Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

If not for a slump at the start of September by Stan Musial in his best big-league season, the Cardinals, not the Braves, might have been the National League champions that opposed the Indians in the 1948 World Series.

eddie_dyer2The Indians, American League champions in 2016, are trying to earn a World Series title for the first time since winning four of six games versus the Braves in the 1948 World Series.

The 1948 Indians finished first in the AL at 97-58, one game ahead of the Red Sox. The Braves won the NL pennant with a 91-62 record, 6.5 games ahead of the second-place Cardinals (85-69).

St. Louis had gotten within a game of the first-place Braves on Aug. 21, 1948.

Led by Musial’s torrid hitting, the Cardinals entered September at 68-57, two games out of first place.

Hot pursuit

Musial, the Cardinals’ all-time greatest player, was at his peak in 1948. At 27, he would win his third NL Most Valuable Player Award that season and lead the league in runs (135), hits (230), doubles (46), triples (18), RBI (131), batting average (.376), on-base percentage (.450), slugging percentage (.702) and total bases (429).

Musial was the first NL hitter to achieve a .700 slugging percentage in a season since Hack Wilson of the 1930 Cubs. His total bases were only 21 behind the league mark of 450 established by Rogers Hornsby of the 1922 Cardinals. No big-league player since 1948 has achieved as many total bases in a season as Musial did that year.

The 1948 Cardinals also received a stellar season from pitcher Harry Brecheen, who led the NL in shutouts (7), strikeouts (149) and ERA (2.24) and was second in wins (20) and complete games (21).

Many thought the Cardinals were poised to pass the Braves in the standings in September 1948 and win their fifth pennant of the decade.

Under manager Billy Southworth, the Cardinals had won three pennants and two World Series titles from 1942-44. When Southworth left the Cardinals after the 1945 season and accepted a more lucrative offer from the Braves, Eddie Dyer replaced him and led St. Louis to a pennant and World Series crown in 1946.

Entering September 1948, Southworth had the Braves in first place and Dyer was the manager who had the Cardinals in hot pursuit.

On the skids

Musial, however, went into his only slump of the season at the start of September. Entering the month with a batting average of .378, Musial produced just three hits in his first 24 at-bats in September. The Cardinals lost five of those seven games and fell into fourth place at 70-62, 5.5 games behind the front-running Braves.

In The Sporting News, Bob Broeg wrote, “It was Musial’s first man-sized slump during the first week of September that caused the Cardinals to lose all but a thread-slender flag chance.”

The height of frustration for the Cardinals during that stretch occurred in a three-game series against the Pirates at Pittsburgh.

In a Labor Day doubleheader on Sept. 6, the Cardinals hit into eight double plays _ six in the opener and two in the second game _ and lost both games to the Pirates by scores of 2-1 and 4-1.

The next night, in the series finale on Sept. 7, the Cardinals threatened in the first inning against Pirates starter Fritz Ostermueller. Red Schoendienst led off with a walk and Marty Marion singled, bringing Musial to the plate.

Musial ripped a line drive that was snared by shortstop Stan Rojek, who stepped on second to double up Schoendienst and fired a throw to first baseman Johnny Hopp before Marion could get back to the bag, completing a triple play. The Pirates rolled to a 6-2 triumph. Boxscore

Said a defiant Dyer: “That series was a body blow, but we’re still in the race.”

Just short

Indeed, the Braves wouldn’t clinch the pennant until Sept. 26. The Cardinals finished strong, winning seven of their last 10 to edge the defending champion Dodgers for second place. After their 2-5 start to September, the Cardinals won 15 of their last 22 games.

Dyer pointed to injuries that limited Schoendienst to 95 starts at second base and Whitey Kurowski to 62 starts at third base as difference makers in the pennant race.

“Except for our infield injuries, I believe we would be out in front,” Dyer said. “Too often we missed that potential punch and the ability to make the double play.”

Previously: How Stan Musial got his 4th 5-hit game of 1948

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After a season in which he ranked among the National League leaders, no one would have figured Cardinals ace Mort Cooper would do better as a hitter than as a pitcher in the 1942 World Series.

mort_cooper5Cooper, who led the NL in wins (22), shutouts (10) and ERA (1.78) and placed among the top two in strikeouts (152), starts (35) and innings pitched (278.2), started Games 1 and 4 of the 1942 World Series against the Yankees.

To the surprise of most, the right-hander posted an 0-1 record and 5.54 ERA in those two games.

However, in Game 4, Cooper delivered a two-run single off starter Hank Borowy and scored a run, contributing to a 9-6 Cardinals triumph and putting the Yankees on the brink of elimination.

In the ninth inning, Cardinals reliever Max Lanier, who got the win, produced a RBI-single off Tiny Bonham, the Yankees’ 6-foot-2, 215-pound pitcher.

Pitchers with pop

With the run-scoring hits from Cooper and Lanier, the 1942 Cardinals are one of five teams that have had two pitchers produce RBI in a postseason game, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.

The others:

_ Jack Bentley and Hugh McQuillan for the Giants versus the Senators in Game 5 of the 1924 World Series.

_ Lefty Gomez and Johnny Murphy for the Yankees versus the Giants in Game 6 of the 1936 World Series.

_ Steve Avery and Mike Stanton for the Braves versus the Pirates in Game 2 of the 1992 NL Championship Series.

_ Kyle Hendricks and Travis Wood for the Cubs versus the Giants in Game 2 of the 2016 NL Division Series.

Cooper contributes

Cooper was the losing pitcher in the 1942 World Series opener on Sept. 30. He yielded 10 hits, three walks and five runs in 7.2 innings.

After the Cardinals won Games 2 and 3, manager Billy Southworth opted to start Cooper in Game 4 at Yankee Stadium on three days’ rest on Oct. 4 rather than Lanier, a 13-game winner who hadn’t yet appeared in the 1942 World Series.

Lanier, a left-hander, had made 20 starts for the 1942 Cardinals, but he was 5-0 with a 1.25 ERA in 14 relief appearances that season.

The Yankees led, 1-0, in Game 4 before the Cardinals scored six runs in the fourth. Stan Musial opened the inning with a bunt single. The Cardinals took the lead on Whitey Kurowski’s two-run single and Cooper, who batted .184 with seven RBI during the regular season, increased the advantage to 4-1 with his two-run hit.

“Cooper found an outside pitch to his liking and blooped a single to right that sent (Johnny) Hopp and Kurowski home and moved (Marty) Marion to third,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Run-scoring hits by Terry Moore and Musial capped the inning and gave the Cardinals a 6-1 advantage.

Manager misjudgment

Cooper, though, couldn’t shut down the Yankees. He surrendered five runs in 5.1 innings.

Cooper “went into the classic too tired to show at his best,” wrote columnist Dan Daniel in The Sporting News. “After he had been batted out of the first game, he decided that his troubles traced to his fastball. When again he encountered the Bombers (in Game 4), he tried to get by on his curve and it was nothing much. He just didn’t have it.”

Fortunately for the Cardinals, Lanier, who followed Cooper and relievers Harry Gumbert and Howie Pollet, pitched three scoreless innings for the win.

The Cardinals clinched the title with their fourth consecutive victory in Game 5.

“About my only regret was that the Yankees did not see the real Mort Cooper,” Southworth said. “In Mort’s first game, he just wasn’t sharp. He was too careful. In his second start, he should have had another day’s rest. I was to blame. But Mort wanted to go and I admit I wanted him to. I should have waited another day.” Boxscore

Previously: Big-game losses haunt Mort Cooper, Justin Verlander

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In Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Mets, Scott Spiezio and So Taguchi symbolized the grit, determination and teamwork of the 2006 Cardinals.

so_taguchi3After the Mets won the opener at Shea Stadium in New York, they had a chance to take command of the best-of-seven series with a victory in Game 2.

Many expected them to do so.

The Mets had finished the 2006 regular season with the best record in the NL at 97-65. The Cardinals at 83-78 had the worst record of any of the eights teams that qualified for the major-league postseason.

When the Mets took a 6-4 lead into the seventh inning of Game 2 at New York, the odds seem stacked against the Cardinals.

That’s when role players Spiezio and Taguchi came through.

Ten years ago, on Oct. 13, 2006, Spiezio tied the score with a two-run triple in the seventh and Taguchi knocked in the go-ahead run with an improbable home run in the ninth, carrying the Cardinals to a 9-6 victory and tying the series at 1-1.

Saved from having to overcome a deep deficit, the Cardinals won the series in seven games and went on to clinch the World Series championship, their first since 1982.

Coming back

Guillermo Mota, the fourth Mets pitcher used in Game 2, entered in the seventh to protect the 6-4 lead. Mota had posted a 3-0 record and 1.00 ERA in 18 regular-season appearances for the Mets.

He retired the first two batters of the inning, David Eckstein and Chris Duncan.

Albert Pujols then worked an 11-pitch at-bat, hitting a single after fouling off six pitches. Mota, either rattled or worn down by the duel with Pujols, walked Jim Edmonds on four pitches.

That brought Spiezio to the plate.

Soap opera

Manager Tony La Russa had given Spiezio the start at third base, batting him fifth in the order, in place of slumping Scott Rolen, who had produced one hit in 14 at-bats in the 2006 postseason.

“There’s something in his (batting) stroke that’s not right,” La Russa said of Rolen to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Miffed, Rolen said he was “very surprised” by and “very disappointed” in La Russa’s decision.

Wrote columnist Bernie Miklasz: “It’s never entirely about baseball, the Cardinals have to introduce a new soap opera plot, ignite a feud or smolder through a psychodrama.”

Spiezio validated La Russa’s move. With the count at two strikes, Spiezio hit a triple to right, scoring Pujols and Edmonds and tying the score at 6-6. Right fielder Shawn Green prevented Spiezio’s smash from being a home run by leaping over the fence and deflecting the ball back onto the field with his glove.

“It does give me a lot of confidence because Tony puts me in a situation and knows that I can have some big at-bats for him,” Spiezio said. “Whenever you have a manager that has confidence in you, it boosts the whole morale of the team.”

So sweet

With the score still deadlocked at 6-6, Mets closer Billy Wagner, who posted 40 saves in 2006, was brought in by manager Willie Randolph to pitch the ninth.

The first batter he faced was So Taguchi, who was pinch-hitting for Duncan. Though Duncan had hit 22 home runs in 2006 and Taguchi had hit two, La Russa preferred to have a right-handed batter face Wagner, a left-hander.

Wagner got ahead in the count 0-and-2 against Taguchi. Then, like Pujols did versus Mota in the seventh, Taguchi frustrated Wagner by fouling off four pitches and working the count to 3-and-2.

Wagner threw a fastball and Taguchi hit it over the left-field wall for a home run, giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead. Video

Said a stunned Taguchi: “I don’t know what to do, so I just run.”

The Cardinals scored two more runs off Wagner. Pujols doubled, moved to third on a groundout and scored on Spiezio’s double. Juan Encarnacion singled, scoring Spiezio and extending the lead to 9-6.

In the bottom half of the inning, Tyler Johnson struck out Carlos Delgado. With two right-handed batters due up, Adam Wainwright relieved and got Green and David Wright to ground out, ending the game. Boxscore

Previously: Scott Spiezio replaced John Mabry as Cards utilityman

Previously: Is Daniel Descalso as good in clutch as So Taguchi?

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Less than two weeks after they finished the 1936 season tied for second place in the National League, the Cardinals and Cubs determined each had what the other needed in order to win a pennant.

lou_warnekeThe Cardinals, whose team ERA of 4.47 ranked seventh in the eight-team NL in 1936, needed a reliable starting pitcher to pair with their ace, Dizzy Dean.

The Cubs, whose 76 home runs ranked a mundane fifth in the league, wanted a slugger.

Eighty years ago, on Oct. 8, 1936, the Cubs traded a premier pitcher, Lon Warneke, to the Cardinals for power-hitting first baseman Rip Collins and pitcher Roy Parmelee.

The blockbuster deal between the rivals rocked the baseball world.

Cubs clout

The Cardinals and Cubs each had finished the 1936 season at 87-67, five games behind the champion Giants.

Cubs owner Phil Wrigley directed manager Charlie Grimm to make any trade necessary to improve the club’s chances of winning the 1937 pennant.

Grimm wanted more production from his first baseman. Phil Cavarretta hit nine home runs as the everyday first baseman for the 1936 Cubs. Grimm wanted to move Cavarretta to center field in 1937.

Collins, who had been the Cardinals’ everyday first baseman from 1932-35, had hit 35 home runs _ a franchise record for a switch hitter _ in 1934. He became expendable when Johnny Mize took over the position for St. Louis in 1936.

Collins, 32, batted .307 with 852 hits in 777 games for the Cardinals from 1931-36. His best season was 1934 when he led the NL in slugging percentage (.615), extra-base hits (87) and total bases (369). He batted .333 with 200 hits for the NL champions that season. In the 1934 World Series versus the Tigers, Collins batted .367 (11-for-30) with four runs scored.

