Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Before he settled in as a second baseman, Rogers Hornsby was moved all over the field by the Cardinals. The one constant amid the shuffling was Hornsby’s hitting.

One hundred years ago, in 1921, Hornsby was the Cardinals’ Opening Day left fielder. Before then, Hornsby had taken turns as the Cardinals’ starter at shortstop, third base, second and first.

His stint as an outfielder didn’t last long. Moved back to second base, Hornsby went on to have his peak seasons with the Cardinals.

Multiple moves

Hornsby made his major-league debut with the Cardinals in 1915. He played in 18 games, all at shortstop, after he was called up from the minors in September. At St. Louis on Sept. 30, the starting shortstops were a field of dreams matchup: Hornsby, 19, and Honus Wagner, 41, on the same field for the first time. Boxscore

In 1916, manager Miller Huggins made Hornsby the Cardinals’ Opening Day shortstop, but shifted him to third base in May. Hornsby started 79 games at third, 44 at short and 14 at first base for the 1916 Cardinals.

Hornsby was back at shortstop for Huggins in 1917 and stayed there all season, but he committed 52 errors. The next year, when Jack Hendricks managed the Cardinals, Hornsby made 46 errors at shortstop in a season shortened because of World War I.

Branch Rickey was Cardinals manager in 1919. He opened the season with Hornsby at shortstop, but shifted him to third base in June. Hornsby made 71 starts at third base in 1919, 36 at shortstop, 26 at second base and five at first.

In 1920, Hornsby opened a season at second base for the first time and remained there all year. Perhaps it is no coincidence that he led the National League in hitting (.370), on-base percentage (.431), hits (218), total bases (329), doubles (44), RBI (94) and extra-base hits (73).

In the foreword of Hornsby’s autobiography, “My War With Baseball,” a contemporary, Casey Stengel, said, “Most people, when they talk about Hornsby, just talk about his hitting. Well, he was just amazing on the double play, terrific as a runner, and his judgment on the field was keen.”

First rate at 2nd

Cardinals third baseman Milt Stock also had a big season in 1920, batting .319 with 204 hits. Unhappy with the Cardinals’ contract offer, Stock sat out spring training in 1921.

Uncertain when, or if, Stock would end his holdout, manager Branch Rickey planned to open the season with Hornsby at third base and rookie Specs Toporcer at second. Toporcer is believed to be the first player other than a pitcher to wear eyeglasses in a major-league game.

The lineup plan changed on the eve of the season opener when Stock signed with the Cardinals, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Rickey’s 1921 Opening Day lineup had Stock at third, Toporcer at second and Hornsby in left field. Until then, Hornsby’s outfield experience in the big leagues consisted of three games in 1918. Boxscore

Hornsby started in left in the Cardinals’ first six games of the season, made no errors and hit .391.

Rickey “is highly pleased with the splendid showing Rogers Hornsby has made” as an outfielder, the St. Louis Star-Times reported. “Hornsby is delighted with his transfer … He has always aspired to hold down an outfield berth.”

The St. Louis Globe-Democrat noted Hornsby “has made some pretty plays in the pasture.”

At second base, Toporcer hit .300 in the Cardinals’ first six games, turned four double plays and made two errors.

The Cardinals, though, lost five of their first six games and were held to two runs or less in three of the defeats. Rickey wanted to get outfielder Les Mann’s bat into the lineup, so he opened a spot by moving Hornsby to second and benching Toporcer.

“It is firmly believed Hornsby’s potency will rate higher if he is given one position on the diamond, a permanent one,” the Globe-Democrat suggested.

Sticking primarily to second base for the rest of the 1921 season, Hornsby led the National League in hitting (.397), on-base percentage (.458), runs (131), hits (235), total bases (378), doubles (44), triples (18), RBI (126) and extra-base hits (83). He struck out a mere 48 times in 674 plate appearances.

He never again played in the outfield.

After the 1920 season, the Giants offered $200,000 and four players for Hornsby, The Sporting News reported. The Cardinals said they would make the deal only if second baseman Frankie Frisch was one of the players they received. The Giants, “suffering from shock” from the Cardinals’ rejection, said they wouldn’t trade Frisch for Hornsby even up, according to The Sporting News.

