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What began as the feel-good story of Cardinals spring training dissolved into a feud between comeback hopeful Andy Van Slyke and manager Tony La Russa.

The rift, just as the 1997 Cardinals were launching into their season 20 years ago, was created by miscommunication, overreaction and ego from both sides.

Van Slyke, who had come out of retirement in a bid to earn a job as a Cardinals utility player, batted .545 in spring training in 1997 before being sidelined by a leg injury. He wanted assurances he would have a spot on the active roster when he healed. The Cardinals refused to make that kind of commitment.

That led to a war of words between Van Slyke and La Russa.

Versatile talent

Plagued by recurring back pain, Van Slyke retired after playing the 1995 season with the Orioles and Phillies.

A first-round pick of the Cardinals in the 1979 draft, Van Slyke made his major-league debut with St. Louis in 1983. He played 69 games in the outfield, 30 at third base and nine at first base.

In 1984, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog again used Van Slyke in the outfield (81 games) and at third base (32 games) and first base (30 games).

Sticking primarily to the outfield, Van Slyke’s best Cardinals seasons were 1985 (25 doubles, 13 home runs, 34 stolen bases) and 1986 (23 doubles, 13 home runs, 21 stolen bases).

On April 1, 1987, the Cardinals traded Van Slyke, catcher Mike LaValliere and pitcher Mike Dunne to the Pirates for catcher Tony Pena. In eight years (1987-94) with the Pirates, Van Slyke won a National League Gold Glove Award five times for his outfield defense and three times was named an all-star.

Comeback candidate

After his retirement, Van Slyke, who continued to reside in St. Louis, spent 1996 as a baseball analyst for ESPN and did a radio show. With his back feeling better, Van Slyke began working out, hoping to play again.

In February 1997, Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported La Russa had invited Van Slyke to Cardinals spring training camp at St. Petersburg, Fla., to compete for a job.

“It’s intriguing,” Van Slyke said. “I’ve always wanted to end my career with a Cardinals uniform on.”

A week later, the Cardinals signed Van Slyke and another utilityman candidate, former Indians slugger Cory Snyder, to minor-league contracts.

Third base training

When Van Slyke, 36, arrived at Cardinals camp, he was given a locker between those of pitcher Dennis Eckersley, 42, and outfielder Willie McGee, 38. “They’re trying to make me feel young,” Van Slyke said.

Cardinals coaches Carney Lansford, an all-star third baseman for La Russa with the Athletics, and Mark DeJohn, a former Tigers infielder, were assigned to work with Van Slyke. The Cardinals wanted to see whether he could be a backup to Gary Gaetti at third base.

“You can’t just take a guy from the outfield and stick him at third base,” Lansford said. “But given the proper amount of time and the right instruction he could have a chance.”

Van Slyke said of playing third base, “I’m better than I was 11 years ago.”

Replied Lansford: “He’s got a long way to go.”

Big bat

What Van Slyke still could do best was hit.

In his first exhibition game, Van Slyke delivered a RBI-single off Reds reliever Jeff Shaw. “That was a professional at-bat, a big-league at-bat,” La Russa gushed.

Van Slyke produced 11 hits in his first 20 at-bats.

“He’s shown that his talent is alive and kicking,” said La Russa.

Said Van Slyke: “My biggest concern was to get a fair shot and I’ve gotten that. Even if I don’t make the team, there will be absolutely no animosity toward Tony or this organization. This organization owes me nothing. I owe the Cardinals and baseball everything.”

On March 22, Van Slyke tore a muscle in his left calf.

Hummel wrote that Van Slyke “would have made the club” if he hadn’t been injured.

Next step

On March 26, needing to set their roster as they prepared to leave Florida, the Cardinals told Van Slyke to remain at training camp and work on getting healthy.

“When I’m ready, there’s only one place I want to play _ and that’s not extended spring training or (Class AAA) Louisville,” Van Slyke said.

