This article was written by Jim Gordon
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 on April 25, 1898, in Bernalillo, New Mexico Territory, the fourth and youngest son of William J. and Frances Haney. (Various accounts give his year of birth as 1896, 1897, and 1898, but the latter year is what is on his tombstone.) After the family relocated to Los Angeles, he attended Polytechnic High School, where he was a four-year letterman in three sports. Named twice to the All-California Interscholastic football team, the holder of several swimming titles, a member of the water polo team, and the city’s junior handball champion, Haney was one of the first great high-school athletes of Los Angeles.
After spending part of 1919 Portland Buckaroos of the Class B Pacific Coast International League, Haney tried out with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League for the 1919 season and made the team as an infielder. Listed as 5-feet-6 and weighing 170 pounds, he unsurprisingly acquired the nickname Pudge. Despite his weight, he was fast and used his speed to advantage throughout his baseball career.
Haney made the Angels squad again in 1920 as a backup. That June he married his high-school sweetheart and he and Florence began a life and baseball partnership that lasted more than 55 years. Shortly after their wedding, Haney was sent to Omaha of the Class A Western League, where he blossomed. Haney was an aggressive negotiator and for the 1921 season achieved a clause that granted him one-fourth of the purchase price if he was sold to the majors. His 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 involved, he was asked which quarter of the players he wanted. For years, Haney liked to tell his fellow Angeleno Babe Herman that he owned 25 percent of him, and the Babe usually responded with, “Get out your knife and start cutting.”
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 midseason in The Sporting News: “Manager Ty Cobb has gotten some wonderful work out of recruits on the Detroit Tigers. … 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.”
Shortly after this article appeared, the fiery rookie got his first suspension and fine. Cobb influenced much of Haney’s approach to the game. The two shared a sense of competitiveness, aggressiveness, and desire to win, and remained lifelong friends. Haney stayed with Detroit through the 1925 season. After the season, Haney was traded to the Boston Red Sox for infielder Homer Ezzell and outfielder Tex Vache. The Haneys’ only child, Patricia, was born in Michigan during the season.
Haney won the starting third base job for the Red Sox in 1926 but hit only .221 although he did lead the team on stolen bases. In July 1927 he was sold to the Chicago Cubs and subsequently was sold to Indianapolis of the American Association, where he started at third base and hit well.
Haney 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 basestealer, and it would become his hallmark on the field. When the St. Louis Cardinals purchased his contract, he made an unusual demand the negotiations: 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 was to be in the minors, he wanted to be near his work.
On May 7, 1929, Haney 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 Haney 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. Haney 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 him. Early in the year he had a streak of 36 errorless games at third base. He was the first man to lead the PCL in steals for two consecutive seasons.
Haney’s expectation of another banner year in 1931 ended in March when he had surgery to remove an infected kidney.It was thought that he would miss the season, but he was “officially” 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. At the end of August Haney was in the middle of a riot in Seattle after the umpires forfeited a game to the Angels for reasons that are not clear. Police and firemen had to use fire hoses to disperse the crowd of 8,000.
In 1932 Haney was released by the Angels. The next season he signed to play third base for the Hollywood Stars, the Angels’ archrivals. Fred played well for the Angels in 1933 and 1934. In June 1934 he severely spiked Angels catcher Walt Goebel; given the bad blood between the teams, the Angels thought it was intentional. In November 1934 he moved to another level in his career when he was hired as player-manager of the Toledo Mud Hens. Haney’s fiery nature did not remain in Los Angeles. In June 1935 he protested a doubleheader loss at Columbus after the umpire delayed a game while a telegram was sent to the league president changing the Columbus roster because of an injury. The next day he 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.
In January 1936 Haney had surgery that ended his everyday playing career but did nothing to stem his fighting spirit. During a game on June 20, he took exception to Louisville manager Burleigh Grimes riding the Toledo pitcher. They came to blows near third base and had to be separated by the police. The 5-foot-10 Grimes made short work of Haney, knocking him down and then trying to carve up his face with his spikes. Haney managed for two more years in Toledo, garnering praise from The Sporting News for his fiery leadership that kept the team in the 1937.