Staying primarily at second base, Hornsby became the Cardinals’ all-time best right-handed hitter. As player-manager in 1926, he led them to their first World Series championship.

After a falling out with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon, Hornsby was traded to the Giants _ for Frankie Frisch and pitcher Jimmy Ring.

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Only one of the 267 career home runs hit by George Hendrick in the big leagues stayed in the park, and it enabled the Cardinals to beat Fernando Valenzuela the first time they faced him.

Forty years ago, on June 11, 1981, Hendrick’s two-run inside-the-park home run against Valenzuela provided the margin of victory in the Cardinals’ 2-1 triumph over the Dodgers at St. Louis.

The next day, major-league players went on strike and play wouldn’t resume for two months.

Dodger in danger

A left-hander with an exceptional screwball, Valenzuela debuted in the majors with the Dodgers as a reliever in September 1980. He earned a spot in the Dodgers’ starting rotation in 1981 and gained national prominence when he won his first eight decisions.

Valenzuela, 20, was scheduled to make his first career appearance against the Cardinals on Thursday, June 11, in the finale of a three-game series at Busch Memorial Stadium.

His first visit to St. Louis was highly anticipated, but it took a dark turn on June 10 when Valenzuela received a death threat. He was taken that night from Busch Memorial Stadium by FBI agents and placed under round-the-clock protection, the Los Angeles Times reported.

Despite the threat, Valenzuela, 20, made his start versus the Cardinals the following night. A crowd of 39,250 turned out for the matchup of Valenzuela (9-3) against the Cardinals’ Silvio Martinez (1-4).

Extra security was provided for Valenzuela because St. Louis police chief Eugene Camp said the FBI had received information of a plot to kidnap the pitcher, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Camp said undercover St. Louis police officers were assigned to keep watch over Valenzuela.

Cardinals capitalize

Those in attendance wouldn’t have known from Valenzuela’s performance that he had been threatened. He pitched with poise and command against the Cardinals.

His only trouble on the field came in the first inning. With two outs and none on, Keith Hernandez coaxed a walk. George Hendrick followed and looped a liner to right field.

“It appeared to be an ordinary single,” the Post-Dispatch noted.

Right fielder Pedro Guerrero charged the ball, hoping for a catch, but it landed five feet in front of him, skipped past him and bounced to the wall. Hernandez and Hendrick circled the bases, giving the Cardinals a 2-0 lead.

“I thought I had a chance,” Guerrero said to the Los Angeles Times. “I just couldn’t get it. No excuses.”

Valenzuela told the Post-Dispatch, “It was a very strange home run.”

Fulfilling expectations

The Dodgers got a run in the sixth when Ken Landreaux scored from first on Dusty Baker’s two-out double, but Silvio Martinez allowed nothing more. Bruce Sutter relieved with one out in the eighth and shut down the Dodgers the rest of the way, preserving the win, the last for Martinez in the big leagues.

Valenzuela went seven innings, yielding three hits, walking three and striking out nine, before he was relieved. Hendrick’s fluke home run and singles by Gene Tenace and Tito Landrum accounted for the Cardinals’ hits. Boxscore

“Fernando is everything they said he was,” Tenace told the Post-Dispatch. “Besides having tremendous poise, he has four pitches and he’s not afraid to throw any of them in any situation. He has two great screwballs, a hard one and a slow one. He has an excellent curve, plus a good fastball.”

Landrum said, “By having two speeds on his screwball, he really keeps you off balance. One is a kind of fadeaway. The other breaks hard.”

Keith Hernandez added, “He’s got the best screwball I’ve ever seen. The Lord blesses a select few and he was definitely blessed.”

After the game, six men, all of them either police officers or FBI agents, escorted Valenzuela from the ballpark through a private exit, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Silly seasons

The victory moved the Cardinals (30-20) to within 1.5 games of the first-place Phillies (34-21) in the National League East. The players went on strike the next day.

Before play resumed on Aug. 10, baseball declared the games completed before the strike would count as one season, and the games completed after the strike would count as a second season. Those teams with the best division records in each season would advance to the playoffs.

