Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Like a fading supermodel, reliever Chuck Hartenstein found himself out of fashion soon after he joined the Cardinals.

Described by The Sporting News as “a little stick of a guy who stands 5 feet 10 and weighs 150 pounds” and who “doesn’t show anything in the way of muscles,” Hartenstein was given the nickname Twiggy by a teammate.

In the late 1960s, when Hartenstein was at his peak as a National League closer, British fashion model Twiggy, 5 feet 6 and 110 pounds, was a cultural icon among the hip crowd. About the time Twiggy retired from modeling, Hartenstein was struggling to remain in the majors.

A right-hander whose signature pitch was a sidearm sinker, Hartenstein had a short stint with the Cardinals in 1970. He had a second career as a coach and scout in the majors and as an instructor in the minors. Hartenstein died on Oct. 2, 2021, at 79.

Thick and thin

Born and raised in Texas, Hartenstein went to the University of Texas and was a teammate of future Cardinals first baseman Joe Hague. Hartenstein earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration and marketing, but opted to pursue a professional baseball career, signing with the Cubs in May 1964.

Hartenstein became a protege of Cubs minor-league instructor Fred Martin, a former Cardinals pitcher, who taught him to throw the sinker. Years later, future Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter learned the split-fingered fastball from Martin.

“(Martin) taught me just about everything I know,” Hartenstein told The Sporting News.

Hartenstein had his breakout season in 1967. Called up to the Cubs in June, he became their closer, posting a 9-5 record and team-leading 11 saves.

Reliever Dick Radatz, dubbed “The Monster” because of his 6-foot-6, 230-pound frame, gave Hartenstein the Twiggy nickname, The Sporting News reported, but Hartenstein told the Society for American Baseball Research it was outfielder Billy Williams who came up with the tag.

According to the Pittsburgh Press, Hartenstein was so skinny “he could tread water in a test tube.”

Hartenstein entered 1968 as the Cubs’ closer, but his season quickly unraveled. In April, his errant fastball struck Braves batter Joe Torre in the head. “Torre went down like a fallen tree,” the Atlanta Constitution reported.

In his book, “Chasing the Dream,” Torre said, “I never saw it. It smashed against my cheek. It split my palate, broke my cheek and my nose. My teammates had to carry me off the field. I was in shock.”

Hartenstein told the Chicago Tribune, “I’m sorry it happened. I couldn’t believe the ball hit him. It was a fastball and it bore in on him. I had thrown two away from him for strikes, and this one was supposed to brush him back. I certainly didn’t want to hit him, but he just didn’t move.”

Hartenstein had a terrible April (0-2, 6.75 ERA) and was replaced as closer by Phil Regan. After clashing with manager Leo Durocher, Hartenstein was demoted to the minors in June.

“I found out one thing about Durocher: When you got in his doghouse, you never got out of it,” Hartenstein told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Snapped twig

The Cubs traded Hartenstein to the Pirates in January 1969. He led the 1969 Pirates in saves (10) and was 5-4. Hartenstein was effective against the Cardinals that year, yielding no hits or runs in four appearances totaling five innings.

In 1970, Hartenstein had another bad April (7.04 ERA) and was replaced as closer by Dave Giusti, who was acquired from the Cardinals.

Placed on waivers in June, Hartenstein was selected by the Cardinals. According to the Pittsburgh Press, when Pirates general manager Joe Brown called and told him he was going to the Cardinals, Hartenstein asked, “Football or baseball?”

The transaction made Hartenstein a teammate of Joe Torre, who was traded by the Braves to the Cardinals a year earlier. Hartenstein was thrilled to join a team that featured a lineup with hitters such as Torre, Dick Allen and Lou Brock. “This club could win it all,” he told the Pittsburgh Press.

The 1970 Cardinals could hit, but their bullpen was weak. The Cardinals would finish the season with the fewest saves (20) in the major leagues.

Manager Red Schoendienst said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Twiggy told me he’ll pitch everyday if we want him to,” but Hartenstein didn’t help. After pitching three scoreless innings against the Pirates in his Cardinals debut, he was shelled in his next five outings. Boxscore

In July, when Nelson Briles came off the disabled list, going into the starting rotation and bumping Chuck Taylor into the bullpen, Hartenstein was given his unconditional release.

In six appearances for the Cardinals, Hartenstein had an 8.77 ERA, surrendering 13 runs in 13.1 innings.

Hartenstein blamed the AstroTurf infields at Busch Memorial Stadium and other National League ballparks for his troubles.

“Sure, I’ve pitched some bad games,” he told the Boston Globe, “but almost everything hit on the ground was finding holes. An infielder playing on the AstroTurf has to be a step quicker than when he plays on a grass infield.”

In Hartenstein’s short time with the Cardinals, he wore three different uniform numbers (22, 26 and 50), according to baseball-reference.com.

