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Branch Rickey is well known for being the Dodgers general manager who broke baseball’s color barrier by bringing Jackie Robinson to the major leagues. What is less known is that Rickey was the Cardinals general manager who made Mike Gonzalez the first Cuban manager in the major leagues.

mike_gonzalezOn Dec. 17, 2014, President Obama announced that relations between the United States and Cuba would be reopened, ending more than 50 years of hostility between the two nations.

Long before that, Gonzalez, a Havana native, helped form a connection between the Cardinals and Cuba.

A catcher, Gonzalez had three stints with the Cardinals as a player: 1915-18, 1924-25 and 1931-32. He also played for the Braves, Reds, Giants and Cubs.

During his 17-year playing career in the majors, Gonzalez developed a reputation for his baseball savvy. It was while scouting for the Giants that Gonzalez wired a report to manager John McGraw about a prospect: “Good field, no hit.” The phrase became part of baseball’s lexicon.

Shrewd strategist

In 1934, Gonzalez became a coach on the staff of Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch. Four years later, when Frisch was fired on Sept. 11, 1938, Rickey named Gonzalez as manager of the Cardinals.

Though it was a stopgap measure _ most reports indicated Rickey would hire someone from within the minor-league system to manage the 1939 Cardinals _ the move was significant.

In reporting that Gonzalez, 47, was the first Cuban to manage in the big leagues, The Sporting News described him as “a shrewd diamond strategist, a keen judge of talent and a capable instructor.”

Frisch called Gonzalez “a great guy, loyal and true and one of the smartest birds I ever knew.”

Citing his stellar reputation as a coach for the Cardinals, The Sporting News wrote of Gonzalez, “The athletes who have played under his coaching direction have learned to respect his judgment and to take his orders implicitly.”

Gonzalez also had the ability to decode the signs flashed by opponents. “One year, the Cardinals won almost all their games with one of the second-division clubs, largely because Gonzalez was able to call virtually every pitch and tell exactly when the enemy was going to hit-and-run or try to steal,” The Sporting News reported.

Successful start

Gonzalez made his debut as Cardinals manager on Sept. 14, 1938, in the first game of a doubleheader at Philadelphia. Despite yielding nine runs and 13 hits, starter Max Macon pitched a complete game and got the win in a 12-9 Cardinals victory. Boxscore

The Cardinals swept the doubleheader, winning the second game, 3-2, behind starter Mort Cooper, who pitched a complete game three-hitter while walking eight in his big-league debut. Boxscore

Gonzalez led the Cardinals to wins in his first five games as manager, then lost six in a row. He finished with an 8-8 record.

Ray Blades became manager of the 1939 Cardinals and Gonzalez remained as a coach.

Second stint

In June 1940, Blades was fired and Gonzalez was named to his second stint as Cardinals manager. Again, it was an interim role. The Cardinals were 1-5 under Gonzalez. Billy Southworth took over as Cardinals manager and he kept Gonzalez as a coach.

The Cardinals would win two World Series titles and three pennants under Southworth, who would earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In 1946, Southworth left the Cardinals to become manager of the Braves. He was replaced by Eddie Dyer, who maintained Gonzalez as a coach.

The 1946 season would be the 13th and final season for Gonzalez as a Cardinals coach. It ended memorably. In Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, Enos Slaughter scored the winning run on a mad dash from first base on a hit by Harry Walker. Slaughter ran through a stop sign from Gonzalez, who was coaching third, and later claimed he thought the Cuban had yelled “Go, go, go” instead of “No, no, no.”

Cuban managers

Gonzalez was the first of seven Cubans who managed in the majors, according to baseball-reference.com. The others:

_ Preston Gomez: 1969-72 Padres, 1974-75 Astros and 1980 Cubs.

_ Marty Martinez: 1986 Mariners (one game).

_ Cookie Rojas: 1988 Angels and 2001 Marlins (one game).

_ Tony Perez: 1993 Reds and 2001 Marlins.

_ Carlos Tosca: 2002-04 Blue Jays.

_ Fredi Gonzalez: 2007-10 Marlins and 2011-14 Braves.

