The Cardinals were a significant part of the baseball career of Jim Hickman. He signed his first professional contract with the Cardinals, played in their minor-league system for six seasons and ended his big-league playing career with them. Also, Hickman’s two best games in the major leagues came against the Cardinals.
Hickman, 79, an outfielder and first baseman for 13 years in the big leagues, died June 25, 2016, in his hometown of Henning, Tenn.
Best known as a member of the original 1962 Mets and for an all-star season with the 1970 Cubs, Hickman grew up a Cardinals fan and was 18 when he signed an amateur free agent contract with St. Louis in 1956.
“As a kid, I didn’t know there was any other club except the Cardinals,” Hickman told The Sporting News.
Helped by expansion
Displaying power but failing to hit for average, Hickman played in the Cardinals’ system from 1956-61 without getting a call to the big-league club. His best seasons in the Cardinals organization were 1957 when he produced 26 home runs and 113 RBI in 138 games for Class D Albany (Ga.) and 1959 when he had 22 home runs and 81 RBI in 133 games for Class AA Tulsa.
Wrote The Sporting News of Hickman: “The closest he ever got to the big club was a couple of early spring training camps. They gave Jim big uniform numbers reserved for no names … and he didn’t get much of a look.”
After Hickman hit 11 home runs with 57 RBI for Class AAA Portland (Ore.) in 1961, the Cardinals made him available in the National League expansion draft. According to The Sporting News, the Cardinals lost interest in Hickman when they received a scouting report that said he lacked aggressiveness.
Said Hickman: “I know people say I’m not aggressive … I give it all I got.”
Hickman was drafted by the expansion Mets. He made his big-league debut with them in 1962 and became one of their everyday outfielders, batting .245 with 13 home runs in 140 games.
Cycle in sequence
In July 1963, Mets manager Casey Stengel experimented with converting Hickman into a third baseman. Hickman was batting .223 entering the Aug. 7, 1963, game between the Cardinals and Mets at the Polo Grounds.
Batting leadoff and playing third base, Hickman became the first Mets player to hit for the cycle. He was 4-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored in the Mets’ 7-3 victory.
Hickman, a right-handed batter, got his first three hits off starter Ernie Broglio: a single in the first, a double in the second and a RBI-triple in the fourth. In the sixth, Hickman hit a solo home run off Barney Schultz to complete the cycle.
“If this fellow can learn to cut down on his strikeouts, he could be one of the top hitters around,” Stengel said of Hickman. “He has all the power he needs, but by now he should know that you can’t hit a ball with the bat on your shoulder. You have to swing.” Boxscore
Trio of homers
Two years later, on Sept. 3, 1965, Hickman became the first Mets batter to hit three home runs in a game. He did it against Cardinals starter Ray Sadecki, leading the Mets to a 6-3 triumph at St. Louis.
Batting sixth and playing first base, Hickman, who entered the game with a .212 batting average, was 4-for-4 with four RBI and three runs scored.
A look at his three home runs off Sadecki:
_ Home run #1: Swinging at the first pitch, a high, outside fastball, Hickman hit it 403 feet the opposite way, clipping the pavilion roof in right-center.
_ Home run #2: The count was 3-and-0 when Hickman looked toward third-base coach Don Heffner and was surprised to see he was being given the freedom to swing away.
Wrote The Sporting News: “Hickman, knowing the Mets have an automatic $10 fine for a missed sign, stepped out of the batter’s box and looked again.”
Heffner shouted to him, “Go ahead. It won’t cost you 10 bucks.”
Sadecki threw a fastball and Hickman pulled it over the left-field wall.
_ Home run #3: On a 1-and-2 count, Hickman swung at a slider down in the zone and golfed it into the left-field bleachers.
When Hickman batted for a fourth time in the game, Nelson Briles was pitching in relief. Asked later whether he was trying for a fourth home run, Hickman replied, “You bet.”
Instead, he produced a single on a groundball that took a bad hop and eluded third baseman Ken Boyer. Boxscore
In 1970, Hickman was named an all-star for the only time. Playing for the Cubs, he produced 32 home runs and 115 RBI that season and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year by The Sporting News.
On March 23, 1974, the Cubs traded Hickman to the Cardinals for pitcher Scipio Spinks. Eighteen years after he had signed with St. Louis, Hickman finally was getting his chance to play for the Cardinals.
Said Hickman: “I’m 36, but I know I still can hit a baseball. And I still can half-catch a baseball.”
Used primarily as a pinch-hitter and backup to Joe Torre at first base, Hickman hit .267 (16-for-60) with the 1974 Cardinals. He hit two pinch-hit home runs _ off George Stone of the Mets and Danny Frisella of the Braves _ but his batting average as a pinch hitter was .182 (6-for-33).
On July 16, 1974, four months after they acquired him, the Cardinals released Hickman. He made it clear he would retire rather than seek a chance with another club.
“This is it,” Hickman said. “So what if I hooked up with another club for the last two months? It would be the same thing after the season ended.”
In a big-league career from 1962-74 with the Mets, Dodgers, Cubs and Cardinals, Hickman batted .252. He had a .242 career mark with 20 home runs in 153 games versus the Cardinals.
Previously: Bob Gibson nearly was unbeatable against Mets