Rounding Third and Heading for Home: Fred Haney, L.A.'s Mister Baseball
Fred Girard Haney touched all the bases in a 65-year baseball career that led him from athletic stardom in high school to the general manager’s office of the Los Angeles Angels. Along the way, he was a player, coach, scout, World Series winning manager, broadcaster, and general manager. On the field, Fred was a fierce competitor, disputing calls and plays with opponents, umpires, and fans. Off the field, he was a devoted family man, with many lifelong friends, and a heart for charitable works, particularly those involving youth, veterans, and baseball.
Haney was born April 25, 18981 in Bernalillo, New Mexico Territory, the fourth and youngest son of William J. and Frances (Fannie) Haney. After the family relocated to Los Angeles, Fred attended Polytechnic High School, where he was a four-year letterman in three sports. Named twice to the All-California Interscholastic football team,2 holder of several swimming titles, a member of the water polo team, and the city’s junior handball champion,3 Haney was one of the first great high school athletes of Los Angeles.
MINOR LEAGUE BALL PLAYER
After a partial year with the Class B Portland Buckaroos, Haney tried out with the Pacific Coast League (PCL) Los Angeles Angels for the 1919 season and made the team. Haney is listed as being 5-foot-6 and 170 pounds; unsurprisingly, he acquired the nickname “Pudge.” Despite his weight, he was fast and used hi speed to advantage throughout his baseball career.
He made the Angels squad again in 1920 as a backup. That June he married his high school sweetheart, Florence, and the two began a life and baseball partnership that would last 57 years. Shortly after their wedding, Fred was sent to Omaha of the Class A Western League where he blossomed.4 Haney was an aggressive negotiator and for the 1921 season achieved a clause that granted him one-fourth of the purchase price if he were sold to the majors. Haney’s play at Omaha attracted the Detroit Tigers who purchased his contract for $5,000 and four players: Babe Herman, future Hall of Famer Heinie Manush, George Grantham, and Bill Baumgartner. Haney got his $1,250 but when he asked for more because of the players, he was asked which quarter of the players he wanted. For years, Haney liked to tell his fellow Angeleno Babe Herman that he owned twenty-five percent of him, and the Babe usually responded with, “Get out your knife and start cutting.”5
In 1922, Ty Cobb, beginning his second year of managing the Tigers, developed an affinity for the brash, hustling youngster and gave Haney an opportunity to play a key reserve role. Fred took full advantage of the opportunity, batting a remarkable .352 and playing several positions. He got national attention in mid-season in The Sporting News. “Manager Ty Cobb has gotten some wonderful work out of recruits. ... A notable instance is Fred Haney who was called up from Omaha. ... One of the strong points in Haney’s favor is that he has the old never quit spirit highly developed, and that is just what Cobb demands.”6
Shortly after this article appeared, the fiery rookie got his first suspension and fine.7, 8 Cobb influenced much of Haney’s approach to the game of baseball. The two shared a sense of competitiveness, aggressiveness, and desire to win, and would remain lifelong friends. Fred stayed with Detroit through the 1925 season. In a September 23 game at Fenway Park, Howard Ehmke beaned Haney; he was knocked unconscious and carried from the field. After the season, Haney was traded to the Boston Red Sox. The Haneys’ only child, their daughter Patricia (Patsy), was born in Michigan during the season.
Haney won the starting third base job for the Red Sox but hit only .221, although he did lead the team in stolen bases. Some have attributed his hitting drop-off to being bat shy after the beaning. In July 1927 Fred was sold to the Chicago Cubs and subsequently sold to Indianapolis (Class AA-American Association), where he started at third base and hit well.9
Fred returned to Indianapolis for the 1928 season and had the best year of his career. He hit well with power and led the league in stolen bases. This was Haney’s breakout year as a base stealer, and it would become his hallmark on the field. When the St. Louis Cardinals purchased his contract,10 he made an unusual demand. If he did not make the team, he wanted the right to purchase his release or to be released to a PCL team. By now he had an insurance business with 29 branches in California, and if he were to be in the minors, he wanted to be near his work.11
On May 7, 1929, he was sold to the Los Angeles Angels of the PCL. He was an immediate sensation, hitting well, stealing bases, and energizing the Angels. On September 16 Fred used some of his old football skills by throwing what was termed an illegal block into Hollywood shortstop Dud Lee to break up a double play. The umpire failed to call interference and the Angels rallied for three runs to help their victory. Fred led the league with 56 stolen bases even though he played only two-thirds of the season.
