Desperate for pitching, the 1954 Cardinals settled on a simple solution: Raid the Yankees, winners of five consecutive World Series titles, of as many starters as possible.
Sixty years ago, Feb. 23, 1954, the Cardinals made bids to pry two right-handed aces, Vic Raschi and Allie Reynolds, from the Yankees. They got Raschi but failed to land Reynolds.
Still, the acquisition of Raschi, one of the top pitchers in the American League, was considered a bold move by the Cardinals. Though some were skeptical about why the Yankees were willing to part with Raschi, many believed the deal had vaulted the Cardinals from also-rans to National League pennant contenders.
Raschi, 35, had a regular-season record of 120-50 in eight years with the Yankees. He was 5-3 with a 2.24 ERA in six World Series (1947 and 1949-53) for New York. Reynolds, 37, was 118-56 from 1947-53 with the Yankees. He was 7-2 with a 2.79 ERA in six World Series for them.
In 1954, the Cardinals and Yankees both trained in St. Petersburg, Fla. While there, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch saw Dan Topping, a co-owner of the Yankees, and asked whether the Yankees could spare “any kind of right-hander with a fair chance,” The Sporting News reported.
Busch had deep pockets and a desire to spend. Meanwhile, several Yankees were feuding with general manager George Weiss over the contract offers for the 1954 season. The Yankees were willing to dump some of their aging, high-priced talent.
According to The Sporting News, Busch “was astonished” when he found the Yankees willing to deal. When Busch offered $85,000 for Raschi and $100,000 for Reynolds (according to John Carmichael of the Chicago Tribune), the Yankees accepted.
First, both pitchers needed to clear waivers through the American League in order for the transactions to be completed with the Cardinals. Raschi went unclaimed; Reynolds didn’t. (When the Indians claimed him, the Yankees pulled Reynolds off the waiver list and kept him for the 1954 season.)
Raschi was at the beach when Bill Greene, a photographer for the New York World-Telegram and Sun, found him and informed him of the trade.
Greene: “You’ve been sold to the Cardinals.”
Raschi: “No, you’re kidding.”
Raschi, who was 13-6 for the 1953 Yankees, wanted a salary for the 1954 season of $40,000, the same amount he was paid in 1951 (when he won 21 for the third season in a row) and in 1952 (when he won 16). Weiss had offered $34,000.
“This club is complacent … Raschi’s attitude was like so many other attitudes on this club,” Weiss huffed.
Almost no one saw the deal coming. Wrote The Sporting News: “Imagine the amazement of the writers when (it was) announced that the New York club had sold Raschi to the Cardinals.”
Frank Lane, general manager of the White Sox, thought Raschi was in decline. “As short as the Yankees are on pitchers, don’t you think they would have kept him if he possibly could have helped them? Guys the Yankees get rid of usually are through,” Lane said.
Most, though, thought the Cardinals had helped themselves. The 1953 Cardinals had finished fourth at 83-71 _ 22 games behind the National League champion Dodgers.
_ Steve O’Neill, Phillies manager: “Before this deal, we figured we had only Brooklyn and Milwaukee to beat. But now we have the Cards as well.”
_ Leo Durocher, Giants manager: “This tightens up our race some more. I know Raschi is a great competitor.”
_ Casey Stengel, Yankees manager: “(Raschi) certainly wasn’t sold for anything he did on the field. They must have been awfully sore at him in the front office.”
_ Bob Broeg, St. Louis writer: “The acquisition of Vic Raschi was hailed from ballpark front office to tavern backroom … Raschi considerably strengthened the club’s pennant chances.”
_ The Sporting News: “If Raschi wins for the Cards, and the Bombers fail, there will be a storm over the Bronx which will rock (Yankee) Stadium to its very foundations.”
Raschi heightened expectations, saying, “I expect to have three or four more seasons of top-flight pitching … I’ll be disappointed if I don’t win 20 games.”
Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky said he’d be pleased if Raschi matched the 13 wins he had for the 1953 Yankees. “I’m sure he can do that, at least,” Stanky said.
Raschi won his first five decisions for the 1954 Cardinals, including a shutout of the Giants on May 19 at New York. (Raschi held the Giants to five singles, two by Willie Mays, in a 3-0 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore) The win gave Raschi a career mark of 125-50, a .714 winning percentage.
When Raschi shut out the Giants again, on a three-hitter on July 29 Boxscore, his record was 8-5. But an assortment of ailments, including back pain, plagued Raschi in the final two months. He lost his last four decisions and finished the 1954 season at 8-9 with a 4.73 ERA in 30 games.
Raschi ranked second on the 1954 Cardinals in starts (29), innings pitched (179) and strikeouts (73). He was 3-0 with 1.85 ERA against the Giants, who won the pennant that season. But Raschi didn’t deliver at the level he and the Cardinals had expected. St. Louis led the league in batting (.281 with 1,518 hits) but was seventh in pitching (790 runs allowed and a 4.50 ERA). The Cardinals slumped to sixth at 72-82 _ 25 games behind the Giants.
At Cardinals spring training in 1955, Raschi was limited to five innings pitched. He made one start in the regular season, got shelled by the Reds and was released the next day.
“I always admired Vic as a great competitor,” Stanky told The Sporting News, “and he proved himself a man, a real man, the way he took this unfortunate news, but we’ve got to stake our chances on younger pitchers who have shown promise.”