Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

On the verge of giving up hope of reaching the major leagues, Ron Allen persevered and was given a chance by the Cardinals.

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 15, 1971, in a swap of minor-leaguers, the Cardinals acquired Allen from the Mets for third baseman Bobby Etheridge.

A switch-hitting first baseman, Ron Allen was the younger brother of big-leaguers Dick Allen and Hank Allen.

Dick Allen was a prominent slugger who hit 34 home runs when he played for the Cardinals in 1970.

Ron Allen also had power, but hadn’t advanced out of the minor leagues since he signed with the Phillies in 1964.

In August 1972, nearly a year after the Cardinals dealt for him, Allen was 28 and in his ninth season in the minors when he got the call he had waited for so long.

All in the family

Four Allen brothers, Coy, Hank, Dick (also known as Rich or Richie) and Ron, were all-state high school basketball players in their hometown of Wampum, Pa., according to The Sporting News. All also were baseball standouts.

The oldest brother, Coy, went to work in the steel mills, Ron Allen told the Philadelphia Daily News. Hank, Dick and Ron got other opportunities.

Dick Allen was a 16-year-old amateur shortstop in 1958 when Phillies scout Johnny Ogden first saw him. “I knew this boy could be one of the great hitters,” Ogden told The Sporting News.

Determined to keep Dick Allen from getting away, the Phillies signed Hank Allen, 19, to a $4,000 contract in April 1960. Soon after, Dick Allen, 18, signed with the Phillies for $70,000. Both were right-handed batters.

Ron Allen, 21 months younger than Dick, tried to keep pace with him. A natural left-hander, Ron learned to hit from both sides of the plate in high school.

“We’ve always been as close as two brothers can be, both on and off the field,” Ron Allen told Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News. “In baseball, I played third and he played short the first two years we played. I hit third and he hit fourth. The year he signed with the Phillies, I hit cleanup and he hit third. I had a better average, around .500, but he hit about seven more homers than me.”

While Hank and Dick pursued professional baseball careers, Ron enrolled at Youngstown State in Ohio.

“Mom was determined there was going to be one Allen who went to college,” Ron told the Philadelphia Daily News. “Mom was pretty set on it.”

A history major, Ron Allen excelled in basketball and baseball at Youngstown State. After his junior year, he signed with the Phillies. At 6 feet 3 and 210 pounds, Ron was a prospect “with good power,” the Philadelphia Inquirer noted.

That same year, Dick Allen became the first of the Allen brothers to reach the majors, and he made an impact. Dick led the National League in extra-base hits and total bases in 1964 and won the Rookie of the Year Award.

Two years later, Hank Allen got to the big leagues with the Senators.

Down on the farm

Ron Allen spent his first three seasons (1964-66) in the Phillies’ system at the Class A level. At spring training in 1967, the Philadelphia Daily News reported, “No man in the Phillies camp can propel a baseball further than” Ron Allen, but “the rap on his hitting is he swings at too many bad balls and strikes out too much.”

“All I want to do is get to the big leagues,” Ron said. “I’ll shine shoes to get there if I have to.”

While Dick Allen thrived as a big-league slugger, Ron remained stuck in the minors. His sixth and best season in the Phillies’ system came in 1969 when he hit .300 with 25 home runs and 97 RBI for Class AA Reading.

After the season, Dick Allen, who had run-ins with Phillies management, was traded to the Cardinals.

Ron Allen, who spent winters working as a draftsman for the city engineering department in Youngstown, reported to Phillies spring training in 1970, but didn’t impress. “I don’t think he’s going to hit good pitching,” farm director Paul Owens told Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News.

On April 10, 1970, the Phillies traded Ron Allen to the Mets.

“I knew the Phillies wouldn’t give me a chance,” Ron told United Press International. “They said one Allen is enough. I was really happy to be traded.”

The Mets assigned him to the minor leagues. He hit 21 home runs in the Mets’ farm system in 1970 and 20 the next year before the Cardinals acquired him after the completion of the 1971 minor-league season.

The wait ends

Assigned to the Cardinals’ Class AAA Tulsa team in 1972, Ron hit .267 with 16 home runs and 51 RBI in 103 games.

On Aug, 7, 1972, the Cardinals released backup first baseman Donn Clendenon and opted to call up Ron to replace him.

Cardinals director of player development Bob Kennedy said Ron told him he had been considering quitting baseball, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Elated by the promotion, Ron said to Kennedy, “I don’t want four or five years in the major leagues. I just want one swing.”

