Pictou Advocate sports

Baseball was Jack’s life

Sports

It was the first full day of summer and the weather couldn’t have been better. It was good to be alive, I thought as I headed home.

When I entered the apartment, I noticed the message light was flashing on the phone in the kitchen. I checked it out.

“This message,” the voice said, “is for Hugh Townsend and my name is Mike Stallings and I would love to talk to you about Coach.”

The caller’s surname and deep southern accent convinced me that he must be a relative of Jack Stallings. I hoped it wasn’t bad news. But it was.

I phoned back and, sure enough, Mike told me he’s Jack’s “second of three sons.” He quickly explained how he tracked me down.

His news: Jack had died in his sleep two nights earlier in Woodfield, Florida. He was 87 years old.

Jack Stallings?

If you aren’t old enough to remember the Stellarton Albions and the legendary Halifax and District Baseball League in the 1950s, you may not be familiar with the name.

Jack was a baseball guy through and through.

According to son Mike, “he loved the game” and was “special to the baseball community.”

Jack Stallings came to Nova Scotia initially in 1952 to play for the Truro Bearcats in the H&D league. He was 21 years old. Art Hoch, who played for Stellarton’s first league championships team the previous summer, was coaching the Bearcats.

Stallings was good — so good that after that campaign in Truro, he was signed by the Boston Red Sox.

He never got to try out for the Major League club. Following the 1952 season, he was diagnosed with polio.

His baseball went on hold.

Pictou County ball fans — even younger ones — probably know that Stellarton won the title again in ’52, and made it three in a row with another winner in 1953.

Slip ahead to 1956 and Stallings returned to the province — this time to Pictou County — to join the Albions, who by then were being coached by two-time batting champion Joe Fulgham.

If you were around back then, you’ll recall Jack had overcome the polio and was a smooth, hard-working infielder. I got to know him well because I was covering sport for the Evening News.

Following the ’56 season, the Albions and Fulgham parted ways. The replacement for 1957 was Jack Stallings. He coached and played that year.

Jump ahead again, this time to 1960.

The H&D league and its American imports were history, franchises folding because of the high operating costs.

In Pictou County, there was still a team called the Stellarton Albions — this time made up of local players. They were in a league that included the Westville Miners, New Glasgow Bombers and the North End Cardinals.

I was league secretary, working with Webb Cunningham, who had held major positions with the H&D Albions. In a move aimed at improving the level of play in the Twilight circuit, we decided to hire what we called a “floating coach,” someone who would work with the county’s four franchises.

We soon found our man — Jack Stallings.

He was head baseball coach at Wake Forest in North Carolina. He agreed to come to the county in late June, after the college ball was finished.

Why Jack?

To answer that, I refer to a yellowed clipping from the Chronicle Herald that quoted myself as saying we chose the North Carolina native, by then 29 years old, because “we felt he was a man who knows and loves baseball, has experience at coaching and handling players of all ages, and proved when he was here before that he is the ideal person for the job.”

From June to September, Stallings worked with the senior clubs and also helped youngsters in the local Little League programs.

Another old clipping I located the other day showed a Townsend photo of Stallings demonstrating a bunting stance during a clinic to five New Glasgow Little Leaguers, Allie Clarke, Francis MacDonald, Francis Tong, Barry Flynn and Colin Cameron.

An interesting thing happened in mid-summer. Jack’s Stellarton coach in 1956, Fulgham, had married a New Glasgow girl, Helen Murray, and they came back in 1960, with Joe offering a hand to his former infielder with the Twilight teams. It proved to be a nice player-coach reunion.

The floating coach idea worked well and I think a lot of local guys benefited, from senior down to the kids. Though the position lasted just one year, everyone seemed pleased that it was done that summer.

So where did Stallings go after that?

Well, he returned home to North Carolina in the fall and resumed coaching at Wake Forest.

What a career he had!

He coached at Wake Forest, Florida State University and Georgia Southern University — a tremendous run of 39 years, establishing one of the finest college records in the United States. He won more than 1,200 games with Division 1 schools.

One reference I found online shows him with a mark of 1,259 wins, 799 losses and 10 ties.

That’s not all.

He helped manage the United States national baseball team in 1970 and 1973. He was also an administrator for the U.S. Olympic team in 1984 and 1988.

During the phone conversation with Jack’s son the other afternoon, Mike said he had come to Stellarton when his dad was playing with the Albions. He was just four years old but one thing he recalls was the big white house where they stayed.

Mike had another bit of news — in recent years, Jack wrote two baseball books. In discussing his father’s love for the sport, he said “he never considered it work.”

Mike, who said the funeral was scheduled for this week, offered a parting comment about his dad. “He is in a better place now.”