Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

At a time when St. Louis had two of baseball’s most exceptional hitters, Rogers Hornsby of the Cardinals and George Sisler of the Browns, another appeared on the verge of joining their ranks.

Cardinals left fielder Austin McHenry was a ballplayer with special gifts. He hit steadily and with authority, got on base often, generated bundles of runs and fielded with an athletic grace. He also had an easygoing likeability. The kids in the Knothole Gang program adored him and so did his teammates.

A right-handed batter with a knack for getting extra-base hits, McHenry was in his fourth year with the Cardinals when he had a season that elevated him into the top tier of his profession. He batted .350 for the 1921 Cardinals, with 201 hits, 102 RBI and an on-base percentage of .393.

He was headed for another big season in 1922 before he began experiencing intense headaches and blurred vision. He was only 27, a player entering his prime and showing signs of brilliance. How could he feel so out of sorts, he wondered?

On the rise

McHenry was born and raised in rural Adams County in southern Ohio. When he was 18, he attended a baseball camp in Portsmouth, Ohio, operated by a scout, Billy Doyle. Converted from second baseman to outfielder, McHenry blossomed and turned pro the next year, signing with a minor-league team in Portsmouth. One of his teammate on the 1915 Portsmouth club was catcher Pickles Dillhoefer.

From Portsmouth, McHenry and Dillhoefer advanced to the American Association minor-league club at Milwaukee in 1916. The Cubs acquired Dillhoefer after the season and he reached the majors with them in 1917.

A year later, it was McHenry’s turn to get a shot at the big time. Acting on the recommendation of their scout, Billy Doyle, who had been tracking him since the Portsmouth baseball camp, the Reds signed McHenry and brought him to spring training in 1918, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

In late March, McHenry’s nose got split when he was struck by a baseball bat, according to The Cincinnati Post, and Reds manager Christy Mathewson sent him back to minor-league Milwaukee.

The last-place Cardinals acquired McHenry from Milwaukee in June 1918 and made him their left fielder. Cardinals president Branch Rickey, who made the deal, told the St. Louis Star-Times, “McHenry may prove a sensation.”

A year later, McHenry was reunited with his former minor-league teammate, Pickles Dillhoefer, who was acquired by the Cardinals in January 1919.

Among the best

From 1918 to 1920, McHenry improved his hits and RBI totals each year with the Cardinals, then had his breakout season in 1921. The Giants tried to acquire him, and so did the Reds, without success, the New York Times reported.

“McHenry is without question one of the game’s greatest outfielders, and he is one of the game’s greatest hitters,” The Sporting News declared in January 1922.

According to the Star-Times, McHenry was “fast and an accurate judge of a driven ball. He was flashy on defense. At the bat, he was one of the most efficient hitters … Next to Hornsby, probably one of the hardest hitters in the league.”

Teammates called McHenry “The Airedale,” like the breed of terrier, “because of his fleetness of foot, his tenacity, courage and spirit,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

To the Knothole Gang youngsters, admitted without charge to the left field bleachers in St. Louis, McHenry “could do no wrong,” the Star-Times reported.

According to the Post-Dispatch, “Their favorite chant was, ‘Oooooh, Mack!’ ‘Oooooh, Mack!,’ with the Mack snapped out.”

As the Star-Times noted, “He was a great big boy himself _ unspoiled, unselfish and gifted with the finest of natures.”

Troubled times

On Feb. 23, 1922, McHenry and the Cardinals were jolted by the death of teammate Pickles Dillhoefer, 28, from typhoid fever.

If Dillhoefer’s death foreshadowed more dark days, it wasn’t evident two months later when the Cardinals opened the season, with Hornsby and McHenry each driving in two runs in a 10-1 drubbing of the Pirates. Boxscore

McHenry streaked on. On April 28, he had four hits and two RBI versus the Cubs. Boxscore A month later, he had another four-hit game and three RBI against the Phillies. Boxscore

On June 12, his batting average for the season reached .326.

Mysteriously, soon after, McHenry “gradually lost strength and couldn’t see a ball while he was running,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “When he stood still, he could trace the flight of a ball very easily, but the moment he ran after it, his vision immediately became blurred.”

According to his hometown Portsmouth Daily Times, during a game against the Reds on June 26, McHenry went to Rickey and said, “Branch, I can’t see the balls as they hit out my way.”

Rickey told McHenry to return to his village home in Blue Creek, Ohio, to seek treatment and rest.

A month later, McHenry informed Rickey he was ready to return to the Cardinals. He appeared in two games, but it was clear McHenry was suffering. His head ached violently and he still had eyesight problems, The Cincinnati Post reported.

Rickey advised McHenry to go home and consult with physicians. That’s when it was discovered McHenry had a brain tumor.

Final days

The scout, Billy Doyle, said he believed the brain tumor could be attributed to a pitch that struck McHenry in the temple during a minor-league game in 1916. “Doyle was in the grandstand when (McHenry) was felled in his tracks by the pitched ball,” the Portsmouth Daily Times reported. “Six years later, McHenry began to feel a sore spot over his left temple, where he was hit by the ball. It gradually became more acute and finally began to affect his eyesight.”

McHenry was admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati and doctors determined an operation was necessary. On Oct. 19, 1922, Dr. George Heur, who performed the surgery, said part of the tumor was removed  but because of its location it was impossible to remove all of it, the Portsmouth newspaper reported.

A month later, McHenry, still in the Cincinnati hospital, took a turn for the worse. When doctors informed him his condition was terminal, he was taken home to Blue Creek at his request, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

McHenry, 27, lapsed into unconsciousness on Nov. 26 and died the next morning, according to the Portsmouth newspaper. He was survived by his parents, his wife and their two children, ages 5 and 3.