Four nights later, on Aug. 11 against the Pirates, Ron made his major-league debut. Batting for pitcher Lowell Palmer, he struck out versus ex-Cardinal Nelson Briles. Boxscore

On Aug. 13, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Pirates, Ron started for the first time in the majors. Playing first base in place of Matty Alou, he was hitless in four at-bats versus Steve Blass. Boxscore

Ron’s highlight came on Aug. 17 at San Diego against the Padres. He entered the game in the eighth inning after Joe Torre, playing first base for an injured Alou, was ejected.

Leading off the ninth, Ron got his first big-league hit, a home run to right against reliever Mike Corkins.

“Allen hit a good pitch, low and away,” Corkins told the Post-Dispatch. “He used to hurt me in the minors, too.” Boxscore

Life after baseball

The home run was Allen’s only hit in the majors. In 14 plate appearances for the Cardinals, Ron had three walks and one hit, batting .091. The Cardinals released him to Tulsa on Sept. 5, 1972. Having achieved his goal of reaching the majors, Ron retired from baseball.

Ron told United Press International he was “grateful for what I got. It’s been a constant struggle just to make it to the top.”

That same year, Dick Allen, playing for the White Sox, led the American League in home runs and RBI, and won the Most Valuable Player Award. Hank Allen also played for the White Sox that season.

Hank finished his big-league career in 1973 and Dick’s last season was 1977.

Hank became a thoroughbred horse trainer and Ron was his stable foreman, according to the Los Angeles Times. In 1989, Northern Wolf, a horse trained by Hank, raced in the Kentucky Derby and Preakness.

Ron was inducted into the Youngstown State athletic hall of fame in 1990.

In 2010, when he was 66, Ron fulfilled a promise made to his mother and completed his college education, earning a bachelor’s degree in general studies from Youngstown State.


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Feeling ridiculed by the needling he got from former Cardinals teammates, Tim McCarver lashed out at a friend, Lou Brock, and started a fistfight with him.

Fifty years ago, on Sept. 6, 1971, during a game between the Cardinals and Phillies at Philadelphia, McCarver punched Brock in the face on the field at Veterans Stadium. Brock fought back, swinging at McCarver and landing a couple of shots, before they wrestled to the ground and were separated.

The sight of influencers from Cardinals glory days tearing into one another was, as broadcaster Jack Buck put it, “a bit sickening,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg noted.

A week later, McCarver and Brock got physical again _ not in a fight, but in a jarring collision at home plate. 

Sticks and stones

Brock and McCarver were integral players on Cardinals clubs that won three National League pennants and two World Series titles in the 1960s. After the 1969 season, McCarver was traded to the Phillies.

On Sept. 6, 1971, the Cardinals and Phillies had a Monday night doubleheader in the City of Brotherly Love. The opener matched pitchers Bob Gibson of the Cardinals against Rick Wise. Brock, the Cardinals’ left fielder, was in his customary leadoff spot. McCarver was the Phillies’ catcher and batted second.

The game was scoreless in the third when Brock led off with a single and stole second. After Ted Sizemore coaxed a walk, Matty Alou hit a pop fly in foul territory near the Cardinals’ dugout. McCarver dropped it for an error.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the Post-Dispatch, “McCarver was mad because of missing that pop-up.”

From the dugout and from the basepaths, Cardinals players heckled McCarver about botching the play.

“To say there was a little noise drifting out of the Cardinals’ dugout whenever McCarver was in earshot thereafter is to put it mildly,” the Philadelphia Daily News noted.

Cardinals first-base coach George Kissell said, “They were getting on Tim pretty good.”

Given the chance to continue his plate appearance, Alou drew a walk, loading the bases.

The next batter, Joe Torre, singled, scoring Brock and Sizemore. In his book, “Oh, Baby, I Love It,” McCarver said, “I was still burning from my error.”

When Brock got to the dugout, he continued to taunt McCarver, who had allowed more steals than any other National League catcher in 1971.

“Brock kept trying to show me up,” McCarver told the Post-Dispatch. “When Torre was on first base, Brock was yelling, ‘There he goes! There he goes!’ “

As The Sporting News noted, “The inference was McCarver’s arm was so bad that he couldn’t even throw out a slow runner like Torre.”

In his book, McCarver said, “I really snapped … I took my catching and throwing seriously.”

Unsympathetic, Schoendienst told the Post-Dispatch, “It’s not anyone else’s fault that McCarver can’t throw anybody out.”