La Russa indicated Van Slyke likely would need to accept a minor-league rehabilitation assignment before he could be considered for a spot on the Cardinals’ roster.

“We have to see if he really wants to do this,” La Russa said. “He wants some guarantees, but there are no guarantees in this game. He has to decide if he wants to take his best shot, with no guarantees.”

Go home

On the eve of the Cardinals’ April 1 season opener, Van Slyke, working out in Florida, complained to the Post-Dispatch about his status.

“I’d like to have some communication with (general manager) Walt Jocketty and Tony La Russa,” Van Slyke said. “Communication with this new group is something that needs to be worked on … Right now, a lukewarm response would be great. At least I’d be getting one.”

Van Slyke’s comments irked La Russa, who, after stewing for a couple of days, delivered a salvo.

“That’s just not accurate,” La Russa told Hummel. “I talked to him Wednesday or Thursday before we left (Florida). I think the problem is he’s not hearing what he wants to hear.

“If he wants communication and he needs certainty, he can go home … The Cardinals don’t need to be criticized for handling his situation. He hasn’t had any communication? Well, my communication is to go home. It was all explained to him. If he can’t understand that, then go home. What he said was extremely disappointing. It just shocked me.”

End of the line

With his wife about to deliver a baby, Van Slyke returned to St. Louis and waited. By the end of April, it was clear Van Slyke’s bridges had been burned.

“I don’t think there’s any more interest from their point of view,” Van Slyke said of the Cardinals.

Said La Russa: “There are a lot of things he needs to do before he comes here that he hasn’t shown a willingness to do.”

Van Slyke’s comeback bid had ended.

Previously: How Andy Van Slyke amazed Jose Oquendo

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Clearly a believer in the Mark Twain adage of “Never let the truth stand in the way of a good story,” Bob Gibson told a terrific tale about the indignity of having Cardinals teammate Dal Maxvill pinch-hit for him. Problem is, it never happened.

Toward the end of an interview published in the March 11, 2017, St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Gibson was asked by Rick Hummel, “Worst experience in baseball?”

The Hall of Fame pitcher responded by spinning a story about the time manager Red Schoendienst called upon Maxvill, the light-hitting shortstop, to bat for Gibson.

“My worst experience in baseball was when Red had Maxvill pinch-hit for me,” Gibson said. “I was so mad. I sat on the bench and Maxie swung and missed a couple of pitches and then he popped up. I walked past Red and said, ‘Don’t ever do that again.’ I took a shower and went home.”

Either Gibson, a noted prankster, was playing a gag on Hummel, or the passage of time clouded the memory of the 81-year-old Cardinals legend.

Don’t blame Dal

The facts: Maxvill was not a successful pinch-hitter, but he never batted for Gibson in either a regular-season or postseason game.

Maxvill made 12 plate appearances as a big-league pinch-hitter, according to the reliable Web site retrosheet.org. He was 0-for-11, with a walk.

Gibson didn’t pitch in any of the 12 games Maxvill appeared as a pinch-hitter.

Maxvill made six pinch-hit appearances _ three in 1962 and three in 1963 _ when Johnny Keane was Cardinals manager. He made two pinch-hit appearances with the 1972 Athletics under manager Dick Williams.

Only four of his 12 pinch-hit appearances took place for the Cardinals when Schoendienst was manager. He had one in 1965, two in 1971 and one with the 1972 Cardinals before he was traded to the Athletics.

No Gibson sub

The four times Schoendienst sent Maxvill to pinch-hit resulted in:

_ Reached on an error as pinch-hitter for pitcher Ray Washburn on June 16, 1965. Boxscore

_ Grounded out to shortstop as pinch-hitter for pitcher Bob Chlupsa on June 4, 1971. Boxscore

_ Walked intentionally as pinch-hitter for pitcher Moe Drabowsky on June 8, 1971. Boxscore

_ Struck out as pinch-hitter for injured shortstop Dwain Anderson on Aug. 15, 1972. Boxscore

Only once did Maxvill pop out as a Cardinals pinch-hitter. That took place in his major-league debut on June 10, 1962, when Maxvill, batting for pitcher Bobby Shantz, hit a pop-up to Giants pitcher Billy O’Dell. Boxscore

This scenario fits

Perhaps Gibson was confusing Maxvill with Dick Schofield.

