The New York Yankees have had a long history of great ball players coming from the San Francisco Bay Area. Players such as Joe DiMaggio and Billy Martin are just a small sample of the vast amount of talent from the Golden State that has done well in pinstripes. Hal Chase was one of the first to come from the Bay Area and make an impact for the Yankees, but not in a way which is looked upon fondly. Widely rumored to be conniving with known gamblers, Hal Chase’s exploits throughout the underworld of baseball became somewhat an open secret. Though he was never convicted in court, he was still blackballed by baseball. This is his story.
Harold Homer “Hal” Chase was born on February 13, 1883 in Los Gatos, California. After graduating from Los Gatos High School, he attended Santa Clara College where he played on the baseball team. He signed with the Los Angeles Angels of the Pacific Coast League in 1904 and later that year he signed with the New York Highlanders, who were going into their third year of existence.
Baseball and Gambling
As a rookie in 1905, Hal Chase collected 116 hits and three homeruns while averaging .249. He was even better the following year, collecting 193 hits and 76 RBI with a .323 batting average. Shortly before the 1907 season, Chase held out for more money and threatened to go to the California League.
Though the Highlanders raised his salary to the requested $4,000, Chase still insisted on playing in the California League during the offseason and did so for much of the remainder of his career. In an era before homeruns became the norm, Chase never hit more than four in any of his 8.5 seasons with the Highlanders/Yankees. He made his living by being dependable with his bat, never dipping under 2.49 while with the Highlanders.
Late in 1910, Hal Chase became the Highlander’s manager, serving in that role for two seasons. During those two years, the Highlanders went 88-63 in 1910 and 76-76 in 1911. After the 1911 season, Chase quit as the manager to focus solely on his playing career. In 1913, the Highlanders changed their name to the Yankees and after 39 games they traded Chase to the Chicago White Sox. He spent a total of 160 games with that club over two years, slamming two home runs during that time. Before the 1914 season, Chase signed with the Buffalo Blues of the Federal League.
While he was only with Buffalo for 220 games, Hal Chase had his greatest year in 1915, hitting 17 home runs (a phenomenal feat for that era) and driving in 89 scores. After that great year, he signed with the Cincinnati Reds in 1916. From the beginning of his time in Ohio, suspicion was mounting about Chase’s ties with known gamblers. In his first year in Cincinnati, he led the league with 184 hits and a .339 batting average. In 1917, he led the league with 602 at bats.
After batting .301 in 1918, Hal Chase’s time in Cincinnati came to a close when manager Christy Mathewson accused him of betting on baseball and fixing games. Due to these accusations, Chase was traded to the New York Giants. In his final year in the major leagues, he hit five home runs, drove in 45 scores and batted .284.
However, Hal Chase’s past soon caught up with him when a former player for the Chicago Cubs, Lee Magee, publicly accused Chase of betting on baseball. After several discussions behind closed doors, National League president John Heydler ordered Giants manager John McGraw to release Chase and Heinie Zimmerman (another player who was accused of betting on the game). Shortly after Hal Chase’s exit from the major leagues, he continued to gamble on the sport, attempting to bribe a Salt Lake Bees pitcher to lose a game to the Los Angeles Angels in a PCL game.
When the Black Sox Scandal took place in 1919 and Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis declared that gambling would no longer be tolerated in baseball, Hal Chase’s career in the major leagues was officially over. Hal Chase spent the rest of his life living in Arizona and California, working wherever he could for whatever little wages were offered. Hal Chase died on May 18, 1947 at the age of 64.