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Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Ted Simmons is part of a special group of players who hit with a rare combination of power and consistent contact.

Simmons is one of 12 players who finished his big-league career with at least 240 home runs and fewer than 700 strikeouts, according to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

A catcher who spent most of his playing days with the Cardinals before going to the Brewers and Braves, Simmons is the last player to achieve the feat. He’s also the only switch-hitter among the 12.

Simmons will be inducted into the Hall of Fame on Sept. 8, 2021. He is one of nine Hall of Famers among the 12 elite hitters who showed that a slugger doesn’t have to whiff a lot to produce steady power.

In order of most home runs, here are the dandy dozen based on a review of statistics at baseball-reference.com:

_ Stan Musial, 475 home runs, 696 strikeouts: The most Musial struck out in a season was 46 times in 1962 when he was 41. He batted .330 that season with 19 home runs.

In 1948, when Musial batted .376, he had more home runs, a career-high 39, than strikeouts 34.

Musial struck out three times in a major-league game only once. It happened on July 28, 1963, against the Cubs’ Dick Ellsworth when Musial was 42 and in his final season. Boxscore

The pitcher who fanned Musial the most was fellow Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Though Spahn struck out Musial 30 times, Musial batted .318 against him. The 17 home runs Musial hit versus Spahn are the most he had against any pitcher.

_ Joe DiMaggio, 361 home runs, 369 strikeouts: Remarkably, DiMaggio had more home runs than strikeouts in seven of his 13 seasons with the Yankees.

In 1941, DiMaggio had 30 home runs and 13 strikeouts. During his 56-game hitting streak that year, he whiffed five times.

Like Musial, DiMaggio struck out three times in a big-league game just once. It happened on June 19, 1942, versus the Indians’ Mel Harder. Boxscore

_ Johnny Mize, 359 home runs, 524 strikeouts: When Mize hit 51 home runs for the Giants in 1947, he struck out 42 times. It was one of three times he had more home runs than strikeouts in a season.

The 43 home runs Mize hit for the Cardinals in 1940 were the franchise record for a season until Mark McGwire hit 70 while taking steroids to enhance his performance in 1998. Mize struck out 49 times in 1940. McGwire fanned 155 times in 1998.

_ Yogi Berra, 358 home runs, 414 strikeouts: Though he was known for chasing balls out of the strike zone, Berra six times had more home runs than strikeouts in a season with the Yankees. Perhaps the most impressive was in 1950 when Berra had 28 home runs and 12 strikeouts. He hit .322 with 124 RBI that season.

While with the Mets, Berra struck out three times in a game against the Braves’ Tony Cloninger on May 9, 1965, three days before turning 40. He decided to quit immediately and never played in another game. Boxscore 

_ Rogers Hornsby, 301 home runs, 679 strikeouts: In 1924, when he batted .424 and hit 25 home runs for the Cardinals, Hornsby struck out 32 times in 642 plate appearances.

_ Chuck Klein, 300 home runs, 521 strikeouts: When Klein achieved the Triple Crown with the Phillies in 1933, leading the National League in batting (.368), home runs (28) and RBI (120), he struck out 36 times in 667 plate appearances.

_ Ted Kluszewski, 279 home runs, 365 strikeouts: Wearing a sleeveless Reds jersey that enabled him to bare bulging biceps, Ted Kluszewski looked the part of a slugger, but he was no swing-and-miss hacker. Kluszewski only once struck out three times in a game, on June 17, 1950, versus the Phillies’ Robin Roberts. Boxscore

In 1954, when he led the National League in home runs (49) and RBI (141), Kluszewski fanned 35 times in 659 plate appearances. It was one of five times he had more home runs than strikeouts in a season.

_ Roy Campanella, 260 home runs, 501 strikeouts: The Dodgers’ catcher hit 20 or more home runs seven times but never had more than 61 strikeouts in a season.

_ Goose Goslin, 248 home runs, 585 strikeouts: In 1928, when Goslin was with the Senators, he led the American League in batting at .379, was third in slugging at .614 (trailing only Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig) and struck out 19 times.

_ Ted Simmons, 248 home runs, 694 strikeouts: As consistent as he was excellent, Simmons had the same number of strikeouts, 35, in each of three consecutive seasons (1974-76) with the Cardinals. In his biggest home run year, 1979, when he hit 26, Simmons fanned 34 times.

in the book “The Ted Simmons Story,” his teammate and friend, Joe Torre, said, “Nobody in the league hits the ball so hard so consistently as Simmons.”

