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Hal Smith, a Cardinals catcher in the 1950s, had a significant role in the club’s success in the 1980s.

Forty years ago, on Oct. 21, 1981, the Cardinals acquired minor-league outfielder Willie McGee from the Yankees for pitcher Bob Sykes. The Cardinals made the trade on the recommendation of Smith, a Cardinals scout, who watched McGee play for the Yankees’ Nashville farm club and liked what he saw.

McGee went on to become one of the Cardinals’ best and most popular players, using his hitting, fielding and speed to help them win three National League pennants and a World Series title.

Pining for pinstripes

McGee was 17 and recently graduated from high school in 1976 when the White Sox selected him in the June amateur baseball draft. McGee was chosen in the seventh round, just after the Tigers took Ozzie Smith and just before the Red Sox selected Wade Boggs.

If McGee had signed with the White Sox, he eventually might have made his debut in the majors for Tony La Russa, who became White Sox manager in August 1979. Instead, McGee decided to attend community college.

The decision appeared to be shrewd when the Yankees took him in the first round of the secondary phase of the draft in January 1977, “but, unwise to the ways of negotiating contracts, he wound up signing for less than the White Sox had offered him,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“I probably could have got more if I knew what I was doing,” McGee said.

In 1978, his second season in the Yankees’ system, McGee, a natural right-handed batter, started switch-hitting.

He was considered a promising prospect when he got to Class AA Nashville in 1980, but in July he suffered a broken jaw and was limited to 78 games for the season. McGee hit .283. Designated hitter Buck Showalter, the future big-league manager, led Nashville in batting average (.324) and hits (178) in 1980.

Odd man out

The Yankees put McGee on their 40-man big-league winter roster after the 1980 season, but in December they signed free-agent outfielder Dave Winfield and needed to open a spot for him.

McGee was one of two players the Yankees considered dropping from their roster. The other was his best friend on the Nashville team, Ted Wilborn, a switch-hitting outfielder who played briefly with the Blue Jays and Yankees.

Yankees vice president for baseball operations Bill Bergesch, a former Cardinals minor-league executive who signed Bob Gibson to his first pro contract, told the New York Daily News, “We liked Willie. We considered him a fine prospect, but our minor-league people liked the other player (Wilborn) better.”

McGee said to The Tennessean newspaper, “Somebody had to go and I was the least experienced.”

By being reassigned outright to Nashville, McGee was frozen on the minor-league roster and couldn’t be recalled by the Yankees.

Good report card

McGee, Wilborn and Don Mattingly formed the Nashville outfield in 1981. McGee led Nashville in batting (.322) and had 24 stolen bases. Mattingly batted .316 and led the club in hits (173). Wilborn hit .295 and had 43 steals.

Hal Smith, the Cardinals’ starting catcher from 1956-60, was scouting the Nashville team extensively because the Yankees were looking to make a deal for Cardinals pitcher Bob Sykes.

During the 1981 season, “a proposed trade with the Yankees that would have involved Sykes fell through,” the Post-Dispatch reported, but the clubs were hopeful of reviving the deal after the season.

Cardinals executive Joe McDonald said the trade evolved when he received a report from Smith about McGee.

“Smith scouted Willie and turned in a good report,” McDonald said to the Post-Dispatch. “We liked his speed and we liked his bat.”

The Yankees looked to trade McGee to get something in return rather than lose him in the Rule 5 draft of players left unprotected on minor-league rosters.

In exploring potential deals, Bergesch told the New York Daily News, “There wasn’t a whole lot of interest in him” except from the Cardinals.

The trade of Sykes for McGee was made the same day the Yankees played the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 1981 World Series and drew little attention.

As good as advertised

McGee was placed on the Cardinals’ 40-man big-league winter roster.

Though he never had played above the Class AA level, he impressed the Cardinals at spring training in 1982.

“He speaks only when spoken to and goes largely unnoticed in the clubhouse,” the Post-Dispatch noted, “but he has skills that have marked him as a soon-to-be major leaguer.”

“Got a quick bat,” said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. “It’s unusual to see a young hitter with a quick bat from both sides of the plate.”

Batting from the right side, McGee dazzled by dashing from the plate to first base in 3.9 seconds.

At Yankees training camp, Sykes, weakened by shoulder ailments, was sent to the minors. He’d never pitch in a big-league game for the Yankees.

Upset about receiving what they considered damaged goods, the Yankees wanted the trade voided. “They think they’re going to get McGee back,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch, “and they’re not.”

Making an impact

McGee began the 1982 season at Louisville. “I thought I was going to play the full year in triple-A to get some experience because I hadn’t played there before,” he told The Sporting News.