According to the Associated Press, Grimm told Wrigley “he offered the Cardinals … every other hurler on the staff. The Cardinals, however, insisted on Warneke. Grimm, determined to get Collins, yielded.”

Said Collins to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “It’s a great break for me … The front office at St. Louis might have traded me to a second-division club, but they didn’t.”

Great addition

Warneke, 27, a right-hander, earned 100 wins for the Cubs from 1931-36. At the time of the trade, The Sporting News described him as “one of the few great pitchers in the league.”

Warneke compiled 20 wins or more for the Cubs three times between 1932-35. He was 16-13 with a 3.45 ERA in 1936.

“With Dizzy Dean and Warneke, the Cardinals assured themselves of a nucleus for what may be the best pitching staff in the major leagues,” the Associated Press wrote.

Said Dean to United Press: “Warneke is a good pitcher, a great player.”

Grimm said he “hated like hell to part with Warneke” and praised him as a “great pitcher and a loyal, faithful player.”

The Sporting News said the Cubs had “given up a lot in Warneke,” adding that “with the Cardinals, he should be even better. He’ll be pitching for a team able to give him some runs, a pleasure he seldom experienced as a Cub.”

The third player in the deal, Parmelee, 29, had posted an 11-11 record and 4.56 ERA in his lone season with the Cardinals after being acquired the year before from the Giants.

Coming up short

Even though Warneke and Collins delivered, the trade didn’t bring the results in the standings either team wanted.

The 1937 Giants repeated as NL champions at 95-57. The Cubs placed second at 93-61 and the Cardinals were fourth at 81-73.

Warneke had a stellar season, leading the 1937 Cardinals in wins with an 18-11 record. He would play six seasons (1937-42) with the Cardinals, posting an 83-49 record (a .629 winning percentage).

Collins batted .274 with 16 home runs and 71 RBI for the 1937 Cubs. In two seasons with Chicago, Collins totaled 29 home runs and 132 RBI.

Parmelee was 7-8 with a 5.13 ERA in 1937, his lone season with the Cubs.

Previously: Rip Collins was one-of-a-kind hitter for Cardinals

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The King and The Man. The nicknames alone reflect the stature golfer Arnold Palmer and the Cardinals’ Stan Musial have in the sports world.

palmer_musialBoth hailed from western Pennsylvania. Both were champions who represented the best in their professions.

Both were special athletes who deeply appreciated their fans and never wavered in connecting with them.

Each legend respected and enjoyed the other.

In one of his last major honors in a life filled with significant tributes, Palmer received the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award in December 2015.

Palmer, 87, died Sept. 25, 2016. His passing occurred three years after Musial, 92, died on Jan. 19, 2013.

Best of class

Musial was born in Donora, Pa. Palmer was a native of Latrobe, Pa. Their hometowns are located about 35 miles from one another, just south of Pittsburgh.

In November 1962, when Musial was a year away from retiring as a player and Palmer was in his prime, Esquire magazine selected four athletes of the time that it regarded as guaranteed for immortality. They were: Palmer, Musial, football’s Jim Brown and tennis’ Pancho Gonzales.

A year later, in October 1963, the newly created Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame elected its inaugural class. Three came from the western Pennsylvania chapter: Palmer, Musial and baseball’s Pie Traynor.

At the induction dinner in Philadelphia on Dec. 8, 1963, Musial told the audience, “Pennsylvania can be proud of all its athletes.”

That afternoon, Musial had visited a Philadelphia hospital to present one of the Pennsylvania Sports Hall of Fame inductees, Hans Lobert, who had undergone surgery, a plaque, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Before the induction dinner, Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News asked Musial, who had retired as a player after the 1963 season, about the possibility of making a comeback in 1964.

A playful, good-natured Musial replied, “I can’t come back. It would take me too long to give the plaques back. Heck, it would take me two months at least.”

Asked how he was adjusting to his new role as a Cardinals vice president, Musial said, “I went out to the (baseball) winter meetings on the West Coast. Boy, executives have it soft. I told them if I had known it was like this, I’d have retired five years ago.”

Honoring Arnie

In July 1970, Palmer was selected athlete of the decade (1960-70) by the Associated Press. A testimonial dinner was planned for July 21 at the Hilton Hotel in downtown Pittsburgh. The most prominent figure among the 800 guests was Musial.

