This article was written by Tom Simon
Henry Alexander Stafford was born on November 1, 1891, in the small Northeast Kingdom village of Barton Landing. His father, Edwin, was a house painter by trade. Edwin was already 38 years old when Henry was born, but he and his wife, Julia, went on to have four more children. Julia Stafford was a stoic sort who smiled rarely, but even though she was years younger than her husband, there was no question that she was the head of the family. Ed quietly followed his wife’s orders, but on the rare occasions when he spoke, the quips he came out with were tremendously funny. Henry took after his father, acquiring both his sense of humor and his thick Vermont accent.
The Staffords did not have much money, so when Henry was in high school he got a job driving a horse-and-buggy for the local physician. Sometimes he went out in the middle of the night when the doctor delivered a baby or tended to some other emergency. In 1910, when Henry was a senior in high school, Barton Landing changed its name to Orleans (although for years he still referred to it by its former name), and he was the star of both the high school and town baseball teams.
Stafford was an excellent student. After graduating from Orleans High School, he received a full scholarship for one year of post-graduate study at Dean Academy (now Dean Junior College) in Franklin, Massachusetts. Baseball was serious business at Dean — its 1911 team played games as far south as Maryland and Virginia — but Stafford was up to the challenge. He started at second base and was elected captain of the team, the first of many honorary positions that came his way. During summers he joined some of his more talented teammates in the Adirondacks, playing baseball in the flourishing hotel leagues with Oneonta in 1911 and Saranac Lake in 1912.
While at Dean Henry met and fell in love with Leila Cushing, who also hailed from Vermont. Leila’s father, Carl, owned a grain mill in Bethel and started one of the first telephone companies in Vermont. The oldest of Carl’s four daughters, Leila was herself a good student and free spirit who loved tobogganing, camping and baseball. After one year at Dean, Henry, despite working on campus, had not saved enough money to attend college, and Leila, who was only a junior, still had another year before graduation. Perhaps not coincidentally, Henry found a way to spend a second post-graduate year at Dean.
Following Stafford’s second year at Dean, Leila headed for Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, while Heinie received a scholarship to attend Tufts University, for which Dean served as a sort of “feeder” school. Stafford arrived on the Medford, Massachusetts, campus in the fall of 1912, just as fellow Vermonters Larry Gardner and Ray Collins were playing against his future team, the New York Giants, in the World Series at Fenway Park, only five miles away.
At Tufts Stafford excelled in all facets of campus life. He was elected class president his sophomore, junior and senior years, and also served as president of the Theta Delta Chi fraternity, inter-fraternity council, the junior and senior honor societies and the athletic association. On November 17, 1915, Stafford received a $100 prize from the class of 1882 as the “member of the College who best exemplified the combination of ability in athletics and excellence in scholarship.”
Inter-class rivalries were huge in Heinie Stafford’s era; his scrapbooks are loaded with photographs depicting Tufts students in what appears to be all-out warfare. On one occasion the hijinks even made it into the Boston Herald, with Stafford playing a leading role:
Henry Stafford of Orleans, Vt., president of the sophomore class at Tufts College, attended the dinner of that class last evening at the Riverbank Court, Cambridge, after having been rescued from freshmen who kidnaped him early yesterday morning.
Stafford’s roommate, Barron Watson of Bernard, Me, a freshman, was chiefly responsible for the kidnaping. Assisting him were Harrie H. Dadmun of Arlington, varsity football guard; Ellery F. Tuck of Bangor, Me, freshman football captain; Edward A. Terhune of Dorchester, vice president of the class, and Leland P. Symmes of Beverley.
In an automobile, Stafford was taken to the home of one of Terhune’s relatives at 16 Drayton st, Dorchester, his clothes were taken from him and he was locked up in a bedroom while Terhune and Watson stood guard at the door.
