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Archive for the ‘Managers’ Category

As a utility player with the Cardinals, Tito Francona was thinking about his future. The idea of becoming a manager appealed to him.

tito_franconaIn its July 2, 1966, edition, The Sporting News wrote that Francona “explained that he had learned a lot on the sidelines that should help him in his hoped for career as a manager.”

Francona, who played 15 seasons in the big leagues, including two (1965 and 1966) with the Cardinals, never did get to fulfill his dream of becoming a manager. After 1970, his final season as a player, Francona returned to his native Pennsylvania and became a parks and recreation director in Beaver County, according to his biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

It was Francona’s son, Terry, who would become a manager, winning World Series championships with the Red Sox in 2004 and 2007 and an American League pennant with the Indians in 2016.

Like his father, Terry also was a big-league player, primarily a first baseman and outfielder, who played 10 years (1981-90) in the major leagues, mostly with the Expos.

Terry was 5 years old when his father was acquired by the Cardinals from the Indians in a cash transaction on Dec. 15, 1964, two months after St. Louis had won the World Series championship.

Introducing Tito Francona to Cardinals fans in The Sporting News, writer Neal Russo reported that being a referee of high school and college basketball games during the winter kept Francona in good physical condition. “So do his two youngsters, son Terry, nearly 6 years old, and daughter Amy, as frisky a 3-year-old as any you’ll see at the Kentucky Derby,” Russo wrote.

Bound for Browns

John Francona was born in Aliquippa, Pa., about 25 miles north of Pittsburgh, in 1933 and was nicknamed Tito _ which, in Italian, means Giant _ by his father.

In 1952, at 18, Francona signed an amateur free-agent contract with the St. Louis Browns. “They were at the bottom (of the American League) and I figured I’d have a better chance of moving up fast with them,” Francona told The Sporting News in 1964.

Francona never made it to St. Louis with the Browns. The franchise relocated to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles. Francona made his big-league debut with the 1956 Orioles.

In 1959, Francona had his best big-league season, batting .363 with 145 hits in 122 games for the Indians. In 1961, his lone season as an all-star, Francona batted .301 and had career highs of 178 hits and 85 RBI for the Indians.

A left-handed batter, Francona sprayed the ball to all fields. The Indians, though, were seeking more power from a corner outfielder. After the 1964 season, in which he hit .248 in 111 games, Francona was put on the trading block.

The Indians offered to trade Francona, catcher John Romano and pitcher Gary Bell to the Twins for catcher Earl Battey, pitcher Dick Stigman and outfielder Jimmie Hall, The Sporting News reported, but the proposal was rejected. The Indians also talked with the Cubs about a deal involving Francona and others for outfielder Billy Williams, but that also fell through.

Unable to package Francona in a major trade, the Indians sold his contract to the Cardinals for cash. After nine seasons in the American League, Francona would be playing in the National League for the first time.

Quality move

The Cardinals envisioned Francona, 31, as a pinch-hitter and backup to Mike Shannon in right field and to Bill White at first base. His acquisition generally was seen as a shrewd move by general manager Bob Howsam.

“Tito’s not too old and the St. Louis ballpark was made for good left-handed hitters,” said Phillies pitcher Jim Bunning.

Said Phillies first baseman Roy Sievers: “Tito can do a lot of things well. He’s agile. He can do a good job in the outfield and he’s an excellent backup man for Bill White at first base … The short porch in right field at Busch Stadium will help him a lot.”

Francona hit .259 in 81 games for the 1965 Cardinals. He batted .265 as a pinch-hitter.

Used in the same role by the Cardinals in 1966, Francona hit .212 in 83 games. He hit .171 as a pinch-hitter.

Goodbye to good guy

In spring training 1967, Bobby Tolan, 21, beat out Francona, 33, for the role of left-handed pinch-hitter and backup outfielder and first baseman.

On April 10, a day before the Cardinals opened the 1967 regular season, Stan Musial, in one of his first transactions as general manager, sold Francona’s contract to the Phillies.

Noting that the Cardinals received an amount greater than the $20,000 waiver price in the deal, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, “The indication is that the Cardinals felt Francona had to play regularly to be of help with his bat and the Redbirds have several younger ballplayers to move in at first or the outfield.”

In 1969 and 1970, Francona played for an Athletics team that included infielder Tony La Russa and catcher Dave Duncan. In 2004, La Russa was manager and Duncan was pitching coach of a Cardinals team that played in the World Series against manager Terry Francona’s Red Sox.

La Russa told the Post-Dispatch then that he and Tito Francona had roomed together on road trips with the Athletics.

