Nap Lojoie

When the best in major league baseball takes the field for the 2021 Major League Baseball All-Star game on Tuesday at Coors Field in Denver, none of the players will have Rhode Island roots. But it wasn’t always that way. Since the first official MLB All-Star game was played in Chicago in 1933, five players born in Rhode Island have graced the diamond as All-Stars. And one, probably the best baseball player to come out of Rhode Island, appeared in an “unofficial” all-star game long before the first official game was played.

Those five are among nearly 80 major leaguers who were born in Rhode Island, many of whom had wonderful careers, but were never selected to play in the MLB all-star game. 

The five All-Stars were: Gabby Harnett, Woonsocket; Clem Labine, Lincoln; Paul Konerko, Providence; Davey Lopes, East Providence; and Dave Stenhouse, Westerly.

Nap Lajoie of Woonsocket, the greatest player to come out of Rhode Island, had long retired in 1933 but played and managed in the Addie Joss Benefit Game on July 24, 1911.

The game was an exhibition between the Cleveland Naps (named Naps after Nap Lajoie) and an American League All-Star team to benefit the family of Addie Joss, a star Naps pitcher, who died in April 1911 of tubercular meningitis. The American League All-Stars won that game 5 to 3 in a full nine-inning game that lasted just one hour and 32 minutes. The game, played at League Park in Cleveland, attracted 15,272 fans, and raised $12,914 (nearly $360,000 in today’s dollars) for Joss’ widow and two children.

Nine of those who played in the game were later inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame, including Lajoie.

It took more than 20 years before the first official All Star game was played, an idea of Arch Ward, sports editor of the Chicago Tribune. It was intended to be a one-time event to boost morale during the Great Depression. Touted as the “Game of the Century,” it was played at Comiskey Park in Chicago on July 6, 1933, before an estimated 49,000 fans. The $45,000 in gate receipts went to a charity for disabled and needy major league players.

Babe Ruth played in that game, hitting the first All-Star game home run in the bottom of the third inning. Twenty of the game’s 36 All-Stars were later inducted into the Hall of Fame, along with both managers, five of six coaches, and two of four umpires.

Two of the Rhode Islanders who played in All Star games, Hartnett and Lajoie, were also inducted into the Hall of Fame. Here’s Rhode Island’s All Star lineup:

Charles Leo Hartnett, born December 20, 1900, in Woonsocket, the eldest of 14 children. The family moved to Millville, MA, just over the line from Woonsocket. He was signed by the Cubs for a $2,500 bonus, making it to the major leagues in 1922 as a backup. When the starting catcher, Bob O’Farrell, was injured in 1924, Gabby stepped in, hitting .299 with 16 home runs. He played his first game in the majors on April 22, 1921, and his last on Sept. 24, 1941. He was a member of the National League All Star Team in the inaugural game in 1933 and played in five more during his career. He was National League Most Valuable Player in 1935. Over his 19-year Major League career, Hartnett batted .297 with 236 home runs. It was said his obituary that “Old Tomato Face’ they called him. His last game long since played, but his love of baseball undiminished to the end. … As man and player … Rhode Island can be proud to call him a native son.” 

Paul Konerko, born March 5, 1976, in Providence. He attended Chaparral High School in Scottsdale, Arizona, from which he was drafted in the first round by the Los Angeles Dodgers. He played briefly for the Dodgers, but spent most of his 18-year major league career with the Chicago White Sox, where he batted a career .279 average with 439 home runs and 1,412 runs batted in. He primarily played first base and designated hitter. He was named to the All-Star team six times, finished sixth in most valuable player voting in 2006, and was co-winner in 2014 of the Roberto Clemente Award, exemplifying the best in the game of baseball. Konerko is married and he and his wife have three children.  

Clem Labine was a relief pitcher (although he did start 38 games during his 14-year major league career) best known for his years with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He was born on Aug. 6, 1926, in Lincoln, and was a product of Woonsocket High School, where he played football, hockey, and baseball. His major league debut was on April 18, 1950, and final game April 24, 1962. He began his professional baseball career at the age of 17, but when World War II broke out, he volunteered for the paratroopers. Labine returned to baseball late in the 1946 season. He was considered among baseball’s first closers. Labine appeared in two All Star games, recording 13 wins in 1955, 19 saves the following year, and 17 saves in 1957. In 13 years in the National League, he recorded an earned run average of 3.52 and in one year in the American League, a 5.11 earned run average. Labine died on March 2, 2007, in Vero Beach, Florida, after suffering two strokes while hospitalized with pneumonia and subsequent brain surgery.

Davey Lopes, a second baseman and outfielder, was born in East Providence on May 3, 1945, and attended La Salle Academy in Providence, before attending Iowa Wesleyan College and Washburn University. He was a second-round draft pick of the Los Angeles Dodgers in 1968 and played his first major league game on Sept. 22, 1972, at the age of 27. He played in the majors for 15 years, retiring at age 42 after playing his final game on Oct. 4, 1987. He was a four-time All Star, won a gold glove, two stolen base titles and set a major league record for consecutive stolen bases without being caught. Besides his playing career, he spent about 12 years as a major league coach, and three years as manager of the Milwaukee Brewers. For his career, he compiled a .263 batting average and stole 557 bases. 

Dave Stenhouse was born in Westerly on Sept. 12, 1933. He attended Westerly High School and the University of Rhode Island. He made his major league debut with the Washington Senators on April 18, 1962, at the age of 28. He was originally signed by the Chicago Cubs, spending four years in the Cubs minor league system before moving to the Cincinnati Reds, where he spent another two years in the minors. In 1961 he was traded to the Senators and the next year (1962) became the workhorse for the Senators’ starting pitching staff, recording most starts, most innings, and most wins. He was named an all-star in 1962. Stenhouse’s major league career lasted only three years, curtailed by injuries. He coached at Rhode Island College and at Brown University from 1981 to 1990. He’s the father of Mike Stenhouse and Dave Stenhouse, Jr., both of whom also played professional baseball.

Napoleon Lajoie was born Sept. 5,1874 in Woonsocket. Lajoie was considered among the best second basemen of all time and among “the greatest all-around players of the Deadball era.” He led the league in putouts five times, assists three times, double plays five times, and fielding percentage four times, according to MLB records. At the plate he won four batting titles in his 21-year career, including a .426 mark in 1901 when he won the first triple crown in American League history. He had a career .338 batting average. In an article for Baseball Research, it was said that “Lajoie swung so hard and met the ball with such force that on three separate occasions in1989 he managed to literally tear the cover off the ball.” His career was as colorful off the field as on it, squabbling with umpires, serving for several years as a player/manager, bolting from one league to another over a salary squabble. Lajoie was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1937. His biography at the Hall of Fame quoted the legendary Cy Young: “Lajoie was one of the most rugged hitters I ever faced. He’d take your leg off with a line drive, turn the third baseman around like a swinging door, and powder the hand of the left fielder.” 

Frank Prosnitz

Frank Prosnitz brings to WhatsUpNewp several years in journalism, including 10 as editor of the Providence (RI) Business News and 14 years as a reporter and bureau manager at the Providence (RI) Journal....