An unhappy fan base and an unreliable pitching staff combined to create an unhealthy situation for Eddie Stanky and the 1955 Cardinals.
The Cardinals replaced Stanky with Harry Walker, who was managing their farm club at Rochester. Walker was more popular than Stanky but no better able to win with such poor pitching.
From foe to friend
A three-time all-star, Stanky was the second baseman on National League pennant winners with the 1947 Dodgers, 1948 Braves and 1951 Giants. His aggressive play earned him the reputation as a pest and led to him being a frequent target of boos when he played the Cardinals at St. Louis.
Imagine the surprise then of Cardinals fans when on Dec. 11, 1951, St. Louis acquired Stanky from the Giants for pitcher Max Lanier and outfielder Chuck Diering. The surprise turned to rancor when Stanky was named player-manager, replacing Marty Marion, who was fired by team owner Fred Saigh. Marion, the popular former shortstop, had guided the 1951 Cardinals to an 81-73 record and third-place finish in his lone season as manager.
In his first St. Louis season, Stanky, 36, led the 1952 Cardinals to an 88-66 record and third place in the NL. He was named manager of the year by The Sporting News.
In 1953, Saigh sold the Cardinals to Gussie Busch. Stanky, in his last season as a player, managed the 1953 Cardinals to an 83-71 record and another third-place finish.
Stanky’s career took a downturn in 1954. The low point occurred when he used stalling tactics in an attempt to avoid a loss. Umpires forfeited the game to the Phillies and, in a stunning rebuke of Stanky, Cardinals fans cheered the decision. Stanky was suspended. Humbled, he apologized for his actions. With a staff ERA of 4.50, the 1954 Cardinals finished sixth at 72-82.
Heading to spring training in 1955, expectations soared because of young standouts such as Ken Boyer, Wally Moon and Bill Virdon joining a lineup with Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst.
Bill Walsingham, a club vice president, told The Sporting News that the 1955 Cardinals “will run faster and throw better than players on the Cardinals champions of 1942.”
Stanky heightened the hope, telling Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his everyday lineup “is the best _ the fastest and finest-fielding _ I’ve had. And, unless the kids fail to hit at all, it’s of championship caliber.”
The pitching, though, hadn’t improved.
On May 22, 1955, in the first game of a doubleheader at Cincinnati, the Reds rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth and won, 4-3. Stanky stormed into the clubhouse and smacked at mustard and mayonnaise jars on a food table, sending glass and goo flying.
Displaying a hand dripping with blood and condiments, Stanky said, “No, it’s not true I was trying to cut my throat.”
Time for a change
Four days later, on May 26, Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer met with Walker in Rochester and told him he would replace Stanky. Meyer instructed Walker to be in St. Louis on May 28 and to keep the news a secret.
Stunned, Walker said to Meyer, “Is this a joke?”
Replied Meyer: “We have been considering the change for some time.”
Walker, 38, had been a Cardinals outfielder and played for their World Series championship clubs of 1942 and ’46. He managed Cardinals farm clubs at Columbus (1951) and Rochester (1952-55).
His brother, Dixie Walker, was a coach on Stanky’s Cardinals staff.
At 8:15 on the morning of May 28, Stanky got a call from Meyer, who informed the manager he was fired. Meyer asked Stanky to attend a 2 p.m. press conference at Busch’s estate at Grant’s Farm. Stanky agreed.
Flanked by Stanky and Walker, Busch informed the media of the change, saying it had been contemplated for three weeks. The Cardinals’ record was 17-19.
The Sporting News offered that “Stanky’s unpopularity had reached a point regarded as alarming to an organization concerned with the goodwill of consumers as well as customers.”
Said Stanky: “Nothing in baseball shocks me any more and there’s no such word as malice in my vocabulary.”
Dixie Walker was named Rochester manager, replacing his brother.
Among media reactions to the dismissal of Stanky:
_ The Sporting News: “The move perhaps was inevitable because of the disappointing start of the young, highly regarded team and the mounting fan clamor for a change.”
_ J. Roy Stockton, Post-Dispatch: “Eddie showed major-league courage and acumen in the rebuilding of the Redbirds. All the club needs now to make a serious bid for the pennant is good pitching.”
_ Lloyd Larson, Milwaukee Sentinel: “Eddie Stanky undoubtedly knows baseball … So where did he fall down? The answer, I believe, rests in his handling of people _ the key to successful management in many fields.”
New boss, same results
A few hours after the press conference announcing his promotion, Walker made his Cardinals managerial debut that night against the Reds at St. Louis. Jackie Collum, a former Cardinal, spoiled the festivities, pitching a four-hitter in a 5-1 Reds triumph.
The 1955 Cardinals were 51-67 under Walker and finished seventh at 68-86 overall. The staff ERA of 4.56 was the worst in the NL.
After the season, the Cardinals replaced Walker with Fred Hutchinson, former Tigers manager. Walker went back to managing in the Cardinals’ farm system. He would return to the big leagues as manager of the Pirates (1965-67) and Astros (1968-72).
Stanky managed the Giants’ farm club at Minneapolis in 1956. His roster included future Cardinals players Bill White and Eddie Bressoud and future Cardinals manager Vern Rapp.
After serving as an Indians coach in 1957 and ’58, Stanky rejoined the Cardinals in 1959 as player development director under general manager Bing Devine. Stanky served in that role until he, along with Devine, was fired again by Busch in August 1964.
Previously: Bill White interviewed about autobiography