In 1968, Schofield was Maxvill’s backup at shortstop. Schofield, a .227 career hitter, batted .220 for the 1968 Cardinals.

On April 20, 1968, Schoendienst sent Schofield to bat for Gibson in the ninth inning.

Schofield popped out to third.

Gibson couldn’t have been happy. The Cubs won, 5-1, making Gibson winless in three starts. The Cardinals scored a total of seven runs in those three games.

Though he made 11 pinch-hit appearances for the 1968 Cardinals, Schofield never would bat for Gibson again.

Gibson would go on to have his most magnificent season in 1968, producing a 1.12 ERA and 28 complete games in 34 starts for the National League champions.

Gibson in a pinch

Maxvill has a career .217 batting average; Gibson, .206.

Gibson was more successful than Maxvill as a pinch-hitter.

In 14 career pinch-hit appearances for the Cardinals, Gibson produced three hits, two walks and a sacrifice bunt.

In 13 of those pinch-hit appearances, Gibson batted for a pitcher.

The exception was on May 27, 1966, when Gibson was Schoendienst’s choice to be a pinch-hitter for left fielder Bobby Tolan. Batting with a runner on third, one out and the Cardinals trailing by a run against the Reds, Gibson struck out against reliever Billy McCool. Boxscore

Previously: Relax, Jon Jay; you’re no Dal Maxvill as Series hitter

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Prompted by his wife, Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean confronted a critic and initiated an argument that escalated into a brawl inside a crowded hotel lobby.

The principals in what became known as the Battle of Tampa were Dean, teammate Joe Medwick and journalists Jack Miley of the New York Daily News and Irv Kupcinet of the Chicago Daily Times.

Though the fisticuffs were real, the biggest blows may have been those that inflicted bruises to the egos of the participants.

The melee occurred 80 years ago, on April 2, 1937, at the Tampa Terrace Hotel after the Cardinals lost to the Reds in a spring training game.

The seeds for the showdown were sown about a month earlier.

Money matters

Holding out for a more lucrative contract offer, Dean didn’t report when the 1937 Cardinals opened spring training camp at Daytona Beach, Fla.

Miley, a columnist, scolded the pitcher. According to The Sporting News, he wrote: “For a guy who was picking cotton for 50 cents a day a few years ago, Diz has an amusing idea of his own importance.”

While Dean stayed with his wife Patricia at their house in Bradenton, Fla., during the contract holdout, journalists camped out in the town, hoping for comments from the colorful Cardinals ace.

In “Diz,” a 1992 biography of Dean, author Robert Gregory wrote that when reporters cornered Dizzy and his wife at a post office, seeking an interview, Patricia “cursed them and stomped to the car, honking the horn every few seconds until he joined her.”

When Dizzy later agreed to pose for news photographers, Patricia kept the cameramen waiting five hours before allowing her husband to cooperate.

Miley went on the attack in his column. According to Gregory, Miley called Patricia “a plump, dominating cotton queen” and described Dizzy as a “hen-pecked, fat-between-the-ears sharecropper.”

Dizzy shrugged off such remarks, Gregory said, but Patricia vowed revenge.

War of words

When the Cardinals played the Reds at Tampa, Patricia spotted Miley at the ballpark.

After the game, the Cardinals went to the hotel and, still in uniform, gathered in the lobby, awaiting room keys. Most of the Cardinals carried their spikes to keep from tearing up the lobby carpets.

Dizzy and Patricia were the first from the Cardinals group to get a room key. As they entered the elevator, Patricia saw Miley in the lobby _ just as Miley and Kupcinet emerged from the hotel bar, according to Gregory _ and urged her husband to confront the writer.

In the lobby were 18 Cardinals, about 20 other hotel guests and some hotel employees.