At the funeral two days later, pallbearers included three members of the Cardinals _ pitcher Jesse Haines, outfielder Burt Shotton and secretary-treasurer Hi Mason. Branch Rickey couldn’t attend because of an illness in his family.

“The sorrow of the loss of a great ballplayer is overshadowed by the loss of a dear friend,” Rickey said to the Post-Dispatch.

As the Portsmouth Daily Times concluded, “It seems a queer twist of fate that so young a man and who had so much to live for must be cut down when he really was coming into the best days of his short but brilliant career.”

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A power struggle within the front office nearly cost the Cardinals a chance to get the shortstop they needed to win a championship.

Sixty years ago, on Nov. 19, 1962, the Cardinals acquired shortstop Dick Groat and reliever Diomedes Olivo from the Pirates for pitcher Don Cardwell and shortstop Julio Gotay.

With his exceptional hitting and base running, Groat helped the Cardinals become World Series champions in 1964.

At the urging of manager Johnny Keane, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine made the trade over the objections of consultant Branch Rickey.

From a baseball perspective, Devine and Keane made the right move _ Groat was a key contributor to the Cardinals becoming contenders _ but it cost them. The trade widened a rift between Devine and Rickey, and Keane and Groat eventually had a falling out.

Terrific talent

Born and raised in the Pittsburgh area, Groat went to Duke University and became an all-America in baseball and basketball. A 5-foot-10 guard, he averaged 26 points and 7.6 assists per game as a senior for the basketball team.

Branch Rickey was the Pirates’ general manager when Groat signed with them in June 1952 and went directly from the Duke campus to the major leagues. Picked by the Fort Wayne Pistons in the first round of the NBA draft, Groat played in 26 games for them in the 1952-53 season, averaging 11.9 points.

After two years of military service, Groat chose to focus on baseball and resumed his big-league career with the Pirates in 1955.

The Pirates nearly traded Groat to the Athletics for Roger Maris in December 1959, but called off the deal at the last minute. The Athletics then swapped Maris to the Yankees. Groat won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1960, Maris was named the American League MVP, and the Pirates prevailed in the World Series against the Yankees.

Your move

On Oct. 7, 1962, Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch broke the story that the Cardinals offered starting pitcher Larry Jackson to the Pirates for Groat.

Jackson led the 1962 Cardinals in wins (16) and innings pitched (252.1). Groat produced 199 hits, including 34 doubles, and batted .294 for the 1962 Pirates.

According to The Pittsburgh Press, the Pirates countered, offering backup shortstop Dick Schofield, a former Cardinal, but Devine and Keane were interested only in Groat.

When the Pirates dawdled, the Cardinals on Oct. 17 dealt Larry Jackson, Lindy McDaniel and Jimmie Schaffer to the Cubs for George Altman, Don Cardwell and Moe Thacker.

Pirates general manager Joe Brown admitted the swap of Jackson to the Cubs “surprised him” and he “didn’t know the trade was in the making,” The Sporting News reported, but he liked Cardwell as much as he did Jackson.

According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “Brown called Devine and said he thought there was still basis on which the clubs could make a trade.”

Power plays

While Devine was trying to acquire Groat, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch was on a business trip to Los Angeles and met with a friend, Bob Cobb, owner of the Brown Derby restaurant. Cobb suggested to Busch that he should hire Branch Rickey, 80, as a consultant, the Post-Dispatch reported. “He’ll help you win a pennant more than any other person could,” Cobb said to Busch.

The Cardinals hadn’t won a pennant since Busch bought the franchise in 1953 and he was tired of waiting. Acting on the advice of the restaurateur, Busch hired Rickey, who had built the Cardinals into a powerhouse before departing for the Dodgers in October 1942. In the consultant role, Rickey would advise Devine on player personnel matters and report to Busch.

In his autobiography, “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said, “To be honest, I rather resented that Rickey was back … I was still in charge, but Rickey still had Busch’s ear.”

The relationship was rocky from the start. Rickey acted like he was Devine’s boss, and they disagreed on personnel matters.

Devine had gotten the Pirates to agree to trade Groat, 32, but Rickey thought the Cardinals would be better keeping Julio Gotay, 23, as their shortstop.

“Rickey hated giving up young players for veteran players,” Devine said in his book. “I had to set it up so that Rickey would approve the Groat deal and take it to Mr. Busch.”

At the Florida Instructional League in St. Petersburg, director of player development Eddie Stanky, coach Harry Walker and others joined Devine in approaching Rickey and making a case for Groat.

In his book, Devine recalled that Rickey said to him, “You’ve kind of loaded this meeting for me, haven’t you?”

Devine replied, “I know it looks like that way, but we need Groat to make this team go.”

After a long discussion, Rickey said, “I’ll talk to the boss … I’ll tell him you feel strongly about it and that he should do what he wants to do.”

Busch approved the trade for Groat, but Rickey wasn’t happy. “The Groat trade started cooling the relationship between Rickey and me,” Devine said in his book.

Getting it done

Though, as The Sporting News noted, “Groat still has the reputation of being the best hit-and-run man in the league,” he led National League shortstops in errors five times with the Pirates. Devine and Keane were hoping Groat’s knowledge of playing the hitters would compensate for the errors and a lack of range.

Pittsburgh Press sports editor Chester L. Smith wrote of Groat after the trade, “Maybe he has slowed up a half stride or so, perhaps his hands aren’t quite as sure as they once were, but he plays the hitters so well that he minimizes any loss of speed. He reminds you a great deal of Lou Boudreau when the artful codger was on the downside of the hill and was using his head to get the results his legs had produced in his youth.”

As it turned out, Groat was everything Devine and Keane hoped he’d be for the 1963 Cardinals, who placed second with 93 wins, their most since 1949.

In the book “We Played the Game,” Groat said, “I went to St. Louis with the intention of showing Joe Brown that he made a very bad mistake trading me. In 1963, I had the best year of my career, a better year than in 1960. I hit the ball with more authority.”