The Red Sox, who played on a grass infield, signed Hartenstein for the remainder of the 1970 season and he flopped with them, too (0-3, 8.05 ERA).

Learning to teach

Hartenstein spent the next six seasons (1971-76) in the Pacific Coast League, pitching for farm clubs of the White Sox, Giants and Padres.

In 1977, Hartenstein, 35, returned to the majors with the Blue Jays, an American League expansion club. In May, Rod Carew hit a ball that struck Hartenstein, dislocating his right thumb. When he recovered, Hartenstein gave up four home runs _ to Bernie Carbo, Butch Hobson, Fred Lynn and Jim Rice _ in a July 4 loss to the Red Sox at Fenway Park. Boxscore

“It was great instruction for anyone who wants to be a pitching coach,” Hartenstein said to the Boston Globe. “I showed exactly what you shouldn’t do.”

After finishing 0-2 with a 6.59 ERA for the 1977 Blue Jays, Hartenstein became a minor-league instructor. In 1979, he got back to the majors as pitching coach for the Indians. The club’s bullpen coach was Dave Duncan, who years later was Cardinals pitching coach.

Hartenstein also was Brewers pitching coach from 1987-89 when Dan Plesac developed into a top closer.

In six seasons as a big-league pitcher, Hartenstein was 17-19 with 24 saves. In 13 appearances versus the Cardinals, he had a 1.96 ERA.

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Bob Klinger, a good pitcher put into a bad spot by his manager, was involved in one of the most exciting plays in Cardinals lore.

Seventy-five years ago, on Oct. 15, 1946, Klinger was the Red Sox pitcher who gave up the winning run to the Cardinals in World Series Game 7.

Though he hadn’t pitched in a month, Klinger was brought into a situation packed with pressure: bottom of the eighth inning, score tied, a championship on the line.

Adding to the degree of difficulty, the first man Klinger, a right-hander, had to face was a fearsome left-handed hitter.

He almost completed the task unscathed, but Enos Slaughter’s daring dash from first base on a Harry Walker hit lifted the Cardinals to victory and made Klinger the losing pitcher.

Rescued by Pirates

Klinger was born in Allenton, Mo., before the small railroad town was annexed by Eureka, Mo., home to the Six Flags St. Louis amusement park.

The Cardinals signed him and he spent nine years in their farm system.

After posting a 16-12 record for Elmira, N.Y., in 1933, Klinger was called up to the Cardinals in September but didn’t get into a game, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. He was on the Cardinals’ roster at spring training in 1934, but was returned to the minors before the season started.

Selected by the Pirates in the Rule 5 draft for $7,500 in October 1937, Klinger, 29, made his major-league debut on April 19, 1938, pitching two scoreless innings of relief and getting the win against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

Moved into the starting rotation at the end of May, Klinger had a splendid rookie season (12-5, 2.99 ERA) for the second-place Pirates. Against the Cardinals that year, he was 4-1 with a 1.66 ERA.

Klinger was 62-58 in six seasons with the Pirates before he entered the Navy in April 1944. Discharged in December 1945, Klinger was released by the Pirates before he got to pitch for them again in the regular season. The Red Sox signed him on May 9, 1946, hoping he would bolster their bullpen.

“Klinger has the reputation of being a fireball pitcher,” the Boston Globe reported, “and that is the kind of fellow any club needs to shoot into a ballgame for relief work.”

Title contender

Klinger, 38, joined a smoking hot Red Sox team that won 21 of its first 24 games and cruised to the American League championship.

At a time when most starting pitchers took pride in completing games, Klinger contributed nine saves, tops in the American League in 1946, and was 3-2 with a 2.37 ERA, but his season ended on a downbeat note.

On Sept. 19, against the Browns at St. Louis, Klinger entered in the ninth inning to protect a 5-4 lead, but all four batters he faced reached base and two scored, giving the Browns a victory and Klinger a loss. He didn’t appear in any more games that month. Boxscore

Ten days later, before the Red Sox played their Sept. 29 season finale at home against the Senators, Klinger learned his 2-year-old son was seriously ill “with what was feared to be polio,” the Boston Globe reported. Klinger left immediately to return home to Pacific, Mo.

The Red Sox, who finished 12 games ahead of the second-place Tigers, waited to learn who they would play in the World Series. The Cardinals and Dodgers completed the National League schedule tied for first and needed a best-of-three playoff to determine the champion.

After the Cardinals clinched the pennant on Oct. 3, the World Series opened in St. Louis on Oct. 6. The Cardinals and Red Sox split six games, setting up the finale at Sportsman’s Park.

Trailing 3-1, the Red Sox rallied for two runs in the top of the eighth. Reliever Joe Dobson was lifted for a pinch-hitter during the inning, and Red Sox manager Joe Cronin had two possible replacements warming in the bullpen, Klinger and Earl Johnson, a left-hander.

Controversial choice

With Enos Slaughter, a left-handed batter who led the National League in RBI in 1946, due to lead off the bottom of the eighth, Earl Johnson seemed to some to be the obvious choice, but Cronin opted for Klinger.

“Why bring in Bob Klinger, a National League castoff, to pitch to the Cardinals in the eighth inning of the deciding game with the score tied?,” New York Sun columnist Herbert Goren wrote. “With Slaughter leading the inning, the percentage selection would have been Johnson.”

Others thought Cronin should have used right-hander Tex Hughson, a 20-game winner. Two days earlier, Hughson pitched 4.1 scoreless innings of relief in Game 6. As Sid Keener of the St. Louis Star-Times noted, Hughson held “a higher rating than Klinger in any manager’s book.”

Klinger hadn’t pitched in a game since his shelling against the Browns on Sept. 19, but Cronin apparently chose him because he was the club’s saves leader and had knowledge of National League hitters.

The problem with that logic was hitters were familiar with Klinger, too. Slaughter had a career batting average against Klinger of .338, with 23 hits. Harry Walker, who also batted left, had a career batting average versus Klinger of .300, with nine hits.

Hitting and running

Slaughter greeted Klinger with a sharp single to center. Whitey Kurowski, attempting to bunt Slaughter to second, popped out to Klinger.

Del Rice, a right-handed batter who had one home run for the season, hit “a towering fly to deep, darkest left field,” the Boston Globe reported, but Ted Williams caught it for the second out and Slaughter held at first base.

Walker was up next. With the count 2-and-1, the Cardinals called for a hit-and-run play. Slaughter started running as Klinger delivered his pitch and Walker stroked it to the gap in left-center.

“Slaughter turned second base, approaching third base at full speed, and was hell-bent for home,” the St. Louis Star-Times reported.

Center fielder Leon Culberson, who had replaced an injured Dom DiMaggio, gloved the ball and threw to the cutoff man, shortstop Johnny Pesky. With Slaughter steaming toward home and Walker dashing to second, Pesky hesitated, then threw to the plate “a looping toss with no oomph behind it,” the Star-Times noted.

Slaughter slid in safely, giving the Cardinals a 4-3 lead. They survived a Red Sox threat in the ninth, clinching their third World Series title in five years. Boxscore and Video

Klinger pitched one more season in the majors, going 1-1 with five saves for the 1947 Red Sox. At 40, he returned to the Cardinals’ system in 1948, pitching for manager Johnny Keane at Houston.

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If not for an injury, Cloyd Boyer might have been to Cardinals pitching what his brother, Ken Boyer, was to Cardinals hitting and fielding.

A right-handed pitcher, Cloyd Boyer had an exceptional fastball when he got to the big leagues with the Cardinals, drawing comparisons to ace Mort Cooper, but he wasn’t the same after hurting his shoulder.

Boyer pitched in four seasons for the Cardinals and had a record of 15-18 with a 4.24 ERA. After his playing days, he had a long career as a major-league pitching coach and minor-league manager. Boyer died Sept. 20, 2021, at 94.

Baseball family

Born in Missouri’s Jasper County near Joplin, Cloyd was the oldest son of the 14 children of Vern and Mabel Boyer.

Cloyd and his six brothers all became professional baseball players. Cloyd, Ken and Clete reached the majors. Wayne, Lynn, Ron and Len spent all their time in the minors.

Ken and Clete were standout third basemen. Ken earned five Gold Glove awards with the Cardinals and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1964 when the Cardinals were World Series champions. Clete played for the Yankees in five World Series, including in 1964 against Ken and the Cardinals.

The Boyer boys got their passion for baseball from their father Vern, who worked a variety of jobs, including marble-cutter and blacksmith, and helped build a lighted baseball diamond across the street from the family house in Alba, Mo.

“He bought us a couple of gloves that were nothing bigger than your hand and we used corn cobs for balls,” Cloyd recalled to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He loved the game. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have never been in baseball.”

In 1944, when Cloyd was 17 and working for a farmer, Vern learned the Cardinals were conducting a tryout camp at nearby Carthage, Mo. “My father came and took me off the hay baler and carried me to the tryout camp,” Cloyd said in the book “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain.”

Cardinals scout Runt Marr and administrator Walter Shannon, who were running the tryout camp, became impressed “the minute Boyer powered a throw to the plate from the outfield,” the Post-Dispatch reported. They met with Cloyd and his father in Alba that night and signed the teen to a contract.

Hard thrower

After his first season in the Cardinals’ farm system in 1945, Cloyd enlisted in the Navy when he turned 18 in September that year. He served for almost a year, including three months aboard the USS Iowa, and was discharged in time to pitch in five games in the minors at the end of the 1946 season.

Cloyd began an ascension in the Cardinals’ farm system with consecutive 16-win seasons in 1947 and 1948.

“Boyer has a terrific fastball,” Cardinals farm director Joe Mathes told The Sporting News in 1948.

Cloyd, 21, earned a spot on the Cardinals Opening Day roster in 1949.

Comparing Boyer to Johnny Beazley, who had 21 wins as a rookie for the 1942 Cardiinals, Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch wrote, “Cloyd was shy, almost bashful, when he came up to the Cardinals, but was not too shy to knock down a hitter who dug in too earnestly against his swift, side-armed fastball.”

Cloyd made his major-league debut on April 23, 1949, with two scoreless innings of relief against the Cubs, but was returned to the minors after three appearances. Boxscore

Tough guy

Boyer stuck with the Cardinals in 1950, beginning the season as a reliever and moving into the starting rotation in late July.

“There isn’t a veteran pitcher on my squad who can match the speed of Cloyd Boyer,” Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer told The Sporting News.

Dyer was impressed as much by Cloyd’s courage and poise as he was with his fastball.

On July 17, 1950, the Dodgers’ Carl Furillo lined a pitch that struck Boyer “hard on the right thumb, glanced off and slammed against his throat,” Dick Young of the New York Daily News reported.

Boyer retrieved the ball and threw to first base in time to get Furillo, but “almost fainted a moment later, gasping for breath,” the Daily News reported. “His mates had him lie on the hill for several minutes, regaining his wind.”

Once he could breathe freely, Boyer got to his feet and walked off the field. X-rays disclosed a ruptured blood vessel at the heel of his hand. “He’s lucky he’s alive,” the Daily News declared. “Getting his hand in the way of Furillo’s comeback bullet just in time to prevent it from tearing into his neck probably saved the guy’s life, or at least his voice.” Boxscore

Four days later, Boyer pitched 11 innings in a start against the Giants. Boxscore

On July 27, 1950, 10 days after being struck by the Furillo liner, Boyer faced the Dodgers again and pitched a complete game for the win, holding Furillo hitless. Boxscore

“The kid’s got moxie,” Cardinals scout Fred Hawn said to the Post-Dispatch.

Pitching in pain

Two months later, on Sept. 15, 1950, Boyer hurt his right shoulder on the last pitch of his warmup before a start against the Dodgers and couldn’t continue. Cardinals trainer Doc Weaver described the injury as “an inflamed nerve,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

According to the book “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain,” Cloyd “likely damaged his rotator cuff, but the mentality of managers and pitching coaches at the time was to pitch through the pain.”

Incredibly, Boyer started against the Braves five days later, on Sept. 20, and pitched a four-hit shutout. Boxscore

The performance took a toll, though. On Sept. 29, while warming up before a start versus the Cubs, Boyer’s pitches “lacked the usual zip.” the Post-Dispatch reported.

He started the game and, “flinching on several throws,” got the count to 3-and-2 before yielding a double to leadoff batter Randy Jackson. Dyer ran to the mound and removed the ailing pitcher. Boxscore

Boyer finished the season 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA. He was 3-0 against the Dodgers.

Helping others

First-year Cardinals manager Marty Marion figured on Boyer for a spot in the starting rotation in 1951, but his arm wasn’t right. Ineffective, he was sent to the minors in July. Though brought back to the Cardinals at the end of the month, Boyer finished 2-5 with a 5.26 ERA for them in 1951.

“Boyer, until he suffered arm trouble, was considered another prospect like Mort Cooper,” The Sporting News noted.

Boyer was 6-6 with a 4.24 ERA for the Cardinals in 1952, then spent the next two seasons in the minors.

The Athletics acquired him and he pitched his last season in the majors for them in 1955, posting a 5-5 record and 6.22 ERA. 

Cloyd never got to play a big-league game with brother Ken, but he did with brother Clete, who was 18 when he made his debut in the majors with the 1955 Athletics.

Cloyd became a big-league coach for the Yankees (1975 and 1977), Braves (1978-81) and Royals (1982-83). Otherwise, from the 1960s to the 1990s, he was a scout, coach and manager in the minors.

Among the pitchers he managed in the minors were 17-year-old Pat Hentgen, who became an American League Cy Young Award recipient and a 15-game winner with the 2000 Cardinals.

Cloyd also managed a couple of 18-year-old pitchers, Steve Avery and Mark Wohlers, who became key members of 1990s pennant-winning Braves teams.

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The Cardinals’ climax to a year of strangeness was fittingly bizarre.

Forty years ago, on Oct. 2, 1981, the Cardinals’ chances of reaching the playoffs evaporated in the ninth inning of a game played in a mostly empty stadium on a night with the feel of winter in Pittsburgh.

After the Cardinals came from behind with a pair of home runs in the top of the ninth to tie the score, the last-place Pirates got a run in the bottom half of the inning against the National League’s best closer and won, 8-7.

The loss dropped the Cardinals 1.5 games behind the first-place Expos with two left to play. The Expos clinched the division title the next day, beating the Mets.

In a year when baseball made a sick joke of the season _ foreshadowing a series of decisions that purposely devalue regular-season excellence and reward mediocrity _ the Cardinals finished the 1981 schedule with the best record in the National League East and were excluded from the farce called the postseason.

Bonehead baseball

After major-league players went on strike in June 1981 and ended the walkout in August, those who run baseball decided to have two regular seasons in 1981. All division leaders at the time the strike began were declared champions of the first season. The second season consisted of games played after the strike. Like with the first season, those who finished in first place in a division went to the playoffs.

It didn’t matter to baseball officials that all teams didn’t play the same number of games in either season, or that some played more road games than home games. Baseball held an expanded playoffs _ with four division champions in each league instead of two _ and hoped the manufactured excitement would make fans forget being spat on by the strike.

The Cardinals (30-20) placed second to the Phillies (34-21) in the East Division in the first season.

With three games remaining in the second season, the Cardinals (27-22) trailed the first-place Expos (28-22) by a half-game. The Cardinals closed with a series at Pittsburgh versus the Pirates while the Expos were at New York against the Mets.

Winter wonderland

The series opener at Pittsburgh’s Three Rivers Stadium was played on a Friday night when the temperature at game time was 39 degrees and the wind chill made it feel like 25.

“A swirling wind made pop-ups adventurous, and intermittent drizzle felt like snowflakes,” the Pittsburgh Press reported.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The weather conditions were fitting for a Steelers playoff game in late December.”

A mere 2,348 spectators attended in a stadium with capacity for 47,971. It was the smallest attendance for a Pirates game since the stadium opened in 1970.

The brand of baseball the frozen faithful witnessed that Friday night caused shivers, too. The Pirates made four errors, one more than the Cardinals.

“Even on ordinary plays, balls popped out of gloves like in a game of flip,” the Pittsburgh Press noted. “There were more drops than in an eye doctor’s office.”

Blaming the weather, Pirates manager Chuck Tanner said, “Hard gloves and cold hands produce a lot of errors.”

Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter suggested frayed nerves played a factor, too. “I wouldn’t say we’re tight, but we haven’t played like we’re in a pennant race,” Porter said.

Coming back

Trailing 7-2, the Cardinals scored three in the sixth to get within two.

In the ninth, George Hendrick led off with a home run against Rod Scurry, working his third inning of relief, but the next two batters made outs.

Porter was the Cardinals’ last hope. After he fell behind in the count, 1-and-2, Porter pounced on an inside fastball.

“I don’t know if I’ve ever hit a ball better than that,” Porter told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The ball barely stayed inside the foul pole but cleared the wall in right by plenty for a home run, tying the score at 7-7.

“When something like that happens, you think you’re going to win,” Porter said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Especially, Porter might have added, when the Cardinals had Bruce Sutter to pitch the bottom of the ninth.

Sutter led the National League in saves for the third consecutive year in 1981.

Walks will haunt

Speedster Omar Moreno led off the ninth for the Pirates and drew a walk. After Tim Foli’s sacrifice bunt moved Moreno to second, Sutter gave an intentional pass to Dave Parker.

Mike Easler batted next. He played in the Cardinals’ farm system in 1976, and he would become the Cardinals’ hitting coach for three years when Tony La Russa was manager.

With the count 2-and-2, Easler sliced a double to left-center, scoring Moreno with the winning run. Boxscore

“Sutter has to pitch low to be effective,” Easler told the Pittsburgh Press. “His pitches dropped a foot. The one I hit did, too, only it was high and dropped right into my swing.”


In its game story, the Pittsburgh Press declared, “The Pirates didn’t bury the Cardinals. The Cardinals picked up the shovel, dug the hole and jumped in.”

The loss to the Pirates, coupled with the Expos’ 3-0 victory that night, meant the Expos would have to lose their remaining two games for the Cardinals to have a chance to finish atop the division. It didn’t happen. The Expos finished (30-23) a half-game ahead of the Cardinals (29-23).

The Cardinals completed the 1981 schedule with the best overall record in the East Division at 59-43, two games ahead of the Expos (60-48) and 2.5 ahead of the Phillies (59-48).

The Reds had the best overall record in the West Division at 66-42, but, like the Cardinals, didn’t finish atop the division in either season, and didn’t get into the 1981 playoffs.

Incredibly, baseball devised a system in which four National League teams got into the 1981 playoffs, but excluded the two with the best overall records.

Whitey Herzog, who served the dual roles of Cardinals manager and general manager, said baseball’s hierarchy were “dumb dips,” The Sporting News reported.

“This second season is a farce,” Herzog said. “As good as the game was, I can’t believe they messed with it. You wonder why you beat your brains out.”

Since then, baseball has continued to dilute the regular season. Now, a team with the fifth-best record in its league qualifies for the playoffs.

It will get worse. Team owners want to expand the playoffs, following the model from 2020, when 16 teams qualified after the regular season was reduced because of the pandemic. Two of the playoff qualifiers had losing records. Three others, including the Cardinals, who didn’t even play all their scheduled games, got in by finishing two wins over .500.

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Though he no longer was with the Cardinals, Mort Cooper prevented their elimination from the 1946 pennant race.

Seventy-five years ago, on Sept. 29, 1946, the Cardinals and Dodgers entered the final day of the season tied for first place in the National League.

The Cardinals lost to the Cubs at St. Louis that Sunday, but dodged elimination because Cooper, their former ace, pitched a four-hit shutout for the Braves and beat the Dodgers at Brooklyn.

The losses left the Cardinals and Dodgers tied for first place with 96-58 records, necessitating an unprecedented best-of-three playoff series to determine the league champion. The Cardinals prevailed and advanced to the World Series, beating the Red Sox for the title.

Big winner

A husky right-hander, Cooper got to the big leagues with the Cardinals in September 1938 and became a mainstay of their starting rotation. With his younger brother, Walker, doing the catching, Mort helped the Cardinals win three National League pennants and two World Series championships from 1942-44.

Mort earned the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1942 when he was 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA. He followed that with a 21-8 record and 2.30 ERA in 1943 and 22-7 and 2.46 in 1944.

In 1945, Cooper got crossways with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon regarding salary. Breadon responded by trading Cooper to the Braves in May 1945.

After the season, manager Billy Southworth departed the Cardinals for a more lucrative offer from the Braves. Eddie Dyer replaced him and led the Cardinals through a season-long pennant fight with the Dodgers in 1946.

Tough task

On Sept. 26, 1946, Cooper pitched a three-hit shutout against the Giants, boosting his season record to 12-11. Boxscore

Three days later, on the morning of the season finale against the Dodgers, Southworth met Cooper for breakfast. According to the Boston Globe, Southworth asked Cooper, “How about pitching this last one?”

Though Cooper, 33, had just two days rest since beating the Giants, he replied, “Sure, I’ll pitch it _ and more than that. If the club will get me two runs, I’ll guarantee to win.”

According to the Associated Press, Cooper, well aware a Dodgers loss would enable the Cardinals to clinch the pennant if they beat the Cubs, sent a telegram to President Harry Truman, a fellow Missourian: “You try and pull the Cards in today. I will try to beat the Dodgers.”

Based on his season performance, Cooper’s task was formidable. He was 0-4 with a 6.48 ERA against the Dodgers in 1946. “We have taken him apart all year,” Dodgers manager Leo Durocher said to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Dyer told the Associated Press, “I didn’t see how Mort Cooper could beat the Dodgers with only two days of rest.”

Furthermore, the Dodgers chose as their starter Vic Lombardi, who was 3-0 with an 0.67 ERA versus the 1946 Braves. 

Doing it all

A raucous crowd of 30,756 filled Ebbets Field nearly to capacity on an overcast afternoon.

“Money rode on each pitch, and the nervous tension, like the gray haze that hung over the field, could almost be cut with a knife,” Dick Young wrote in the New York Daily News.

Cooper took command with his pitching as well as his hitting. He singled and scored in the third, giving the Braves a 1-0 lead.

The Dodgers’ lone threat came in the eighth. With one out, Bruce Edwards reached on an error. After Cooper’s former Cardinals teammate, Joe Medwick, singled, moving Edwards into scoring position, “the reverberations from the stands were ear-splitting,” the Boston Globe reported,

Cooper, though, was “all icicles,” and retired the next two batters. In the ninth, the Braves scored three times against the Dodgers bullpen. Cooper contributed a RBI-single, then retired the Dodgers in order for the win. Boxscore

Cooper “pitched his most elegant nine innings of the entire season,” The Sporting News declared. “Mort applied himself with a determination and technical perfection.”

Durocher told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “We could have batted against Cooper until midnight and still wouldn’t have scored a run off him.”

As stunned Dodgers fans started what the Brooklyn Daily Eagle described as “a mournful procession” from the ballpark, the public address announcer invited them to stay, saying updates on the Cardinals’ game would be posted on the scoreboard.

“Many hundreds did, milling around the field and the stands,” the New York Daily News reported.

Just about then, the Cardinals collapsed.

Missed opportunity

On a crisp, sunny afternoon at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, 34,124, the Cardinals’ biggest home crowd of the season, saw the Cubs erase a 2-1 deficit with a five-run sixth.

Eddie Waitkus started the Cubs’ rally with a double against starter Red Munger.

Complaining of a sore right elbow, Munger was lifted for Murry Dickson with two on and one out. The Cubs tied the score, 2-2, against Dickson and had the bases loaded, two outs, when starting pitcher Johnny Schmitz came to the plate.

Schmitz was “working with the discomfort of an infected left foot,” the New York Daily News reported. “He had the toe section of his shoe slashed to relieve pressure on the swelling.”

Schmitz smashed a Dickson delivery on the ground to the right of first baseman Stan Musial, who dived, gloved the ball and, while prone, made a wild toss to Dickson, who was racing Schmitz to the bag. The ball sailed high over Dickson’s head and, as the New York Daily News noted, “the Cubs ran around like rabbits with tails afire.”

Two runners scored on the play, putting the Cubs ahead, 4-2. After Harry Brecheen relieved Dickson, Stan Hack greeted him with a single, scoring two more for a 6-2 lead.

The Cardinals knew the Dodgers lost to the Braves, but they couldn’t rally against Schmitz, who pitched a complete game for the win. Boxscore

“We lost because we played bad ball,” Dyer said to the Associated Press. “Nobody can call it bad luck.”

Happy ending

Back in Brooklyn, the faithful who gathered around the Ebbets Field scoreboard “went into ecstasy” when the final from St. Louis was posted, the Boston Globe reported.

“Hearing how the Cubs went to work on the Cards was like getting a reprieve from the electric chair,” Durocher said to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Cardinals fans trudged out of Sportsman’s Park “wreathed in gloom.”

“They brought cowbells, horns, drums, tin pans and other jingle-jangle equipment to celebrate,” Sid Keener of the St. Louis Star-Times noted, but departed “without a single toot-toot.”

That night, President Truman sent a telegram reply to Mort Cooper: “Congratulations, Mort. You did a better job than I did.”

Two days later, on Oct. 1, the Cardinals beat the Dodgers, 4-2, in the opener of the playoff series at St. Louis. Howie Pollet pitched a complete game and Joe Garagiola contributed two RBI and three hits. Boxscore

The Cardinals clinched the pennant on Oct. 3 in Brooklyn with an 8-4 victory. Murry Dickson started and got the win. Boxscore

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Joe Hague experienced a shining moment late in a bleak season with the Cardinals.

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 24, 1971, Hague hit a walkoff grand slam in the 10th inning, giving the Cardinals a 10-6 victory over the Expos.

A left-handed batter who was the Cardinals’ Opening Day first baseman for three consecutive seasons (1970-72), Hague did his best hitting against the Expos.

Decision time

A son of a career military man, Hague was born in Huntington, W.Va., and grew up in El Paso, Texas. After excelling in multiple high school sports, he played football and baseball as a freshman at the University of Texas.

Football coach Darrell Royal wanted him to quit baseball, Hague told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Instead, he quit football.

“I had to make a decision that season,” Hague recalled to the Montreal Gazette. “I was playing defensive end in football and weighed 218, but I had a lot to learn. I figured the minuses were greater for me in football and I gave that up to concentrate on baseball. It was a difficult decision.”

Hague played varsity baseball for coach Bibb Falk, a former big-leaguer. He led Texas in hitting in 1965, but was overlooked in the major league draft. “I was so musclebound,” Hague explained to the Post-Dispatch, “I couldn’t pull the ball.”

In the summer of 1965, Hague slimmed down and played for Galesburg in the Central Illinois Collegiate League. He led the league in batting average, home runs and RBI, drawing the attention of Cardinals scout Fred McAllister. A Stan Musial fan as a kid, Hague signed with the Cardinals in August 1965.

Prospect with power

In his first time at-bat in a regular-season game as a professional in 1966, Hague hit a grand slam for Cedar Rapids, a Class A farm team. The next year, he produced 27 home runs and 95 RBI for Class AA Arkansas.

Warren Spahn was the manager when Hague reported to Class AAA Tulsa in 1968. “I’m really pleased with Hague,” Spahn told the El Paso Herald-Post. “He’s as tough as a bull.”

Hague hit .293 with 23 home runs and 99 RBI for Tulsa, and was rewarded with a promotion to the Cardinals in September 1968. He got into seven games for the National League champions and got his first big-league hit, a home run versus the Dodgers’ Bill Singer. Boxscore

In 1969, Hague, 25, made the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster as a reserve, struggled, got sent back to Tulsa in June, hit .332 and returned to the big leagues in September.

When Mike Shannon needed treatment for a kidney ailment in 1970, the Cardinals moved Dick Allen to third base, opening the first base job for Hague.

Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch described Hague as “an intense young man who often tries to squeeze the bat handle into sawdust.”

Besides the pressure he put on himself, Hague felt pressure from the Cardinals’ staff. According to The Sporting News, hitting coach Dick Sisler called Hague “a blockhead because he is receptive to advice but he won’t put it into practice.”

Years later, recalling his Cardinals career, Hague told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “They were always checking weight and had me worrying about it. They changed the way I stood at the plate. You see how high I’m holding the bat here? They wouldn’t let me do that in St. Louis. If I have my hands down, I have a tendency to over-stride.”

Hague played in 139 games for the 1970 Cardinals, making 67 starts at first base, 44 in right field and five in left. He also hit .412 as a pinch-hitter. Overall, Hague hit .271 with 68 RBI, but was ineffective (.190) versus left-handers.

French connection

Hague was the incumbent first baseman in 1971.

Though Ken Boyer replaced Dick Sisler as hitting coach, and the Cardinals contended for a division title, the season was a disappointment for Hague, a frustratingly streaky hitter.

One source of encouragement was the Expos. Against them, Hague played like an all-star. For instance:

_ In 1970, Hague hit .355 in 17 games versus the Expos. His on-base percentage was .452 (22 hits and 11 walks) against them.

_ In 1971, Hague hit .354 in 18 games versus the Expos. His on-base percentage was .419 (23 hits and eight walks) against them.

On May 10, 1971, Hague, batting .169 for the season, hit a pair of home runs versus the Expos’ Steve Renko at Montreal. He barely missed hitting a third. Batting with the bases loaded in the seventh, Hague walloped a Mike Marshall screwball far down the line but foul. Boxscore

Four months later, Hague faced Marshall again with the bases loaded in the 10th inning at St. Louis. He drove Marshall’s first pitch over the wall in right for his first grand slam in the majors.

Hague’s blast was the Cardinals’ only grand slam of the season and the fourth walkoff grand slam in franchise history.

“I was glad to chip in a little bit,” Hague said to the Post-Dispatch. “I haven’t done much this year.”

Expos manager Gene Mauch unsuccessfully tried to get umpires to credit Hague with a single instead of a home run, saying Hague passed Jose Cruz on the basepath when Cruz stopped to shake Hague’s hand as Hague rounded first.

“Anybody who passes a runner doesn’t deserve a home run,” Mauch harrumphed to the Post-Dispatch.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said, “I told Jose to shake hands at home plate the next time.”

Pennant winner

Hague hit .226 with 16 home runs for the 1971 Cardinals. His batting average against left-handers was .180. Hague made 64 starts at first and 33 in right.

Speculation was the Cardinals might trade him.

“If I had to be traded, I would like to go to Montreal,” Hague said to the Montreal Gazette. “I have always hit well in that park.”

Unmoved, Mauch replied, “It seems he hits .600 against us, so he can’t be hitting anything against the rest of the league. I don’t need that.”

Hague was the Cardinals’ first baseman when the 1972 season opened, but Schoendienst told The Sporting News, “This is going to have to be Hague’s year. He’s probably going to have to make it or break it.”

Hague was hitting .237 on May 19, 1972, when the Cardinals traded him to the Reds for Bernie Carbo.

Noting that Cardinals owner Gussie Busch demanded the trades of Steve Carlton and Jerry Reuss earlier in the year, Hague took a shot on his way out, telling the Post-Dispatch, “Mr. Busch is more concerned about personalities than he is building a winning ballclub.”

The 1972 Reds, a contender in the West Division, had a prominent Cardinals connection. Their general manager, Bob Howsam, was Cardinals general manager when Hague signed with them. Other former Cardinals on the 1972 Reds included Bobby Tolan, Julian Javier, Pedro Borbon and Ed Sprague.

Acquired to be a role player, Hague hit .345 as a pinch-hitter for the 1972 Reds, who won the division title.

In the 1972 National League Championship Series against the Pirates, Hague made three plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, walked twice and struck out.

In the 1972 World Series versus the Athletics, Hague again made three plate appearances as a pinch-hitter and all came against future Hall of Famers.

Hague flied out facing Catfish Hunter in Game 2, and grounded out versus Rollie Fingers in Game 5.

In Game 7, Hague faced Fingers again. Batting with runners on second and third, none out, with the Reds behind by two in the eighth, Hague popped out to shortstop Bert Campaneris. The Athletics won, 3-2. Boxscore

The next year, Hague dislocated his right hand in June, got replaced on the roster by Dan Driessen and never returned to the big leagues.

Hague, 30, played his last season in 1974 in the Mexican League for Yucatan, a club managed by Julian Javier.

After baseball, Hague earned a bachelor’s degree in business and went into commercial real estate in San Antonio, according to the El Paso Times.

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