Dean stepped out of the elevator and approached Miley.

In piecing together accounts written by Miley, Gregory, J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and George Kirksey of United Press, here is what happened next:

Dizzy: “Is your name Miley?”

Miley: “Yes.”

Dizzy: “I wish you would not write those things about me. You said some terrible things about me.”

As the conversation continued, about 10 of Dizzy’s teammates gathered around him.

Dizzy: “You $125-a-month writers make me sick. Don’t you never mention me and my wife in one of them damned columns of yours again.”

Miley: “That’s a pleasure. I hate to write about bush leaguers anyway.”

Dizzy: “Just remember what I told you. I warned you. That’s from the horse’s mouth.”

Miley: “I say it’s from a hillbilly horse’s ass. What are you going to do about it?”

Dizzy: “I’ll show you…”

Hit or miss

Kupcinet, a 6-foot, 195-pound former college quarterback at North Dakota, stepped between Dean and the rotund (5 feet 6, 250-pound) Miley.

“Why don’t you pick on somebody your own size,” Kupcinet said to the pitcher.

Dean replied: “Stay out of my way, you New York Jew.”

Dizzy unleashed a wild punch _ “a ladylike left hook,” Miley called it _ that either missed or grazed Miley’s head.

Mike Ryba, a Cardinals pitcher, reached over Dean’s shoulder and swung his spikes, cracking Miley in the forehead and opening a cut above his right eye. The blow knocked Miley to the floor.

As Kupcinet reached for Dean, Medwick landed a crunching punch to Kupcinet’s left cheekbone.

Kupcinet went sprawling into a potted palm tree “that swooshed backward and started a chain reaction, knocking down floor lamps, plants and four other palms,” Gregory wrote.

Dean scampered for cover under an overturned sofa.

As other players moved in on the fallen writers, Mike Gonzales, a Cardinals coach, stopped the brawl from continuing.

In the Post-Dispatch, Stockton said of the spectacle, “Cigar girls and bell boys were very much excited, but no serious harm had been done.”

Tough talk

As Dean strutted back to the elevator, he crowed, “There ain’t no doubt about it _ It’s still the Gas House Gang.”

Kupcinet shouted at Dean: “I’ll fight you any place, any time you want to. Just name it.”

Miley said to Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch: “What’s the matter, Francis, can’t you control those ballplayers of yours?”

Replied Frisch: “No, I can’t.”

Kupcinet told a colleague, “Dean started the whole trouble, but when the fight started he didn’t get in it himself. They’re the Gas House Gang all right, but they won’t fight unless they know they’ve got the edge on you.”

Post mortem

The Cardinals paid the hotel for the damages, Gregory reported.

Ford Frick, National League president, said he wasn’t inclined to take action because the fight didn’t occur on the baseball field.

Among media reaction:

_ Joe Williams, columnist for the New York World-Telegram, said of Patricia Dean: “There’s a lady for you, chums. I wouldn’t say she is hard-bitten, but Mr. Miley is lucky she wasn’t in there swinging.”

_ The Sporting News editorialized: “There is no defense for ganging up on a man. Only mobs, hysteria-crazed and cowards adopt that method … The Cardinals players who participated in that hotel scene have put themselves in the position of public scorn.”

A week later, Dizzy told the Associated Press he was “sorry” about the incident. “It’s the first time I ever had any trouble with a sports writer and you can take it from ol’ Diz it will be the last time,” he said.

In October 1937, The Sporting News reported, Miley left the New York Daily News “after a disagreement with Jimmy Powers, sports editor.” Miley joined King Features syndicate and then the New York Post.

Dean was traded to the Cubs in 1938. Kupcinet, still with the Chicago Daily Times, and Dean patched their differences, posed for a Page 1 photo and became friends, Gregory said.

In retelling the story, Dean denied he’d been in the fight and blamed Medwick for instigating it. In response, Medwick, in a letter to the Chicago Daily Times, wrote: “Dean’s right in one respect. He wasn’t in the fight once punches started to fly. He usually does a crawfish act when that happens.”

