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Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

Nearly 70 years after his brief stint with the Cardinals, Eddie Morgan still was being linked with events related to the 2014 team.

eddie_morganOn May 31, 2014, Oscar Taveras became the youngest Cardinals player to hit a home run in his debut game since Morgan did so on April 14, 1936. Each achieved the feat at age 21.

Taveras hit his home run in his second big-league at-bat. Boxscore

Morgan hit his on the first pitch he saw in the majors.

While the 2014 Cardinals see Taveras as having a long-term future with the franchise, the 1936 Cardinals saw Morgan as trade bait.

Even before Morgan began his big-league career with a home run, Dodgers manager Casey Stengel had interest in acquiring the rookie after seeing him in spring training games.

Good outfield group

The 1936 Cardinals opened the season with a stellar starting outfield of Joe Medwick in left, Terry Moore in center and Pepper Martin in right. They also had three rookie outfielders _ Lynn King, Lou Scoffic and Morgan _ on the Opening Day roster.

“One thing I don’t have to worry about is my outfield,” Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch said to The Sporting News. “I’ve really got three fine-looking kids in Lou Scoffic, Lynn King and Ed Morgan. The only difficult thing about the outfield situation will be to decide which one of the three we’ll send back to the minors. That’s how good they all are.”

Dizzy Dean, the Cardinals’ ace, got raked for nine runs in six innings in the season opener against the defending National League champion Cubs at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. With the Cubs ahead, 12-3, in the seventh, Frisch tabbed Morgan to make his big-league debut as a pinch-hitter for reliever Bill McGee.

A left-handed batter, Morgan swung at the first pitch he saw from starter Lon Warneke and yanked it over the right-field wall for a two-run home run. Boxscore

Soon after, Stengel and the Dodgers approached Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey about a proposed trade. The Cardinals wanted third baseman Joe Stripp. When Stengel asked for Morgan, Rickey declined and the talks ended without a deal.

Morgan, 5 feet 10, 160 pounds, appeared in eight games for the Cardinals, hitting .278 (5-for-18, with four singles and the home run). Unlikely to get much playing time with St. Louis, Morgan was sent to Class AA Columbus (Ohio) on May 9.

In his first at-bat for Columbus on May 10, Morgan hit a home run off Milwaukee’s Joe Heving.

Let’s make a deal

By July, the Cardinals were seeking pitching. The Dodgers still wanted Morgan. When the Dodgers offered George Earnshaw, 36, a right-hander in his last big-league season, the Cardinals accepted, with both clubs agreeing that Morgan would report to the Dodgers after the conclusion of the Columbus season.

In reporting the trade, The Sporting News called Morgan a “hard-hitting farmhand” and “a left-handed pull hitter of the type the Dodgers need to caress that short right-field wall at Ebbets Field.”

Throughout the summer, Stengel spoke enthusiastically about his plans to play Morgan in September games with the Dodgers, who were out of contention and heading for a seventh-place finish.

Morgan hit .299 in 118 games for Columbus. But, just before the minor-league season ended, he fractured a bone in his lower leg, preventing him from joining the Dodgers in September.

After the 1936 season, Stengel was replaced as manager by Burleigh Grimes, the former Cardinals spitball pitcher. Grimes had managed Morgan with the 1935 Bloomington (Ill.) Bloomers. Morgan had batted .347 in 112 games for that Cardinals Class B minor-league club.

Expectations were for Morgan to compete for a starting outfield job with the 1937 Dodgers. But he hit .188 in 39 games for them and was returned to the minors in July. He never played in the big leagues again. His lone major-league home run was the one he hit in his first at-bat.

Morgan played in the minor leagues until 1950. In 17 minor-league seasons, he had a .313 batting average and hit 172 home runs.

Previously: How Matt Adams links with Frenchy Bordagaray

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As a teen-ager, Bobby Tolan was given a chance to displace Mike Shannon as the Cardinals’ everyday right fielder.

Like Oscar Taveras in 2014, Tolan was seen as an elite outfield prospect for the 1965 Cardinals.

bob_tolanOn May 31, 2014, Taveras, 21, became the youngest player to debut in right field for the Cardinals since Tolan, 19, did so on Sept. 3, 1965.