Groat produced career highs in hits (201), doubles (43), triples (11), RBI (73) and on-base percentage (.377) for the 1963 Cardinals. He and teammates Bill White, Julian Javier and Ken Boyer were the starting infielders for the National League in the All-Star Game. “We were really proud of that because we were chosen by our peers, not the fans,” Groat told author Danny Peary.

In his autobiography “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “I’d learned to respect Dick playing against him, but not until I played with him my last year did I realize fully how smart and thorough he is … Groat and Bill White are the best players the Cardinals obtained by trade in my many years with the club.”

In his book “Few and Chosen,” Tim McCarver said of Groat, “I learned more about base running from him than from anybody else … I never saw anybody as good as Groat going from first to third. He did everything instinctively on the bases.”

Plots and schemes

The underachieving Cardinals had a losing record at the all-star break in 1964 and a rift developed between Groat and Keane. Because of how well Groat could handle a pitch, Keane allowed him to call a hit-and-run play when he wanted to while batting. Eventually, Keane decided Groat abused the privilege and took it away. That angered Groat and he sulked. In his book “October 1964,” author David Halberstam wrote that Keane “saw Groat as a challenge to his control.”

At a team meeting in the clubhouse, Keane confronted Groat, accusing him of undermining the manager. Groat apologized, and the the matter appeared settled.

A month later, Gussie Busch learned of the incident from his daughter, who heard about it from the player she was dating, Braves third baseman Eddie Mathews. Petty and paranoid, Busch accused Devine of hiding the matter from him. Meanwhile, Rickey, on the outs with Devine, was advising Busch to get another general manager.

On Aug. 17, 1964, Busch fired Devine and replaced him with Rickey’s choice, Bob Howsam. Busch schemed to replace Keane with Leo Durocher after the season.

“That Groat situation was an issue,” Devine said in his autobiography, “but I don’t think that’s why Busch fired me. I really think it had more to do with us being so far back in August.”

Helped by Groat, who hit .282 in September and .417 in October, the Cardinals surged and won the National League pennant on the last day of the season. After prevailing in the World Series against the Yankees, Keane quit and became Yankees manager.

Groat hit .292 with 35 doubles and 70 RBI for the 1964 Cardinals but he also made a career-high 40 errors.

After the 1965 season, he was traded by Howsam to the Phillies.

Groat had 2,138 hits in 14 seasons in the majors and batted .302 against the Cardinals.

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Nimble footwork in the field and on the bases helped make shortstop Charlie Gelbert a prominent part of Cardinals championship clubs, yet it was a stumble that nearly cost him his foot and his playing career.

Ninety years ago, on Nov. 16, 1932, during a hunting trip in Pennsylvania, Gelbert accidently shot himself just above his left ankle when he tripped over a vine in the underbrush.

Gelbert underwent multiple operations and was unable to play baseball the next two years. Undaunted, he defied the odds and returned to the Cardinals in 1935.

Three years later, in 1938, White Sox pitcher Monty Stratton accidently shot himself, resulting in the amputation of his right leg above the knee. Stratton’s determined effort to pitch professionally again inspired a Hollywood movie with Jimmy Stewart in the lead role.

No film was made about Charlie Gelbert, but his comeback was just as amazing.

Name game

When Charlie Gelbert was born in Scranton, Pa., he was christened Magnus Ott Gelbert. “Magnus and Ott were the family names of my father’s grandparents in Germany,” Gelbert later told The Sporting News.

The father, Charles, a veterinarian, had been an all-America football player at the University of Pennsylvania in the 1890s. An offensive guard and defensive lineman who was 5 feet 9 and 170 pounds, Charles “was called The Miracle Man because he did so much with so little,” according to the National Football Foundation.

From as early as he could remember, Magnus Ott Gelbert disliked his name. “The boys hung all sorts of nicknames on me,” he recalled to The Sporting News. “Maggie, of course, was one of them. So I had the name changed.”

When he was 8, Magnus Ott Gelbert became Charles Magnus Gelbert, but everyone called him Charlie.

On the rise

Like his father, Charlie Gelbert became a standout athlete, but his best sport was baseball. While excelling at Lebanon Valley College in Annville, Pa., Gelbert was signed by Cardinals scout Pop Kelchner.

After three years in the minors, Gelbert got to the Cardinals in 1929 and became their shortstop. He helped them to consecutive National League pennants in 1930 and 1931 and a World Series championship.

A right-handed batter, Gelbert hit .304 during the 1930 regular season and .353 in the World Series. He followed with a .289 batting average in 1931. His squeeze bunt in Game 2 of the 1931 World Series scored Pepper Martin from third base with an insurance run. Boxscore

In 13 World Series games for the Cardinals, Gelbert played 113 innings at shortstop without making an error.

“I consider Gelbert one of the most brilliant shortstops in the game,” Cardinals owner Sam Breadon told the St. Louis Star-Times.

St. Louis columnist Sid Keener wrote, “He could hit, field, run and throw. He handled difficult grounders with ease. His throws from deep field were straight to the mark. He was an artist in playing a slow hopper in back of the pitcher.”

As a hitter, Keener noted, “He’d stretch singles into doubles and doubles into triples by daring running.”

Shotgun blast

About a week before Thanksgiving Day in 1932, Gelbert and four companions went hunting in the mountains near McConnellsburg, Pa., about 25 miles from the Maryland state line.

When Gelbert tripped on a vine, he lost his balance and fell backward, sending his feet into the air. As he crashed down heavily, the butt of his shotgun struck the ground and the weapon discharged. The load of pellets struck him in the left leg, about two inches above the ankle, and “left a ragged wound,” according to the Chambersburg (Pa.) Public Opinion newspaper.

“I thought my foot had been severed,” Gelbert told the St. Louis Star-Times. “Blood was streaming from my foot.”

