As a Cardinals rookie in 1962, Fred Whitfield was rated as having one of the quickest bats in the National League. A first baseman and left-handed batter, Whitfield was one of the best power-hitting prospects the Cardinals’ farm system had produced in years.
Said Phillies manager Gene Mauch after watching the Cardinals rookie pound Philadelphia pitching: “Fred Whitfield is the greatest hitter I’ve ever seen _ for the number of times I’ve seen him bat against us.”
The Sporting News hailed Whitfield as the Cardinals’ “biggest surprise of 1962” and Whitfield was selected by big-league managers, coaches and players as the first baseman on the 1962 Topps all-star rookie team.
Still, the Cardinals traded Whitfield to the Indians after the season.
Whitfield, 75, died Jan. 31, 2013, in his native Alabama. According to an obituary in The Birmingham News, Whitfield, retired from Anderson Electric, “was an avid outdoorsman and enjoyed playing bluegrass and gospel music on his guitar.”
Signed by Cardinals scout Mercer Harris, Whitfield was a standout in the minor leagues. He hit .309 with 23 home runs for Keokuk in 1958; a combined .285 with 28 homers for Winston-Salem and Tulsa in 1959; .310 with 22 homers for Tulsa in 1960; and .301 with 18 homers for Charleston in 1961.
Whitfield, 24, went to the big-league spring training camp in 1962, but was sent to the Cardinals’ farm club in Atlanta just before the season began. Joe Schultz, the Atlanta manager, told The Sporting News that Whitfield “could hit 30 home runs in our park.”
He was batting .323 and leading the International League in home runs (eight) and RBI (28) when he was promoted to the Cardinals on May 26, 1962.
The Cardinals were seeking a right-handed batter to replace injured outfielder Minnie Minoso. Whitfield didn’t fit the need. Because of a weak throwing arm after he hurt his shoulder as an American Legion pitcher, Whitfield only could play first base. Unlike Minoso, he batted left-handed.
According to The Sporting News, it was Cardinals business manager Art Routzong who convinced general manager Bing Devine and manager Johnny Keane to promote Whitfield.
“Finally, I said, ‘… Why not bring up the best hitter in our farm system, Fred Whitfield?’ ” Routzong said.
Replied Keane: “Maybe you’ve got something there.”
In his first five pinch-hit appearances for the Cardinals, Whitfield produced three hits and a walk.
On June 10, 1962, in the second game of a doubleheader at St. Louis against the Giants, Cardinals first baseman Bill White pulled a thigh muscle. Whitfield replaced him. In the sixth inning, left-hander Billy Pierce twice brushed back Whitfield. On the next pitch, Whitfield hit a three-run home run. “The ball disappeared over the roof in right-center and sailed across Grand Boulevard,” The Sporting News reported. Boxscore
Whitfield went on a tear, with 10 RBI in four games. On June 12, 1962, his two-run homer in the eighth inning off Paul Brown erased a one-run deficit and lifted the Cardinals to a 3-2 victory over the Phillies. Boxscore
“In the five years I’ve been with the Cardinals,” said Routzong, the business manager, “we have never brought up anyone who has come through with so many clutch hits in so few opportunities as Whitfield.”
Among Whitfield’s other big hits for St. Louis:
_ A three-run pinch-hit home run against the Braves’ Claude Raymond on July 3, 1962. Boxscore
_ A 10th-inning pinch-hit home run off Pirates closer Roy Face on July 15, 1962. Boxscore
_ A pinch-hit three-run home run against Jay Hook of the Mets on July 28, 1962. Boxscore
_ A grand slam off Phillies left-hander Bill Smith on Aug. 12, 1962. Boxscore
Whitfield finished the 1962 season with a .266 batting average, eight home runs and 34 RBI in 158 at-bats for the Cardinals. He hit .333 (11-for-33) as a pinch-hitter and .412 (7-for-17) with two outs and runners in scoring position.
“Fred did an exceptionally good job, especially as a pinch-hitter and part-time player, jobs usually handled by older, experienced men,” Devine said.
But two factors made Whitfield expendable: 1. the Cardinals already had a first baseman who batted left-handed, Bill White; 2. after trading starter Larry Jackson and reliever Lindy McDaniel to the Cubs for outfielder George Altman in October, the Cardinals needed pitching.
On Dec. 15, 1962, St. Louis dealt Whitfield to the Indians for pitcher Ron Taylor and infielder Jack Kubiszyn. Wrote The Sporting News: “If eyebrows were raised over the price Devine had to pay … it was understandable. The Cardinals had not come up with a genuine longball threat for years until Fred Whitfield exploded on the scene early last summer.”
Whitfield hit 20 or more home runs three times for the Indians (21 in 1963, 26 in 1965 and 27 in 1966). In a nine-year major-league career (1962-70), he played for the Cardinals, Indians, Reds and Expos, batting .253 with 108 home runs.