Ron Stone

This article was written by David E. Skelton

Possessing “a determination as unyielding as his name,”1 outfielder Ron Stone arrived in Philadelphia at a time when one of the many needs for the lowly Phillies was a batter capable of reaching the seats with one swing. The left-handed hitter brought many assets to the game, especially speed, defense and a remarkably strong arm, but home run power was not a part of his repertoire. The departure of sluggers Dick Allen and Johnny Callison after the 1969 season left the club with an abundance of punch-and-judy hitters such as Larry Bowa and Denny Doyle. Desperate for instant offense—something that largely evaded the Phillies for a few more seasons until the later emergence of Greg Luzinski and Mike Schmidt—Stone was often relegated to the role of the fourth or fifth outfielder for the perennial second-division club.

Harry Ronald Stone was born on September 9, 1942, the only child of Harry Marshall and Dorothy Jeanette (Morris) Stone, in Corning, California, a small city 100 miles north of Sacramento. The descendent of a storied paternal history, Ron’s seventh great-grandfather English native William Maximillian Stone, was appointed the first Protestant governor of the colony of Maryland in 1648. Seven years later the governor barely escaped execution by firing squad. William’s second great-grandson Thomas Stone—the ballplayer’s distant cousin—was a signatory to the Declaration of Independence. Other ancestors are less reputable—either William’s father or brother was the notorious Captain John Stone, a 17th century “merchant/mariner . . . best remembered for his bad behavior and death (murdered by the Pequot Indians along the Connecticut River).”2 

In 1863, 20-year-old Menard County, Illinois, native Oliver L. Stone, Ron’s great-grandfather, served with the Union Army during the Civil War, where or in what capacity is unclear. Around 1895 Oliver gravitated to California. In the 1940s his grandson Harry—Ron’s father—served in Europe during the Second World War, earning a Bronze Star and two Purple Hearts. After the war Harry married and settled down with his family in Stockton, California. He followed his father into the timber business where he remained for 51 years.

Ron Stone attended Amos Alonzo Stagg High School in Stockton. Following his high school graduation around 1960 he remained in Stockton to play baseball with the San Joaquin Delta College Mustangs. In 1962 Stone joined future minor league teammate Wally Bunker in the San Francisco-based Peninsula Winter League where the first baseman placed among the amateur league leaders with a .433 average. In September, in what was likely the last signing during the storied career of St. Louis Browns/Baltimore Orioles scout Fred “Bootnose” Hofmann, Stone inked a contract that included a $25,000 bonus with the Orioles.3

Stone did not have to leave home when he launched his professional career in 1963. For 17 years Stockton had served as the host city for the Class-C Ports, a California League club that at various times had ties to the Browns, St. Louis Cardinals, and both Chicago franchises. In 1959 the Ports began a 13-year affiliation with the Orioles. Four years later the league was upgraded to Class-A. When the lanky Stone reported to the team he found first base anchored by 24-year-old Richard Hickerson. Stone made just 34 appearances before he was laterally transferred to the Fox City (Appleton, WI) Foxes in the Midwest League. Among the league leaders in hitting throughout most of the season, Stone finished with a slash line of .286/.368/.388 in 304 at-bats for the second-division club.

Stone’s career was put on pause as he fulfilled a six-month obligation with the US Army Reserves in 1964. Released in September, he was assigned to the Florida Instructional League where he played exclusively in the outfield and placed among the league leaders with a .313 average.. Stone opened the 1965 season with the Class-AA Elmira (NY) Pioneers in the Eastern League. On May 8, he participated in the then-longest game in baseball history, a 27-inning marathon against the Springfield Giants that lasted six hours and 24 minutes. In the 26th inning the strong-armed outfielder threw out a runner at home to preserve a 1-1 tie; the following inning his drag bunt single set up the winning run. The long day was one of the few highlights in Stone’s stay in Elmira. Hitting just .205 in 83 at-bats, he was demoted to the Tri-City (Pasco, WA) Atoms in the Northwest League. Often slotted in the leadoff spot because of his speed, Stone found the league’s pitching more than congenial. He achieved career high marks in home runs (16) and average (.294) while also placing among the league leaders in runs (87) and stolen bases (28). His fine season—marred only by an embarrassing incident in which Stone was removed from a game after swallowing a wad of tobacco while dodging a close pitch—attracted considerable attention from major league scouts. On November 29, the Kansas City Athletics selected him as the number one player in the 1965 rule 5 draft.