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “At its deepest point, the wound severed muscles, nerves and blood vessels.” Part of his fibula bone also was shattered.

Responding to Gelbert’s shrieks, his hunting companions rushed to his aid and applied a tourniquet. Gelbert “was carried about a half mile before he could be placed” in a car of one of the hunters, the Chambersburg newspaper reported.

Gelbert was driven about 25 miles to the Chambersburg hospital. After five days there, he was transferred to a hospital in Philadelphia.

At some point, gangrene set in and doctors advised amputating Gelbert’s left foot. “I knew what that meant,” Gelbert, 26, told the Star-Times. “I’d be through as a ballplayer. I pleaded with my doctors to give me the last chance” to save the foot.

Gradually, the infection started to clear and amputation wasn’t necessary, the Star-Times reported, but he faced a long recovery.

“I never thought he’d play ball again,” Cardinals second baseman Frankie Frisch told the New York Times.

Moving forward

Teammate Sparky Adams, whose winter residence was about two hours from Philadelphia, visited Gelbert in the hospital several times, and most of the Cardinals sent him cards and letters, the Post-Dispatch reported.

A couple of days before Christmas, five Philadelphia Athletics (coach Eddie Collins, and players Jimmie Foxx, Jimmy Dykes, Lew Krausse Sr and Jim Peterson) came to his hospital room and brought presents. Gelbert and the Cardinals had opposed the Athletics in both the 1930 and 1931 World Series.

To replace Gelbert, the Cardinals made a trade for Dodgers shortstop Gordon Slade. The Cardinals’ Rogers Hornsby described Slade to columnist Sid Keener as “a brilliant player _ defensively, I mean. The team is strong enough in batting to carry a light-hitting shortstop.”

Slade started at shortstop on Opening Day for the 1933 Cardinals, but soon after was sent to the minors. In May, the Cardinals got a capable replacement, acquiring Leo Durocher from the Reds.

Durocher led National League shortstops in fielding percentage in 1933, and helped the 1934 Gashouse Gang Cardinals become World Series champions.

Gelbert received no salary from the Cardinals while sidelined in 1933 and 1934, the Star-Times reported. Cardinals players voted him a World Series share of $1,000 in 1934 _ a goodwill gesture Gelbert was grateful for in the Great Depression era. “It was Frisch who guided the players to make the generous action,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “He told the players, ‘Be big and the baseball world will accept you as big. Be cheap and the world will jeer and get you down.’ “

Remarkable return

In 1935, doctors gave Gelbert the green light to return to baseball, and he headed to the Cardinals’ training camp in Bradenton, Fla., hoping to earn a spot on the Opening Day roster of the reigning World Series champions.

“His presence in training camp was believed to be just a sympathetic gesture by the Cardinals’ officials,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “That he would ever again be deemed fit to become a cog for a pennant outfit was not dreamed of.”

As the St. Louis Globe-Democrat noted, “For two years he scarcely put the weight of his body on the shattered left leg.”

Gelbert, 29, had a shaky start to his comeback, then began making slow, steady progress. Frisch, the Cardinals’ player-manager, was patient and allowed Gelbert to ease back in. He gave Gelbert a spot on the Opening Day roster as a backup to Durocher at short and to Pepper Martin at third base.

One week into the season, Gelbert appeared in a game, running for catcher Bill DeLancey. Boxscore

A month later, on May 21, 1935, Gelbert got to bat. Boxscore

Gilbert’s first hit in his comeback year was a single against former teammate Tex Carleton of the Cubs on June 2. Boxscore

A week later, Frisch put Gelbert in the starting lineup for the slumping Durocher, who was batting .215.

On June 9, in a game versus the Cubs, Gelbert had four hits, including a home run against Charlie Root, drove in three runs and scored twice. Boxscore

Gelbert made 12 starts at shortstop for the Cardinals in June, hit .340 for the month and continued to play after he was spiked in the left foot during a game against the Cubs.

The sight of Gelbert producing and playing through pain seemed to snap Durocher from his slump. Reinstated at shortstop, Durocher batted .290 with 22 RBI in July and hit well the rest of the season.

Position switch

Early in August, after Pepper Martin was injured, Frisch started Gelbert at third base and he made the most of the opportunity.

“He has been fielding confidently and hitting in a timely fashion,” The Sporting News reported.

Sid Keener noted in the Star-Times, “He has fielded phenomenally at the far corner, handling torrid cracks with the utmost ease, making perfect throws to first base, prancing to short left field for difficult pop twisters, and getting his share of hits in the pinch.”

Gelbert made 30 starts at third base for the 1935 Cardinals. For the season, he hit .292, including .309 with runners in scoring position. He did this even though, as Sid Keener wrote, “Whenever too much pressure is put on the left foot, Gelbert reeks with pain.”

The Cardinals opened the 1936 season with Gelbert, 30, as their third baseman, but he hit .167 in May and got benched. After batting .229 for the season, the Cardinals traded him to the Reds.

Gelbert was a utilityman with the Reds (1937), Tigers (1937), Senators (1939-40) and Red Sox (1940).

He served in the Navy for three years during World War II, mostly in the Pacific, and achieved the rank of lieutenant commander. Afterward, he became baseball coach at Lafayette College in Pennsylvania and amassed a record of 307-176.

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In his return to the Cardinals, Tim McCarver was hoping to be their first baseman, even though he’d never played the position in the big leagues.

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 6, 1972, the Cardinals traded outfielder Jorge Roque to the Expos for McCarver.

As the Cardinals’ catcher during their glory days in the 1960s, McCarver played on two World Series championship clubs and three National League pennant winners. He hit .311 in 21 World Series games for the Cardinals, In the 1964 classic against the Yankees, McCarver hit the game-winning home run in the pivotal Game 5 and had a steal of home in Game 7.