“Some guys treated me like I shouldn’t be there … but not Tito,” said La Russa, who was a light-hitting reserve infielder. “He was just a terrific roommate and a very, very helpful guy.”

Previously: George Kernek: Cardinals’ choice to replace Bill White

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Concerned about the direction of a franchise that had gone eight consecutive years without qualifying for the postseason, the Cardinals pushed sentiment aside and fired manager Red Schoendienst.

red_schoendienst11Forty years ago, on Oct. 5, 1976, general manager Bing Devine informed Schoendienst he was out after 12 seasons as manager.

Schoendienst, who had built a Hall of Fame career as a Cardinals second baseman in the 1940s and 1950s, won two National League pennants (1967 and 1968) and a World Series title (1967) as St. Louis manager.

From 1969 through 1976, though, with a core that included Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ted Simmons and Joe Torre, the Cardinals never reached the postseason, even though a division format had expanded the number of teams that qualified.

In 1976, the Cardinals had an abysmal season. Their 72-90 record gave them a .444 winning percentage, their lowest since the .442 mark of the 1955 Cardinals (69-86).

“There are times, regardless of one’s capabilities, when a different perspective is in order,” Cardinals owner Gussie Busch said in explaining the decision to fire Schoendienst.

Devine told Neal Russo of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he recommended the move to Busch.

“I felt that a change in managers was in the best interests of the club,” Devine said. “We wanted a new approach, a new atmosphere.”

Red’s assessment

Schoendienst told Russo he was “absolutely surprised” by the firing.

“I thought I did a good job with the young kids,” Schoendienst said. “I don’t think anyone could have done any better with the club this year. It was great to see some of the kids playing so hard and showing so much potential. That’s why I would have liked to be around another year.”

In the book “Red: A Baseball Life,” Schoendienst said of the firing, “It caught me a little off guard … The organization decided to make changes. It was as simple as that and there really was no argument I could make. I never second-guessed myself. I never regretted any move or decision I made and I was happy with the job I had done.”

Old school

The 1976 Cardinals had an array of players who were 24 or younger, including infielders Keith Hernandez, Garry Templeton and Hector Cruz, outfielder Jerry Mumphrey and pitchers John Denny, Pete Falcone an Eric Rasmussen.

Some critics thought Schoendienst didn’t connect with the younger players.

“What hurt him most was that we’re a young club and maybe Red’s managing is  directed more to a veteran ballclub _ just let ’em go out there and play,” Cardinals pitcher John Curtis said to Dick Kaegel of the Post-Dispatch. “I think you need a stronger approach than that. You need to reinforce things.”

The 1976 Cardinals, though, had the fewest saves (18) in the NL and committed the second-most errors (174), indicating the personnel, not the manager, was the problem.

In an article for The Sporting News, Russo, who covered the team on a daily basis, wrote, “Key injuries, erratic defense, disappointing pitching and the failure of the offensive leaders to produce doomed Red in ’76. There had been criticism of Red as being too easy-going, but the fact remains that his style was preferred by most players and observers.”

Schoendienst told longtime writer Bob Broeg, “I’m not going to kick benches or kick bats. I had meetings with the team and I asked them for 100 percent.”

Replacing Red

Two days after firing Schoendienst, the Cardinals hired Vern Rapp, a minor-league manager and former Cardinals prospect, to replace him.

Said Schoendienst: “I don’t expect to be working for the Cardinals in some other capacity _ at least not now. But maybe I’ll be back in a few years.”

Schoendienst became a coach for the 1977 Oakland Athletics on the staff of manager Jack McKeon.

in 1978, a month into his second season as Cardinals manager, Rapp was fired and replaced by Ken Boyer.

After two seasons with the Athletics, Schoendienst returned to the Cardinals as a coach on Boyer’s staff in 1979.

When Boyer was fired in 1980, Schoendienst served a stint that season as interim manager for the Cardinals. He was on the coaching staff of manager Whitey Herzog when the Cardinals returned to the postseason in 1982 and won the World Series championship.

Schoendienst served on the Cardinals coaching staffs of managers Boyer, Herzog and Torre from 1979-95.

Previously: The pitfalls of Cardinals rookie manager Vern Rapp

Previously: How Red Schoendienst became Cardinals manager

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Three months after he was traded by the Giants to the Cardinals, Billy Southworth hit a home run against his former team, providing the winning run in the victory that clinched the first National League pennant for St. Louis.

billy_southworth4It was sweet revenge for Southworth, whose deteriorating relationship with Giants manager John McGraw led to the trade.

Ninety years ago, on Sept. 24, 1926, Southworth broke a 3-3 tie with a two-run home run in the second inning, carrying the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory over the Giants at the Polo Grounds in New York. The victory gave the Cardinals a three-game lead over the second-place Reds with two remaining.

