Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

In a span of less than 24 hours, Lou Brock got the last stolen base of his career, established a major-league record and met with the president of the United States.

Forty years ago, on Sept. 23, 1979, Brock, 40, made his last steal in his final appearance in New York as a player. The swipe of second base came during a Cardinals game against the Mets at Shea Stadium.

The steal was the 938th for Brock as a big-leaguer and put him ahead of Billy Hamilton as the all-time leader. Hamilton played in the majors from 1888-1901, under different and easier scoring rules, and held the stolen base mark of 937.

Years after Brock set the record of 938, Hamilton’s total was revised. Some sources show it as 914 and others as 912.

Brock’s mark eventually was broken by Rickey Henderson.

The top six career leaders in stolen bases are Henderson (1,406), Brock (938), Hamilton (914 or 912), Ty Cobb (897 or 892), Tim Raines (808) and Vince Coleman (752).

Top thief

Brock had said 1979 would be his final season as a player and he made it a memorable one. He hit for average, got named to the National League all-star team and achieved his 3,000th career hit.

After breaking the stolen base mark which had been in place for nearly 80 years, Brock told The Sporting News, “That will be the final act of my career.”

Brock’s bravado theft occurred in the fifth inning. With one out and the bases empty, Brock drew a walk from Mets starter Juan Berenguer. On Berenguer’s first pitch to the next batter, Keith Hernandez, Brock broke for second and swiped the base.

The throw from catcher John Stearns was high and sailed into center field. Brock advanced to third on the error and continued to the plate, scoring easily, when center fielder Joel Youngblood bobbled the ball.

Brock was presented with the base he stole to set the record.

When he batted again in the seventh, the public-address announcer informed the crowd Brock was playing in New York for the last time and they responded with a standing ovation. Brock reached on an error by third baseman Richie Hebner, loading the bases, and was removed between innings by manager Ken Boyer. Boxscore

National treasure

Brock headed to Washington, D.C., where he had a personal meeting scheduled the next morning, Sept. 24, 1979, with President Jimmy Carter at the White House.

Carter invited Brock to the Oval Office in order to honor him for getting 3,000 hits. The stolen base record gave them more to celebrate.

“I think this is a unique achievement of his to be this kind of a baserunner and a clean sportsman at the same time,” Carter said.

Carter said Brock “represents the finest in American sports.”

Brock told Carter he was “deeply honored” and “very much impressed” by the visit. He presented Carter with an autographed bat and a pair of red cleats.

Fine finish

After meeting with Carter, Brock immediately headed to Philadelphia, where the Cardinals had a night game with the Phillies.

Boyer let him rest and didn’t play him in a game the Cardinals won, 7-2, but Brock was back in the lineup the next night, Sept. 25, 1979, for his final appearance in Philadelphia before closing out the season in St. Louis.

Brock finished the 1979 season with a .304 batting average, 21 stolen bases and 123 hits in 120 games played.

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Facing the Cardinals in the last week of the season during the heat of a pennant race, the Dodgers started Sandy Koufax, used a record number of pinch-hitters and rallied for three runs in the ninth on Frank Howard’s home run, but still lost.

Sixty years ago, on Sept. 22, 1959, the Cardinals knocked the Dodgers out of first place in the National League with an 11-10 victory at Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

The game was wild and unusual for multiple reasons, including:

_ Neither starting pitcher, Koufax nor the Cardinals’ Larry Jackson, lasted an inning.

_ Dodgers manager Walter Alston used nine pinch-hitters, setting a major league record.

_ Cardinals catcher Hal Smith hit a grand slam, his only one in seven big-league seasons, against Koufax.

_ Cardinals manager Solly Hemus got ejected before the Dodgers made an out.

Explosive start

The Dodgers went into the Tuesday night game tied with the Braves for first place. Both were 83-66 and both had five games remaining in the regular season. The Cardinals were 68-81 and in seventh place in the eight-team league.

The matchup of Koufax and Jackson figured to be a pitcher’s duel.

Koufax struck out 18 batters against the Giants three weeks earlier, tying the major-league record set by Bob Feller of the Indians in 1938 and breaking the National League mark of 17 established by the Cardinals’ Dizzy Dean in 1933.

Jackson was 8-1 versus the Dodgers at Busch Stadium in his career and 12-5 against them overall.

