Vern Rapp, rebel? Indeed. As a manger in the Cardinals’ system, Rapp challenged authority in a manner that would have made the hairs on Al Hrabosky’s Fu Manchu stand on end.
Known as an unyielding disciplinarian for implementing a policy against facial hair while Cardinals manager in 1977, Rapp clashed with several Cardinals players, including Hrabosky, who grew a Fu Manchu moustache while developing a persona as “The Mad Hungarian.”
They may have been surprised to learn Rapp once caused such a fuss in an argument with an umpire that a police officer was called onto the field to intervene.
Sit down strike
In researching the baseball career of Rapp, a St. Louis native who played and managed in the Cardinals’ system and who died on Dec. 31, 2015, at 87, I came across news reports from a minor-league game played at Albuquerque, N.M., on Aug. 13, 1966.
Rapp, manager of the Cardinals’ Class AA Arkansas club, staged a protest by sitting on home plate after being ejected following a dispute with umpire Larry Barnett.
When Rapp refused to move, the umpire called police, who escorted Rapp from the field.
Photographs show police officer Fred Leyva standing over Rapp at home plate while Arkansas catcher Danny Breeden watches the drama unfold.
According to the Albuquerque Journal, “Rapp actually sat down on home plate and didn’t leave until a policeman talked him into leaving.” Rapp “had to be escorted off the field” by the officer, the newspaper reported.
The incident began when Rapp argued a close play at second base. Frank Godsoe, associate sports editor of the Amarillo Daily News, reported this exchange:
Barnett: “One more peep out of you and you’re out of the ballgame.”
That did it. Barnett ejected Rapp, who refused to leave because he felt the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Rapp said it was the first time he’d been ejected for saying the word “peep.”
Wrote Godsoe of Rapp: “Before a ballgame, he is as friendly as a collie dog. Once in a game, he’ll use anything up to poison gas to try to beat you. He is a tough loser and in the heat of battle he can erupt like a volcano.”
Godsoe asked Hugh Finnerty, president of the Texas League, which manager in the league was toughest on umpires. “Vern Rapp,” Finnerty replied.
Rapp likely was fined $25 for the ejection, Godsoe reported.
No harm, no foul
The theatrics didn’t damage the careers of Rapp or Barnett
Barnett became a big-league umpire in 1969 and stayed on the job through 1999.
Rapp managed Arkansas to an 81-59 record in 1966 and was named Texas League manager of the year.
He managed Arkansas again in 1967 and 1968, then left the Cardinals’ organization to join the Reds as manager of their Class AAA Indianapolis team.
Rapp managed Class AAA clubs through the 1976 season before getting his first big-league managing chance with the 1977 Cardinals, replacing Red Schoendienst.