The proclaimed best recruit to ever come out of the Central Association, albeit one that was unsuccessful in eight at bats for the St. Louis Cardinals of 1912, “Doc” Shanley later became a successful dentist before passing away at too young an age.
Harry Root Shanley was born on January 30, 1889 (the 1900 census says 1890; his war draft registration says 1891) in Granberry, Texas (southwest of Ft. Worth), to Michael Henry Shanley, a cabinet maker who was born in New York to Irish parents, and Lena Gearhart Shanley, who was born in Michigan. Harry was the second of four children, his siblings being older sister Madeline (1886) and younger brothers Connor (1896) and Leo (1898). Not much is known of Harry’s early years, except that he moved to St. Louis by 1910 to attend Washington University, with the Shanley family, along with Lena’s mother, staying in Granberry. By 1911, however, the Shanleys relocated to Bonne Terre, Missouri, roughly 75 miles southwest of St. Louis.
Harry’s brothers Connor (“Tex”) and Leo also later attended Washington University, with all three playing multiple sports for the school. By the summer of 1911, Harry was playing semipro ball around St. Louis, then in the fall in Bonne Terre with Jeff Tesreau.1 He was invited to the St. Louis Browns spring training in 1912, thanks to the recommendation of veteran pitcher Barney Pelty, who lived close to the Shanley family. Sent by the Browns to the Burlington Pathfinders of the Class D Central Association, he hit .370, second in the league, and led the league in hits and stolen bases, was second in home runs, and third in triples.2 Burlington brass claimed Shanley was faster than Max Carey of Pittsburgh, who had previously played for Burlington.3 He was ordered to report to the Browns after the end of the Burlington season, On his arrival, it was said that the “Brownies have (a) promising lad in H.R. Shanley,” and “the best recruit that ever came out of the Central Association.”4
Shanley’s major league debut occurred on September 15, when he played in both games of a doubleheader at Sportsman’s Park, between the last-place Browns and the first-place Boston Red Sox. In the opener, he replaced starting shortstop Jimmy Austin, who was ejected by umpire Billy Evans after striking out twice. Shanley proceeded to strike out two times himself, before committing a throwing error allowing a run to score, but St. Louis won, 5-4.5 In the nightcap, Shanley started at shortstop and went 0-for-2 before leaving the game for a pinch hitter. The Browns lost, 2-1, to Smoky Joe Wood, who won his 16th consecutive game, tying Walter Johnson’s American League record. Wood’s record for the season went to 32-4.
Six days later, Shanley started at first base against the Philadelphia Athletics, going 0-for-3 with a groundout RBI and a walk. After he walked in the eighth inning, his “vaudeville base running” and “unconscious comic ability” were exposed.6 When Jim Stephens ripped a ball to left field. Shanley rounded second and “ferociously” slid into third “with eclat.”7 Unfortunately for the lad, the liner was caught in left field, and Harry was easily doubled off first.8 One more fruitless at bat on September 22 and a pinch-running appearance two days later, where he finally scored his only run for the Brownies, would be the extent of Shanley’s experience with St. Louis. He ended his major league career 0-for-8 at the plate.
Browns manager George Stovall simply didn’t believe Shanley was “particularly promising.”9 The Browns tried to keep him in the organization, but did not protect him on their player list after the season. The Detroit Tigers and Chicago Cubs were not going to allow the Browns to pass him through waivers. Tigers manager Hugh Jennings was in the market for a potential understudy to Donie Bush. In December Shanley was released to Detroit via the waiver route, for the waiver price of $2,500.10 Meanwhile, Harry stayed in St. Louis in the offseason to continue his dental studies at Washington University.11
There were two Shanleys in 1913 spring training camps. Harry’s brother Connor was with Ottumwa, Iowa, but didn’t stick.12 The Tigers soon surmised that Shanley “was too tall for duty at short,”13 so off to the Memphis Chickasaws of the Southern League he went, where he hit .266. On June 3, in Lee, Iowa, Harry married Freda Pauline Carter, a young lady he had met in Burlington. The Shanleys would welcome a daughter, Helen, into the world on New Years’ Eve in 1916.