After falling into a slump early in the 1973 season while trying to hit home runs, Simmons said, “I knew now I wasn’t ever going to be a big home run hitter, but if I ever felt I had to have some record to shoot at, some goal to turn me on, all I had to think about was Pete Rose hitting over .300 eight years in a row. That’s a record to brag about. It’s a lot more impressive than Roger Maris’ or Hank Aaron’s home run records.”

_ Vern Stephens, 247 home runs, 685 strikeouts: A shortstop who played 15 years in the American League, Stephens hit 20 or more home runs in a season six times, including in 1944 when he helped the Browns to their only pennant.

_ Wally Berger, 242 home runs, 693 strikeouts: An outfielder who played 11 years in the National League, Berger hit 25 or more home runs for the Braves five times, including 38 as a rookie in 1930.

Kluszewski, Stephens and Berger are the only three of the 12 who haven’t been elected to the Hall of Fame.

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At his best, Bill White hit for average and distance.

Sixty years ago, in July 1961, White achieved an unprecedented slugging feat against the Dodgers, then tied a major-league base hit record held by Ty Cobb.

A left-handed batter and first baseman, White did the following:

_ On July 5, he became the first player to hit three home runs over the right-field fence in a game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

_ From July 17 to July 18, he totaled 14 hits in four games, equaling a record set by Cobb 49 years earlier for most hits in two consecutive doubleheaders.

Tough test

In 1961, White was a National League all-star and Gold Glove Award winner who was among the Cardinals’ leading hitters, but the club wanted him to produce more power. In each of the three previous seasons (1958-60), Ken Boyer was the only Cardinal to hit 20 home runs.

Heading into the game against the Dodgers at the Coliseum, White was hitting .294 with five home runs for the season.

The Coliseum seemed an unlikely place for White to go on a home run binge. The distance from home plate to the fence in right-center was 440 feet and it was 390 feet in straightaway right. Left-handed sluggers, such as the Dodgers’ Duke Snider, found those dimensions daunting.

The Coliseum was friendlier to right-handed pull hitters, with a distance of 251 feet down the line from home plate to the left field fence. Though a screen stretching 42 feet high was erected, routine fly balls reached the seats.

Adding to the degree of difficulty for White was the Dodgers’ choice of a starting pitcher, left-hander Johnny Podres. White hit for a higher average and with more power against right-handers than he did left-handers.

Pulling power

Batting second in the order in the last game managed by Solly Hemus, White grounded out his first time at the plate against Podres.

Leading off the third, White swung at an inside fastball from Podres and pulled it over the fence near the foul line for a home run.

An inning later, facing Roger Craig, White got a hanging changeup and drove it over the wall in right-center for a two-run home run.

The next time up, with two outs and a runner on second in the sixth, White was walked intentionally by Craig.

In the eighth, White led off against rookie Jim Golden and hit a slider into the seats in right-center for his third home run.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, White was the sixth Cardinals player with three home runs in a game. The others: Frank Shugart (1894), George Harper (1928), George Watkins (1931), Johnny Mize (1938 and 1940) and Stan Musial (1954).

Lee Walls of the 1958 Cubs and Don Demeter of the 1959 Dodgers also hit three home runs in a game at the Coliseum, with all carrying the short distance to left.

“I took extra batting practice last Monday determined to practice getting out in front of the ball,” White said to the Post-Dispatch. “I believe the club expects it of me.”

White had a chance to hit a fourth home run in the game when he faced Golden again in the ninth. He took a rip and lined a double to the base of the wall in right near the foul line.

Asked whether he was trying for a home run, White told the Los Angeles Times, “I wasn’t thinking so much about that as the fact that the first pitch might come pretty close to me. Then, when I did hit the ball, it looked for a second or two like it might hook in there for another homer.”

White’s road roommate, Bob Gibson, also contributed impressively to the 9-1 Cardinals triumph. Gibson pitched a four-hitter and slugged his first home run in the majors. Boxscore

Hot hitting

Two weeks later, with Johnny Keane managing the club, the Cardinals faced consecutive twi-night doubleheaders against the Cubs at St. Louis.

White produced 14 hits in 18 at-bats in the four games, all won by the Cardinals.

When Cobb achieved the mark while playing for the Tigers against the Athletics at Philadelphia in 1912, he was 14-for-19. Cobb had seven hits in 11 at-bats in the doubleheader played July 17 and, after an off day for the teams, he was 7-for-8 in the doubleheader played July 19.

