Friday, May 30, 2014
George Springer and Bob Speake
By David Schoenfield
Astros rookie George Springer homered again on Thursday and now has seven in his past seven games and 10 in May. ESPN Stats & Information sent out this list for most home runs by a rookie in May:
Mark McGwire, 1987 -- 15
Wally Berger, 1930 -- 11
George Springer, 2014 -- 10
Jose Canseco, 1986 -- 10
Wally Joyner, 1986 -- 10
Bob Speake, 1955 -- 10
Walt Dropo, 1950 -- 10
Some good players. Berger was a star in the 1930s, a potential Hall of Famer until he injured his shoulder in 1936. Dropo led the AL in RBIs and total bases as a rookie with the Red Sox and hung for another decade. But who is Bob Speake? I'd never heard of him.
Speake was a 24-year-old rookie outfielder and first baseman for the Cubs. He'd hit .264 with 20 home runs for Des Moines in the Class A in 1954, but according to the book "162-0: Imagine the Perfect Cubs Season," Speake's "power stroke, though, caught manager Stan Hack's attention during spring training, and Speake made the final camp cuts and came north with the Cubs."
Speake didn't start a game in April, pinch-hitting in seven of the Cubs' 15 games that month. He finally started in left field on May 2. Apparently, at least according to a note in Sports Illustrated, Hank Sauer ate tainted shrimp and came down with food poisoning. Sounds suspicious to me. (Sauer was 38 but had hit 41 home runs the year before.) Anyway, Speake got his chance. He went 0-for-3 but hit a three-run triple the next day in a 6-0 win over the Giants and, after going 1-for-5, homered in three straight games. A first baseman in the minors, left field was now his (Hack would remove for defense late in games).
The left-handed hitter would go on to hit .282/.380/.716 in May with 10 home runs and 29 RBIs. In a Memorial Day doubleheader sweep of the Cardinals his home run was the difference in a 1-0 win in the first game. On May 30, he homered in both games of a doubleheader as the Cubs again swept the Cardinals. His home run in the 11th inning of the second game gave the Cubs a 4-3 win. He was hitting third in the lineup, while a second-year shortstop named Ernie Banks was hitting sixth. The Cubs were 27-17 and in second place, a surprising start considering they had gone 64-90 the year before.
It soon came crashing down, for both Speake and the Cubs.
He homered on June 3 -- but would hit just one more the rest of the season. He hit .149 in June and by the middle of the month was back on the bench. He hit .194 in July and .163 in August and started just two games in September. The Cubs would finish 72-81.
The next year, Speak played with Los Angeles of the Pacific Coast League. He made it back to the majors with the Cubs in 1957 and actually played regularly, hitting 16 home runs but just .232. He served as a pinch-hitter with the Giants in 1958 and was done after a few games in '59.
So it goes down as one of the great fluke months in history. One report on a Cubs message board said Speake had a blind spot in his swing and once word got around the league, that was it. A report from spring training in 1956 said Speake "is trying to mend a batting flaw."
But, hey, he has a baseball card and played long enough to earn the nickname "Spook." After his playing days he was in the bowling business in his native Springfield, Missouri, and then became executive vice president of an insurance company in Topeka, Kansas. At 83, he's still alive.