(Updated Dec. 27, 2015)
If Marty Marion is elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, it will be because he was perhaps the finest-fielding shortstop of the 1940s, a starter on Cardinals teams that won four pennants and three World Series titles and a winner of the 1944 National League Most Valuable Player Award.
Marion wasn’t known for his hitting _ he usually batted in the seventh and eighth spots in the order during a 13-year big-league career _ but much like another Cardinals standout shortstop, Ozzie Smith, Marion worked to enhance his value at the plate.
Marion, a Cardinals shortstop from 1940-50, twice has been one of 10 candidates on the Pre-Integration Era ballot being considered for election to the Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y. The ballot is for players, managers, umpires and executives whose most significant achievements came before 1946.
To be elected, a candidate must receive votes from at least 12 of the 16 voters. Marion didn’t receive enough support when voting was done in 2012 and again in 2015.
With a .263 career batting average and 1,448 hits in 11 seasons with the Cardinals and two with the Browns, offensive numbers alone won’t qualify Marion for the Hall of Fame, but his batting shouldn’t disqualify him either.
In 1942, his third season with the Cardinals, Marion, a right-handed batter, initially struggled at the plate so badly that some wondered whether he could remain in the big leagues. Though he was the everyday shortstop, he was hitting .188 on May 31 that season.
Years later, Marion explained to St. Louis writer Bob Broeg how he improved as a hitter. “I began studying hitting on my own, changing my batting stance, observing the pitchers, laying off bad pitches and hitting more to right field,” Marion said.
Marion finished the 1942 season with a .276 batting mark and helped the Cardinals win the pennant and the World Series championship that year.
Perhaps Marion’s most productive game for the Cardinals occurred on June 3, 1945, in the opener of a doubleheader against the Giants at St. Louis. Marion had a career-high six RBI with a triple, double and two flyouts in an 11-3 Cardinals victory. Boxscore
Five years later, in 1950, Marion’s last season as a Cardinals player before becoming their manager in 1951, the shortstop hit a home run in each of four consecutive games he started. Those were his only homers of the season and his last of 34 as a Cardinal.
The unexpected power supply began May 30, 1950, when Marion went 3-for-6, including a three-run home run off Vic Lombardi, in the Cardinals’ 17-13 victory over the Pirates in the opener of a Memorial Day doubleheader at Pittsburgh. Boxscore
After a pinch-hit appearance in the second game of the doubleheader, Marion made his next start June 1 against the Dodgers at St. Louis. Facing Preacher Roe (a 19-game winner that year), Marion hit a grand slam with two out in the sixth inning, erasing a 2-0 Brooklyn lead and lifting the Cardinals into a first-place tie with the Dodgers with a 5-2 victory. Boxscore
The New York Times described Marion’s only career grand slam as “electrifying” for the Cardinals and the St. Louis crowd of 32,180.
“For 11 major-league years, Mr. Shortstop went quietly about his business,” wrote the Associated Press. “Never did he hit a home run with the bases loaded. Never, until last night.”
Wrote United Press: Imagine Marty Marion, of all people, blasting a grand slam to beat the Brooklyn Dodgers and putting the rollicking Redbirds into a first-place tie with the Flatbush boys.
With the grand slam, Marion had produced eight RBI in back-to-back games started. He didn’t stop there.
In his next game, June 2, Marion hit a solo home run off the Dodgers’ Don Newcombe. Marion followed that with another solo homer in his next game started against the Phillies’ Curt Simmons. The 10 RBI in four consecutive games started accounted for a quarter of Marion’s season total in 1950.
The Sporting News reported Marion’s four-game stretch as “the most memorable week of hitting in his major-league career.”
“Better timing, that’s all,” Marion explained. “But it’s quite a thrill and I hope it happens more often.”
Previously: How Marty Marion won MVP Award by one point