“I am grateful that you would invite me to help honor Arnie,” Musial said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “In my opinion, there is no greater golfer and finer man anywhere than Arnold Palmer.”

Throughout the years, Palmer and Musial continued their friendship. They appeared together at celebrity charity golf events. In 1978, during the PGA Championship at Oakmont Country Club near Pittsburgh, Musial visited with Palmer as his guest in the clubhouse.

Life like Stan

The Musial Awards celebrate sportsmanship in North America. The signature award is the Stan Musial Lifetime Achievement Award. Joe Torre was the first recipient in 2014. Palmer was the second recipient.

After needing assistance from two aides to walk onto the stage at the Peabody Opera House in downtown St. Louis to accept the award, Palmer was seated and told the crowd that Musial was “one of the greatest people I ever knew.”

“If every person in the world lived their life like Stan Musial did his, you could all walk away proud,” Palmer said. Video

Previously: How Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin sang for Stan Musial

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Of the many tributes expressed on Ozzie Smith Appreciation Day, the best came from a Cardinals opponent.

larkin_smithTwenty years ago, on Sept. 28, 1996, Barry Larkin, the heir apparent to Smith as the top shortstop in the National League, was at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, playing for the Reds against the Cardinals in the next-to-last game of the regular season.

The Cardinals had chosen that Saturday afternoon to honor Smith, 41, who in June had announced that the 1996 season would be his last as a player.

In the pre-game festivities before a crowd of 52,876, master of ceremonies Jack Buck was joined by an array of Cardinals legends, including Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock and Whitey Herzog.

Larkin, who like Smith would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame, took his turn at the microphone and spoke for the profession.

“Ozzie created a fraternity among shortstops and all those who had a relationship with him,” Larkin said. “On behalf of all baseball players, we thank you. For your sportsmanship. For your humanitarian work. For your great defensive plays. For hitting that home run in the 1985 playoffs. For representing baseball with honesty and integrity.”

Paving the way

Also in attendance were Smith’s mother and his three children.

Cardinals management announced that the franchise would retire the uniform No. 1 worn by Smith during his St. Louis playing career from 1982-1996. Among the gifts Smith received was a baby grand piano from his teammates and staff.

“I’d like to thank God for giving me the ability to go out and perform for 19 years in a sport that I love,” Smith said. “I’d like to thank my mom for being my inspiration and driving force. I thank my family for their support. I thank the Cardinals organization for its support and the opportunity to perform for the greatest fans in the world. I thank all my teammates, past and present, because I could not have done it without all of you.”

In summary, the master fielder known as the Wizard of Oz, said, “You have all been part of my dream. Thanks to every one of you for traveling down my Yellow Brick Road.”

Observing the lovefest, columnist Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted, “We saw an all-time record for most hugs and kisses in a single day at Busch Stadium.”

Touch of class

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa started Smith at shortstop that day and put him in the leadoff spot in the batting order.

As he headed to his position to begin the game, Smith treated fans to a somersault and his signature backflip.

The Reds started pitcher Mike Morgan, who had been released by the Cardinals a month earlier.

When Smith stepped to the plate in the first inning, Morgan tipped his cap to his former teammate. “Mike is one of the nicest guys in the game,” Smith told Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch.

Smith grounded out to Morgan.

In the third, Smith sliced a grounder down the third-base line. Eduardo Perez, the Reds’ third baseman and son of Hall of Famer Tony Perez, dived to his right, fielded the ball and threw out Smith from his knees.

Smith grounded out routinely to third against Morgan in the fifth.

Reaching base

In the sixth, facing left-hander Mike Remlinger, Smith hit a looping liner to left for a RBI-single. It would be the last regular-season hit of his career.

In his final at-bat of the game in the eighth, Smith was hit on the foot by a pitch from Scott Sullivan.

The Reds went down in order in the ninth. Bret Boone and Perez each grounded out to Smith. Larkin made the last out on a pop-up to first. The Cardinals won, 5-2. Boxscore

Smith had six fielding assists in the game and started a double play.

Starting again the next day in the season finale, Smith was 0-for-2 before he was replaced by Royce Clayton.

In the 1996 postseason, Smith was 1-for-3 in the NL Division Series versus the Padres and hitless in nine at-bats in the NL Championship Series against the Braves.

Previously: Ozzie Smith cheered Barry Larkin’s best personal feat

Previously: Bitterness at Ozzie Smith retirement announcement

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