Previously: Rift with Branch Rickey led Cardinals to oust Frankie Frisch

Previously: Baseball and romance: Cardinals’ Cuban adventures

Previously: The top 5 Cubans to play for the Cardinals

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Seeking a starter to replace Woody Williams in the rotation, the Cardinals used a prospect, Dan Haren, to help land an ace, Mark Mulder. In retrospect, they would have done better to keep Haren.

mark_mulderTen years ago, on Dec. 18, 2004, the Cardinals acquired Mulder from the Athletics for Haren, reliever Kiko Calero and first baseman Daric Barton.

The Cardinals were praised for adding Mulder to a rotation of Chris Carpenter, Jason Marquis, Jeff Suppan and Matt Morris.

Haren, though, turned out to be more durable than Mulder.

Mulder had one strong season for the Cardinals, suffered shoulder ailments and pitched his final game for them in 2008 at age 31.

Haren, who was 6-10 over two seasons (2003-2004) for St. Louis, developed into one of the most consistent pitchers in the majors. Since leaving the Cardinals, Haren has had 10 seasons in a row of double-digit wins and has made 30 starts or more in each of those years. At 34, Haren has a career record of 142-122 in 12 big-league seasons. He is 136-112 since leaving St. Louis. The right-hander was traded by the Dodgers to the Marlins for the 2015 season.

After compiling an 81-42 record in five years with the Athletics, Mulder was 16-8 in 32 starts for the 2005 Cardinals. The left-hander then went a combined 6-10 for the Cardinals from 2006 to 2008.

Making a splash

By December 2004, four prominent free agents _ Woody Williams (11-8 in 2004), shortstop Edgar Renteria, catcher Mike Matheny and second baseman Tony Womack _ had departed the Cardinals since they faced the Red Sox in the World Series two months earlier.

Eager to make a splashy move to show that the Cardinals would fight to repeat as National League champions, general manager Walt Jocketty spoke with his Athletics counterpart, Billy Beane, about Mulder and fellow starting pitcher Tim Hudson.

On Dec. 16, 2004, the Athletics dealt Hudson to the Braves for pitchers Juan Cruz and Dan Meyer and outfielder Charles Thomas. Two days later, the Cardinals got Mulder.

Elite starter

“This is something we’ve been working on for two or three weeks,” Jocketty said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We’ve been going back and forth between Hudson and Mulder and we felt like, in our case, we had control of Mulder for an extra year (on his contract) … Both are quality, top of the rotation starters.”

Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the Post-Dispatch, described Mulder as “an elite starting pitcher” and “a legitimate front-of-rotation starter.”

From 2001-2004, only Curt Schilling had more wins (74) than Mulder (72).

“He’s an intelligent guy, a great athlete, a great fit,” Jocketty said of Mulder.

Red flag

Miklasz and his colleague, reporter Derrick Goold, did note, however, that Mulder had faltered in the second half of the 2004 season after starting the All-Star Game for the American League. Mulder was winless in his last seven 2004 starts, posting an 0-4 record and 7.27 ERA. Overall, Mulder was 17-8 in 2004 but with a 4.43 ERA.

Wrote Miklasz: “Is he wearing down after averaging 212 innings over the past four seasons?”

Jocketty and Mulder denied that the pitcher was weakened or injured.

“We took our time and thoroughly researched this … As far as we’re concerned, he’s fine,” Jocketty said of Mulder. “There are no physical problems at all. We made sure.”

Said Mulder: “I wasn’t hurt at all … There was nothing wrong with me.”

Asked to explain why Mulder was ineffective in the second half of 2004, Jocketty replied, “He put a lot of pressure on himself … He tried to do too much.”

Swift start

Any concerns about Mulder were erased early in the 2005 season. He won seven of his first nine decisions for the Cardinals. After stumbling in June (2-3, 7.18 ERA), Mulder recovered and was a combined 7-3 over the last three months of the season. He was especially effective against left-handed batters, limiting them to a .191 average in 2005.

Haren, meanwhile, had 14 wins for the 2005 Athletics, posting a 3.73 ERA in 34 starts. Calero contributed four wins and a save in 58 relief appearances.

In 2006, Mulder won five of his first six decisions for St. Louis. Then the shoulder woes began. Mulder made just two starts after June 20 and finished the 2006 season at 6-7 with a 7.14 ERA. He was 0-3 with a 12.27 ERA for the 2007 Cardinals; 0-0 with a 10.80 for the 2008 Cardinals.

