Tris Speaker, in full Tristram E. Speaker, also called the Gray Eagle or Spoke (born April 4, 1888, Hubbard, Texas, U.S., died Dec. 8, 1958, Lake Whitney, Texas), American professional baseball player and manager who spent his 22-year career (1907–28) primarily with the Boston Red Sox and the Cleveland Indians. Speaker and Ty Cobb are generally considered the two greatest players of this period.
Speaker was perhaps the best center fielder ever to play baseball. His speed allowed him to play a shallow centre field, which enabled him to catch many balls that would otherwise have been hits. His strong and accurate throwing arm prevented runners from taking an extra base, and he turned a record 139 double plays from the outfield over the course of his career. Speaker also holds the all-time career record for assists by an outfielder with 449. Today, he is best remembered for his defense, but the left-handed-batting Speaker was also one of major league baseball’s all-time great hitters. His .345 lifetime batting average is the fourth-best in the game. He also had 3,514 career hits—the fifth highest total by a major leaguer—and he recorded 200 or more hits in a season four times. Speaker’s 792 doubles are the most in baseball history. Amazingly, he struck out only 220 times during his entire career.
The durable Speaker played in more than 100 games for 19 consecutive seasons. He began his career with the Boston Red Sox, whom he led to World Series championships in 1912 and 1915. In 1912, he won the Chalmers Award, the equivalent of today’s Most Valuable Player. Speaker was traded to the Cleveland Indians in 1916 and was the Indians’ player-manager between 1919 and 1926, a tenure that included a World Series championship in 1920. Speaker spent his last two seasons playing for the Washington Senators and then the Philadelphia Athletics. He was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame In Cooperstown, NY in 1937.
In 1947, Speaker returned to baseball as “ambassador of goodwill” for Bill Veeck and the Cleveland Indians. He remained in advisory, coaching, or scouting roles for the Indians until his death in 1958. In an article in the July 1952 issue of SPORT, Speaker recounted how Veeck hired him in 1947 to be a coaching consultant to Larry Doby, the first black player in the AL and the second in the major leagues. Before the Indians had signed Doby, he was the star second baseman of the Newark Eagles of the Negro Leagues. A SPORT photograph that accompanied the article shows Speaker mentoring five members of the Indians: Luke Easter, Jim Hegan, Ray Boone, Al Rosen and Doby. Speaker was inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame in 1951. Texas was the first state to establish a state sports hall of fame and Speaker was in its inaugural induction class.
Speaker died of a heart attack on December 8, 1958, at the age of 70, at Lake Whitney, Texas. He collapsed as he and a friend were pulling their boat into the dock after a fishing trip. It was his second heart attack in four years. Speaker was buried at Fairview Cemetery in Hubbard, Texas.