Discovered at a tryout camp in Greensboro, N.C., at age 18 in the autumn of 1934, Enos Slaughter made a rapid rise through the Cardinals’ system. From almost the first day Slaughter arrived at the Cardinals’ major-league spring training site in Daytona Beach, Fla., in 1938, manager Frankie Frisch deemed the rookie St. Louis’ starting right fielder.
Confident and talented, Slaughter didn’t disappoint. He collected an extra-base hit in each of his first five regular-season games for the ’38 Cardinals. No other big-league player achieved that feat until this year.
Since 1900, Slaughter and Will Middlebrooks, a third baseman for the 2012 Red Sox, are the only players with extra-base hits in each of his first five major-league regular-season games.
Middlebrooks, 23, had an extra-base hit in each of five games against the Athletics, Orioles and Royals from May 2 through May 8. A 6-foot-4, 225-pound right-handed batter, Middlebrooks had four doubles and three home runs in that stretch, with a batting average of .409 and a slugging percentage of 1.000.
Slaughter, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound left-handed batter, had an extra-base hit in each of five games against the Pirates and Cubs from April 19 through April 23 in 1938. Slaughter, who would turn 22 on April 27, had three doubles, a triple and a home run in that stretch, with a batting average of .435 and a slugging percentage of .783.
In a report about Slaughter in The Sporting News in May 1938, under the headline, “Young Slaughter Gives New Killer Punch to Cardinals,” J. Roy Stockton wrote:
The farm system and the scouts can take pride in his development and point to him as a shining example of how rapidly a young man can advance in the club’s great organization if he has the stuff … His potential brilliance may well take some of the sting out of a season already marked by many disappointments for the St. Louis Cardinals.
Slaughter, a native of Roxboro, N.C., had been a standout high school player. He attended the Cardinals’ tryout camp as a second baseman. He had trouble fielding grounders consistently, but he displayed a strong arm, speed and hitting ability. So the Cardinals signed him and converted Slaughter into an outfielder.
In his first professional season, 1935 at Class D Martinsville (Va.), Slaughter had 25 doubles, 11 triples and 18 home runs in 109 games. He went to Class B Columbus (Ga.) in 1936. Playing for manager Eddie Dyer (who also would manage him in the Cardinals’ 1946 World Series championship season), Slaughter hit .325 with 31 doubles and 20 triples in 151 games.
At Class AA Columbus (Ohio) in 1937, Slaughter put together a season that earned him his chance at the major-league roster the following year. Slaughter hit .382 and compiled a .609 slugging percentage, with 245 hits, 42 doubles, 13 triples and 26 home runs in 154 games.
While at Columbus (Ohio), the team conducted a contest to have fans suggest a nickname for Slaughter. But Slaughter preferred the nickname given him by his Columbus manager, Burt Shotton. The name “Country” stuck with Slaughter the remainder of his career. Wrote The Sporting News:
Shotton had called Slaughter “Country” and it appealed to the youngster who loves the cows and chickens and the earth which his family has tilled through many generations.
At spring training in 1938, Frisch was seeking a right fielder to replace Don Padgett, who hit .314 but committed 11 errors in 1937, and join a star-studded outfield of Joe Medwick in left and Terry Moore in center. Slaughter was the immediate choice.
“Enos hits to all fields, has made a goodly share of extra-base blows and has shown as strong a punch against left-handers as against the supposedly easier right-handers,” The Sporting News reported.
On April 16, three days before the season opener, the Cardinals traded pitcher Dizzy Dean to the Cubs. As he was leaving the Cardinals’ clubhouse, Dean yelled out to Slaughter, “Good luck, Enos, hope you have a good year,” the Associated Press reported.
In his major-league debut, in the Cardinals’ 1938 opener at home against the Pirates on April 19, Slaughter, batting third, was 3-for-5 with a double, starting his extra-base streak. Boxscore
The next day, Slaughter hit his first big-league home run, a two-run shot in the ninth inning off Jim Tobin of the Pirates. Boxscore (Three years later, pitching for the Braves, Tobin gave up the first big-league hit to another Cardinals rookie, Stan Musial.)
The 1938 Cardinals lost their first three games and appeared headed to a fourth consecutive loss when they trailed the Cubs, 5-2, heading into the ninth inning at Chicago on April 22. But Slaughter rescued the Cardinals, hitting a bases-loaded triple and scoring the winning run on an error, giving St. Louis a 6-5 victory. Boxscore
Asked by The Sporting News to explain the difference between minor-league and big-league pitching, Slaughter replied, “It’s the better control that makes the pitchers harder to hit up here.”
Slaughter finished his rookie season with a .276 batting mark, .438 slugging percentage, 20 doubles, 10 triples and eight home runs.
He played 13 years for the Cardinals in a 19-season major-league career that earned him induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985.