Before the 1967 season, Ted Savage competed with Mike Shannon for the role of starting third baseman of the Cardinals. Neither could have imagined then that both would have long careers with the Cardinals after their playing days.
Shannon, who would win the third base job, played until 1970. After a year as the franchise’s assistant director of promotions and sales, Shannon became a Cardinals broadcaster in 1972 and remained in the job each year since.
Savage spent three (1965-67) of his nine years in the big leagues as a Cardinals reserve. He joined the Cardinals’ front office in September 1987 as assistant director of community relations and minor-league instructor. The 2012 season was his 25th and last in the Cardinals’ front office. At 75, he retired as director of target marketing in the Cardinals Care and community relations department.
A native of the St. Louis-area town of Venice, Ill., Savage signed with the Phillies as an amateur free agent in 1960 and quickly made a favorable impression. In 1961, Savage was named most valuable player of the Class AAA International League after hitting .325 with 24 home runs, 31 stolen bases and 111 runs scored for Buffalo.
Savage became the Phillies’ everyday left fielder as a rookie in 1962 and hit .266 with 16 stolen bases. Philadelphia traded him to the Pirates after the season, beginning a journey that would land Savage with eight big-league teams between 1962 and 1971.
In December 1964, the Pirates traded Savage and pitcher Earl Francis to the Cardinals for second baseman Jack Damaska and minor-league outfielder Ron Cox.
A substitute school teacher in St. Louis during the off-season (he was graduated from Lincoln University, with a bachelor’s degree in education), Savage reported to spring training in 1965 with the Cardinals’ minor-league players. He began the regular season with Class AAA Jacksonville, stole 34 bases in 87 games and was called up to St. Louis on July 23 after reserve outfielder Carl Warwick was dealt to the Orioles.
Savage didn’t get a hit until his 19th at-bat as a Cardinal. The slump-busting double on Aug. 2 sparked a winning rally against the Dodgers. Boxscore
Two weeks later, Savage hit his first and only Cardinals home run, a two-run shot off Joe Nuxhall of the Reds. Boxscore
The highlights were too few. Savage hit .159 (10-for-63) in 30 games for the 1965 Cardinals. He opened the 1966 season with Class AAA Tulsa.
“Ted is really something,” Tulsa manager Charlie Metro told The Sporting News. “He can do everything _ and well. I consider him a better center fielder than eight of those now up in the big leagues.”
Savage, hitting .317 with 34 doubles, 18 homers and 43 steals for Tulsa, was called up to the Cardinals in August 1966. He was instrumental in helping St. Louis to a 5-1 victory over the Pirates on Aug. 27. Savage doubled and scored against starter Steve Blass and rapped a two-run double off reliever Pete Mikkelsen. Boxscore
Just as in 1965, though, Savage mostly struggled, batting .172 (5-for-29) in 16 games for the 1966 Cardinals.
After the season, Savage was sent by the Cardinals to the Florida Instructional League with the intent of being converted to a third baseman. He also received instruction on playing second base. Savage responded well to the challenges.
Wrote The Sporting News: Besides playing a slick hot corner, Savage also won three straight games for the Cards. In one, he stole home with the winning run. In another, he drove in the deciding run with a single. And, in the third, he hit a game-winning 415-foot homer.
Meanwhile, Shannon also was working toward a conversion from outfield to third base. In December 1966, the Cardinals traded their starting third baseman, Charlie Smith, to the Yankees for right fielder Roger Maris.
Though Shannon was regarded the frontrunner to replace Smith, Savage was considered a good bet to win a spot with the 1967 Cardinals. St. Louis ace Bob Gibson told The Sporting News, “Ted’s really improved. He’s got lots of guts and he could help some team right now.”
His confidence bolstered, Savage had a spectacular spring training, hitting .364 in exhibition games. Cardinals hitting instructor Joe Medwick said, “Savage became a good hitter again by going with the pitch.”
Savage made the 1967 Opening Day roster as a reserve infielder-outfielder. (Shannon was the starting third baseman and Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Maris were the everyday outfielders).
However, Savage hardly played _ and when he did, he wasn’t effective. With his batting average at .125 (1-for-8), Savage was in the visitors’ clubhouse at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh when manager Red Schoendienst informed Savage he was being optioned to Tulsa. Angered, Savage grabbed a ukelele he had purchased and smashed it against his locker, The Sporting News reported.
The outburst prompted the Cardinals to switch gears. They sent Savage to the Cubs rather than return him to the minor-league system. Savage made an immediate impression in Chicago. He twice scored on steals of home. On June 2, his first time facing the Cardinals since his stormy departure, Savage hit a home run against Steve Carlton, one of two he would hit against the St. Louis left-hander that season. Boxscore
Savage told The Sporting News he was sorry he had smashd the ukelele and explained, “I figured I had done everything they (the Cardinals) had asked me to. I just wasn’t going to go back to the minors.”
Savage also would play for the Dodgers, Reds, Brewers and Royals. His best season was 1970 when he hit .279 with 12 homers and 50 RBI for the Brewers.
After his playing career, Dr. Ted Savage earned a Ph.D. degree in urban studies from St. Louis University and spent nine years as athletic director at Harris-Stowe State University in St. Louis before joining the Cardinals’ front office.
Previously: How Charlie Metro miffed Stan Musial