The 1930 season was another excellent one for Fred Haney. Early in the year he had a streak of 36 errorless games at third base.12 He was the first man to lead the PCL in steals for two consecutive seasons.13
Haney’s expectation of another banner year in 1931 ended in March when he had one kidney removed.14, 15 It was thought that Fred would miss the season, however he was “officially”16 welcomed back to the team on June 24, when the game was stopped as he came to bat and he was presented a huge basket of flowers by his admirers at Paramount Studios, where he worked as an electrician during the offseason.17 At the end of August, Fred was in the middle of a riot in Seattle, which ended in a forfeit; police and firemen had to use fire hoses to disperse the crowd of 8,000.
In 1932 Haney was given his first unconditional release in 14 seasons of baseball.18 The following year Haney signed to play third base for the Hollywood Stars, the Angels’ arch rivals. Fred played well in 1933 and again the next year. In June 1934, Fred severely spiked Angel catcher Walt Goebel who was hospitalized for several days because the wound was too badly bruised to stitch.19 Given the bad blood between the teams, the Angels thought that it was intentional. Florence once related a story about sitting in the stands during Fred’s playing days when the fan next to her remarked, “Wouldn’t you hate to be married to a hot-tempered pepper pot like that?” She added, “Nobody would ever believe that as excitable as Fred was as a player and as colorful as he is as a manager, he has always been a mild easy-going person at home.”
MINOR LEAGUE MANAGER
In November Fred moved to another level in his career as player-manager of the Toledo Mud Hens. He was recommended by Frank Navin, owner of the Detroit Tigers.20 Fred’s fiery nature did not remain in Los Angeles. In June he protested a doubleheader loss at Columbus because the umpire delayed the first game while a telegram was sent to league president Thomas Hickey changing the Columbus roster during the game because of an injury.21 The next day Fred was still seething and vigorously protested a call. He was ejected and, when he refused to leave the field, was escorted out by the police and suspended. He also made the league all-star team and led the league in stolen bases.22
In January 1936 Fred had a serious operation at Good Samaritan Hospital in Los Angeles,23 that ended his every-day playing career but did nothing to stem his fighting spirit. During a June 20 game, Fred took exception to manager Burleigh Grimes riding the Toledo pitcher. They came to blows near third base and had to be separated by the police.24 The 5-foot-10 Grimes made short work of Fred, knocking him down and then trying to carve up Fred’s face with his spikes. Fred managed for two more years in Toledo, garnering praise from The Sporting News for his fiery leadership that kept the team in the 1937 race by winning games the experts said that they had no right to win.25
MAJOR LEAGUE MANAGER
Fred’s success in Toledo caught the attention of the St. Louis Browns who were looking for a new manager—someone who would not command a large salary. Fred accepted their offer. Although some people offered their condolences, Fred viewed the Browns job as an excellent opportunity and expected to deliver a .500 team with improved pitching. It did not happen; the Browns finished last in 1939 and sixth in 1940. After the Browns started the 1941 season poorly, Haney was fired.26 The Browns were not done with Fred; to save money they assigned him to manage Toledo, now a Browns farm team, where he stayed through the 1942 season.
THE BROADCAST BOOTH
At the end of the 1942 season, Fred called it quits in Toledo, citing the lack of authority to make player deals.27 But he really wished to return to Los Angeles, where his daughter Patricia was in high school. Haney became the radio announcer for both the Angels and Stars home games. He had kept his Hollywood connections from his days at Paramount and was instrumental in having Bing Crosby wear a St. Louis Browns uniform in the movie Going My Waythat was released when the Browns were winning their only pennant.28
Controversy arose late in the 1947 season. Philip K. Wrigley, owner of the Angels, wanted to broadcast road games and sought a broadcaster more partial to the Angels. He also wanted Haney fired from the Stars job, because he feared the new broadcaster would not be able to compete with Haney’s style, knowledge, and on-air persona. Haney was defended vigorously in the local papers through a letter writing campaign to the Angels. Fred was praised as the best broadcaster the Coast has ever had and for almost single-handedly keeping baseball on the radio alive during the war.29, 30, 31 The campaign worked; the following season Fred broadcast the Stars home and away games on KLAC.32 That year also brought the Haneys their first grandchild.