Brock said to Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson, “Yelling, ‘There he goes!’ shouldn’t be enough to upset McCarver, who is one of the biggest agitators in the game.”

According to George Kissell, McCarver yelled to Brock, “We’re going to stick one in your ear.”

While McCarver stewed, Wise unraveled. He gave up a RBI-double to Ted Simmons and a three-run home run to Joe Hague before being replaced by rookie Manny Muniz.

McCarver’s miscue had opened the gates to a 6-0 Cardinals lead. Adding to the embarrassment, his former teammates laughed at him, he told the Post-Dispatch.

“Guys beating you 6-0 know better than to laugh at you,” McCarver said to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Regarding Brock, McCarver told Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News, “We played together long enough and he knows my boiling point … I just don’t like to be shown up.”

Macho man

Brock was the first batter for the Cardinals in the fourth. In his book, McCarver said, “I encouraged my pitcher, Manny Muniz, to intimidate Lou.”

“The first pitch crowded Brock back from the plate,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “The second pitch, another inside serve, also made him give ground.”

Brock took two or three steps in the direction of the mound. McCarver followed and heard Brock shout something to Muniz.

“I just asked Muniz, ‘What’s going on?,’ ” Brock said to the Post-Dispatch. “The kid was making me a dartboard.”

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, McCarver said Brock warned Muniz he’d come after him if another pitch came close.

“No, you’re not,” McCarver replied to Brock.

Brock turned and headed to the plate, his arms at his sides, when McCarver punched him.

“A sucker punch,” George Kissell told the Post-Dispatch.

“It was a sucker punch,” Bob Gibson agreed, “and I didn’t think much of it.”

Brock retaliated, landing a couple of punches, and then grabbed McCarver. They fell to the ground before being pulled apart by teammates.

“I’ve known McCarver since he was a kid, but I lost a lot of respect for him tonight,” Kissell said to the Post-Dispatch. “He shouldn’t let his emotions take over like that.”

What are friends for?

McCarver was ejected by plate umpire Al Barlick.

“I’m sorry the thing happened, but I felt I was right when I did it,” McCarver said to the Philadelphia Daily News. 

In his book, McCarver added, “I can’t say I’m proud of what I did, but I do have to say that put in the same situation I’m sure I would react the same way.

“In moments like that, however irrationally, your instincts simply take over.”

Brock told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I was surprised Tim punched at me, but sometimes these things just explode. Tim’s too much of a pro to do what he did, but when there’s a feeling of frustration you do strange things. I have no hard feelings against him.”

McCarver said, “As far as I’m concerned, it’s all over. He’s a good friend of mine.”

Long may you run

After McCarver’s ejection, Brock continued his plate appearance versus Muniz, drew a walk and swiped second against McCarver’s replacement, Mike Ryan.

Leadng off the bottom of the fourth, Ryan was the first batter Bob Gibson faced after the fight. Gibson’s first pitch to Ryan sailed over his head.

In the sixth, Brock reached on an error, stole second and was thrown out by Ryan attempting to steal third.

An inning later, the Phillies brought in their third-string catcher, rookie Pete Koegel, after Ryan was injured. Brock swiped second _ his fourth steal of the game _ against Koegel in the eighth. Boxscore

Encore performances

The next night, Sept. 7, the Cardinals and Phillies played the series finale, and emotions remained raw.

In the first inning, Brock walked, tried to steal second and was thrown out by McCarver.

Brock noted to the Post-Dispatch, “He threw me out trying to steal, and I didn’t go punching him.”

McCarver countered to the Philadelphia Daily News, “I threw him out, and I didn’t go prancing over to the dugout like King Kong.” Boxscore

Six days later, on Sept. 13, the Phillies were in St. Louis for a two-game series.

Before the opener, Bob Broeg asked McCarver whether he regretted punching Brock. McCarver replied, “From practically the very minute I threw the punch. It was, I’m afraid, a sucker punch and I’m not proud of it.”

McCarver added, “I was agitated and apparently misunderstood something Lou had said … I like to think that out of this unfortunate flare-up we’re better friends than before. I hope so.”

In that night’s game at Busch Memorial Stadium, McCarver “was lustily booed by a crowd that used to adore him,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

McCarver produced three hits, scored twice and threw out Dal Maxvill attempting to steal. Boxscore

Storybook stuff

Hollywood would have a tough time coming up with a better script for what happened in the Sept. 14 series finale.

