"Great fielding first basemen ... sakes alive!" Hall of Famer George Kelly once said. "There was only room for one guy at the top of the heap--the Prince!"
Kelly was talking about Harold Homer (Prince Hal) Chase, the best first-sacker of his era (1905-19). Chase played exceptionally deep but was so quick and instinctive that he often beat his catcher to foul balls behind the plate. Add to this his near .300 career average and his speed ("aside from Ty Cobb," said Babe Ruth, "he was the best baserunner I ever saw"), and the guy should be in Cooperstown. Right?
Actually, Garth Brooks is more worthy of the the Hall. For as Donald Dewey and Nicholas Acocella note in The Black Prince of Baseball (Sport Classic Books, 436 pages, $23.95), Chase was as skilled at throwing games as winning them. He was blackballed after the Black Sox scandal, leaving historians to wonder: Did he turn crooked because he couldn't get a fair shake from the owners? Or was he simply what his gangster pals would have called "a crum-bum"?
Dewey and Acocella leave no doubt: Chase was one of the crummiest bums ever shod in cleats. A teammate called him a kleptomaniac who couldn't pass a newsstand without stealing a bag of peanuts. He neglected his family, leaving them to fight off angry landlords while he enjoyed sex parties at a New York hotel. He even tried to blackmail famous evangelist Sister Aimee. Is there nothing that can be said in his defense? The authors--sympathetic but fair--concede that he was a liar, a cheater and "a louse." Hardly the kind of thing you read on a Hall of Fame plaque. --Charles Hirshberg