It is one thing to be an outstanding pitcher during the regular season.
However, when a pitcher excels during the playoffs or World Series, given the importance of the games, his performance is even more significant.
Over a 14-year major league career, nine years with the Cleveland Indians, Stan Coveleski was an excellent pitcher.
Yet, his three complete game victories in the 1920 World Series, helping Cleveland win its first World Series championship, are what make Coveleski an even greater pitcher in baseball history.
Nicknamed “Covey” and “The Big Pole”, Coveleski is a member of the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Born today (July 13) in 1889 was Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski and star of the 1920 World Series as Cleveland topped Brooklyn. He pitched and won 3 complete games in the series, allowing just 2 runs (for a record 0.67 ERA) including the clinching Game 7, a shutout at League Park! pic.twitter.com/5l7adrajWB
— League Park (@LeagueParkCle) July 13, 2021
We take a look at the life of Stan Coveleski – before, during, and after his major league baseball career.
The Early Years Before Major League Baseball (1889-1912)
Stanislaus Anthony Kowalewski was born in Shamokin, Pennsylvania on July 13, 1889.
— Today in History 🏛⛩🗼🗽📅 (@date_facts_MR) July 13, 2021
When “Kowalewski” entered organized baseball, he used the last name, “Coveleskie”, which he used throughout his major league baseball career.
You may know this Hall of Famer by this name "Stan Coveleski" but his birth certificate reads "Stanislaus Kowalewski" pic.twitter.com/AYf7eok54l
— Baseball Photos (@Baseball_Photos) August 31, 2014
After his retirement from the major leagues, he dropped the last “e” in his last name and became “Coveleski”.
Shamokin is located in east central Pennsylvania.
When Coveleski grew up there, Shamokin had a population of approximately 14,000 to 19,000 people.
Coveleski’s parents, Anthony Kowalewski and Ann (Racicz) Kowalewski, had come to the United States from Russian Poland in the 1870s.
Anthony was a coal miner.
Coveleski was one of eight children.
His older brother, Harry, pitched in the major leagues for the Philadelphia Phillies (from 1907 to 1909), the Cincinnati Reds (in 1910), and the Detroit Tigers (from 1914 to 1918).
When he was 12 years old, Coveleski started working as a “breaker boy” (sorting impurities from coal by hand) for a mining company.
“There was nothing strange in those days about a 12-year-old Polish kid working in the mines for 72 hours a week at a nickel an hour. What was strange is that I ever got out of there.”
While Coveleski worked during the day, he developed his pitching skill at night.
He would throw stones at a tin can that was 50 feet away.
Coveleski was invited to pitch for a local semi-pro baseball team in Shamokin.
He was paid $5 for every game he completed.
“The plate’s a lot bigger than a tin can to throw at. When it came to throwing a baseball, why, it was easy to pitch.”
After pitching only five games for the semi-pro team in Shamokin, Coveleski impressed the minor league scouts for the Lancaster Red Roses (from Lancaster, Pennsylvania) in the Class B Tri-State League, and they wanted to sign him.
Coveleski initially was reluctant to sign with Lancaster, but agreed to do so when the team agreed to sign his older brother, John.
Lancaster paid Coveleski $250 per month.
In his first season with Lancaster, in 1909, Coveleski had a 23-11 record, with an earned run average of 1.95.
His pitching helped Lancaster win the 1909 Tri-State League title.
With Lancaster, Coveleski posted records of 15-8 in 1910 (with an earned run average of 2.01) and 15-19 in 1911 (with an earned run average of 2.81).
In 1912, Coveleski transferred to the Atlantic City Lanks in the Tri-State League.
He had another fine season with the Lanks, compiling a 20-14 record, with a 2.53 earned run average.
Future National Baseball Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack signed Coveleski to a contract with the Philadelphia Athletics in September, 1912.
Coveleski was headed to his first major league team.
The Major League Baseball Years (1912–1928)
With the Athletics, Coveleski’s first major league experience turned out to be a short one.
In his major league debut, on September 10, 1912, Coveleski pitched a scoreless inning, allowing no hits and one walk, in an 8-6 Athletics loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Two days later, on September 12, 1912, in his first major league start, Coveleski pitched a shutout, as Philadelphia defeated the Tigers 3-0.