Taveras, batting sixth, was 1-for-3 with a home run off the Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit in his Cardinals debut. Boxscore

Tolan, batting leadoff, was 1-for-4 against the Mets in his Cardinals debut. Tolan singled to center in his first at-bat, then was picked off by pitcher Dick Selma and tagged out in a rundown. Boxscore

Sprinter speed

A left-handed batter, Tolan, 17, was signed by the Pirates in 1963 as an amateur free agent out of Fremont High School in Los Angeles. His cousin, Eddie Tolan, had been called the world’s fastest human after winning gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints for the United States in the 1932 Olympic Games at Los Angeles.

After a season in the Pirates’ system, Tolan was left off the big-league roster and selected by the Cardinals in the December 1963 minor-league draft.

Converted from first baseman to outfielder by the Cardinals, Tolan made an immediate impact, hitting .297 with 34 stolen bases for Class AA Tulsa and being named to the Texas League all-star team.

In 1965, Tolan continued to impress. He hit .290 with 45 stolen bases for Class AAA Jacksonville.

A 1965 profile of Tolan in The Sporting News was headlined, “Teen-ager Tolan A Blur On Bases, Whiz With Stick.”

After Jacksonville beat the Dodgers in an exhibition game that year, Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills said, “He could challenge my base-stealing record.”

Said Dodgers catcher John Roseboro: “The kid looks too good to be true.”

Grover Resinger, who managed Tolan in consecutive seasons at Tulsa and Jacksonville, filed glowing reports to the Cardinals.

Another Billy Williams

“He’s improving all the time,” Resinger said. “… He’s going to be one of the better hitters in the game. He’s a line-drive hitter, with good power to all fields. Bobby is a Billy Williams type of hitter. He’s going to get stronger and I think he has a good chance to become a 25- to 30-homer hitter.”

Late in the 1965 season, Bob Howsam, Cardinals general manager, decided to give Tolan a chance to be St. Louis’ everyday right fielder for the final month of the season.

Shannon, who had become the Cardinals’ regular right fielder in the second half of 1964, struggled in 1965. He hit .221 and had almost as many strikeouts (46) as hits (54). The Cardinals’  backup right fielders _ Tito Francona (.259) and Phil Gagliano (.240) _ weren’t long-term solutions.

Howsam also was thinking ahead to 1966 when the Cardinals would move into their spacious new home, Busch Stadium II. He envisioned Tolan joining Lou Brock and Curt Flood in an outfield of speedsters who could chase down fly balls in the big stadium. Howsam also liked the thought of Tolan running the bases.

“His base-stealing ability is unlimited,” Resinger said of Tolan. “I think he’ll eventualy steal 50 bases in the big leagues. He’s not as fast as Brock, but he is above average.”

Too much, too soon

Tolan made 17 September starts in right field for the 1965 Cardinals, but he was overmatched at the plate. He hit .188 (13 hits in 17 games).

That performance prompted Howsam to alter his plans. After the 1965 season, the Cardinals acquired outfielder Alex Johnson from the Phillies. The Cardinals opened the 1966 season with Johnson in left, Flood in center and Brock shifting from left to right.

Johnson started poorly, though, and by mid-May was sent to the minors. The Cardinals moved Brock back to left and reinserted Shannon in right.

Tolan hit .172 in 43 games for the 1966 Cardinals. He was a backup to Roger Maris in right for the 1967-68 Cardinals clubs that won consecutive National League pennants and a World Series title.

After the 1968 season, the Cardinals traded Tolan to the Reds for right fielder Vada Pinson. Tolan was reunited with Howsam, who had become the Reds’ general manager.

Given a starting outfield spot, Tolan thrived with Cincinnati. He fulfilled Resinger’s prediction, producing a league-high 57 steals for the 1970 Reds. In four seasons with Cincinnati, Tolan hit .282 with 140 steals and helped the Reds win pennants in 1970 and 1972.

In a 13-year major league career with the Cardinals, Reds, Padres, Phillies and Pirates, Tolan hit .265 with 193 steals.

