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Ray Blades was a pitcher for an elementary school team when Branch Rickey first took notice of him and became impressed by his baseball skills.

Rickey kept tabs on Blades in the ensuing years, brought him into the Cardinals’ system as a player and groomed him for a leadership role.

Eighty years ago, on Nov. 6, 1938, Blades became manager of the Cardinals.

Cardinals owner Sam Breadon had the final say on naming a manager, but he was influenced by Rickey, the club’s vice president and general manager, who recommended Blades.

Attracting attention

Blades was born in Mount Vernon, Ill., and lived there for two years before his family moved to nearby McLeansboro, Ill.  In 1909, the family relocated to St. Louis and Blades enrolled at Franz Sigel School, a public elementary school.

In 1913, Blades, in his final year in grammar school, pitched in the championship final of the Public School League baseball tournament at Sportsman’s Park. Rickey, who was working for the St. Louis Browns, was the home plate umpire for the game and took note of the talented pitcher.

“I scouted the boy when he played on a public school team here,” Rickey told the St. Louis Star-Times. “I admired his aggressiveness.”

After graduating from elementary school, Blades attended McKinley High School in St. Louis for a year before the family went back to McLeansboro.

Blades graduated from high school in McLeansboro and went to work for an electrical company in St. Louis. In 1918, with World War I raging, Blades enlisted in the Army, served in France and was discharged in May 1919. When he returned home, he joined a semi-pro baseball team in Mount Vernon.

The Cardinals, managed by Rickey, came to Mount Vernon that summer to play an exhibition game against the local club. Blades again impressed Rickey and signed with the Cardinals after the game.

Short fuse

Blades made his professional debut in the minor leagues in 1920 as a second baseman. After another year in the minors, Blades reached the big leagues with the Cardinals in 1922. The Cardinals’ best player, Rogers Hornsby, was the second baseman, so Blades was converted to an outfielder.

A fiery player, Blades sparked the Cardinals as a leadoff batter. He hit .311 with 21 doubles and 13 triples in 1924. The next year, he hit .342 with 37 doubles and eight triples.

“He was a dashing, courageous type, arguing with opposing players and umpires almost every afternoon,” the Star-Times reported.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Blades had “a violent temper” and “when something makes him see red, he really goes to town.”

Blades “was strangely unpopular” with Cardinals fans, the Post-Dispatch reported, “and the men on the bench used to boil and swear when the fans would boo Ray.”

Managing up

On Aug. 17, 1926, Blades, batting .306, tore ligaments in a knee while chasing a fly ball. The injury caused him to sit out the final month of the regular season and the World Series.

Blades never regained full effectiveness. He was a reserve in 1927 and 1928 and got demoted to the minors in 1929. He returned to the Cardinals as a player-coach in 1930 and served in that role through the 1932 season. Blades played 10 seasons with the Cardinals and hit .301 with a .395 on-base percentage

Rickey, who was Blades’ manager from 1922-25, became head of baseball operations for the Cardinals and built their farm system. He chose Blades to manage the Cardinals’ Columbus (Ohio) affiliate in 1933.

Blades managed in the Cardinals’ system for six seasons _ three with Columbus (1933-35) and three with Rochester (1936-38). Rickey credited Blades with the development of several prospects, including pitcher Paul Dean and outfielder Terry Moore.

On Sept. 11, 1938, Breadon reluctantly fired Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch, who was feuding with Rickey. Breadon liked Frisch, but Rickey was getting overtures from the Cubs and Breadon feared Rickey would join the Cardinals’ rival if Frisch wasn’t ousted. Cardinals coach Mike Gonzalez replaced Frisch for the remainder of the season, becoming the first Cuban-born manager in the major leagues.

Big promotion

The top candidates to manage the Cardinals in 1939 were two of their minor-league managers, Blades and Burt Shotton, along with former Dodgers manager Burleigh Grimes and former Phillies manager Jimmie Wilson, the Star-Times reported. All four had played for the Cardinals. Shotton also had managed the Phillies and Reds, making Blades the only one of the candidates who didn’t have big-league managing experience.

