Bill Stein was an excellent player in the Major Leagues, but what I will remember him best for was having one of the finest mustaches in the history of the game. Varying from neatly trimmed to the slightly bushy walrus, Stein’s lip duster always stood out to me when I was growing up and came across one of his baseball cards.
The 1970’s and 1980’s were an era where the hair styles of players were a lot more flamboyant than they are now (see Oscar Gamble squashing a batting helmet down on his enormous afro), and while there was nothing wild about his appearance, Stein stood out to me for some reason.
Facial hair aside, Stein was one of the most versatile players in baseball during his career. He played every position on the field with the exception of catcher and pitcher. However, in the minor leagues, Stein did once pitch in a game. He recalled,
“That was at Tulsa in ’74 (**http://baseballhistorian.blogspot.com editorial note** this game actually took place in 1971). Warren Spahn was the manager. One of our pitchers got mad and threw a ball at the umpire. I was on the bench getting rest and Spahn yelled at me to go in and pitch. I gave up a three-run homer to Jeff Burroughs but after that I pitched okay. He, Spahn, played me up in the papers the next day and said he was going to make me one of his starters. I think he was just upset with his pitchers.”
Stein wound up pitching six innings in the game, giving up the three runs on Burroughs home run, but struck out six and walked none. The game was a testament to the versatility he displayed throughout his career.
Born in Michigan, Stein attended Southern Illinois University and was selected in the fourth round of the 1969 draft by St. Louis. He rocketed through the minors and made his debut with the Cardinals in 1972. Stein’s only season as a full time regular came in 1977 with the Mariners, and was it was also his best. He hit .259 in a 151 games with 13 home runs and 67 RBI, on a team that went 64-98.
Primarily an infielder, Stein played 14 seasons in the Major Leagues from 1972-1985 with the Cardinals, White Sox, Mariners, and Rangers. He was also renowned for his prowess as a pinch hitter, once equaling an American League record by getting hits in seven consecutive pinch-hit at bats. When he retired, Stein had produced a .267 average over 959 games with 44 home runs and 311 RBI. He was particularly productive against left-handed pitching, posting a .294 average over his 14 seasons. More statistical information can be found at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/steinbi02.shtml .
While Stein was never a full-time starter, much less a star, he was exactly the type of player that every good team needs. His willingness and ability to play any position at any time, and do it in an efficient manner, was a powerful tool for all of his teams. He undoubtedly saved them numerous times when it came to injuries and transitioning roster spots. He did it all with little fanfare, a lot of consistency, and always a great mustache!
Bill Stein Interview with http://baseballhistorian.blogspot.com :
How did you first get interested in baseball?: It was something I have done since I was very, very little. I picked up a ball and started throwing when I started walking. I actually didn’t start playing Little League until I was about 10. Back in the ‘50s we had neighborhood teams. I was born in Michigan, so we had neighborhood teams.
How did you end up as an infielder?: I guess in the amateur ranks, Little League and stuff, I was a shortstop and a pitcher. I progressed as I got a little older that is what I played. Mainly shortstop until I got to high school and then I played both short and second. Second base has always been my favorite position because I always enjoyed turning double plays.
How was Warren Spahn as a manager?: Well that was great because as a young boy I was a big collector of baseball cards and of course he was a super star back in his day. So that was great to go to Tulsa and play for Warren.
Do you have a favorite moment from your career?: In 1981 when I was with the Rangers I set an American League record for the most consecutive pinch hits. I had seven pinch hits in a row. I think somebody has possibly that now, but I am not sure. I don’t really keep up with that. The Major League record is eight, but the American League record in seven.
Your first Major League hit was a home run off Ken Reynolds. What was that like?: That was not the first game that I had played in the big leagues, that was in Philadelphia. I had actually struggled. I was like 0 for 4 and I got up at a good time, and he threw me a breaking ball. I hit one out to left-center in the old Philadelphia Stadium. That was memorable too. But I was 0 for 4 at the time, so…
Who was the most overrated or underrated player you played with or against?: I am not sure on overrated. I am going to have to think about that for a minute. Well I played for a long time so I have to think. I don’t really think anyone was overrated.
Did you have a favorite stadium or city?: My favorite stadium was Fenway Park in Boston. I seemed to do very well there (Stein hit .348 at Fenway for his career). The atmosphere there was outstanding and the fans were very, very knowledgeable. In fact I almost got traded to them one time, but for some reason the trade was mentioned, but never came through.
Were you ever involved in any strange plays during your career?: Yes, I was involved in a triple play once. It was with the Chicago White Sox. There was first and second and I was going to try and sacrifice them over. I bunted the ball a little bit in the air and the catcher dove and caught it and he threw two guys out. So I ended up bunting into a triple play.
What have you done since you stopped playing baseball?: When I retired, the gentleman that got the Rangers from Washington, DC to Arlington was Tom Vandergriff… He sort of recruited me to go into the car business. I trained for about a year, my last year in Triple A and I went into the car business as a lease manager and after a few years and then I went back into baseball as a minor league manager. I was with the New York Mets and the San Francisco Giants. I also worked for a hotel.
What do you think of baseball today compared to when you played?: There’s a few differences. And, yes I do follow it. I am a huge Texas Rangers fan… I watch them every night during the baseball season. We do go to some games. As far as the only difference, of course financially is a lot different than when I played. I played with guys like Bob Gibson and Fergie Jenkins and guys like that. When they went out there they pitched nine innings. They didn’t worry about set-up men or anything like that.
How many autograph requests do you get on average?: Probably, I would say 10 to 15 a month. I don’t mind doing it at all.