This article was written by Bob Hoie
This article was published in the 1974 Baseball Research Journal
Harold Harris Chase was born February 13, 1883 at Los Gatos, Calif., a small town about ten miles south of San Jose. The fact that years after his death certain baseball reference books listed him as Hal H. Chase or Harold Homer Chase only serves to emphasize the shroud of mystery that surrounded this strange, gifted, enigmatic man.
His professional life was as well documented as that of most well known players, yet he was in so many controversies that even the most basic facts reported by the contemporary press were distorted, suppressed, or forgotten by recent historians. Perhaps Chase, much like Aaron Burr, has become the victim of a “reverse halo effect.” Once it has been decided that he is evil, all of his actions are judged in that light and in turn are used to reinforce the original presumption.
There can be little doubt that Chase was a complex person. He has been described as perverse, twisted, amoral, a malignant genius, and a hippie; yet mild mannered and generous. To deal adequately with Chase, any potential biographer must understand psychology. The purpose of this paper is not nearly so ambitious, but is rather something of an annotated chronology of Hal Chase’s life.
Chase played college ball at Santa Clara University from 1902 to 1904, where his coach was Joe Corbett, ex-major league pitcher and brother of boxer Gentleman Jim. During this period Chase frequently played second base, even though he threw left-handed. Playing in Los Angeles against St. Vincent’s (later Loyola), he was spotted by the President of the Los Angeles club in the Pacific Coast League and was quickly signed for that team. He made his PCL debut on March 27, 1904, going hitless in three trips against Oakland. But the Los Angeles Examiner said “before he had practiced five minutes at first, he was solid with the crowd” and “has the making of a good ball player.” On March 28 the Examiner said, “If Chase isn’t a great natural ball player, then Los Angeles never saw one.” The next day the LA Times said “Chase has a future before him that any ball player might look forward to. He plays first base as well as anyone would care to see.”
In October 1904, Chase was drafted by New York of the American League. But he soon became the center of a controversy because this draft would violate the peace agreement between the Coast League and Organized Ball. After a period of dispute, Chase eventually reported to New York, then managed by Clark Griffith. Shortly after beginning the 1905 season, a New York writer reacted much as his Los Angeles counterparts had a year earlier: “I took a look at Hal Chase the … new first baseman today, and was impressed with his style. He is a natural ball player, fast as greased lightning, easy, confident, and brainy. He is the counterpart of Fred Tenney in the way he goes after grounders, widely thrown balls and bunts. Better still, he seems to know what is meant by inside ball.”
At the end of the 1905 and 1906 seasons, Chase returned to San Jose to play Sunday ball in the California State League, whose season extended well into November. In the Spring of 1907 he threatened to remain in the California League if he wasn’t given a $4000 contract by the Highlanders, or Yankees as they were sometimes called. Chase was apparently believing his press notices, the Sporting Life of January 26 having stated that he was “perhaps the biggest drawing card in baseball.” Earlier, that publication had concluded that “a more brilliant player does not wear a uniform.” He got the contract but at the end of the 1907 season he went back to the California League.
Chase was hitting .300 for San Jose in late October when the National Commission declared that anyone playing in the California League, an outlaw loop, would be suspended from O.B. The other major leaguers quit, but Chase changed his name to Schultz and became a shortstop and pitcher. He won one game and hit .478 under his new name, but most people were aware of the charade. He left no doubt about his real name when he married Nellie Heffernan of Jersey City at St. Joseph’s Church in San Jose on January 1, 1908.
The American League reinstated Chase for the 1908, but the flashy first baseman reportedly was miffed when Kid Elberfeld rather than he replaced Griffith as manager on June 25. Griffith had resigned because of lack of progress by the team, but he said there was no dissension on the club.
Chase suffered s badly sprained ankle while playing second base in Philadelphia on June 26, 1908, and was out of the lineup until July 7, when he played leftfield against Boston. He jumped the club on September 3, and signed with Stockton of the California League. He left a statement saying: “I am not satisfied to play under a management that sees fit to give out a story detrimental to my character and honesty. Such a story appeared in a New York Sunday paper August 23. I feel that I could not do myself justice under such conditions, and therefore I have decided to quit. I never had managerial ideas.” New York Yankee President Frank Farrell denied the Chase charge and said Chase was simply using the newspaper article as an excuse for leaving.