In the first inning, Brock was awarded first base on catcher’s interference when McCarver accidentally tipped his bat. Brock stole second and advanced to third on McCarver’s errant throw. Matty Alou’s infield out scored Brock.

In the ninth, the Phillies led, 5-4, but the Cardinals had Brock on third with one out and their top run producer, Joe Torre, at the plate.

Facing Chris Short, Torre hit a fly ball to medium right. Willie Montanez, a former Cardinals prospect, caught it for the second out. Brock tagged and sped for the plate, trying to score the tying run.

The throw reached McCarver on a hop. McCarver snared it and spun around to tag Brock, who was barreling toward him.

“Brock went into McCarver like a NFL bomb-squader goes into a punt returner,” Bill Conlin wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News. “The collision was tremendous, McCarver getting flipped over backwards, Brock landing in a heap on the first-base side of the plate.”

McCarver held onto the ball and Brock was called out by umpire John McSherry, ending the game. Boxscore

As Phillies players congratulated McCarver, he “broke away from them and went for Brock, grabbed his hand and shook it,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

“I told Lou to have a nice winter,” McCarver said.

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A troubled talent, Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton let his emotions reach a boiling point, resulting in a public meltdown.

Forty years ago, on Aug. 26, 1981, during a game at St. Louis, Templeton got booed for not hustling and reacted by making obscene gestures.

Ejected by umpire Bruce Froemming, Templeton was approaching the dugout when he was confronted by manager Whitey Herzog, who pulled him down the steps and backed him against a wall before teammates separated them.

The Cardinals suspended and fined Templeton, then moved him to the disabled list when he entered a St. Louis hospital for treatment of emotional problems.

Three weeks later, Templeton returned to the Cardinals’ lineup and finished the season. During the winter, the Cardinals traded him to the Padres for a future Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith.

Good and bad

A first-round choice of the Cardinals in the 1974 amateur draft, Templeton was 20 when he took over for Don Kessinger as starting shortstop in August 1976.

In his book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said Templeton, a switch-hitter with speed, “was the single most talented all-around player I’d seen since Mickey Mantle.”

In 1979, Templeton became the first player to get 100 hits from each side of the plate in one season, but he also was the center of controversy, demanding a trade and snubbing the All-Star Game.

Battle of wills

In 1981, Herzog’s first full year as Cardinals manager and general manager, Templeton hit .345 in April, but slumped in May.

On May 25, Herzog moved Templeton out of the leadoff spot and put Tommy Herr there.

Herr “was the best leadoff man we’ve had here,” Herzog said to The Sporting News. “Templeton is not a good leadoff man. He doesn’t get any walks.”

Miffed, Templeton told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he wanted to be traded to a team near his home in southern California.

“Put Tony Scott and me in a package deal and send us to San Diego for Ozzie Smith and Gene Richards,” Templeton told the Post-Dispatch in a story published June 1.

“This organization has had enough of me,” Templeton said. “I’m tired of this.”

Herzog responded, “No player is going to make out my lineup for me.”

Templeton batted in the No. 2 spot in the order until the players went on strike June 12.

Sign language

When play resumed Aug. 10, Templeton was restored to the leadoff position, but he wasn’t content. He informed Herzog he didn’t want to play in day games after night games.

In “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said his response to Templeton was, “What’s the matter with you? You’re tired?”

According to Herzog, Templeton’s teammates were tired of his antics. “They could see he was dogging it on ground balls, pulling up short on the bases, and generally acting like he didn’t give a damn about baseball or them,” Herzog said.

After a night game on Tuesday, Aug. 25, the Cardinals had a game against the Giants the next afternoon at Busch Memorial Stadium.

In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog said, “I told Templeton he’d have to play, even if he didn’t feel like it.”

The start of the game was delayed 88 minutes because of rain, and some of the 7,766 spectators spent the time drinking.

In the first inning, Templeton struck out, but catcher Milt May dropped the third strike. Rather than hustle to first, Templeton took a few steps up the line, then veered toward the dugout. Fans booed the lack of effort.

In “White Rat,” Herzog said, “I didn’t blame them. If I’d paid good money to see a professional ballplayer put out, I’d have been booing, too.”

Templeton responded to the jeers by slapping his left hand under a raised right arm with fist clenched.

Plate umpire Bruce Froemming warned Templeton that any more gestures would lead to an ejection.

Out of control

In the bottom of the third, when Templeton entered the on-deck circle, he was booed. He turned toward the fans and grabbed his crotch.

After Froemming ejected him, Templeton started toward the dugout, stopped, clutched his genitals and raised a middle finger to the fans, the Associated Press reported.