In an eerie bit of serendipity, White’s record-tying performances occurred on almost the same exact July dates as when Cobb achieved the feat. In addition, Cobb died on July 17, 1961, the same day White played the first of the two doubleheaders.

White was 8-for-10 in the July 17 doubleheader against the Cubs.

In the first game, he was 4-for-5, getting three singles against starter Don Cardwell and another single versus Don Elston. Boxscore

White went 4-for-5 again in the second game. He had a double and a single against starter Jim Brewer and two singles versus Barney Schultz. Boxscore

Julian Javier also had eight hits, including seven in succession, for the Cardinals in the doubleheader.

The second game didn’t end until nearly 1 a.m. When White got home, he sat up with an ailing child and didn’t get any sleep, the Associated Press reported.

In the morning, White fulfilled a commitment to instruct youngsters at a baseball clinic at a local park from 10 a.m. to noon. According to the Post-Dispatch, White had lunch after the clinic, went to Busch Stadium and took a 45-minute nap in the trainer’s room before batting practice.

Showing no signs of fatigue, White was 3-for-4 in the opener of the July 18 doubleheader. He had two singles and a home run against starter Glen Hobbie. Boxscore

In the second game, White again was 3-for-4. He had a pair of triples, one against reliever Mel Wright and the other versus Don Elston. The hit that tied Cobb’s record was a double against Bob Anderson that “just escaped Ed Bouchee’s leap at first base,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Boxscore

Asked about tying the record, White told the Post-Dispatch, “It feels good to win two more ballgames.”

For the two doubleheaders, White had nine singles, two doubles, two triples and a home run.

White had a .417 on-base percentage in July 1961 and hit .331 for the month.

He finished the season with these numbers: .286 batting average, 28 doubles, 11 triples, 20 home runs and 90 RBI. Against the Cubs, he had 33 hits in 21 games and batted .371.

 

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Ted Simmons was the first catcher to start All-Star Games for both the National League and American League.

Simmons was the starting catcher for the National League all-stars when he was with the Cardinals in 1978. He was the starting catcher for the American League all-stars when he was with the Brewers in 1983.

Named an all-star eight times, Simmons played as a reserve in three games (1973, 1977 and 1981) and did not get into games after being selected in 1972, 1974 and 1979. Simmons was voted the 1979 National League starting catcher by the fans, but was unable to play because of a broken left wrist.

Ted’s turn

The Reds’ Johnny Bench was the starting catcher for the National League in every All-Star Game from 1969-77. In 1978, fans voted for Bench to be the starter again, but a bad back kept him from playing in the July 11 game at San Diego.

Bench received 2,442,201 votes in fan balloting. The other top vote-getters among National League catchers in 1978 were the Dodgers’ Steve Yeager (1,952,494), the Phillies’ Bob Boone (1,842,080) and Simmons (1,815,712).

Of the four, Simmons was producing the best. He entered the all-star break with a .311 batting average and 10 home runs. Bench (.224, 11 homers), Boone (.258, seven homers) and Yeager (.189, two homers) were not as good.

Asked for his opinion of the all-star voting by fans, Simmons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I’d be lying if I said I did like it, but I don’t want to sound like sour-graping because everything that has come to Johnny Bench, he’s earned.”

National League manager Tommy Lasorda chose Simmons, Boone and the Braves’ Biff Pocoroba (.262, four homers) as all-star catchers, and named Simmons the starter. Before Simmons in 1978, the last catcher other than Bench to start for the National League in an All-Star Game was the Mets’ Jerry Grote in 1968.

Simmons was the first Cardinals catcher to start an All-Star Game since Walker Cooper in 1944.

Check it out

Asked about being an all-star starter, Simmons told the Post-Dispatch, “There’s nothing to match it.”

In the top of the first inning, with the Giants’ Vida Blue pitching, Simmons caught the Mariners’ Richie Zisk attempting to steal.

Batting sixth in the order, Simmons came to the plate with runners on first and second, none out, in the second against the Orioles’ Jim Palmer.

“Tough man at the plate,” said ABC-TV broadcaster Keith Jackson.

Broadcast partner Howard Cosell called Simmons “the most underpublicized exceptional hitter in baseball … I love to watch Ted Simmons hit.”

Expecting to get pitches to hit, Simmons swung exceptionally hard. “I thought I might get me a tater,” he said, explaining his home run cut.

Simmons drilled a pitch and “nearly removed the ankles from first base umpire Nestor Chylak with a nasty line drive barely outside the foul line,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Perhaps too eager to hit another hard, Simmons struck out, making him 0-for-5 in All-Star Game plate appearances.

