This article was written by Niall Adler
Histories of Stanford University have referred to Zebulon “Zeb” Terry as “one of the greatest baseball players in Stanford history.”1 More than a century has passed since Terry graduated, but his name continues to come up when the early days of Stanford athletics are retold and the foundation of the university’s stellar athletics teams is mentioned.
During his playing days, Terry was known as a brilliant, speedy middle infielder with a rifle arm. Yet his professional career (1914-22) was dwarfed not only by a 71-year marriage but also by a life that spanned 18 U.S. Presidents from 1891 to 1988. One of them – Dwight D. Eisenhower – was delivered by Terry’s physician father.2
Zeb’s parents, Dr. Watson Gentry Terry and the former Martha Dudley Baird (“Mattie”), were natives of Tennessee. They moved to Denison, Texas, where Zebulon was born on June 17, 1891, inheriting a name borne by three previous generations on his mother’s side. His middle name, Alexander, came from his paternal grandfather, who was also a doctor. A sister, Anne Laurie, followed in October 1896.
The Terry family moved to Los Angeles in the late 1890s. Dr. Terry planted one of the first commercial date gardens in the Coachella Valley, owned a citrus ranch, and became a real estate developer. The city’s population was doubling every decade – from 50,395 in 1890 to over 100,000 in 1900 and 319,000 in 1910. Zeb attended Polytechnic High School in Los Angeles (not the one in Long Beach, as many references indicate).3
At Poly High, Terry played alongside a talented black player, Bill Lane, of whom New York Giants manager John McGraw said, “I’d give fifty thousand dollars if that boy had been born white instead of black.”4
Terry’s last task as a prep student was to be a part of the school assembly in June 1910. It was easy for him; the theme was athletics. Terry talked about “The World’s Records” during the ceremony.5
Terry decided to attend Stanford University, which offered free tuition at the time.6 It was a place he would continue to visit, and four decades later, he was inducted in its first Sports Hall of Fame. The quiet and thoughtful man played four seasons from 1911 to 1914 and was a two-time captain. 7 Terry’s grandson, Alex, said, “He loved Stanford. They were the best days of his life.”8
The 1911 team struggled, going 5-11, losing twice to the University of California and to West Coast powerhouse Saint Mary’s, then playing in Oakland. It also split with Santa Clara University.9
The 1912 Indians (the school’s nickname until the early 1970s) did a bit better, going 12-12 for Coach Jerome “Nig” Peters. Leading pitcher Johnny Couch later spent five years in the majors (1917; 1922-25) after that one year on The Farm (as Stanford University is still known).10
Peters fielded just 10 men in 1913, a “rugged crew with no depth” that achieved a 15-5-1 record, the best mark since the 1893 squad went 11-1.11 Terry was the team captain for the first of two seasons.
“I’ve seen a lot of wonderful shortstops, but none ever as good as Zeb Terry,” Stanford third baseman Peter McCloskey, then 81, told the Palo Alto Times in 1972. “I think he’s the most remarkable baseball player who has ever lived. He was little; 5-9 and 129 pounds. But he was fast and had an arm like a rifle.”12
The Indians then toured Japan and Hawaii, winning 13 of 20 games.13 They split eight games with Keio University and defeated Meiji University. The Japanese players, impressed by the Americans’ diamond skills, presented Terry with an ancient samurai sword as a gift.14 The now 300-year-old sword with a wrapped handle of polished wood still hangs in the family home a century later.15
Terry “treasured” the trip to Japan the rest of his life.16 He was overwhelmed by the VIP treatment the Japanese showed their visitors and by how impressed the Japanese were with the Americans’ technical skills on the diamond.
Eight members of the 1913 team would eventually make it into the Stanford Athletics Hall of Fame, including its only pitcher, Ray Maple. Their bond continued for decades. In 1950, 37 years after that 1913 season, the five remaining living players, including McCloskey and Terry, chipped in $10 to buy a watch for the baseball team’s MVP. “The Perpetual MVP Player Trophy”, presented by the 1913 team, has been given ever since with a fund set up by those players.17
Terry’s final year at Stanford was 1914. The team went 12-6-3, losing two out of three to California, beating Santa Clara, and going 1-2-1 against St. Mary’s in a very rainy spring.18
Terry’s time at Stanford was also filled with his Delta Tau Delta Fraternity brothers, whom he would continue to visit when he played in the Pacific Coast League.19 Terry enjoyed visiting with his fellow Delts, regardless of school affiliation.20 The fraternity, across the country, featured a number of soon-to-be major-league players, including future Brooklyn Dodgers general manager Branch Rickey.