Meanwhile on the Hill, the sophomores were planning for his rescue. First they went in a body to Arlington to Dadmun’s home, 29 Harlow st. Convinced that Stafford was not there, they next went to Terhune’s home in Dorchester and finally by some clever detective work they located Stafford at 16 Drayton st. The big question was to get into the house. Not until nearly 5 o’clock was this solved.
Herbert E. Armstrong of Cambridge, varsity second baseman; Herbert K. Anderson of Manchester, NH, varsity outfielder, and John H. Boss of Medford finally were admitted by a servant when they pretended to be gas inspectors sent out to investigate a leak in the house. It was only a minute before they had Stafford free and Watson was disrobed and sent to bed in his place. By taking Watson’s clothes they prevented him from leaving the house for some time.
For nearly two hours before the banquet 50 freshmen surrounded Riverbank ct and the sophomores were forced to slide in through back entrances or use taxicabs to get them by the cordon of guards. Every sophomore who
had planned to attend managed to get in, however, by some means.
One of the fastest collegiate sprinters of his time, Heinie Stafford earned two varsity letters in track and was anchorman of the Tufts relay team. But it was in his four years of varsity baseball that Heinie achieved his greatest success, and a 1971 article in the Tufts Criterion called him “probably the finest second baseman ever to play at Tufts.”
Stafford was captain and leadoff hitter of Tufts’ legendary 1916 team, one of the greatest college aggregations ever. Entering a June 13, 1916, showdown at Harvard’s Soldiers Field for the college championship of the East, Tufts had won 18 of 19 (the only loss coming against Bowdoin) under the guidance of ex-major leaguer Jack Slattery (who later managed the Boston Braves in 1928); meanwhile Harvard had won 18 of 21, including a 1-0 victory over the Boston Red Sox. In a preview of the game, the Boston Herald wrote:
Capt. Stafford’s injury to his knee has not proved to be nearly as serious as was feared at first, and his ability to hit, combined with his speed on the bases, is liable to prove a big stumbling block to Harvard in the coming game. Stafford has made a wonderful record on the diamond this year and at the present time he leads all of the college run getters with a total of 27. He has well earned the right to be called the fastest base runner in college baseball, as his record of 22 stolen bases shows. His work at second base is no less notable, for he has taken everything that has come his way, and out of 83 chances he has made five slipups.
With many big league scouts among the 7,000 in attendance, the contest lived up to its billing as the “greatest college baseball battle ever waged.” Stafford led off the game with a double and scored the first of two Tufts runs in the top of the first inning, but Harvard tied the game in the sixth. The score remained 2-2 when Tufts broke through for a run in the top of the eleventh. In the bottom half, the game appeared to be all but over when the first two Harvard batters made outs, but Tufts center fielder Ollie Wescott muffed a flyball and ace pitcher Walt Whittaker walked four consecutive batters to force in the tying and winning runs. Reporter Charles E. Parker wrote that “whether Walter Whittaker . . . or ‘Tanny’ White, the umpire-in-chief, was the more responsible for the four successive bases on balls is a question that will be debated for some time to come.”
Parker could not have known how right he was. In September 1964, 48 years after the game, Heinie Stafford received an envelope filled with old newspaper clippings, along with a note:
I got quite a kick out of reading these after all these years and I am sure that you, as the “high mogul” of that team, will relive for a few moments the thrills of those far-off days. As for me, the [Harvard] game left a touch of gaul. I can still see Ollie dropping that easy looper, then I prickle as I see Whittaker cutting corners and slicing the plate only to have that damn ump calls balls until the glory of a wonderful season was tarnished. You had led the country in hits, stolen bases, led the team to a 19-1 season and sure did deserve a better climax than that served up to you.
At their 50th college reunion two years later, Stafford and his teammates again replayed the game, but “no matter how often we play it, we lose,” Heinie complained to a reporter. “I’ll never forget it or the umpire.”