The plan changed when Cardinals outfielder David Green tore his right hamstring and was placed on the disabled list on May 8. The Cardinals called up McGee, who had hit .291 in 13 games with Louisville.

From the start, the rookie played like he belonged. He hit .378 for the Cardinals in May and .349 in June.

“I certainly didn’t think he’d be able to come up here and handle the pitching like he has,” Herzog told The Sporting News.

For the season, McGee hit .296 and swiped 24 bases for the Cardinals. He hit .308 in the National League Championship Series versus the Braves, and was the standout of World Series Game 3, with two home runs and two spectacular catches against the Brewers. Boxscore and Video.

On Jan. 24, 1983, the Cardinals traded outfielder Stan Javier and infielder Bobby Meacham to the Yankees for outfielder Bob Helson and pitchers Steve Fincher and Marty Mason. The Post-Dispatch reported the deal was to appease Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who held hard feelings toward the Cardinals for sending Sykes in exchange for McGee 15 months earlier.

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A St. Louis homecoming was neither sentimental nor successful for Art Shamsky.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 18, 1971, Shamsky was the best-known name among the four players the Cardinals acquired in a trade with the Mets. The Cardinals sent pitchers Harry Parker and Chuck Taylor, first baseman-outfielder Jim Beauchamp and infielder Chip Coulter to the Mets for Shamsky and pitchers Jim Bibby, Rich Folkers and Charlie Hudson.

Bibby would develop into a successful starting pitcher for the Rangers, Indians and Pirates, and Folkers became a reliable reliever for the Cardinals, but at the time of the deal neither was a prominent player. Bibby had no big-league experience and Folkers had spent part of one season in the majors.

Shamsky, born in St. Louis and raised in suburban University City, was an outfielder and first baseman who hit with power from the left side. He helped the Mets become World Series champions in 1969. The Cardinals projected him to be a pinch-hitter and role player for them in 1972, but it didn’t work out.

Cardinals fan

In his book, “The Magnificent Seasons,” Shamsky said of his boyhood in the St. Louis area, “My life was basically two things: Following the St. Louis Cardinals, or playing baseball with my friends.”

Shamsky’s favorite Cardinals player was Stan Musial and he’d ride a streetcar to the original Busch Stadium to see him play.

Starting at age 8, Shamsky played Khoury League youth baseball for the John C. Roberts Shoe Co. team managed by Milton Mandel. “Art was so small when we first got him,” Mandel told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “that we used him as leadoff man in hopes he’d be walked. I never thought he’d sprout the way he did.”

According to the Dayton Daily News, Shamsky “paid his own expenses to the Cardinals’ rookie camp in St. Petersburg when he was still in high school, but he was turned back as a kid who was too skinny and lacked power.”

What the Cardinals didn’t count on, the Dayton newspaper noted, was “the development of his wrists and fast hands.”

Regarding those quick wrists, Shamsky told the Post-Dispatch, “I strengthened them by working out a lot, playing handball and squeezing rubber balls.”

After graduating from University City High School at age 16 in 1958, Shamsky attended the University of Missouri for one year. Though the Cardinals made an offer, the Reds signed him in September 1959. The next season, his first in the minors, Shamsky was a roommate of Pete Rose, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

Power source

On April 17, 1965, Shamsky, 23, made his big-league debut for the Reds in his hometown. Pinch-hitting at Busch Stadium, he struck out against Cardinals ace Bob Gibson. Boxscore

Two months later, Shamsky beat the Cardinals with a home run to the Busch Stadium pavilion roof versus Gibson. Boxscore

“Shamsky has a smooth, easy stroke,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “He ties into the ball well because of his quick, strong wrists.”

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Shamsky was a hitter “who many say can whip the bat as quick as the great Ted Williams.”

In 1966, Shamsky hit 21 home runs, including four in consecutive plate appearances. The first three came on Aug. 12 at Cincinnati when the lanky slugger entered a game against the Pirates in the eighth inning. Each time Shamsky batted, the Reds were behind. One of his home runs put them ahead and the other two tied the score. Boxscore

“That was the greatest clutch-hitting performance I ever saw,” Pete Rose said to the Dayton Daily News.

The next time Shamsky batted, on Aug. 14 against the Pirates, he hit another home run, giving him four in a row. Boxscore

“His power comes from his wrists rather than his arms or body,” Dayton columnist Si Burick observed. “If he depended on his biceps or any other part of his body, he would be working in an office.”

