Before he played a game for the Cardinals, Ken Boyer was hyped as their best third baseman all-time. Then, in his debut, he heightened expectations, hitting a home run against a Cardinals nemesis.
In the eighth inning, with two outs, Red Schoendienst on first and the Cubs ahead, 14-2, Boyer slugged a home run off starter Paul Minner. The blast launched Boyer into a productive rookie season and a standout Cardinals career.
After hitting .319 with 42 doubles, 21 home runs, 116 RBI and 29 stolen bases for the Cardinals’ minor-league Houston affiliate in 1954, Boyer was assured a spot with the 1955 Cardinals. In December 1954, the Cardinals traded their starting third baseman, Ray Jablonski, to the Reds, making Boyer the heir apparent at that position entering spring training.
In an interview with The Sporting News, Art Routzong, Houston’s general manager, said of Boyer, “He is the best prospect I’ve seen in 17 years in baseball.”
In a preview to spring training, St. Louis writer Bob Broeg opined, “If looks didn’t deceive, the Cardinals would have their greatest third baseman ever in Kenton Lloyd Boyer. It does seem possible _ it would be daring to say ‘probable’ _ that the rookie will become the Redbirds’ best at their most vexing position.”
Broeg’s colleague, J. Roy Stockton, added that Boyer “would be the Cardinals’ first complete infielder since Red Schoendienst.”
In spring training, Boyer played well at both third base and shortstop. In a poll of baseball correspondents for The Sporting News, Boyer and Indians pitcher Herb Score were selected the best rookies entering the 1955 season.
Scout Tony Kaufmann compared Boyer with a Hall of Famer, saying the rookie could become “another Pie Traynor.”
“He’s deadly efficient and with no apparent weakness,” Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky said of Boyer.
Wrote Broeg: “He can run fast, throw hard, field well and hit with power.”
Boyer’s performance in his debut game affirmed his skills and his ability to adapt.
Minner, a left-hander, often baffled the Cardinals. In a 10-year career with the Dodgers and Cubs, Minner was 21-8 versus St. Louis. He was 48-76 against the rest of the National League. In 1955, when he finished 9-9, Minner was 5-0 against the Cardinals.
In his first big-league at-bat in the season opener, Boyer flied out to right. In his next two at-bats, Boyer struck out against Minner, both times with a pair of runners on base.
In the eighth, Schoendienst singled with two outs. Boyer followed with his home run. Boxscore
(A month later, May 30, 1955, Boyer hit two home runs in a game against Minner, including a two-run, two-out shot in the bottom of the ninth that tied the score.)
Boyer had a successful rookie year. He hit .264 with 27 doubles, 18 home runs and 22 stolen bases. Boyer was one of four National League players to achieve double figures in home runs and steals in 1955. The others: Willie Mays of the Giants (51 homers, 24 steals), Sandy Amoros of the Dodgers (10 homers, 10 steals) and Boyer’s teammate, Wally Moon (19 homers, 11 steals).
Among NL third basemen in 1955, Boyer ranked second in double plays turned (24), third in assists (253) and third in fielding percentage (.952).
Yet, Boyer’s teammate, outfielder Bill Virdon, won the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year Award. Virdon hit .281 with 18 doubles and 17 home runs.
As predicted, Boyer developed into the all-time best Cardinals third baseman. In 11 years with St. Louis, he hit .293 with 255 home runs and 1,001 RBI. Boyer also won five Gold Glove awards and the 1964 NL Most Valuable Player Award with the Cardinals.
Previously: 1964 effort supports Ken Boyer Hall of Fame case
Previously: Ken Boyer converted from infield to center