A switch-hitter with speed and the patience to draw walks, Pete Stanicek appeared to be an ideal leadoff hitter when he debuted with the Baltimore Orioles. A succession of injuries limited the second baseman/outfielder to parts of two big league seasons (1987-1988), however, and he played his final professional game at 27.
Peter Louis Stanicek was born on April 18, 1963, in Harvey, Illinois, to Frank and Gretchen (Hass) Stanicek. The family was of Czech ancestry. Frank was a psychology professor specializing in behavioral science. Gretchen’s father, Walter Hass, served as the football coach and athletic director at the University of Chicago until Pete was nearly a teen. Pete was the second of five athletic brothers. Steve, the oldest, also played major league baseball. Chris was a college gymnast; his twin brother Jon was a football player.1 Jason, the youngest, started a Gator Bowl at quarterback for the University of North Carolina.
The boys grew up in Park Forest, a southern suburb of Chicago.2 At Rich East High School, Pete earned a total of eight letters in three sports.3 The Chicago Tribune chronicled his exploits in all of them as a senior. In his final game as quarterback of the Rockets’ football squad, he ran for two touchdowns.4 On the basketball court, he sank a 30-foot buzzer beater to defeat Westview.5 For stroking 10 hits — all for extra bases — the week he turned 18, he was featured as one of Chicago’s high school athletes of the week.6 Following his 1981 graduation, Stanicek enrolled at Stanford University.
While Stanicek was at Stanford, the Cardinal went to four straight NCAA Tournaments, won three Pac-10 Conference titles, and appeared in three College World Series. Following his school record 44-stolen base junior season, the Baltimore Orioles selected him in the 13th round of the June 1984 Amateur draft.7 Instead of turning pro, Stanicek played for the Cape Cod League’s Orleans (Massachusetts) Cardinals that summer and joined the United States team for the Amateur World Series in Cuba in October.8 Back at Stanford, the second baseman batted .347 as a senior to finish his college career with a .309 average overall. At the time, his 220 runs scored were records for both Stanford and the Pac-10 Conference.9 An economics major, he earned Academic All-American honors in each of his last two seasons.10 In 1985, he received the Pac-10 Medal as Stanford’s top scholar-athlete.11
Baltimore drafted Stanicek again in June 1985 — this time in the ninth round — and scout George Lauzerique signed him to his first professional contract. The 5-foot-11, 175-pounder reported to the Newark12 Orioles in the Class A New York-Penn League, where he rejoined former Stanford teammate Jeff Ballard, Baltimore’s seventh-round pick. In 69 games, Stanicek walked 51 times and stole 30 bases to finish in the circuit’s top five in both categories. That fall, the Orioles sent him to the Florida Instructional League to learn how to switch-hit.13
“I was really skeptical about what kind of year I’d have batting left-handed,” Stanicek confessed in the summer of 1986. “I always had trouble hitting a right-hander’s breaking ball, but I’m getting more and more comfortable.”14 As it happened, he enjoyed a fantastic season, batting .317 with a club-record 77 steals for the Hagerstown (Maryland) Suns.15 His stolen-base total and .438 OBP led the Class A Carolina League, and his 115 runs scored ranked second. Baseball America named him to the publication’s Class A All-Star team.16 “When I was a sophomore in college, my coach had me taking on 1-0, 2-0, 3-1 [counts], all the time,” Stanicek recalled. “I learned how to be patient.”17 It was a fine year for the family as brother Steve Stanicek — a corner infielder in the Brewers’ system — was named MVP of the Texas League after hitting .343 with 25 homers.
In 1987, Pete was invited to the Orioles’ spring training as a non-roster player. “You look at him and his arm looks borderline, his speed a little better than average,” remarked Baltimore farm director Tom Giordano. “You can find a lot not to like, but he grows on you. He’s extremely intelligent and he is unflustered by pressure.”18
Stanicek continued to make believers when he advanced to the Double-A Southern League. In 88 games with the Charlotte (North Carolina) O’s, he batted .315 with a .406 on-base percentage, stole 30 bases and connected for eight home runs to match his total from the previous two years combined. “Pete gives you so many different dimensions of offense because of his switch-hitting, his speed, the tremendous jumps he gets and his ability to hit and run,” observed Charlotte manager Greg Biagini.19 Stanicek was also voted the top defensive second baseman in the circuit.20
“Stanicek can play in the big leagues right now,” Giordano insisted. “It’s a question of how well.”21 First, however, the Orioles promoted the 24-year-old to the Triple-A Rochester Red Wings in late July, where he batted .297 through the end of the regular season. The Red Wings won 15 of their last 18 to finish with a winning record, but lost Stanicek on the eve of the International League playoffs.22 The Orioles’ leadoff hitter, Alan Wiggins, had been suspended for “conduct detrimental to baseball” by Commissioner Peter Ueberroth, and Baltimore manager Cal Ripken, Sr. was anxious to begin evaluating Stanicek’s readiness to replace him.23
“The spot is open,” Stanicek acknowledged. “If I can come up here and show what I can do, I can fit into this team.” On September 1 at Memorial Stadium, he went 1-for-4 in his debut, singling up the middle batting left-handed against Seattle’s Scott Bankhead. Stanicek received a nice ovation from the Tuesday night crowd of 12,985 and kept the baseball. “This is only my second year switch-hitting. It has helped me more than anything else. I never imagined it would come around this fast,” he said.24 “The numbers may look good, but it hasn’t been that easy.”25
Stanicek was the designated hitter that night, and that’s where Ripken intended to leave him for the remainder of the season. Bill Ripken, also a rookie and the manager’s son, had already claimed the second base job since joining the Orioles just before the All-Star break. Despite a hot start at the plate, Bill was a career .247 minor-league hitter whose strength was his defense. “People in Baltimore keep saying it’s me or Billy, one of the other. It doesn’t have to be that way,” Stanicek said. “We can both be in there.”26 For two weeks, they were, and Stanicek played two games at third base. After Ripken tore a ligament in his ankle on September 15, Stanicek became Baltimore’s second baseman for the final 18 games.27 Though they never got to play against each other in the majors, his brother Steve debuted for the Brewers during that stretch. Overall, Pete batted .274 and stole eight bases in his first 30 games as a big leaguer, inspiring hope that he could help turn the once-mighty Orioles around after consecutive losing seasons.
That fall, Stanicek had arthroscopic surgery to repair a knee injury that began troubling him in August.28 He recovered in time for winter workouts with former college teammates Ballard and Mike Aldrete at Stanford. Stanicek had never played the outfield, even in Little League, but he shagged fly balls to familiarize himself with the position to increase his chances of remaining in the Orioles lineup. As a second baseman, he tended to short-arm his throws, so he built up his arm strength, too. “I’ll do whatever it takes to play in the big leagues,” he said. “It makes me feel good that when I came up last year, I showed them enough that they’re thinking of making moves to get me in the lineup.”29
In spring training, Stanicek impressed Expos’ star Tim Raines, another switch-hitting leadoff man who’d successfully converted from second to left field. “A good athlete can make the move,” Raines said. “The guy looks like a good athlete to me.”30 Orioles’ owner Edward Bennett Williams believed Stanicek should also be allowed to compete for the second base job.31 Unfortunately, during an exhibition appearance at the second sack, Stanicek fractured the index finger on his throwing hand.32 Two weeks before Opening Day, Baltimore traded for Philadelphia’s Jeff Stone to play left field and bat leadoff. Stanicek began the 1988 season at Rochester, where he mostly played second base and batted .174 in 19 games.
Meanwhile, the Orioles got off to an historically bad start and lost Stone to a dislocated finger on a stolen base attempt. When Stanicek returned to the majors on April 29 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, he doubled home a run, singled, scored twice and stole a base as the 0-21 Orioles finally won their first game of 1988. Stanicek batted .340 over the next two weeks, including back-to-back three-hit games against the White Sox in Baltimore. On May 13, however, he sprained his right wrist and went on the disabled list for three-and-a-half weeks.
Stanicek batted only .202 after he returned, dropping his overall average to .230 in 83 games in his first full season. With his injured wrist continuing to bother him batting left-handed, all four of his major league home runs were hit against southpaws.33 Two of them led off games. His dozen steals led the Orioles.
After Bill Ripken batted only .207 in regular duty in 1988, Stanicek was expected to battle for the second base job in spring training 1989. He missed 15 of the first 19 exhibitions with leg injuries, however.34 “Some guys play through pain, some guys can’t,” remarked Baltimore manager Frank Robinson. “In this game, you have to play less than 100 percent if you want to make a career out of it.”35
“I know what people say. They wonder if I’m tough enough. Only I know inside how I feel and how my leg is,” Stanicek said. “Believe me, as soon as I can play, I’ll be out there, giving it everything I’ve got.”36 Just over a week before Opening Day, Ripken suffered a broken hand on a hit-by-pitch, clearing the way for Stanicek to win the position by default –if his two injured hamstrings would allow him to stay on the field. “I’m trying to play through this because I’ve got a spot. I don’t want to say, ‘Maybe I should rest it today’,” he explained.37 The second base job eventually went to Rene Gonzales, however, as Stanicek began the season on the disabled list. When he was finally ready to play in May, the Orioles optioned him to Hagerstown, which had become Baltimore’s Double-A Eastern League affiliate. “Rehab assignments are for guys who go down for say, 12 or 15 at-bats to make sure they’re ready. He needs more time than that,” explained GM Roland Hemond.38 Hagerstown manager Jimmie Schaffer’s assessment of Stanicek’s progress was hardly encouraging in June. “It’s a little puzzling to me that he really isn’t trying. The doctor said he could do anything he wanted and it’s up to him. He’s got to extend himself a little bit,” Schaffer said. “He hasn’t said he’s afraid, but it sure looks like it’s the case that he’s afraid something might reoccur.”39
“It bothers me if they question whether I want to play and whether I’m hurt,” Stanicek acknowledged. “If they’re tired of me being hurt, I don’t blame them. I’m tired of me being hurt.” The suggestions that he was choosing not to play baffled him. “What, that I wanted to get into a lower tax bracket? It’s kind of weird.”40 By July, Stanicek was out of the lineup again with a strained sacroiliac. “He has been a disappointment,” said Doug Melvin, the Orioles’ player personnel director. “It’s been hard to keep him off the training table.” By the end of 1989, Stanicek appeared in only 47 games, batting .253 without a home run. “This year just seems like a total washout,” he confessed.41
The Orioles arranged for him to try to salvage something by playing for the Estrellas Orientales in the Dominican Winter League, but Stanicek decided not to go, explaining that his physical therapist instructed him to rest his strained back. “We have to take Pete’s word that he’s not 100 percent ready to play,” Melvin said. “He has set his goal to be 100 percent by spring training.”42
Stanicek was not fully healthy, however, and he began the 1990 season at Rochester. Still plagued by hamstring and back problems, he batted .174 in 28 games without a single stolen base. In May, he visited renowned sports trainer Mackie Shilstone in New Orleans, hoping a customized weight training and nutrition program would increase his strength and flexibility and help him stay on the field. “It’s not so much getting hurt, but that it takes me so long to come back from an injury,” Stanicek explained.43 He finished the season at Double-A Hagerstown, hitting .241 with one extra-base hit in 33 games. Between Rochester and Hagerstown, Stanicek batted only .212 in 198 at-bats in 1990.
In spring training 1991, the 27-year-old Stanicek was in Baltimore’s minor league camp when the Orioles released him on March 26. “What it came down to was that we felt he was not making progress physically to where he’d ever be able to run and steal bases again,” Melvin explained.44 Robinson added, “I guess he just ran out of time.”45
Stanicek finished his major league career with a .243 batting average, 20 stolen bases and four home runs in 113 games over two seasons. In the minors, he batted .279 in 449 contests and swiped 160 bases.
After baseball, he married Dawn (Desser) and fathered two daughters, Sara and Emma. He spent 15 years in sales and recruiting for IT consulting and staffing companies before beginning a career with Blue Cross and Blue Shield in 2007. As of 2021, he was Associate Vice President of Legal Operations & Divisional Planning in Chicago for two years and resides in Northbrook, Illinois.
Last revised: March 24, 2021
This biography was reviewed by Darren Gibson and Norman Macht and checked for accuracy by SABR’s fact-checking team.
1 Larry Keech, “Heels Have Optional Equipment,” News & Record (Greensboro, North Carolina), August 27, 1994, https://greensboro.com/heels-have-optional-equipment/article_9c45e3ee-743e-529a-b5a4-666bd736dce1.html (last accessed December 26, 2020).