Speculation immediately began buzzing that Stone would compete with youngsters Larry Stahl and Tommie Reynolds for the club’s left field vacancy. During spring training, on March 16, 1966, he led the Athletics to a 12-5 win against the Pittsburgh Pirates with two runs and two RBIs and a team-leading three hits. This performance was one of many that left “a favorable impression” and eventually led to his inclusion on the parent club’s roster.4 On April 13, 1966, Stone made his major league debut in Minnesota’s Metropolitan Stadium in the ninth inning pinch-hitting for pitcher Paul Lindblad and grounded meekly back to the box for the final out of the game.

After five additional appearances as pinch-hitter, pinch-runner, or defensive replacement, Stone collected his first major league hit, a single against California Angels right-handed ace Dean Chance, on May 4. Used sparingly as the season progressed, Stone was waived on June 30 to clear roster space for promoted pitchers Wes Stock and Jim Nash. Reclaimed by the Orioles, Stone returned to Elmira where he led the Pioneers to a first-place finish by providing “the classiest first basing in years.”5 He finished out the year in the Florida Instructional League..

In 1967 Stone launched the first of two contrasting seasons with the Rochester Red Wings in the AAA International League. A brilliant start the first year, and among-the-leaders .305 average, earned him All Star recognition. When outfielder Curt Motton was promoted to the Orioles, Stone was moved from first base to outfield, and his performance slowed slightly. He still finished with a respectable .283/.351/.411 slash line in 421 at-bats. He also led the team with15 stolen bases. But 1968 proved far more challenging. A .188 average over the first few weeks of the season set the tone for a disappointing year. Only a late season surge lifted him to a passable .257/.314/.339 finish. During the offseason the Orioles, attempting to bolster their catching corps with an experienced backstop, offered Stone among a list of six players in exchange for Philadelphia veteran Clay Dalrymple. At the strong urging of the newly-acquired coach Billy DeMars—Stone’s 1968 manager in Rochester—the Phillies selected the 25-year-old outfielder/first baseman.

Seeking to make a strong first impression with his new team Stone reported early to the Phillies 1969 training camp. Mirroring his spring with the Athletics three years earlier, “Stone made a fine impression with his fine hitting and his hustle and determination,” HOF sportswriter Allen Lewis observed.6 On March 26 Stone led the Phillies to an 11-1 win against the Houston Astros with four runs on a homer, two doubles, and a single. A wrist injury the next day sidelined him for several games, but Stone still paced the club in hits during the grapefruit league season. On April 8—Opening Day—he got his first major league starting assignment in Chicago’s Wrigley Field against the Cubs. Stone was hitless in four at-bats, but the next day, in his second start in left field, he scored a run and got an RBI on a single and triple (his first extra base hit) in an 11-3 loss to Cubs right-hander Bill Hands. Hampered by the earlier wrist injury, Stone’s offense sputtered through mid-June. A month later, he broke out with a blistering 19-for-53 surge that included his first home run, a solo shot against Cubs reliever Ted Abernathy on July 11 that contributed to the Phillies four-run ninth inning comeback win. Stone finished the season with a .239/.332/.293 line in 222 at-bats. During the winter, he played for Criollos de Caguas in the Puerto Rican League.

During the Phillies 1970 spring training Stone continued his hard hitting in Florida, a trend that earned him the nickname “Palm Trees” from his teammates. His .300 average in grapefruit league play yielded little as Stone opened the season competing with fellow left-handed hitter Oscar Gamble for the fourth outfielder role. In May, when left fielder John Briggs pulled a leg muscle and prized centerfielder Larry Hisle endured a horrendous sophomore jinx, Stone got more playing time. On May 13, he got three hits, including his first home run of the season, in a losing effort against the Montreal Expos. Ten days later Stone’s eighth inning RBI triple kept future HOF righty Bob Gibson from adding another to his many career shutouts. On June 7, amid a seven-game hitting streak, Stone went 4-for-5 with two doubles, two runs scored and two RBIs in leading the Phillies to a 10-3 win against the Astros. Injury held Stone to just 52 at-bats in July, but he succeeded in using his limited opportunities to great advantage with a .365 surge. He finished the season with career high marks across the board including games played (123), hits (84) and extra base hits (20). “One guy who did a much better job than anybody expect was Ron Stone,” burbled Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi. “He was a pleasant surprise and the injuries we had were a blessing in disguise as far as he was concerned. They gave him a chance to play.”7