Rickey, however, urged Breadon to select Blades, whom he called “one of my own products.”

“Pressure by Rickey is said to have been a strong factor in gaining the appointment” for Blades, the Star-Times reported.

“I put in all the good licks I could for Blades,” Rickey said. “I believe we’ll see the return of the Gashouse Gang spirit under Blades’ leadership.”

Blades, 42, got a one-year contract. “I naturally have always wanted this position, but never dared hope I would get it,” he said.

The hiring received a lukewarm reception from Cardinals fans, who were hoping for a manager with a higher profile.

“I realized I would be stepping into a fast one with the fans in St. Louis if I decided on Blades,” Breadon said. “I feel Blades merits more consideration than he has been given by baseball’s followers. He’s been a sharp student of the game and he has developed many young stars for us.”

Short stay

The Cardinals finished in second place with a 92-61 mark in Blades’ first season as manager in 1939, but they started poorly the next year and were 14-24 when Breadon, without consulting Rickey, fired Blades on June 7, 1940, and replaced him with Billy Southworth.

Southworth led the Cardinals to two World Series championships (1942 and 1944) and three consecutive National League pennants (1942-44).

Blades became a coach with the 1942 Reds. After Rickey joined the Dodgers, he hired Blades, who managed the Dodgers’ St. Paul affiliate from 1944-46. Blades was a Dodgers coach in 1947 and 1948.

In 1951, Blades returned to St. Louis as a coach on the staff of Cardinals manager Marty Marion. Blades also was a Cubs coach from 1953-56.

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Gussie Busch made a handshake agreement to hire Leo Durocher to manage the Cardinals, lied about it to the public and reneged on the commitment.

Busch’s mishandling of the Durocher deal was one of several missteps made by the meddling Cardinals owner during the 1964 season.

Despite Busch’s bumbling, the Cardinals rallied to win the National League pennant on the last day of the regular season and went on to clinch a World Series title against the Yankees.

Holy cow!

On Aug. 17, 1964, the Cardinals were nine games out of first place when Busch, figuring there was no hope for a pennant, fired general manager Bing Devine and replaced him with Bob Howsam, a colleague of special consultant Branch Rickey.

Busch wanted to fire manager Johnny Keane, too, but decided to wait until after the season.

On Aug. 29, 1964, before a Saturday game between the Dodgers and Cardinals at St. Louis, Durocher was interviewed by broadcaster Harry Caray. Durocher, a shortstop for the Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang clubs in the 1930s before becoming a manager and leading the Dodgers (1941) and Giants (1951 and 1954) to pennants, was in his fourth season as a Dodgers coach in 1964 and Caray asked him whether he wanted to manage again.

If an offer was made, Durocher replied, “I just know I would accept if it was a good ballclub.”

Busch was listening and liked what he heard. He contacted Caray and told him he wanted to meet with Durocher the next morning. Caray called Durocher at his hotel room that night and said he’d drive Durocher to Busch’s estate in the morning.

In his book “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Durocher said, “Harry was going to pick me up at 8 in the morning, not in front of the hotel but two blocks down on Lindell Boulevard where nobody would see us.”

It’s a deal

On Aug. 30, 1964, Caray took Durocher to Busch’s home and waited in the car as Durocher went inside. Busch and Durocher had breakfast before going into an office where they talked for about an hour. According to Durocher, Busch stuck out his hand and said, “You’re the manager of the ballclub. Don’t worry about the salary.”

Durocher returned to the car and told Caray what happened. “Harry was simply overjoyed,” Durocher said.

When the Dodgers got back to Los Angeles, Durocher informed club owner Walter O’Malley about his talk with Busch. O’Malley already knew, Durocher said, because Busch had phoned him. Durocher and O’Malley agreed Durocher would resign near the end of the season, clearing the way for the Cardinals to hire him.

