For a man whose career started as a 14-year-old breaker boy in the Pennsylvania coal mines—where he mucked through slag for 60 cents a day–Stan Coveleski sure came a long way. The Polish Prince was such a hard worker and endured so many hours underground he once said, “I got to thinking the sun only came out on Sundays.”
But the eventual Hall of Famer wouldn’t spend much more of his life in the dark. By the time he was 17, Stan was already following the footsteps of his five brothers, four of whom were in professional baseball at some level.
Coveleski started playing for a local team in Shamokin, PA and he quickly found his calling as a pitcher with pin-point control. The fact the fresh-faced kid they called “Covey” was so accurate on the mound was a surprise to no one. After all, he’d spent every morning of his childhood setting up tin cans on fence posts and knocking them down with stray stones.
“The plate’s a lot bigger than a tin can to throw at,” he said, “When it came to throwing a baseball, why, it was easy to pitch.”
The Polish Prince pitched only five games for the little team from Shamokin. That’s all it took for minor league scouts from the Lancaster club of the Tri State League to notice the kid’s talent. With a few flicks of the fountain pen, “Covey” signed a contract that would save him from the darkness of the coal mine forever.
After two and half seasons with the club from Lancaster, Coveleski was scooped up by Connie Mack, who watched the young rookie make his first major league start in a Philadelphia Athletics uniform in 1912. The result? A three-hit shutout and the youngster’s first-ever victory. But success wouldn’t last long for young Stan.
He endured a few up and down seasons in Philadelphia and became more well known as the brother of “Giant Killer” Harry Coveleski (who had beaten the NY Giants three times in one week during the 1908 season to stifle their attempt at a pennant) than for his own performance on the mound. Stanley found himself bouncing from club to club, even back down to the minors in the Pacific Coast League. But he eventually found a home in Cleveland in 1915, and his time in the PCL would prove to be his greatest asset.
It was during his time in the PCL Covey first witnessed a pitch that would change his career: the spit ball. Combined with Covelski’s control and smarts on the mound, the new pitch allowed him to do just about anything with a baseball.
From 1915-1928, Coveleski and his devastating spitter were utterly dominant on the mound. He won 216 games, struck out 972 batters, and recorded a lifetime 2.89 ERA.
In 1920, Covey registered one of the greatest World Series performances of all time. He led the Indians to a World Series championship by pitching in and winning three games. He allowed the Brooklyn Dodgers only two runs in 27 innings of work and posted a 0.67 World Series ERA, a record that still stands.
Coveleski endured even beyond Major League Baseball’s ban of the spitball after the 1920 season. He and 16 other established spitball pitchers were grandfathered in as having permission to continue throwing the pitch. This designation was pivotal in Covey’s career, allowing him to continue his dominance for another eight seasons, five of which he recorded 20 wins or more.
Stan Coveleski was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame (1969) by the Veteran’s Committee. Even after an illustrious career, he never lost sight of the dark mornings he spent tossing stones at tin cans and enjoying the relative simplicity of a coal miner’s life. They were years in stark contrast to the ones he spent traveling the country in pursuit of a child’s game, but they gave him the perspective he needed to endure.
“It’s tomorrow that counts (in baseball),” he said after retirement, “So you worry all the time. It never ends. Lord, baseball is a worrying thing.”