In a biography of Southworth by author John C. Skipper, Southworth said, “I couldn’t have asked for a better setting, in the Polo Grounds against the Giants who had traded me. That was the timeliest home run I ever hit and to have hit it against the Giants, with McGraw snarling his defiance from the bench, made it doubly thrilling and satisfying.”

Quite a comeback

Southworth, a right fielder, was traded by the Giants to the Cardinals on June 14, 1926. “I was unable to subordinate myself to McGraw’s rigid system,” Southworth explained. “So when he decided, in 1926, that I was, from his viewpoint, hopeless, he traded me with no personal feeling one way or the other.”

Contributing to their pennant push, Southworth hit .317 in 99 games for the 1926 Cardinals.

To pitch the potential pennant clincher against the Giants, Cardinals manager Rogers Hornsby chose Flint Rhem, a 20-game winner that season, as his starter.

After the Cardinals failed to score in the top of the first against Hugh McQuillan, Bill Terry slugged a three-run home run off Rhem in the bottom half of the inning.

Said Southworth: “Hornsby poured acid on us when we came back to the bench. He told us we hadn’t been taking our full cuts at the ball for several games and to get out there and swing.”

Hornsby’s words woke up the Cardinals.

In the second, Les Bell doubled and, with one out, advanced to third on a wild pitch. Bell scored on Bob O’Farrell’s infield single. The No. 8 batter in the order, Tommy Thevenow, doubled, moving O’Farrell to third.

Rhem was due up next, but Hornsby lifted him for a pinch-hitter, Specs Toporcer.

Toporcer, who hit .391 (9-for-23) as a pinch-hitter for the 1926 Cardinals, drilled a two-run double, tying the score at 3-3.

After Taylor Douthit flied out, Southworth batted and hit his home run into the upper deck in right field, giving the Cardinals a 5-3 lead.

Bill Sherdel, who relieved Rhem, held the Giants to one run in eight innings and got the win. Boxscore

Dancing downtown

In downtown St. Louis that Friday afternoon, the game was broadcast over loudspeakers set up for the public.

When Sherdel nailed down the final out, sealing the Cardinals’ victory, it “loosed bedlam in the downtown district,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Scenes comparable only with the ending of the Great War were enacted in the business section and repeated upon a smaller scale in other centers of the city’s life,” the newspaper reported. “Blizzards of paper enveloped every office building in the downtown area between Twelfth Boulevard and Fourth.”

Wrote the Associated Press: “Traffic at the principal corners was in a hopeless jam. Policemen, trying vainly to keep some semblance of order, were unable to keep the automobiles and street cars moving. Parades formed on Olive Street, Washington Avenue and other principal thoroughfares.”

At the Polo Grounds, the victorious Cardinals “merely smiled as they hurried to the clubhouse, shaking hands and slapping one another on the back” wrote the Associated Press.

That night, reported J. Roy Stockton in the Post-Dispatch, “as the young men sat around the lobby of the Alamac Hotel, accepting congratulations and reading telegrams from friends back home, they appeared suddenly to have knocked 10 years off their age.”

Confident Cards

Contacted by the Associated Press, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon said, “Nothing could possibly have made me happier than the winning of the pennant. When I took charge of the club seven years ago, I did it with the sole hope of winning a championship for St. Louis.”

Asked about the Cardinals being matched against the American League champion Yankees in the 1926 World Series, Hornsby boasted to The Sporting News, “Of course we are going to win the world’s championship. We have the punch and that means we do not fear the Yankees’ pitchers. We have better pitchers of our own, for that matter. Also, a faster fielding team.”

Indeed, the Cardinals went on to win four of seven games against the Yankees, earning the World Series title.

Previously: How Cardinals got Grover Cleveland Alexander

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On the day Ozzie Smith announced his plans to retire as a player, there was as much focus on his icy relationship with manager Tony La Russa as there was on his Hall of Fame Cardinals career.

ozzie_smith9Twenty years ago, on June 19, 1996, Smith tearfully said he would retire after the Cardinals’ final game of the season.

“I feel the time is here now,” Smith, 41, said to the Associated Press. “This is the best time. I’m ready for it.”

Impacting Smith’s decision, though, was his demotion to a reserve role at shortstop behind Royce Clayton, 26.

“I know that if I chose to do it I could play somewhere else,” Smith said to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But my thinking was to finish my career as a St. Louis Cardinal.”

Smith used the attention created by his retirement announcement to express his unhappiness with La Russa.

Wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz: “Unfortunately, Ozzie didn’t make it through (the day) without sniping at La Russa. Let’s hope that the sourness will clear.”