Haney’s success in Toledo team caught the attention of the lowly St. Louis Browns, who were looking for a new manager who would not command a large salary. Haney took the job, viewing it as an excellent opportunity to deliver a .500 team with improved pitching. It did not happen; the Browns finished last in 1939 and sixth in 1940. After they started the 1941 season poorly, Haney was demoted to manager of Toledo, now a Browns farm team. At the end of the 1942 season, he quit. He blamed the lack of authority to make player deals, but he really wanted to return to Los Angeles, where his daughter, Patricia, was in high school. Haney became the radio playh-by-play announcer for the Angels and the 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 Way.
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 through a letter-writing campaign to the Angels. The campaign worked: In 1948 Haney broadcast the Stars’ home and away games on KLAC.
On November 4, 1948, the Stars asked Haney to become their manager. He requested a three-year contract with full authority over player deals. Before he took the job he contacted Branch Rickey, then president of the Brooklyn Dodgers, and got a promise that the Dodgers would add Hollywood to their farm system. He was also allowed to continue as program director at KLAC and keep his radio show. Haney’s work on the air and his support of youth, charities, public service, and baseball brought him a host of friends and admirers. He ended each broadcast with “This is Fred Haney, rounding third and heading for home.” Little did Haney 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. He warned his players to hustle on every play or be ready to be released. The team was dubbed the Comets, Hurricanes and Shooting Stars because of its running and aggressive play. The Stars won the pennant by 5½ games, and he was named The Sporting News Minor League Manager of the Year.
Early in the 1950 season, the Stars dropped a bombshell on the baseball world by appearing on the field in shorts. Haney asserted that the rayon T-shirts and shorts, which resembled track suits and were worn for day games and warm night games, would give his players more speed. The papers called the uniform “scanties,” and opposing players teased the Stars mercilessly throughout the season.
Late in 1951 Haney was hospitalized with viral pneumonia. He convalesced in Palm Springs, California. As he recovered, Florence drove him to spring training games and cooked while trying to make sure he got sufficient rest. Haney came back and managed the Stars to the 1952 PCL pennant. After the season Branch Rickey, now with the Pittsburgh Pirates, offered him the job as manager. Haney took the job, saying he did it out of obligation to Rickey for the help he had provided to the Stars. But Haney now had the dubious honor of managing the worst team in baseball. Hespent three tough years managing the Pirate “Kiddie Corps.” Rickey had signed a large number of players and instructed Haney to play them even if they were not the best, so as to build for the future. The Pirates finished a dismal last each of his three years as manager, and on September 25, 1955, he was fired by Rickey. (Haney’s contract would have automatically renewed if he had not been notified by midnight on that day.)
Wanting to remain in the majors, Haney accepted an offer to become a coach for the Milwaukee Braves in 1956. The reaction in Milwaukee was that this was one of the best moves the Braves had made since moving from Boston, that Haney would bring hustle, competitiveness, and baseball strategy. In June, with Milwaukee languishing in fifth place, manager Charlie Grimm was fired and Haney was appointed to replace him. The Braves then went on a tear, winning 11 games in a row, and stayed in contention throughout the season. On September 11, with the Braves one game ahead, Haney was rehired for the 1957 season. The Braves lost the pennant to the Brooklyn Dodgers on the last weekend of the season.
There were reports that some Braves players spent too much time night-clubbing. 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.” True to his promise, Haney worked the Braves exceptionally hard during spring training in 1957 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.”
When the Braves clinched the pennant, Haney said, “This is the thrill of a lifetime. I knew the boys would come through, and what a great way to do it.” In his 40th year in baseball, Haney had made it to the World Series. The Braves and the Yankees fought to the seventh game. For that contest, Haney chose Lew Burdette over Warren Spahn to start. Burdette led the Braves to a 5-0 Series clincher and gave Haney and the Braves the world championship. Haney was now a hero in Milwaukee. He was named National League Manager of the Year by United Press International and was rehired for 1958 with a $40,000 salary, his highest in professional baseball.