In 1926, then the vice president of the St. Louis Cardinals, Rickey said in the Delt newsletter, “Terry had intelligence and skill and other things worthwhile – but he had a lot of that other word. It was Terry and Terry was it. There was no quit to him. He was a quiet dynamo and just seemed to make a club look good.”21
Following his Stanford days, the 23-year old economics graduate began his professional career in the PCL with a modest 35 games for the Los Angeles Angels in 1914. The Angels were loaded with 20 future major leaguers. By October, Terry was making an impression. An editor of the San Francisco Call said, “Terry played a nailing game at second for the Angels yesterday. He looks like a brilliant fielder and has a good chance to be the Angels’ regular second baseman next year.”22 Terry hit .271 in 70 at-bats before returning to campus for some pickup games with his former mates.23
In 1915, the young bachelor was one of many single men on the Coast club. As the Stanford Daily noted in March, “He forms a unit of the unmarried third of the Angels aggregation.”24 A few years later, Terry would be off the market for the rest of his life.
Playing short alongside Fred McMullin, Terry appeared in 191 games (third-most on the team), hitting .264. Sportswriters called Terry “one of the likeliest young ball players seen on the Coast diamonds in years.”25 Terry and McMullin were described as “the youngest keystone combination in the league, but one of the best in its history.”26
They caught the eye of Yankees scout George Davis. A common practice in that time was that major league clubs had first right of refusal for entire rosters of Coast clubs. White Sox owner Charles Comiskey had such a deal with the Angels. Comiskey would not release the duo, but he was not done with Terry. The Stanford Daily reported that “Comiskey has signified his intention of shipping Terry to Cleveland as part payment for Joe Jackson, the slugger recently purchased from Cleveland to Chicago.”27 The deal fell through; later reports showed that Terry was sold for $5,000 at the close of the season to the White Sox.28
In spring training 1916, White Sox manager Pants Rowland called Terry one of the best prospects he had ever seen.29 He was also impressed with his speed a month later, stating “(he) is one of the fastest men in the game today.”30 The thought was to move four-year starter Buck Weaver to third and put Terry at short. But Terry had to battle for a roster spot with “[George] Moriarty, [Lena] Blackburne, [Pete] Johns and Coast mate McMullin.”31 By the opener, Moriarty and McMullin were backups to Weaver and Terry.
According to a March article in the Chicago Herald, “Terry will stick in the American League if he can hit at a .240 clip and past performances of the speed merchant tend to show that he will stick much above that mark.”32
Debuting on April 12 in the season opener, Terry, batting eighth, went 0-for-2 with a walk in a 4-0 loss to Ty Cobb’s Tigers. The next day he singled and drove in two. By June 5, the White Sox were battling to stay above .500 and Terry was hitting .231. Weaver was much the same at .229. One article proclaimed, “(Terry) has demonstrated all the high-class qualities claimed for him when he came from the Coast, but he has failed to win a regular berth…George Weaver won’t give up the shortstop spot to this high-class youngster… and Californian.”33
Red Sox lefthander Babe Ruth was 2-1 against the White Sox that season, and Terry later filled out a personal survey for Notre Dame professor Marshall Smelser on facing the future “Sultan of Swat” in 1916. Terry, a right-handed batter, described Ruth’s delivery as three-quarters, and “not hard to follow” but with a ball that was “alive”. Terry added, “He was a fastball pitcher, (who) had a good curve…just as strong early as late… he would knock you down sometimes… he would not be easy to beat.”34
Terry appeared in 94 games that year with a .190 average. He also committed 27 errors. Nonetheless, his play that year won him mention in a major work of fiction. Chicago writer James T. Farrell, a White Sox fan of the 1910s and ’20s, described the lineup of the 1916 White Sox in Young Lonigan, Volume One of his Studs Lonigan trilogy: “the team…had Zeb Terry at shortstop playing a whale of a game…”
Chicago finished second to Boston in 1916. Shoeless Joe Jackson hit .341 and second baseman Eddie Collins hit .308, but even though a nine-game deficit in May narrowed to two games by season’s close, they could not overcome the eventual World Champion Red Sox. The White Sox had themselves to blame, dropping 14 of 22 meetings with Boston.