Chase arrived on the Pacific Coast on September 7and found himself the subject of s controversy between San Jose and Stockton. The League declared that he belonged to Stockton and he began play with that team. Chase said he never again would play ball in the east. However, in early 1909 he applied to the National Commission for reinstatement. He paid a $200 fine and then signed with New York for $4500. Unfortunately, he was stricken with smallpox and could not report to the Yankees until May 3, when he was presented with a silver loving cup by his teammates.
George Stallings was the new manager of the Yankees in 1910 and problems developed with the famous first baseman. There were reports that Chase was `laying down” with the idea that he would succeed Stallings the next year. In St. Louis in mid-season, Stallings openly accused Chase of trying to throw a game. Chase resented this and the pair nearly came to blows. After that, Chase was in and out of the lineup, and in one ten-day period the papers referred only to his “unavoidable absence.” On September 20, the New York Times reported Stallings saying that he would resign if Chase were not released. The club was on the road, but Farrell summoned Stallings to New York to explain his charges against Chase. Ironically, the latter took over leadership of the club in the manager’s absence. Farrell exonerated Chase, and AL President Ban Johnson, who also became involved in the fuss, sided with Chase against Stallings. On September 26 Farrell announced the ouster of Stallings and his replacement by Chase. Chase later signed to manage the Yankees in 1911 for $6000 a year.
Chase batted .315 in 1911, but as manager he merely broke even with 76 wins and 76 losses. Although be had coveted the post before, he gave it up on November 21, 1911. He agreed to play first base under the new manager, Harry Wolverton. But the Yankees dropped from sixth to eighth place and Wolverton was replaced by Frank Chance, who came over from the Cubs for the 1913 season. At the start of that season, on April 24, Chase was divorced from his wife (he later claimed this was the biggest mistake of his life). On May 27 he married Anna Cherrug, daughter of a Bronx dentist. About this same time Heywood Broun noted in the New York Tribune that Chance, the Peerless Leader, claimed Chase was “laying down.”
Chase’s hitting had tailed off badly and on June 1, after being offered around the league, he was traded to Chicago for Babe Borton and Rollie Zeider. The next day it was rumored in Chicago that Frank Navin, Detroit owner, who was dissatisfied with Ty Cobb’s escalating salary demands, wanted to trade him to Chicago for Chase. Ignoring the Cobb rumor, White Sox owner Charles Comiskey was quoted in the June 5 Sporting News as saying: “It means the pennant.” But the following week, the publication’s New York correspondent wrote “Chase … as a winning factor for New York was through some time ago.” Chase joined the White Sox in New York on June 7 and went 2 for 4. It was reported that he was greeted with an ovation on his first at bat, but was the recipient of boos and catcalls as the game progressed.
Early in the next season Chase dramatically jumped to the newly formed Federal League. After going hitless against Boston on June 20, he went to Comiskey Park the next morning to pick up his belongings, and gave Comiskey 10 days notice. However, he then went immediately to the North Side Park where he joined the Buffalo Feds. He collected a single and double in four trips before 10,000 appreciative fans. On June 22 Comiskey got an injunction order, but Chase could not be served, having left for Ontario, Canada to await developments. On the 25th, Chase returned to the lineup in Buffalo against Pittsburgh. He struck out in the first inning, and in the second inning was presented with the injunction order by the local sheriff. On July 1, Chase brought suit in Buffalo to vacate the injunction. The case began on July 9 and on July 21 the Judge ruled in favor of Chase. He returned to the lineup the next day.
Chase batted a snappy .347 for Buffalo in 1914, and the next year he led the Federal League with 17 home runs. At the conclusion of the Federal League war in January 1916, Chase was declared the property of the Federal League. The White Sox had not put in a claim for him as he apparently had been blacklisted by the American League. Chase negotiated with the PCL San Francisco Seals, but the PCL salary limit of $4000 would have to be circumvented. Finally, his Federal League contract was sold to Cincinnati. He signed with the Reds for $8333 (a three-year contract for $25,000), on April 6, 1916.
His debut with the Reds took place on April 16 in a game against Pittsburgh. He replaced the German Fritz Mollwitz, who had been ejected from the game. Hal doubled his first time up, then stole third and home. He had another hit later in the game. This was a preview of things to come as Chase ended up the season leading the League in hitting. He also hit reasonably well in 1917.
