On his path to earning induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Cubs third baseman Ron Santo was assisted by a Cardinals legend.
Enos Slaughter, the former Cardinals outfielder who was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1985, was Santo’s manager at Class AAA Houston in 1960 and helped prepare him to enter the major leagues that year.
Santo and Reds shortstop Barry Larkin will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sunday, July 22, in Cooperstown, N.Y.
Like Slaughter, who was enshrined 26 years after he last played in a big-league game, Santo was elected by a special committee. His last big-league season was 1974 and he died in 2010.
In 13 years with the Cardinals, Slaughter played on two World Series championship clubs (1942 and ’46) and batted .305. (He missed three prime seasons, 1943-45, while serving in the military.)
Slaughter completed his 19-year big-league career in 1959. He had a lifetime batting average of .300, with 1,304 RBI.
Marty Marion, the former shortstop who was a teammate of Slaughter’s with the Cardinals, was part of an ownership group that purchased the Houston Buffs minor-league franchise from the Cardinals and transformed it into a Cubs affiliate. On Nov. 9, 1959, Marion, the team president, hired Slaughter to manage Houston.
“I don’t think any man in baseball has been more successful in hustle, determination and the will to win,” Marion said to The Sporting News in introducing Slaughter. “He’ll be a great manager. Veteran baseball men have wondered and waited for years to see Slaughter’s first try as manager. Now we’ll see it and it was interesting that the Chicago Cubs thought it was tremendous. They are happy to have their young players in Slaughter’s hands.”
Said Slaughter: “I always said I’d rather be a coach in the major leagues instead of managing. But I look on this as a challenge. I want to find out if I can manage. If I can be a successful manager, it will be an opportunity to stay in baseball.”
At the Cubs’ 1960 spring training camp in Arizona, Santo, 20, made a favorable impression on Chicago manager Charlie Grimm. Though Santo had played just one season of minor-league baseball, Grimm considered starting the season with Santo as his third baseman.
“The kid can really swing the bat,” Grimm said to The Sporting News. “And he has improved tremendously in the field. Last year, he couldn’t find the first baseman. He was making a lot of bad throws. But he really has developed fast.”
During the final days of training camp, the Cubs decided Santo would benefit from playing for Slaughter at Houston before facing the pressure of the big leagues.
Santo opened the 1960 season as Houston’s third baseman. Its left fielder was another future Hall of Fame member, Billy Williams. Slaughter, 44, was activated as a player-manager.
“All I want is for my players to give me 100 percent,” Slaughter told reporters. “I’ll listen to the rawest rookie on things that might help him or me.”
In the second game of the season, Slaughter injured a rib in a collision at home plate. Relegated mostly to a pinch-hitting role, he batted .289 (13-for-45) during the season.
Santo collected 73 hits in 71 games, recording a .348 on-base percentage with seven home runs and 32 RBI. Though he committed 16 errors, the Cubs promoted him to the major leagues on June 26 and installed him as their starter at third base. By then, Lou Boudreau had replaced Grimm as Cubs manager.
“Santo has gained tremendous confidence just since last spring,” Boudreau said. “He can make all the plays at third base and he’s got plenty of power at the plate.”
In his big-league debut in the opener of a doubleheader on June 26, 1960, at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Santo batted 2-for-4 with three RBI in a 7-6 Cubs victory. Boxscore In the second game, a 7-5 Cubs victory, Santo was 1-for-3 with two RBI. Boxscore
Santo completed his rookie season with a .251 batting average, nine home runs and 44 RBI in 95 games for Chicago. In a 15-year major-league career, Santo won the Gold Glove Award five times and hit 342 home runs with 1,331 RBI.
Meanwhile, Slaughter led Houston to an 83-71 record and third-place finish in the eight-team American Association. His top player was Billy Williams, who hit .323 with 26 home runs. Houston was eliminated in the first round of the league playoffs.
After the season, Slaughter parted ways with Houston. In 1961, he managed Raleigh, the Class B Carolina League club of the fledgling New York Mets. Raleigh finished 58-80 _ and Slaughter’s managerial career was done.
This week, Slaughter was back in the news when Cardinals shortstop Rafael Furcal tripled in the All-Star Game. The only other Cardinals player to triple in an All-Star Game was Slaughter (in 1950), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.