From the start, though, the game defied expectations.

The first three Dodgers batters, Jim Gilliam, Charlie Neal and Wally Moon, each singled, loading the bases. After Duke Snider walked, scoring Gilliam, Hemus was ejected by plate umpire Al Barlick for arguing balls and strikes. Hemus created more commotion when he failed to leave the dugout immediately after the ejection. Coach Johnny Keane took over as Cardinals manager.

When play resumed, Norm Larker singled, driving in Neal and Moon and giving the Dodgers a 3-0 lead. Marshall Bridges relieved Jackson, threw one pitch to Gil Hodges and got him to hit into a double play, with Snider advancing to third. Maury Wills was walked intentionally and John Roseboro made an out at second, ending the inning.

“Bridges’ brilliant rescue act in the first inning cut short what promised to be an atomic blast,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

The line for Jackson: five batters faced, four hits, one walk, three runs.

Wild thing

Given a 3-0 lead, Koufax couldn’t protect it.

In the bottom half of the first, Don Blasingame walked and Joe Cunningham grounded to Koufax, who threw to second for the force. Gino Cimoli grounded out, moving Cunningham to second. After Ken Boyer walked, Gene Oliver got an infield single, loading the bases. Smith, known more for his defense than his slugging, came up next. He worked the count to 3-and-2 before belting a Koufax fastball for the grand slam and a 4-3 Cardinals lead.

Koufax yielded six grand slams in his Hall of Fame career with the Dodgers, including one to another Cardinal, Charlie James, in 1962.

After the next batter, Curt Flood, reached on an error by Gilliam at third, Chuck Churn relieved. Koufax faced seven batters and gave up two hits, two walks and four runs.

“He was just wild,” Alston said to the Los Angeles Times. “He’s the same man who struck out 18 batters the other day.”

Fastball hitter

In the ninth, Cardinals closer Lindy McDaniel, making his club-record 61st appearance of the season, was looking to protect an 11-7 lead. McDaniel hadn’t allowed a home run since May 30 when Hodges connected off him in Los Angeles.

McDaniel got the first batter, Carl Furillo, to ground out to third. Hodges singled and, after Wills lined out to second, the former Cardinal, Rip Repulski, singled.

The next batter was the 6-foot-7 rookie, Frank Howard. Smith gave McDaniel the sign for a fastball and Howard hit it into the bleachers in left-center for a three-run home run, getting the Dodgers within a run.

Howard’s homer was the second of 382 he would hit in the majors.

“Now I’m convinced he can hit a fastball,” Smith said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

McDaniel recovered by getting Gilliam to ground out to second, ending the game. Boxscore

Mix and match

When the Dodgers fell behind early, Alston went to pinch-hitters to try to get favorable matchups against Bridges, a left-hander, and McDaniel, a right-hander.

“Alston pushed every button and called on just about every available athlete to save the game,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat observed.

The nine pinch-hitters used by the Dodgers:

_ Tommy Davis, making his major-league debut, struck out in the fourth.

_ Don Demeter flied out in the fifth and stayed in the game.

_ Carl Furillo flied out in the fifth and stayed in the game.

_ Joe Pignatano walked in the sixth and stayed in the game.

_ Chuck Essegian, a former Cardinal, hit a RBI-double in the sixth.

_ Ron Fairly grounded out in the eighth.

_ Sandy Amoros grounded out in the eighth.

_ Rip Repulski singled in the ninth.

_ Frank Howard hit a three-run home run in the ninth.

According to Baseball Almanac, two other teams tied the 1959 Dodgers’ record by using nine pinch-hitters in a nine-inning game. Those teams were the Expos on Sept. 5, 1975, versus the Pirates, and the Braves on Sept. 21, 1993, against the Expos. In addition, the Cardinals and manager Tony La Russa used nine pinch-hitters in a 14-inning game on Sept. 25, 1997, versus the Reds.

The loss to the Cardinals dropped the Dodgers a game behind the Braves with four remaining. The Dodgers won three of their last four and the Braves won two, putting the clubs in a first-place tie at the end of the regular season.

The Dodgers clinched the pennant in a best-of-three playoff against the Braves, winning the first two games, and advanced to the World Series, earning the championship by winning four of six against the White Sox.

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Enos Slaughter and the Cardinals tried to intimidate Danny Murtaugh and the Pirates, but the tactic backfired.