Previously: Why Mike Matheny ended his playing career as a Giant

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(Updated on Dec. 8, 2014)

Five former Cardinals are among the 10 finalists on the Golden Era ballot under consideration for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

boyer_davisFormer Cardinals players Dick Allen, Ken Boyer, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso and former Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam are being reviewed by a 16-person committee. The other five on the ballot are former players Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

A candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes (12 of 16) to earn election. Results of the voting will be announced Dec. 8, 2014. Induction ceremonies are scheduled for July 26, 2015, at Cooperstown, N.Y.

(Update: None of the 10 finalists was elected. Allen and Oliva each received 11 votes. Kaat got 10. Wills got nine. Minoso got eight. Receiving three of fewer votes were Boyer, Hodges, Howsam, Pierce and Tiant.)

The Golden Era committee members are Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

Tommy Davis, 75, and Jerry Reuss, 65, are two former long-time players qualified to offer first-hand insights into the Hall of Fame credentials of the Golden Era candidates. The Golden Era category considers performances from 1947-72.

Davis played 18 seasons in the big leagues (1959-76), primarily as an outfielder, and was the National League batting champion in both 1962 and 1963 with the Dodgers. No Dodgers player has led the league in hitting since. Overall, Davis hit .294 in his major-league career.

Reuss pitched 22 seasons in the big leagues (1969-90). His 220 wins rank 75th all-time and put Reuss ahead of several Hall of Famers, including Jesse Haines (210), Don Drysdale (209), Hal Newhouser (207) and Bob Lemon (207), and modern-day candidates such as Pedro Martinez (219), Curt Schilling (216) and John Smoltz (213).

During a visit on Nov. 11, 2014, to Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., I met Davis and Reuss and asked them to assess the players on the Golden Era ballot. Here is what they said about the four candidates who played for the Cardinals:

Dick Allen

Allen is on the Golden Era ballot for the first time.

Primarily a first baseman and third baseman, Allen was 1964 National League Rookie of the Year with the Phillies and 1972 American League Most Valuable Player with the White Sox. He led the American League in home runs in 1972 (37) and 1974 (32) and was a league leader in extra-base hits three times.

Dubbed “the bad boy of baseball,” Allen hit .292 with 1,848 hits, 351 home runs and 1,119 RBI in 15 major-league seasons (1963-77).

In 1970, his lone Cardinals season, Allen primarily played first base and hit .279 with 34 homers and 101 RBI in 122 games. Allen and Reuss were teammates that year.

_ Tommy Davis on Dick Allen: “Great hitter. He had a 40-ounce bat that he used. He couldn’t pull the ball, but he could go about 400 feet, 450, to right-center. Easily.”

_ Jerry Reuss on Dick Allen: “Tremendous power. Good teammate. Personally, I like him. Hall of Fame chances: No.”

Ken Boyer

Boyer received fewer than three votes when Golden Era candidates were first considered in 2011. The committee elected his counterpart, third baseman Ron Santo, even though Boyer was comparable to Santo in every way.

Boyer was the 1964 National League Most Valuable Player with the Cardinals and he won five Gold Gloves as a St. Louis third baseman. Boyer ranked in the top 10 in RBI in the NL seven times and in the top 10 in total bases six times.

In 15 major-league seasons (1955-69), Boyer batted .287 with 2,143 hits, 282 home runs and 1,141 RBI.

He played for the Cardinals for 11 years and hit .293 for them with 1,855 hits and 1,001 RBI in 1,667 games.

Boyer and Davis were teammates on the 1967 Mets and 1968 White Sox. Boyer coached the 1971 Cardinals team that included Reuss as a starting pitcher.

_ Tommy Davis on Ken Boyer: “He was consistent at third base. Good hitter. His defense was so good it was ridiculous.”

_ Jerry Reuss on Ken Boyer: “That’s a tough one. He had leadership capabilities. I don’t know how he stacked up against other third basemen. He’s a maybe, but more toward the no side.”

Jim Kaat

Kaat received 10 votes, just two shy of election, from the Golden Era committee in 2011.

A three-time 20-game winner, Kaat ranks 31st all-time in career wins (283). Only seven other left-handers have more. Kaat had 15 consecutive seasons (1962-76) with double-figure wins. He was the 1962 American League leader in shutouts (five) with the Twins and the 1966 AL leader in wins (25).

Kaat spent his last four big-league seasons (1980-83) with the Cardinals, winning 19, saving 10 and appearing in four of the seven games of the 1982 World Series.

_ Tommy Davis on Jim Kaat: “He was sneaky. He knew how to pitch. He knew how to set you up. He was a tough left-hander.”

_ Jerry Reuss on Jim Kaat: “Yes for the Hall of Fame. He won 16 Gold Gloves. Enough said.”

Minnie Minoso

Minoso received strong support (nine votes) from the Golden Era committee in 2011.

The outfielder won three Gold Gloves (1957, 1959, 1960) and finished in the top 10 in the American League in hitting eight times. Minoso three times led the AL in triples and three times led the AL in stolen bases.

Playing primarily for the White Sox and Indians from 1951-64 (he appeared in nine games in 1949, three in 1976 and two, at age 54, in 1980), Minoso batted .298 with 1,963 hits, 186 home runs, 1,023 RBI and 205 stolen bases.

In 1962, his lone National League season, Minoso was plagued by injuries and hit .196 in 39 games for the Cardinals.

I didn’t ask Reuss about Minoso because the Cuban Comet’s last full big-league season was 1964 when Reuss was just 15.

_ Tommy Davis on Minnie Minoso: “Good outfielder. He could fly. He was already good when he got to the major leagues. He helped baseball as a pioneer for Cuban ballplayers and later as an ambassador for Chicago.”

Previously: Carlos Beltran follows a path first set by Richie Allen

Previously: If Ron Santo goes into Hall, Ken Boyer should, too

Previously: Jim Kaat interview: 1982 Cardinals were most close-knit club

Previously: Minnie Minoso: Hall of Fame candidate, Cardinals flop

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Jerry Reuss Banner

On Nov. 11, 2014, I visited the Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., to seek out Jerry Reuss for an interview about his time as a pitcher with the Cardinals.

Dressed in a home white Dodgers uniform, Reuss, 65, was patient, thoughtful, articulate and polite.

He debuted with the Cardinals in September 1969 and pitched for them in 1970 and 1971, posting an overall 22-22 record before he was traded to the Astros in April 1972.

In a 22-year major-league career, primarily with the Dodgers (nine years) and Pirates (six years), Reuss was 220-191 with a 3.64 ERA. In 2014, he published a book “Bring in the Right-hander,” a delightful retrospective on his career. You can order an autographed copy at his Web site www.jerryreuss.com.

jerry_reuss2Q.: Two months after the Cardinals traded Steve Carlton, they traded you. It was first reported that you were traded because you were in a contract dispute with owner Gussie Busch. Later it comes out it was about your mustache. True?

Reuss: “It was about growing a mustache. Bob Broeg (a writer) had said something to that effect and I thought, ‘No, they wouldn’t be that concerned about that.’ I lived with that for 20 or 25 years.

“It wasn’t until the mid-90s when I was in St. Louis and I went to a ballgame and I saw Bing Devine, who was working as a scout. He had been the general manager of the Cardinals when I was traded. I said, ‘Bing, you got a minute?’ He said, ‘Yeah. Why don’t you sit down and we’ll talk.’ So I asked him about the deal. I figured enough time had passed that I could do that.

“He was more than happy to tell me. He said Mr. Busch at times would act on an impulse. This was one of those times. He insisted on me being traded because I had the mustache. Bing thought if given a little time he (Busch) would come to his senses and make a wise baseball decision rather than a personal decision.

“But he kept hammering about the mustache and would say, ‘Did you get rid of him yet? Why not?’ And the ultimatum was put like this: ‘If you don’t get rid of him, I’ll get rid of you and get somebody who will get rid of him.’ So when you’re faced with a situation like that, you do what has to be done.”

Q.: You still have a mustache and it has become something of a signature look for you…

Reuss: “Yeah. But when you look back about how that was the thinking in baseball in the early 70s and then just two or three years later baseball began to change with the times. Guys were coming in with long hair and beards. And you just wonder: What was the stink all about?

“So on the matter of just a little bit of facial hair _ you could barely see it _ people would ask, “Why didn’t you shave it?’ And I’d say, ‘There wasn’t a rule that the Cardinals had to be clean-shaven and be like a military situation. If it doesn’t bother anybody, if it’s not a rule, then what are we talking about here?’ “

Q.: Your last year with the Cardinals, 1971, was the year your teammate, Joe Torre, led the National League in hitting and RBI and won the MVP Award. Could you see then the leadership qualities that later would make him a Hall of Fame manager with the Yankees?