Simmons got another chance in the third. With two outs, he again came up with runners on first and second against the Athletics’ Matt Keough, who relieved Palmer.

Fooled by a pitch, Simmons checked his swing but still connected. The ball bounced along the third-base line, “a gentle trickle placed well enough even for Simmons, no gazelle, to leg it out,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The infield single loaded the bases.

“My first all-star hit,” Simmons said with a grin. “I’ll take it. They could roll it out there if they wanted.”

Simmons got one more at-bat in the game. Leading off the sixth against the Brewers’ Lary Sorensen, Simmons took another big swing and hit a soft liner to the Red Sox’s Dwight Evans in right for an out.

Boone replaced Simmons in the seventh.

The National League won, 7-3, for its 15th victory in the last 16 All-Star Games. Asked about the dominance, Simmons told the Post-Dispatch, “The National League has the better players.” Boxscore and Game Video

Play to win

Two years later, in December 1980, Simmons and Sorensen were swapped in a multi-player trade between the Cardinals and Brewers.

Like Bench had done in the National League, Carlton Fisk dominated fan balloting for catcher in the American League.

Fisk was the American League all-star starting catcher every year from 1977-82, with the exception of 1979, when the Royals’ Darrell Porter started. Fisk was with the Red Sox until becoming a free agent and joining the White Sox in 1981.

In 1983, Simmons got the all-star start because he was the top vote-getter among American League catchers in fan balloting. He got the support because he was hitting .307 with six home runs at the all-star break and had played for the American League champions the previous year.

The top vote-getters were Simmons (946,254), the Tigers’ Lance Parrish (824,741), Fisk (870,342) and another former National Leaguer, the Angels’ Bob Boone (610,559).

Parrish was batting .304 with eight home runs at the all-star break. Fisk (.250, nine homers) and Boone (.251, three homers) were not as good with the bat.

Played on July 6, 1983, at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the All-Star Game had its 50-year anniversary. The National League team was managed by the Cardinals’ Whitey Herzog, who made the trade of Simmons to the Brewers.

Simmons batted twice in the game. He grounded out to pitcher Mario Soto of the Reds in the first and popped out to second against the Giants’ Atlee Hammaker in the third before being replaced by Parrish.

The American League won, 13-3, snapping an 11-game losing streak. Boxscore and Game Video

“These guys wanted to win this game,” Simmons said to The Capital Times of Madison, Wis. “You could see it in peoples’ faces. Instead of guys saying, ‘I want out of the game. I’m going to play my three innings and go,’ they wanted to stick around.

“There were a number of former National League players who had been all-stars, like Bob Boone, Dave Winfield and myself, who tried to generate that, ‘Hey, let’s win the game,’ attitude.”

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Pitcher Gary Blaylock hit two home runs for the Cardinals and he did it in consecutive at-bats.

On May 12, 1959, in his final at-bat of the game, Blaylock hit a two-run home run against Reds reliever Jim O’Toole.

Four days later, on May 16, Blaylock took his next at-bat, against Phillies starter Jim Owens, and hit another two-run home run.

The home runs in consecutive at-bats were the only ones Blaylock hit in the majors. The 1959 season, Blaylock’s lone year as a big-league player, was split between the Cardinals and Yankees.

Long wait

Blaylock was born in the Missouri Bootheel, the southeasternmost part of the state, in the town of Clarkton, and grew up on a farm in nearby Malden.

A right-hander, he developed his arm strength milking cows, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Blaylock was 18 when he signed with the Cardinals in 1950.

Blaylock spent nine seasons in the Cardinals’ farm system. He had success, winning 23 for Johnson City in 1951 and 14 for Rochester in 1958, for instance. The Sporting News noted he “has appeared close to stardom at times,” but Blaylock repeatedly was passed over for a spot in the big leagues.

“We always have considered him a fine prospect,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told The Sporting News, “but he was young and found it difficult to control his temper. He fought himself and was, by and large, a thrower instead of a pitcher.”

The Cardinals liked what they saw of Blaylock, 27, at spring training in 1959. 

“He has matured,” Devine said. “He’s a pitcher now.”

Cardinals manager Solly Hemus told The Sporting News, “I’ll bet that if the state of the ballclub permits the use of Gary every fourth day, he’ll win 12 games. If he is used only in spots and not as a regular starter, he’ll win at least seven.”