Tufts finished the season at 20-2, and Heinie Stafford ended up batting .404 with 30 runs scored and 24 stolen bases, leading the nation in the latter categories. Stafford was one of six Tufts players on the first team of the All-Eastern Team selected by Spalding’s Official Base Ball Record. Including Stafford, a total of three Tufts players appeared in the majors that summer: catcher Ralph “Red” Carroll joined the Philadelphia Athletics and made his debut batting against Babe Ruth at Fenway Park only three days after Tufts’ final game, and Whittaker joined Carroll on the Athletics in July. The talent was so deep on that 1916 squad that even Stafford’s backup, freshman Horace Ford (who started at second base against Middlebury, the only game Stafford missed in 1916), went on to the major leagues in 1919 and ended up eclipsing all of them, spending 15 seasons in the majors.
Stafford graduated from Tufts with a degree in chemistry on June 21, 1916. That same day he signed a contract to play professional baseball for John McGraw‘s New York Giants at the rate of $1,750 for the season. The Giants assigned Stafford under option to their top farm club, the Newark Indians of the International League. Splitting time between shortstop and left field, Stafford played in 41 games for Newark and batted just .230, although he did use his speed to steal eight bases. At the end of Newark’s season on September 17, the Giants exercised their option and called him up to the majors.
So excited to be in the big leagues that he had his new teammates autograph a baseball (which he later donated to the Hall of Fame in 1959), Stafford joined the New York Giants in the midst of the longest winning streak in major-league history. Although it was a good time to be a Giant, it was a bad time to be a rookie trying to crack the lineup.
Only when a team of Giants played an exhibition game in New Haven on September 24 was Heinie given an opportunity. Many New York regulars received the day off, but the lineup still included Hans Lobert, Benny Kauff, Heinie Zimmerman and an unknown rookie named George Kelly, who was bound for Cooperstown even though he did not become a regular for another three seasons. Playing left field and batting leadoff, Stafford went 1-for-5 and contributed a run to the Giants’ 8-5 win over a semi-pro team called the Colonials.
From his seat on the bench, Stafford watched the Giants win their 22nd consecutive game on September 26, shattering the old mark of 21 set by Cap Anson‘s Chicago White Stockings in 1880. Heinie took pride in the achievement even though he didn’t play, and in his personal papers he saved an article about the streak that appeared in the June 5, 1967, issue of Sports Illustrated.
Despite the remarkable streak, which, according to the New York Times, “has gained more reknown for the local team than would be achieved by the winning of a brace of pennants,” the Giants rose no higher than fourth in the National League standings. And even when the winning streak was over, ending at 26 on September 30, Stafford remained on the bench. By October 5, 1916, the last day of the season, Heinie Stafford still had not gotten into an official game.
Two days earlier, McGraw had become so disgusted by the Giants’ play in a losing effort that he deserted the team in the middle of the fifth inning. “The Dodgers beat us to clinch the pennant,” Stafford told Harold Kaese of the Boston Globe in 1966, “and I was sitting beside John McGraw when he exploded, said his team wasn’t bearing down, and walked out of the dugout.” Reportedly McGraw was now in Laurel, Maryland, engaging in his favorite pastime, betting on horse races. In his absence, the team was managed by second baseman Buck Herzog, the Giants’ field captain.
The final game of the 1916 season pitted the Giants against their archrival, the Brooklyn Dodgers, on their way to their first-ever World Series appearance just two days later against the Boston Red Sox. Only 2,000 fans showed up at Ebbets Field for the meaningless contest, and both Herzog and Brooklyn’s manager, Wilbert Robinson, gave several regulars the afternoon off. Still Heinie Stafford did not crack the starting lineup.
On the mound for the Dodgers was Ed Appleton, a righthander who was winless to that point in 1916. Pitching in what proved to be his last game ever in the major leagues, Appleton clung to a 7-5 lead after eight innings, and still Stafford had not played. But with two outs in the top of the ninth and nobody on base, Herzog called on the rookie from Vermont to pinch hit for the Giants’ pitcher, George Smith.