Kupcinet began writing a celebrity gossip column for the Chicago Daily Times in January 1943. It was widely read and he became an influential figure in Chicago. Kupcinet continued writing the column for the Chicago Sun-Times until the week he died at 91 in 2003.

Previously: How Dizzy Dean survived an armed robbery

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Though it was no blockbuster, the first trade made by Stan Musial as general manager brought to the Cardinals the infield insurance they needed.

Seeking a player who could fill in for shortstop Dal Maxvill and provide late-inning defensive help at third base for converted outfielder Mike Shannon, Musial turned to a friend: Bing Devine.

Devine, president of the Mets, had been general manager of the Cardinals from 1957 until replaced by Bob Howsam in 1964. Musial succeeded Howsam in January 1967.

Fifty years ago, on April 1, 1967, the Cardinals acquired infielder Eddie Bressoud, outfielder Danny Napoleon and cash from the Mets for second baseman Jerry Buchek, pitcher Art Mahaffey and infielder Tony Martinez.

Though seldom used, Bressoud capped his playing career by spending the entire season with a Cardinals club that won the National League pennant and World Series championship.

Roster shuffles

The 1967 Cardinals entered spring training with no reliable backup at shortstop. The options were Buchek, Phil Gagliano and Jimy Williams.

Gagliano had big-league experience, but his best position was second base. Williams was a prospect but had played only 13 games in the majors.

Buchek had been the Opening Day shortstop for the 1966 Cardinals, but his fielding was erratic _ “He just doesn’t cover the ground, field cleanly enough or throw accurately at shortstop,” wrote Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch _ and by June that year Maxvill regained the starting role.

Buchek seemed best equipped for second base, but the Cardinals had Gagliano to back up starter Julian Javier.

Meanwhile, the 1967 Mets entered spring training with a plan to platoon Bressoud and Chuck Hiller at second base.

Bressoud had started 110 games for the 1966 Mets: 73 starts at shortstop, 24 at third base, eight at second base and five at first base. “He’s one of the nicest gentlemen you’ll ever meet,” Mets manager Wes Westrum said to The Sporting News. “He’s done everything ever asked of him.”

Devine, however, decided the Mets would be better off with a starter younger than either Bressoud, 34, or Hiller, 32, at second base to pair with shortstop Bud Harrelson, 22.

Buchek, 24, seemed a promising candidate.

Betting on potential

Buchek, a graduate of McKinley High School in St. Louis, received a $65,000 bonus when he signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1959.

He had a breakout season as starting shortstop for the Cardinals’ Class AAA Atlanta Crackers in 1963, batting .287 with 33 doubles, 11 triples, 10 home runs and 92 RBI.

However, in parts of five seasons (1961 and 1963-66) with the Cardinals, Buchek batted .221 and had more strikeouts (158) than hits (127).

Devine thought a fresh start with another organization would help Buchek and he knew the Cardinals needed a player like Bressoud.

Life’s journey

Bressoud debuted in the big leagues as a shortstop with the 1956 Giants and formed a keystone combination with their second baseman, Red Schoendienst.

Two years later, in 1958, Bressoud’s wife Eleanor, 25, died of a brain tumor, leaving him with two sons ages 2 and 3. A year later, Bressoud remarried.

During the baseball off-seasons, Bressoud pursued his education. He earned a bachelor’s degree from UCLA and a master’s degree in physical education from San Jose State. He supplemented his income by teaching at high schools in the winter.

Acquired by the Red Sox in November 1961, Bressoud hit 40 doubles and 14 home runs for Boston in 1962, 20 home runs in 1963 and 41 doubles and 15 home runs in his lone all-star season, 1964.

With the 1966 Mets, Bressoud batted .225 in 133 games.

New homes

During a March 30, 1967, spring training game between the Mets and Cardinals, Musial and Devine sat together and discussed their rosters.