When the Cardinals reacquired him, it appeared his role would be as a reserve, but McCarver, 31, had other ideas.

Changing places

The Cardinals traded McCarver and Curt Flood to the Phillies for Dick Allen in October 1969. Flood refused to report, triggering the antitrust challenge that led to free agency for players. McCarver became the Phillies’ catcher. Limited to 44 games in 1970 because of a broken hand, he came back the next season, hit .278 and got into a fight with former Cardinals teammate Lou Brock.

In 1972, McCarver slumped, entering June with a .208 batting average, and fell into disfavor with manager Frank Lucchesi. “The Phillies had been trying since the end of the 1971 season to trade McCarver,” The Sporting News reported. “Lucchesi was not satisfied with McCarver’s receiving or throwing.”

McCarver sank deeper into Lucchesi’s doghouse when he argued with him in the lobby of a Pittsburgh hotel about the manager’s decision to ban beer on a charter flight from Montreal. In his book, “Oh, Baby, I Love It,” McCarver recalled, “I told him that the players deserved to be treated as adults.”

The Expos were interested in McCarver as a utility player. Though McCarver never had played a position other than catcher since entering the majors with the Cardinals at 17 in 1959, Expos manager Gene Mauch wanted him to play third base and left field as well as back up rookie catcher Terry Humphrey.

Mauch phoned McCarver to find out whether he’d be willing to try other positions. In his book, McCarver said Mauch told him, “If (former teammate) Mike Shannon can do it, you can.”

After McCarver agreed, the deal was made.

On June 14, 1972, Lucchesi informed McCarver he’d been traded to the Expos for catcher John Bateman. In his book, McCarver said he replied, “If you didn’t get any more for me than Bateman, you got fucked.”

In his Expos debut, McCarver started in left field. A week later, he started at third base against the Cardinals at St. Louis. “If fellows like Joe Torre and Yogi Berra could make the transition, there’s no reason McCarver can’t,” Mauch told The Sporting News. “Tim is a much better all-round athlete than those fellows.”

In August, McCarver replaced Humphrey, who was batting below .200, as the Expos’ catcher. “I know there are catchers who can throw better than I can,” McCarver said to The Sporting News, “but I can produce something that will help the team.”

On Oct. 2, 1972, McCarver was catching when Bill Stoneman pitched a no-hitter against the Mets. Boxscore

McCarver hit .251 for the 1972 Expos. He made 13 starts in left field, five at third base and 42 as catcher.

Mix and match

The Cardinals, who finished 21.5 games behind the division champion Pirates in 1972, were looking to strengthen many areas, including the bench. One position that didn’t need improvement was catcher. Future Hall of Famer Ted Simmons was stationed there.

So, when they traded for McCarver, the conventional wisdom was he’d be a utility player and pinch-hitter. McCarver thought otherwise. “I’ve got plenty of baseball left in me and I don’t like people categorizing me as a reserve,” he told The Sporting News.

McCarver went to the Cardinals’ Florida Instructional League camp in St. Petersburg and got lessons from teacher George Kissell on how to play first base.

When the Cardinals gathered for spring training in 1973, McCarver arrived in top shape after a winter of workouts. Manager Red Schoendienst needed to determine whether it would be better to open the season with Joe Torre at first base and rookie Ken Reitz at third, or shift Torre to third and start McCarver at first.

Reitz impressed with his fielding, so Torre stayed at first.

For the first two weeks of the 1973 season, McCarver was used as a pinch-hitter, but on April 22, in the second game of a Sunday doubleheader at Philadelphia, it felt like old times when the Cardinals started Bob Gibson on the mound and McCarver behind the plate. In the eighth inning, with the Phillies ahead, 1-0, Gibson walked, stole second and scored on McCarver’s single versus Dick Ruthven. The Phillies won on Mike Schmidt’s walkoff home run against Gibson with two outs in the ninth, dropping the Cardinals’ record to 1-12. Boxscore

Desperate, Schoendienst went for offense over defense in the Cardinals’ next game against the Dodgers, starting Ted Simmons in right field for the first time as a big-leaguer and McCarver at catcher. The Cardinals scored only twice, but Rick Wise pitched a shutout for them. Boxscore

A week later, Schoendienst tried Simmons at first base, and McCarver got to catch Gibson in his win versus the Padres. Boxscore

At that point, McCarver still hadn’t played at first base, but change was coming.

On-the-job training

On May 17, 1973, Torre injured his left leg in a collision at the plate with Cubs catcher Randy Hundley. McCarver made his debut as a first baseman, replacing Torre in the second inning. Boxscore

While Torre was sidelined for two weeks, McCarver filled in, hitting .316 for the month of May and fielding like a catcher. In his book, McCarver said, “I was trained to block balls thrown in the dirt, not catch them. At first base, I blocked a hell of a lot of balls, but I didn’t actually catch too many.”

Nonetheless, when Torre returned, Schoendienst sometimes shifted him to third in order to get McCarver into the lineup at first base.

On June 2, 1973, McCarver, batting for Ken Reitz, hit his first home run of the season, a grand slam against the Astros’ Fred Gladding, lifting the Cardinals to a 6-2 victory. McCarver hit .500 (7-for-14) with the bases loaded for the 1973 Cardinals. Boxscore

The next day, McCarver, playing first base, scored the tying run in the ninth and drove in the winning run in the 10th versus the Astros. “The Cardinals have won 14 of their last 16 games and tough Timmy has been a sparkplug in the resurgence,” Dick Kaegel wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boxscore

On July 26, 1973, McCarver caught Gibson for the final time. He replaced Simmons in the seventh and caught the last three innings in a 13-1 rout of the Mets. According to baseball-reference.com, McCarver caught more of Gibson’s games (214) than any other catcher. Boxscore

Make or break

First base was the position McCarver played the most in 1973, though he never felt quite comfortable there.