In “White Rat,” Herzog recalled, “When he got to the dugout, I reached out and pulled him down the steps, and if the other players hadn’t come between us, I guess we’d have had a pretty good fight. I’d never been so mad at a player.”

Herzog ordered Templeton to go to the clubhouse and wait for him, but Templeton packed and left the ballpark under police protection, The Sporting News reported.

Herzog suspended Templeton indefinitely and fined him $5,000.

“There’s no ballplayer big enough to show up the fans and make the gestures he was making,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch. “When he grows up to be a man and publicly apologizes to our fans and to his teammates, he can come back and play. It’s up to him.”

Asked about Templeton, Cardinals catcher Gene Tenace said to The Sporting News, “We’re better off without him. He’s a loser. I’ve lost all respect for him as a human being.” Boxscore

Ready to return

In “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said Cardinals owner Gussie Busch told him, “Get rid of the son of a bitch.”

Busch wanted Templeton traded the next day. “He didn’t care what we got in return,” Herzog said, “but that wasn’t going to help us any.”

Instead, team physician Dr. Stan London met with Templeton on Aug. 27 and convinced him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation the next day. London said Templeton was “very receptive” to be evaluated.

On Aug. 31, Templeton entered a St. Louis hospital for treatment of depression, the Post-Dispatch reported. The Cardinals lifted his suspension and put him on the disabled list.

On Sept. 15, Templeton returned to the club. He apologized to his teammates in the clubhouse before a doubleheader at Montreal and they welcomed him back.

“He was kind of emotional, but he made it short and to the point,” Tenace told the Post-Dispatch.

Tommy Herr noted, “He said he wanted to come back and play hard. That’s all I wanted to hear.”

Batting second in the order, Templeton had four hits in the opener versus the Expos. Boxscore

On Sept. 23, in his first home game since his return, Templeton “was cheered when the lineups were read and again before each time at-bat,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “The applause drowned out a smattering of boos.”

Templeton had two hits and a RBI in the game against the Phillies. Boxscore

Herzog kept Templeton in the second spot in the order the rest of the season. He hit .386 in 18 September games.

For the season, Templeton batted .288, including .351 with runners in scoring position, and had 96 hits in 80 games.

Batting leadoff in 1981, Templeton had a .273 batting average and .279 on-base percentage. From the No. 2 spot, he hit .336 with a .366 on-base percentage.

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Adding a mix of controversy and comedy with a demonstration of clout, baseball’s greatest showman gave a commanding performance while reaching a milestone before a St. Louis audience.

Ninety years ago, on Aug. 21, 1931, in a game against the Browns at Sportsman’s Park, Yankees slugger Babe Ruth hit his 600th career home run.

Usually, such a feat would provide enough drama for one day, but not for Babe. Next, he got ejected. Then, he sparked a treasure hunt by offering a reward for his home run ball.

Big blow

Ruth, 36, hit his 599th home run, a ninth-inning grand slam, on Aug. 20 against the Browns at Sportsman’s Park. Boxscore

The next day, a Depression Era crowd of 4,000 came to Sportsman’s Park to see if he could hit No. 600.

Before the game, Ruth informed Browns secretary Willis Johnson that he’d like to have the ball if he hit the milestone home run, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

In the third inning, with a runner on first, Ruth did his part. He hit a pitch from George Blaeholder high and deep to right, “a gorgeous, virile blow” that “stirred the sopranos to violent shrilling,” the New York Daily News noted.

The ball carried over the pavilion roof and struck a parked car on Grand Avenue, according to the Associated Press.

“The din had just subsided” when Lou Gehrig “duplicated the Bambino’s feat,” the Daily News reported. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Gehrig’s ball bounced off the roof and into the street.

Prize money

Four innings later, with the Yankees ahead, 8-1, Browns cleanup batter Red Kress hit a three-run home run to left against Hank Johnson.

Ruth, playing left field, claimed a spectator in the bleachers interfered with the ball while it was in play. When Ruth persisted with his argument, umpire Roy Van Graflan ejected him. It was the 10th of Ruth’s 11 career ejections as a player, but only the second time the gate attraction had been tossed since 1924.

Done for the day, Ruth’s thoughts were on his home run ball. When he got to the clubhouse, he sent word to the press box, asking that radio stations relay his request for the ball to be returned to him. Ruth said he would reward the finder with $10 and a new baseball.

