This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf
Riggs Stephenson is a brilliant hitter, steady fielder, and a southern gentleman,” wrote Chicago Cubs beat reporter Edward Burns in 1929, as the rugged Alabaman was en route to a .362 batting average and 110 runs batted in for the pennant-winning Cubs.[fn]Edward Burns, “Stephenson to Swoop ’Em in the Pinches,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 23, 1929, 25.[/fn] Blessed with eagle eyes, but cursed with a poor throwing arm, the career .336 hitter over 14 big-league seasons had a hard time breaking into the starting lineup. He joined the Cleveland Indians in 1921 straight from the campus of the University of Alabama, but his fielding woes at second base, third base, and the outfield exasperated manager Tris Speaker, who finally discarded the five-year veteran with a .337 average to the minor leagues in 1925. A year later Stephenson was granted a new lease on life when new Cubs skipper Joe McCarthy acquired him. Placed in left field to hide his weak arm, Stephenson was a model of consistency, albeit an oft-injured one, on successful Cubs teams of the late 1920s and early 1930s.
Jackson Riggs Stephenson was born on January 5, 1898, in a small hamlet “out in the country,” about ten minutes away by horse from the small Alabama town of Akron (population about 350), located 80 miles from Birmingham in the east-central part of the state.[fn]Charles Land, “Riggs Stephenson: From Akron to the American League,” Tuscaloosa (Alabama) News, January 26, 1964, 10.[/fn] His parents, James and Addie (Wilson) Stephenson, were born when slavery was still legal, and like most families in Hale County, were farmers. According to various census reports, Riggs was the final of six children the family welcomed to the world. As a child, Riggs often accompanied his father, who also served as a rural mail carrier, on a horse and buggy as he made his rounds to the outcrops that dotted the bucolic landscape. He was introduced to baseball by his brother Samuel Gardner (six years older), who was a pitcher in 1913 and 1914 for the Anniston (Alabama) Moulders in the Class D Georgia-Alabama League. By the age of 15, Riggs was playing infield for his local town team, showcasing his talent against other area nines in small towns up and down the rail line leading to New Orleans. By all accounts, Riggs was a natural athlete, who also played football and basketball, and ran track in high school.
Riggs followed Samuel’s footsteps and enrolled at the University of Alabama in 1917, where he earned three letters each in football and baseball, and one in basketball. He received a scholarship from the state, but also worked in the school cafeteria to pay for his education. Riggs’ arrival in Tuscaloosa corresponded with the university’s ascent to national prominence on the gridiron. A two-way player throughout his career (fullback and defensive back), Stephenson scored five touchdowns against Ole Miss as a freshman in 1917. While the 1918 season was canceled because of World War I, Stephenson served in the student training corps in the Army. Under coach Xen Scott, the sturdily built, 5-foot-10, 185-pounder was hailed as the “Greatest Fullback in the South” and earned All Southern Conference honors (the precursor to the Southeastern Conference) in 1919 and 1920.[fn]Ibid.[/fn] Riggs is a “better football player than Jim Thorpe,” said Scott of his pugnacious player, who once rushed for 286 yards versus Sewanee and helped lead the Crimson Tide to successive records of 8-1 and 10-1, the school’s first season with double-digit victories.[fn]Paul W. Bryant Museum, bryantmuseum.com/index.asp.[/fn]
As good as Alabama’s football team was, its baseball team was equally flush with big-league talent. Stephenson’s teammates included future Hall of Famer Joe Sewell, Luke Sewell, Lena Styles, brothers Dan and Ike Boone, and Frank Pratt, all of whom debuted in the major leagues between 1919 and 1922. With an infield anchored by Stephenson at shortstop and Joe Sewell at second base, the Crimson Tide posted records of 13-4, 16-2, and 15-2 from 1918 to 1920 and won three consecutive Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association (SIAA) titles for coach Loonie Noojin.[fn]2013-2014 University of Alabama Baseball Media Guide. rolltide.com/
sports/m-basebl/media-guide.html[/fn] Stephenson played in the independent Delta League of Dixie during the summers from 1918-1920.
Stephenson’s big-league career got a boost from his football coach, Xen Scott, a former horse-race writer in Cleveland who had contacts with the Indians. “[Scott] said it looked like I had good, big wrists,” Stephenson once said. “And the boys told him I was a pretty good ball player, so he recommended me.”[fn]Land.[/fn] Without having seen Stephenson play, Scott took him as well as Joe Sewell to the Indians spring-training camp in New Orleans in 1920. They both worked out with the team; while Sewell was signed by the New Orleans Pelicans of the Class A Southern Association, Stephenson was told to come back the following year.