Recalling a game against the Phillies, McCarver said in his book, “With a runner on second, two out, a ground ball was hit three steps to my right. I should have fielded it, but, of course, didn’t. Fully realizing there’d be no play at the plate, I thought it a good time to try to figure out how I missed the ball. Jose Cruz, the right fielder, had other ideas. Trained to hit the cutoff man _ me _ that’s exactly what he did, right in the back.

“Bobby Wine, the first base coach, fell to his knees laughing as I yelled out to Cruz, ‘That’s the first time you’ve hit the cutoff man all year.’ “

In September, when the Cardinals had a chance to finish first in a weak division, McCarver did his best to help. He made 17 September starts at first base and committed no errors. For the month, McCarver hit .333 with 14 RBI and had an on-base percentage of .405.

The Cardinals finished 81-81. McCarver hit .266 overall but .291 as a first baseman. (He batted .205 as a pinch-hitter and .171 as a catcher.) He made 68 starts at first base and 10 at catcher.

McCarver rarely played the next season. He hit .217 in 106 at-bats for the 1974 Cardinals and was sent to the Red Sox in September.

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Rogers Hornsby slammed the door on the Cardinals but it didn’t shut.

Ninety years ago, on Oct. 25, 1932, the Cardinals signed Hornsby for a second stint with them.

The reunion seemed unimaginable six years earlier when Hornsby and Cardinals owner Sam Breadon quarreled during contract talks. Reaching a boiling point, Hornsby stormed out of Breadon’s office, slamming the door behind him and triggering his banishment from the club.

Hit and miss

In December 1926, Hornsby was at the height of his popularity in St. Louis. A second baseman and right-handed batter of exceptional skill, he hit better than .400 three times with the Cardinals and earned six of his seven National League batting titles with them. In May 1925, Hornsby became Cardinals player-manager, replacing Branch Rickey, who moved into the front office. Hornsby led them to their first World Series title the following year.

The relationship between Hornsby and Breadon became strained during the 1926 championship season. As the St. Louis Star-Times noted, Breadon grew uneasy with the amount of gambling Hornsby was doing on horse races. According to author Mike Mitchell in his book “Mr. Rickey’s Redbirds,” Hornsby often was visited at the ballpark by a bookmaker, Frank Moore.

For his part, Hornsby was miffed that Breadon scheduled exhibition games for the Cardinals during the pennant stretch. Hornsby also resented Rickey’s authority in player personnel decisions and clashed with him, upsetting Breadon.

Shortly before Christmas Day 1926, Hornsby and Breadon met to discuss a contract, but neither was feeling the holiday spirit.

According to the Star-Times, Breadon offered a one-year deal for $50,000. Hornsby demanded three years at $150,000. Wanting control of all player personnel decisions, Hornsby also insisted that Breadon fire Rickey.

The talks deteriorated further when Breadon introduced a contract clause banning Hornsby from attending a horse race or from betting on one, and prohibiting him from associating with bookmakers, author Mike Mitchell noted.

The meeting unraveled and so did Hornsby, who exited in a huff. Fed up, Breadon called the Giants and agreed to trade Hornsby to them for second baseman Frankie Frisch and pitcher Jimmy Ring.

Hornsby played in 1927 with the Giants (filling in as manager in September when John McGraw became ill) and in 1928 with the Braves (taking over as manager in May) before going to the Cubs. Near the end of the 1930 season, he became player-manager of the Cubs.

Cubs capers

Hornsby had the support and admiration of Cubs owner William Wrigley Jr., who, according to the Chicago Tribune, called Hornsby “the smartest manager and the smartest player I have ever seen.”

When William Wrigley Jr. died in January 1932, his son, Philip Wrigley, took over and relied on the experience of club president William Veeck Sr. Without William Wrigley Jr., to protect him, Hornsby and Veeck Sr. clashed. “The temperature between them had dropped to freezing,” The Sporting News reported.

In addition, Hornsby’s relations with some Cubs players became strained. He “snarled at the athletes and injured the tender feelings of quite a few,” The Sporting News noted.

In his autobiography, “My War With Baseball,” Hornsby said Veeck Sr. “tried to make some of my managing decisions from his office and it was obvious we didn’t see eye to eye.”

On the night of Aug. 2, 1932, with the Cubs in second place at 53-46, five behind the Pirates, Veeck Sr. fired Hornsby and replaced him with Charlie Grimm.

A subsequent investigation by baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis disclosed that Hornsby had borrowed about $6,000 from four Cubs players to cover his horse racing bets, the Star-Times reported.

The Cubs went on to overtake the Pirates and win the National League pennant. When Cubs players met to determine how to divide their share of the World Series proceeds, they voted to give Hornsby nothing.

Forgive us our trespasses

After winning National League pennants in 1930 and 1931, the Cardinals finished 72-82 in 1932, 18 behind the champion Cubs. The Cardinals ranked sixth in the eight-team league in both hits and runs scored.

Seeking a hitter, Breadon and Rickey turned to Hornsby, who was at his St. Louis County farm. According to Red Smith of the Star-Times, Hornsby “had been an apparent outcast from baseball, passed up by every major-league club except the Cardinals, and his farm property is under federal attachment for unpaid income taxes and penalties.”

The Cardinals signed Hornsby to a one-year contract for $15,000. The deal included a provision “that at the close of the 1933 season he will be given his unconditional release and therefore will be free to sell his services to the highest bidder,” the Star-Times reported.

In essence, Hornsby had a contract that would grant him free agency. Ever the gambler, he was betting on himself that he would parlay a productive 1933 season into a more lucrative offer the following year.

Another unusual twist: With second basemen Frankie Frisch and Rogers Hornsby, the Cardinals had the players who were swapped for one another six years earlier.