Left hanging

On Sept. 22, 1964, three weeks after Busch and Durocher met, Milt Richman of United Press International reported Keane would be fired within two weeks and Durocher “most likely will succeed him.”

“The decision to fire Keane was reached some time ago” by Busch “who conferred with Durocher the last time the Dodgers were in St. Louis,” Richman reported.

Contacted by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Busch said he had “great admiration for Durocher,” but denied he had met with him.

Durocher told United Press International, “I haven’t approached anybody and nobody has approached me.”

Asked about Keane’s performance as manager, Busch declined comment.

Busch “left Johnny Keane hanging by his thumbs,” the Post-Dispatch concluded.

On the day Richman broke the story, the Cardinals, in New York to play the Mets, were six games behind the first-place Phillies. It later was learned Keane met that day with a “trusted emissary” for the Yankees about the club’s managerial job, according to the Associated Press. The Yankees planned to fire manager Yogi Berra after the season and contacted Busch to get permission to talk to Keane. Busch gave his approval, but soon came to regret it.

The plot thickens

On Oct. 1, 1964, Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi announced Durocher would not return as coach “at his own request.”

Asked whether he was going to become Cardinals manager, Durocher told the Los Angeles Times, “My hands are tied. I just can’t say.” Bavasi said Durocher asked for his release so he could negotiate for a managerial job and he got the impression the Cardinals were the club.

Durocher’s timing was terrible because the Cardinals had surged while the Phillies had faltered. From Sept. 24 to Oct. 1, the Cardinals won eight in a row and moved into first place with three games remaining.

On Oct. 2, 1964, the day after Durocher resigned, Busch met Keane in the clubhouse and offered him a contract extension, but Keane said he preferred to wait until after the season to discuss an offer, the Post-Dispatch reported.

On Oct. 4, 1964, after the Cardinals clinched the pennant that day, Busch approached Keane at the team party and offered him “whatever you want,” but Keane said he wouldn’t talk terms until after the World Series.

October surprise

Busch’s attempts to sign Keane put Durocher in limbo. Durocher expected “to accept Busch’s offer to manage the Cardinals next season but when Leo pounced the cupboard was bare,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

On Oct. 9, 1964,, the New York Journal-American reported Busch offered Durocher $100,000 to forget about their agreement. Durocher denied getting any payoff from Busch.

The Cardinals clinched the World Series title on Oct. 15, 1964. Busch scheduled a news conference for the next morning with the intention of announcing a contract extension for Keane, but when Keane arrived at the gathering he handed Busch a resignation letter. Keane cited Busch’s firing of Devine and flirtation with Durocher among the reasons for his decision.

A few hours later, the Yankees fired Berra.

With Keane’s departure, Busch could have hired Durocher, but he feared a backlash from a fan base who blamed the two conspirators for driving out Keane. “Although Durocher has the qualifications and credentials to do the job on the field, indications are that public pressure might make this choice unwise for the ballclub _ and the (Anheuser-Busch) brewery,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Thanks, Leo

Busch called Durocher and “right from the beginning I didn’t like the way the conversation was going,” Durocher said. “All hemming and hawing and not a word about managing his ballclub.”

“I could understand the fix he was in,” Durocher said. “He had become the laughingstock of the country.”

Durocher also understood the public perceived he and Busch as having acted underhandedly.

As Busch dawdled, Durocher said to him, “Apparently what you’re trying to tell me is you can’t make me manager of your ballclub. Is that what you’re trying to tell me?”

“Yeah,” said Busch, “in sort of a way.”

“It’s perfectly all right,” Durocher responded. “Forget the handshake. Forget you gave me the job.”

Busch replied, “Thanks very much, Leo. I knew you’d understand the predicament I was in” and hung up.

“There I sat, with the telephone in my hand,” Durocher said.

On Oct. 20, 1964, the Cardinals named coach Red Schoendienst to be the manager and the Yankees hired Keane to replace Berra.