Terry joined the White Sox for spring training in 1917. At the beginning of camp, “Manager Rowland expressed himself as being well satisfied with Terry’s work,” indicating that Terry would again play shortstop that year.35 As it developed, though, his next two seasons were spent mainly in the PCL, with sparing action in the majors. For 1917, Terry signed an optional agreement for $4,000 with the White Sox.36 He appeared in just two games, because rookie Swede Risberg won the shortstop job. Terry played 150 games for Los Angeles with a .251 batting average.
The year 1917 was still a good one personally for Terry. According to the Stanford Daily, “With high hopes, the Stanford campus received news of the engagement of Zeb Terry ’14 to Miss Margaret Lucile Jones” on February 14, 1917.37 According to her grandson, Alex, Lucile (who came from Los Angeles) was rather outgoing, bossy to an extent, more than willing to spin a yarn with anyone. “Gramp” was a kind, decent and respectful “Southern gentleman.”38 Zeb was quiet and studious; Lucile was very social and chatty.39 The couple had two daughters. One, Margaret, was born in Chicago in 1921. Another, Betty Lou, arrived in 1924 in Los Angeles.
In 1918, Terry split time with the Angels – and, with the “club’s permission” – with the struggling Boston Braves.40 He played in 93 games with a .263 average in the PCL and 28 games with a .305 average in 105 at-bats for the Braves. At 27, he had to battle for playing time behind 25-year-old Johnny Rawlings at short.
In 1919, Terry got his chance to play everyday, after three years of back-and-forth and non-combat duty in World War I.41 Drafted by Pittsburgh in 1919, he led National League shortstops with a .960 fielding percentage. The Chicago Cubs purchased him from Pittsburgh in January 1920, and he played his last three seasons with them. He split time between shortstop and second base in 1920, and second became his primary position after that.
Terry’s batting also benefited from consistent playing time. He hit .280 in 1920, .275 in 1921 – including his only two major-league home runs – and .286 in 1922. He played in 120 games or more each season for the Cubs. He twice hit over 20 doubles and had nine triples in 1920.
Terry also began showing up at Stanford as an off-season coach. In 1921 he wrote to Stanford manager Ed Martin about organizing an alumni game in mid-February in Southern California.42 Terry spent “two to three weeks” on campus to “help round the Stanford varsity into shape” in 1922, along with former teammate Johnny Couch, then with the San Francisco Seals.43 The guidance likely benefited H.C. Galloway, the first two-year varsity captain (1919-20) since Terry, who was “out on the field with the varsity men, giving them tips on how to perfect a winning nine.”44
By 1922, Terry was getting a step slower and family concerns likely stopped him from playing further after that. During spring training at Catalina Island in 1922, by all accounts, the Cubs were “in a terrible way for a second sacker. Zeb Terry is their regular anchor man, but he is said to be slowing up and in their weekend games in Los Angeles the Cubs have been experimenting with all kinds of material, none of it much good.”45 But Terry had one more year in him, playing second, short and third, appearing in 131 games, and hitting .286 with 24 doubles.
Terry’s pro baseball career ended on October 1, 1922. He had two hits against 19-game winner Jeff Pfeffer in a 7-1 loss for the fifth-place Cubs. The Cubs quickly moved on; their new double-play combination in 1923 included 23-year-old George Grantham, who was starter for three different NL teams over the next 10 years.