Seventy years ago, on Sept. 5, 1949, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Slaughter slashed Murtaugh in the chest with his spikes while sliding into second base in an unsuccessful effort to break up a double play.

Murtaugh, a former Cardinals prospect, considered the rough contact unnecessary because he had thrown the ball to the first baseman before Slaughter arrived at second base.

Slaughter’s spikes-high slide shook the Pirates from a slumber. Murtaugh sparked a game-winning rally in the 10th inning and the Pirates later played a key role in preventing the Cardinals from winning the 1949 National League pennant.

Head hunters

On April 27, 1949, during a 7-1 Pirates victory at St. Louis, Cardinals pitchers twice hit leadoff batter Stan Rojek with pitches. The second one, by reliever Ken Johnson, beaned Rojek in the head and he was carried from the field on a stretcher. The Pirates “thought it was deliberate,” according to the Pittsburgh Press. Boxscore

Rojek was sidelined for a week and the Pirates lost eight of their next nine.

Five months later, when they went to St. Louis for a Labor Day doubleheader, the Pirates (57-71) were 23.5 games behind the first-place Cardinals (81-48).

In the first game of the doubleheader, Slaughter produced a triple, home run and five RBI, carrying the Cardinals to a 9-1 triumph and handing the Pirates their eighth consecutive loss. Boxscore

Rough stuff

Seeking a sweep, the Cardinals appeared poised to strike in the second inning of the second game. Nippy Jones led off with a single. Slaughter hit a grounder to Murtaugh, who fielded it cleanly but bobbled the ball as he started to throw. The error allowed Slaughter to reach first and moved Jones to third with none out.

Marty Marion batted next and hit a groundball to third baseman Eddie Bockman. As Jones held third, Bockman fired a throw to Murtaugh at second.

Murtaugh caught the ball on the bag for the forceout of Slaughter at second, pivoted and threw to first baseman Jack Phillips in time to complete the double play. Murtaugh’s throw “barely missed Enos’ head,” according to the St. Louis Star-Times.

Slaughter, who had gone into his slide, raised his feet high and crashed hard into Murtaugh, who was cut “across the right side of his chest,” drawing blood, the Pittsburgh Press reported.

Slaughter got up, dusted himself off, said nothing to Murtaugh and trotted into the Cardinals’ dugout along the third-base line.

Murtaugh “didn’t realize he was bleeding until he put his hands inside his shirt,” the Pittsburgh Press observed.

Sticks and stones

Incensed, Murtaugh shouted at Slaughter in words “too hot to handle or to take without retort,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Slaughter motioned for Murtaugh to come over to the dugout and fight. Murtaugh tossed his glove aside and moved rapidly toward Slaughter, who emerged onto the field.

Jones alertly left the third-base bag and clamped his arms around Murtaugh to keep him from pursuing Slaughter. Members of the Cardinals stopped Slaughter from proceeding.

No one was ejected because “nothing more harmful than expressive nouns and adjectives” were exchanged, the St. Louis Star-Times noted.

Murtaugh was given first aid in the Pirates’ dugout and insisted on staying in the game. Inspired, the Pirates “displayed more fight, more needling ability and more zest for winning than they’ve shown in a long time,” according to the Pittsburgh Press.

The Pirates built a 4-0 lead before the Cardinals fought back, tied the score and forced extra innings.

Sweet revenge

With one out and none on in the top of the 10th, Murtaugh, who had singled twice in the game, came to the plate to face reliever Red Munger and “grinned mockingly as the stands booed him again,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Murtaugh responded by stroking a double into right-center field. Ed Fitz Gerald ran for him and scored when Rojek doubled with two outs, giving the Pirates a 5-4 lead.

In the bottom of the 10th, Slaughter led off, singled and moved to second on Marion’s sacrifice bunt, but Vic Lombardi got the next two batters to ground out, sealing the win. Boxscore

Asked about being spiked, Murtaugh noted Slaughter was an outfielder “and we can’t retaliate.”

“If he were an infielder, he’d never try that,” Murtaugh said.

Three weeks later, the first-place Cardinals held a 1.5-game lead over the Dodgers when they went to Pittsburgh for a two-game series with the Pirates.

Still steaming from the beaning of Rojek and the spiking of Murtaugh, the Pirates played like a contender and won both games, 6-4 on Sept. 27 and 7-2 on Sept. 29, knocking the Cardinals from first place.