MANAGERIAL SUCCESS WITH HOLLYWOOD
On November 4, 1948 the Stars asked Fred Haney to become their manager.33 Haney requested and eventually got a three-year contract with full authority over player deals.34 Before he signed, Fred contacted Branch Rickey and got a promise that the Dodgers would add Hollywood to their farm system.35 He was also allowed to continue as program director at KLAC and keep his radio show.
Haney was an excellent broadcaster. His work on the air and his support of youth, charities, public service, and baseball brought him a host of friends and admirers in and out of the game. He ended each broadcast with, “This is Fred Haney, rounding third and heading for home.”36 Little did Fred know that in his career, already spanning 30 years, he was only approaching second base.
Haney assessed the Stars as lacking talent and, by the start of 1949 spring training, 16 of the 25 players on the 1948 roster were gone. His motto was, “Win today, for tomorrow it may rain.”37Haney warned the players to hustle on every play or be ready to be released.38 The team was dubbed the Comets, Hurricanes, and Shooting Stars because of their running and aggressive play. They won the pennant by 51⁄2 games. The press started calling him Frederick the Great. He was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year.39
On the first Saturday afternoon of the 1950 season, the Stars dropped a bombshell on the baseball world by appearing on the field in shorts. Fred asserted that the rayon T-shirts and shorts that resembled track suits, worn for day games and warm night games, would give his players more speed and change the decision on some close plays. The papers called the uniform “scanties,” and opposing players teased the Stars mercilessly throughout the season.
During the 1951 season Haney initiated a successful plan with Ty Cobb to promote the election of critically ill Harry Heilmann to the Hall of Fame.40 Shortly before the end of the year, Fred was hospitalized with viral pneumonia.41 Florence had the unenviable chore of keeping Fred quiet as she supervised his convalescence in Palm Springs. As he recovered, she drove him to spring training games and cooked while trying to make sure he got sufficient rest.
BACK TO THE MAJORS, WITH PITTSBURGH
After the Stars won the 1952 pennant, Branch Rickey, now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, offered the managerial job to Haney. Fred said that he took the job out of obligation to Rickey for the help he had provided to the Stars.42 Haney now had the dubious honor of managing Pittsburgh, the worst team in baseball.
Fred spent three tough years managing the Pirates “Kiddie Corps.” Rickey had signed a large number of players and instructed Fred to play the kids even if they were not the best so as to build for the future. They finished a dismal last each year. On September 25, 1955, Fred received a registered letter from Branch Rickey dismissing him as manager. Fred’s contract would have automatically renewed if he had not been notified by midnight on that day.43 Fred was bitter over being coldly dismissed by letter when Rickey had promised him a face-to-face meeting.
THE PINNACLE IN MILWAUKEE
Wanting to remain in the majors, Haney accepted a one-year coaching offer from the Milwaukee Braves for the 1956 season.44 The reaction in Milwaukee was that this was one of the best moves the Braves had made since moving from Boston, as Haney would bring hustle, competitiveness, and baseball strategy.45 In June, with Milwaukee languishing in fifth place, Haney was appointed interim manager.46 The Braves then went on a tear, winning 11 consecutive games, and stayed in contention throughout the year. On September 11 with the Braves one game ahead, Fred was rehired for the 1957 season for the magnificent job that he had done.47 However, on the final Saturday of the season, the Braves lost a 12-inning heartbreaker to St. Louis 2–1 to fall one game behind, and the next day the Dodgers won to clinch the pennant.
During the offseason, the now retired Jackie Robinson said, “The Milwaukee Braves lost the pennant because two or three key players were night-clubbing until 6:15 a.m. while the Braves were in Pittsburgh.”48 In his farewell speech to the club after the last game, Haney said, “You had a good time boys. Have a good time this winter. Because when we meet again next spring, you’re going to have the toughest so and so you’ve ever run into.”49 True to his promise, Fred worked the Braves exceptionally hard during spring training and prophetically told the team, “You may hate me in the spring but you’ll love me in the fall when you pick up your World Series checks.”50
On June 15, Fred got the team leader he wanted, Red Schoendienst, from the Giants.51 When the Braves clinched the 1957 pennant, Fred said, “This is the thrill of a lifetime. I knew the boys would come through, and what a great way to do it.”52 In his fortieth year in baseball, Fred Haney made it to the World Series. For the seventh game, Fred had a tough decision to make. He chose Lew Burdette to start over Warren Spahn. Lew led the Braves to a 5–0 win to give Haney and the Braves the World Championship. Fred was now a hero in Milwaukee. He was named National League Manager of the Year.53 He was rehired for 1958 with a $40,000 salary, his highest salary in professional baseball.54
One event in his busy offseason typified Fred Haney. Fred’s brother Ralph saw a polio-crippled teenaged boy, Bill Culver, simulating playing the different positions on the diamond and catching pitches on an empty school playground. It was a major struggle for him with a withered arm and a weak leg. Ralph wrote to Fred asking him to send a ball and Braves hat that he could give to the boy, because he admired his courage. Fred did more. He arranged an assembly on the playground of the school in front of the students and, with his arm around Bill, presented him with an autographed Braves baseball, a Milwaukee T-shirt and cap, and a World Series program while he spoke about baseball and life.55
Haney led the Braves to another pennant in 1958, losing the World Series to the Yankees, and lost the 1959 pennant in a playoff to the Dodgers. During the 1959 World Series, Fred resigned as manager of the Braves. In midseason, he had said that this might be his last year. There was speculation in the press whether he quit or was pushed out; however, what is most likely is that he made demands on Braves owner Lou Perini for more authority that were not granted, and he quit.
