The 1946 Cardinals shifted Stan Musial from left field to first base and it worked out well.
Though he never had played first base as a professional, Musial replaced injured Dick Sisler on June 7, 1946, and started at first base the remainder of the season and in the World Series.
Musial, 25, started 114 regular-season games at first base for the 1946 Cardinals. He ranked second among National League first basemen in double plays turned (119), fourth in putouts (1,056) and fifth in fielding percentage (.989). Musial led NL first basemen in errors (13).
The change in positions didn’t hurt Musial’s hitting. He led the NL in batting (.365), hits (228), singles (142), doubles (50), triples (20), extra-base hits (86) and total bases (366) for a Cardinals club that won the 1946 World Series championship.
In an editorial, The Sporting News opined, “Usually, so drastic a shift harries the player and hampers his hitting and fielding, but Stan jumped into his new position as if to the manor born.”
It was a remarkable and completely unexpected transformation.
In 1945, Musial was called into military service and joined the Navy. At Bainbridge, Md., where he was sent for basic training, Musial played in a few ballgames with fellow servicemen.
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial recalled, “Although by then I had a reputation as a good defensive outfielder in the big leagues, the Bainbridge athletic director, a lieutenant named Jerry O’Brien, put me at first base. I was amused. O’Brien was not.”
“Get out of there, Musial,” O’Brien ordered. “You’re terrible. You’ll never make anybody’s team at first base.”
Helping the team
That was the extent of Musial’s experience at first base until he got a surprise request a year later.
Sisler, a rookie, had been selected to be the everyday first baseman for the 1946 Cardinals by first-year manager Eddie Dyer. Sisler replaced Ray Sanders, whose contract was sold to the Braves the day before the 1946 season opener.
Sisler was hitting .270 when he injured his hand on June 2. Harry Walker, an outfielder, replaced Sisler at first base. Dyer, though, had another player in mind for the position.
“When I reported in the clubhouse, I found a new first baseman’s glove in my locker,” Musial said. “I took the hint and began working out at the infield position.”
A few nights later, Musial said, Dyer asked him to play first base “for the good of the club.”
“I always liked to fool around the bag,” Musial said. “When Skip told me that I was to be the regular first sacker, I was delighted.”
On June 7, in a game against the Phillies at St. Louis, Musial made his debut as a professional first baseman. He turned two double plays, had 11 putouts and one assist and made no errors. Boxscore
Gamble pays off
After Sisler’s hand healed, Dyer kept Musial at first base.
“St. Louis players liked Musial’s work around the bag, thought the team was stronger with Stan on the infield and what started to be a makeshift developed into a permanent arrangement,” The Sporting News explained. “From all present indications, Stan will continue indefinitely at the position.”
Said Musial: “I would hate to go back to the outfield. Now I am in the game all the way in every play. Not like waiting out there for three or four chances.”
On Aug. 12, against the Cubs at Chicago, Musial handled 20 chances at first base _ 19 putouts and one assist. Boxscore
“I am quite thrilled over the way my move in converting Stan Musial into a first baseman has turned out,” Dyer told The Sporting News. “… I knew that shifting Musial to first base was a perilous adventure for me. Suppose he had fallen off in his hitting? … I had to risk that. But, then, it wasn’t too big a gamble, for I knew Musial.”
Musial said his experience as a pitcher in high school and in the minor leagues helped prepare him to play first base with the 1946 Cardinals.
“That taught me how to get around the infield, field bunts and hot smashes, also to get some experience in covering first base when balls were hit to the first baseman,” Musial said.
Assessing his fielding, Musial said, “I am far from a polished first sacker.”
“That dilemma you find yourself in when you get a bad throw is my biggest problem,” Musial said. “Here’s what I mean: One of the infielders makes a wide relay to me. A player who is accustomed to playing the bag will leave it if he sees that he has to and will save the out. I am afraid I can’t do both. So I try to protect the bag and the ball at the same time.”
“I can make that first-to-short-to-first double play and that throw to the pitcher when he covers the bag.”
In the 1946 World Series versus the Red Sox, Musial fielded flawlessly at first base. He made 61 putouts, had two assists, turned six double plays and committed no errors in 62 innings.
Musial played the entire 1947 season at first base. In 1948, Dyer moved Musial to right field and put Nippy Jones at first base.
From 1948-54, Musial primarily played outfield. He was the starting first baseman for the Cardinals from 1955-59 and then returned primarily to the outfield for the last four years (1960-63) of his career.
Musial made 1,854 career regular-season starts in the outfield and 989 career regular-season starts at first base.