Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Executives’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

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

 

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

In November 1947, Sam Breadon was 71 years old and he was thinking about mortality. He had been principal owner of the Cardinals for 27 years, operating the club with a hands-on approach, and he didn’t think he could do the job much longer.

Though his heart favored keeping the business he loved, Breadon chose the path that made the most sense to him. He decided to sell.

By selling, Breadon would acquire the cash to ensure financial security for his wife and two daughters.

A sale also would enable Breadon to handpick buyers who were willing to keep the club in St. Louis and protect the jobs of his top employees.

On Nov. 25, 1947, Breadon sold the Cardinals to Robert Hannegan and Fred Saigh. Hannegan, 44, a St. Louis native, was Postmaster General of the United States. Saigh, 42, was a lawyer in St. Louis.

“It is unpleasant for me to dispose of the Cardinals,” Breadon told reporters, “but I believe, in the interest of the Cardinals, a man of the character and ability of Bob Hannegan, a younger man, will be able to do more in keeping the Cardinals in the position they are today than I could do from now on. This is the main reason for disposing of my interests.”

Two years later, both Breadon and Hannegan would be dead and Saigh would be the Cardinals’ majority owner.

Buy low, sell high

Breadon, a car dealer, was part of a group that bought the Cardinals in the spring of 1917. Three years later, he became majority owner and club president.

Together with his top baseball executive, the innovative Branch Rickey, Breadon brought the Cardinals from the brink of bankruptcy to top-tier status as one of baseball’s most successful franchises. From 1926 to 1942, the Cardinals won six National League pennants and four World Series titles.

When Rickey left in late 1942 and joined the Dodgers, Breadon didn’t replace him. Breadon, determined to show he could succeed without Rickey, took on many responsibilities of the top baseball executive. Over the next five seasons, the Cardinals finished first (1943), first (1944), second (1945), first (1946) and second (1947) and won two World Series crowns.

With the franchise’s value at a peak, Breadon made plans to sell. He knew and liked Hannegan. The two began negotiations after the 1947 season, Breadon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Big deal

The purchase price, estimated by both the Post-Dispatch and the St. Louis Star-Times to be about $4 million, was the “biggest financial transaction in baseball history,” according to United Press.

The buyers agreed to pay all Cardinals shareholders $400 per share. Breadon owned 77 percent of the stock.

“Sam said he would sell at a certain figure and, naturally, it was up to us to accept that price. We did,” Hannegan said to the Star-Times.

By what Saigh termed a “gimmick” in the tax law, he and Hannegan were able to make the transaction for a cash outlay of only $60,800, according to the Associated Press.

In addition to the major-league franchise, the sale included the Cardinals’ 16 minor-league clubs and property in St. Louis on Chouteau Avenue at Spring Avenue. Breadon had purchased that land as a possible site to build a ballpark for the Cardinals, who rented Sportsman’s Park from the American League Browns.

As majority owner, Hannegan “personally will have controlling interest” in the Cardinals, Breadon told the Star-Times. Hannegan was named club president and chairman of the board of directors. Saigh was given the titles of vice president and treasurer.

Well-connected

Hannegan, son of a St. Louis police captain, grew up a Cardinals fan. As a youth, he sold peanuts at Cardinals games and he was a member of the club’s original Knothole Gang.

After he was graduated from St. Louis University, where he played football and baseball, Hannegan became a lawyer and got into local politics as a ward boss for the Democratic Party.

From there, Hannegan steadily grew his political stature at the state level and he became friends with Harry Truman. President Franklin Roosevelt named Hannegan chairman of the Democratic National Committee in 1944. A year later, Hannegan was appointed Postmaster General in the Cabinet of President Truman. Hannegan also stayed involved in sports, becoming a stockholder and board member of the Browns.

On the day he purchased the Cardinals, Hannegan resigned as Postmaster General. “The country is losing the services of a most efficient public servant,” Truman said.

Saigh, whose father operated groceries and department stores in northern Illinois, developed a law practice in St. Louis and “figured in several important real estate deals involving downtown office buildings,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Unhealthy situation

Hannegan said leaving Washington, D.C., and returning to St. Louis to run the Cardinals was “the happiest homecoming of my life.”

“From my boyhood, I have held fast to the belief that Sam Breadon and the Cardinals were champions, not only of a clean sport but in the eyes of the nation,” Hannegan said. “They have become, like our churches, schools, hospitals, parks and press, one of St. Louis’ finest civic assets.”

Good to their word, Hannegan and Saigh made no major changes for the 1948 season. The Cardinals again placed second with basically the same roster that had finished second in 1947, featuring manager Eddie Dyer and players such as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter, Terry Moore and Marty Marion.

Hannegan, however, was in poor health. He had a history of high blood pressure.

By 1949, both Hannegan and Breadon, who had prostate cancer, were in rapid decline. In January 1949, Hannegan sold his shares to Saigh, giving him total control of the franchise.

Breadon, 72, died on May 8, 1949. Five months later, on Oct. 6, Hannegan, 46, died of heart disease.

In April 1952, Saigh was indicted on federal charges of income tax evasion. After he was sentenced to 15 months in prison, Saigh sold the Cardinals to Anheuser-Busch.

Previously: How close did Cardinals come to moving to Milwaukee?

Read Full Post »

Club owner Sam Breadon wasn’t satisfied with Bob O’Farrell managing the Cardinals to a 92-win season. Breadon wanted O’Farrell to perform at the level of a most valuable player, too.