Considering the genuine animosity expressed after Hornsby’s departure in 1926, the reconciliation was surprising to some. “I could hardly believe the setting before my eyes was a reality,” Sid Keener wrote in the Star-Times. “Hornsby and Breadon were chatting and making plans again. They had been pals, then enemies, and now they’re pals again.”

A contrite Hornsby told Red Smith, “If I had listened to Mr. Breadon and Mr. Rickey six years ago, I’d be a lot better off today financially and every other way. It’s like coming home. I had disagreements with the Cardinals, but I know Mr. Breadon and Mr. Rickey always treated me fairly.”

Hornsby said to Keener, “I’m willing to admit I made the one big mistake of my career when I slammed the door on Mr. Breadon’s face six years ago and refused to accept the contract that was offered.”

According to the St. Louis newspapers, the Cardinals projected Hornsby as their second baseman for 1933, with Frisch moving either to shortstop or third base.

“We believe Rog is still a great ballplayer,” Breadon said to the Star-Times. “We think he will help us win the pennant next year. That is why we are signing him.”

Rickey told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I see no reason why Hornsby can’t have a great year for us.”

Cardinals manager Gabby Street was onboard with the move, too. “Rogers Hornsby is far from being through as a baseball player,” Street said to the Springfield (Mo.) Leader. “I think he’s got a lot left in him and that he’ll be of a real help to the Cardinals.”

Street added, “I don’t anticipate any trouble from him.”

Speculation swirled that Hornsby soon would be lobbying to have Street’s job, but Breadon told the Star-Times that Hornsby had been given “no consideration whatsoever” as a possible successor to Street.

Never a dull moment

Shortly before the 1933 Cardinals started spring training, Hornsby injured his right foot while instructing at a baseball school in Hot Springs, Ark. When the Cardinals opened the regular season against the Cubs at Chicago, Frisch was at second base and Hornsby was on the bench.

Hornsby didn’t appear in either of the Cardinals’ first two games at Chicago, nor did he play in the home-opening series versus the Cubs at St. Louis a week later, but he created controversy with comments accusing Cubs teammates Charlie Grimm and Gabby Hartnett of plotting to get him fired the year before.

According to United Press, Grimm and Hartnett wanted to go into the Cardinals clubhouse at St. Louis and “horsewhip” Hornsby for making what they said were false statements about them, but William Veeck Sr. advised against fighting “a washed up ballplayer.”

In response, Hornsby told the news service, “Whenever Charlie Grimm or Gabby Hartnett want to fight, all they have to do is to roll up their sleeves and come on. I’m ready for them.”

The mood was both tense and electric when the Cardinals returned to Chicago to play a Sunday doubleheader at Wrigley Field on April 30, 1933. 

Facing the Cubs for the first time since his firing and for the first time since the war of words with Grimm and Hartnett, Hornsby, 37, started at second base in both games. He had two hits and a RBI and scored a run in the opener, then drove in the winning runs with a two-run home run against Pat Malone in the second game. Game 1 and Game 2.

Hornsby was jeered in every at-bat, but there were no incidents with Cubs players. In the clubhouse after the games, Hornsby displayed “a little extra gleam of satisfaction in his eyes,” the Post-Dispatch noted.

In June, Hornsby had hits in five consecutive plate appearances as a pinch-hitter, including a two-run double that broke a 5-5 tie in a 7-5 victory over the Dodgers. Boxscore

A month later, both the Cardinals and the American League St. Louis Browns made major changes.

On July 19, when their manager, Bill Killefer, resigned, the Browns approached the Cardinals about a replacement. According to the Star-Times, Branch Rickey came to Hornsby and asked, “How would you like to manage the Browns?”

Hornsby replied enthusiastically and accepted Rickey’s offer to negotiate for him.

On July 24, the Cardinals fired Gabby Street and elevated Frankie Frisch to the role of player-manager. Two days later, the Browns hired Hornsby to be their player-manager.

“Mr. Rickey was my guiding adviser throughout the negotiations with the Browns,” Hornsby told the Star-Times. “It may seem peculiar to the fans in St. Louis, but I am indebted to Mr. Rickey for obtaining the position with the Browns. We’ve had many bitter battles in the past, but they’ve been forgotten long ago.”

In 83 at-bats for the 1933 Cardinals, Hornsby had 27 hits and 21 RBI. He batted .325 overall and .333 as a pinch-hitter. His on-base percentage was .423.

“I’ve learned to like him,” Frankie Frisch told the Star-Times, “and I regretted to see him go.”

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The Cardinals acquired the player who might have helped them win a division title in 1973, but gave him away before he played a game for them.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 26, 1972, the Cardinals got outfielder Larry Hisle from the Dodgers for pitchers Rudy Arroyo and Greg Milliken.

Hisle might have been a fit to join a Cardinals outfield with Lou Brock and either Jose Cruz or Bake McBride.

Instead, on Nov. 29, 1972, a month after acquiring him, the Cardinals traded Hisle to the Twins for reliever Wayne Granger.

Hisle fulfilled his potential with the Twins and later with the Brewers. Granger, in his second stint with St. Louis, was a disappointment.

The 1973 Cardinals, who ranked last in the National League in home runs, finished 1.5 games behind the division champion Mets. Hisle’s 15 home runs for the 1973 Twins would have made him the team leader on the 1973 Cardinals.

Prized prospect

Born in Portsmouth, Ohio, Larry Hisle was named by his mother, a baseball fan, in honor of Larry Doby, who became the first black player in the American League, according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Hisle’s parents died when he was a youth and he was adopted by Orville and Kathleen Ferguson, “two of the finest people in the world,” Hisle told United Press International.

Hisle played youth baseball with two other future big-leaguers, Al Oliver and Gene Tenace, according to SABR, but he also was a standout prep basketball player. When Oscar Robertson, recruiting for the University of Cincinnati, called, “I almost dropped the phone,” Hisle told The Sporting News.