Still a collegian, Stephenson made a positive impression on Indians manager Tris Speaker of the reigning World Series champions at spring training in 1921, in Dallas. “The very first day [Stephenson] stepped on the diamond, he looked like a polished big league workman,” gushed sportswriter Wilbur Wood.[fn]The Sporting News, March 17, 1921, 1.[/fn] Stephenson’s prospects to make the team were not good. His college teammate, Joe Sewell, had made a successful switch from second base to shortstop and had started all seven games of the World Series. Second base was occupied by veteran Bill Wambsganss; consequently, Stephenson was dispatched back to Tuscaloosa, where he still had one year of eligibility. But when Wambsganss and utility infielder Harry Lunte were sidelined with injuries as Opening Day approached, Stephenson reaped the benefits. “They called me two days before the season,” he said, “and I joined the team in St. Louis. Speaker signed me for $300 a month.”[fn]Eugene Converse Murdock, “Interview with baseball player Riggs Stephenson” (MP3), Cleveland Public Library Digital Collection, 1977.[/fn]
“I had never played second base,” said Stephenson. But after two days of practice, Stevie, as the press began to call him, occupied the keystone position on Opening Day 1921. Always a streaky hitter, Stephenson could not have imagined his immediate success. He went 2-for-4 against spitballer Urban Shocker of the St. Louis Browns in his debut. In his next seven games, he banged out 14 hits in 25 at-bats, and scored nine times. Stephenson, now batting .552 and slugging .655, drew comparisons to the Browns’ George Sisler, who had batted .407 the previous season. “He’s been hitting the ball squarely on the nose and his speed has canned the critics,” wrote Indians beat reporter Francis J. Powers.[fn]The Sporting News, April 21, 1921, 1.[/fn] Sewell, catcher Steve O’Neill, and Stephenson were dubbed “SOS” (Sewell-O’Neill- Stephenson) for their early-season hitting exploits at the bottom of the order.[fn]The Sporting News, April 28, 1921, 1.[/fn] The rookie second baseman was equally sharp in the field, committing only one error in his first 18 games. (“He has a wonderful set of hands,” said Powers.[fn]The Sporting News, April 21, 1921, 1.[/fn]) But he committed 14 in his next 30 games and was replaced by Wambsganss on June 8 despite batting .347. Limited to just 17 games and 30 at-bats for the rest of the season, Stephenson was a forgotten man on Speaker’s club, which succumbed to the Yankees in the September pennant drive. The Sporting News called Stephenson the “greatest enigma in camp” in 1922.[fn]The Sporting News, March 16, 1922, 2.[/fn] “[He] has one of the best batting eyes that has come into the league in many seasons. … He [can] do everything but make snap throws.”[fn]Ibid.[/fn] Relegated to role player, Stephenson made 21 starts at second base and 29 at third base. He culled together 233 at-bats, posted a .339 batting average and .511 slugging percentage (both second to Speaker), and walloped 24 doubles for the fourth-place club.
Stephenson was widely seen as a budding star, but his defensive deficiencies tormented Speaker, and it seemed as if everyone had advice to offer. Critics suggested that Stephenson could replace the aging Larry Gardner at third, or eventually move to the outfield once Speaker retired; even Connie Mack, owner-manager of the rival Philadelphia Athletics, chimed in, arguing that Stephenson should be converted to a first baseman because he hit too well to sit on the bench.[fn]The Sporting News, November 16, 1922, 1.[/fn] Nicknamed Old Hoss for his reliable hitting, Stephenson was candid about his fielding woes: “I wasn’t such a good defensive player. I had trouble making the double play on the pivot.”[fn]Murdock.[/fn]
After the season, Stephenson joined other big-league stars including Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Luke Sewell, Irish Meusel, and Casey Stengel on Herb Hunter’s all-star team which toured Japan, Korea, China, and the Philippines. “[Stephenson is] one of the most gentlemanly athletes in the game and is certain to reflect credit to baseball in foreign lands,” wrote The Sporting News.[fn]The Sporting News, October 5, 1922, 1.[/fn] Speaker thought the opportunity for Stephenson to play third base every day would “smooth out the rough spots” and enable him to challenge for a starting position.[fn]The Sporting News, February 1, 1923, 2.[/fn]
Stephenson was shunted to the far end of the bench in 1923 when rookie Rube Lutzke won the third-base job. With only 24 at-bats through July 1, the infielder was the object of constant trade rumors, yet suitors were anxious about his reputation for “mighty hitting but not so mighty fielding.”[fn]The Sporting News, November 16, 1922, 1.[/fn] He got his chance to play regularly when a broken finger sidelined Wambsganss in early July. Beginning on July 3, Stephenson made 64 starts at second base, batted .329, and knocked in 63 runs in just 277 at-bats in the longest stretch of playing time in his career to that point. He was tabbed the second baseman of the future, and Wambsganss was traded in the offseason.