On Nov. 7, 1927, Breadon changed managers, replacing O’Farrell with coach Bill McKechnie, even though in his first season as player-manager, O’Farrell, a catcher, led the 1927 Cardinals to a 92-61 record and second place in the National League, 1.5 games behind the Pirates.

The 1927 club was the franchise’s first to achieve more than 90 wins in a season since the Cardinals joined the National League in 1892.

The year before, the 1926 Cardinals, with Rogers Hornsby as player-manager, finished in first place with 89 wins and defeated the Yankees in a seven-game World Series. O’Farrell’s play was significant in the success of the 1926 Cardinals. Solid on defense, he worked well with the pitching staff and batted .293 with 30 doubles and 68 RBI. O’Farrell was named winner of the 1926 NL Most Valuable Player Award.

In 1927, O’Farrell batted .264 with 10 doubles and 18 RBI. Though O’Farrell was slowed by injuries, Breadon concluded the catcher’s play was impacted negatively by the responsibilities of managing. With McKechnie, the former Pirates manager who led Pittsburgh to the 1925 NL pennant, on the coaching staff, Breadon opted to return O’Farrell to the status of fulltime player and promote McKechnie.

Who’s boss?

O’Farrell had done Breadon a big favor by agreeing to become player-manager in 1927.

After the Cardinals won their first World Series title in 1926, Hornsby demanded a three-year contract. Breadon offered a one-year deal. Unable to reach agreement, Breadon traded Hornsby to the Giants for Frankie Frisch, sparking a public outcry.

Attempting to quell the backlash, Breadon turned to O’Farrell, who was popular with the fan base.

Breadon wanted McKechnie, fired by the Pirates, to manage the 1927 Cardinals, but that wasn’t likely to appease the critics. Breadon got the next-best arrangement when McKechnie agreed to be a coach and serve as O’Farrell’s assistant.

“O’Farrell never was considered an outstanding candidate for a managerial job,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch declared, “and he was named as Hornsby’s successor chiefly because of his having been honored as the league’s most valuable player.”

At 1927 spring training, O’Farrell injured his right shoulder in an exhibition game. “The injury handicapped him most of the year,” the Post-Dispatch reported. Late in the season, O’Farrell also dislocated a thumb.

O’Farrell was limited to playing in 61 games and making 51 starts at catcher. He split playing time with Frank Snyder (55 starts) and Johnny Schulte (46 starts).

According to a biography of McKechnie by the Society for American Baseball Research, O’Farrell didn’t want to be manager and “he leaned heavily on McKechnie, occasionally calling time in mid-inning to go to the bench and consult his assistant.”

The Post-Dispatch suggested fans were aware McKechnie was calling the shots “under the disguise of a coach.”

James Gould, columnist for the St. Louis Star-Times, credited McKechnie with having “a quiet, suave handling, and a calm, collected policy.”

The Cardinals were in the 1927 pennant race until the end. They would have repeated as league champions if they’d done better against the Pirates. The Cardinals were 8-14 against Pittsburgh and 84-47 versus the rest of the National League.

Assessing value

Breadon and his top baseball executive, Branch Rickey, were impressed by McKechnie, especially with how he related to prospects.

Breadon met with O’Farrell after the 1927 season and informed him of his intention to make McKechnie the manager. O’Farrell “seemed to be willing and ready to slip out from under the tasks of a manager and devote all his time to playing,” The Sporting News claimed.

In the Star-Times, Gould surmised, “We cannot picture Bob O’Farrell as terribly unhappy over the change in his status.”

To lessen the sting of the demotion _ and perhaps to soothe his own conscious _ Breadon increased O’Farrell’s pay by $5,000, giving him a salary in excess of $20,000 and making him the highest-paid catcher in baseball, according to the Post-Dispatch.

While acknowledging the injuries O’Farrell suffered in 1927 _ “Had he escaped injuries, I believe we would have won the pennant,” Breadon said _ the owner insisted the manager job largely was responsible for the drop in the catcher’s performance.

“I believe that, with O’Farrell free to devote all his time to catching, his arm will come back and he once more will be the outstanding catcher in baseball,” Breadon said. “… I believe O’Farrell will be of more value to us as a catcher without the worries of management.”

Sent packing

McKechnie said he consulted with O’Farrell before agreeing to replace him. “I never would have accepted the managership of the Cardinals had not Bob O’Farrell decided it best for himself to step out and confine his efforts to catching in 1928,” McKechnie said.

McKechnie had a splendid season in 1928; O’Farrell did not.

The Cardinals finished in first place at 95-59, two games ahead of the Giants.

O’Farrell hit .212 in 16 games before he was traded to the Giants on May 10, 1928, for outfielder George Harper.

Jimmie Wilson, acquired from the Phillies, replaced O’Farrell as Cardinals catcher.

O’Farrell, who began his major-league career in 1915, played until 1935, including stints with the Cardinals in 1933 and 1935. He was player-manager of the Reds for part of the 1934 season.

After the Cardinals were swept by the Yankees in the 1928 World Series, Breadon demoted McKechnie to a position in the minor leagues and replaced him with Billy Southworth. When Southworth proved unprepared for the job, Breadon brought back McKechnie during the 1929 season.

Breadon asked McKechnie to stay as manager in 1930, but McKechnie instead accepted an offer to manage the Braves. He later became Reds manager and led them to two pennants and a World Series title.

McKechnie, who won pennants as manager of the Pirates, Cardinals and Reds, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Previously: How Bob O’Farrell went from NL MVP to manager

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »