In the most productive month of his Cardinals playing career, Mike Shannon hit home runs off future Hall of Famers Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry, achieved his lone five-hit game in the big leagues and re-established his status as a reliable everyday player.
Fifty years ago, in July 1966, Shannon entered the month with a .222 batting average for the season. He exited the month with a season batting mark of .304.
Shannon, the Cardinals’ right fielder, hit .395 (45-for-114) in July 1966, with 17 extra-base hits (seven home runs, eight doubles and two triples), nine walks, 23 RBI and 25 runs scored. His on-base percentage for the month was .435.
The Cardinals had opened the 1966 season with a starting outfield of Alex Johnson in left, Curt Flood in center and Lou Brock in right. Shannon was a reserve.
Johnson struggled to hit for average and was sent to the minor leagues in May. Brock was shifted to left and Shannon took over in right.
However, like Johnson, Shannon also struggled. He hit .197 (13-for-66) in May and .222 (12-for-54) in June.
“Mike was too much of a guess hitter and a guess hitter is a .250 hitter or lower,” Cardinals hitting coach Dick Sisler told The Sporting News.
Said Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst: “Every time someone on the club would hit a home run, Mike would try to hit one farther.”
On July 1, 1966, Shannon’s turnaround began against the unlikeliest of opponents. Koufax entered his start for the Dodgers against the Cardinals at Los Angeles that night with a season record of 14-2 and a 1.56 ERA.
In the seventh inning, with the score at 0-0 and one out, Orlando Cepeda singled off Koufax. Up next was Shannon.
Shannon worked the count to 3-and-1. “Shannon was the only batter Koufax got behind,” Schoendienst said to the Pasadena Star News.
The next pitch was a fastball and Shannon hit it for a home run into the seats in left-center at Dodger Stadium.
“The fastball was right down the middle,” Shannon said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Koufax: “Outside of that one pitch, I thought I had the best stuff I’ve had this year. My curve was working again.”
Shannon: “He worked fastballs in and out to me and I finally got one I could hit off him. I’m glad he didn’t throw me a curve.”
The combination of Shannon’s power and the shutout pitching of Al Jackson carried the Cardinals to a 2-0 victory. Boxscore
Picking his pitch
In seven games at Los Angeles and San Francisco over the first six days of July, Shannon produced 12 hits in 27 at-bats, including the home runs off Koufax, Marichal and Perry, and a triple off another future Hall of Fame pitcher, Don Drysdale. The home runs against Marichal and Perry occurred on the same day, July 4, with Shannon hitting one in each game of a doubleheader.
Said Perry of Shannon’s blast: “It was a good pitch _ a slider away from him. I pitched against him a lot in the minors and when Mike is hitting good you can’t get him out.”
Shannon’s hot streak continued throughout July.
On July 15, Shannon’s 27th birthday, he had four hits in five at-bats in a game against the Reds at Cincinnati. Boxscore
A week later, on July 22, Shannon was 5-for-5 in a game versus the Cubs at Chicago. Boxscore
“Mike has been picking the good pitches consistently for a change,” said Sisler. “He’s not lunging the way he used to. He’s not trying to pull those outside pitches for home runs. He’s making the pitchers come to him.”
Bob Skinner, a Cardinals reserve outfielder and friend of Shannon, said, “Mike has been looking like an altogether different hitter. He’s hitting more home runs than ever because he’s just meeting the ball instead of swinging like a wild man.”
Shannon finished the 1966 season with a .288 batting average, with 132 hits in 137 games, and a career-best 16 home runs. He was converted to a third baseman after the season and started for the 1967 and 1968 Cardinals clubs that won two NL pennants and a World Series title.