More relaxed at the plate and in the field during 1924 than in previous seasons, Stephenson was batting .365 and had committed only one error when he injured his leg on May 1.[fn]The Sporting News, March 13, 1924, 5.[/fn] “I ran down to first base playing the Chicago White Sox. The first baseman Earl Sheely jumped up for a ball and I tripped over his leg,” said Stephenson.[fn]Murdock.[/fn] In his absence Chick Fewster (who had come over in the trade for Wambsganss) took over. Stephenson was sidelined for a month and his movement was limited for the remainder of the season. But the Indians, who fell to sixth place, desperately needed his hitting. Over an 11-game stretch beginning on August 28, Stephenson pounded out 25 hits in 44 at-bats and knocked in 17 runs en route to a .371 average (in 240 at-bats).
Stephenson was a classic line-drive and spray hitter who enjoyed hitting in Cleveland’s League Park (also called Dunn Field beginning in 1916). Its architectural trademark was a short right-field fence (290 feet compared with 375 in left field) and its 60-foot-high wall. “I used to hit a few off that right-field wall,” he said, claiming that he approached right- and left-handed pitchers the same.[fn]Murdock.[/fn]
Stephenson’s big-league career came crashing down in 1925 when he was optioned to the Kansas City Blues of the Double-A American Association in June. He had been moved to right field to start the season, but “Old Hoss” struggled at the plate and in the field. “I was very disappointed,” said Stephenson. “I went down with the intention of giving it all I had. But if it didn’t do any good, I was going to quit … but I hit pretty good.”[fn]Murdock.[/fn] He was with Kansas City for only two months before the Indians sent him and two other players to the Indianapolis Indians of the same league in exchange for the rights to a hot infield prospect, 19-year-old Johnny Hodapp.[fn]The Sporting News, August 20, 1925, 2.[/fn]
Despite his .337 batting average in parts of five seasons with Cleveland, Stephenson’s stock had dropped precipitously. The 28-year-old began the 1926 season with Indianapolis needing to prove he could play the outfield; managers across baseball already knew he could hit. In 51 games he torched the ball for a .385 average, and also had some luck. Prior to the season the Chicago Cubs had hired manager Joe McCarthy, whose experience as skipper of the American Association’s Louisville Colonels had given him ample opportunity to assess Stephenson’s strengths.
On June 7, 1926, Stephenson got a shot at redemption when the Cubs sent outfielder Joe Munson, infielder Red Shannon, and cash to Indianapolis for Stephenson and utilityman Hank Schreiber. Two days later Stephenson was installed in left field, one of the team’s glaring weaknesses.
“My arm wasn’t strong enough to play right field,” said Stephenson bluntly. “You gotta have the best arm on the team in right field. I was lucky to get to Chicago. They needed a left fielder. Maybe my (throwing) arm wasn’t even average. I was accurate but I couldn’t throw long distances.”[fn]Murdock.[/fn]
After going 0-for-4 in his Cubs debut on June 9, the streaky Stephenson cranked out 14 hits in his next 31 at-bats, including the first of three games during his major-league career with two home runs. “[He’s] upheld his hitting reputation,” wrote Chicago sportswriter Irving Vaughan.[fn]The Sporting News, June 17, 1926, 2.[/fn] After the club had gone through three managers during a last-place finish in 1925, McCarthy had the team playing inspired ball and fighting for a pennant. Stephenson wrenched his back on August 31 with the Cubs in fourth place but only five games off the lead. The Cubs sorely missed Stephenson’s bat in September, when they stumbled to a 13-14 record. In a seamless transition to the National League and Wrigley Field, the transplanted Southerner led the Cubs with a .338 average (in 281 at-bats).