Reuss: “Oh, sure. Lights out. At that early age, I just wondered whether there were guys like that on every team.

“He was managing the club on the field. Red (manager Schoendienst) just stepped back and said, ‘Joe, you have a grasp of it. You take care of it. When you’re on the field, you see things that I don’t.’ And Joe, being wise enough and knowing his boundaries, would go to Red and say, ‘Would you consider this or would you consider that?’

“Sometimes there was a lineup that was put out and Joe would go to Red and say, ‘This player won’t say it to you but he’ll say it to me. You might want to give him a day off.’ And Red would say, ‘All right. Let’s do that.’ He’d make the lineup change. Joe was able to get those things from players and he did it only because it helped the club. It wasn’t anything personal with the player.

“You could see the leadership. I’ve never come across another player who was like him. There were a couple that had some of those qualities _ I understand Cincinnati had a few. (Johnny) Bench was one of those guys _ that when he spoke, everybody just said, ‘Let’s reconsider this.’ Joe was that way all the time. Joe was more far-reaching. You knew he would to be a manager.”

Q,: After leaving the Cardinals, you played for seven big-league teams. As a St. Louis native who began his career with the hometown team, did you ever hope to return to the Cardinals?

Reuss: “I never gave it a whole lot of thought. Once I got to Los Angeles (in 1979), I said, ‘This is home. This is where I want to be.’ It’s where I always wanted to play.

“Back in those days, it was one of the few grass fields. Lots of artificial turf then. My knees were feeling it. And then I became a ground ball pitcher and the infield I had behind me was particularly adept at playing at Dodger Stadium on the lawn.

“As a result, I had a good defensive ball club become a great defensive ball club. They got a lot of ground balls. That’s where my success was and that’s where I wanted to stay. When I was ready to change teams, I was past my prime. Rather than a lot of teams coming to me, I was going to them and just hoping for a chance.”

Q.: The player who had the most at-bats against you was

Reuss: “Pete Rose. Did you see what he hit against me?”

Q.: .244 in the regular season. (29-for-119).

Reuss: “I couldn’t believe that.”

Q.: What was your secret?

Reuss: “There was no secret. Pete hit me the same way he hit everybody else. It’s just that, when he hit the ball against me, more often it was right at somebody. Did you see the number of times he struck out against me? (9) He was making contact. He came up there swinging.”

Part 1: Jerry Reuss on Bob Gibson as a teammate: He was tough

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With the Cardinals in need of a public relations boost, Stan Musial went to bat for Red Schoendienst.

red_schoendienst8As usual, Musial delivered.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 20, 1964, the Cardinals hired the popular Schoendienst to replace Johnny Keane as their manager. Four days earlier, Keane had stunned the Cardinals by resigning less than 24 hours after leading St. Louis to a World Series championship.

Schoendiesnt, 41, a former all-star second baseman who was a coach on Keane’s staff, had no managerial experience. “I never had really thought about managing,” Schoendienst said in his book “Red: A Baseball Life.”

According to broadcaster Harry Caray, in his book “Holy Cow,” the Cardinals had told Schoendienst that summer they wanted him to get experience managing in the minor leagues. Schoendienst said he told the Cardinals he had no desire to manage and would prefer to remain a major league coach for the next 25 years.

Fan favorite

Keane quit because Cardinals owner Gussie Busch had fired general manager Bing Devine in August and plotted to replace Keane with former St. Louis shortstop Leo Durocher after the season. Even though Busch changed his mind about firing Keane after the Cardinals rallied to win the National League pennant and World Series crown, Keane refused to stay. His surprise departure triggered a firestorm of criticism against Busch and general manager Bob Howsam.

Desperate to repair the damage, Busch ordered Howsam to fire consultant Branch Rickey, who had advocated for Devine’s dismissal and for Durocher to replace Keane, and he formed a six-person executive committee to seek a replacement for Keane.

Musial, in his first year as Cardinals vice president after a stellar playing career, and Howsam were the key members of the committee. Joining them were Busch, club executive Dick Meyer and Cardinals board of directors members Jim Conzelman and Mark Eagleton.

