In 1956, the Cardinals had a rookie second baseman who sprayed singles to all fields, ignited the offense with stolen bases and was superb at bunting for base hits.
The similarities between the two are striking.
Wong is 5 feet 9, bats left-handed and throws right-handed. He turned 24 in 2014, his first full season with the Cardinals.
Blasingame was 5 feet 9, batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He turned 24 in 1956, his first full season with the Cardinals.
Wong sparked the Cardinals during a three-game series versus the Braves in May 2014. He and teammate Peter Bourjos each had two bunts for base hits in the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory over the Braves on May 17. Boxscore Overall for the series, Wong had five hits in 11 at-bats (.455 average), scored three runs, drove in three runs, swiped two bases, walked and was hit by a pitch.
Blasingame also used his bunting skill to get base hits. With the bases empty, Blasingame bunted for 66 hits in 77 attempts _ an 86 percent success rate _ during his 12-year big-league career, according to research conducted by James Gentile of SB Nation.
Of Wong’s first 30 big-league hits, 26 (87 percent) were singles. Blasingame had 1,366 big-league hits; 1,105 (81 percent) were singles. In five years (1955-59) with the Cardinals, Blasingame produced 663 hits, with 528 (80 percent) being singles.
Both Wong and Blasingame got opportunities to become everyday second basemen for the Cardinals because of trades involving fan favorites. In June 1956, the Cardinals dealt second baseman Red Schoendienst to the Giants, opening the position for Blasingame. In November 2013, the Cardinals dealt third baseman David Freese to the Angels, enabling Matt Carpenter to move from second to third and opening a spot for Wong.
Gashouse Gang connection
In five games for the 1955 Cardinals after his promotion from the minor leagues in late September, Blasingame gave an indication of his electrifying potential. He had six hits and six walks in 23 plate appearances (a .545 on-base percentage).
Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson opened the 1956 season with Schoendienst at second base and Alex Grammas at shortstop. After three games, though, Blasingame replaced Grammas as the starting shortstop.
Bob Broeg, longtime St. Louis sports writer, noted that Blasingame wore uniform No. 3, the same worn from 1932-37 by Frankie Frisch, the Cardinals’ fiery Gashouse Gang second baseman who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
In The Sporting News, Broeg wrote, “Blasingame’s skill at winning fans and followers _ as well as his share of games _ is no accident. For one thing, he’s extremely fast, probably the fleetest man on a St. Louis club that has its greatest collective speed since the famed Swifties of 1942.”
Blasingame said his playing style was inspired by Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. “I never saw him, of course, but I’ve read a lot about him, the way he could put the pressure on the other club and keep it there,” Blasingame told Broeg.
Firebrand like Fox
Because of his throwing arm, the Cardinals projected Blasingame as a better fit for second base than for shortstop. One of the players general manager Frank Lane acquired from the Giants for Schoendienst was Al Dark. Blasingame replaced Schoendienst at second, with Dark taking over at shortstop.
According to The Sporting News, Lane saw Blasingame “as a firebrand,” much like Nellie Fox, all-star second baseman of the White Sox.
“It was evident he had a chance for future greatness if he could be placed at second,” Lane said of Blasingame.
Wrote Broeg, “Blasingame, taking advantage of his speed and his small stature, has developed into an able leadoff man, a spray hitter and able drag bunter.”
Nicknamed the “Corinth Comet” (he hailed from Corinth, Miss.) and the “Blazer,” Blasingame finished his rookie season with 153 hits in 150 games, with 72 walks and 94 runs scored. (Frank Robinson of the Reds was the unanimous choice for the 1956 National League Rookie of the Year Award.)
In his four full seasons (1956-59) with the Cardinals, Blasingame ranked in the top 10 in the National League in singles each year. In 1959, Blasingame led the league in singles, with 144, seven ahead of the runner-up, Reds second baseman Johnny Temple.
Blasingame also ranked among the top 10 in the league in stolen bases for three consecutive Cardinals seasons (1957-59).
The Cardinals, however, were last in the league in home runs in 1958 and sixth among eight teams in 1959. Desperate for power, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine traded Blasingame to the Giants for shortstop Daryl Spencer and outfielder Leon Wagner in December 1959.