The Phillies were declared champions of the National League East Division in the first season.

Baseball made the decision even though, because of scheduling inconsistencies, all teams were not playing the same amount of games. 

After the strike, the Expos (60-48) finished atop the National League East in the second season and the Cardinals (29-23) placed second.

The Phillies and Expos were the National League East teams that went to the playoffs, even though overall in 1981 the top three records in the division belonged, in order, to the Cardinals (59-43), Expos (60-48) and Phillies (59-48).

The Dodgers, who finished atop the National League West in the first season of 1981, became National League and World Series championships.

Pedro Guerrero overcame his gaffe against the Cardinals and hit .300 for the Dodgers. He was named World Series most valuable player, hitting .333 with two home runs versus the Yankees.

Valenzuela finished 13-7 with eight shutouts in 1981 and won both the National League Cy Young Award and Rookie of the Year Award. He was 1-0 in the World Series, pitching a complete game.

Guerrero and Valenzuela both eventually played for the Cardinals.

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Two years after being named an American League all-star, Richie Scheinblum became a Cardinals pinch-hitter, closing out his big-league playing career.

A switch-hitting outfielder, Scheinblum was acquired by the Cardinals to help in their quest for a division title late in the 1974 season. Scheinblum was adept at pinch-hitting and the Cardinals wanted him solely for that role.

Scheinblum never got to play in the postseason. The Pirates edged out the Cardinals for the 1974 National League East title.

Scheinblum had six at-bats, all as a pinch-hitter, and produced two singles for the Cardinals. After the season, the Cardinals sold his contract to a team in Japan.

Known as much for his dry wit as for his baseball skills, Scheinblum hit .263 in eight seasons in the majors with the Indians, Senators, Royals, Reds, Angels and Cardinals. He died on May 10, 2021, at 78.

Live and learn

As Bob Broeg noted in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Scheinblum was born in the same New York City hospital in which Babe Ruth died and in which scenes for “The Godfather” were filmed.

Describing his early childhood in the Bronx, Scheinblum told The Sporting News, “They tore down my neighborhood to build slums.”

Scheinblum moved with his family to Englewood, N.J. His Little League coach was a woman, Janet Murke, who taught him to hit from either side of the plate, The Sporting News reported.

After graduating from high school, Scheinblum played baseball at the C.W. Post campus of Long Island University in Brookville, N.Y., and earned a degree in business administration.

Playing in the Central Illinois Collegiate Summer League, Scheinblum had a job with an ice cube manufacturer.

“We worked from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” Scheinblum told The Sporting News. “We were paid 80 cents an hour for making ice cubes for the Polar Bear Ice Cube Company. They’d wrap two of us in heavy clothes to keep us from freezing and put us in a room where the temperature was 30-below zero.”

Perennial prospect

Scheinblum was 21 when the Indians signed him in 1964 and sent him to the minors. A year later, he made the leap from Class A to the big leagues. Recalling Indians manager Birdie Tebbetts, Scheinblum told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “He used to tell me to go kneel in the on-deck circle until he could think of someone to send up to hit.”

Scheinblum spent most of the next three seasons (1966-68) in the minors. The Sporting News referred to him as “the perennial rookie.”

Lou Piniella also was an Indians outfield prospect. After the 1968 season, the Indians protected Scheinblum, rather than Piniella, from the American League expansion draft.

Scheinblum could hit and throw, but he was neither a graceful fielder nor fast. Asked what gave him the most trouble on defense, Scheinblum told the Kansas City Star, “Everything they hit at me.” Regarding his speed, Scheinblum said, “It takes me five steps to get out of the batter’s box.”

In the Indians’ 1969 spring training opener, Scheinblum “misjudged a fly ball into a triple and fell down fielding a single into a triple,” The Sporting News reported. “He hit an inside-the-park homer, but was called out at third for missing the bag.”

Improbably, Scheinblum began the 1969 season as the Indians’ Opening Day right fielder, batting third in the lineup.

“For four years I’ve been overawed,” he told The Sporting News. “Not anymore.”

He went hitless in his first 34 at-bats.

“The only good thing about playing in Cleveland is you don’t have to make road trips there,” Scheinblum said to Sports Illustrated.