On August 9, 1918, Chase was suspended by the Reds for “indifferent playing.” Manager Christy Mathewson brought the charges against him, but when closed hearings before National League President John Heydler began on January 30, 1919, Matty was with the Army in Europe. Jimmy Ring, Mike Regan, and Greasy Neale of the Reds testified against Chase as did Pol Perritt and Manager John McGraw of the Giants.
Perritt claimed that on the day of a doubleheader in Cincinnati on July 17, 1918, Chase had asked him which game he was going to pitch. Perritt said he didn’t know, so Chase said, “I wish you’d tip me off, because if I know which game you’ll pitch, and can connect with a certain party, you will have nothing to fear.” Perritt reported this to McGraw saying “the players ought to drive Chase from baseball.”
Ring testified that in 1917 he was asked to pitch in relief with the score tied and two runners on. As he was warming up, Chase came over from first base and said, “I’ve got some money bet on this game kid. There’s something in it for you if you lose.” Ring didn’t go along, but lost anyway. In the lobby of the Majestic Hotel in Philadelphia the next morning, Chase walked by Ring, and dropped a $50 bill in his lap. Ring reported the incident to Mathewson.
Neale said Chase boasted after a doubleheader loss at Philadelphia in 1918 that he had won $500. Later Chase advised Neale to bet $200 on the Reds, saying “this is the day for the Reds to win.” Mathewson said in an affidavit that after carefully watching Chase during the season he was convinced he was “laying down.” New York sportswriter Sid Mercer appeared as a character witness for Chase, and Hal, in his own defense, testified that he had only bet on the outcome of two baseball games in his life — a post season game between Cincinnati and Cleveland, and once when he was a spectator at the Polo Grounds.
None of this testimony was made public until October .1, 1920, but on February 5, 1919, Heydler stated that: “The testimony shows that Chase acted in a careless manner, both on the field and among the players, and that the club was justified in bringing the charges, in view of the many rumors which arose from the loose talk of the first baseman. In substance, the player was charged with making wagers against his club in games in which he participated. In justice to Chase, I feel bound to state that both the evidence and the records of the games to which reference was made, fully refute this accusation.”
Surprisingly, two weeks later, on February 19, Chase was traded to McGraw’s Giants for Walter Holke and Bill Rariden. Chase dropped his suit for back pay with Cincinnati and signed with the Giants on March 4. Ironically, Mathewson, who had returned to the States, signed with the Giants as assistant manager and coach on the same day!
During the 1919 season, Chase played regularly through September 4; he sprained his wrist and was replaced the next day by George Kelly. He played again on the 6th and 15th. Then, according to the late baseball historian Lee Allen, Chase mysteriously disappeared, with McGraw explaining that Prince Hal had one back to California. This was not the case. It was McGraw who left the team on September 17 after Cincinnati beat the Giants to clinch the pennant. Mathewson took over the club for the remainder of the season and Chase became first base coach, serving there at least to the next to-last day of the season on September 27. On September 25, in the second game of a twin bill at Boston, Chase hit a pinch double and drove in a run in his final major league playing appearance.
It has been claimed that Chase and Heinie Zimmerman (another controversial player of this era), had been quietly dropped from the Giant roster in September, but both were on the Giants’ reserve list released by Heydler on October 18, 1919. There were a lot of rumors and speculation about the two over the winter in the New York Times and Baseball Magazine. On February 29, 1920, the Times reported that the two veterans were not in the spring training party which left for Texas the day before. Chase was reported to be en route to California.
There was further speculation on March 23 when Lee Magee, former Cub outfielder, said “On Saturday I shall make public the charges on which the National League bases its action in barring me from its circuit. I’ll show documents both in my favor and against me and let the public judge if I have been fairly treated… I’m going to burn my bridges behind me and then jump off the ruins. If I’m barred I’ll take quite a few noted people with me. I’ll show up some people for tricks turned ever since 1906. And there will be merry music in the baseball world.” On April 14, Magee filed suit against the Cubs for his 1920 salary plus $5000 in lost World Series money if the Cubs won the pennant. In the meantime, the Los Angeles Times announced on May 13 that Chase, the “suspended” Giant first baseman, who was “reported mixed up in the Magee case,” had signed with San Jose in the Mission League.