On the run

The Cardinals opened the 1959 season with a starting rotation of Larry Jackson, Ernie Broglio, Vinegar Bend Mizell and Lindy McDaniel. Hemus said rookies Blaylock and Bob Gibson would be relievers and sport starters.

After waiting since 1950 to reach the big leagues, Blaylock made his debut on Opening Day at St. Louis, but not as a pitcher. He entered the game in the eighth inning as a pinch-runner for Stan Musial, and it was quite an adventure.

Taking a big lead in anticipation of a hit-and-run play, Blaylock became trapped when Giants pitcher Johnny Antonelli made a pickoff throw to first.

“All I could think of _ and I thought of a lot in a split second _ was, ‘My gosh, I’ve been in baseball 10 years, waiting to get into a big-league game, and now look what I’ve done,’ ” Blaylock told the Post-Dispatch.

Blaylock made a desperate dash toward second. A throw to shortstop Andre Rodgers, covering second, arrived ahead of the runner, but Blaylock made a belated slide, eluded “a slow, careless tag” by Rodgers, and was called safe, The Sporting News reported.

Blaylock advanced to third on a groundout and scored on an Alex Grammas single. Boxscore

Hot and cold

Six days later, on April 16, Blaylock pitched in a big-league game for the first time. Appearing in relief against the Dodgers at Los Angeles, Blaylock tossed two scoreless innings, retiring all six batters he faced. Boxscore

Hemus rewarded him with a start against the Cubs at Chicago on April 21. Blaylock pitched a complete game, but the Cubs won, 1-0, behind Glen Hobbie’s one-hitter. Musial got the Cardinals’ lone hit, a double with two outs in the seventh. Sammy Taylor drove in the Cubs’ run in the second. Boxscore

In May, Hemus put Blaylock in the starting rotation. On May 12 at St. Louis, he held the Reds scoreless for five innings. With the Cardinals ahead 5-0, Blaylock hit a two-run home run deep into the seats in left-center in the bottom of the fifth.

“I’ve always been a fair hitter,” Blaylock told the Post-Dispatch.

He pitched 6.2 innings for the win, but was lifted before he had another at-bat. Boxscore

In his next appearance, a start versus the Phillies at St. Louis, Blaylock broke a scoreless tie with a two-run home run in his first at-bat of the game in the third. Blaylock went the distance and got the win, boosting his record to 3-1. Boxscore

After that, Blaylock’s season unraveled. He never won another start and was sent to the bullpen in the middle of June. In July, the Cardinals put him on waivers and the Yankees claimed him.

In 26 appearances for the 1959 Cardinals, Blaylock was 4-5 with a 5.13 ERA. He was 3-4 as a starter and 1-1 in relief. As a batter, Blaylock was 4-for-34 with 17 strikeouts.

Blaylock was an effective reliever for the 1959 Yankees. He had a 2.59 ERA in 14 relief appearances for them. A highlight came on Aug. 15 at Yankee Stadium when he pitched five scoreless innings and drove in Norm Siebern with a double. Boxscore

Shelled in his one start, against the Tigers, Blaylock finished the season 0-1 with a 3.50 ERA for the Yankees.

Nurturing talent

Blaylock pitched in the Yankees’ farm system from 1960-63, then moved into managing. He was a minor-league manager for the Yankees and Royals.

In 1971, when Blaylock managed the Royals’ farm team in Billings, Mont., his shortstop was George Brett, 18, who was in his first season as a professional. According to the Kansas City Star, Blaylock said he wasn’t convinced Brett “had enough arm to be a top-flight shortstop” and moved him to third.

“I was thoroughly impressed with him as a kid and as a guy that liked to play,” Blaylock said, “but I wasn’t impressed to the point that I thought he’d be a star.”

Blaylock also served as a scout and minor-league pitching instructor for the Royals. He mentored pitching prospects Bret Saberhagen, Danny Jackson and Mark Gubicza.

“He understands me more than anybody except my family,” Gubicza told the Kansas City Star.

The Royals named Blaylock pitching coach on the staff of manager Dick Howser in 1984. Blaylock succeeded another former Cardinal, Cloyd Boyer.

Blaylock was Royals pitching coach from 1984-87.

His coaching highlight came in 1985 when the Royals became World Series champions, defeating the Cardinals.

Royals pitchers limited the Cardinals to 13 runs in seven games. Saberhagen was 2-0 with an 0.50 ERA and won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. He also was the recipient of the 1985 American League Cy Young Award.

Note: Special thanks to Cardinals researcher Tom Orf for providing the inspiration to research and write this post.

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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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