by Mike Magers
[Vernon Stephens is not a product of New Mexico schools, but from time to time we will write about such people and hope you enjoy the diversion.]
Vernon Decatur Stephens, Jr. was born in tiny McAlister (Quay County), New Mexico. He was known as “Junior” and was the son of a minor league umpire, Vernon Stephens, Sr., who was a farmer by trade. Born in Oklahoma Territory, Vernon, Sr. and his wife Grace decided to head west in 1920, getting as far as New Mexico where Vernon, Jr. was prematurely delivered. This, however, is likely Junior’s only connection with New Mexico, as the family continued on west, eventually settling in Long Beach, California. Consequently, we will only do this brief sketch about him. If you would like to read more about him, please see the excellent article on Vern from SABR, the Society for American Baseball Research, written by Mark Armour.
Junior played shortstop for 15 seasons in Major League Baseball with the St. Louis Browns, Boston Red Sox, Chicago White Sox, Baltimore Orioles from 1941-1955. Stephens made his debut at the age of 20 when he suited up with the St. Louis Browns on September 13, 1941. He was known as a hard hitting shortstop. His career totals included 1,859 hits, 1001 runs scored, 247 home runs and a lifetime batting average of .248.
Six times in the Top 10 in MVP voting
Led the American League in home runs in 1945
Three times led the American League in RBI
Collected 440 RBI within three consecutive seasons (1948–50)
Three times in the Top 10 in batting average
Twice led the American League in games played
Inducted into the Boston Red Sox Hall of Fame in 2006
Vernon’s career statistics match up favorably with today’s well known players. He was a very good hitter and fielder of the period in which he played. With respect to amounts paid in professional baseball these days, his highest salary of about $40,000 would seem modest. He was a quality player and enjoyed a nice career. Junior retired from baseball at age 35 and died of a heart attack at age 48.