With the NL’s leading pitching staff (3.26 ERA in 1926), the Cubs were expected to compete for the pennant in 1927. McCarthy moved a “surprised” Stephenson to third base, the team’s sore spot, to start the season.[fn]Irving Vaughan, “McCarthy to Bench Freigau for Stephenson,” Chicago Daily Tribune, March 31, 1927, 19.[/fn] The experiment lasted only six games as Stephenson struggled in the field and at the plate. He was reinserted in left field and never played another position in his big-league career. Third base remained a mess all season with five additional players splitting time at the hot corner. Batting fifth in the overwhelming majority of his games, Stephenson was an ideal protector for the NL’s most feared home-run slugger, center fielder, Hack Wilson, who like Stephenson was a castoff from another team. “No sane pitcher is going to pass anybody to get him,” wrote Irving Vaughan about Stephenson.[fn]The Sporting News, April 21, 1927, 1.[/fn] The stocky West Virginian Wilson belted 30 round-trippers to lead the NL for the second of three consecutive seasons. Stephenson, healthy all season long, played in 152 games (exceeding his previous career high by 61), batted .344 (fourth in the NL), rapped a careerhigh 199 hits, including an NL-best 46 doubles, and scored 101 times. In a tight race with the Pittsburgh Pirates all season, the Cubs moved into first place on August 1 and increased their lead to six games on August 16. While the North Siders struggled thereafter (16-28) and fell to fourth place, the Pirates went 22-9 in September to take the flag by 1½ games over the St. Louis Cardinals.
In the offseason Cubs owner William Wrigley made a big splash when he acquired speedy outfielder Hazen “Kiki” Cuyler from the Pirates in exchange for infielder Sparky Adams and utiltyman Pete Scott. The 29-year-old Cuyler (at the time a .336 career hitter who clashed with Pirates manager Donie Bush) formed with Wilson and Stephenson Chicago’s version of Murderers’ Row. However, the Cubs slogged through the first three months of the season, playing uninspired ball, and languished in fourth place at the beginning of July. A model of consistency, Stephenson battled a severe case of influenza in late May and subsequent hospitalization while establishing his reputation as the club’s clutch hitter. The Cubs went 47-26 over the last 73 games of the season to pull within two games of the St. Louis Cardinals in mid- September, but it was too little, too late. Old Hoss batted .450 (27-for-60) in his first 16 games of September to finish with a team-high .324 average and knocked in 90 runs for the third-place club.
Newspapers reports often characterized Stephenson as “unsung.”[fn]Irvin Vaughan, “Record Crowd of 48 Thousand See Cubs Win,” Chicago Daily Tribune, April 23, 1928, 21.[/fn] Henry L. Farrell wrote, “[Stephenson is] one of the immensely valuable players who doesn’t command the spotlight. The Chicago fans know how valuable he is, but the customers in other cities know more about Gabby Hartnett, Hack Wilson, and others.”[fn]Henry L. Farrell, “National League’s Most Valuable,” Freeport (Illinois) Journal- Standard, August 27, 1928, 11.[/fn] On teams loaded with stars, Stephenson was content to be in the background. “[He is] the Cubs’ most vicious batsman and mildest citizen,” wrote Cubs reporter Edward Burns.”[fn]Edward Burns, “When Greek Meets Greek, It’s All Greek to Hank,” Chicago Daily Tribune, May 13, 1928, 5.[/fn] Stephenson had an air of Southern gentlemanly aristocracy; sportswriters often made reference to his collegiate background and his slow, Southern drawl. In contrast to some teammates who were well acquainted in the speakeasies located all over Chicago’s North Side, Stephenson did not drink or smoke, apparently was genuinely liked by his teammates, who gave him the sobriquet Blossom, and was a favorite of manager McCarthy.[fn]“McCarthy Thinks Well of Stephenson,” Kingston (New York) Daily Freeman, January 28, 1928, 8.[/fn]
Sparing no cost in pursuit of a championship, Cubs owner William Wrigley acquired baseball’s best all-around hitter, second baseman Rogers Hornsby, from the Boston Braves in the offseason, making the Cubs an odds-on favorite to win the NL pennant. “With sluggers Cuyler, Hornsby, Wilson, and Stephenson to depend on,” opined sportswriter Ralph Davis, “it is apparent that the Cubs are going to exhibit a punch this season.”[fn]The Sporting News, April 25, 1929, 5.[/fn] Even in a year of inflated offensive numbers, the aforementioned 3-4-5-6 hitters comprised one of the most feared lineups in league history, combining for 520 runs batted in, 493 runs scored, and a .362 batting average. Stephenson clicked on all cylinders early in the season, going 24-for-46, drawing 11 walks, and scoring 17 times over a 12-game span from April 23 to May 7. Batting primarily in the sixth position, Stephenson knocked in a career-high 110 runs, including a personal-best seven in the last of his three two-homerun games, an 11-11 tie with the St. Louis Cardinals on July 1.