Two days later, the trade was announced.

Bressoud and Buchek were the key players.

(Danny Napoleon, the outfielder with the famous surname, never would play for the Cardinals. He may be best remembered for delivering a three-run, pinch-hit triple with two outs in the ninth inning to lift the Mets to a 7-6 victory over the Giants on April 24, 1965. Afterward, Mets manager Casey Stengel “pranced past the open door of the quiet Giants clubhouse, thrust up his arm and croaked, ‘Viva, La France,’ ” according to Broeg.)

The trade reunited Bressoud with Schoendienst, manager of the 1967 Cardinals.

“I’m going to a club that seems to want me … I’m ready to play anywhere Red wants me to,” Bressoud said.

Said Schoendienst: “Bressoud has a good arm and he gets rid of the ball well. He’s what we really needed, a proven utilityman who can fill in for Maxvill.”

Buchek, happy to get a chance to be a Mets starter, said, “It would have been another wasted year with the Cardinals.”

Bench player

With Maxvill providing steady play at shortstop and Shannon driving in runs as the third baseman, Bressoud didn’t play often for the 1967 Cardinals. He went hitless in his first 23 at-bats before getting a single off the Astros’ Larry Dierker on June 8, 1967.

“It’s been tough,” Bressoud said. “You replay every at-bat. You go home and punish yourself. You try to put up a false front, but if something like this doesn’t bother you, you don’t belong in the game.”

Bressoud hit his only Cardinals home run on Aug. 9 off future Hall of Famer Don Drysdale of the Dodgers.

Mostly, though, Bressoud served as a sort of player-coach.

“Eddie had some good ideas for me on playing shortstop _ and for playing second base, too,” Maxvill said. “Eddie knew how to play certain hitters and he had me make adjustments.”

Said Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson: “Eddie Bressoud has a good arm and he’s quick. He gets in front of a lot of balls that other infielders don’t even get to, but he’s not sharp enough at times because he doesn’t play enough.”

Bressoud played in 52 regular-season games, making 18 starts at shortstop, for the 1967 Cardinals and batted .134 (9-for-67). He appeared in two World Series games as a defensive replacement.

After the World Series, Bressoud retired as a player and became head baseball coach at De Anza College in Cupertino, Calif. He also was a scout for the Angels.

Previously: Mike Shannon and the spring training intrigue of 1967

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In his first spring training as a big-league player, Stan Musial felt the pressure of high expectations, went into a slump and nearly lost a starting spot in the Cardinals outfield.

stan_musial32Seventy-five years ago, in 1942, Musial, 21, reported to spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., as the favorite to join veterans Terry Moore and Enos Slaughter as outfield starters.

A year earlier, Musial had faced an uncertain baseball future when he converted from pitcher to outfielder at the Cardinals’ minor-league spring training camp. The transformation was a spectacular success, with Musial rapidly rising through the Cardinals system and reaching the big leagues in September 1941.

Based on his strong but brief trial _ .426 batting average (20-for-47) in 12 games with the 1941 Cardinals _ Musial was firmly in the club’s plans entering spring training in 1942.

The Natural

The 1942 Cardinals were seeking to fill a gap at first base created by the departure of slugger Johnny Mize, who was traded to the Giants in December 1941.

The Cardinals entered 1942 spring training expecting Johnny Hopp and rookie Ray Sanders to compete for the first base job. Hopp had platooned in left field with Don Padgett and Coaker Triplett in 1941. With Hopp shifting to first base, the Cardinals pegged Musial to take over in left field.

“We lost a little strength in Mize, to be sure, but Johnny Hopp, Stan Musial and others will help to make it up,” Cardinals executive Branch Rickey told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in its Feb. 22, 1942, edition.

Musial reported to Cardinals camp on Feb. 27. The next day, the St. Louis Star-Times reported, “You can take it from Billy Southworth, who manages the St. Louis Cardinals and has been in organized baseball for 30 years, that Stan Musial … is the best-looking young left-handed batter to come up to the major leagues since Paul Waner jumped from San Francisco to Pittsburgh in 1926.”

