Santa Cruz County History - Recreation & Sports

Heroes and Villains: Santa Cruz County Produced Baseball Stars and Baseball Scandals
by Jim Johnson

One died a well-respected Hall of Famer. The other died alone and full of regret. Both were major league baseball stars. Both called Santa Cruz County home.

Harry Hooper and Hal Chase played America's game during a time the sport endured great change and turmoil, and both played with and against some of the greatest stars of the time. Ty Cobb, Honus Wagner, Tris Speaker, Christy Mathewson, Walter Johnson and Babe Ruth were the stars of the era.

Harry Hooper

Hooper was born in the Santa Clara Valley in 1887, the son of a farmer. His first real contact with baseball as a child came on a summer trip with his mother to her home state of Pennsylvania. There, playing all summer with his cousins and their friends, Harry discovered baseball. It was there that his Uncle Mack Zindel took him to his first professional baseball game and gave him his first bat, ball and well-worn fielder's glove.

Hooper's interest in the game continued when he attended the high school attached to St. Mary's College in Oakland. Though he was a bright student and serious about his studies, Hooper said later he was most thrilled about attending St. Mary's "not because I was particularly interested in getting an education, but because I knew I'd have a chance to play baseball."

Hooper went on to earn his baccalaureate degree and the attention of professional baseball scouts with his stellar play on the college's baseball team, the Phoenix.

Meanwhile, Hooper's parents had retired from their farm, leaving it to Harry's brothers, and moved to Capitola. It was while visiting his parents that Hooper played with the Soquel Giants on weekends.

After graduating from St. Marys in 1907, Hooper signed on with the Sacramento Senators of the Pacific Coast League. Part of his first contract included a job as a surveyor for a railroad company.

It was in Sacramento where Hooper's talents on the ball field came to the attention of Boston Red Sox owner John Taylor. After seeing Hooper play, Taylor offered the young surveyor-baseball player a contract for $2,800 to play for the Red Sox.

Hooper began his major league career in 1909. Early in his career, Hooper began to keep a diary of life on the road in pro baseball.

Left Capitola on the 11:20 a.m. train," read the entry for February 27, 1909, as Hooper headed for his first spring training with the Red Sox. "President Taft sees game," Hooper wrote for April 19. "Got hit off Johnson which scored the winning run," Hooper wrote on June 28, recording a game-winning hit against future Hall of Famer Walter "Big Train" Johnson.

In Boston, Hooper played in the only all-Hall of Fame outfield in major league history. With the great center fielder Tris Speaker and left fielder Duffy Lewis, Hooper became one of the games' brightest stars. Hooper was noted for his brilliant defense and leadership abilities on a Boston squad that won four American League pennants and three World Championships.

The Soquel Giants.
The Soquel Giants.
Hooper is the man in the photo wearing a white hat.

Hooper would often visit his parents in Capitola and played baseball with the Soquel Giants during his visits.

During his glory days with the Red Sox, Hooper had a young teammate named George Herman Ruth, a talented left-handed pitcher. It was Hooper who cajoled Boston manager Ed Barrow into making Ruth an outfielder so Ruth could better use his prodigious batting ability.

In 1920, Ruth was sold to the New York Yankees where he became known as the "Babe" and developed into the game's greatest star of the time.

It was also in 1920 when Hooper was traded to the Chicago White Sox, whose owner Charles Comiskey was looking for players with squeaky clean images after the 1919 Black Sox scandal. Eight players on Comiskey's White Sox team were accused of throwing the World Series in exchange for cash and were banished from baseball for life, ending the sport's brief brush with innocence.

After five seasons with the White Sox, Hooper retired from major league baseball. In retirement, Hooper came back to Capitola and continued playing baseball into his 40s. Hooper also served as Capitola's postmaster for 25 years.

In 1971, at the age of 84, Hooper was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame. Three years later, he died.

Prince Hal

Another major leaguer had preceeded Hooper from the Soquel Giants to the major leagues. And, though he was every bit as talented, things didn't work out nearly as well for him.

Hal Chase, who was born in 1883 and grew up on his father's sawmill in the Santa Cruz Mountains above Soquel, played his first professional baseball with the Giants and other teams all over the Santa Cruz and Santa Clara Valley area.

After a few seasons in the minor leagues, Chase was signed by the New York Yankees. A marvelous fielder, who set the standard for decades after him, and a solid hitter, Chase became one of the game's most popular stars and was dubbed "Prince Hal."

But Chase also became one of the game's biggest headaches. He had a reputation for chafing under the authority of baseball's owners and managers. Occasionally, during contract disputes or personal squabbles, Chase would bolt from the Yankees and play parts of seasons with California League teams.

Chase also acquired a reputation for consorting with gamblers, who were as much baseball as peanuts and cracker-jack during the early part of the century. He was accused by three different managers of throwing games and intentionally making errors for money. Fans took to shouting, "What's the odds" when Chase took the field.

Eventually, Chase's antics got him suspended, then tossed out of major league baseball. Chase was finally blackballed for life after being accused of helping fix the infamous 1919 World Series. Chase allegedly served as liaison between former major league pitcher Bill Burns and New York gambling giant Abe Rothstein, who set up the swindle, then cashed in on it by betting against the White Sox.

Banished from baseball, Chase began traveling through California, Arizona and Mexico, playing for local teams anywhere he could. An alcoholic, Chase contracted beriberi and died in 1947 at the age of 64.

Alone and forlorn on his deathbed, Chase admitted knowing about the 1919 Black Sox scandal in advance but denied making any money on it. Chase expressed regret at the way his career turned out.

"You will note that I am not in the Hall of Fame," Chase reportedly said. "I am an outcast and I haven't a good name. I'm the loser, just like all gamblers are. ... I'd give anything to start over."

This article was published in The Mid-County Post, March 4-17, 1997. Text Copyright 1997 The Mid-County Post. Reproduced by permission of the author and the Mid-County Post. Photograph copyright The McPherson Center. Photograph courtesy of the Paul Johnson Collection. Museum of Art and History at The McPherson Center, 705 Front Street, Santa Cruz, California

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