Ruth was drawing a salary of $80,000 in 1931 _ when asked after signing the contract whether he believed he deserved to be making more money than President Herbert Hoover, Babe supposedly replied, “’I had a better year than he did.” _ but a $10 offer for a baseball was a good deal during the depths of economic depression.

Three St. Louis radio stations _ KMOX, KWK and WIL _ carried Browns home games in 1931, so when Ruth’s request went on the airwaves it reached a wide audience.

Kid stuff

When a 10-year-old newsboy, Tom Callico of North Grand Avenue, showed up at the Sportsman’s Park press gate with a ball, Willis Johnson, the Browns’ secretary, took him to meet Ruth.

According to Dick Farrington of The Sporting News, “Babe greeted the kid like a father. He fished around and handed the boy a $10 bill and in another few minutes had a brand new ball for him.”

While Callico was meeting with writers in the press box, another boy arrived at the gate and said he had the Ruth home run ball. According to The Sporting News, the boy was brought to Ruth, who gave him $10 and a new ball, too.

“Babe doesn’t know which of the balls he purchased was the one he hit,” The Sporting News noted.

Ruth guessed one of the balls was Gehrig’s home run. Boxscore

Ruth finished the season with 46 home runs, the 12th and last time he led the American League in that category.

Against the Browns in 1931, he hit .383 with eight home runs, including four at Sportsman’s Park.

For his career, Ruth batted .351 with 96 home runs versus the Browns. He hit 58 regular-season home runs at Sportsman’s Park. He also hit six there against the Cardinals _ three in Game 4 of the 1926 World Series Boxscore and three in Game 4 of the 1928 World Series. Boxscore

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(Updated Sept. 12, 2021)

Three future Hall of Famers converged on center stage for a climactic scene in a Cardinals classic. On the mound, Bob Gibson. Behind the plate, Ted Simmons. In the batter’s box, Willie Stargell.

On Aug. 14, 1971, Gibson got his lone no-hitter when he struck out Stargell for the last out.

Finishing a no-hitter is a formidable task under any circumstance, but for Gibson the degree of difficulty was heightened. Stargell was leading the majors in home runs and RBI.

Simmons, in his first full season as Cardinals catcher, had an intriguing role in the drama. He earned respect with his bat, but took pride in his catching, too. Being involved in a Gibson no-hitter would help secure Simmons’ reputation.

Pride still matters

Gibson earned his second National League Cy Young Award in 1970. At 35, he looked as dominant as ever at the start of the 1971 season, winning three of his first four decisions. The only loss in that stretch was in extra innings to the Cubs’ Ferguson Jenkins.

Trouble soon followed. In his last April start, Gibson got shelled in a loss to the Mets’ Tom Seaver. In May, Gibson was 1-3 with a 5.21 ERA. He tore a thigh muscle late in the month and didn’t pitch from May 30 through June 20. When he returned, he lost two June starts, dropping his record to 4-7 with a 4.31 ERA.

Losing none of his intensity and focus, Gibson told The Sporting News, “I get paid for winning,” and he set his sights on earning the money.

Gibson was 5-2, including consecutive shutouts of the Phillies and Mets, with a 1.95 ERA in seven starts in July.

“Pride keeps him going,” teammate Joe Torre told The Sporting News. “He’s the greatest competitor I ever saw.”

On Aug. 4, with Simmons catching, Gibson struck out nine, including Willie Mays twice, and beat Gaylord Perry and the Giants for his 200th career victory. Boxscore

Overpowering stuff

Ten days later, Gibson was the starter against the Pirates on a Saturday night at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh.

The Cardinals knocked out Pirates starter Bob Johnson in the first inning and also pounded relievers Bob Moose and Bob Veale. Gibson contributed three RBI. Simmons had four hits, a RBI and scored three times. Torre also had four hits and a RBI, and scored twice.

On the mound, Gibson was in command.

“This was the first time in my life I ever was overpowered by anyone,” Pirates center fielder Al Oliver said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I never was able to get my bat around in time.”

Pirates second baseman and future Hall of Famer Bill Mazeroski told the Associated Press, “Gibson was throwing them right where he wanted. He hit the outside corner every time. I broke two of my bats.”

Simmons told the Baseball Hall of Fame yearbook in 2021, “I can remember specifically thinking in the fourth inning that I was watching something that was pretty special … The slider was just so wicked. Complete and total command of a fastball that he could ride and sink, four-seam and two-seam.”

When the Cardinals scored three runs in the eighth to take an 11-0 lead, the outcome wasn’t in doubt. The focus was on whether the Pirates would get a hit. Gibson never had pitched a no-hitter at any level, amateur or professional.