According to multiple sources, Howsam favored hiring either White Sox scout Charlie Metro, who had managed for Howsam in the minor leagues at Denver, or former Giants manager Al Dark, a one-time Cardinals shortstop.

Musial advocated for Schoendienst, who was Musial’s friend and road roommate during their playing days together for St. Louis.

“I knew Red needed experience _ we all did _ but we felt he was the best man for the job,” Musial said, according to George Vecsey’s 2011 biography of the Cardinals icon.

Said Schoendienst: “With Musial leading my support, it came down to as much a public relations decision as a baseball one and that’s where I had the advantage … The prevailing thought was the new manager needed to be someone who was a favorite of the fans.”

Quick decision

Schoendienst got tipped off by a Busch relative, Ollie Von Gontard, that the committee was considering him as a serious candidate.

Caray told Schoendienst, “Red, if you keep your nose clean with all the craziness that’s going on here, you’re going to wind up being manager of this club.”

Schoendienst said Busch called and asked to meet at the ballpark. Schoendienst said he met with Busch and Howsam. After Howsam quizzed Schoendienst about game strategies and player personnel evaluations, Schoendienst said the general manager “suddenly jumped up from his chair and asked how I would like to manage. I said that would be great and he said, ‘You’re my new manager.’ It happened so quickly I really didn’t have time to think about it.”

Said Schoendienst: “I felt comfortable that I could do the job and was ready to put my full-time energy and devotion into the post.”

Take my advice

Cardinals players, who respected and supported Keane, were tolerant of Schoendienst, who wisely avoided micro-managing while learning on the job.

In his book “Stranger to the Game,” pitcher Bob Gibson said, “The only problem I had with Schoendienst was that he wasn’t Johnny Keane. But he was a good man and a good man for us … Schoendienst, like Keane, respected our intelligence and our professionalism. His only rules were ‘Run everything out’ and ‘Be in by 12.’ Somehow, we got the words tangled up and lived instead by the motto ‘Run everything in and be out by 12.’ “

Schoendienst also listened to his players. Said Gibson: “Red was uncertain of himself in the beginning, a fact which the ballplayers were well aware.”

Gibson said he and catcher Tim McCarver would sit on either side of Schoendienst in the dugout and offer suggestions to one another about game strategy. “We never actually told him to make a move; we were just there as birdies in the ear, now and then providing the information he needed to make his decision,” Gibson said.

Center fielder Curt Flood, in his book “The Way It Is,” said of Schoendienst, “When he was required to think two or three moves ahead, as in choosing pinch-hitters or replacing pitchers, he accepted advice readily. And it was given matter-of-factly, with every consideration for Red’s position.”

Outfielder Carl Warwick told author Peter Golenbock for the book “The Spirit of St. Louis” that Schoendienst was a popular choice with the players. “You couldn’t help but love Red,” Warwick said. “You knew he was going to be on your side all the time … Red was available to help anybody any time.”

The Cardinals finished seventh and sixth in Schoendienst’s first two years as manager, then won two consecutive pennants and a World Series title. He managed the Cardinals from 1965-76 and for parts of 1980 and 1990. His 1,041 wins rank second only to Tony La Russa (1,408 wins) among Cardinals managers all-time.

Previously: Red Schoendienst: ‘Lover of hot ballgames and cold beers’

Previously: How Red Schoendienst survived Cardinals’ 5-20 start in 1973

Previously: Big 3: Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, Tony La Russa

Previously: Why Gussie Busch fired Bing Devine in championship year

Previously: Johnny Keane to Gussie Busch: Take this job and shove it

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Gussie Busch broke Johnny Keane’s cardinal rule. Keane couldn’t forgive him.

johnny_keane2Fifty years ago, on Oct. 16, 1964, just 19 hours after St. Louis had won the World Series championship, Keane resigned as Cardinals manager, stunning Busch, the Cardinals owner, who had expected to sign Keane to a contract extension that day.

Loyalty was sacrosanct to Keane. He had been loyal to the Cardinals, serving the franchise for 35 years. When Busch became disloyal to him, Keane’s personal code of conduct required he take action: He quit.

Surprising news

In the celebration that immediately followed the Cardinals’ World Series Game 7 victory over the Yankees on Oct. 15, Busch announced he would hold a news conference at the Anheuser-Busch brewery the next morning. Word leaked that Busch intended to present Keane with a three-year contract extension, reportedly for $50,000 per year.

