For a month in 1931, Detroit’s Stone couldn’t be stopped at the plate

Outfielder John Stone hit .310 in an 11-year career in the 1920s and 1930s, six of which were spent with the Detroit Tigers.

You could be forgiven for not knowing who John Stone was. Not only did he have a common everyman name, he also played his last game for the Detroit Tigers 79 years ago. Also, even though he was a good ballplayer who batted well over .300 in Tiger wools, Stone is easily forgotten even by the most ardent sports historians. His biggest claim to fame is that he was the guy traded to Washington to get Goose Goslin.

There are still Detroiters who recall Goose and his game-winning hit in the 1935 World Series, but you’d be hard pressed to find anyone who could tell you about John Thomas Stone, the hard-hitting boy from the hills of Tennessee who was known as “Rocky.” But he was thought highly enough of that he was dealt one-for-one for a future Hall of Famer.

Stone was signed by the Tigers out of Maryville College in 1928, and at that point the 22-year old was already major league worthy with the lumber. In a September call-up to Detroit that season, the left-handed hitting outfielder punished American League pitchers to the tune of .354 in 26 games. He got his hits in bunches – banging out 14 multi-hit games, including five in a row against the A’s, Red Sox, and Yankees. On September 21, he smacked a home run and three singles off Philadelphia ace Lefty Grove, the best pitcher in the world. AL hurlers were quickly learning who Stone was.

But in the 1920s the Tigers had a stable full of .300-hitting outfielders ad Stone had a tough time getting at-bats the following season. The team featured Harry Heilmann, Bob Fothergill, Roy Johnson, and Harry Rice, all of whom had career batting marks well over .300 or in the upper .290’s in the case of the latter duo. Stone spent much of the year in the minors at Toronto where he pelted International League hurlers for a .329 mark. In 1930 there would be no keeping Stone out of the Detroit lineup. That season he hit .311 while playing left field and filling in some in center also. A likable man, Stone was popular with his teammates, and he and first baseman Dale “Moose” Alexander, who was also from Tennessee, were good friends and roommates.

In 1931, Stone had his best season in a Tiger uniform, and for a month he was as hot as any Detroit batter has ever been for that long a stretch. John hit .352 in May but slumped in June and July. His season average was just above .300 on July 29 when the Tigers took on the Red Sox at Fenway Park in a doubleheader. In the second game, Stone banged out two singles in the Tigs 8-6 win. He collected hits in his next two games and then really took off, stringing together four straight multi-hit games and seven in eight games. Over that eight-game stretch, Stone was 19-for-34 (.559) with 15 singles, three doubles, and a triple. But he wasn’t done. Stone had two hits on August 18 at Navin Field against the Yankees, including the game-winner. He smacked seven hits in three games against the Red Sox, including his first four-RBI game. Stone was getting on base at a feverish pace, both via hit and walk. Batting third in the Detroit lineup in front of Alexander, Stone ran his hitting streak to 20 games on August 22 with three hits. In 13 of the 20 games he had at least two hits, and he reached base at least three times in 12 of the 20 contests. His offensive outburst was helping the team too, as Detroit won 12 of the 20 games and averaged just under 6.5 runs per game during his streak.

On August 27, Stone had three hits in the Tigers 9-4 drubbing of the Chicago White Sox as he pushed his hitting streak to 25 games. It was now tied for the fourth longest hitting streak in Tigers history. Only Ty Cobb (40 and 35 games in 1911 and 1917) and his buddy Alexander (29 games in 1930) had hit in more consecutive games as a Tiger than Stone. Two days later, two Chicago hurlers, including future Hall of Famer Red Faber, shackled Stone for 0-for-5 and the streak was over. Incredibly, in a 12-inning marathon the next day, Stone was hitless again despite coming to the plate seven times.

During his four-week romp, Stone was red-hot, hitting an amazing .442 with 46 hits in 25 games while driving in 21 runs and scoring 20 more. Primarily a singles hitter, Stone had 34 of them during the streak to go along with nine doubles and three triples. He posted a slugging percentage of .587 and got on base 50% of the time. His mark of 1.84 hits per game during the streak is only surpassed by one other Detroit batter in a streak of at least 20 games (Cobb during his 40-gamer in 1911).

Stone hit an even .400 for the month of August and then hit .330 in September on his way to a .327 mark for the season. He especially loved to hit at Navin Field in front of the Detroit fans. In ’31 the left-hander batted a blistering .378 with 113 hits in 76 home games, as opposed to .274 with 78 hits in 71 games on the road.

The man they called Rocky saw his production slip the next two seasons and then he was shipped to the Senators straight-up for Goslin after the ’33 season. Washington owner Clark Griffith made the deal to get younger (Stone was five years younger than Goose), and it worked out well for both clubs. The Tigers won back-to-back pennants and a World Series title with Goslin’s RBI bat in the middle of their lineup, and Stone hit .317 in five seasons for the Nats. In 1936 he hit a career-high .341 and the following year he batted .330 for Washington. In 1938 he was hitting just .244 in mid-June when he got sick. He lost 15 pounds in two weeks and was hospitalized. He apparently contracted tuberculosis, but whatever he had he missed the rest of the season. He tried to come back in 1939 but he was not the same. Stone never played professional baseball again, returning to Tennessee, where he died in 1955 at the age of 50.

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