Southworth told Sid Keener of the Star-Times that Musial “is destined to become the rookie of the year” in the National League in 1942.

“He does everything well and looks like he’s been doing it for years the way he runs the bases,” Southworth said. “What is even more amazing is the fact that only a year ago he was a pitcher, just out of the Class D ranks. He hits straightaway like a seasoned veteran.”

In the groove

Musial did well at the start of the Grapefruit League exhibition season. In the opener, on March 6 against the Yankees, Musial hit an inside-the-park home run off Hank Borowy and also produced a RBI-double and a single. Four days later, Musial had two singles and a RBI against the Reds.

Analyzing Musial’s batting stroke, J. Roy Stockton of the Post-Dispatch observed:

“He has an impressive style at bat. He keeps that left arm stiff and swings in a flat arc, which undoubtedly accounts for the fact that he hits so many line drives. Occasionally, he will get under the ball, driving it over the right-field barrier … Musial seems to take a short swing, but his timing is so excellent and his coordination so good that he gets unexpected distance with his drives. His swing reminds you of the drives of a golfer whose game is well-grooved.”

Said Southworth: “Much depends this year on Stan Musial. I’d say he already was one of our key men.”

Facing a challenge

Musial, however, went into a skid the last three weeks of March and his batting average dropped to .194.

In his 1964 book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said he had trouble adjusting to the poor hitting background at Florida ballparks.

While Musial struggled, another rookie left fielder, Harry Walker, 23, hit consistently well for the Cardinals that spring. Unlike Musial, Walker didn’t have the burden of high expectations and the pressure that came with it.

Entering April, the Cardinals conceded Walker was a contender for the starting left field job. “Walker seems to have found himself,” Southworth said. “He has quit pressing and is just about a 100 percent better ballplayer than he was last spring.”

In his book, Musial said, “If I hadn’t come up to the Cardinals in the fall of 1941 and hit so hard, I’m convinced I would have been sent down in the spring of 1942 because I hit so softly … I was a lemon in the Grapefruit League.”

Blessing from boss

On April 3, near the end of the Cardinals’ time in Florida, Musial broke out of his slump with an inside-the-park home run and a single against the Tigers.

Soon after, when the Cardinals left Florida to return to St. Louis for a set of exhibition games against the Browns before opening the regular season at home, Southworth approached Musial and said, “Don’t worry, Stan. You’re my left fielder. You can do it.”

Said Musial: “Billy had a way with young players. His confidence when I was hitting under .200 helped.”

Musial was the 1942 Cardinals’ Opening Day left fielder. He went on to have a strong first full season in the big leagues, batting .315 with 147 hits in 140 games. Musial produced 32 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs and had a on-base percentage of .397.

Musial was a key contributor to a Cardinals club that clinched the NL pennant with a 106-48 record and went on to win four of five against the Yankees in the World Series.

Previously: Why Cardinals traded Johnny Mize to Giants

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Benefiting from the wisdom and experience of master instructors, Mike Shannon was a willing pupil in a grand experiment that was integral to the Cardinals becoming World Series champions in 1967.

mike_shannon6Seeking a starting third baseman, the Cardinals decided to give Shannon first crack at earning the job during spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., 50 years ago.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst and instructor George Kissell developed a series of drills to convert Shannon from right fielder to third baseman.

The Cardinals needed to replace third baseman Charlie Smith, who had been traded to the Yankees for right fielder Roger Maris in December 1966.

Shannon had batted .288 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI as St. Louis’ right fielder in 1966. Schoendienst wanted to keep Shannon’s bat in the lineup in 1967, joining first baseman Orlando Cepeda and Maris in forming a potentially potent trio of RBI producers.

Moving Shannon to third would enable the Cardinals to have both Maris and Shannon in the lineup.

The conversion, though, wouldn’t be easy.

