RIP to Marv Staehle, who played for parts of 7 seasons in the major leagues — and hit over .400 in three of them! He died in Lake Geneva, Wis., on September 30, at the age of 80. He had been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease around 2015. Staehle played for the Chicago White Sox (1964-67), Montreal Expos (1969-70) and Atlanta Braves (1971).
Marvin Gustav Staehle was born in Oak Park, Ill., on March 13, 1942. He attended Oak Park High School, where he played basketball in addition to baseball. He was named to the Suburban League All-Stars by the Chicago Tribune in 1958 when he led the league with 22 RBIs as a sophomore. He hit around .400 that year and continued as one of the league’s top outfielders for the rest of his high school career. Though Staehle wasn’t a large player (he was 5’9″ and 155 pounds as a junior), his coach, Jack Kaiser, saw big things in his future. “Marv is one boy on the squad who had real major league potential,” said the coach. Oak Park had plenty of exciting players, so their games were usually well-attended by scouts.
By the time Staehle was a senior in 1960, he’d become one of the team’s best pitchers as well as a top hitter. After graduating from Oak Park, Staehle was rumored to be deciding between the Cubs and Phillies as his potential landing place, but the White Sox and scout Glen Miller snuck in and signed him away from the North Siders. He was assigned to the Clinton C-Sox of the Midwest League and stayed there from the summer of 1960 through 1962. Over those three seasons, Staehle didn’t hit for much power, with only 4 home runs in 1961. However, he had some good speed and learned to pile up base hits. He batted .301 in ’61 with 140 hits and 104 runs scored. Impressively, Staehle had a highly developed batting eye; he rarely struck out. In 1962, his final season at Clinton, he fanned just 18 times in 433 at-bats while drawing 86 bases on balls. Staehle, an outfielder in high school, also moved to the infield because Clinton needed a shortstop with a good throwing arm. The transition wasn’t an easy one, as he committed 35 errors in 1961 and 47 in 1962.
Staehle had his best pro season in 1963 when he joined the Nashville Volunteers of the South Atlantic League. The Vols had been a part of the Southern Association, which crumbled a couple of seasons earlier over the league’s refusal to integrate. The Vols were part of the Sally League for only the ’63 season before folding again. It was an integrated team that was part of the Angels organization, but due to a lack of Angels minor-leaguers, players from other organizations filled out the roster. Staehle immediately became one of the top hitters in the league. He won the batting title with a .337 batting average, two points ahead of Chattanooga’s Costen Shockley. He also led the Sally League with a .421 on-base percentage, though his .396 slugging percentage didn’t get him close to the slash line triple crown. He hit 15 doubles and just 1 home run in 109 games.
Staehle loved hitting in Nashville’s Sulphur Dell ballpark, as he related in this entertaining article on milb.com. His most memorable at-bat of the season came when he hit a foul ball in just the right place. “There was a concession stand several rows back of third base,” he said. “And as a left-handed batter they were pitching me away like they always did. I hit a line shot foul ball into the concession stand which hit a huge mustard jar that splattered mustard all over the patrons.”
Though Staehle finished the 1963 season with Toronto in the International League, he was one of a handful of Sally Leaguers who were added to the Eastern League All-Star Team. The Sox promoted him to Triple-A Indianapolis in 1964, where he batted .301. He received his first call to the majors that September. The 1964 White Sox were in a battle against New York and Baltimore for the AL pennant, so manager Al Lopez only used the rookie as a pinch-hitter. He appeared in 6 games and had 2 hits and a sacrifice bunt in 6 plate appearances, giving him a .400 batting average in his brief stay. And both of Staehle’s hits were important ones.
Staehle’s major-league debut came against Detroit on September 15 in the tenth inning of a 2-2 tie game. JC Martin led off the inning with a single off Tigers reliever Dave Wickersham and was advanced to second on a bunt by pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm. Martin made it to third base on a passed ball, giving Staehle the chance to break the tie. Staehle later related that he’d been given the sign for a squeeze bunt, but the rookie was so confused that he asked the third base coach for clarification, which ruined the element of surprise needed for a squeeze play. Instead, he smacked a single off Wickersham to drive in the go-ahead run. Staehle also stole his first major-league base but was stranded on second. Staehle again came into a tie game on September 20. This time the Sox and Washington Senators were knotted at 3 in the sixth inning with Ron Hansen on second. Staehle batted for Jim Landis and singled to left against Alan Koch, driving in the go-ahead run. The White Sox finished in second place, a game behind the Yankees, and they wouldn’d have been that close if not for the heroics of their rookie pinch-hitter.
Staehle was rumored to be named the White Sox starting second baseman in 1965, as the departure of Nellie Fox to Houston had left a hole in the infield. Staehle was frequently compared to Fox because of his hitting style and smaller stature, though he lacked the big wad of tobacco that Fox usually had in his cheek. However, the second base job ultimately went to Don Buford, and Staehle was sent back to Indianapolis. He hit a mere .233 but was brought back to Chicago in September. He hit .429 — 3 hits in 7 at-bats as a pinch-hitter. He never took the field in a White Sox uniform until his third straight September call-up in 1966. He was the starting second baseman on September 11 against Washington and went 1-for-3 with a run scored. He fielded 6 chances in the field. Staehle played 8 games for the 1966 White Sox but had just 2 hits in 15 at-bats.