Durocher worked in broadcasting for a year before becoming manager of the Cubs in 1966.

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Bing Devine gave John Claiborne his first job in professional baseball, mentored him, promoted him and helped him get career opportunities. When Devine, the Cardinals’ general manager, got ousted for the second time, Claiborne replaced him in an awkward takeover.

Forty years ago, on Oct. 18, 1978, Devine was fired after the Cardinals finished the season with a 69-93 record, their most losses since 1916.

Claiborne, 39, was the choice of Cardinals owner Gussie Busch to replace Devine, 62. Claiborne was out of baseball at the time, but looking to get back in. He’d developed a reputation as an effective executive after being groomed in baseball operations by Devine with the Mets and Cardinals before continuing his career with the Athletics and Red Sox.

Immediately after informing Devine he was out as general manager, Busch asked him to stay with the Cardinals as a consultant; in effect, to continue to advise and mentor the protégé who took part in a coup to oust him.

Devine, of course, refused, though his rejection of the offer puzzled a clueless Busch. Devine understood it wouldn’t be fair to himself to be a subordinate to his successor, nor would it be fair to Claiborne to have his predecessor maintaining a voice in decision-making.

Besides, Devine was hurt by how Claiborne handled the takeover. In Devine’s view, Claiborne should have informed him beforehand he was taking his job. In his book, “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said, “He knew just before they fired me that he would be the guy replacing me. John didn’t tell me. He later apologized for that.”

Fellow alumni

After graduating from Washington University in St. Louis, Devine joined the Cardinals as an office assistant in 1939 and worked his way up through the organization. In November 1957, he became general manager and held that position until he was fired by Busch in August 1964, two months before the Cardinals won the World Series championship.

Devine went to the Mets as a special assistant and eventually became club president. In 1967, Devine met Claiborne at a Washington University function. Like Devine, Claiborne was a Washington University alumnus and he also was the school’s head baseball coach. Three months later, Devine hired Claiborne to be an administrative assistant.

Devine gave Claiborne the chance to learn many facets of baseball operations with the Mets. Among Claiborne’s tutors were Mets director of scouting Joe McDonald and director of player development Whitey Herzog.

In December 1967, two months after the Cardinals won another World Series championship, general manager Stan Musial resigned and Devine replaced him.

Devine hired Claiborne to be the Cardinals’ administrative assistant in scouting and player development. Claiborne thrived in the role, working for Cardinals director of player procurement George Silvey and director of player development Bob Kennedy.

Jack of all trades

In 1971, Athletics owner Charlie Finley was seeking an administrator with player development skills. Devine recommended Claiborne and Finley hired him to be director of minor-league operations and scouting for the Athletics.

The Athletics won three consecutive World Series titles from 1972-74 and Claiborne was promoted to assistant general manager.

“The years with Oakland gave me my biggest boost,” Claiborne said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I did just about everything.”

In August 1975, Claiborne was seeking a change. Finley was making cost cuts and considering selling the club. Devine later told the Post-Dispatch he recommended the Cardinals hire Claiborne, but the budget wouldn’t allow it. Claiborne left the Athletics to become special assignment scout for the Red Sox.

Two months later, the Red Sox swept the Athletics in the American League Championship Series and Claiborne’s scouting reports were credited with providing valuable insights. The Red Sox rewarded Claiborne by promoting him to assistant general manager.

In 1976, Red Sox owner Tom Yawkey died and a year later, after the 1977 season, Yawkey’s widow Jean fired Claiborne and general manager Dick O’Connell to make way for new ownership and management.

Claiborne became a consultant for Monogram Industries. Wanting to return to baseball, he turned to Devine for help.

“He and I had been talking a lot on the phone about how he wanted to get back in the game,” Devine said. “This went on for a period of weeks and months during the 1978 season.”