Coveleski allowed three hits and one walk.
For the 1912 season, Coveleski had a 2-1 record, with a 3.43 earned run average.
Philadelphia had a 90-62 record in 1912, finishing in third place in the American League.
Coveleski failed to make the major league roster with the Athletics in 1913.
Instead, he was sent to the Spokane Indians in the Class B Northwestern League.
In 1913, with Spokane, Coveleski posted a 17-20 record, with a 2.82 earned run average.
Coveleski also was with Spokane for the 1914 season.
He compiled a 20-15 record (there is no earned run average information available for Coveleski’s 1914 season).
After the 1914 season, Spokane traded Coveleski, in exchange for five players, to the Portland Beavers (from Portland, Oregon) in the Class AA Pacific Coast League.
With Portland in 1915, Coveleski had a 17-17 record, with a 2.67 earned run average.
Coveleski’s year in Portland was important in his career because he developed a new pitch – the spitball (which was then legal) – while he was there.
He initially used tobacco juice and later used alum (which he would keep in his mouth until it became gummy) for his spitball.
He would wet his first two fingers in throwing the spitball.
Varying based on his wrist action, Coveleski’s spitball would break alternatively down, out, or down and out.
“I wouldn’t throw all spitballs. I’d go maybe two or three innings without throwing a spitter, but I always had them looking for it.”
In addition to the spitball, Coveleski (a right-handed pitcher) threw a fastball, a curveball, and a slowball.
Before the 1916 season, the Cleveland Indians purchased Coveleski’s contract from Portland, and Coveleski was headed back to the major leagues.
Coveleski’s second stint in the major leagues lasted much longer than his first major league experience with Philadelphia.
Cleveland had intended to use Coveleski as a relief pitcher, but after an injury to pitcher Ed Klepfer, the Indians also extensively used Coveleski as a starting pitcher in 1916 (he ended up starting 27 games).
In his first start for Cleveland, Coveleski pitched all 12 innings, allowing 13 hits and two walks, in a 3-1 Indians loss to the Detroit Tigers on April 17, 1916.
Coveleski recorded his first win for Cleveland, in a 5-3 Indians victory over the Chicago White Sox on April 26, 1916.
In eight innings, he allowed two runs, nine hits, and one walk.
On May 30, 1916, Coveleski hit the only home run of his major league career, in a 5-4 Indians loss to the St. Louis Browns in 15 innings.
In 1916, Coveleski (playing at a height of five feet and 11 inches and a weight of 166 pounds) had a 15-13 record, with a 3.41 earned run average, for the Indians.
He ranked ninth in the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (2.25).
Cleveland finished in sixth place in the American League in 1916, with a 77-77 record.
In 1917, Coveleski evidenced that he was the best starting pitcher for the Indians when he was the team’s “Opening Day” starting pitcher against the Detroit Tigers on April 11, 1917.
Pitching a complete game, Coveleski allowed eight hits and two walks, as Cleveland defeated Detroit 6-4.
Coveleski led the American League in pitching nine shutouts in 1917 – 4-0 against the St. Louis Browns on April 15, 1917 (Coveleski allowed five hits and two walks), 2-0 against the Washington Senators on May 13, 1917 (Coveleski allowed five hits and three walks), 2-0 against the New York Yankees on May 24, 1917 (Coveleski allowed four hits and five walks), 1-0 in 10 innings against the Detroit Tigers on May 29, 1917 (Coveleski allowed seven hits and two walks), 2-0 against the New York Yankees on June 9, 1917 (Coveleski allowed five hits and three walks), 3-0 against the Washington Senators on July 11, 1917 (Coveleski allowed four hits and three walks), 1-0 against the Detroit Tigers on August 31, 1917 (Coveleski allowed six hits and three walks), 1-0 against the Tigers on September 11, 1917 (Coveleski allowed three hits and four walks), and 2-0 against the New York Yankees on September 19, 1917 (Coveleski allowed only one hit and two walks).
In 1917, Coveleski posted a 19-14 record, with a 1.81 earned run average (third in the American League).
He led the American League in fewest hits allowed per nine innings pitched (6.094) and ranked sixth in the American League in most strikeouts per nine innings pitched (4.012).
The Indians had an 88-66 record and finished in third place in the American League in 1917.
