A central figure in a trade unpopular with many Cardinals loyalists, Al Dark responded with a hitting display that endeared him to St. Louis fans and gained him satisfaction against his former team.
A three-time all-star shortstop with the Giants and 1948 National League Rookie of the Year with the Braves, Dark played for 14 seasons in the major leagues. He hit a combined .323 in 16 World Series games for the Braves (1948) and Giants (1951 and 1954). Dark also managed four big-league clubs, winning a pennant with the 1962 Giants and a World Series championship with the 1974 Athletics.
On June 14, 1956, St. Louis general manager Frank Lane upset Cardinals fans when he traded popular second baseman Red Schoendienst, a nine-time all-star, to the Giants. The key player the Cardinals received in return was Dark.
The full trade was Schoendienst, outfielder Jackie Brandt, catcher Bill Sarni and pitchers Dick Littlefield and Gordon Jones to the Giants for Dark, outfielder Whitey Lockman, catcher Ray Katt and pitcher Don Liddle.
Lane made the trade because Don Blasingame, out of position at shortstop, was better suited for second base. To open a spot for Blasingame at second, Lane decided to deal Schoendienst and acquire a shortstop in return. Lane had been trying since the previous winter to convince the Giants to deal Dark to the Cardinals.
“The Giants wanted a second baseman, the Cardinals a shortstop and everybody was pleased except the Cardinals fans, who, understandably, loved Red. He was the finest second baseman in the game,” Dark said in his book “When in Doubt, Fire the Manager.”
Said Lane to The Sporting News: “We let Schoendienst go with great reluctance, naturally, but to get a star like Dark you’ve got to give a star.”
Cardinals fans swiftly expressed their displeasure. “The switchboard at Busch Stadium lighted up like a Christmas tree and stayed that way for more than two hours June 14,” wrote The Sporting News.
Let there be light
Fortunately for Lane and the Cardinals, Dark, 34, had a torrid start to his Cardinals career, hitting .366 in his first 28 games for St. Louis.
On July 12, the Giants visited St. Louis for the first time since the trade and opened a three-game series with the Cardinals.
Dark was spectacular. He had nine hits in 11 at-bats in the three games. He drove in seven runs in the series and sparked St. Louis to a sweep.
Schoendienst, in his first Giants appearance in St. Louis, had three hits in 11 at-bats and walked twice.
Despite their continued affection for Schoendienst, Cardinals fans responded warmly to Dark’s performance, wrote St. Louis journalist Bob Broeg. “Dark, since his acquisition by the Cardinals, has played inspirationally and spectacularly,” Broeg reported.
In the first game of the Giants-Cardinals series on July 12, Dark drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly off reliever Marv Grissom in the seventh, snapping a 3-3 tie in a game the Cardinals would win, 5-3. Dark was 2-for-3 and scored a run. Boxscore
Dark drove in the winning run again in Game 2 of the series on July 13. With the score tied at 5-5 in the eighth, Dark hit a two-run double off reliever Hoyt Wilhelm, lifting the Cardinals to a 7-5 victory. Dark was 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBI. He got his four hits against four different pitchers. Boxscore
In the series finale on July 14, Dark was 3-for-3 with three RBI against starter Al Worthington in the Cardinals’ 5-2 triumph. Boxscore
Dark had seven hits in his last seven at-bats of the series.
“He’s a polished professional, a real leader who leads without being ostentatious,” Lane said of Dark.
Dark hit .286 in 100 games for the 1956 Cardinals.
In 1957, his only full season with St. Louis, Dark batted .290 in 140 games, including 134 starts at shortstop. One of his best performances that season occurred on July 24 when he tripled twice _ first, off Sal Maglie, and then off Sandy Koufax _ and scored twice in a 3-0 Cardinals victory over the Dodgers. Boxscore
By 1958, Dark, 36, still could hit consistently but had lost fielding range. The Cardinals had a replacement, shortstop Eddie Kasko, on the roster. Dark hit .297 in 18 games for the 1958 Cardinals before he was traded to the Cubs on May 20 for pitcher Jim Brosnan.
Dark had 306 hits in 258 games over three seasons for the Cardinals and batted .289. He produced four hits in a game seven times for St. Louis.
Previously: Ken Boyer converted from infield to center field