When he arrived in the big leagues as a teenager, Ty Cobb was mercilessly taunted by his Detroit Tiger teammates, something that alienated him from nearly everyone and helped plant the seeds of his loner attitude in the game. Ironically, Cobb reveled in the opportunity to tease rookies as he became a veteran in baseball. But once, a teammate halted the barbs from “The Georgia Peach.”
In 1912, when infielder Ossie Vitt joined the Tigers, Cobb rode him hard. Catcher Oscar Stanage stepped in, telling Cobb, “If you don’t stop razzing [him], I’ll punch you so hard, it’ll send you all the way back to Georgia.” Cobb ceased, and Vitt was free of the verbal abuse. Cobb may not have been afraid of Stanage, but he did respect the Tiger catcher, something Oscar had earned through hard work behind the plate for several years in a Detroit uniform.
Stanage was never a very good hitter, his career mark was .234, poor even by Deadball Era standards. But he was durable and a very good defensive catcher. In 1911, Stanage led the league with 212 assists, a record that still stands for catchers. In an era when teams frequently employed the hit-and-run and stole bases, Stanage was one of the best in baseball at shutting down the running game. He was renowned for being able to anticipate the hit-and-run play.
He was also pretty good at throwing out enemy baserunners. In 1910 he threw out 48% of runners attempting to steal a base, the next season when he played 141 games behind the dish, he threw out 156, or 47%. Even at the age of 37 in 1920, Stanage foiled baserunners by throwing out 47% in 88 tries.
In the Deadball Era most teams used two catchers in rotation, it was rare for a team to have one player catch more than 100 games. Stanage was one of the first catchers in the American League to play every day. In 1911 he caught 141 games, a record at that time. From 1911 to 1915, he caught over 100 more games than any other catcher in the league. For his durability and field leadership, “Big O” was admired by his teammates. So much so that in 1914, Tiger manager Hughie Jennings asked Stanage to be his pitching coach too. Later, Stanage served as a coach under Cobb, when Ty managed the team in the 1920s. Cobb had few close friends in baseball, but he trusted Stanage’s knowledge of pitchers and catchers.
Stanage suffered two injuries during the war-shortened 1918 season, and he never played full-time after that. His last full-season with the Tigers was in 1920, but even then he couldn’t leave the game as a player yet. He spent four seasons playing in the Pacific Coast League before returning to the bench for Cobb.
After his coaching career and a brief stint as a minor league skipper, Stanage took a job as a night watchman at Briggs Stadium in Detroit. He died in Highland Park in 1964 at the age of 81. His 1,095 games behind the plate were the most in franchise history at that time, but has since been surpassed by Bill Freehan.