Royal treatment

Demoted to the minors in 1970, Scheinblum hit .337 for Wichita and was dealt after the season to the Senators. Manager Ted Williams had Scheinblum on the 1971 Opening Day roster, but he hit .143 and was sent back to the minors.

“I’ve been sent down more than laundry in a chute,” Scheinblum said to the Los Angeles Times.

Playing for Denver, Scheinblum hit .388 in 106 games. It was the highest batting average in the American Association since Harry Walker hit .393 for the Cardinals’ Columbus farm club in 1951.

The Royals purchased Scheinblum’s contract and he opened the 1972 season with them as a reserve outfielder. In May, after Bob Oliver was traded, Royals manager Bob Lemon platooned Scheinblum and Steve Hovley in right field.

“At first, I was reluctant to go with Scheinblum because I didn’t think he was too good defensively,” Lemon told Sports Illustrated, “but we got to a point where we needed hitting. So I put him in.”

Scheinblum had an unorthodox way he batted. “I pull my head, swing up, and collapse my back leg _ things I shouldn’t do,” Scheinblum said.

The Indians and Senators had tried to change his style, but Royals hitting coach Charlie Lau left him alone. Scheinblum hit .386 in June and took over in right, joining an outfield with Amos Otis in center and former Indians teammate Lou Piniella in left.

“Amos covered everything,” Scheinblum told the Kansas City Star. “I was told to stand on the right field line and don’t move. Lou was told to stand on the left field line and don’t move. What our job was, when the ball was hit, we’d point.”

At the all-star break, the top three hitters in the American League were Scheinblum (.325), Piniella (.319) and Otis (.309). All three were named to the all-star team.

Scheinblum hit .300 for the season and his on-base percentage was .383. He was stunned when the Royals traded him and pitcher Roger Nelson to the Reds after the season for outfielder Hal McRae and pitcher Wayne Simpson.

Seeing red

The Reds were the reigning National League champions and were set in the outfield with Pete Rose, Cesar Geronimo and Bobby Tolan. “I’m probably the only guy in the history of baseball to hit .300, make the all-star team and not have a job the next year,” Scheinblum told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Scheinblum was miserable in the role of reserve outfielder with the 1973 Reds, but attempted to maintain a sense of humor. Asked by teammate Jack Billingham why he always was spitting in the dugout, Scheinblum replied, “That’s the way I keep my weight down.”

Hit king Pete Rose called Scheinblum “the king of the one-liners.”

Scheinblum hit .300 as a Reds pinch-hitter but .222 overall. After the Reds traded him to the Angels in June 1973, Scheinblum told The Sporting News, “They try to discount everything you do over there to hold salaries down …. For the talent they have, they have the most underpaid team in baseball.”

He also took a swipe at the Reds’ manager, saying, “Two pennants have gone to Sparky Anderson’s head.”

In a letter published by The Sporting News, Reds public relations director Jim Ferguson responded, “Scheinblum did more talking than hitting.”

Helping hand

Scheinblum hit .328 in 77 games with the 1973 Angels. At spring training the next year, Angels manager Bobby Winkles assigned coach Whitey Herzog to work daily with Scheinblum on fielding. “We don’t think he’s been as good a defensive outfielder as he can be,” Winkles told the Los Angeles Times.

In April 1974, the Angels traded Scheinblum back to the Royals. Four months later, on Aug. 5, Scheinblum’s contract was purchased by the Cardinals.

Scheinblum, 31, was assigned to Tulsa and hit .247 in 24 games. In September, he was called up to the Cardinals, who entered the month 2.5 games behind the division-leading Pirates.

In his six plate appearances as a Cardinals pinch-hitter, all against right-handers, Scheinblum’s highlights were singles against relievers Gene Garber of the Phillies Boxscore and Dave Giusti of the Pirates. Boxscore

Scheinblum also appeared in the Cardinals’ epic 25-inning game versus the Mets. Batting in the 13th, he flied out to left. Boxscore.

Scheinblum spent the 1975 and 1976 seasons with the Hiroshima Carp in Japan.

His son, Monte Scheinblum, became a professional golfer and was the U.S. national long driving champion in 1992.