Preliminary filings by Magee were made public on June 2 and indicated that Magee had confessed, and implicated Chase, to Cub President William Veeck and to Heydler on February 10, 1920. During the two-day trial, which ended on June 9 in favor of the Cubs, it was revealed that Magee, then with the Reds, and Chase each bet $500 against Cincinnati in their game against Boston on July 25, 1918. In spite of their (lack of) efforts, the Reds won 4-2 in 13 innings. Ironically, Magee had to score the winning run on a 2-run homer by Edd Roush.
In August a gambling scandal erupted in the Coast League and Chase was banned from PCL parks for allegedly attempting to bribe Salt Lake City pitcher Spider Baum prior to a game in Los Angeles. The same day Chase was banned by the Mission League, where he had been playing. Chase, living in Los Angeles at the time, called the Los Angeles Examiner that night and denied the allegations against him, blaming his “enemies in baseball.” Chase was also banned in two other California leagues when efforts were made to sign him.
Chase was first linked with the Black Sox scandal in testimony by Rube Benton on September 23, 1920. Benton charged that Chase and Zimmerman tried to bribe him $800 to throw a game to the Cubs a year before when all three were with the Giants. Benton, confronted with affidavits from Art Wilson and Tony Boeckel of the Braves to the effect that Benton had revealed inside knowledge to them of the alleged fix of the 1919 World Series, admitted that Chase had tipped him off about the Sox losing the first two games of the Series and the entire Series as well. Benton testified that Chase received several telegrams from Bill Burns (one of the Series fixers) and won over $40,000 betting on the Series.
On September 26, Heydler made a public statement lauding McGraw for getting rid of Chase and Zimmerman and mentioned that they had offered Bennie Kauff $500 to slough off against the Cards, but Kauff had refused and reported it to McGraw. On September 29, McGraw appeared before the Grand Jury in Chicago and revealed that he released Chase on Meydler’a advice. The latter had told him Magee had confessed behind closed doors that Chase had bribed him to slough off in certain games, and Zimmerman had tried to bribe Kauff and Fred Toney. Finally the story was out about why the two had been dropped by the Giants.
Chase was indicted by the Cook County Grand Jury on October 22. Re had other problems as well — his wife sued for divorce in Cincinnati November 22 on grounds of “dissipation and gambling.” The divorce was granted on January 26, 1921. In April the District Attorney for the Cook County prosecution sent out warrants to arrest all the indicted ballplayers and gamblers. Chase was picked up leaving a theater in San Jose on April 25, but California refused to allow extradition, so Chase never stood trial.
(In 1941 Chase said he had been willing to testify at the Grand Jury hearings in Chicago but wanted $500 for expenses, which were not offered. He had marital difficulties and was “sick of the east.” He stated he had talked to gambler Bill Burns twice before the World Series. In a 1947 interview he admitted the bulk of Benton’s story but denied that he profited greatly from the advance knowledge.)
The story of Hal Chase for the next 25 years is sad and depressing and too involved to relate here in detail. At first he played in outlaw leagues in Arizona and Mexico. In March 1925 it was reported that he was going to organize a national baseball league at the request of the Mexican Government. By 1930 he had become an alcoholic. At various stages he was receiving relief assistance or was hospitalized.
In September 1941 Chase submitted to a lengthy interview with an Oakland reporter that was carried in the Sporting News. Perhaps the most surprising revelation was his admiration for Judge Landis. Chase had written a letter to Landis, October 29, 1931, referring to his “past mistakes” and asking about his status. Landis replied November 4; while the Commissioner did not reveal the contents, apparently he indicated there were no official charges against Chase by his office (not improbable in light of the fact Landis allowed Benton to continue playing in the majors, even though originally banned by the NL). But Landis wanted to know more about the “mistakes” Chase referred to. At this point Chase’s attorney in Arizona advised him not to pursue the matter and destroyed the letter. In the interview, Chase claimed the mistakes he referred to were merely his having had prior knowledge of the Series fix and not reporting it.
In April 1947, Chase was again interviewed by the Sporting News. He was then hospitalized in Colusa, California, and knew he was dying, but made no startling deathbed confessions. He passed away on May 18, 1947 and his funeral was held in San Jose, not far from where he was born 64 years before. He was called everything from a bum to a genius, but the best summary of him as a player was the statement in a June 1913 Sporting News: “That he can play first as it never was and perhaps never will be played is a well known truth. That he will is a different matter.”