Previously: Here’s how Mike Shannon became a Cardinals catcher

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Desperate to end a string of unproductive first-round draft selections and determined to find a shortstop with the potential to quickly reach the majors as a starter, the Cardinals got it right 40 years ago when they chose Garry Templeton.

garry_templeton2Two years after he was drafted and taught how to switch-hit, Templeton made his Cardinals debut and became a fixture at shortstop for six seasons in St. Louis.

The major-league amateur draft began in 1965 and the Cardinals struck gold with their 1967 No. 1 selection, catcher Ted Simmons. That was followed by six consecutive years of first-round flops.

Each of the Cardinals’ first-round picks from 1968 through 1971 _ outfielder Butch Hairston, pitchers Charles Minott and Jim Browning and first baseman Ed Kurpiel  _ failed to reach the big leagues.

The Cardinals’ first-round choices in 1972 and 1973 _ pitchers Dan Larson and Joe Edelen _ did become major leaguers but produced little for St. Louis. Larson never pitched for the Cardinals and was 10-25 in seven big-league seasons. Edelen was 1-0 in 13 games with St. Louis before playing two seasons with the Reds.

Prep phenom

In 1974, the Cardinals wanted a shortstop. Mike Tyson was their starter, but he was better suited to play second base. No one else in the farm system appeared likely to replace him.

Templeton, 18, a senior at Santa Ana Valley High School in California, was the prospect who most excited the Cardinals. A right-handed batter, Templeton had hit .437 as a senior and .402 for his high school career.

On June 4, the night before the 1974 draft, Cardinals scout Bob Harrison called Templeton’s high school coach, Hersh Musick, and said, “We’re going to take Garry on the first round if he isn’t grabbed up before we get a chance,” the Santa Ana Register reported.

The Cardinals had reason to be concerned about Templeton’s availability by the time they got to select with the 13th pick in the first round. Shortstops were in high demand. Three of the 12 teams selecting ahead of the Cardinals took shortstops. None, it turned out, developed into as good a player as Templeton.

Shortstops chosen ahead of Templeton: Bill Almon (No. 1 pick), Padres; Mike Miley (No. 10 pick), Angels; and Dennis Sherrill (No. 12 pick), Yankees.

(Lonnie Smith, an outfielder who would play for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals, was the No. 3 pick of the 1974 first round by the Phillies. Smith, a senior at Centennial High School in Compton, Calif., and Templeton had committed to attend Arizona State University together but scrapped those plans after they were drafted in the first round.)

Asked his reaction to being selected, Templeton told the Santa Ana newspaper, “It is what I have been working for since I was 8 years old. It didn’t make any difference to me what club took me, just as long as I get a chance … I just hope I can make it into Busch Stadium quickly.”

Said Musick: “Garry is a fantastic hitter, has tremendous speed, possesses a strong arm, can field with the best and is dedicated. What more could any ballclub ask for?”

Lot to learn

The Cardinals signed Templeton for about $40,000, The Sporting News reported. Seven years earlier, Simmons had received $50,000 from the Cardinals after being drafted in the first round.

Templeton was assigned to the Cardinals’ Gulf Coast League rookie club in Florida. One of his teammates was another Cardinals infield prospect, Scott Boras, now an agent who represents several professional athletes.

In a May 2014 interview with Washingtonian magazine, Boras said one reason he became an agent was because of the Cardinals’ handling of the Templeton signing. “The thing that really got me into this was the unfairness of the draft,” Boras said. “I thought it was wrong for the game. I go back to Garry Templeton. He’s an African-American kid _ no representation _ he walks in and they have all the techniques to sign you. It’s a one-way situation. He did not get his value.”

Because of his speed, the Cardinals immediately worked on teaching Templeton how to hit from both sides of the plate.

“I watched Templeton learn to switch-hit in three weeks,” said Boras. “Three weeks! He was a remarkable athlete.”

Templeton hit .268 for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and then advanced to Class A St. Petersburg, where he struggled, batting .211.