When Keane arrived at the brewery, he handed Busch a resignation letter 30 minutes before the news conference. Busch, in a hurry to begin the event, gave the letter to an assistant without reading it, according to the book “October 1964.” The assistant read the letter and insisted the owner do the same.

Flanked by Keane and general manager Bob Howsam, Busch, visibly shaken, announced Keane’s resignation to the surprised gathering, who were expecting a celebratory contract signing.

“This really has shocked me,” Busch said. “I didn’t know a thing about it until I saw Johnny this morning. All I can say is that I’m damned sorry to lose Johnny.”

Said Keane: “I told Mr. Busch not to make any offer. I handed him my resignation and said my decision was firm _ that I didn’t want to embarrass him _ but that no offer would be acceptable.”

In his book “Uppity,” Cardinals first baseman Bill White wrote, “I wasn’t there, but I was told Busch and Howsam looked as if Johnny had just kicked them in the teeth _ which, in effect, he had.”

The resignation letter was dated Sept. 28 _ the day after the Cardinals had completed a five-game sweep of the Pirates, with six games remaining in the regular season.

The decision had been made 10 days before then.

Higher calling

Keane, a St. Louis native, briefly had studied for the priesthood at St. Louis Prepatory Seminary. At 18, he signed a Cardinals contract and was assigned to the minor leagues.

“I’ve been asked about that often,” Keane told The Sporting News. “Did I give up the priesthood for baseball? The answer is no. I knew after consultation with the priests at the seminary that the life was not for me.”

Keane was a baseball lifer. More specifically, a Cardinals lifer, or so it seemed.

He was an infielder in the St. Louis organization from 1930 until becoming a Cardinals minor league player-manager in 1938. He spent 21 seasons as a manager in the St. Louis farm system and had winning records in 17 of those years.

In 1959, Keane made it to the major leagues for the first time as a coach on the staff of Cardinals manager Solly Hemus. Keane replaced Hemus as St. Louis manager in July 1961.

Matter of principle

In August 1964, Busch, thinking the fifth-place Cardinals were out of contention, fired general manager Bing Devine, business manager Art Routzong and player personnel director Eddie Stanky. All were friends of Keane.

Though Keane remained manager, published reports indicated Busch planned to replace Keane after the season with Dodgers coach and former Cardinals shortstop Leo Durocher.

Keane felt betrayed.

On Sept. 18, with the Cardinals 6.5 games behind the first-place Phillies, Keane and his wife agreed that Keane would resign after the Cardinals’ final game. They kept their agreement private.

Ten days later, Keane wrote his resignation letter and put it aside.

Hold that letter

The Cardinals then won four of their final six games, including a sweep of the Phillies, and clinched the pennant on the last day of the regular season.

Carl Warwick, a Cardinals reserve outfielder, said of Keane, “He was as nearly perfect as any manager I ever saw. He didn’t panic.”

In the World Series, the Cardinals won four of seven against the Yankees, clinching their first title in 18 years.

At the news conference the next day, Keane told reporters a series of “little things” led to his resignation. Pressed for details, Keane admitted Devine’s firing and Busch’s open flirtation with Durocher were factors that caused him to depart.

Devine and Keane had become friends in 1949 when Devine was general manager of the Cardinals’ minor league club at Rochester and Keane was the manager.

In his book “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine wrote, “As a person, Keane impressed me as Stan Musial did … I’m talking about basic traits as a person.

“I didn’t think he needed to _ or should have _ quit the Cardinals because of me. But Johnny Keane was a loyal guy _ and that’s how he felt.”

Players react

Most Cardinals players said Keane’s resignation surprised them. But Cardinals pitcher Roger Craig told United Press International he had predicted Keane’s decision in August when it became known Busch wanted Durocher as manager. “Knowing the pride he has,” Craig said of Keane, “I knew this would happen.”

In his book “Stranger to the Game,” Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson wrote, “My anger toward the ballclub _ and it was tangible _ stemmed largely from the needless nature of Keane’s departure … I stayed mad through the winter.”

Hours after Keane’s resignation became public, the Yankees fired manager Yogi Berra. Three days later, Keane was hired to replace him.

Previously: Why Gussie Busch fired Bing Devine in championship year

Previously: 5-game sweep of Pirates positioned Cardinals for pennant

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