On May 24, 1918, Coveleski pitched all 19 innings of a 3-2 Cleveland win over the New York Yankees.
He allowed 12 hits and six walks over the 19 innings.
Coveleski won 20 games for the first time in his major league career in 1918.
On August 23, 1918, Coveleski won his 20th game in 1918, as the Indians defeated the Washington Senators 6-2 (in seven innings, Coveleski allowed two runs, nine hits, and two walks).
In 1918, Coveleski compiled a 22-13 record, with a 1.82 earned run average (second in the American League).
OTD IN TRIBE HISTORY- circa – 1918: Stan Coveleski, the 4th winningest pitcher in franchise history and mound star of 1920 WS Champion Indians, tossed a 19-inning CG to beat NY 3-2. The HOFer won 20Gs four straight seasons (1918-‘21). pic.twitter.com/Lt1MLtBbFJ
— Bob DiBiasio (@BDbaseball6) May 24, 2018
Coveleski could have won even more games, but the 1918 baseball season was shortened because of World War I.
He ranked eighth in the American League in fewest hits allowed per nine innings pitched (7.553) and seventh in the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (2.199) in 1918.
With a 73-54 record, in 1918, Cleveland finished in second place in the American League.
Coveleski, with a 24-12 record, had another 20-win season in 1919.
He had a 2.61 earned run average (seventh in the American League).
In 1919, Coveleski ranked tied for seventh in the American League in shutouts (four) and fifth in the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (1.888).
The Indians had an 84-55 record in 1919 and finished in second place in the American League.
1920 began as another excellent season for Coveleski.
He won his first seven decisions and had an 8-2 record as of May 28, 1920.
However, on May 28, Coveleski’s wife of seven years, Mary Stivetts, died.
Coveleski left Cleveland to grieve with his family, not returning to the team until June 4.
On June 10, 1920, Coveleski earned his first win after his wife’s death, in a 7-2 Indians victory over the Philadelphia Athletics.
Pitching a complete game, Coveleski allowed seven hits and one walk.
During a key seven-game winning steak for Cleveland from September 15, 1920 to September 21, 1920 that moved the Indians from second place to first place (a position that they did not thereafter relinquish in 1920) in the American League, Coveleski had two wins.
First, on September 17, 1920, in a 9-3 Cleveland win over the Washington Senators, Coveleski pitched a complete game, allowing seven hits and two walks.
Second, on September 21, 1920, Coveleski allowed one run and seven hits over eight innings, as the Indians defeated the Boston Red Sox 12-1.
For the 1920 regular season, Coveleski posted a 24-14 record, with a 2.49 earned run average (second in the American League).
He led the American League in fewest hits allowed per nine innings pitched (8.114), and ranked tied for seventh in the American League in shutouts (three), second in the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (1.857), and sixth in the American League in strikeouts per nine innings pitched (3.8), in 1920.
Coveleski also, for the only time in his career, led the American League in strikeouts (133) in 1920.
“I was never a strikeout pitcher. Why should I throw eight or nine balls to get a man out when I got away with three or four?”.
While the spitball was outlawed by baseball in 1920, Coveleski and 16 other pitchers were “grandfathered” from the new rule and allowed to continue to throw it.
In describing Coveleski’s spitball, Indians teammate and future National Baseball Hall of Fame infielder Joe Sewell stated:
“I’ve seen [Coveleski] throw that spitball to a right-handed hitter, and he’d fall to the ground and that ball would break over the plate. It would break from your head down to the ground, like hitting a butterfly.”
With a 98-56 record, Cleveland won its first American League pennant in 1920.
The Indians finished two games ahead of the Chicago White Sox and three games ahead of the New York Yankees in 1920.
Cleveland advanced to the 1920 World Series against the Brooklyn Robins.
In the opening game of the 1920 World Series, on October 5, 1920, Coveleski was the winning pitcher, in a 3-1 Cleveland victory over the Robins.
Coveleski pitched a complete game and allowed five hits and one walk.
After Brooklyn won the second and third games of the 1920 World Series, Coveleski, pitching on three days’ rest, again was the winning pitcher for the Indians in game four of the 1920 World Series on October 9, 1920.
For the second consecutive game, Coveleski pitched nine innings and allowed five hits and one walk, as the Indians defeated Brooklyn 5-1.