Stick with it

Templeton, 19, opened the 1975 season at St. Petersburg and continued to perform below expectations. Discouraged by his lack of progress, Templeton approached manager Jack Krol. According to Ron Martz, columnist for the St. Petersburg Tmes, the ensuing conversation went like this:

Templeton: “I want to hit just right-handed.”

Krol: “Stick with it (switch-hitting). It’s not like you’re 24 or 25 years old. You’ve got plenty of time to learn.”

The Sporting News wrote, “The Redbirds are thirsting for a shortstop who can switch-hit, run well and dazzle in the field. That’s why they had Garry Templeton try switch-hitting shortly after landing him out of high school.”

With Krol’s patient prodding, Templeton got his batting average to .264 and was sent to Class AA Arkansas, where he hit .401 in 42 games.

Assured and comfortable, Templeton began the 1976 season at Class AAA Tulsa and produced 142 hits in 106 games (.321 batting average with 25 steals), earning a promotion to the Cardinals.

The 20-year-old made his big-league debut on Aug. 9, 1976.

Templeton had 911 hits in 713 games over six seasons for St. Louis, batting .305 with 138 steals. He twice was named an all-star and he led the National League in triples for three consecutive seasons: 1977 (18), 1978 (13) and 1979 (19). In 1979, Templeton produced a National League-best 211 hits.

He also committed the most errors among National League shortstops for three seasons in a row: 1978 (40), 1979 (34) and 1980 (29).

After a run-in with manager Whitey Herzog for failing to hustle and for making obscene gestures to Cardinals fans who booed him, Templeton was traded to the Padres after the 1981 season. The deal brought shortstop Ozzie Smith to St. Louis, launching him onto a Hall of Fame career.

Previously: The story of how Ted Simmons became a Cardinal

Previously: How the Cardinals’ deal for Ozzie Smith almost fell apart

Previously: How Garry Templeton made 40 errors in 1978

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Nearly 60 years ago, the Cardinals had a rookie second baseman who sprayed singles to all fields, ignited the offense with stolen bases and was superb at bunting for base hits.

don_blasingameIn 2014, the Cardinals’ rookie second baseman, Kolten Wong, is showing a lot of the same skills displayed by Don Blasingame in 1956.

The similarities between the two are striking.

Wong is 5 feet 9, bats left-handed and throws right-handed. He turns 24 in 2014, his first full season with the Cardinals.

Blasingame was 5 feet 9, batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He turned 24 in 1956, his first full season with the Cardinals.

Wong sparked the Cardinals during a three-game series versus the Braves in May 2014. He and teammate Peter Bourjos each had two bunts for base hits in the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory over the Braves on May 17. Boxscore Overall for the series, Wong had five hits in 11 at-bats (.455 average), scored three runs, drove in three runs, swiped two bases, walked and was hit by a pitch.

Blasingame also used his bunting skill to get base hits. With the bases empty, Blasingame bunted for 66 hits in 77 attempts _ an 86 percent success rate _ during his 12-year big-league career, according to research conducted by James Gentile of SB Nation.

Of Wong’s first 30 big-league hits, 26 (87 percent) were singles. Blasingame had 1,366 big-league hits; 1,105 (81 percent) were singles. In five years (1955-59) with the Cardinals, Blasingame produced 663 hits, with 528 (80 percent) being singles.

Both Wong and Blasingame got opportunities to become everyday second basemen for the Cardinals because of trades involving fan favorites. In June 1956, the Cardinals dealt second baseman Red Schoendienst to the Giants, opening the position for Blasingame. In November 2013, the Cardinals dealt third baseman David Freese to the Angels, enabling Matt Carpenter to move from second to third and opening a spot for Wong.

Gashouse Gang connection

In five games for the 1955 Cardinals after his promotion from the minor leagues in late September, Blasingame gave an indication of his electrifying potential. He had six hits and six walks in 23 plate appearances (a .545 on-base percentage).

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson opened the 1956 season with Schoendienst at second base and Alex Grammas at shortstop. After three games, though, Blasingame replaced Grammas as the starting shortstop.