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Babe Dahlgren, known best as the player who replaced Lou Gehrig in the Yankees’ lineup, pioneered the use of film to instruct Cardinals batters.

In 1965, the Cardinals hired Dahlgren, 52, to be director of filming. He took 16-millimeter movie film of the Cardinals at spring training and during regular-season games and then worked with manager Red Schoendienst and coaches to analyze swings of the batters.

At the time, everyday use of film to study and instruct players was considered innovative in baseball.

Journeyman career

Ellsworth Dahlgren was born in San Francisco and got the nickname Babe from his stepfather, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

Dahlgren debuted in the majors as the Opening Day first baseman for the Red Sox in 1935. In February 1937, he was dealt to the Yankees, but with Lou Gehrig at first base, Dahlgren appeared destined for a backup role.

Dahlgren’s fate changed on May 2, 1939, when Gehrig’s streak of 2,130 consecutive games ended and Dahlgren replaced him. Boxscore

A right-handed batter, Dahlgren produced 89 RBI for the 1939 Yankees and hit a home run versus the Reds’ Bucky Walters in Game 2 of the World Series. Boxscore

Traded to the Braves after the 1940 season, Dahlgren also went on to play for the Cubs, Browns, Dodgers, Phillies and Pirates.

In 1943, when he was a National League all-star with the Phillies, Dahlgren had five hits in a game against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

The next year, Dahlgren hit .289 with 101 RBI for the 1944 Pirates.

His last season in the majors was 1946 and he finished with 1,056 hits.

Dahlgren said the person who helped him most with hitting was Jimmie Wilson, the former Cardinals catcher who was his manager with the Cubs. “Jim taught me more about hitting in 10 minutes at Chicago in 1941 than I had learned the 10 previous years as a player,” Dahlgren told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Baseball filmmaker

After leaving baseball, Dahlgren sold insurance, but his passion was filming batters. He invested in film equipment and taught himself how to use it.

“I bought my first camera in 1959,” Dahlgren told The Sporting News. “I shelled out $6,000. It was money I saved as a player.”

Dahlgren eventually spent much more on film equipment, including a slow-motion device.

“Babe spent four years perfecting his techniques, all without pay,” The Sporting News reported. “He even worked in a West Coast TV station for two years, minus salary, just so he could learn more about cameras and angles and the art of interviewing.”

Dahlgren went to spring training camps, shot film of batters and interviewed players such as Willie Mays and Ted Williams on camera about their approaches to hitting, according to The Sporting News.

He produced a film on hitting and titled it “Half a Second,” because “that’s how long it takes for a weak hitter to become a good one, that last half-second as the pitch comes to him,” Dahlgren said.

Dahlgren contacted owners of big-league clubs and tried to get them interested in his project. “Some listened and said no,” The Sporting News reported. “Most didn’t even listen.”

Sales job

After the 1963 season, Athletics owner Charlie Finley expressed interest in changing the dimensions of Municipal Stadium in Kansas City. Finley wanted to shorten the foul lines to help pull hitters slug home runs.

In a letter to Finley, Dahlgren wrote, “It is amazing that, in your short tenure in baseball, you have discovered the secret of the game _ hitting down the line.

“When a player hits straightaway, he has the pitcher, shortstop, second baseman and three bunched outfielders in line with a batted ball. When a player hits down the line, he has only the third baseman on the left field line and the first baseman on the right field line. If you design your park for pull hitting, you must have the batters with the know-how to take advantage of the short fences.”

About a month later, at the 1963 baseball winter meetings at Los Angeles, Dahlgren approached Finley, who was scheduled to leave for the airport in 40 minutes.

“We started talking and looking at my film,” Dahlgren said. “He called the airport and canceled his reservation. We spent almost six hours together.”

One and done

Finley hired Dahlgren to be the Athletics’ hitting coach and use film to analyze the swings of batters. According to The Sporting News, Dahlgren and the Athletics became the first in the majors to use film instruction on a full-time basis.

“This is what I’m interested in,” Dahlgren said. “It’s what I like to do. I feel this is my life’s work. I think I can help any hitter who is willing to work.”