Communication breakdown

Smith, who won 13 consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1980-92, went to spring training in 1996 determined to compete with Clayton for the starting shortstop job. La Russa, in his first year as Cardinals manager, said the player who performed best in spring training would be the everyday shortstop during the season.

“I was told that the position would be earned in spring training,” Smith said at his retirement announcement. “I thought I did that.”

When La Russa declared Clayton the regular shortstop, Smith said he believed the manager hadn’t done what he said he would.

“This was the most disappointing thing in my career in St. Louis,” Smith told Hummel at the retirement announcement. “All I can go by is a person’s word. Going into spring training, I knew I had a job to do and I did that job.”

In response, La Russa said of Smith, “It’s fair to say he misunderstood how he compared to Royce in spring training. By what he was able to do defensively and on the bases, Royce deserved to play the majority of the games. Royce is capable of making more plays.”

Strain remains

Irked that Smith had brought up the controversy at the retirement announcement, La Russa complained to Hummel, “It doesn’t go away. It’s a constant irritation for him and for me _ his misunderstanding of that.”

Responding to a suggestion that the Cardinals owed a player of Smith’s caliber the chance to play regularly, La Russa said, “You can’t put a player ahead of any club … We don’t owe anybody. If Stan Musial comes back tomorrow and says, ‘I want to play’ _ that’s not what you do.”

Acknowledging that “there is a strain in the relationship” between he and Smith, La Russa added, “I’ll always feel like there’s a little edge in our relationship. I don’t think that ever will go away.”

Blame game

The next day, before the Cardinals faced the Expos at Montreal on June 20, 1996, Smith responded angrily to La Russa’s comments about Clayton performing the best in spring training.

“That’s cowardice as far as I’m concerned,” Smith told Hummel. “But should I expect anything different?”

Said La Russa of Smith: “All he’s got to do is look in the mirror and he can go out with honor and dignity rather than some kind of attempt at camouflage. I thought the purpose of his (retiring) was to be a positive influence on our ballclub. It doesn’t sound too positive to me.”

In a followup column, Miklasz reiterated that Smith is “a civic treasure” who “deserves a statue outside Busch Stadium,” but gave Smith an error for fueling the feud with La Russa.

Wrote Miklasz: “Ozzie is embarrassing himself … The only reputation that will be damaged is Ozzie’s.”

Previously: Ozzie Smith can learn from Willie McGee, Tom Pagnozzi

Previously: Why Cardinals wanted Royce Clayton as their shortstop

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In one of the most intriguing incidents in the long rivalry between the Cardinals and Dodgers, two of baseball’s most colorful characters, Leo Durocher and Casey Stengel, escalated a war of words into a post-game fight.

stengel_durocherThe animosity between the two combatants was so strong that Stengel brought a bat to the showdown.

Their tangle under the stands at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on May 12, 1936, was witnessed solely by Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch.

Thus, the three principal figures in the drama all were future inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.

Frisch was elected to the shrine because of his excellence as a second baseman for the Giants and Cardinals. Durocher and Stengel were inducted for their skills as managers. Both achieved their most prominent successes as managers of New York teams _ Durocher with the Dodgers and Giants; Stengel with the Yankees. In their lone World Series matchup, Stengel’s Yankees won four of six games against Durocher’s Giants in 1951.

Casey’s challenge

Eighty years ago, at the time of their tussle, Durocher was the Cardinals’ shortstop and Stengel was the Dodgers’ manager.

Before a gathering of 7,500 on a Tuesday afternoon, the Cardinals started their ace, Dizzy Dean. He was opposed by a left-hander, Ed Brandt, whom the Dodgers had acquired five months earlier from the Braves.

The Dodgers pummeled Dean with 13 hits in eight innings. Brandt limited the Cardinals to four hits in eight innings. Max Butcher, a rookie, pitched a scoreless ninth, earning his first major-league save in a 5-2 Dodgers victory. Boxscore

Throughout the game, Durocher, the Cardinals’ captain, and Stengel had hollered at one another across the field.

At some point during the bickering, Stengel told Durocher he’d see him after the game, The Sporting News reported.

Durocher replied, “You’d better have a bat with you.”

Batter up

Durocher later claimed he forgot about that remark.

After the game, Durocher and Frisch were in a runway that led from the dugout to the clubhouse under the stands when Stengel, holding a bat, confronted his nemesis.

In accounts to The Sporting News and Associated Press, Durocher and Stengel told different versions of what happened next.

Durocher said Stengel tried to hit him with the bat.

Stengel said he hit Durocher with his fist. “It was a right, just a plain right,” Stengel said.