Stephenson played in 136 mostly pain-filled games. He injured his left knee on June 4, missed ten days, and his already slow gait was hindered even more. On August 22 he ruptured an abdominal muscle and was feared lost for the season. However, he was back in left field a week later (after several pinch-hitting appearances), even though the Cubs enjoyed a double-digit lead in the pennant race. “[Stephenson’s] hitting and work in left field have been important factors in the Cubs overpowering the competition in the NL,” read an Associated Press report.[fn]Associated Press, “Threat to Cubs Grows,” Kansas City Star, August 29, 1929, 14.[/fn] Stephenson concluded the season on another tear (36- for-86) to wrap up his best season with a .362 average on 179 hits, and also banged out a career-high 17 home runs.
In the much anticipated World Series, the underdog Cubs (98-54) faced the Philadelphia Athletics (104-46), whose offensive production almost matched that of the North Siders, and whose pitching staff was baseball’s finest. The tone of the Series was set in Game One when Connie Mack surprised everyone by starting 35-year-old Howard Ehmke, who struck out a then Series record 13 to defeat the Cubs, 3-1, for his last win as a big-leaguer. On the verge of tying the Series at two games apiece, the Cubs squandered an 8-0 lead in Game Four when the A’s exploded for a Series-record ten runs in the seventh inning. The Cubs never recovered emotionally after that defeat and lost the Series in five games. Stephenson batted a quiet .316 (6-for-19) with at least one hit in each game, but scored just three times and knocked in three runs as the vaunted A’s pitchers subdued the Cubs sluggers, limiting them to just 17 runs and a team .249 batting average.
A shoulder injury suffered in spring training in 1930 plagued Stephenson all season long and limited him to just 79 starts in left field and 29 pinch-hit appearances. Despite the team’s offensive prowess (an NL-best 171 home runs and the second-most runs, 998), the Cubs played inconsistently all season. “When [Stephenson] is in the lineup, the Cubs are a different team,” opined writer Francis J. Powers.[fn]Francis J. Powers, “Hack Wilson Adds Real Punch to Winning Stride for Cubs,” San Bernardino (California) Sun, June 3, 1930, 14.[/fn] With a 5½-game lead over the New York Giants on August 30, the North Siders seemed poised to capture their second consecutive pennant. But the team came unraveled by infighting and poor performances, and lost 14 of their next 21 games and ultimately finished in second place, two games behind the Cardinals, who won 21 of their last 25 contests. “We couldn’t win anything,” said a worn-out Stephenson, who batted just 7-for-35 in September. “Our pitching was bad and someone always came back to beat us.”[fn]Murdock.[/fn] In one of the most disappointing seasons in Cubs history, McCarthy was forced out with four games remaining and was replaced by Hornsby, who had undercut his authority all season long while limited to just 104 at-bats. Despite his injuries, Stephenson batted a team-high .367 (125-for-341).
Even before the start of spring training in 1931, newspapers reported that slugger Johnny Moore (who batted .342 with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1930) would replace Stephenson in left field. But a healthy Old Hoss withstood the challenge until the snake-bit player suffered a season-ending injury on July 27. In the first inning of that day’s game, he collided with a former teammate, Philadelphia Phillies pitcher Sheriff Blake, at first base, and stepped awkwardly on the bag, breaking his ankle and tearing muscle.[fn]“Second X-ray Shows Stevie’s Ankle Broken,” Chicago Daily Tribune, July 29, 1931, 17.[/fn] In 80 games Stephenson batted .319 for the third-place Cubs.