Plot thickens

At the same time, Busch began thinking about replacing Devine. The Cardinals won a pennant in 1968, the first season of Devine’s second stint as general manager, but failed to qualify for the postseason over the next 10 years.

“For some time, there appeared to be a breakdown of communications between Busch and Devine,” the Post-Dispatch reported. Devine could contact Busch “only through intermediaries, usually Lou Susman, Busch’s personal attorney,” according to the newspaper.

Susman was urging Busch to make a change and recommended Claiborne. “Susman had a hand in it,” Devine said in his book. “He influenced Mr. Busch.”

Unaware of the plot against him, Devine was working his baseball connections, trying to help Claiborne. “So I was giving him recommendations on the side for other jobs while Susman was pushing for him to replace me,” Devine said.

Claiborne said he was first contacted about the Cardinals’ job on Oct. 11, 1978. He said he met with Busch the next day, Oct. 12, and they reached an agreement.

A week later, on Oct. 17, Devine said he got a confidential call from Al Fleishman, a public relations executive, who tipped off Devine that a press conference was scheduled the next day.

At about 1:30 p.m. on Oct. 18, Devine was called to a meeting with Busch. Claiborne was there, too. Both asked Devine, who had a year left on his contract, to take a subordinate role as consultant, reporting to Claiborne.

When Devine refused, they asked him to take a day to think it over, but Devine had made up his mind.

“John, I don’t think you would under the circumstances,” Devine said to Claiborne.

“You’re absolutely right,” Claiborne replied.

Busch later said, “I thought Bing would accept it because of (Claiborne’s) friendship with Mr. Devine.”

Said Devine: “He underestimated the self-esteem in which I hold myself.”

Two hours after the meeting with Devine, Busch and Claiborne held their press conference, announcing the change.

Claiborne admitted to “some awkwardness” in replacing his mentor and acknowledged Devine “has touted me, pushed me and recommended me.”

Asked why the change was made, Susman said, “Because of the availability of Claiborne. He might have been taken up. Quite a few people were after him. Mr. Busch wanted to get new thoughts, fresh ideas in the organization.”

Full circle

The Cardinals finished third in their division in 1979 and started poorly the next season. In June 1980, manager Ken Boyer was fired and replaced by Herzog.

Two months later, Busch fired Claiborne and elevated Herzog to the general manager role. Herzog hired McDonald, his former Mets colleague, to be his assistant. Herzog’s first choice for the assistant’s role had been Devine, but Susman opposed the move and blocked it, according to the Post-Dispatch.

After hiring McDonald, Herzog kept the dual role of general manager and manager. In February 1982, Herzog suggested to Busch that McDonald should become general manager. Busch agreed and the announcement was made in April. Six months later, the Cardinals were World Series champions.

After leaving the Cardinals, Claiborne launched a second career as a sports television executive. He was president of New England Sports Network, which carries Red Sox games, and he helped start a similar network in the mid-Atlantic region to televise Orioles games.

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Seeking help in the heartland in his bid to win the Democratic presidential nomination in 1968, Senator Robert F. Kennedy of New York turned to a family friend, Stan Musial of the Cardinals.

Fifty years ago, on April 24, 1968, Musial was selected to lead National Sportsmen for Kennedy, a committee of sports figures recruited to boost the national candidacy of the younger brother of the late President John F. Kennedy.

Though Musial disliked controversy, and usually took every precaution to avoid getting embroiled in the kind of conflict politics naturally created, he waded with eyes wide open into the tumultuous 1968 presidential campaign because of his loyalty to the Kennedys.

Ties that bind

The relationship between Musial and the Kennedys began in Milwaukee in September 1959. Musial, still a prominent player at 38, was with the Cardinals for a series with the Braves. Massachusetts Senator John F. Kennedy, 42, was in town, campaigning for the 1960 Democratic presidential nomination.