It would be nice to report that Heinie Stafford batted safely at Ebbets Field that afternoon to ignite a game-winning rally for the Giants, but that is the stuff of Hollywood, not Brooklyn. What actually happened is that Stafford made an out to end the game and the 1916 season. Vermonters can take some solace in the fact that at least Stafford did not strike out, although the exact type of out he made is not apparent from newspaper accounts. Family members recall Stafford mentioning years later that he hit an infield grounder.
Heinie Stafford never played another game in the majors; in fact, he never played another game in organized baseball. In those days a college-educated man could earn more money in business than in baseball, and in the fall of 1916 Heinie accepted a position as a research chemist with Aberfoyle Manufacturing Co., a textile company in Chester, Pennsylvania. But McGraw was not willing to give up on Stafford so easily, as demonstrated by the following letter written just before spring training:
New York, Feb. 16, 1917
Mr. Henry A. Stafford
522 Broad St.
My dear Stafford:
When you were procured by the New York Base Ball Club I felt quite confident that you had a future for yourself. One of the reasons why I engaged you and why I practically re-engaged you was that I would have you where I could be sure to take you south with me and give you a thorough spring schooling in base ball at Marlin.
If you take advantage of this I believe that I can help you far more than you anticipate in becoming a skillful base ball player. If you do not take advantage of it I am just as confident that you are wasting a first class opportunity. There is enough promise to you to make me positive that it is worth your while to go from Chester with our first squad and train.
I wish you would write me at once and tell me that you have decided upon this course. I should not advise it to you if I did not believe it the proper thing for you to do.
/s/ John J. McGraw
Ignoring McGraw’s advice, Heinie remained at Aberfoyle and on June 15, 1917, married Leila in the Brick Church in her hometown of Bethel. Will Harvey, Heinie’s roommate at Tufts and the town’s new Universalist minister (Carl Cushing was active in the Universalist Church, and it must have been his influence that brought Harvey to Bethel), performed the simple ceremony, which took place after the regular Sunday service. The wedding was followed by a breakfast at the home of the bride’s parents, just across the street from the church, and a clipping from a local newspaper indicates that the couple “went to Burlington, planning a trip, mostly by water, to New York city, after which they will live at Upland, Pa., a suburb of Chester, Pa., where Mr. Stafford is employed as a chemist in an industrial plant.”
Heinie and Leila Stafford bought a home in Glenside, Pennsylvania, and had two daughters over the next five years. With his background in chemistry, Heinie spent a brief stateside tour of duty with the chemical warfare service during World War I. He did not give up baseball entirely during this period; during the war he managed and played for Aberfoyle’s strong industrial team, when many professionals were playing in industrial leagues to avoid being drafted, and later joined Upland of the so-called “Millionaires’ League,” where teammates included Hall-of-Famers Chief Bender and Frank “Home Run” Baker.
In 1922 Carl Cushing convinced Heinie to return to Vermont with his family and try to start a textile mill in Bethel. For nearly two years Stafford worked on this project, but he never got so far as to purchase a single piece of equipment. With their third and final daughter, who was born during their time in Bethel, the Staffords returned to Chester in 1924 and Heinie went to work for the Ewing-Thomas Corporation, a subsidiary of North Carolina’s Cannon Mills Company, the largest textile manufacturer in the country.
In the mid-1920s, Ewing-Thomas imported silk from the Far East and turned it into silk yarn for use in the manufacture of women’s stockings, which traditionally were made out of cotton. In addition to working long hours as the company’s personnel manager, ensuring that working conditions in the factory were as good as possible, Stafford did chemical research in the basement of his home in Ridley Park, not far from the campus of Swarthmore College. In the late-1920s he developed and patented a chemical process for mercerizing silk, making it shiny and strong enough to be worked on by machines without breaking. “That patent was a big deal for the company,” says his daughter Harriet.
