Benefiting from the wisdom and experience of master instructors, Mike Shannon was a willing pupil in a grand experiment that was integral to the Cardinals becoming World Series champions in 1967.
Seeking a starting third baseman, the Cardinals decided to give Shannon first crack at earning the job during spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., 50 years ago.
Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst and instructor George Kissell developed a series of drills to convert Shannon from right fielder to third baseman.
The Cardinals needed to replace third baseman Charlie Smith, who had been traded to the Yankees for right fielder Roger Maris in December 1966.
Shannon had batted .288 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI as St. Louis’ right fielder in 1966. Schoendienst wanted to keep Shannon’s bat in the lineup in 1967, joining first baseman Orlando Cepeda and Maris in forming a potentially potent trio of RBI producers.
Moving Shannon to third would enable the Cardinals to have both Maris and Shannon in the lineup.
The conversion, though, wouldn’t be easy.
Shannon’s main competitors within the Cardinals for the starting third base job were Ed Spiezio, Phil Gagliano, Jerry Buchek and Ted Savage. None, though, were considered Shannon’s equal in hitting with power and driving in runs.
Before pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, the Cardinals held a special instructional camp starting Feb. 17 at St. Petersburg, with Schoendienst, Kissell and coach Joe Schultz as teachers.
The Cardinals invited eight players _ Shannon, Gagliano, Buchek, Savage, infielder Jimy Williams, outfielders Bobby Tolan and Alex Johnson, and catcher Pat Corrales _ to the camp. Spiezio would have been invited but was excused because he had played winter ball in the Caribbean.
“The Shannon-at-third experiment is rated a longshot by most observers,” The Sporting News reported.
Schoendienst and his assistants devised infield workouts to determine whether Shannon could be effective at third base.
In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, journalist J. Roy Stockton observed: “Schoendienst is giving Shannon and other infielders the toughest defensive drills they probably have ever seen. … Instead of fielding friendly grounders off a fungo stick, the athletes had to handle the most difficult chances.”
With Kissell pitching to Schoendienst, the manager hit the ball to the infielders.
“Red still can swing a vicious bat with unusual place-hitting skill,” Stockton wrote. “The infielders never knew who was going to have to tackle the next shot off the manager’s bat.”
Shannon did well enough at the instructional camp _ “So far, so good,” Schoendienst told The Sporting News _ to enter spring training as No. 1 on the depth chart at third base.
“I prefer Shannon because he has the best bat of anybody we might consider for third base,” Schoendienst said. “Another reason is that Mike will tackle anything and give it a real try. He’s that kind of guy.”
Bob Broeg, Post-Dispatch sport editor, opined: “If Shannon … can be in the lineup with his aggressive bat, the Redbirds’ attack will be considerably stronger than if the club is forced to give up and return him to compete in an outfield overcrowded with talent.”
Shannon, however, struggled with his fielding during spring exhibition games.
“Mike isn’t reacting quite as well … because he’s got his hands on his knees and his weight back on his heels,” Schoendienst said. “He doesn’t come up on the balls of his feet, hands loose in front of him, ready to go in any direction with the pitch. He’s got to concentrate better, too.”
With the season opener about two weeks away, Schoendienst intensified his work with Shannon.
“Schoendienst took him to the private infield beyond the left-field fence at Al Lang Field and brought along virtually the entire pitching staff,” Broeg reported.
Schoendienst wanted Shannon and the pitchers to work together at calling plays and handling bunts.
Afterward, “Schoendienst slashed and lashed hot grounders and line drives at Shannon in a torrid one-man pepper game,” Broeg observed. “Shannon’s cap was off, his black hair matted with perspiration as he lunged left, then right and threw his hands up in self-defense as Schoendienst smashed the ball at him … from a distance of no more than 40 feet.”
Said Cardinals shortstop Dal Maxvill: “I feel sorry for Mike. He’s really giving it the old try. Red has been hitting balls at him like that every day. Mike really wants to make it.”
Making the grade
Shannon produced 19 RBI in Florida Grapefruit League spring training games, validating the Cardinals’ view that his bat was needed.
Named the starter at third base, Shannon pulled a muscle in his left side in the April 11 season opener and didn’t return to the lineup until April 23.
As the Cardinals hoped, Shannon played well enough at third base and delivered run production. He had 12 home runs and 77 RBI. Only Cepeda, with 111, drove in more runs for the 1967 Cardinals.
Batting primarily in the fifth and sixth spots in the order, Shannon hit .293 with runners in scoring position.
Shannon played in 123 regular-season games at third base and made 29 errors. He also committed two errors in seven World Series games.
Still, with Shannon providing punch and Maris delivering timely hitting and solid defense in right field, the 1967 Cardinals finished at 101-60, 10.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants, and won four of seven from the Red Sox in the World Series.