Though it was no blockbuster, the first trade made by Stan Musial as general manager brought to the Cardinals the infield insurance they needed.
Seeking a player who could fill in for shortstop Dal Maxvill and provide late-inning defensive help at third base for converted outfielder Mike Shannon, Musial turned to a friend: Bing Devine.
Devine, president of the Mets, had been general manager of the Cardinals from 1957 until replaced by Bob Howsam in 1964. Musial succeeded Howsam in January 1967.
Fifty years ago, on April 1, 1967, the Cardinals acquired infielder Eddie Bressoud, outfielder Danny Napoleon and cash from the Mets for second baseman Jerry Buchek, pitcher Art Mahaffey and infielder Tony Martinez.
Though seldom used, Bressoud capped his playing career by spending the entire season with a Cardinals club that won the National League pennant and World Series championship.
The 1967 Cardinals entered spring training with no reliable backup at shortstop. The options were Buchek, Phil Gagliano and Jimy Williams.
Gagliano had big-league experience, but his best position was second base. Williams was a prospect but had played only 13 games in the majors.
Buchek had been the Opening Day shortstop for the 1966 Cardinals, but his fielding was erratic _ “He just doesn’t cover the ground, field cleanly enough or throw accurately at shortstop,” wrote Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch _ and by June that year Maxvill regained the starting role.
Buchek seemed best equipped for second base, but the Cardinals had Gagliano to back up starter Julian Javier.
Meanwhile, the 1967 Mets entered spring training with a plan to platoon Bressoud and Chuck Hiller at second base.
Bressoud had started 110 games for the 1966 Mets: 73 starts at shortstop, 24 at third base, eight at second base and five at first base. “He’s one of the nicest gentlemen you’ll ever meet,” Mets manager Wes Westrum said to The Sporting News. “He’s done everything ever asked of him.”
Devine, however, decided the Mets would be better off with a starter younger than either Bressoud, 34, or Hiller, 32, at second base to pair with shortstop Bud Harrelson, 22.
Buchek, 24, seemed a promising candidate.
Betting on potential
Buchek, a graduate of McKinley High School in St. Louis, received a $65,000 bonus when he signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1959.
He had a breakout season as starting shortstop for the Cardinals’ Class AAA Atlanta Crackers in 1963, batting .287 with 33 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs and 92 RBI.
However, in parts of five seasons (1961 and 1963-66) with the Cardinals, Buchek batted .221 and had more strikeouts (158) than hits (127).
Devine thought a fresh start with another organization would help Buchek and he knew the Cardinals needed a player like Bressoud.
Bressoud debuted in the big leagues as a shortstop with the 1956 Giants and formed a keystone combination with their second baseman, Red Schoendienst.
Two years later, in 1958, Bressoud’s wife Eleanor, 25, died of a brain tumor, leaving him with two sons ages 2 and 3. A year later, Bressoud remarried.
During the baseball off-seasons, Bressoud pursued his education. He earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a master’s degree in physical education from San Jose State. He supplemented his income by teaching at high schools in the winter.
Acquired by the Red Sox in November 1961, Bressoud hit 40 doubles and 14 home runs for Boston in 1962, 20 home runs in 1963 and 41 doubles and 15 home runs in his lone all-star season, 1964.
With the 1966 Mets, Bressoud batted .225 in 133 games.
During a March 30, 1967, spring training game between the Mets and Cardinals, Musial and Devine sat together and discussed their rosters.
Two days later, the trade was announced.
Bressoud and Buchek were the key players.
(Danny Napoleon, the outfielder with the famous surname, never would play for the Cardinals. He may be best remembered for delivering a three-run, pinch-hit triple with two outs in the ninth inning to lift the Mets to a 7-6 victory over the Giants on April 24, 1965. Afterward, Mets manager Casey Stengel “pranced past the open door of the quiet Giants clubhouse, thrust up his arm and croaked, ‘Viva, La France,’ ” according to Broeg.)
The trade reunited Bressoud with Schoendienst, manager of the 1967 Cardinals.
“I’m going to a club that seems to want me … I’m ready to play anywhere Red wants me to,” Bressoud said.
Said Schoendienst: “Bressoud has a good arm and he gets rid of the ball well. He’s what we really needed, a proven utilityman who can fill in for Maxvill.”
Buchek, happy to get a chance to be a Mets starter, said, “It would have been another wasted year with the Cardinals.”
With Maxvill providing steady play at shortstop and Shannon driving in runs as the third baseman, Bressoud didn’t play often for the 1967 Cardinals. He went hitless in his first 23 at-bats before getting a single off the Astros’ Larry Dierker on June 8, 1967.
“It’s been tough,” Bressoud said. “You replay every at-bat. You go home and punish yourself. You try to put up a false front, but if something like this doesn’t bother you, you don’t belong in the game.”
Bressoud hit his only Cardinals home run on Aug. 9 off future Hall of Famer Don Drysdale of the Dodgers.
Mostly, though, Bressoud served as a sort of player-coach.
“Eddie had some good ideas for me on playing shortstop _ and for playing second base, too,” Maxvill said. “Eddie knew how to play certain hitters and he had me make adjustments.”
Said Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson: “Eddie Bressoud has a good arm and he’s quick. He gets in front of a lot of balls that other infielders don’t even get to, but he’s not sharp enough at times because he doesn’t play enough.”
Bressoud played in 52 regular-season games, making 18 starts at shortstop, for the 1967 Cardinals and batted .134 (9-for-67). He appeared in two World Series games as a defensive replacement.
After the World Series, Bressoud retired as a player and became head baseball coach at De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif. He also was a scout for the Angels.