2 Steve Stanicek, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, December 13, 1982.
3 Pete Stanicek, 1989 Fleer Baseball Card.
4 “Rich South Loses, But Squeezes into Playoffs,” Chicago Tribune, November 2, 1980: C2.
5 “Upsets,” Chicago Tribune, January 14, 1981: E3.
6 “High School Athletes of the Week,” Chicago Tribune, April 30, 1981: C5.
8 Pete Stanicek, Publicity Questionnaire for William J. Weiss, January 4, 1986.
9 1988 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 189.
10 “Baseball Academic All-Americans,” https://gostanford.com/news/2016/7/1/baseball-academic-all-americans.aspx (last accessed December 26, 2020).
11 “Budd Avoids Protester on Way to Mile Victory,” Los Angeles Times, July 24, 1985: 9.
12 This Newark is not the city in New Jersey — it is the small town n Western New York.
13 1988 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 189.
14 Linda Young, “Brothers a Hit in the Minors,” Chicago Tribune, July 24, 1986: 6.
15 Don Buford, Jr. stole 77 bases in 1988 to tie Stanicek’s Hagerstown Suns record.
16 1988 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 190.
17 Tim Kurkjian, “Raines, Who Made Switch, Likes Stanicek,” Baltimore Sun, March 8, 1988: 1B.
18 Kent Baker, “Bill the Kid Vs. Pete the Great,” Baltimore Sun, July 28, 1987: 1D.
19 Baker, “Bill the Kid Vs. Pete the Great.”
20 Pete Stanicek, 1988 Score Baseball Card.
21 Baker, “Bill the Kid Vs. Pete the Great.”
22 Patti Singer, “The Final Chance for Success,” Democrat and Chronicle (Rochester, New York), September 2, 1987: 4D.
23 Patti Singer, “No End to Recalls,” Democrat and Chronicle, September 1, 1987: 27.
24 Tim Kurkjian, “Pete Stanicek Has Designs of Full-time Job,” Baltimore Sun, September 2, 1987: 3F.
25 Richard Justice, “Stanicek Adjusting to Life in Outfield,” Washington Post, February 22, 1988: C12.
26 Kurkjian, “Pete Stanicek Has Designs of Full-time Job.”
27 “Orioles,” The Sporting News, September 28, 1987: 16.
28 1988 Baltimore Orioles Media Guide: 190.
29 Tim Kurkjian, “Stanicek’s Course to Orioles Outfield Includes Shagging Balls at Stanford,” Baltimore Sun, February 2, 1988: 1E.
30 Tim Kurkjian, “Raines, Who Made Switch, Likes Stanicek.”
31 “Orioles,” The Sporting News, March 21, 1988: 34.
32 “Orioles,” The Sporting News, March 28, 1988: 30.
33 “Orioles,” The Sporting News, July 18, 1988: 19.
34 “Orioles,” The Sporting News, April 4, 1989: 18.
35 Mike Littwin, “For Stanicek Injuries Only Hurting Game He Loves,” Baltimore Sun, March 15, 1989: 1B.
36 Littwin, “For Stanicek Injuries Only Hurting Game He Loves.”
37 Jim Henneman, “O’s Hurting at Second,” The Sporting News, April 10, 1989: 40.
38 “Orioles,” The Sporting News, May 22, 1989: 21.
39 Patti Singer, “Orioles’ Stanicek Struggles in Double-A to Regain Major-league Form,” Democrat and Chronicle, June 11, 1989: 3E.
40 Singer, “Orioles’ Stanicek Struggles in Double-A to Regain Major-league Form.”
41 Kent Baker, “For Stanicek, Rehab Not Healthy Either,” Baltimore Sun, July 18, 1989: 1B.
42 Tim Kurkjian, “Stanicek Pulls out of Winter Ball Deal,” Baltimore Sun, November 2, 1989: 2E.
43 “Looking for a Cure,” Democrat and Chronicle, May 20, 1990: 7E.
44 Mark Maske, Stanicek’s Time Runs Out,” Washington Post, March 27, 1991: F3.
45 Kent Baker, “Stanicek Cut from Minor-league Camp,” Baltimore Sun, March 27, 1991: 3D.