SABR

Ron Hansen

This article was written by Jimmy Keenan.

On July 30, 1968, Washington Senators shortstop Ron Hansen pulled off one of baseball’s rarest and most difficult feats when he turned an unassisted triple play against the Cleveland Indians. This diamond rarity took place at Municipal Stadium in Cleveland during the bottom of the first inning after leadoff hitter Dave Nelson singled and Russ Snyder followed that up with a walk. The next batter, catcher Joe Azcue, worked the count to three balls and two strikes off Senators pitcher Bruce Howard. With both runners moving on the pitch, Howard delivered the ball to Azcue, who laced a line drive between Hansen and second base. Ron took a step to his left and snagged the ball out of the air. With his momentum carrying him toward second, he stepped on the bag to double up Nelson. Hansen then ran towards Snyder, who was caught in no man’s land between first and second base, tagging him for the third out. It was the first unassisted triple play in the major leagues in 41 years. Hansen later donated his glove and the ball from that historic play to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown.

When speaking to a reporter after the game, the modest Hansen remarked, “It was one of the best plays I’ve ever made in terms of all of the putouts, but it wasn’t that difficult, in fact it was made to order. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”

Ronald Lavern Hansen was born on April 5, 1938, in Oxford, Nebraska. His father Audrey[1] and his mother, the former Edna Wolfe moved from Nebraska to Albany, California, when Ron was two years old. When the Hansens arrived in Albany, Audrey took a job as a moulder at a local foundry.

Hansen attended Albany High, where he played football, baseball and basketball. In addition to his gridiron exploits, he was the school’s star third baseman and the Most Valuable Player on the basketball squad during his senior year. Ron graduated from high school in 1955, and after turning down a scholarship to the University of California, signed a professional baseball contract with the Baltimore Orioles on April 7, 1956.

Don McShane, the Orioles chief scout on the West Coast, discovered and recommended Hanson, but it was actually Oakland Oaks owner C.L. “Brick” Laws who took care of the signing. At that time, the Orioles had a working agreement with Oakland, so Laws, who was adept at handling player contracts, orchestrated the deal, complete with a $4000 signing bonus.

Thirteen major league teams were interested in signing the young infielder, but Ron chose the Orioles. In a 1960 interview with Baseball Digest, Hansen gave his reasons for picking the Birds, “I decided to sign with Baltimore because I had the best chance of advancing with them and I had read a lot about Mr. Richards [Orioles manager Paul Richards] although I had never actually met him.”

A short time later, Laws relocated his Oakland franchise to Vancouver, British Columbia, and Hansen went with him. Ron played a few games for the Vancouver Mounties under the watchful eye of manager Lefty O’Doul before being sent down to the Class C Stockton Ports at the beginning of the season.

Hansen started out playing third base for the Ports but was moved over to shortstop after an injury to starter Gary Robin. Ron ended up playing thirty games at short that year, hitting .289 with 20 doubles.

That winter, Hansen played for the Pueblo team in the Mexican League. Under the tutalege of manager Jimmy Adair, who hit Ron hundreds of grounders, the young shortstop began to show marked improvement on balls that were hit to his right side in the hole.

In 1957, Ron was invited to the Orioles spring training camp in Scottsdale, Arizona. After the first few days of practice, baseball insiders were beginning to compare him to St. Louis Cardinal shortstop Marty Marion. The scouting report on Hansen read: “He has sure hands; moves beautifully to either side; can throw from the hole; he has a strong cross body throw; a perfect infielder’s arm.

When asked about Hansen, Baltimore manager Paul Richards replied, “There is no doubt in my mind that this kid has big league ability.”

Hansen, who stood 6’3” and weighed nearly 200 pounds, was one of the first big men to play the shortstop position. In addition to being a great defensive player, he also had power at the plate, which made him an even more valuable prospect. Ron was well on his way to making the Baltimore team in 1957 when he hurt his back during an exhibition game against the Chicago Cubs. Ron tried to downplay the injury, but over the next few weeks he started experiencing severe back pain and weakness in his left leg. Despite the best efforts of Oriole trainer Eddie Weidner, Hansen’s health issues continued to escalate.

Baltimore management, not wanting to take any chances with their shortstop of the future, sent him to team physician Dr. Erwin Mayer. From there Hanson was sent to the Mayo Clinic for a more thorough examination. Unfortunately for Ron, the prognosis was not good as he was diagnosed with a ruptured disc in his back along the sciatic nerve that controls the upper part of the legs.

In an interview in Boys Life magazine, Hanson spoke about waiting so long to seek medical help. “I know I should have gone to the doctor right off but here I was an eighteen year old and in the big leagues. I wasn’t about to give that up for a Charlie Horse.”