Among the players on the Athletics’ 1964 big-league roster at spring training were Tony La Russa, Dave Duncan and Charlie Lau, who later became a hitting coach who relied on the use of video.

In his role with the 1964 Athletics, Dahlgren “started taking pictures in spring training and shot almost every game played during the regular season,” The Sporting News reported. “He had special showings every day for players who wanted to check their batting and pitching forms. Dahlgren also had a large backlog of film he used to demonstrate his theories on hitting.”

Dahlgren’s efforts were exemplary but the results were not. The 1964 Athletics finished in last place in the 10-team American League. They hit .239 and were eighth in the league in runs (621) and hits (1,321).

After the season, Dahlgren wasn’t retained and scout Whitey Herzog was added to the coaching staff.

Cardinals come calling

Dahlgren’s techniques with film intrigued Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam. On March 15, 1965, he hired Dahlgren and named him director of filming.

“I believe I helped some of the boys at Kansas City last year,” Dahlgren said to the Post-Dispatch, “but the expense, they felt, was too great.”

Howsam said, “I wanted Babe because I felt he could help established players to improve and young ones to learn.”

Dahlgren was hired to film Cardinals players and opponents and share the information with manager Red Schoendienst, hitting coach Mickey Vernon and pitching coach Joe Becker.

“One reason they may have been persuaded that this is a useful procedure is that Bill White was in a slump for many weeks last summer,” The Sporting News noted. “No one had a solution to his problems until White found his own answer with the help of home movies in his own basement.”

Unlike the cellar-dwelling Athletics, the Cardinals went to spring training in 1965 as the reigning World Series champions.

“I do believe if use of films of our players and of the opposition will help us win three or four games in a season,” Howsam told the Post-Dispatch, “the expenditure of $20,000 or so will be worthwhile.

“Use of films, on a limited basis, is not new,” Howsam said, “but not until last year has any ballclub made a day to day study of its hitters and pitchers.”

Howsam, who was involved with pro football’s Denver Broncos before joining the Cardinals, said, “Baseball, I’m convinced, has been far behind football in making realistic use of game and individual movies.”

Dahlgren lasted one season with the Cardinals. After hitting .272 in the 1964 championship season, the Cardinals hit .254 in 1965 and didn’t contend. First in the National League in hits (1,531) in 1964, the Cardinals ranked fourth (1,415) in 1965.

Howsam said the Cardinals did not get as much use out of the films as they had hoped.

After leaving the Cardinals, Dahlgren continued to help amateur players. Unfortunately, his films were destroyed in a house fire in 1980.

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A game-winning home run against the Cardinals provided an early indication that the 1957 season would be special for catcher Del Crandall and the Braves.

On April 24, 1957, Crandall clouted a walkoff home run in the ninth inning, giving the Braves an 8-7 victory over the Cardinals at Milwaukee.

The win was the Braves’ sixth in their first seven games of the season. Propelled by the fast start, they went on to win the 1957 National League pennant, finishing eight games ahead of the runner-up Cardinals, and dethroned the Yankees for the World Series championship.

Crandall was a major contributor to the Braves’ success. A gifted catcher and strong thrower, he was liked and respected by a Braves pitching staff featuring Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette.

A big-league catcher for 16 seasons, Crandall died May 5, 2021, at 91. He was the last surviving member of the Boston Braves.

Taking charge

Crandall was 19 when he was called up to the Braves from the minors in June 1949. Based in Boston, the 1949 Braves were the defending National League champions and were managed by Billy Southworth, the former Cardinals manager.

The teen’s first big-league hit came against Dutch Leonard, the Cubs’ 40-year-old knuckleball artist who had been pitching in the majors since Crandall was 3. Boxscore

The Braves had another 19-year-old, pitcher Johnny Antonelli, and he and Crandall formed a teenage battery in nine games in 1949.

In the book “We Played the Game,” Antonelli said he and Crandall were roommates in Boston.

“Del became my best friend on the team,” Antonelli said. “We were called the Milkshake Twins.

“Del was a leader as a rookie. He liked to hear chatter around the diamond when he was catching, and one day he gunned the ball down to third, saying, ‘Come on, Elliott, wake up.’ Bob Elliott was a seasoned player and warned, ‘Don’t do that again, kid,’ but he would. That’s the way Del would be his entire career.”