Both Terry’s daughter, Betty Lou, and grandson, Alex, recalled that his wife, Lucile, simply got tired of the constant traveling by train. She said, “Why don’t we go home?”46
The couple built a house on Highland Avenue in downtown Los Angeles in 1924. The contractor was Jack Olerich, husband of Lucile’s sister Marion.47 Zeb and Lucile remained there for the rest of their lives. According to his family, Zeb went into real estate, sold oil and gas leases, and managed property.48
In 1955 Zeb Terry was inducted into Stanford’s first class of sports stars. Some of those 34 charter members included two-sport star and Pro Football Hall of Famer Ernie Nevers, left-handed quarterback Frankie Albert, Olympic gold medal decathlete Bob Mathias, Korean War fighter pilot and fellow major leaguer Lloyd Merriman, basketball’s Hank Luisetti, and gold medalist diver Pete Desjardins.49
Stanford remained a special place for the family. Five members attended the school – his daughters, Betty Lou and Margaret; Betty Lou’s husband, Richard (a Purple Heart recipient from World War II); and Margaret’s two children, Anne and Phair Corey. 50
Zeb Terry passed away on March 14, 1988. His wife of 71 years, Lucile, passed away six months later, on August 29. Both are buried in the family plot at Angelus Rosedale Cemetery in Los Angeles, alongside Zeb’s parents and grandfather.51
1 Don Liebendorfer, The Color of Life Is Red: A History of Stanford Athletics, 1892-1972, Palo Alto, California: National Press, 1972: 230. Liebendorfer was the first of two Stanford sports information directors to write a history of Stanford Athletics.
2 Lawrence Family Tree and Book from Betty Lou Lawrence <http://familytreemaker.genealogy.com/users/l/a/w/Richard-A-Lawrence-WA/WEBSITE-0001/UHP-0153.html>
3 Personal interview with Alex Lawrence, Zeb Terry’s grandson, March 2015 (hereafter Alex Lawrence interview)
4 Dennis Snelling, The Greatest Minor League: A History of the PCL, 1903-1957, Jefferson, North Carolina: McFarland & Company, 2012: 73
5 “Poly Graduates to Hold Closing Ionian Program,” Los Angeles Herald, June 9, 1910
6 Alex Lawrence interview
7 Stanford Daily, January 5, 1915. Stanford Daily, January 29, 1917
8 Alex Lawrence interview
12 Dave Wik, “Stanford’s first All-America: Tom Workman”, Palo Alto Times, 1972, reprinted on stanford.scout.com <http://stanford.scout.com/story/966924-stanford-s-first-all-america-tom-workman>
14 Alex Lawrence Interview
15 Personal Interview with Betty Lou Lawrence, Zeb Terry’s daughter, March 2015 (hereafter Betty Lou Lawrence interview)
16 Betty Lou Lawrence interview
17 Liebendorfer, Wik
19 Stanford Daily, October 7, 1914
20 Stuart Maclean, ed., “The Rainbow of Delta Tau Delta,” June 1926, Volume 49, 411. Rickey had penned a piece for the magazine on Delts in organized ball.
22 Stanford Daily, October 16, 1915
23 Stanford Daily, November 13, 1914
24 Stanford Daily, March 24, 1915
25 Stanford Daily, September 1, 1915
27 Stanford Daily, September 15, 1915
28 Baseball Hall of Fame, full statistical biography of Zeb Terry
29 Stanford Daily, January 13, 1916
30 Stanford Daily, February 17, 1916
31 Stanford Daily, January 13, 1916
32 Stanford Daily, March 21, 1916
33 Unattributed article from the Hall of Fame archives, June 8, 1916
34 Personal survey mailed to Notre Dame professor Marshall Smelser regarding a book he was writing on Babe Ruth from 1915-17.
35 Stanford Daily, January 16, 1917
36 Stanford Daily, September 15, 1915
37 Stanford Daily, January 29, 1917
38 Alex Lawrence interview
39 Betty Lou Lawrence interview
40 Stanford Daily, September 15, 1915
41 Alex Lawrence interview
42 Stanford Daily, February 2, 1921. The letter to Stanford manager Ed Martin about playing the alumni in mid-February stated that a number of alums were interested, including, “Zeb Terry, shortstop with the Chicago Cubs; Art Shafer, former Giant third baseman; Sam Mitchell, Lewis Cass, Quincey Cass, Tom Workman, Sid Ellis, Proctor Campbell, Harry Howard, Morris Cadwalder, S. W. Gillfillan, and Ralph Maple. Gilfillan and Maple were pitching stars during their college days.”
43 Stanford Daily, January 10, 1922
44 Stanford Daily, February 14, 1922
45 Morning Oregonian, March 22, 1922
46 Betty Lou Lawrence interview
47 Betty Lou Lawrence interview
48 Alex Lawrence interview
50 Betty Lou Lawrence interview
51 Findagrave.com, Lawrence Family Tree