“I was standing in front of the hotel, waiting for the bus for the game,” Musial told The Sporting News, “and a man came up to me and said, ‘You are Stan Musial and I’m glad to meet you. I’m Jack Kennedy.’ Of course I knew him. And then he said, ‘You’re too old to play ball and I’m too young to be president, but maybe we’ll fool ’em.’ ”

In 1960, when John Kennedy ran for president as the Democratic nominee against Republican Vice President Richard Nixon, Musial was part of the first National Sportsmen for Kennedy committee. Among those joining Musial on the 1960 committee were baseball’s Hank Aaron, Orlando Cepeda, Joe DiMaggio, Whitey Herzog and Willie Mays; football’s Sam Huff and Johnny Unitas; and basketball’s Bob Cousy.

Kennedy won the election and named his brother, Robert, to the position of Attorney General.

President Kennedy met with Musial at the 1962 All-Star Game in Washington, D.C. The next day, Senator Stuart Symington of Missouri arranged for Musial, wife Lillian and daughter Janet to receive a VIP tour of the nation’s capital.

While at the Department of Justice, the Musials were greeted by Attorney General Kennedy, who asked whether they wanted to go to the White House and visit the president. Though Musial didn’t want special favors, Robert Kennedy insisted on arranging the White House meeting, and the Musials were brought to the Oval Office to see President Kennedy.

A few days later, on July 26, 1962, a letter from Attorney General Kennedy arrived for Musial at his St. Louis restaurant. Robert Kennedy wrote, “Dear Stan, many thanks for your nice note. It was good to see you and your family when you were in Washington and I am glad you enjoyed the tour of the White House and your meeting with the president.”

Two years later, in February 1964, Attorney General Kennedy and his wife Ethel attended the swearing in ceremony for Musial at the White House when the retired ballplayer was named by President Lyndon Johnson to lead the nation’s physical fitness program.

Two months after that, on April 17, 1964, with Musial at his side, Attorney General Kennedy threw the ceremonial first pitch at the Red Sox home opener at Fenway Park.

Open competition

By March 1968, President Johnson’s popularity waned because of the United States involvement in the war in Vietnam. On March 16, Senator Robert Kennedy announced he would seek the Democratic presidential nomination. Two weeks later, President Johnson declared he wouldn’t seek re-election.

With the president out of the running, the race for the Democratic nomination centered on Kennedy, Vice President Hubert Humphrey and Minnesota Senator Eugene McCarthy. The winning candidate would need to show strength in the remaining state primaries.

Kennedy first focused on the May 7 primary in Indiana, a state considered especially challenging for an East Coast liberal.

With an eye toward boosting his appeal among Midwesterners, Kennedy tapped Musial to lead the committee of sports figures who would campaign for him. In addition to his sterling reputation, Musial also was the senior vice president of the defending World Series champion Cardinals.

Among those joining Musial on the 1968 National Sportsmen for Kennedy committee were Hank Aaron, basketball’s Bill Russell and football’s Gale Sayers, Herb Adderley and Paul Hornung.

Help with Hoosiers

On May 2, 1968, Musial played a visible role in joining Robert and Ethel Kennedy on the campaign trail in the northern Indiana towns of Elkhart and Mishawaka, near South Bend and the University of Notre Dame. An article in the next day’s St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “Musial perched on the back of Kennedy’s open automobile along with Mrs. Kennedy in a motorcade through Elkhart and Mishawaka.”

The sight of Musial stumping for Kennedy helped to counter the work of celebrities such as actor Paul Newman, who campaigned for McCarthy in Indiana.

Kennedy won the Indiana primary and followed that with victories in primaries in Nebraska, South Dakota, Washington, D.C., and California.

On June 5, hours after he won the California primary, Kennedy, like his brother five years earlier, was shot by an assassin. He died on June 6 at age 42.

Humphrey won the Democratic nomination but was defeated in the election by Nixon.

Previously: Stan Musial shared a special bond with JFK

Previously: While nation mourned RFK, Cards reluctantly played

 

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The St. Louis Hawks were a first-place NBA team in 1968, but they were also-rans in the hearts of hometown sports fans.