“In the last two innings, I was bearing down extra hard,” Gibson told The Sporting News. “I was trying not to make any bad pitches. Even when I was falling behind in the count, I was being careful not to groove any pitches. I was throwing sliders and curves on 3-and-2 counts.”

Despite his best efforts, Gibson made a mistake to Dave Cash. With two outs in the eighth, Gibson said he hung a slider. Cash hit a high bouncer to third. For a moment, Joe Torre couldn’t see it in the lights.

“It scared the heck out of me, man,” Torre told the Baseball Hall of Fame yearbook in 2021. “I’m thinking, ‘I’m going to whiff this thing,’ but it didn’t happen. I was able to make the play.”

Stretching on tiptoes, he snared the ball and fired a throw to first to nip Cash.

Friend or foe?

“By the ninth inning, I was so nervous my knees were actually knocking,” Gibson said in his book “Stranger to the Game.”

The first batter was Vic Davalillo, a former Cardinal who started in right field instead of Roberto Clemente. Gibson got him to ground out to shortstop Dal Maxvill.

Al Oliver followed and grounded out to second baseman Ted Kubiak.

Willie Stargell was all that stood between Gibson and a no-hitter _ and he stood like a giant from the left side of the plate.

“His weight shifting rhythmically from one foot to the other, his bat moving in circles like an airplane propeller, Stargell creates a feeling of menace as he waits for the pitch,” Newspaper Enterprise Association reported.

At that point in the season, Stargell had 39 home runs and 101 RBI. No one else in the majors had more.

Stargell also had hit four home runs in his career versus Gibson then.

(The final career numbers for Stargell against Gibson: .290 batting average, .388 on-base percentage, five home runs, 20 walks and 41 strikeouts. According to baseball-reference.com, Stargell struck out more times versus Gibson than he did against any other pitcher. Gibson and Phil Niekro were the only pitchers to issue as many as 20 walks to Stargell.)

In “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson said, “Aside from former teammates, the only opposing player I ever really made friends with was Willie Stargell. I don’t have a good excuse for this, except that Stargell’s personality left me no choice. I was just fortunate he didn’t spread around the league that I was a nice guy or something. I couldn’t have that.”

Caught looking

Increasing the tension with every pitch, Gibson got ahead in the count, 1-and-2, on Stargell. On the next one, “I was looking for a fastball,” Stargell told The Sporting News.

Instead, with his 124th pitch of the game, Gibson threw a slider.

Stargell watched it go into Simmons’ mitt and heard umpire Harry Wendelstedt call, “Strike three!”

“That last pitch to Stargell really exploded,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to The Sporting News.

Stargell said the slider “cut over the plate at the last instant.” Boxscore and Video

“You can tell all those people who have been saying that Gibson was washed up that they should have been at the plate with a bat in their hands,” Stargell said.

Jack Buck, calling the ninth inning on the KMOX radio broadcast, said after the completion of the no-hitter, “If you were here, it would have made you cry.” Audio broadcast of Jack Buck and Jim Woods

Gibson’s no-hitter was the first in a big-league game in Pittsburgh since 1907 when rookie Nick Maddox of the Pirates did it against the Dodgers at Exposition Park. No big-leaguer pitched a no-hitter at Forbes Field, the Pirates’ home from 1909-69.

Gibson finished the season with a 16-13 record, 3.04 ERA, 20 complete games and five shutouts, his most since his most dominant season in 1968.

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Whitey Herzog had Jose Oquendo as his secret weapon when he managed the Cardinals. Tony La Russa had his own version, Miguel Cairo.

Twenty years ago, on Aug. 10, 2001, Cairo signed with the Cardinals after he was placed on waivers by the Cubs.

Intelligent and versatile, Cairo played multiple positions and helped the Cardinals reach the playoffs. He was similar to Oquendo, who earned the nickname “Secret Weapon” because of the many ways he helped Herzog’s teams in the late 1980s.

In commenting about Cairo’s attributes, La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Oquendo is a very good comparison.”

Making the rounds

Born and raised in Venezuela, Cairo was 16 when he signed with the Dodgers. A right-handed batter, he played in the farm systems of the Dodgers and Mariners before making his debut in the majors with the Blue Jays when he was 21.