The stunned Cardinals went on to Chicago for a season-ending series with the Cubs, lost two of three and finished in second, a game behind the champion Dodgers.

Murtaugh began his professional career in the Cardinals’ organization, but never played for their big-league club. He spent five seasons (1937-41) in the Cardinals’ farm system and batted .299 with 186 hits for their Houston club in 1940.

After hitting .317 in 69 games for Houston in 1941, the Cardinals sold Murtaugh’s contract to the Phillies on June 28. The Phillies put him in their lineup and the rookie led the National League in stolen bases (18) in 1941.

On May 2, 1946, the Cardinals reacquired Murtaugh from the Phillies for cash, but sent him to their farm club at Rochester, where he batted .322 with 174 hits. After the season, the Braves selected Murtaugh in the Rule 5 draft.

Murtaugh finished his big-league playing career with the Pirates. He hit .290 for them in 1948 and .294 in 1950.

In 1957, Murtaugh became the Pirates’ manager. He managed them for 15 seasons and led them to World Series championships in 1960 and 1971.

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Red Schoendienst made a brave comeback from a serious illness.

Sixty years ago, on Sept. 2, 1959, Schoendienst appeared in a major-league game for the first time since being sidelined because of tuberculosis.

Schoendienst was diagnosed with tuberculosis in November 1958, shortly after he played in the World Series for the Braves, and it was expected he would sit out the entire 1959 season or perhaps never play again.

Schoendienst, who was confined to a sanitarium in St. Louis for several months and also underwent lung surgery, made a full recovery.

He returned to the Braves’ active roster sooner than expected, on Sept. 1, 1959, and was used as a defensive replacement and pinch-hitter in the last month of the season.

Feeling drained

Schoendienst had experience overcoming adversity. When he was 16, he was struck in the left eye by a staple while building a fence. Doctors wanted to remove the damaged eye, but Schoendienst wouldn’t let them, and his sight recovered.

A nine-time National League all-star as a second baseman for the Cardinals, Schoendienst was traded to the Giants on June 14, 1956. A year later, June 15, 1957, the Giants dealt him to the Braves. Schoendienst helped the Braves win National League pennants in 1957 and 1958. They were World Series champions in 1957.

Toward the end of the 1958 season, Schoendienst, 35, felt unusually tired. In his book, “Red: A Baseball Life,” Schoendienst said he told people he had a bad cold, “but in my own mind, I was scared.”

Schoendienst started at second base in all seven games of the 1958 World Series, batted .300, produced nine hits, including three doubles and a triple, and made one error in 63 innings, but he felt terrible.

Months later, in an article she wrote for Parade magazine, Red’s wife, Mary Schoendienst, said her husband was so weak during the 1958 World Series “he spent nearly every hour away from the ballpark in bed.”

Said Red: “During the World Series when I was in the field, I couldn’t move. When I walked up to bat, I could hardly swing the bat. I saw the ball well, but I couldn’t react to it. There was no question I was sick.”

When he returned home to St. Louis, Schoendienst, coughing and having trouble breathing, was examined by his personal physician, who sent him to a hospital. Tests revealed Schoendienst had tuberculosis. Schoendienst’s condition was made public in November 1958. Dr. Ray Martin of St. Louis said Schoendienst would be confined to Mount St. Rose Sanitarium in St. Louis “for four to six months,” The Sporting News reported.

“Sometimes it takes as long as a year for a tubercular patient to return to even an ordinary job,” Dr. Martin said.

The Sporting News concluded, “The disclosure made it all but certain Schoendienst would be lost to the Braves for the entire 1959 season. Under the circumstances, there is grave doubt (he) will ever play again.”

Doctor’s orders

Schoendienst said he decided, “I was going to fight this disease as hard as I had played any game in my life. I had too much to live for to surrender without waging all-out war. I pledged to do whatever the doctor said, to become a model patient and listen to him as closely as I ever listened to any manager and coach.”

In February 1959, when doctors recommended surgery to remove part of an infected lung, Schoendienst replied, “Let’s do it.”

While he was in the sanitarium, Schoendienst was visited by Braves executives, who offered him a contract for 1959.