Aching back

In November 1967, Mets president Bing Devine acquired Shamsky from the Reds. A month later, Devine replaced Stan Musial as Cardinals general manager.

After platooning with Cleon Jones in left field for the Mets in 1968, Shamsky experienced back problems in 1969 and opened the season on the disabled list.

In his book, “After the Miracle,” Shamsky said, “The pain was so bad that I honestly wondered if I was ever going to play again.

“To make matters worse, I would get hooked on Percocet, an opioid analgesic, relying on the pills when I started playing again and taking sleeping pills at night.”

Shamsky batted .300 with 14 home runs in 100 games for the 1969 Mets, who won the World Series championship. He also hit .538 (with seven hits) in the National League Championship Series against the Braves. Video

After hitting .293 in 1970, Shamsky’s back woes intensified and he had a .185 batting mark in 1971.

“I’ve been to so many different doctors, chiropractors and osteopaths for my back pain,” Shamsky said in his book. “I once saw a doctor who stuck cotton swabs of cocaine up my nose to deaden my nerves.

“I desperately wanted to keep playing ball.”

City slicker

Though Devine made the trade to acquire Shamsky for a second time and bring him to the Cardinals, he told the Post-Dispatch, “It’s a major deal only from the standpoint of numbers.” Or, as the New York Daily News noted, it was a trade “more distinguished for the quantity than the quality.”

Shamsky, a New York City resident who partnered with former Yankees infielder Phil Linz in owning two nightclubs there, was described by the New York Times News Service as “thoroughly modern Manhattan.”

Shamsky didn’t attempt to cloak his feelings about the trade. “To be honest,” he said to the Post-Dispatch, “my home is now in New York and I have two businesses there, so I’d rather have stayed in New York.”

The back problems followed Shamsky from New York to Cardinals spring training camp. After hitting .190 in Grapefruit League games, Shamsky was released by the Cardinals before the 1972 season began.

He played briefly in 1972 for the Cubs and Athletics, failed to hit with either, and was finished as a player at age 30.

Shamsky’s career batting average in the majors was the same as his career batting average versus the Cardinals: .253.

He was at his best against right-handers, hitting .417 (10 hits) against Don Drysdale and .350 (14 hits) versus Jim Bunning. Shamsky also hit four home runs, including a grand slam, against the Cardinals’ Nelson Briles.

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For a team that finished out of contention in fifth place, the Cardinals had a lot of players others valued.

Sixty years ago, on Oct. 10, 1961, seven Cardinals were chosen in the National League expansion draft. No other club lost more players in filling the rosters of the Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets.

“I think it proves we have a lot of good players in our organization,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

Two of the seven selected from the Cardinals went on to become National League all-stars, and another would play in three World Series.

Cash transactions

The expansion draft was held at the Netherland-Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati the day after the Yankees and Reds completed the 1961 World Series at Crosley Field.

The draft was held in two phases:

_ In Phase One, the Colt .45s and Mets drafted players left unprotected by the eight existing National League clubs. The expansion club paid from $50,000 to $75,000 for each player it took. The money went to the club that lost the player.

_ Phase Two was described as a premium draft. Each existing National League club had to offer two players who had been protected from the regular draft. The Colt .45s and Mets each could take four players in the premium draft, but no team could lose more than one player. Each premium player taken cost the expansion club $125,000.

The Cardinals, who finished with an 80-74 record, 13 games out of first in 1961, lost pitcher Bob Miller to the Mets in the premium draft.

Of the six Cardinals chosen in the regular draft, pitcher Craig Anderson, catcher Chris Cannizzaro and outfielder Jim Hickman went to the Mets, and infielder Bob Lillis and outfielders Ed Olivares and Don Taussig went to the Colt .45s.

As compensation, the Cardinals received $525,000 _ $125,000 for Miller, $75,000 each for Anderson, Cannizzaro, Lillis and Taussig, and $50,000 each for Hickman and Olivares.

“The $525,000 will be needed to balance the books on a red ink season at the gate,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Among the available Cardinals not taken in the draft were utility player Red Schoendienst, outfielder Don Landrum and infielder Alex Grammas.

Like Miller, Grammas was made available in the premium draft. After Miller was chosen, the Cardinals were able to protect Grammas, a valued utility player.

“Grammas is important until Jerry Buchek is completely ready to take over at shortstop,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane told the Globe-Democrat.

As for Landrum, who hit .313 in the Cardinals’ farm system in 1961, Keane said to the Post-Dispatch, “I’ll be glad to have him available as center field insurance in case anything happens to Curt Flood.”