While living in Philadelphia Stafford loved taking the whole family to Phillies and Athletics games at Shibe Park. “It was not uncommon for my mother to wake up on Mother’s Day and say, ‘Let’s go to a ballgame,’” Harriet says. Stafford always got good seats for his family, and Harriett remembers on one occasion going down to the dugout before a game and being introduced to Connie Mack, Lefty Grove, Jimmie Foxx and the rest of the A’s. During this period the Stafford girls spent summers at their grandfather Carl Cushing’s lakeside farm in Barnard, Vermont, but their father never joined them; refusing to take a vacation from work, he drove up to Vermont each Labor Day to pick them up and take them back to Pennsylvania.
Eventually Heinie Stafford worked his way up to vice president and general manager of Ewing-Thomas, but he paid a steep price for his success. On top of the poor economic conditions during the Depression, Stafford had to contend with labor unions, which were constantly trying to organize the mill, and DuPont was on the verge of developing nylon, which Heinie knew would revolutionize the industry and make silk stockings obsolete. The stress took its toll on Stafford, and his physician advised him to get out of the business when he eventually developed a heart murmur. But the event that finally spurred him into action was the death of his middle daughter, Jane, of leukemia in 1936. “I think that was when he finally decided to cut back on work and enjoy his life,” says daughter Harriet.
That same year Heinie started working on a plan to retire before his 50th birthday. First he bought a 340-acre hillside farm, one mile north of Bethel village. Two years later he reacquired the rights to the mercerizing process from Ewing-Thomas and sold them to Richards Chemical Works of Jersey City for $8,000 plus royalties. Finally, on April 4, 1941, with his youngest daughter off to college, Stafford shocked co-workers by announcing his retirement (although he remained on for a short time in a consulting capacity). “Mr. Stafford has been our friend as well as our employer,” reads a testimonial signed by 312 Ewing-Thomas employees. “He has always been fair and considerate. We will miss him in many ways.”
Heinie Stafford’s new home was a rundown, brick cape farmhouse built in 1832. Gradually he fixed it up and called it Tamarack Farm after the tamarack trees he planted in the front yard. There the Staffords surrounded themselves with animals: Leila raised chickens; Heinie tried his hand with sheep for a while (before he decided they were too dumb); and together they raised springer spaniels (a dog named Gideon was a favorite). Mainly, though, Tamarack Farm was a dairy operation.
Heinie’s herd eventually grew to include 60 Jerseys, which, he once told a reporter, he “wouldn’t swap for twice as many of any other brand you could name.” With the assistance of a local boy named Gerald Brink, who was often the target of Heinie’s good-natured jokes, Stafford produced 225,000 pounds of milk a year.
At Tamarack Heinie turned his analytical talents to the breeding of purebred Jersey cattle. Will Harvey was still the Universalist minister in Bethel, and he introduced Stafford to a man named Harold “Boss” Turner, Harvey’s partner in running the local Boy Scout troop. Together, Stafford and Turner spent hours at the kitchen table making huge genetic charts, and their meticulous records are among the prized possessions of the University of Vermont and Vermont Technical College breeding programs. Stafford became so interested in the subject that he eventually served as president of the Vermont Jersey Cattle Club.
At its height in the early 1950s, the Stafford-Turner breeding partnership attracted national attention for the high prices it received for cattle. They once sold a bull called Advancer Regal for $7,000, at the time the highest price ever received for a Jersey bull in Vermont. Many of the Jersey strains Stafford developed are still prominent in the UVM and Vermont Tech breeding programs.