Bob Broeg, longtime St. Louis sports writer, noted that Blasingame wore uniform No. 3, the same worn from 1932-37 by Frankie Frisch, the Cardinals’ fiery Gashouse Gang second baseman who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In The Sporting News, Broeg wrote, “Blasingame’s skill at winning fans and followers _ as well as his share of games _ is no accident. For one thing, he’s extremely fast, probably the fleetest man on a St. Louis club that has its greatest collective speed since the famed Swifties of 1942.”

Blasingame said his playing style was inspired by Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. “I never saw him, of course, but I’ve read a lot about him, the way he could put the pressure on the other club and keep it there,” Blasingame told Broeg.

Firebrand like Fox

Because of his throwing arm, the Cardinals projected Blasingame as a better fit for second base than for shortstop. One of the players general manager Frank Lane acquired from the Giants for Schoendienst was Al Dark. Blasingame replaced Schoendienst at second, with Dark taking over at shortstop.

According to The Sporting News, Lane saw Blasingame “as a firebrand,” much like Nellie Fox, all-star second baseman of the White Sox.

“It was evident he had a chance for future greatness if he could be placed at second,” Lane said of Blasingame.

Wrote Broeg, “Blasingame, taking advantage of his speed and his small stature, has developed into an able leadoff man, a spray hitter and able drag bunter.”

Nicknamed the “Corinth Comet” (he hailed from Corinth, Miss.) and the “Blazer,” Blasingame finished his rookie season with 153 hits in 150 games, with 72 walks and 94 runs scored. (Frank Robinson of the Reds was the unanimous choice for the 1956 National League Rookie of the Year Award.)

In his four full seasons (1956-59) with the Cardinals, Blasingame ranked in the top 10 in the National League in singles each year. In 1959, Blasingame led the league in singles, with 144, seven ahead of the runner-up, Reds second baseman Johnny Temple.

Blasingame also ranked among the top 10 in the league in stolen bases for three consecutive Cardinals seasons (1957-59).

The Cardinals, however, were last in the league in home runs in 1958 and sixth among eight teams in 1959. Desperate for power, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine traded Blasingame to the Giants for shortstop Daryl Spencer and outfielder Leon Wagner in December 1959.

Previously: Matt Carpenter: Modern-day Taylor Douthit of Cardinals

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Thirty-five years ago, Kirk Gibson rejected a chance to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.

kirk_gibsonThat’s because he was committed to playing baseball, not football.

On May 4, 1979, the St. Louis football Cardinals selected Gibson, a wide receiver at Michigan State, in the seventh round of the NFL draft.

A year earlier, June 1978, Gibson had been chosen by the Tigers in the first round of baseball’s amateur draft and signed a $200,000 contract with Detroit. The outfielder spent the summer of 1978 playing for the Tigers’ Class A Lakeland (Fla.) team managed by Jim Leyland. Then Gibson returned to Michigan State for his senior football season.

Gibson established school single-season records for receptions (42) and receiving yards (806) in 1978. He finished his Michigan State football career with four-year totals of 112 receptions, 2,347 yards receiving and 24 touchdown catches, all school records.

Gibson would have been “a certain first-round pick” in the 1979 NFL draft if he hadn’t already signed with the Tigers, United Press International reported. The Tigers assigned Gibson to start the 1979 baseball season with their Class AAA Evansville (Ind.) team, again managed by Leyland.

Calculated risk

Bing Devine, longtime general manager of the St. Louis baseball Cardinals, had become vice president for administration of the St. Louis football Cardinals just a week before the 1979 NFL draft. Cardinals football scouts approached Devine before selecting Gibson to find out what baseball teams had thought of Gibson.

Devine offered a positive report. Gibson hadn’t played baseball at Michigan State until his junior year. He still was relatively inexperienced at the game and some thought Gibson might change his mind and return to football.

“It was a calculated risk,” Devine said to the Associated Press of the football Cardinals’ decision to draft Gibson. “At this level of the draft, everyone’s a calculated risk. With his amount of football talent, I guess the people over in the drafting office figured he was worth taking a chance on.

“Besides,” Devine continued, “in baseball, just as in football, there’s no such thing as a sure bet.”

Tigers general manager Jim Campbell told the Associated Press, “We’re not surprised that any major (football) team would want Kirk, but we are convinced that he will honor his contract with us.”