“The Braves’ owner, Lou Perini, knew I might not play a game in 1959, but he still wanted me to have that salary and I certainly appreciated it,” said Schoendienst. “Had the team not been willing to do that, I am certain it would have added a lot of mental stress to wonder how I would take care of my family. Giving me that contract allowed me to concentrate entirely on getting well.”

On March 24, 1959, Schoendienst was sent home, four months after he had entered the sanitarium. By July, he began preparing to return to baseball.

“I did bending exercises to get my legs in shape and arm exercises to strengthen my shoulders,” he said. “I started playing catch with some of the kids in the neighborhood and also my father-in-law. The doctors told me the only thing they didn’t want me doing was running.”

Schoendienst discreetly went with his brother Joe to local parks and began hitting baseballs again.

When the Braves came to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in mid-summer, Schoendienst went to the ballpark one morning and took batting practice. He also went to second base and fielded grounders and pop flies.

After the Braves left town, Schoendienst said the Cardinals allowed him to come to Busch Stadium each day and work out.

Doctors gave Schoendienst, 36, approval to return to the majors before the season ended if he and the Braves “were willing to be cautious and not overdo things.”

United Press International reported, “Regular play could overtire him and that is still forbidden, according to doctors’ orders.”

Big moment

The Braves were home in Milwaukee for two games against the Phillies Sept. 1-2. Schoendienst was back in uniform for the first game but didn’t play. The next night, the Braves had a runner on second, two outs, in the seventh inning when manager Fred Haney told Schoendienst to bat for pitcher Juan Pizarro. The crowd of 18,047 at County Stadium roared and gave a standing ovation when Schoendienst emerged from the dugout.

“I had more butterflies than I ever had,” Schoendienst said to the Associated Press. “It was truly a big moment.”

In his book, Schoendienst said, “The cheers sent goosebumps down my back and I stepped out of the box a couple of extra moments to compose myself.”

Schoendienst hit a groundball to pitcher Robin Roberts, who fielded it and threw to first for the out. Boxscore

Schoendienst appeared in five games, mostly as a defensive replacement, for the 1959 Braves and was hitless in three at-bats, but he was healthy and ready to keep playing.

Schoendienst was the Opening Day second baseman for the 1960 Braves, but eventually was benched by manager Chuck Dressen. The Braves released him after the season and Schoendienst returned to the Cardinals after rejecting an offer from the Angels. He batted .300 in a utility role for the 1961 Cardinals and was a player-coach for them in 1962 and 1963.

After serving fulltime as a coach in 1964, Schoendienst became Cardinals manager for 1965, embarking on a successful second career.

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Steve Huntz had impressive timing for a player with unimpressive numbers.

Fifty years ago, on Aug. 28, 1969, Huntz hit his first major-league home run, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 walkoff victory over the Astros at St. Louis.

Huntz was an unlikely candidate for such a feat. The rookie infielder entered the game with a season batting average of .186.

Prospect with pop

Huntz began his professional career when he signed with the Orioles as an amateur free agent after three successful varsity seasons at St. Ignatius High School in Cleveland.

In 1964, his first professional season, Huntz had 74 RBI for the Class A Midwest League Fox Cities Foxes. Of his 98 hits, 34 were for extra bases.

Cardinals scouts Jim Belz and Joe Mathes liked what they saw from Huntz. Based on their recommendations, the Cardinals paid $8,000 for the right to select Huntz in the November 1964 minor-league draft.

Huntz broke his leg in 1965 and sat out the season. He came back in 1966, played for Class AA Arkansas and committed 44 errors at shortstop.

After spending the 1967 season with Class AAA Tulsa, Huntz was called up to the big leagues when rosters expanded in September and appeared in three games for the Cardinals.

Huntz, a switch-hitter, was considered a prime candidate to earn a spot with the 1968 Cardinals as a utility player, but he batted .167 in spring training and “displayed limited range at the most critical position as backup man to Dal Maxvill at shortstop,” The Sporting News reported.

The Cardinals kept veteran Dick Schofield as their reserve shortstop and sent Huntz to Tulsa for the 1968 season.

Playing for manager Warren Spahn, Huntz hit .284 with 35 doubles and 74 RBI, helping Tulsa win the 1968 Pacific Coast League championship. Though Huntz committed 41 errors at shortstop, the Cardinals were intrigued by his power.