In mid-September, the New York Yankees drafted Shanley.14 Nonetheless, new Memphis manager Mickey Finn arranged with Yankees skipper Frank Chance to keep him with the Turtles for 1914.15 In June the “fleet infielder” was sold to the Chattanooga Lookouts.16 On August 1, he broke his right leg in two places while sliding at home plate.17 After the season, he was released by the Lookouts. He utilized the off-season to complete his dental degree, while serving as student body president at Washington U.18
Beginning in 1915, Shanley became a journeyman first baseman among the minors’ Class A circuits from coast to coast for the next 10 years, with a two-year timeout practicing dentistry in 1919-20. When one of Shanley’s minor league skippers attempted to move him across the diamond to third base, the new dentist explained his reluctance:
Playing third base when compared to holding down the first bag, is like pulling a decayed bicuspid when it could be filled. Pounding amalgam into a cavity is a much cleaner job and is attending with less pain than yanking out a decayed molar.19
He wore a dozen different uniforms, with frequent stops in Des Moines and Albany (New York), and had one turn as a manager at Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in 1917. He never lacked for offers whenever he was released, could play second base as well as first, and was sometimes among league leaders in several batting categories. Although he sometimes did some mid-season “jumping,” his character was apparently questioned only once. Returning to baseball in 1921 with the Oklahoma City Sooners of the Western League, he was released at the end of the season with these comments by club president Jack Holland:
I have gone the limit with him…I have taken promise after promise in good faith and each time he has broken them. I am trying to get more help but I would rather sacrifice hopes of a pennant than use baseball players that cannot be trusted to give their best to the club at all times. If the public is to be fooled any more it will not be by any of those who have fooled it in the past.20
Shanley played his last professional game in Sherbrooke, Quebec, in 1924.
The Shanleys moved from Jacksonville, Florida, to Miami in 1926, before relocating in 1929 to St. Petersburg, Florida, where he opened another dental office. On December 12, 1934, Harry Shanley became quite ill, and was transported from his office to the hospital.21 Two days later he died at St. Anthony’s Hospital in St. Petersburg after suffering a heart attack.22 He is buried at the Royal Palm Cemetery in St. Petersburg. He was survived by his wife Freda, daughter Helen, father Michael, sister Madeline, and brothers Leo and Connor.
This biography was reviewed by Bill Lamb and Norman Macht and fact-checked by Karen Holleran.
1 “Brown Vets Drove Harry Shanley into the Jungle,” Detroit Times, March 12, 1913: 1.
2 “Ottumwa Leads Central Association Batters,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, October 6, 1912: 56.
3 “Brownies Have Promising Lad in H.R. Shanley,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 11, 1912: 6.
4 “Brownies Have Promising Lad in H.R. Shanley,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 11, 1912: 6.
5 “Browns Gain Even Break with Red Sox,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, September 16, 1912: 11.
6 “Brownies Hand 4 to 3 Beating to Mack Men,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 22, 1912: 21.
7 St. Louis Star and Times, September 22, 1912: 21.
8 St. Louis Star and Times, September 22, 1912: 21.
9 “Notes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 30, 1912: 12.
10 “Shanley is Released,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 30, 1912: 12.
11 Clarence F. Lloyd, “Back to Farm for Most of the Browns During the Winter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 18, 1912: 19.
12 “Egan Has Twenty-Two Signed Now,” Daily Gate City (Keokuk, Iowa) November 19, 1912: 7.
13 “Yankees Secure Harry Shanley in Cincinnati Draft,” St. Louis Star and Times, September 18, 1913: 10.
14 St. Louis Star and Times, September 18, 1913: 10.
15 “Memphis Will Keep Shanley Another Year,” Washington (District of Columbia) Times, October 6, 1913: 11.
16 “Harry Stanley Will Be Lookout Next Week, Coming Through Tigers,” Chattanooga (Tennessee) Daily Times, June 12, 1914: 8.
17 “Pelicans Beat Lookouts,” Daily Arkansas Gazette (Little Rock), August 2, 1914: 17.
18 “Egan Loses Harry Shanley,” Evening Times-Republican (Marshalltown, Iowa), January 28, 1916: 9.
19 “Doc Shanley May Play Third Base for Des Moines,” (Cedar Rapids) Gazette, April 8, 1918: 6.
20 Oklahoma City Times, September 8, 1921: 19.
21 “’Doc’ Shanley, Ex-Big Leaguer, Dies Suddenly,” Tampa Bay Times (St. Petersburg, Florida), December 15, 1934: 12.
22 “Former Player Dies; Harry Shanley Erstwhile Member of Major League Teams,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 15, 1934: 16.