Said Gibson regarding the football Cardinals: “I imagine they will call me and I’ll probably say, ‘Hi,’ but I’m a baseball player … as of now.”

The Cardinals, though, gave Gibson plenty to think about. When reporter Jim Hawkins, a baseball correspondent for The Sporting News, visited Gibson at Evansville a month after the NFL draft, Gibson showed him four one-year contracts totaling $200,000 sent by the football Cardinals. The contracts, Hawkins reported, were for $35,000, $45,000, $55,000 and $65,000 for each of the next four NFL seasons.

If Gibson wanted to quit baseball for football, he wouldn’t lose any contract money.

“Right now, I’m not thinking about football at all,” Gibson said to Hawkins. “I made up my mind last year to play baseball and I don’t want to be second-guessing myself. I want to keep my mind on baseball.”

Baseball lifer

In his first game for Evansville, against an Iowa Oaks club managed by Tony La Russa, Gibson had a two-run home run, a RBI-double, two walks and a sacrifice bunt. Gibson went on to bat .245 with 42 RBI in 89 games for Evansville.

The Tigers promoted Gibson to the big leagues in September 1979. Gibson made his major-league debut on Sept. 8. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson sent the rookie to pinch-hit against Yankees closer Goose Gossage. The future Hall of Fame closer struck him out.

Gibson never was tempted again to try football. He built a 17-year big-league playing career, helping the Tigers (1984) and Dodgers (1988) to World Series championships with memorable home runs (off Gossage in 1984 and off Dennis Eckersley in 1988) and earning the 1988 National League Most Valuable Player Award. As manager of the Diamondbacks, Gibson won the 2011 NL Manager of the Year Award.

Even without Gibson, the football Cardinals had a spectacular draft in 1979. Their selections in the first through fourth rounds all became starters:

_ Halfback Ottis Anderson (7,999 yards rushing and 46 rushing touchdowns in eight years with St. Louis).

_ Fullback Theotis Brown (10 rushing touchdowns in three years with St. Louis).

_ Offensive guard Joe Bostic (122 games, 114 as a starter, in nine years with St. Louis).

_ Wide receiver Roy Green (522 receptions, 8,496 yards receiving and 66 touchdown catches in 12 years with the Cardinals in St. Louis and Arizona).

Previously: Football Cardinals finally got it right with Don Coryell

Previously: From Bill White to Isaac Bruce: September specials

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Two years after his professional baseball debut at the Class C level of the minor leagues, Tom Alston was the Opening Day first baseman for the Cardinals. Making that leap in such a short time would be a challenge for any prospect. Alston had the additional pressure of being the first black person to play for the Cardinals.

tom_alstonSixty years ago, on April 13, 1954, Thomas Edison Alston broke the Cardinals’ color barrier, batting sixth and playing first base against the Cubs at St. Louis.

Seven seasons after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers, the Cardinals became the 10th of the 16 major-league teams to integrate.

Alston, 28, was the 14th black player in the Cardinals’ organization, but the only one on the big-league roster. (Among the other blacks in the Cardinals’ system in 1954 were pitchers Bill Greason, Brooks Lawrence and John Wyatt. All eventually would pitch in the big leagues.)

Rapid rise

Alston’s rise from baseball novice to Cardinals pioneer was fast and unexpected. After serving in the Navy from 1945-47, Alston enrolled at North Carolina A&T in his native Greensboro and earned a bachelor of science degree in physical education and social sciences. It was while in college that Alston, 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, first played organized baseball.

In 1952, he broke into professional baseball with Porterville, Calif., of the Class C Southwest International League, and hit .353 in 54 games. That caught the attention of the San Diego club of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

Alston joined San Diego midway through the 1952 season and hit .244 in 78 games.

In 1953, Alston put together a stellar season for San Diego. He had 207 hits in 180 games, with 101 runs scored, 23 home runs, 101 RBI and a .297 batting average. Cardinals scouts gave Alston rave reviews.

