(Updated Feb. 19, 2015)
In a classic example of the adage “if you can’t beat ’em, join ’em,” the pitcher who posted the worst career record against the Cardinals got traded to St. Louis and enjoyed the best stretch of his big-league tenure.
In 31 appearances against St. Louis for the Reds and Phillies from 1949-1956, Herm Wehmeier was 0-14 with a 4.89 ERA.
(Yovani Gallardo has the second-worst career mark versus the Cardinals. In 19 appearances against St. Louis for the Brewers from 2007-2014, Gallardo was 1-11 with a 6.45 ERA.)
Wehmeier’s 14th loss to St. Louis occurred May 9, 1956, in the Cardinals’ 3-0 victory over the Phillies. Boxscore
Two days later, the Cardinals traded pitchers Harvey Haddix, Stu Miller and Ben Flowers to Philadelphia for Wehmeier and pitcher Murry Dickson. The deal was unpopular with many Cardinals fans. Haddix had won 20 in 1953 and 18 in 1954. Though his record in 1955 fell to 12-16, many saw him as a pillar of St. Louis’ rotation.
But Cardinals coach Terry Moore, who was the Phillies’ manager when Philadelphia acquired Wehmeier from the Reds in 1954, had recommended the right-hander highly to St. Louis general manager Frank Lane. According to The Sporting News, Lane said he sought Wehmeier “because he can be depended upon to trouble Brooklyn and Milwaukee, teams the Cards must stop to win.”
Cardinals pitching coach Bill Posedel was successful in working with Wehmeier. Reporting for The Sporting News, Bob Broeg wrote:
With pitching coach Bill Posedel helping him, encouraging him to experiment, Wehmeier began to work with a high leg kick, similar to Paul Derringer’s, and, as others before had told him, he concentrated on letting up on his fastball and curve when the opposition would expect the Wehmeier of old to try to bust his fastball by ’em.
The results were impressive. Wehmeier won eight of nine decisions for the 1956 Cardinals from July 21 to Sept. 11. He saved his best for his last start of the year.
On the morning of Saturday, Sept. 29, the next-to-last day of the 1956 season, the Braves held first place in the National League, a half-game ahead of the Dodgers.
That day, the Dodgers swept a doubleheader against the Pirates. The Braves entered their night game at St. Louis knowing they needed to win to keep a share of first place. Milwaukee started its ace, Warren Spahn, against Wehmeier.
Spahn and Wehmeier dueled into the 12th inning with the score tied 1-1. In the bottom of the 12th, left fielder Rip Repulski lashed a double against Spahn, scoring Stan Musial from second and giving the Cardinals a 2-1 victory. Boxscore
The loss dropped the Braves a game behind the Dodgers, who clinched the pennant the next day. The win capped a successful season for Wehmeier. He finished 12-9 with a 3.69 ERA for St. Louis. It would be the most single-season wins he would post in his big-league career.
Wehmeier was named the Cardinals’ 1957 Opening Day pitcher by manager Fred Hutchinson. The assignment was especially important for Wehmeier because he would be facing the Reds in Cincinnati.
A Cincinnati native, Wehmeier had been an outstanding athlete at Western Hills High School. When he signed with the Reds at age 18, he was billed as a hometown hero. Instead, plagued by wildness and high expectations, Wehmeier was a bust. In nine seasons with the Reds, Wehmeier was 49-69. He issued more walks (591) than strikeouts (478) and became a target of fan hostility.
“He was one of the greatest natural athletes we ever had in Cincinnati,” Reds general manager Gabe Paul told The Sporting News. “But never in my long baseball experience have I heard a man booed as bitterly as was Wehmeier. Nothing he could do was right. Even when he won, they booed him.”
One of Wehmeier’s troubles as a Red was that the former Cincinnati high school hero tried too hard. The more red-necked he became and the harder he tried to throw, the wilder he became, either walking himself into trouble or getting the ball up where power hitters and others could swing for the fences.
When Wehmeier took the mound in the Cardinals’ 1957 opener, his mother, father, sister and brother were in the stands. What they witnessed must have stunned many Reds fans. Wehmeier pitched a complete game and got the win in the Cardinals’ 13-4 victory. Boxscore
Wehmeier was winless in May and June, but recovered to win five consecutive decisions from Aug. 24 to Sept. 15. He finished the ’57 season at 10-7 with a 4.31 ERA.
In May 1958, Wehmeier was sent to the Tigers in a waiver deal. He suffered an elbow injury soon after and, at 31, his playing career was done. His big-league record: 92-108. For St. Louis, Wehmeier was 22-17.
Wehmeier scouted for the Reds for three years (he recommended they sign another phenom from Western Hills High School, Pete Rose) and then left baseball. He worked for a trucking company in Texas.
In May 1973, Wehmeier, 46, was testifying during a theft trial in federal court in Dallas when he suffered a fatal heart attack. In an obituary, The Sporting News reported:
Wehmeier was on the witness stand testifying for the government when he collapsed. The case involved theft of merchandise from a shipping company of which Wehmeier was an official.