After two years (1951-52) in the Army, Crandall rejoined the Braves, who had relocated to Milwaukee, and developed into one of the game’s best catchers.

Among Crandall’s accomplishments:

_ An eight-time National League all-star.

_ Four-time Gold Glove Award winner.

_ Five times led the National League in number of runners caught stealing.

_ Four times led National League catchers in fielding percentage.

“Del had a good head on his shoulders,” pitcher Bob Buhl told author Danny Peary. “We called him Jack Armstrong, the all-American boy. He would never do anything wrong. For instance, he didn’t drink. Yet he wasn’t resentful of those who did, which was fortunate, because we were a drinking team.”

Mistake pitch

Playing in a lineup with Hank Aaron and Eddie Mathews, Crandall usually batted near the bottom of the order. He hit 26 home runs in 1955, including a walkoff grand slam against the Phillies.

His next walkoff home run came two years later versus the Cardinals.

The score was tied at 7-7, with one out and none on in the bottom of the ninth, when Crandall batted against Cardinals reliever Willard Schmidt.

Crandall got behind in the count 0-and-2. “I had good stuff,” Schmidt told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was getting the ball right where I wanted it.”

He had no excuse, Schmidt said, for the pitch he threw next.

“In that situation, and to a man like him, you never put the ball anywhere but out of the strike zone, maybe even call it a little brushback,” Schmidt said.

Instead, “I was stupid,” Schmidt said. His pitch was over the plate and Crandall hit it over the fence in left, giving the Braves a walkoff win. Boxscore

Crandall hit 15 home runs for the 1957 Braves. He hit another in Game 7 of the World Series against Yankees reliever Tommy Byrne, helping the Braves clinch the championship. Boxscore and video at 38:12 mark

The next year, Crandall hit another Game 7 World Series home run, against reliever Bob Turley, but the Yankees prevailed. Boxscore

Run producer

In 1960, Crandall had his best season as a hitter. He batted .294 with 19 home runs, 77 RBI and a league-leading 12 sacrifice flies. In a stretch from July 16 to Aug. 25, Crandall hit five home runs: two each against Sandy Koufax and Robin Roberts and one versus Bob Gibson. He also hit a home run against Bill Monbouquette in the All-Star Game. Boxscore

The next year, Crandall sat out for most of the season because of an arm ailment and Joe Torre, 20, took over the catching.

In 1962, Torre was the Opening Day catcher but Crandall came back strong and ended up starting the majority of games. 

On June 1, 1962, Crandall broke an 0-for-17 skid with two singles, a triple and five RBI in the Braves’ 7-0 triumph over the Cardinals at Milwaukee. It was the second and last time Crandall produced five RBI in a big-league game. Boxscore

Braves manager Birdie Tebbetts said Crandall took extra batting practice before the game and worked on hitting the ball through the middle of the diamond, the Associated Press reported.

Bob Shaw, who pitched the shutout against the Cardinals, said, “Pitching to a guy like Del makes it a lot easier. He knows the hitters.”

Multiple skills

In 1963, Bobby Bragan became Braves manager and he preferred Torre to be the starting catcher. Crandall shared backup duties with Bob Uecker.

In his book “Chasing the Dream,” Torre said, “I’ll always be grateful to Crandall for being a true professional and being so quick to help me during my first few years in the big leagues.”

After the season, Crandall was traded to the Giants. 

On May 31, 1964, in the opener of a doubleheader against the Mets at New York, Crandall caught nine innings in Juan Marichal’s complete-game win. Boxscore

In the second game, Crandall batted for pitcher Gaylord Perry in the 23rd inning and delivered a RBI-double against Galen Cisco, breaking a 3-3 tie and sparking the Giants to a 5-3 marathon victory. Boxscore

Crandall finished his playing career with the Pirates (1965) and Indians (1966). He hit .254 overall and .219 versus the Cardinals.

Crandall remained in baseball into the 1990s. He managed the Brewers (1972-75) and Mariners (1983-84). With the Brewers, he was the first big-league manager of Darrell Porter and mentored the future Cardinals catcher.