Cleveland also won games five and six of the 1920 World Series, giving the Indians a four games to two games lead over the Robins heading into Coveleski’s next start in game seven of the 1920 World Series on October 12, 1920.
Pitching on only two days’ rest, Coveleski threw a shutout, in a 3-0 Cleveland win over the Robins that clinched (the World Series was then a “best of nine games” championship, such that a team needed to win five games) the first World Series championship for Cleveland.
In his third consecutive complete game performance, Coveleski allowed five hits.
It was one of the best pitching performances in World Series history – three starts, three wins, and three complete games.
Coveleski had an outstanding earned run average of 0.67 (allowing two runs in 27 innings), with only 15 hits and two walks allowed.
This day in 1920, Cleveland captured the franchise's first title in a 3-0 win. Over the course of the last three games, Cleveland held Brooklyn to 1 run! pic.twitter.com/1fGTxU1gCp
— Jeremy Feador (@jfeador) October 12, 2020
Future National Baseball Hall of Famer Zack Wheat had only three hits (two singles and one double) in 12 at bats against Coveleski in the 1920 World Series.
Two of Coveleski’s wins in the 1920 World Series came against other future National Baseball Hall of Famers – Rube Marquard (in game one) and Burleigh Grimes (in game seven).
League Park. Cleveland, Oct 12, 1920 – In Game 7 of 1920 World Series, Indians' Steve O'Neil is caught in run down against Brooklyn after hurler Stan Coveleski's failed effort to bunt him over to 3rd base. But the 7th inning gaffe wasn't costly as Tribe won 3-0 to take the series pic.twitter.com/9pIlNaBUGZ
— Old-Time Baseball Photos (@OTBaseballPhoto) July 15, 2019
While 1920 was Coveleski’s most significant season with Cleveland, he pitched for four more years with the Indians.
In 1921, Coveleski compiled a 23-13 record, winning 20 games for the fourth consecutive year.
He had an earned run average of 3.37 (sixth in the American League).
Coveleski ranked tied for ninth in the American League in shutouts (2) in 1921.
The Indians had a 94-60 record in 1921, finishing in second place in the American League.
Coveleski had a 17-14 record, with a 3.32 earned run average (10th in the American League), in 1922.
He ranked tied for seventh in the American League in shutouts (three) and eighth in the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (2.082).
In 1922, Cleveland had a 78-76 record and finished in fourth place in the American League.
Covaleski led the American League with a 2.76 earned run average in 1923.
He posted a 13-14 record.
In 1923, Coveleski also led the American League in shutouts, throwing five shutouts – 1-0 in 10 innings against the Detroit Tigers on April 22, 1923 (Coveleski allowed five hits), 3-0 against the Chicago White Sox on April 26, 1923 (Coveleski allowed eight hits and one walk), 1-0 against the Boston Red Sox on May 20, 1923 (Coveleski allowed six hits and two walks), 6-0 against the New York Yankees on July 16, 1923 (Coveleski allowed six hits and one walk), and 2-0 against the Boston Red Sox on July 30, 1923 (Coveleski allowed seven hits).
Coveleski ranked second in the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (1.658) in 1923.
This day in baseball 1923
— Bubba on Baseball (@bubbaonbaseball) July 22, 2020
With an 82-71 record, the Indians finished in third place in the American League in 1923.
In 1924, Coveleski compiled a 15-16 record, with a 4.04 earned run average.
He ranked tied for tenth in the American League in shutouts (two).
Cleveland had a 67-86 record and finished in sixth place in the American League in 1924.
On December 12, 1924, the Indians traded Coveleski to the Washington Senators in exchange for outfielder Carr Smith and pitcher By Speece.
With Washington, in 1925, Coveleski had a 20-5 record (including a 13-game winning streak).
Stan Coveleski famous spit ball, 1925 pic.twitter.com/lfjS6hyRfX
— The Skimmers (@TheSkimmers) July 7, 2015
He led the American League with a 2.84 earned run average.
Coveleski ranked tied for fourth in the American League in shutouts (three), third in the American League in fewest hits allowed per nine innings pitched (8.589), and eighth in the American League in fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (2.726).
Coveleski helped the Senators win the American League pennant in 1925, with a 96-55 record.