Stone’s contributions were somewhat diminished by even more competition from rookie outfielders Joe Lis, Willie Montanez and Roger Freed in 1971. He got only 50 at-bats through the first two months of the season before delivering a 6-for-10 surge against the San Francisco Giants in June—a productive run that included the game winning hit in a 1-0 pitching duel on June 6. Seven weeks later Stone delivered a ninth inning bases-loaded walk-off single against the Cubs for a 2-1 Phillies win. Stone didn’t get much playing time. Nearly half of his 95 appearances came as a pinch-hitter. Plus, he played most of the year with three broken ribs following a failed attempt on June 27 to take out Pirate Bill Mazeroski at second base. He finished the season with a disappointing .227/.315/.314 line in just 185 at-bats.

On April 15, 1972, Stone hit a ninth inning two-out pinch-hit single and came around to score the winning run against the Cubs to provide future HOF lefty Steve Carlton his first victory in a Phillies uniform. But this moment would be one of Stone’s few highlights during the season. He got only three starting assignments and 22 at-bats through May 26. The spotty usage affected his production: just two hits in 24 at-bats through June 16. Five days later, in a back-and-forth game against the Atlanta Braves, he delivered a sixth inning pinch-hit two-RBI single for a brief Phillies lead. It was his last appearance for three months. Assigned to the Eugene Emeralds in the PCL, Stone did not rejoin the Phillies until the September call-ups. He made eight unsuccessful pinch-hit appearances and finished the season .167/.286/.204 with only 54 at-bats. Failing to make the cut in 1973, he split the season between Eugene and the Omaha Royals in the American Association before retiring.

During his four years with the Phillies Stone spent the off-seasons in the Philadelphia region pitching season ticket sales and appearing regularly on the club’s speakers bureau. He stayed in shape playing basketball alongside teammates Rick Wise, Don Money, and others. Around 1970 he married a Phillies usherette and they had two children—a daughter Jennifer and a son Jonathan. (Years later their son would go on to a successful country music career in Nashville.)In February 1972, Stone was one of 60 athletes who attended a White House reception to take part in television commercial warning youngsters about the danger of drugs. His marriage foundered, and Stone eventually moved to Oregon where he launched a firearms distribution enterprise called Cascade Dealer Services. In 1992 he married California native Jeanette Lynn Beattie Kelly. Years later he was inducted into the Stockton Athletic Hall of Fame.

At best, Stone was a middling big leaguer. He ended his five-year major league career with a .241/.326/.318 line in 804 at-bats. A strong-armed outfielder who pitched two scoreless innings in the minors, never got an opportunity in the bigs. No evidence indicates that his big-league managers ever considered placing him on the mound in mop-up or other situations.

Last revised: April 4, 2017

 

Acknowledgments

The author wishes to thank SABR members Bill Mortell and Rod Nelson, chair of the SABR Scouts Committee for their valuable research. Further thanks are extended toTom Schott for review and edit of the narrative.

 

Sources

Ancestry.com

Baseball-reference.com

 

Notes

1 “Stone Steps Out As Philly Phenom,” The Sporting News, April 19, 1969: 21.

2 Stone Family Association, “The Notorious Captain John Stone,” Accessed September 6, 2016 (http://bit.ly/2ck6GWd ).

3 HOF third baseman Brooks Robinson is among the many players signed by Hofmann.

4 “Jimenez Jumps Off Junk Heap, Battles for A’s Picket Job,” The Sporting News, March 26, 1966: 16.

5 “Elmira’s Pennant Clincher Earliest in Eastern Annals,” ibid., September 10: 33.

6 “Phils Have a Battler in Bullpen: Rookie Wilson Licked Ailment,” ibid., April 12, 1969: 39.

7 “Phils Sink Outfield Bundle on Gamble,” ibid., October 31, 1970: 48.