“He’s an infielder with sting at the plate and there aren’t many prospects like that around,” said Cardinals assistant farm director Fred McAlister.

As for fielding, McAlister said, “Huntz does a good job of moving to his right, bracing himself and gunning the ball. He can’t move to his left the way Dal Maxvill can, but how many men can a shortstop throw out when he fields the ball deep to his left? It’s making the routine plays that’s most important with a shortstop.”

Ups and downs

After the 1968 season, Schofield was traded to the Red Sox for pitcher Gary Waslewski, opening a path for Huntz to be a reserve infielder for the 1969 Cardinals. A headline in The Sporting News declared, “Cards Tap Huntz As New Super Sub.”

Huntz, 23, spent the entire 1969 season with the Cardinals, but struggled from the start. A breakthrough came on July 1, 1969, in a doubleheader against the Mets at St. Louis. Huntz, who had one RBI for the season, started at second base in the opener and drove in a run. Boxscore In the second game, he started at shortstop and drove in three runs with a bases-loaded double against Don Cardwell. Boxscore

Nearly two months later, Huntz got his first big-league home run. He entered the game against the Astros at Busch Stadium in the ninth inning as a replacement for Maxvill, who was lifted in the bottom half of the eighth for pinch-hitter Vic Davalillo.

The Astros led, 1-0, until the Cardinals tied the score in the bottom of the ninth against starter Don Wilson. Vada Pinson led off with a single. Joe Torre followed with a potential double-play grounder, but the ball took a bad hop, caromed off shortstop Denis Menke’s shoulder and went into center field for a single, advancing Pinson to third. A Dave Ricketts sacrifice fly scored Pinson.

Huntz led off the bottom of the 10th and hit a 2-and-1 pitch from Wilson over the right-field wall for the walkoff home run. Boxscore

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “When Steve went up to hit in the 10th, I said, ‘Hit one out of here so we can get going,’ and damned if he didn’t.”

Huntz had one more Cardinals highlight. On Sept. 26, Huntz became the only 1969 Cardinals batter to hit two home runs in a game. Facing the Expos at Jarry Park in Montreal, Huntz hit a two-run home run against Don Shaw and a solo home run versus ex-Cardinal Larry Jaster. Boxscore

“I haven’t exactly been mashing the ball, you know,” Huntz said. “I’ve tried to do the job, but I haven’t performed as well as I thought I would.”

Huntz completed the 1969 Cardinals season with a .194 batting average in 71 games. He had more strikeouts (34) than hits (27) and committed nine errors in 52 games at shortstop.

Moving on

At spring training in 1970, Huntz hit .345, but the Cardinals deemed him overweight and opted to send him to Tulsa. After Huntz told teammates he wouldn’t report to the minors, the Cardinals traded him to the Padres for pitcher Billy McCool on April 2, 1970.

The Padres assigned Huntz to their Class AAA farm club at Salt Lake City. He threatened to quit, but reconsidered after a talk with Padres manager Preston Gomez. “I told him to get in shape and he could be up with us before too long,” Gomez said.

Huntz hit .308 in seven games for Salt Lake City and got called up to the Padres.

On April 28, 1970, in his first Padres at-bat, Huntz hit a home run against the Expos at San Diego. It came against Waslewski, his former Cardinals teammate. Boxscore

Huntz hit 11 home runs for the 1970 Padres. Three of those homers came against future Hall of Famers _ Tom Seaver, Gaylord Perry and Phil Niekro.

Huntz also played for the White Sox in 1971 and again for the Padres in 1975.

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Johnny Mize barely missed out on being part of the Cardinals’ championship run of the early 1940s, but his timing was right with the Yankees.

Seventy years ago, on Aug. 22, 1949, the Giants sold Mize’s contract to the Yankees for $40,000.

The slugging first baseman played for the Yankees for five seasons, 1949-53, and they were World Series champions in each of those years.

Mize, one of the National League’s most feared sluggers when he played for the Cardinals and Giants, became a valued role player with the Yankees, platooning at first base and excelling as a pinch-hitter.

Cardinals clouter

In 1936, two years after the Gashouse Gang Cardinals won a World Series title against the Tigers, Mize made his major-league debut and replaced Rip Collins as the first baseman.

A left-handed batter nicknamed “The Big Cat,” Mize hit with consistent power. He was the first Cardinals player to hit three home runs in a game four times.