Staehle’s first chance to play ball in the major leagues in any other month besides September came when the Sox brought him to the majors in July of 1967. Second baseman Al Weis had suffered a season-ending knee injury, and Staehle was given the chance to fill in. His first start came on July 11 against Detroit, and he had a single against Wickersham and a double against Pat Dobson. Staehle’s fielding was excellent during his audition. In 107 innings at second base and another 19 at shortstop, he didn’t commit a single error. However, he had 3 hits in his first 3 games and then just 3 more for the rest of the season. He finished the year with a .111 batting average. After the season, he was sent to Cleveland as the player to be named later in a deal that had brought Rocky Colavito to Chicago.
The Seattle Pilots purchased Staehle from Cleveland in 1968, making him one of the franchise’s first players. As of June 1968, the new Pilots franchise had a president, a chairman, five board members, two general managers, two scouts, a radio announcer… and two players: Staehle and pitcher Bill Edgerton. Both players were assigned to the Seattle Angels of the Pacific Coast League for 1968. Edgerton pitched in 4 games for the Pilots in 1969. Staehle, on the other hand, became part of a different expansion team — the Montreal Expos. The Canadian club purchased him from the Pilots and brought him to the majors in September 1969. He appeared in just 6 games, but he made an impression. He had 7 hits for a .412 average and clubbed his first (and only) major-league home run. It came on September 25 and was part of a 3-for-5 game that Staehle enjoyed against the Phillies. A touch-and-go game led to a 6-6 tie in the bottom of the eighth when Staehle smacked a tie-breaking home run to right field off Philadelphia reliever Lowell Palmer, giving Montreal the 7-6 lead. Dan McGinn threw a scoreless ninth inning for the win.
“I never knew how to pull the ball until recently,” Staehle said after the game. “I was always a Nellie Fox type spray hitter, but Eddie Stanky, who was managing the White Sox two years ago, told me I’d better learn how to change my style.” He credited minor-league coach Phil Cavaretta for helping him learn to pull the ball. Staehle noted that the pitch that he hit for a home run was an inside fastball. “Three years ago I would have dumped that same ball into left field for a single,” he said.
Staehle was the great surprise of the 1970 Expos training camp and hit .420, earning a platoon role at second base alongside the right-handed hitting Gary Sutherland. He played in 104 games for the Expos and slashed .218/.306/.252 in the busiest major-league season of his career. He had 70 hits, including 9 doubles and 1 triple. He scored 41 runs and drove in 26. His fielding at second base was below average, but he was hampered by an arthritic big toe that severely limited his movement. “It just got progressively worse, until last fall I had to have surgery on it,” Staehle said in February of 1971. “They cut it open, removed an eighth of an inch of the toe near the joint, and made a new joint for me.”
The doctors had given Staehle clearance to play in the spring of 1971, but the Expos had brought in a new second baseman in Ron Hunt, who won the starting job. The Expos sold Staehle’s contract to the Atlanta Braves, where he was used as a pinch hitter for the first couple of months of the season. In his first 14 games as a Brave, Staehle was 0-for-11 with 3 walks. He finally had a chance to start in June when second baseman Felix Milan was injured. Staehle got 4 hits in his 7 starts to raise his average to .111. When Milan had recovered, Staehle was sent back to the bench and shortly to the minors. He played briefly for Hawaii in the Pacific Coast League in the remainder of 1971 and ’72. He hit well for the Islanders in 1972, but he was playing on a right knee that had been surgically repaired over the offseason. Though he was batting .294 after 17 games, he elected to retire at the age of 30.
Over parts of 7 seasons in the minors, Staehle played in a total of 185 games. He slashed .207/.295/.244, with 94 hits that included 12 doubles, 1 triple and 1 home run. He drove in 33 runs and scored 53 times. He also drew 54 walks. Staehle had seasons where he hit .400, .429 and .412 in the major leagues, and that’s still an accomplishment, even given the small sample size.
After baseball, Staehle became a State Farm insurance agent in Buffalo Grove, Ill. He and his wife, Mary Lou, retired to Lake Geneva, and he honed his golf game until he was a 10 handicap. After Staehle was diagnosed with Parkinson’s, the disease took away his ability to play golf. However, he started a unique boxing class at a fitness center in West Allis, Wis. The training program was specifically designed for Parkinson’s patients, and Staehle was able to regain much of the functionality that he had lost… including the ability to golf again.
“You better use it or lose it with this disease,” Staehle told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel. “Otherwise all this stuff starts to regress.”
Staehle is survived by his wife and children Craig, Randy, Todd and Mark.
For more information: Legacy.com
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