In the 1925 World Series against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Coveleski did not have the success that he had with Cleveland in the 1920 World Series.
He lost two games and had an earned run average of 3.77, as the Senators lost to the Pirates four games to three games.
Coveleski pitched with Washington for two more seasons.
In 1926, Coveleski posted a 14-11 record, with a 3.12 earned run average (sixth in the American League).
He ranked tied for second in the American League in shutouts (three).
Washington had an 81-69 record in 1926, finishing in fourth place in the American League.
Coveleski had a 2-1 record, with a 3.14 earned run average, in 1927 when the Senators released him on June 17, 1927.
Washington went on to have an 85-69 record in 1927, finishing in third place in the American League.
The New York Yankees signed Coveleski as a free agent on December 21, 1927.
In his final major league season in 1928, Coveleski had a 5-1 record, with a 5.74 earned run average, for the Yankees before New York released him on August 24, 1928.
NOON NEWSCLIP: 1928: The #Yankees sign Tom Zachary but the big news is the release of Hall of Famer Stan Coveleski, who's career came to an end when nobody picked him up. Coveleski was in his 1st year as a Yankee & going for his 2nd World Series ring. @Yankees @baseballhall #MLB pic.twitter.com/pWlLMGdGjj
— BallNine (@BallNineTweet) August 24, 2020
1928 New York #Yankees At Spring Training – Fun Fact: This amazing team included 10 future HOF'ers – Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Earle Combs, Tony Lazzeri, Bill Dickey, Leo Durocher, Waite Hoyt, Herb Pennock, Stan Coveleski & Mgr. Miller Huggins! #MLB #History pic.twitter.com/XHkCKAMGzk
— Baseball by BSmile (@BSmile) March 24, 2018
New York went on to first win the 1928 American League pennant, with a 101-53 record, and then win the 1928 World Series, in a four-game sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals.
Coveleski retired from major league baseball in 1928.
The Years After Major League Baseball (1929-1984)
Two years after the death of his first wife, Coveleski married his first wife’s sister, Frances.
He would remain married to Frances for the rest of his life.
Coveleski had two children, William and Jack.
After his retirement from major league baseball, Coveleski settled in South Bend, Indiana.
He operated a service station.
He was known for offering free pitching lessons to local South Bend youths in a field behind his garage.
Coveleski also spent much time in his retirement hunting and fishing.
In 1969, Coveleski was inducted in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
Upon his National Baseball Hall of Fame induction, Coveleski stated:
“It makes me feel just swell. I figured I’d make it sooner or later, and I just kept hoping each year would be the one.”
Coveleski was also inducted in the Cleveland Indians Hall of Fame in 1966 and in the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame in 1976.
In 1984, the minor league baseball stadium in South Bend was named in Coveleski’s honor.
At the age of 94, Coveleski died on March 20, 1984 in South Bend.
Based on various statistical measures, Coveleski ranks as one of the top pitchers in Cleveland Indians history.
He ranks fourth in Indians career wins (172), 10th in Indians career earned run average (2.80), tied for third in Indians career shutouts (31), ninth in Indians career fewest walks allowed per nine innings pitched (2.22), 47th in Indians career strikeouts per nine innings pitched (3.08), and 16th in Indians career strikeouts (856).
While not as important as his pitching, as a hitter with Cleveland, Coveleski had an Indians career batting average of .160, with 68 Indians career runs batted in, in 863 Indians career at bats.
In addition, as a fielder, throughout his 14-year major league career, Coveleski had 174 putouts, 851 assists, and a fielding percentage of .972.
Describing his mental attitude toward baseball, Coveleski said:
“The pressure never lets up. Don’t matter what you did yesterday. That’s history. It’s tomorrow that counts. So you worry all the time. It never ends. Lord, baseball is a worrying thing.”
It was opposing batters who also did the “worrying” when they had to face Coveleski.
This point was especially true during the 1920 World Series.
Coveleski’s National Baseball Hall of Fame plaque describes him as a “star pitcher”.
At no time did Coveleski’s “star” shine more so than during the 1920 World Series.
When Indians fans recall their two World Series championships, they should remember the outstanding pitching performance by Stan Coveleski in 1920 – a critical part of the first baseball championship for the Indians.