After agreeing to play basketball at Ohio State, Hisle was picked by the Phillies in the second round of the 1965 baseball draft and signed with them. A right-handed batter, he played two seasons at the Class A level in the minors, then reported in 1968 to Phillies spring training camp, where he roomed with Bill White.

In choosing Hisle, 20, to be the Phillies’ 1968 Opening Day center fielder, manager Gene Mauch told The Sporting News, “Hisle is the best center fielder I’ve ever had.”

The experiment didn’t last long. Though he hit .364 in 11 at-bats for the 1968 Phillies, Hisle was sent to the minors before the end of April.

Rookie season

The Phillies named Hisle their center fielder for 1969, but he had a shaky start. He hit .159 in April and removed himself from a game because of what the team physician described to The Sporting News as “acute anxiety.”

“We’re all aware he’s a very intense, high-strung young man who is going to take a little longer to adjust up here,” Phillies manager Bob Skinner said to The Sporting News.

Hisle did better in May, producing four hits, two RBI, two runs and two stolen bases in a game against the Cardinals. Boxscore

Before a game in Philadelphia, the Giants’ Willie Mays chatted with Hisle and told him, “Open your stance, take it easy and concentrate on just meeting the ball,” The Sporting News reported. Hisle responded with four hits and two RBI that day. Boxscore

Phillies teammate Dick Allen aided Hisle, too, and became a mentor. “I’ll never forget how much he helped me,” Hisle told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Hisle hit .266 with 20 home runs and 18 stolen bases for the 1969 Phillies.

Too far, too fast

Dick Allen was traded to the Cardinals after the 1969 season in a deal involving center fielder Curt Flood, who refused to report.

With neither Allen nor Flood, the Phillies needed Hisle to step up, but he didn’t, hitting .205 in 1970 and .197 in 1971.

“I put too much pressure on myself,” Hisle said to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I doubted my ability.”

In October 1971, the Phillies dealt Hisle to the Dodgers for Tommy Hutton.

Hisle “was built up as the potential superstar who would lead the Phillies out of the wilderness, and he wasn’t ready to handle the role,” Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson wrote. “The enormous pressures beat him down, sent his batting average plummeting, and turned the fans who had cheered him as a rookie into a booing mob that virtually chased him out of town.”

Mind games

At spring training in 1972, Hisle was the last player cut by the Dodgers, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Rather than go to the minors, Hisle said he considered quitting baseball. He was attending Ohio University in the off-seasons, studying math and physical education, “and has thought of teaching and social work,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

A voracious reader of authors as diverse as B.F. Skinner and James Joyce, Hisle “dabbles in analytic geometry, and worries about what happened to his hitting,” the Los Angeles Times noted. “He may be, he says, too much of a thinker for his own good.”

The Dodgers assigned Hisle to Albuquerque, hoping the manager there, Tommy Lasorda, would help him overcome self-doubts.

Playing for Lasorda, “I learned that the most important thing a person can say about himself is, ‘I believe in myself,’ ” Hisle told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Hisle hit .325 with 23 home runs and 91 RBI for Albuquerque in 1972.

The Twins tried to acquire him after the season, but the Dodgers wanted pitcher Steve Luebber in return. Luebber was rated the best pitching prospect in the Twins’ system and they didn’t want to trade him, so the Dodgers dealt Hisle, 25, to the Cardinals.

Coming and going

“Hisle could play a big part in the youth movement of the Cardinals,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch declared. 

The Cardinals brought Hisle to St. Louis and told him “they were hoping I could help the outfield defense,” Hisle told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “From what I heard, it needed help. I was really happy to join the Cardinals.”

General manager Bing Devine also was seeking help for the bullpen, and approached the Twins about Wayne Granger, a former Cardinal. Granger’s 19 saves for the 1972 Twins were six more than Cardinals pitchers totaled that year.

“We had talked with the Twins about Granger shortly after the season ended, but they wanted a hitter in return and we didn’t have anyone available,” Devine told The Sporting News. “After we got Hisle, they expressed a strong interest in him.”

The Twins hardly could believe their good luck. Granger “had not endeared himself to the front office with charges that the Twins weren’t a first-class organization,” The Sporting News reported, and they were eager to trade him.

“It was fortunate for us that Bing Devine was interested in Wayne Granger,” Twins owner Calvin Griffith told columnist Sid Hartman. “We talked to Devine about Hisle. He was reluctant to give him up, but he wanted Granger.”

Devine said to The Sporting News, “We really had figured on Hisle as an extra man on the club because he can do so many things.”

Nothing personal

Hisle was at home when the Cardinals called, informing him of the trade to the Twins. “I was disappointed and hurt,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

According to the newspaper, “Hisle later received a handwritten note from Bing Devine. Devine apologized for the quick trade to Minnesota, explaining it was not intentional nor a snub at Hisle, but merely something which Devine felt could help the Cardinals. Hisle appreciated the letter, and still has it.”

The Twins made Hisle feel at home, naming him their center fielder. “I’m getting a chance to play regular here,” he told the Minneapolis newspaper. “I don’t know if I would have played every day for the Cardinals.”

Hisle scored 88 runs and drove in 64 for the 1973 Twins. His 230 total bases ranked third on the team, behind only Rod Carew and Tony Oliva.

Granger was 2-4 with five saves and a 4.24 ERA for the 1973 Cardinals before he was traded to the Yankees in August.

Hisle had big seasons for the Twins in 1976 (96 RBI, 31 stolen bases) and 1977 (28 home runs, 119 RBI). Granted free agency, he signed with the Brewers and had 34 home runs, 115 RBI and 96 runs scored for them in 1978.

A two-time all-star, Hisle played 14 seasons in the majors. He was the hitting coach for the World Series champion Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.

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