Head start

Shannon’s main competitors within the Cardinals for the starting third base job were Ed Spiezio, Phil Gagliano, Jerry Buchek and Ted Savage. None, though, were considered Shannon’s equal in hitting with power and driving in runs.

Before pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, the Cardinals held a special instructional camp starting Feb. 17 at St. Petersburg, with Schoendienst, Kissell and coach Joe Schultz as teachers.

The Cardinals invited eight players _ Shannon, Gagliano, Buchek, Savage, infielder Jimy Williams, outfielders Bobby Tolan and Alex Johnson, and catcher Pat Corrales _ to the camp. Spiezio would have been invited but was excused because he had played winter ball in the Caribbean.

“The Shannon-at-third experiment is rated a longshot by most observers,” The Sporting News reported.

Schoendienst and his assistants devised infield workouts to determine whether Shannon could be effective at third base.

In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, journalist J. Roy Stockton observed: “Schoendienst is giving Shannon and other infielders the toughest defensive drills they probably have ever seen. … Instead of fielding friendly grounders off a fungo stick, the athletes had to handle the most difficult chances.”

With Kissell pitching to Schoendienst, the manager hit the ball to the infielders.

“Red still can swing a vicious bat with unusual place-hitting skill,” Stockton wrote. “The infielders never knew who was going to have to tackle the next shot off the manager’s bat.”

Bat man

Shannon did well enough at the instructional camp _ “So far, so good,” Schoendienst told The Sporting News _ to enter spring training as No. 1 on the depth chart at third base.

“I prefer Shannon because he has the best bat of anybody we might consider for third base,” Schoendienst said. “Another reason is that Mike will tackle anything and give it a real try. He’s that kind of guy.”

Bob Broeg, Post-Dispatch sport editor, opined: “If Shannon … can be in the lineup with his aggressive bat, the Redbirds’ attack will be considerably stronger than if the club is forced to give up and return him to compete in an outfield overcrowded with talent.”

Shannon, however, struggled with his fielding during spring exhibition games.

“Mike isn’t reacting quite as well … because he’s got his hands on his knees and his weight back on his heels,” Schoendienst said. “He doesn’t come up on the balls of his feet, hands loose in front of him, ready to go in any direction with the pitch. He’s got to concentrate better, too.”

Hot pepper

With the season opener about two weeks away, Schoendienst intensified his work with Shannon.

“Schoendienst took him to the private infield beyond the left-field fence at Al Lang Field and brought along virtually the entire pitching staff,” Broeg reported.

Schoendienst wanted Shannon and the pitchers to work together at calling plays and handling bunts.

Afterward, “Schoendienst slashed and lashed hot grounders and line drives at Shannon in a torrid one-man pepper game,” Broeg observed. “Shannon’s cap was off, his black hair matted with perspiration as he lunged left, then right and threw his hands up in self-defense as Schoendienst smashed the ball at him … from a distance of no more than 40 feet.”

Said Cardinals shortstop Dal Maxvill: “I feel sorry for Mike. He’s really giving it the old try. Red has been hitting balls at him like that every day. Mike really wants to make it.”

Making the grade

Shannon produced 19 RBI in Florida Grapefruit League spring training games, validating the Cardinals’ view that his bat was needed.

Named the starter at third base, Shannon pulled a muscle in his left side in the April 11 season opener and didn’t return to the lineup until April 23.

As the Cardinals hoped, Shannon played well enough at third base and delivered run production. He had 12 home runs and 77 RBI. Only Cepeda, with 111, drove in more runs for the 1967 Cardinals.

Batting primarily in the fifth and sixth spots in the order, Shannon hit .293 with runners in scoring position.

Shannon played in 123 regular-season games at third base and made 29 errors. He also committed two errors in seven World Series games.

Still, with Shannon providing punch and Maris delivering timely hitting and solid defense in right field, the 1967 Cardinals finished at 101-60, 10.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants, and won four of seven from the Red Sox in the World Series.

Previously: Ted Savage had long, fruitful 2nd career with Cardinals

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