One of the hardest-hitting righthanded batters in the game, Hafey had his best years with the Cardinals. It is difficult to assess how great Hafey might have been if not for his ill health, poor eyesight, and constant salary disputes. Hafey had a chronic sinus condition that required several operations and affected his vision. After beanings in 1926, a doctor advised him to wear glasses, and since his eyesight would vary from day to day, he used three different pairs. He became one of the first bespectacled outfielders.
Hafey was known for his rifle arm and his line drives. He started as a pitcher, but switched to everyday play under Branch Rickey. He was regarded by many as the second-best righthanded hitter of his day, behind Rogers Hornsby. A quiet man, he was somewhat overshadowed by the more colorful individuals who played on the Cardinals’ championship teams of the 1920s and early 1930s.
In 1929 Hafey tied a National League record with ten successive hits. After batting .336 in 1930, he held out for $15,000, reporting ten days late to spring training. He eventually signed for $12,500, but Rickey fined him $2,100 for not being in playing shape. Hafey responded by winning the 1931 batting title with a .349 mark. He then demanded $17,000 for 1932, including a return of the $2,100. Rickey offered him $13,000, a raise of just $500. Incensed, Hafey drove home to California and waited until April 11, when he found out he had been traded to the Reds for Bennie Frey, Harvey Hendrick, and $50,000; Rickey had Joe Medwick waiting in the wings.
Hafey was happy to join the Reds, who paid him $15,000, though they were a last-place club. Battling the flu and his sinus condition, Hafey played just 84 games, but hit .344. In 1933 he hit .303, making the first All-Star team (and getting the first hit in All-Star history, a single in the second inning), but his health was not good. His last campaign as an everyday player was 1934. He hurt his shoulder in 1935, but on May 24, played in the first-ever regular season night game. The evening’s dampness aggravated his sinuses. He saw the future of night baseball, and realized his career was ending. He retired, sitting out the rest of 1935 and all of 1936, but attempted a comeback in ’37, playing in 89 games. He then quit for good, at the age of 34. He was elected to the Hall of Fame 34 years later by the Veterans Committee.