Pitching potential

The players the Cardinals disliked losing in the draft were the two right-handed pitchers, Miller, 22, and Anderson, 23.

Miller “has all the tools to be a real good pitcher,” Keane told the Globe-Democrat. He said Anderson “has a fine potential.”

Solly Hemus, who was replaced by Keane as Cardinals manager in July 1961, had become a Mets coach and advocated for the drafting of the Cardinals pitchers.

As a rookie in 1961, Anderson was 4-3 with a save and a 3.26 ERA in 25 relief appearances for the Cardinals.

Miller, a St. Louis native, was 18 when he signed with the Cardinals on June 20, 1957, after graduating from Beaumont High School. Cardinals scout Joe Monahan rated Miller “the finest pitching prospect in the St. Louis area in all the years I’ve scouted,” The Sporting News reported.

A week after turning pro, Miller made his big-league debut with the Cardinals. Boxscore

Miller was one of two 18-year-olds on the 1957 Cardinals’ pitching staff. The other was Von McDaniel.

In four seasons (1957 and 1959-61) with the Cardinals, Miller was 9-9 with three saves and a 3.83 ERA.

Talent search

The first player selected by the Mets in the regular draft was Giants catcher Hobie Landrith, a former Cardinal. Giants shortstop Eddie Bressoud was the first choice of the Colt .45s. Bressoud finished his career in 1967 as a utility player for the World Series champion Cardinals.

The Reds, Dodgers and Pirates lost six players apiece in the draft. The Giants, Phillies and Cubs each had five players drafted.

Here, in alphabetical order, is a look at what became of the seven players drafted from the Cardinals:

_ Craig Anderson: On May 12, 1962, Anderson won both games of a doubleheader for the Mets against the Braves. Then he lost his next 16 decisions, finishing the season with a 3-17 record. Anderson’s four saves led the Mets’ staff.

_ Chris Cannizzaro: The 1962 Mets used seven catchers, but Cannizzaro played more games than any of them. Cannizzaro threw out 55.6 percent of the runners attempting to steal against him in 1962. Seven years later, Cannizzaro was with another National League expansion team, the Padres, and was their representative on the all-star team.

_ Jim Hickman: He spent five seasons with the Mets and was the franchise’s first player to hit for the cycle and to hit three home runs in a game. With the Cubs in 1970, Hickman was an all-star and hit 32 home runs with 115 RBI. He finished his career with the 1974 Cardinals.

_ Bob Lillis: He started the most games at shortstop for the 1962 Colt .45s. As Astros manager from 1982-85, Lillis had a .514 winning percentage.

_ Bob Miller: He was one of two Bob Millers who pitched for the 1962 Mets. The former Cardinal was 1-12 that season. The other Bob Miller was 2-2. St. Louis’ Bob Miller went on to pitch 17 seasons in the majors for 10 teams. With the 1964 Dodgers, he led National League pitchers in appearances (74). Miller pitched in the World Series for the Dodgers in 1965 and 1966, and for the Pirates in 1971.

_ Ed Olivares: He never got to play for the Colt .45s, or any other team in the majors, after leaving the Cardinals, but his son, Omar Olivares, pitched for the Cardinals from 1990-94. Ed and Omar Olivares were the first father and son to play for the Cardinals.

_ Don Taussig: His one home run for the 1962 Colt. 45s came against the Cardinals’ Larry Jackson and was the winning run in a 4-3 victory. Boxscore

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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.”

Flim-flam

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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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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In a bid to win an extra $30 in a baseball version of a track and field meet, Cardinals third baseman Sparky Adams paid a high price, costing himself playing time in the World Series.

Ninety years ago, on Sept. 20, 1931, Adams injured an ankle in a base-circling contest before a game against the Dodgers at St. Louis.

Adams, who led the 1931 Cardinals in hits, runs and doubles, sat out the final six games of the regular season and also was sidelined for five of the seven games of the World Series.

Small and fast

Born in Zerbe, Pa., a coal mining region, Earl John Adams was an undersized, but athletic, youth.

“My size, or lack of it, has been a tremendous handicap since boyhood,” Adams told The Sporting News. “Ever since I can remember, it has been, ‘You’re too small for this and you’re not big enough for that.’ Naturally, I resented it, and my resentment made me more determined to do the things I wanted to do.”

Nicknamed “Rabbit” because he was small and fast, Adams developed into a prospect and was signed by Cardinals scout Pop Kelchner. 

A half-inch under 5 feet 5, Adams, 25, reported to Danville, Va., for his first full season in the minors in 1920.