NATIONAL TV BROADCASTER
Haney was ready to return home and be with his family. He quickly signed with Los Angeles television station KCOP to host Major League Baseball Presentson Saturday evenings. Fred then landed a plum three-year contract to televise NBC’s Game of the Week. A review of Fred’s work that season said that he described the action as though it were radio but that he had a flair for bringing in colorful anecdotes that added a definite flavor to the telecasts.56
ANGELS’ GENERAL MANAGER
When Gene Autry won the Los Angeles franchise of the American League at the Winter Meetings in December 1960, he quickly hired Haney as the general manager.57 Fred would set the standard for future expansion teams. He hired Bill Rigney as field manager and moved to the player draft. Fred had friends all over baseball and called on them for advice on players, particularly those in the minors. Buzzie Bavasi shared the Dodgers evaluations and Casey Stengel provided information from the Yankee scouting reports. Rigney wanted to draft young players for the future but Haney overruled him with a mix of young players and veterans with reputations to compete with the Dodgers for local attention. Haney also wanted to get power hitters for Wrigley Field. The Angels drafted 30 players, 28 from the majors and two from the minors. Eight were over 30, 18 were in their twenties, and four were teenagers. The gems were two teenagers, Jim Fregosi and Dean Chance.
Haney’s next task was to hire a staff and he brought together an outstanding front office including Marvin Milkes, Cedric Tallis, and Roland Hemond. At the end of January, Haney and Hemond negotiated a working agreement with their first minor league club, the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers of the Class AAA American Association.58 Haney organized the refurbishment of Wrigley Field, developed a spring training facility in Palm Springs, and carried out over 20 trades to improve the nascent Angels. Although pundits predicted that they would be lucky to win 50 games in their inaugural season, they won 70. Since that time, 13 more expansion teams have entered the major leagues and none has equaled that win total yet in their opening season. Moreover, his structuring of the team for Wrigley led to a 46–36 home record. No expansion team since has achieved a winning season at home in their inaugural year, either.
For the 1962 season the Angels moved to the Dodgers’ new park in Chavez Ravine, which was pitcher-friendly as opposed to the bandbox at Wrigley. Fred restructured the team for this park, making multiple trades and bringing up young players. By July 4 the Angels were in first place, ultimately finishing third with an 86–76 record. For his work, both The Sporting News and UPI named Haney as Major League Executive of the Year.59
Fred Haney continued as general manager of the Angels for six more years, orchestrating the club’s move to Anaheim and the development of its image in Orange County. After the 1968 season, Gene Autry suggested that it was time for the 70-year-old Haney to retire and offered him a consulting position at the same salary. Fred knew that this position had no authority or even formal input but acquiesced out of friendship for Autry.
Fred continued to follow the Angels, attending many games and advising Gene Autry. As his vision began to fail, Florence drove him to the games. On November 9, 1977, Fred suffered a fatal heart attack at his Beverly Hills home.60 Two years later, in 1979, the Angels won the American League West and entered the playoffs. Gene Autry honored Fred by asking Florence to assist him in throwing out the first ball for Game 3 and having her throw out the first ball for Game 4.61 In 1980, the team established the Fred Haney Memorial Award to recognize the outstanding rookie in spring training.62
Florence Haney lived to be nearly a hundred before passing away in 1998. She and Fred are buried at Holy Cross Cemetery in Culver City, California. Their gravestones represent what was important to them in their lives: “BELOVED HUSBAND FATHER • GRANDFATHER”; “BELOVED WIFE MOTHER • GRANDMOTHER.”
JAMES GORDON retired from TRW/Northrop Grumman after forty years as an aerospace and nuclear engineer to concentrate on baseball and being a grandfather. His joy is attending baseball games around the country and documenting aspects of Los Angeles baseball history. Having been born in Brooklyn, he is genetically and emotionally a Dodger fanatic, although he reached Los Angeles fifteen years before the team arrived.
- 1. There is conflicting information on Fred’s year of birth as 1896, 1897 or 1898. I have chosen 1898 because that is what is on his tombstone.
- 2. Los Angeles Times, 26 August 1934, F2.
- 3. The Charleston Gazette, 10 November 1938.
- 4. Los Angeles Times, 5 June 1920, 18.
- 5. Los Angeles Times, 6 November 1947, 14.
- 6. The Sporting News, 6 July 1922, 1.
- 7. Los Angeles Times, 24 July 1922, III2.
- 8. Los Angeles Times, 4 May 1930, F3.
- 9. Baseball-Reference.com, Minor League Database.
- 10. Los Angeles Times, 18 December 1928, B2.
- 11. Moberly, MO Monitor Index and Democrat, 15 February 1929, 2.
- 12. Los Angeles Times, 6 June 1930, A13.
- 13. Los Angeles Times, 14 December 1930, F5.
- 14. Los Angeles Times, 25 March 1931, A13.
- 15. Los Angeles Times, 8 December 1938, A13.
- 16. Los Angeles Times, 16 June 1931, A11.
- 17. Los Angeles Times, 25 June 1931, A11.
- 18. Los Angeles Times, 1 September 1932, A9.
- 19. Los Angeles Times, 5 June 1934, A9.
- 20. Los Angeles Times, 22 November 1934, A11.
- 21. Massilon, OH Evening Independent, 17 June 1935, 3.
- 22. Waterloo, IA Daily Courier, 23 December 1935, 9.
- 23. Oakland Tribune, 23 January 1936, 23.
- 24. Lima, OH News, 21 June 1936, 2.
- 25. The Sporting News, 30 September 1937, 3.
- 26. Los Angeles Times, 5 June 1941, 21.
- 27. Los Angeles Times, 24 September 1942, A10.
- 28. Los Angeles Times, 6 October 1944, 10.
- 29. Los Angeles Times, 5 September 1947, A8, A9.
- 30. Los Angeles Times, 11 September 1947, 11.
- 31. Los Angeles Times, 14 September 1947, A6.
- 32. Los Angeles Times, 15 September 1947, 11.
- 33. Los Angeles Times, 5 November 1948, C1.
- 34. Los Angeles Times, 11 November 1948, C1.
- 35. Los Angeles Times, 7 September 1952, B7.
- 36. Richard Beverage, The Hollywood Stars, Arcadia Publishing, 2005.
- 37. Los Angeles Times, 16 January 1949, 28.
- 38. Los Angeles Times, 29 March 1949, C2.
- 39. Los Angeles Times, 25 January 1950, C2.
- 40. Los Angeles Times, 10 July 1951, C3.
- 41. Los Angeles Times, 12 January 1952, B4.
- 42. New York Times, 12 December 1952, 45.
- 43. New York Times, 26 September 1955, 27.
- 44. Los Angeles Times, 26 October 1955, C1.
- 45. The Sporting News, 2 November 1955, 9.
- 46. New York Times, 17 June 1956, B1.
- 47. New York Times, 12 September 1957, 44.
- 48. New York Times, 13 January 1957, S1.
- 49. Los Angeles Times, 14 January 1957, C6.
- 50. Los Angeles Times, 29 October 1957, C4.
- 51. New York Times, 17 June 1957, 40.
- 52. Los Angeles Times, 24 September 1957, C1.
- 53. New York Times, 24 October 1957, 45.
- 54. New York Times, 20 October 1957, S5.
- 55. Los Angeles Times, 21 November 1957, C4.
- 56. Los Angeles Times, 4 June 1960, B5.
- 57. Los Angeles Times, 9 December 1960, C1.
- 58. Los Angeles Times, 31 January 1961, C3.
- 59. Los Angeles Times, 24 October 1962, B5.
- 60. Los Angeles Times, 9 November 1977, A1.
- 61. John Hall, Los Angeles Times, 8 October 1977, D3.
- 62. 1999 Anaheim Angels Media Guide.