Also, Crandall was an Angels coach (1977), a minor-league manager in the farm systems of the Dodgers, Brewers and Angels, and broadcaster for the White Sox (1985-88) and Brewers (1992-94).

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For a guy who lacked speed, Joe Torre hit a surprisingly high number of triples during his prime years with the Cardinals.

Torre led the Cardinals in triples in 1970 and 1971, and ranked second on the club in 1969 and 1972.

Fifty years ago, on May 29, 1971, Torre hit a walkoff three-run triple against his former team, the Braves, erasing a 7-5 deficit in the ninth inning and giving the Cardinals an 8-7 triumph.

It was one of a team-high eight triples Torre produced in 1971, a year when he led the National League in hitting, total bases and RBI.

Three bases

Torre was 20 when he hit his first big-league triple on June 22, 1961, for the Braves against the Giants’ Billy Loes at Milwaukee. Boxscore

In nine seasons with the Braves, the most triples Torre hit in a year were five in 1964. Two of those triples came on Sept. 24 in a game against the Phillies, who were in a skid that enabled the Cardinals to rise up and win the pennant. Boxscore

Traded to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda in March 1969, Torre embarked on a four-year stretch of impressive triples production.

A right-handed batter, Torre had 29 triples for the Cardinals from 1969-72.

In 1969, when Lou Brock led the Cardinals in triples with 10, Torre and Vada Pinson tied for second with six apiece.

Torre topped the Cardinals in triples in 1970 (9) and 1971 (8).

Brock was the team triples leader in 1972 with eight, and Torre and Ted Simmons each had six, tying for second.

Though Torre’s line-drive stroke was ideal for Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis, he had more triples on the road than he did at home in three of the four seasons between 1969 and 1972.

In his final two Cardinals seasons, Torre had two triples in 1973 and one in 1974.

In 18 years in the majors, Torre hit 59 triples, including 32 for the Cardinals.

Zoned in

Weight loss was a contributing factor in Torre’s high number of triples with the Cardinals.

In his book “Chasing the Dream,” Torre said he went on a diet during spring training in 1970 and his weight dropped from 228 pounds to 208. During the season, he slimmed down to 195 pounds.

Splitting his time between catching and playing third base in 1970, Torre batted .325 with 203 hits and 100 RBI.

He followed that with a career year in 1971. Batting cleanup in every game, Torre led the National League in batting average (.363), hits (230), total bases (352) and RBI (137), and won the Most Valuable Player Award.

“I was locked in all year,” Torre said in his book. “I used to go home and know what pitches I was going to hit off the pitcher the next day. It was weird. I had such a feeling of concentration, of being able to block everything out. The more hits you get, the more confident you are. The key is your confidence level.”

Torre was hot from the start of the season and never cooled off. He hit safely in the first 22 games of the season. For the month of April, Torre batted .366 and had 34 hits in 24 games.

Finding the gap

In May 1971, Torre batted .355. He capped the month with his game-winning triple against the Braves on the Saturday night of Memorial Day weekend at St. Louis.

After the Braves broke a 5-5 tie with two runs in the top of the ninth, they brought in Cecil Upshaw to pitch the bottom half.

The first two batters, Lou Brock and Matty Alou, each singled. With the runners on first and second, none out, Ted Simmons bunted. Upshaw reached for the ball and bobbled it, enabling Simmons to safely reach first and loading the bases for Torre.

Upshaw and Torre were Braves teammates from 1966-68. As a Cardinal, Torre had faced Upshaw three times and was hitless against the right-hander who threw nearly underhanded with a sweeping delivery from below the waist.

Getting a pitch to his liking, Torre lined it into right-center, clearing the bases and ending the game with his triple. Boxscore

Torre went on to hit .382 with runners in scoring position in 1971.

He was remarkably consistent overall, hitting .324 or better in every month of the season. He hit .356 versus right-handers and .376 against left-handers in 1971.

“I had a ton of hits to right field that year, even more than I usually did,” Torre said in his book. “My philosophy on hitting was pretty simple: Dare them to jam you. I think there are a lot more hits on the handle than on the end of the bat.”

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