In November 1996, the Blue Jays dealt Cairo to the Cubs. His first multi-hit game in the majors came against the Cardinals. Boxscore

The Devil Rays chose Cairo in the November 1997 expansion draft and he was the starting second baseman in the franchise’s first regular-season game. Boxscore

“Defensively, he’s as good as I’ve seen,” Devil Rays third baseman and future Hall of Famer Wade Boggs told The Sporting News.

Possessing smooth hands, speed and athleticism, Cairo was the Devil Rays’ second baseman in their first three seasons. He said it was a thrill when he and a fellow Venezuelan, shortstop Ozzie Guillen, formed the Devil Rays’ keystone combination in 2000.

Released in November 2000, Cairo signed with the Athletics, who dealt him to the Cubs in March 2001.

Smart pickup

Cairo opened the 2001 season in the minors but was called up to the Cubs in May. He helped fill in for injured third baseman Bill Mueller and also backed up Eric Young at second base.

Cairo hit .285 in 66 games for the 2001 Cubs, but was placed on waivers when Mueller was close to returning from the disabled list.

When the Cardinals claimed him, they were in third place in their division, trailing the front-running Cubs by seven games.

The Cardinals envisioned Cairo, 27, as a player who could provide infield depth and a right-handed bat off the bench.

“I’m a utility player for the Cardinals,” Cairo told the Post-Dispatch. “I know my role. I’m ready.”

While the Cubs nosedived, with records of 13-16 in August and 10-12 in September, and dropped from contention, the Cardinals got hot. They were 20-10 in August and 17-5 in September, finishing in a tie for first with the Astros and qualifying for the playoffs.

Pitcher Woody Williams, acquired in August from the Padres for Ray Lankford, was a major factor in the Cardinals’ surge, posting a 7-1 record in 11 starts, but Williams also credited the performance of Cairo.

“To tell you the truth, when I got here, it didn’t seem like anybody was heading in the right direction,” Williams told the Post-Dispatch. “I was shocked. It changed when Miguel got here. He’s been the lucky horseshoe.”

Cairo hit a three-run, game-winning home run against the Phillies on Aug. 18. It was his first career home run as a pinch-hitter. Boxscore

A month later, Cairo had three doubles in a win versus the Pirates, even though he didn’t enter the game until the fifth inning. Boxscore

Cairo hit .333 for the 2001 Cardinals, including .429 in September. He hit .368 as a pinch-hitter. His overall batting average against left-handers was .538.

The 2001 Cardinals used Cairo at five positions: left field and all four infield spots.

“We could tell from watching him with the Cubs that he knew the game,” La Russa said to the Chicago Tribune. “Since we’ve gotten him, we’ve been even more impressed. He has a nice stroke, can hit all over the park and knows when to be aggressive or take a pitch.”

La Russa told the Post-Dispatch, “What you don’t know until you are around him is that he’s really an intelligent player.”

Mutual respect

Cairo made valuable contributions to the Cardinals again in 2002. He hit .322 as a pinch-hitter and was second in the National League in pinch-hits (19).

He played seven positions for the 2002 Cardinals: left field, right field, designated hitter and all four infield spots.

In the postseason, Cairo hit .529. He entered Game 2 of the National League Division Series versus the Diamondbacks after third baseman Scott Rolen was injured and drove in the winning run in the ninth inning. Boxscore and Video at 3:06.41 mark

In Game 3, Cairo was 3-for-3 with two RBI and reached base four times. Boxscore

Cairo hit .385 in the National League Championship Series against the Giants and had a home run versus Kirk Rueter in Game 1. Boxscore

La Russa, a former utility infielder before turning to coaching and managing, became a role model for Cairo.

“Miguel will be an outstanding coach like Jose Oquendo is,” La Russa predicted to the Post-Dispatch. “You watch how active he is during the game. He’s conversing with guys. He’s seeing things and making comments. He’s really helpful.”

Cairo said, “I like to learn about the game. When I’m not playing, I like to see what happens in certain situations. I like to see how Tony handles it. I watch him a lot when he manages.”

After hitting .245 for the 2003 Cardinals, Cairo became a free agent and signed with the Yankees. Released in August 2007, he rejoined the Cardinals and hit .444 for them as a pinch-hitter.

Cairo also played for the Mariners (2008), Phillies (2009) and Reds (2010-12). He produced 1,044 hits in 17 seasons in the majors.

After the 2012 season, Cairo became a special assistant to Reds general manager Walt Jocketty. It was Jocketty who brought Cairo to the Cardinals in 2001.

In 2021, when La Russa returned to managing with the White Sox, he chose Cairo to be the team’s bench coach.

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