. He gave up 1 run in his first appearance, but that was the only run he allowed. In his best performance, Stine threw 5 scoreless innings against the Sox in relief of Lefty Gomez. The Yankees dropped the game 6-1, but Stine scattered 4 hits and didn’t walk anybody. He followed that up with 2 scoreless innings against Philadelphia on May 13. That was the last game he ever pitched in the majors. The Yankees farmed him out to Newark of the International League on May 15, having allowed 1 run in 8-2/3 innings.

Stine won 11 games for Newark in ‘38 and signed with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast league for the 1939 season. For the first time since 1932, Stine was able to live and work near his home in Long Beach. He won 13 games in his first season and relocated to Lakewood Village in the winter. He was neighbors with one of his teammates, Jack Rothrock, and his house had “an unusual outdoor barbecue patio,” according to the Los Angeles Times. He was apparently ahead of his time in housing amenities. Stine stayed with the Angels for two more seasons. His best season came in 1940, when he turned in an 18-10 record with a career-best 2.84 ERA. His walk rate dropped to a career-best 2.5 per 9 innings, which helped to account for his success. One of his few poor outings came at the hands of the traveling DiMaggio All-Stars, featuring brothers Joe and Dom, as well as major-leaguers like Joe Gordon, Johnny Berardino, Cliff Dapper and Bob Lemon (still an outfielder at that point). Though Stine was hit hard, he did homer off Red Ruffing.

Success proved to be fleeting. By 1941, Stine’s ERA was back up to 5.41, and he lost 14 games against 9 wins. His control problems returned, and PCL batters got 205 hits against him in 168 innings. Thanks to his hitting abilities, he gained some extra playing time as a first baseman and batted .297 with a home run. The Portland Beavers bought his contract for the 1942 season, but he made just 12 appearances on the mound, with an 0-4 record and 12.60 ERA. Manager Frank Brazill used him more as an outfielder and pinch-hitter, so Stine played in 100 games. He batted .278 with 9 doubles, 4 triples and 2 homers and drove in 40 runs.

Stine was upset about leaving Los Angeles and really didn’t want to play in Portland. He didn’t sign with the team in 1943 and returned to Long Beach, where he became one of the area’s best softball players with a team called the Graveyard Riggers. He started working at a California shipyard after the 1942 season ended and stayed there for 18 months. In 1944, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy’s Ship Repair Units. He also played in the outfield for Bill Feistner’s Long Beach Service Stars in his off-hours. Stine came back briefly as an outfielder-coach for the Anaheim Valencias of the Sunset League in 1947. No stats for that team are available, but he was released after about a month due to a lack of production. That brought his professional baseball career to a close.

Lee Stine is laid out on the ground after being beaned by Sacramento’s Al Sherer in 1939. He was hospitalized overnight but rejoined the team quickly. Source: Daily News, May 1, 1939.

Over parts of 4 seasons in the majors, Stine made 49 appearances on the mound, with 12 starts. He had a 3-8 record and a 5.09 ERA, with 5 complete games, 1 shutout and 2 saves. He walked 55 and struck out 39 in 143-1/3 innings. He also hit an even .300, with a .400 on-base percentage and .367 slugging percentage. In 12 seasons in the minor leagues, he had a 112-112 pitching record and 4.75 ERA, and he also batted .267 with 9 home runs.

Stine remained in California, along with his wife, Lynn, and daughters Chris and Jackie. He lived in Long Beach and later Huntington Beach, and he worked as a parimutuel clerk at the Hollywood Park horse track. He occasionally participated in old-timer’s games with other California ex-ballplayers. After his retirement, he moved to Hemet, Calif., to be closer to brothers Charlie and Barker.

Lee Stine died on May 6, 2005, in Hemet, at the age of 91. He is buried in Riverside National Cemetery in Riverside, Calif.

There aren’t many stories that shed light on Stine away from baseball. But apparently, he could hold his alcohol with the best of them. One story came from his time with the Reds. Manager Bill McKechnie went to catcher Ernie Lombardi and said, “I want you to do me a favor. I know you can handle from 50 to 90 beers a night. But will you see if you can’t limit Stine to 50? I think that 50 beers is a good measure.”

“It sure is, boss,” Lombardi said.

Columnist Abe Kemp of the San Francisco Examiner later asked Lombardi if anything happened that night. “Nothing much,” the catcher said. “All I know is that finally, I had to sit down to keep on drinking. But that kid, Stine, was still on his feet.”

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