Mize had 100 or more RBI in five of his six St. Louis seasons. He established the Cardinals’ single-season home run record with 43 in 1940. The mark held until Mark McGwire, using performance-enhancing drugs, hit 70 for the Cardinals in 1998.

Mize batted .336 with 1,048 hits in 854 games as a Cardinal, but the club never won a pennant in any of his seasons with them.

On Dec. 11, 1941, the Cardinals traded Mize, 28, to the Giants for pitcher Bill Lohrman, first baseman Johnny McCarthy, catcher Ken O’Dea and $50,000.

The Cardinals went to the World Series in each of the next three years, winning championships in 1942 and 1944.

Differences with Durocher

After one season with the Giants, Mize joined the Navy and served for three years (1943-45) during World War II. He returned to the Giants in 1946 and twice led the league in home runs, hitting 51 in 1947 and 40 in 1948.

Leo Durocher became Giants manager in July 1948 and he was tough on his former Cardinals teammate. Mize’s “slowness afoot displeased Durocher,” the Associated Press reported, and, according to The Sporting News, Durocher tried to get Mize “to change his stance in order to pull outside pitches instead of poking them into left field.”

Mize “rebelled quietly at the harshness” of Durocher, the New York Daily News reported.

During spring training in 1949, the Dodgers inquired about Mize but lost interest when the Giants asked for $200,000 in return, the Associated Press reported.

The Tigers made a bid for Mize in July 1949, but it didn’t work out. According to the New York Daily News, the Tigers determined Mize, 36, was “too old and slow.”

Good move

In August 1949, the Giants placed Mize on waivers and none of the other seven National League teams put in a claim for him.

The Cardinals had first basemen Nippy Jones and Rocky Nelson, and club owner Fred Saigh said, “We’re in good shape at first base and didn’t need any more help.”

Said Phillies owner Bob Carpenter: “The fact all the clubs waived on him speaks for itself.”

Though past his prime, Mize still was an effective run producer, with 18 home runs and 62 RBI for the 1949 Giants.

By clearing waivers, Mize could be dealt to an American League team.

The first-place Yankees thought their closest pursuers, the Red Sox, “would take Mize if they didn’t,” the New York Daily News reported, and offered the most money for him. Acquiring Mize also enabled the Yankees to return Tommy Henrich, who was playing first base, to the outfield, his most natural position.

In five seasons with the Giants, Mize hit .299 with a .389 on-base percentage, but, like with the Cardinals, never played in a World Series for them.

Puffing on a cigar, Mize told United Press, “I wouldn’t say I’m glad to get away from the Giants. I got along all right with Leo Durocher, although I didn’t always agree with him.”

The Yankees were credited with making a shrewd move.

“Mize may turn out to be the longball-hitting first sacker the Yankees have been seeking ever since the immortal Lou Gehrig retired,” the Associated Press declared.

Sid Keener of the St. Louis Star-Times wrote, “The Yankees are playing table stakes with blue chips in their effort to bring the 1949 pennant to New York.”

Mize’s mother, Emma, immediately recognized the potential benefits for her son, telling United Press, “All my life I’ve wanted to see him in the World Series. Maybe he’ll make it at last.”

A lot left

In his second game for the Yankees, Mize hit a two-run home run against Bob Feller, sparking them to a victory. Boxscore

The 1949 Yankees went on to win the pennant and Mize got to play against the Dodgers in his first World Series.

In 1950, Mize produced 25 home runs and 72 RBI in just 90 regular-season games for the Yankees.

He was a standout of the 1952 World Series when he batted .400 and slugged three home runs against the Dodgers. He would have had a fourth home run, but Dodgers outfielder Carl Furillo “leaped high, leaned back and robbed” Mize, catching a drive headed for the bleacher seats, The Sporting News reported.

Mize appeared in 18 World Series games for the Yankees and hit .286 with nine RBI.

In 1953, his final season, Mize, 40, was at his best as a pinch-hitter, batting .311 (19-for-61) in the role.

When Mize completed his career in the majors, his 359 home runs ranked sixth all-time. He finished with 2,011 hits, 1,337 RBI and a career batting average of .312.

Mize hit 20 or more home runs nine times and never struck out more than 57 times in any of those seasons. When he hit his career-high 51 home runs for the 1947 Giants, he struck out only 42 times.

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