In 1977, Vern Rapp, a first-time big-league manager, got off to a rocky start with the Cardinals and never fully recovered.
Rapp, adhering to a policy of no facial hair for players, feuded with several Cardinals veterans, most notably reliever Al Hrabosky and outfielder Bake McBride, during his first season as Cardinals manager. Unable to improve his relationship with core players such as Ted Simmons and Lou Brock, Rapp was fired in April 1978.
Giants want Rapp
After the Cardinals finished 72-90 in 1976, manager Red Schoendienst was fired. Wire service reports indicated the Cardinals were considering hiring Joe Altobelli to replace Schoendienst. Altobelli had managed the Orioles’ Class AAA Rochester team to an International League title in 1976.
Rapp, who had managed the Expos’ Class AAA Denver team to an American Association division championship in 1976 and had been named minor league manager of the year by The Sporting News, was reported to be the top choice of the Giants to replace manager Bill Rigney. The Associated Press reported Rapp and Padres coach Joe Amalfitano were the leading candidates to manage the Giants. United Press International reported Rapp would get the job because Giants owner Bob Lurie “was impressed with Rapp’s reputation as a winner, a no-nonsense field leader and a man able to relate to today’s younger players.”
The Cardinals surprised the Giants by offering their job to Rapp, who accepted. (The Giants then called Altobelli, who was in St. Louis and being offered a position in the Cardinals’ organization, and gave him the San Francisco managerial job).
St. Louis background
Rapp cited his connections to the city and the team for his decision in choosing the Cardinals instead of the Giants. Rapp, a St. Louis native, had been signed by the Cardinals as a catcher in 1946. He played in the Cardinals’ minor-league system from 1946-50 and from 1953-54.
From 1965-68, Rapp had managed the Cardinals’ Class AA teams, leading Tulsa (81-60 in 1965) and Little Rock (82-58 1968) to Texas League championships. Among the future Cardinals he managed were pitchers Larry Jaster, Ron Willis, Wayne Granger and Jerry Reuss.
(Rapp left the Cardinals’ organization to become Class AAA manager of the Reds in 1969, joining Cincinnati general manager Bob Howsam, who had been general manager of the Cardinals when Rapp became a St. Louis minor-league manager in 1965. Rapp told the Associated Press he left the Cardinals for the Reds because “I felt stymied in Double-A.” During his tenure as Reds Class AAA manager from 1969-75, Rapp was credited with helping the careers of pitcher Gary Nolan and outfielder Ken Griffey Sr.)
Rapp had a 981-878 record in 15 years as a minor-league manager when he was selected to replace Schoendienst. “This is like a dream come true,” he told reporters.
Conflict among Cardinals
The dream had its nightmare moments:
_ After feuding with Rapp, McBride was traded to the Phillies in June 1977.
_ Rapp suspended Hrabosky when the pitcher ignored the manager’s request to meet.
_ Later, Hrabosky ignored Rapp’s ban on facial hair and grew back his Fu Manchu moustache and beard. Team owner Gussie Busch sided with Hrabosky and ordered Rapp to lift the ban.
_ Rapp insulted Brock when he sent the veteran to pinch-hit, then removed him for Mike Anderson (a .221 hitter in 1977) when the opposing team changed pitchers.
_ When Brock met with Rapp and urged him to be less rigid in his dealings with players, Rapp told Brock, “I’ll never change,” and abruptly ended the meeting, The Sporting News reported.
Still, the 1977 Cardinals finished 83-79, improving their win total by 11 over the 1976 showing. After the season, Hrabosky was traded to the Royals.
With Hrabosky and McBride gone and with Rapp having had a season of experience in the big leagues, it was hoped the turmoil would end in 1978. Not so. It boiled over on April 15 after the Phillies handed the Cardinals a 3-2 10-inning loss in St. Louis. Boxscore
Tensions were high in the clubhouse after the defeat. Catcher Ted Simmons turned on the stereo and music blasted across the room. “I was just trying to cool people off, keep ’em loose,” Simmons told The Sporting News days later.
Rapp was livid, thinking Simmons and the Cardinals were unfazed by the loss. Rapp beckoned Simmons into the manager’s office and an argument ensued. Rapp called Simmons “a loser” _ a label teammates and fans never would have associated with the hard-playing catcher.
Rapp eventually apologized. “There’s no one who has more individual capabilities of leadership than Ted Simmons,” Rapp told reporters days later. (When he was hired to manage the Cardinals, Rapp had said to The Sporting News, “Being an ex-catcher, I believe Simmons has the ability to handle the responsibility of being a leader on the field. I just want him to know that publicly.”)
Rapp’s stinging rebuke of Simmons had been heard by players _ and the friction wasn’t repairable. Days after the incident, Cardinals broadcaster Jack Buck broke the story, telling listeners about it as a way to explain the Cardinals’ poor play. With the Cardinals’ record at 6-11, general manager Bing Devine fired Rapp, citing “unrest on the ballclub” and calling the move “inevitable.”
Ken Boyer, the former Cardinals all-star third baseman, coach and minor-league manager who had left the organization after being passed over for the big-league job in favor of Rapp, was hired to replace the ousted manager.
“Things like this happen in this profession,” Rapp said to the Associated Press.
In 1979, Rapp joined the coaching staff of Expos manager Dick Williams and remained there through the 1983 season. Rapp was named manager of the Reds in 1984. In August, with Cincinnati at 51-70, Rapp was fired _ and replaced by Pete Rose.
Previously: Cardinals can thank Pat Hentgen for Mike Matheny