Fifty years ago, on May 3, 1968, club owner Ben Kerner sold the Hawks to a group that moved them to Atlanta. The departure occurred 10 years after the franchise won its only NBA championship in 1958.

Though the Hawks were Western Division champions in 1968, finishing the regular season with a 56-26 record, their average home attendance was 6,288. Struggling to attract customers to St. Louis’ Kiel Auditorium, the Hawks played six of their home games in Miami during the 1967-68 season.

In 1955, when the Hawks relocated from Milwaukee, the baseball Cardinals were the only other major professional sports franchise in St. Louis. By 1968, though, the Cardinals and Hawks had been joined in St. Louis by the NFL Cardinals, the NHL Blues and the Stars of the North American Soccer League.

The baseball Cardinals were longtime kings in St. Louis, and the football Cardinals, as well as the Blues, who joined the NHL in 1967, surpassed the Hawks in popularity.

“Things have been going downhill slowly,” Kerner said to the Associated Press. “Since 1960, when the football Cardinals came here, people instead of buying eight season tickets from us split it four and four. The same thing happened again with hockey.”

Money ball

After beating the Boston Celtics in the 1958 NBA Finals, the Hawks had their peak home attendance years in the next three seasons, averaging 8,548 in 1958-59, 8,409 in 1959-60 and 8,561 in 1960-61, according to the Association for Professional Basketball Research.

The baseball Cardinals and the football Cardinals benefitted from the 1966 opening of Busch Stadium in downtown St. Louis. The Blues, who reached the Stanley Cub Finals in their debut season, played at St. Louis Arena.

“The Hawks, it developed, could stand everything except competition for the sports buck,” Bob Broeg wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Coached by Richie Guerin and bolstered by standout players such as Zelmo Beatty, Lenny Wilkens, Joe Caldwell, Bill Bridges, Paul Silas and Lou Hudson, the Hawks opened the 1967-68 season by winning 16 of their first 17 games, but ticket sales remained flat.

“When your team starts off with a 16-1 record and you have a hard time drawing crowds at home, you have to wonder,” Kerner said.

Facing the San Francisco Warriors in the first round of the playoffs, the Hawks played the first two games at St. Louis, drawing crowds of 5,018 and 5,810 to Kiel Auditorium, according to the Post-Dispatch. With the best-of-seven series tied at 2-2, Game 5 was played at St. Louis’ Washington University and attracted slightly more than 4,000.

“The crowds at the playoff games were very discouraging,” Kerner said. “This certainly was a factor in my decision to sell the club.”

Fast break

The Warriors, featuring players such as Rudy LaRusso, Nate Thurmond and Jeff Mullins, upset the favored Hawks, winning four of six games in their playoff series. Soon after, Kerner was approached by an Atlanta group, led by real estate developer Thomas Cousins and former Georgia governor Carl Sanders.

“Negotiations progressed rapidly,” Kerner said.

Cousins told The Atlanta Constitution a deal was reached quickly “because there were other cities who would have jumped in had we sat back.”

Kerner sold the Hawks for about $3.5 million, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“The attendance for the last four or five years has not been good,” Kerner said. “It appears that the interest is not there. If you have a product that people don’t want, you can’t make them buy it.”

Kerner said he tried to find a St. Louis group to purchase the Hawks, but didn’t find any.

Wrote Broeg: “Public apathy was apparent. The man was justified in selling, though it’s too bad he couldn’t have given St. Louisans one more chance or, because he’d become wealthy here, been willing to take a little less to keep it here.”

New South

Guerin told The Atlanta Constitution he was eager to coach the Hawks in Atlanta because the city was “very progressive, fast-growing and, equally, fast-developing.”

“The only thing about the sale that I’m a little down about is the fact I’m parting company with such a fine man as Mr. Kerner,” Guerin said. “It has been more than just a coach-owner relationship between the two of us. Mr. Kerner is a man for whom I have the greatest respect.”