“The manager was disappointed when he saw me,” Adams told The Sporting News. “He asked if I’d brought my nursing bottle. One of the regulars said he would show me to my room and bed. He took me to a linen closet in the hotel and opened a drawer for me.”

Adams opened some narrow minds with his performance on the field. Playing shortstop, he produced 157 hits, including 33 doubles, in 119 games for Danville. He batted .326 with 98 RBI and 20 stolen bases.

Kid stuff

According to The Sporting News, Cardinals manager Branch Rickey was watching a group of rookies at spring training camp at Orange, Texas, in 1921 when he spotted a person he thought was a boy playing shortstop.

“Tell that bat boy to get out of the infield,” Rickey said to starting shortstop Doc Lavan.

Lavan replied, “That’s not a bat boy, Mr. Rickey. That’s Earl Adams.”

Adams came over to Rickey, who said, “Do you think you’re a shortstop?”

“Yes, sir,” Adams replied.

Rickey said, “I’m afraid you’re too small. Not enough weight. You’d never stand up under a season of play. You’d be skin and bones.”

“Try me,” Adams said.

Adams remained in camp and was put through a series of rigorous daily drills. His weight dropped from 158 pounds to 137, The Sporting News reported.

“Young fellow, I knew you were too small for the majors leagues,” Rickey told him.

Adams played in the minors for Syracuse in 1921 and for Wichita Falls (Texas) in 1922. In June 1922, he was acquired by the Cubs.

Name game

Adams was 28 when he made his big-league debut with the Cubs on Sept. 18, 1922, against the Dodgers at Brooklyn. Starting at second base, he singled twice versus future Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance. Boxscore

Three years later, when Rabbit Maranville became Cubs manager in July 1925, he met with Adams and, according to The Sporting News, said to him, “Say, Rabbit, we can’t have two Rabbits on this club … You’re a regular little sparkplug. So, from now on, you’re Sparky.”

The name stuck.

In November 1927, the Cubs sent Adams to the Pirates in a swap involving another future Hall of Famer, Kiki Cuyler. Two years later, the Cardinals purchased Adams’ contract from the Pirates.

In 1930, Adams, starting at third base, hit .314 with 36 doubles for the National League champions.

“He’s a darned pest at the plate,” Reds pitcher Red Adams told The Sporting News. “I’d rather pitch to Hack Wilson or Rogers Hornsby any time.”

Down and out

After losing four of six games to the Athletics in the 1930 World Series, the Cardinals came back and won the pennant again in 1931, clinching on Sept. 16.

Four days later, before a Sunday home game against the Dodgers, the teams staged a track and field meet. The promotional event featured a couple of 75-yard dashes, a bunt-and-run contest, a base-circling competition and a throwing contest, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

The players were competing for prizes totaling $240 cash, three radios and an automobile tire.

Adams, 37, won the bunt-and-run contest. After bunting a pitch, he scooted from the batter’s box to first base in 3.4 seconds, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted.

Trying to win $30 more in the base-circling competition, Adams was rounding first when he pulled up lame with a severely sprained left ankle.

Rookie Ray Cunningham started at third in place of Adams that day. The Cardinals’ catcher was their manager, Gabby Street, 10 days away from turning 49 and playing in a big-league game for the first time in 19 years. Boxscore

Andy High, a veteran utility player, started at third for the Cardinals in the final five games of the regular season.

Reserve strength

Adams, the smallest Cardinal, led the 1931 club in hits (178), runs (97) and doubles (a league-best 48). He also had the best fielding percentage among National League third basemen.

The Cardinals hoped his ankle would heal in time for him to play in the World Series, a rematch against the Athletics, but Andy High started at third in Game 1 on Oct. 1.

Another veteran backup, Jake Flowers, was the starter at third in Game 2.

With Lefty Grove pitching for the Athletics in Game 3, Adams, who hit .337 against left-handers during the season, returned to the lineup.

In the fifth, Adams fielded Bing Miller’s sharp grounder, but “limped painfully” after making the force play at second and was replaced the next inning by Flowers. Boxscore

Flowers started at third in Game 4 and Adams was back for Game 5. He led off the game with a single versus Waite Hoyt but couldn’t continue. Boxscore

Adams was done for the Series. After Flowers started Game 6, High was in the lineup for Game 7. High had three hits and scored twice, helping the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory and the championship. Boxscore

Adams was slowed by a knee injury in 1932. In May 1933, he was traded to the Reds in a deal that brought shortstop Leo Durocher to the Cardinals.

In 13 seasons in the majors, Adams batted .286 with 1,588 hits. For the Cardinals, Adams had 397 hits in 319 games and batted .297.

 

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