On May 17, 1957, the Oriole infielder underwent spinal surgery at Union Memorial Hospital in Baltimore. The operation was a success, and from there he began the long rehabilitation process. Through a vigorous regimen of exercises, he slowly began to regain his strength and dexterity.

After missing all of the 1957 season, Ron started out the following year with Vancouver. On April 15, the Orioles placed him on their major league roster. To make room for Hansen, the Orioles optioned catcher Frank Zupo to their farm club in Nashville.

Unfortunately, Ron was not fully recovered from the surgery. When asked about his back by a local sports writer, Hansen replied, “When its cold, windy and damp it does stiffen up a little. It doesn’t keep me from making the plays but it does give me a little trouble.”

After going hitless in 12 games with the Orioles, he was sent down to Knoxville to regain his stroke at the plate. A short time later, Ron experienced another setback when a broken hand sidelined him for part of the season.

Due to his injuries, Hansen did not hit much at Knoxville and was sent to Nicaragua to play winter ball for former major leaguer Earl Torgeson’s Boer team. Ron belted 17 home runs for Torgeson’s ballclub and was hitting around .300 when he tweaked his back during the league playoffs and had to be sent back to the States. Fortunately, the injury was diagnosed as a muscle spasm, and he was given a clean bill of health for the upcoming season.

In 1959, the Orioles had veterans Chico Carrasquel and Willy Miranda playing shortstop, so Ron was sent to Vancouver, where he would play every day. There, he teamed up with another highly touted Oriole prospect, second baseman Marv Breeding, the two making a formidable keystone combination.

Hansen went on lead the Pacific Coast League with 321 putouts, 496 assists, and 96 double plays. He had a solid year with the bat too, clubbing 18 home runs to go along with 61 RBI and a .256 batting average. Ron was called up to the Birds at the end of the year, appearing in two games.

In 1960, everything came together for Hansen and the Orioles. Ron, playing his usual outstanding defense, coupled with his ability to hit the long ball, earned the starting job at shortstop for Baltimore that spring.

On April 19, Ron garnered his first major league hit off the Washington Senators Pedro Ramos. Hansen and second baseman Marv Breeding also turned three double plays that day, helping the Orioles edge out the Senators 3-2.

By early May, the Birds’ rookie shortstop was on a torrid hot streak. At one point he went 7 for 17, raising his average to .363, which was second best in the loop, just five points behind league leader Roger Maris.

On July 2, Hansen was named the starting shortstop for the American League All-Star team. The squads were selected by the players, coaches and managers in their respective leagues. Hansen, who was hitting .255 with 51 RBI, received 165 out of 208 possible votes, 124 more than Hall of Fame shortstop Luis Aparicio, who had been the starter the previous two seasons.

There were two All-Star games played that year, one in Kansas City and the other in New York. The American League lost both contests,but Hansen acquitted himself well, going 1 for 2 in the first game and 2 for 4 in the second while accepting a total of six chances in the field.

Yankee manager Casey Stengel, after watching Hansen play, commented to the press, “That kid looks like he was born at shortstop.”

The Baltimore Orioles played first-rate ball in 1960, winning 89 games and finishing in second place, eight games behind the New York Yankees. It was the first time the Birds had a winning record since the team came over from St. Louis in 1954.

The Orioles pitching staff, mostly made up of players under the age of 23, led the loop in complete games and tied for the league lead in earned run average. The Orioles’ youthful, yet extremely talented infield, made up of Brooks Robinson at third, Hansen at shortstop, Marv Breeding at second, and Jim Gentile at first, turned an amazing 172 double plays.

In addition, veterans Gus Triandos, Gene Woodling, and Jackie Brandt performed well, keeping the Birds near the top of the standings for most of the season. The Orioles were in the thick of the pennant race until a four-game sweep by Yankees in mid-September effectively knocked them out of contention.

Defensively, the twenty-two-year-old Hansen had an outstanding year, leading the junior circuit in putouts by a shortstop with 325. At the plate, Ron hit .255 with 22 home runs while driving in 86 runs. His outstanding all-round play earned him the American League’s Rookie of the Year Award, as he received 22 out of 24 possible votes from the Baseball Writers of America. The other two votes went to his Oriole teammates, pitcher Chuck Estrada and first baseman Jim Gentile.

Cleveland Indians colorful and outspoken general manager Frank Lane told members of the press that he felt that the Orioles’ success in 1960 was mainly due to Hansen’s contributions. “In my book, he’s not just the rookie of the year; he’s the player of the year. He’s the main reason that the Orioles were challenging for the lead in the last two months.”

Ron was called into the Army Reserves in October of 1960 so he learned of the award while stationed at Fort Knox, Kentucky. When asked how he felt about being named Rookie of the Year, Hansen replied to a reporter, “I can’t believe it. It’s just unbelievable. This is something every ballplayer dreams of but never believes will happen.” The Sporting News also gave the nod to Hansen for its American League Rookie of the Year.

After serving for six months in the Army Reserve, Hansen reported to the Orioles, but he was only able to get in 10 days of spring training before the season started.

On April 30, 1961, Jim Gentile, Gus Triandos, and Hansen blasted consecutive home runs off the Detroit Tigers’ Paul Foytack, helping lead the Orioles to a 4-2 victory. The three home runs in a row tied a major league record at that time.

Ron put together a decent year in 1961 although his home runs, doubles and triples fell off a bit from the previous season. At shortstop, he was still a strong defensive presence in the middle of the Baltimore infield.

Uncle Sam came calling again in October of 1961, and once more Ron was summoned for Army Reserve duty. Stationed at nearby Fort Meade, Maryland, he was able to fulfill his military obligations and still commute to Memorial Stadium to get his work in with the team before the start of the 1962 campaign. In April, the Army granted Hansen a month’s leave, and in May he received another 30-day extension. The Pentagon would later allow men with seasonal occupations to report to their jobs 90 days in advance of their scheduled discharge. This ruling allowed Ron to re-join the Orioles for good later in the season.

Unfortunately, the injury bug bit Hansen once again in late August when he sustained a broken hand after being hit by White Sox pitcher John Buzhardt. Ron had his usual outstanding year with the glove in 1962, but offensively his batting average dropped 75 points and his power numbers slipped as well.

In January of 1963, the Orioles traded Hansen, outfielder Dave Nicholson and third baseman Pete Ward along with pitcher Hoyt Wilhelm to the Chicago White Sox for shortstop Luis Aparicio and outfielder Al Smith.

Chicago was managed by Al Lopez, who took an immediate liking to the 25-year-old shortstop, eventually naming him co-captain of the team. Ron adapted well to his surroundings in Chicago, teaming up with Hall of Fame second baseman Nellie Fox. When asked by a reporter about his new double play partner, Fox replied, “Aparicio was great, no question, but I get along real well with Ron. Hansen covers as much ground as Luis, although he does it with the longer strides of a Marty Marrion rather than with Aparicio’s speed. ”

On June 21, 1963, Ron connected for a two-run home run off Cleveland Indians pitcher Early Wynn with two outs in the top of the ninth inning. The White Sox and the Indians were knotted in a scoreless tie at the time, the game-winning blast spoiling the future Hall of Famer’s bid for his 300th win.

The White Sox finished second in the American League in 1963, winning 94 games, and Ron led all American League infielders in assists. He would accomplish this feat two other times during his career. At the plate, he knocked in 67 runs.

The hard-charging Sox finished the 1964 season one game behind the first place New York Yankees. Chicago’s tall rangy shortstop hit for a .261 batting average to go along with 20 home runs and 68 RBIs, He also posted career highs in doubles (25) and hits (150). Ron also led the loop in putouts for the second time.

The following season, Hansen set the major league mark for the most chances by a shortstop in a doubleheader on August 29, 1965. Chicago swept Boston in the twinbill, and Ron recorded 19 chances in the first game, which went 14 innings, and 10 more in the nightcap. He also hit a double in the 14th inning of the first tilt that put the eventual winning run on third base. Hansen’s 28 chances eclipsed the old mark of 26 set by Pittsburgh Pirates shortstop Arky Vaughn in 1940.

Hansen played all 162 games for the White Sox in 1965 while continuing to establish himself as one of the most consistent infielders in the game. That season, he led all American League shortstops in assists for the second year in a row.

In early May of 1966, Ron re-injured his back during pre-game batting practice. The injury occurred when Hansen stepped back and came down on a baseball that someone had thrown into the infield, He tried to play through the pain but was eventually removed from the White Sox lineup on May 14.

A short time later, he underwent a myelogram[2] at Mercy Hospital in Chicago that showed a defect between the fifth lumbar vertebrae and sacrum, The injury required a second back operation, and he missed the rest of the season. After losing Hansen’s services, the White Sox used infielders Al Weis, Lee Elia, and newly acquired Wayne Causey to help fill the gap at shortstop.

Hansen, who was fully recovered from the surgery, came back to play in 157 games for the White Sox in 1967. He also led all American League shortstops in assists for the third time in his career. On September 10, he was involved in another baseball milestone when he handled the final out of teammate Joel Horlen’s no-hitter.

On February 13, 1968, the White Sox traded Hansen along with pitchers Dennis Higgins and Steve Jones to the Washington Senators for second baseman Tim Cullen plus pitchers Bob Priddy and Buster Narum.

On July 30, 1968, Hansen turned an unassisted triple play in the first inning of a 10 –1 loss to the Cleveland Indians.

Two days later, Washington traded Hansen back to the White Sox for Tim Cullen. It was the first time in baseball history where the same two players were traded for each other twice in the same season.

When Hansen returned to Chicago, the White Sox had Luis Aparicio (who had re-joined the team in a trade the previous November) at shortstop so Ron played third base for the remainder of the 1968 season.

The following year, the versatile infielder took on the role of utility man for the Sox, playing every infield position, and hitting .259 with 2 home runs and 22 RBI.

Ron went through prolonged contract negotiations with Chicago management in the off- season. Figuring he would practice with the team until an agreement could be reached, he left his home in Maryland and drove to the White Sox spring training facility in Sarasota, Florida. While he was en route, the Chicago front office sold his contract to the New York Yankees for $5000.

New York used Ron as a utility infielder in 1970, and despite a trip to the disabled list in late August, he had a good year, compiling a solid .297 batting average. The Yankees won 93 games and finished in second place behind the Baltimore Orioles. Hansen’s hot bat allowed manager Ralph Houck the luxury of going with an all right-handed hitting lineup against some of the tougher left-handed pitchers in the league.

Ron continued in the same infield back up role with the Yankees in 1971, but his batting average dropped off from the previous season.

In February of 1972, the Yankees released Hansen, and two months later he was picked up by the Kansas City Royals. His stay with the Royals was brief, as he was let go after appearing in only 16 games.

Hansen finished his 15-year major league career with 1007 hits, 106 home runs and 501 RBIs. Defensively, he had a stellar .968 lifetime fielding percentage to go along with a 4.82 range factor at shortstop [95th all-time].

Ron would go on to serve as the first base coach for the Milwaukee Brewers from 1980 through 1983. In 1984, he managed the Paintsville team (Brewers minor league affiliate) in the Appalachian League. The following year, the Montreal Expos hired him as their first base coach and infield instructor. He also saw duty as the Expos’ hitting coach under manager Felipe Alou. Hansen remained with the Expos through the 1989 season.

A keen judge of baseball talent, Hansen signed on as an advance scout with the New York Yankees in 1991 and later worked in that same capacity with the Philadelphia Phillies.

Always fond of his days spent with Washington, Hansen appeared in the 1995 Television program DC Baseball: You Gotta Have Heart that chronicled baseball in the nation’s capital.

The former Senator shortstop and a number of other Washington players, including Frank Howard, Roy Sievers, and Mickey Vernon were in attendance for the final baseball game at RFK Stadium on September 23, 2007.

On May 12, 2008, Cleveland Indians second baseman Asdrubal Cabrera made an unassisted triple play against the Toronto Blue Jays. Coincidentally, Hansen was in the stands at Progressive Field in Cleveland that night working as an advance scout for the Philadelphia Phillies. When asked about witnessing the triple play, Hansen told a reporter, “First one I’ve ever seen from the stands. This kid is a real good fielder and has a great future. On a play like that it’s just reaction, and he reacted right.”

Hansen retired from his scouting duties in 2010.

Ron and his wife Dale were married in 1960 and currently reside in the rural community of Baldwin, Maryland. They have two daughters and three grandchildren.

Sources

Ellis, Jim. “Big Hunk of Man at Short,” Baseball Digest, September 1960.

The Spokesman-Review

Spokane Daily Chronicle

The 1959 Baltimore Orioles, presented by Phillies Cigars and prepared by Sports Illustrated.

Sporting News

Boys Life Magazine, December 1962.

The Times- News

Reading Eagle

Daytona Beach Morning- Journal

Lawrence Journal-World

Lodi News Sentinel

St. Joseph Gazette

Schenectady Gazette

The Whig Standard

WSI News- White Sox Interview by Mark Liptak

MASN interview by Pete Kerzel 09/11/2011

Baseball Todd’s Dugout article and interview of Ron Hansen by Todd Newville

Thorn, John, Phil Birnbaum, Bill Deane, et al. , eds. Total Baseball: The Ultimate Baseball Encyclopedia. 8th ed. Toronto: Sport Media Publishing, Inc., 2004.

A special thanks to SABR member Cappy Gagnon for contacting the BioProject Committee to suggest that someone write a biography of Mr. Hansen.






[1] An article in the September 1960 Baseball Digest gives the names of Ron Hansen’s parents as Audrey and Edna.


[2] A myelogram is a test that uses x-rays and a special dye to make images of the back and the fluid-filled spaces between the bones of the spine.
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