Heinie Stafford suffered a heart attack in the spring of 1956, and during his hospitalization in Hanover, New Hampshire, he received 227 cards and letters from well-wishers. His poor health caused him to auction off his entire herd on October 8, 1956. The catalog for the auction starts off with “a word from the sales manager”:
Herd averages, Superior Sires, Tested Dams, Gold Medals — all these are part of a Jersey herd. The other part is the man, and Heinie Stafford is the other part of the Tamarack Farm herd. In this catalogue are the official figures; those who knew him (and they are legion) know what Heinie has been to the Jersey fraternity. Always a loyal worker for any Jersey promotion, always in the forefront of any Jersey gathering, Heinie has been good for us all.
The herd rests on a solid foundation of females selected by Boss Turner from his own herd — with the addition of a few selected privately. The sires used on these females are a compendium of good Jersey breeding. And there was nothing haphazard about their selection — thousands of miles of travel, hundreds of hours of thought, and a wealth of pedigree study went into their selection. The results show how well this study was applied.
Heinie was still in the hospital at the time of the auction, which his daughter Harriet believes was just as well, since it would have broken his already fragile heart to attend. “Prices obtained for some of the herd’s top animals were perhaps the highest ever received at a local auction,” the White River Valley Herald reported.
Forced to give up dairy farming, Heinie Stafford tinkered in real estate and eventually became active in Republican politics, serving first as a town selectman and later representing Bethel in the Vermont General Assembly. He served four terms in the House, running for his first term in 1959, the same year Robert Stafford (no relation) was elected Governor of Vermont.
When the Legislature was in session, Heinie stayed with his youngest brother, Dwight, who lived in Montpelier. Heinie served on the Agriculture, Fish & Game and Institutional committees, and he was one of the sponsors of the Simpson Bill on Education, an early attempt at property-tax reform. Along with education financing, helping family farms was his pet issue — “The small dairy farmer will just be eased out,” he once told a Rutland Herald reporter. “Take a look at the disparity. We buy grain at 90% and our milk is supported at 75% — you figure it out! The farmer is in a tough spot today.”
Leila Stafford died of cancer in 1959 during Heinie’s first term in the Legislature. After her death, Heinie took up furniture refinishing and got a cocker spaniel named Shadow to keep him company. He remarried in 1965 to Gladys Durkee, a widow whose former husband, Robert, had died the same year as Leila. The Durkees had been close friends of the Staffords for years, and Robert was the son of Stafford’s favorite professor at Tufts half-a-century earlier. Later in 1965 Stafford sold Tamarack Farm and moved into the Durkee Homestead, one of the oldest houses in Tunbridge.
Gladys’ daughter Nancy lived in Lake Worth, Florida, and she turned her garage into an apartment for her mother and Heinie. There they spent each winter, traveling all over Florida to exhibition baseball games once spring arrived. It was an ideal existence for Stafford, who could name every player on every team. Unlike many Green Mountain Boys of Summer, Heinie Stafford did not go in for hunting or fishing — his hobby was baseball, and he followed the sport throughout his life.
It was while wintering in Lake Worth that Stafford died unexpectedly on January 29, 1972. In the last years of his life, more than a half-century after his fleeting big-league career, Stafford still received autograph requests in the mail. He invariably signed “‘Heinie’ Stafford, N.Y. Giants 1916.”
I kept telling myself, this is it. You’ve hit the top. The major leagues. You can say for the rest of your life, “I played for the New York Giants.”
Those are the words of Moonlight Graham in W.P. Kinsella’s novel Shoeless Joe, on which the movie Field of Dreams was based, but they could have been spoken by Heinie Stafford. Like Graham, Stafford played in only one game for the New York Giants. But unlike the Moonlight Graham character of movie fame, Stafford need not wander the streets of the netherworld, waiting for a stranger to come and grant his wish. Heinie Stafford can rest in peace, because unlike Graham, at least he got the chance to bat in the major leagues.
A version of this biography originally appeared in Green Mountain Boys of Summer: Vermonters in the Major Leagues 1882-1993, edited by Tom Simon (New England Press, 2000).
In researching this article, the author made use of the subject’s file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame Library, the Tom Shea Collection, the archives at the University of Vermont, and several local newspapers.