Haney led the Braves to another pennant in 1958, but the team lost the World Series in a rematch with the Yankees. In 1959 the Braves and Dodgers tied, and the Dodgers won the pennant by sweeping a two-game playoff. A few days later, during the World Series, Haney resigned as manager of the Braves. In midseason, he had said that this might be his last year. There was speculation over whether he had quit or was pushed out. What is most likely is that he asked Braves owner Lou Perini for more authority and resigned when his request was not granted.
Haney was ready to return home and be with his family. He quickly signed with KCOP-TV in Los Angeles to host Major League Baseball Presents on Saturday evenings. Then he landed a three-year contract to televise NBC’s Game of the Week. A newspaper review of Haney’s work said he described the action as though it were radio and had a flair for bringing up colorful anecdotes that added flavor to the telecasts.
When Gene Autry was awarded a Los Angeles American League expansion franchise in December 1960, he quickly hired Haney as the team’s general manager. Haney hired Bill Rigney as manager. In the expansion draft, Rigney wanted to select young players for the future but Haney overruled him and the team chose 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 in Los Angeles. The Angels drafted 30 players, 28 from the majors and two from the minors. Eight were over 30, 18 were in their 20s, 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 a front office including Marvin Milkes, Cedric Tallis, and Roland Hemond. In January Haney and Hemond negotiated a working agreement with their first minor-league club, the Dallas-Fort Worth Rangers of the American Association. Haney organized the refurbishment of Wrigley Field, developed a spring-training facility in Palm Springs and made more than 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. This gave the Angels the best record of any of the 14 expansion teams in baseball since 1961. Moreover, Haney’s structuring of the team for Wrigley led to a 46-36 home record; the only one of the expansion teams with a winning home record.
For the 1962 season, the Angels moved to the Dodgers’ new park in Chavez Ravine, which was pitcher-friendly as opposed to the bandbox Wrigley Field. Haney restructured the team for Chavez Ravine, making multiple trades and bringing up young players. On July 4 the Angels were in first place, but fell to a third-place finish. The Sporting News and UPI named Haney Major League Executive of the Year.
Haney continued as general manager of the Angels for six more years, orchestrating the club’s move to Anaheim and the development 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. Haney felt the position had no authority or even formal input but acquiesced out of friendship for Autry.
Haney continued to follow the Angels, attending many games and advising Autry. As his vision began to fail, Florence drove him to the games. On November 9, 1977, Haney suffered a fatal heart attack at his Beverly Hills home. Two years later, in 1979, the Angels won the American League West and entered the playoffs. Gene Autry honored Haney by asking Florence to assist him in throwing out the first ball for Game Three and having her throw out the first ball for Game Four. (The Angels lost the American League Championship Series to the Baltimore Orioles, 3 games to 1.) In 1980 the team established the Fred Haney Memorial Award to recognize the outstanding rookie in spring training.
Florence Haney lived to be nearly 100 before she died 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: “FRED – BELOVED HUSBAND FATHER-GRANDFATHER”; “FLORENCE – BELOVED WIFE MOTHER-GRANDMOTHER.” Patricia Haney Franklin, the Haneys’ only child, died at the age of 86 in Las Vegas on June 8, 2012.
This biography is included in the book “Thar’s Joy in Braveland! The 1957 Milwaukee Braves” (SABR, 2014), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. To download the free e-book or purchase the paperback edition, click here.
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1999 Anaheim Angels Media Guide
Ada (Oklahoma) Evening News
Charleston (West Virginia) Gazette
Emporia (Kansas) Daily Gazette
Las Vegas Sun
Lima (Ohio) News
Massillon (Ohio) Evening Independent
Moberly (Missouri) Monitor Index and Democrat
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The Sporting News
Waterloo (Iowa) Daily Courier