Stephenson’s injury cast doubts on his future with the club. Paul Michaelson of the Associated Press wrote, “[Stephenson] cannot be counted on to play regularly so a replacement in necessary.”[fn]Paul Michaelson, “Hornsby Sees More Power for Cubs But No Title,” Associated Press, Evening Huronite (Huron, South Dakota), December 22, 1931, 9.[/fn] But the Old Hoss was not yet ready to be sent out to the pasture. “[He] has been uncorking hits … [and] galloping around the outfield with more abandon than he displayed last season,” wrote Irving Vaughan of Stephenson’s seemingly miraculous recovery from a devastating injury.[fn]The Sporting News, March 31, 1932, 5.[/fn] The Cubs chafed under manager Hornsby’s autocratic and increasingly authoritarian rule, leading to his replacement by first baseman Charlie Grimm, whose laid-back, jovial personality was in stark contrast to the Rajah’s. Jolly Cholly reinvigorated his teammates, who went 37-18 to take the pennant by four games over the Pirates. Like his skipper, Stephenson was a source of calm professionalism in a tumultuous season, indeed a year which began with the death of the club’s innovative owner, William Wrigley, in January. “I just swoop ’em in a pinch,” replied Stephenson when asked to explain his approach to hitting.[fn]Irving Vaughan, “A Guy Named Stephenson’s Still a Cub,” Chicago Daily Tribune, January 24, 1932, A2.[/fn] He “just goes along day after day giving the best that’s in him,” wrote Vaughan. “The things that Stevie can’t do well are run and throw. If things break badly, he seldom offers a complaint.”[fn]Irving Vaughan, “Old Faithful Stephenson Big Help to Cubs,” Chicago Daily Tribune, September 16, 1932, 25.[/fn] The oldest starting position player on the team at 34, Stephenson led the squad in batting (.324) runs batted in (85), and doubles (49).
A balanced offensive team with the NL’s leading staff, the Cubs still were no match for the New York Yankees (107-47 and piloted by former Cubs manager Joe McCarthy), who swept them in four games in the World Series which is perhaps best remembered for Babe Ruth’s “called shot” in Game Three. Stephenson led the team with 8 hits in 18 at-bats and 4 RBIs, but only one extrabase hit as the Cubs were outscored 37-19. “We just didn’t have the power to beat the Yankees with Babe, Lou Gehrig, Tony Lazzeri, and Bill Dickey,” Stephenson said.[fn]Murdock.[/fn]
Plagued by myriad maladies (broken finger, sore shoulder, and malaria) in 1933, Riggs batted a team-high .329, but managed just 346 at bats. The elder statesman was reduced to a little-used pinch-hitter and occasional left fielder in 1934 as running became increasingly difficult for the 36-year-old. As a testament to his value to the organization, Stephenson was honored in a “sentimental ceremony” and given an engraved watch when he was released on October 30. “Stephenson’s release,” wrote Edward Burns, “was no ordinary bounce of the sort usually accorded to players who have outlived their usefulness.”[fn]Edward Burns, “Cubs Give Riggs Stephenson Release and Engraved Watch,” Chicago Daily Tribune, October 31, 1934, 19.[/fn] The 14-year big-league veteran concluded his career with a .336 batting average (22nd-highest in major-league history as of 2014) and recorded 1,515 hits in 1,310 games.
Stephenson remained in Organized Baseball for five more years. In 1935 he played in 147 games and batted .343 for the Indianapolis Indians of the Double-A American Association. The following season, he accepted the Cubs’ offer to serve as player-manager for team’s new affiliate in the Class A1 Southern Association, the Birmingham Barons. He led the team in hitting (.355 in 120 games), and more importantly to the league title over the New Orleans Pelicans before succumbing to the Texas League champion Tulsa Oilers in the Dixie Series. Released the following season after the Barons finished sixth in an eight-team league, Stephenson led the Helena (Arkansas) Seaporters of the Class C Cotton States League to a second-place finish as player-manager in 1938. He managed the Montgomery (Alabama) Rebels in the Class B Southeastern League for a half-season in 1939.
Stephenson retired to his home town of Akron, Alabama, where he had spent his offseasons throughout his playing career. In 1934 he had married Alma Chadwick, with whom he had two children, Jack and Marla. Far away from the bright lights of major-league baseball, Stephenson farmed and had a number of successful business pursuits, including a car dealership, sawmill, and lumber yard. In 1971 Stephenson was inducted into the Alabama Sports Hall of Fame.
On November 15, 1985, Riggs Stephenson died at the age of 87 at his home in Tuscaloosa. He was buried at the Tuscaloosa Memorial Park.
This biography appears in “Winning on the North Side: The 1929 Chicago Cubs” (SABR, 2015), edited by Gregory H. Wolf.
Chicago Daily Tribune
New York Times
The Sporting News
Riggs Stephenson player file at the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cooperstown, New York.