It was a quick meeting with no small talk.
After the Tigers clinched the American League pennant with two weeks left in the 1968 season, manager Mayo Smith called Mickey Stanley into his office. He wanted his outfielder to play shortstop for the remainder of the season. Stanley responded with brevity: “Sure, skip.”
With that, the greatest gamble in World Series history was on the table. But it was only one example of Stanley’s versatility and value as a Tiger. In a career spent entirely with Detroit, Stanley proved to be the most useful player to ever wear the “Olde English D”.
To finish the loop on the story, for those of you too young to remember: Mickey played every game of the World Series against the St. Louis Cardinals, making just two errors, neither of which led to runs. More critically, Stanley’s unselfish move (he’d never played shortstop at any professional level) allowed Willie Horton, Jim Northrup, and Al Kaline to play in the outfield. All three made huge contributions to the Tiger victory in the Fall Classic.
Even before showing his athletic range by playing shortstop on the game’s greatest stage, Stanley was a valuable ballplayer. Like a Swiss Army Knife, Stanley had a tool for everything. Play first base? Sure. Can he play left, center, or right field, of course. As well as just about anyone. He had a great first step, a strong, accurate arm, and sure hands. He was a Gold Glove center fielder in 1968, 1969, 1970, and 1973. Over the course of three seasons (1968-1970), Stanley made a grand total of three errors in the outfield. Three errors in three years!
Need a pinch-hitter who makes contact? Mickey was your man. How about a pinch-runner? he was the strongest runner on the team in the 1960s and early 1970s. Later, in the mid and late 1970s, as a veteran, Stanley was a fourth outfielder, and even filled in at second base and third.
In fact, his teammates recognized his talents, even if he was never a superstar (or even an All-Star).
“We knew he could do it [play shortstop in the Series],” teammate Mickey Lolich said in a 2004 interview with this author. “He was the best athlete on the team.”
Stanley was a great athlete as a youngster in Grand Rapids, where he starred in every sport. In his 15 years as a Tiger he was always in great playing shape: slim-waisted, strong, quick, fit, healthy. In his mid-30s when injuries shelved Kaline for a while, Stanley set career-highs in games played, at-bats, hits, and home runs. Like a dutiful soldier, whenever he was called on, he answered the bell.
This isn’t Shane Halter we’re talking about here – a career utility player who played all nine positions in one game as a stunt – Stanley made a career out of being a jack of all trades, and a master of them all.