The Hawks became the third major professional sports franchise to come to Atlanta since 1965, joining the baseball Braves and the NFL Falcons.

In 1968-69, their first season in Atlanta, the Hawks played at Alexander Memorial Coliseum on the Georgia Tech campus and averaged 4,474 per home game.

The Hawks never have won a NBA championship since moving to Atlanta. St. Louis never has gotten a NBA franchise since the Hawks departed, though they did have the Spirits, a team in the American Basketball Association, from 1974-76.

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Andy Benes left the Cardinals and went to the Diamondbacks because he, his agent and general manager Walt Jocketty couldn’t follow baseball rules.

On Feb. 3, 1998, Benes, a starting pitcher, signed a three-year contract worth $18 million to play for the Diamondbacks, who joined the National League as an expansion team that season.

Benes had reached an agreement to stay with the Cardinals, but the deal came together after expiration of a deadline mandated by the baseball owners’ Player Relations Committee.

Instead of getting the Cardinals’ offer of a five-year contract worth $32.5 million, Benes settled for less with the Diamondbacks.

Deadline pressure

Benes joined the Cardinals as a free agent after the 1995 season. He was 18-10 with a 3.83 ERA in 1996 and 10-7 with a 3.10 ERA in 1997 before becoming a free agent again.

The Cardinals wanted to re-sign him and Benes indicated he wanted to remain in St. Louis, but negotiations stalled.

Because the Cardinals hadn’t offered Benes salary arbitration, baseball rules established by the Player Relations Committee dictated he and the club had to reach a contract agreement by midnight on Dec. 7, 1997, or else Benes would not be eligible to re-sign with the Cardinals until May 1, 1998.

Benes didn’t want to wait until May to sign a contract, so it became imperative he and the Cardinals reach an agreement by the Dec. 7 deadline if he was to stay in St. Louis.

Breaking the rule

Jocketty and Benes’ agent, Scott Boras, went down to the wire in the negotiations. When it became apparent they needed more time, they asked Major League Baseball officials for an extension and were granted an additional 30 minutes to get a deal done.

The deadline extension passed without an agreement being reached. About two hours later, the sides settled on the five-year, $32.5 million contract.

The Player Relations Committee, however, ruled the agreement invalid because it hadn’t been reached in the allotted time.

Benes and the Cardinals initially appealed the ruling, but dropped the matter when it became clear baseball officials wouldn’t budge.

Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, questioned why the agreement wasn’t approved. “The bureaucrats who run baseball are poised to kill the deal and all of this good faith because of some arcane rule? Absurd,” Miklasz wrote.

Go west

With the Cardinals out of the picture, Benes and Boras negotiated with the Cubs, Mets and Indians, but got no offers, in part, because Boras wanted a contract clause that would allow Benes the option to leave his next team after one season.

With little bargaining leverage remaining, Benes agreed to the three-year offer from the Diamondbacks that gave him the option to depart after two seasons.

Though he could have waited until May and signed with the Cardinals, Benes feared he could suffer an injury during the wait and ruin any chance for a contract offer, so he opted to sign the guaranteed contract from the Diamondbacks.

“We made a very substantial offer, which unfortunately wasn’t able to get completed on time,” Jocketty said. “We can’t look back.”

Said Benes: “I was disappointed with the way things didn’t work out in St. Louis, but things sometimes don’t work out for a reason. Maybe (Arizona) is the place I was supposed to be after all.”

Post-Dispatch columnist Dan O’Neill described Benes’ departure as “a messy tale of a ballplayer burned by the system, a victim of bad timing, a casualty of miscommunication and red tape.”

Playing for a Diamondbacks club managed by Buck Showalter, Benes was 14-13 with a 3.97 ERA in 1998 and 13-12 with a 4.81 ERA in 1999. After that, he exercised his option, departed Arizona and rejoined the Cardinals, playing his final three seasons (2000-2002) with St. Louis.

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