Three months after he was traded by the Giants to the Cardinals, Billy Southworth hit a home run against his former team, providing the winning run in the victory that clinched the first National League pennant for St. Louis.
It was sweet revenge for Southworth, whose deteriorating relationship with Giants manager John McGraw led to the trade.
Ninety years ago, on Sept. 24, 1926, Southworth broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run home run in the second inning, carrying the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory over the Giants at the Polo Grounds in New York. The victory gave the Cardinals a three-game lead over the second-place Reds with two remaining.
In a biography of Southworth by author John C. Skipper, Southworth said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better setting, in the Polo Grounds against the Giants who had traded me. That was the timeliest home run I ever hit and to have hit it against the Giants, with McGraw snarling his defiance from the bench, made it doubly thrilling and satisfying.”
Quite a comeback
Southworth, a right fielder, was traded by the Giants to the Cardinals on June 14, 1926. “I was unable to subordinate myself to McGraw’s rigid system,” Southworth explained. “So when he decided, in 1926, that I was, from his viewpoint, hopeless, he traded me with no personal feeling one way or the other.”
Contributing to their pennant push, Southworth hit .317 in 99 games for the 1926 Cardinals.
To pitch the potential pennant clincher against the Giants, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby chose Flint Rhem, a 20-game winner that season, as his starter.
After the Cardinals failed to score in the top of the first against Hugh McQuillan, Bill Terry slugged a three-run home run off Rhem in the bottom half of the inning.
Said Southworth: “Hornsby poured acid on us when we came back to the bench. He told us we hadn’t been taking our full cuts at the ball for several games and to get out there and swing.”
Hornsby’s words woke up the Cardinals.
In the second, Les Bell doubled and, with one out, advanced to third on a wild pitch. Bell scored on Bob O’Farrell’s infield single. The No. 8 batter in the order, Tommy Thevenow, doubled, moving O’Farrell to third.
Rhem was due up next, but Hornsby lifted him for a pinch-hitter, Specs Toporcer.
Toporcer, who hit .391 (9-for-23) as a pinch-hitter for the 1926 Cardinals, drilled a two-run double, tying the score at 3-3.
After Taylor Douthit flied out, Southworth batted and hit his home run into the upper deck in right field, giving the Cardinals a 5-3 lead.
Bill Sherdel, who relieved Rhem, held the Giants to one run in eight innings and got the win. Boxscore
In downtown St. Louis that Friday afternoon, the game was broadcast over loudspeakers set up for the public.
When Sherdel nailed down the final out, sealing the Cardinals’ victory, it “loosed bedlam in the downtown district,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
“Scenes comparable only with the ending of the Great War were enacted in the business section and repeated upon a smaller scale in other centers of the city’s life,” the newspaper reported. “Blizzards of paper enveloped every office building in the downtown area between Twelfth Boulevard and Fourth.”
Wrote the Associated Press: “Traffic at the principal corners was in a hopeless jam. Policemen, trying vainly to keep some semblance of order, were unable to keep the automobiles and street cars moving. Parades formed on Olive Street, Washington Avenue and other principal thoroughfares.”
At the Polo Grounds, the victorious Cardinals “merely smiled as they hurried to the clubhouse, shaking hands and slapping one another on the back” wrote the Associated Press.
That night, reported J. Roy Stockton in the Post-Dispatch, “as the young men sat around the lobby of the Alamac Hotel, accepting congratulations and reading telegrams from friends back home, they appeared suddenly to have knocked 10 years off their age.”
Contacted by the Associated Press, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon said, “Nothing could possibly have made me happier than the winning of the pennant. When I took charge of the club seven years ago, I did it with the sole hope of winning a championship for St. Louis.”
Asked about the Cardinals being matched against the American League champion Yankees in the 1926 World Series, Hornsby boasted to The Sporting News, “Of course we are going to win the world’s championship. We have the punch and that means we do not fear the Yankees’ pitchers. We have better pitchers of our own, for that matter. Also, a faster fielding team.”
Indeed, the Cardinals went on to win four of seven games against the Yankees, earning the World Series title.
Previously: How Cardinals got Grover Cleveland Alexander