On Jan. 26, 1954, the Cardinals sent first baseman Dick Sisler, pitcher Eddie Erautt and $100,000 to San Diego for Alston. San Diego manager Lefty O’Doul called Alston “a great prospect who can field as good as any first baseman in the big leagues.”

“Alston looks like he’s going to be a great hitter, too,” O’Doul told The Sporting News.

Said Cardinals owner August Busch Jr.: “When we purchased the Cardinals, I promised there would be no racial discrimination. However, Alston was not purchased because of his race. Our scouts and manager Eddie Stanky believe he is a great prospect. While he may need more experience, we didn’t want him to slip away from us.”

Bill Starr, president of the San Diego club, offered to cut the cash portion of the deal to $75,000 if the Cardinals would wait until 1955 to take Alston, according to the Los Angeles Daily Mirror. But the Cardinals wanted Alston for 1954. The incumbent at first base was Steve Bilko, who hit 21 home runs for the 1953 Cardinals but also led the National League in striking out (125 times). The Cardinals used spring training in 1954 as a competition between Alston and Bilko for the first base job.

“I think we have a real ballplayer in this colored boy,” Stanky said to The Sporting News in March 1954.

Said Alston: “They treat me here just the same as any other ballplayer and that’s how I want to be treated.”

Major leaguer

Stanky declared he’d platoon Alston (a left-handed batter) and Bilko (a right-handed batter). But Alston got the Opening Day start against Cubs left-hander Paul Minner.

“I guess I’ve come a long way in a short time,” Alston said to The Sporting News. “I guess I came up like a real rocket.”

Alston went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and committed an error in his debut game. Boxscore

In his next game, April 17, 1954, at Chicago, Alston went hitless in his first four at-bats. In the eighth, he led off with a home run, his first big-league hit, against Cubs reliever Jim Brosnan. Boxscore

The next day, April 18, Alston got his second hit, a pinch-hit, three-run homer off left-hander Jim Davis that lifted the Cardinals to a 6-4 triumph. Boxscore

On April 30, the Cardinals sent Bilko to the Cubs. Alston was the everyday first baseman.

In a doubleheader against the Giants on May 2, Alston was 5-for-6 with 5 RBI, an inside-the-park home run and 3 walks. His performance was overshadowed that day, however, by teammate Stan Musial, who hit 5 home runs with 9 RBI. Game 1 boxscore Game 2 boxscore

In The Sporting News, Bob Broeg wrote of Alston’s inside-the-park home run: “His speed enabled him to circle the bases easily after Willie Mays misjudged his long wind-blown drive to left-center.”

Slowed by slump

Alston hit .301 (37-for-123) in May and was at .285 overall on May 30, but he slumped in June, enduring a 2-for-27 stretch and batting .181 (15-for-83) for the month. He had just 7 RBI in his last 42 games.

On June 30, the Cardinals sent Alston to Class AAA Rochester and called up another rookie, Joe Cunningham, to replace him at first base.

Alston hit .210 in Cardinals home games; .280 on the road. He batted .268 against right-handers; .197 versus left-handers. His overall numbers for the 1954 Cardinals: 60 hits in 66 games, 14 doubles, 4 home runs, 34 RBI and a .246 batting average. He made 62 starts at first base.

Said Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer: “Alston wasn’t ready … Eddie (Stanky) and I still have a very high regard for Alston as a prospect.”

After replacing Alston, Cunningham hit .284 with 11 home runs in 85 games for the 1954 Cardinals. The next season, the Cardinals moved Musial from the outfield to first base.

Alston made brief appearances with the Cardinals in 1955, 1956 and 1957. In 91 big-league games, all with St. Louis, Alston had 66 hits and a .244 batting average.

Ten years after Alston’s big-league debut, the Cardinals would become World Series champions, building a reputation as a franchise that embraced diversity with players such as Bob Gibson, Bill White, Curt Flood, Lou Brock and Julian Javier.

Underappreciated, Tom Alston took the first steps toward making that possible.

Previously: The debut of Bill Greason, first black Cardinals pitcher

Greensboro newspaper: Illness curtailed Tom Alston’s career with Cardinals

St. Louis newspaper: In remembering Jackie Robinson, remember Tom Alston, too

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