Frisch broke up the scuffle “with little damage having been done,” according to the Associated Press.

The Sporting News dubbed the incident, “Casey and His Bat.”

Ford Frick, president of the National League, said he didn’t issue any fines because the fight occurred out of sight from the public, not on the field.

Hate to lose

After the season, the Dodgers fired Stengel. A year later, in October 1937, the Cardinals traded Durocher to the Dodgers. He became the Dodgers’ manager in 1939.

Stengel eventually landed with the Yankees and won seven World Series titles and 10 American League pennants from 1949-60. Durocher won NL pennants with the Dodgers in 1941 and with the Giants in 1951 and 1954. His 1954 Giants brought him his lone World Series title as a manager.

In his book “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Durocher wrote, “I would make the loser’s trip to the opposing dressing room to congratulate the other manager because that was the proper thing to do. But … I didn’t like it. You think I liked it when I had to go see Mr. Stengel and say, ‘Congratulations, Casey, you played great?’ I’d have liked to stick a knife in his chest and twist it inside him.”

Previously: Like Tony La Russa, ailing Casey Stengel left club

Previously: How Red Schoendienst became Cardinals manager

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Ken Boyer, the all-time best Cardinals third baseman, is deserving of a book that accurately and completely tells his story. Fortunately, “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain” by author Kevin D. McCann delivers.

ken_boyer_bookProduced by BrayBree Publishing and available for order online at http://www.kenboyerbook.com, this Boyer biography is a must-read for a Cardinals fan as well as for anyone who appreciates baseball, clean writing and superb research.

McCann covers every aspect of Boyer’s life and career in a compelling and richly detailed narrative. Though McCann clearly admires Boyer, this book isn’t a sugarcoated story. McCann takes readers behind the scenes of the 1950s and 1960s Cardinals in an honest and fact-based style.

Also, the book is filled with rare photos of Boyer and his teammates. The photos alone are worth buying the book.

I have a bookcase filled with Cardinals books. “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain” has a place on the top shelf with the best of my collection.

Here are some of the insights the book provides:

_ After the 1954 season, Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer wanted to acquire Yankees catching prospect Elston Howard, a St. Louis native. Meyer offered the Yankees their choice of one of several minor-league shortstops in the Cardinals’ system. The trade talks ended when the Yankees asked for Boyer, a third baseman with the Cardinals’ Texas League affiliate at Houston.

_ Boyer played winter baseball in Cuba after the 1954 season. Pirates executive Branch Rickey, formerly of the Cardinals, scouted Boyer in Havana and filed a glowing report.

“At third base, I saw the best ballplayer on first impression that I have seen in many a day,” Rickey wrote. “Boyer by name. He can run with very deceptive speed … Never loafs. He has big hands and knows what to do with them.”

_ Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson didn’t care for what he perceived as Boyer’s laid-back disposition. “Boyer has everything he needs to be a great player except one thing,” said Hutchinson. “He has to develop more drive, more aggressiveness. He doesn’t push enough.”

_ After the 1957 season, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane wanted to trade Boyer to the Pirates for outfielder Frank Thomas and third baseman Gene Freese. Cardinals owner Gussie Busch vetoed the deal. Miffed, Lane resigned and became general manager of the Indians.

_ Bing Devine, Lane’s replacement, was tempted by a Phillies trade offer of outfielder Richie Ashburn and pitcher Harvey Haddix for Boyer, but rejected the proposal. Said Boyer: “I told my wife that if I’d have been the Cardinals, I’d have made that trade.”

_ Tim McCarver, longtime St. Louis catcher, told the author that on the Cardinals “(Stan) Musial was the star, but Kenny was the leader. No doubt about it.”

_ The working relationship between Boyer and Musial was one of mutual respect. “Stan had probably as much influence on my career as anyone,” Boyer said.

_ The grand slam Boyer hit to win Game 4 of the 1964 World Series came on a changeup from Al Downing after the pitcher had shook off catcher Elston Howard’s call for a fastball. “He got the ball up in my eyes and that’s where any hitter likes to swing,” Boyer said.

_ After his playing career ended, Boyer was offered a chance to manage in the Dodgers’ minor-league system. He instead accepted an offer from Devine to manage the Cardinals’ Class AA club at Arkansas in 1970 because he preferred to return to the Cardinals’ organization.

_ The Cardinals fired manager Red Schoendienst after the 1976 season. Boyer was one of three finalists for the job. The others: Vern Rapp and Joe Altobelli. The Cardinals chose Rapp, in part, because they thought Boyer was too much like Schoendienst. Rejected, Boyer became a manager in the Orioles’ farm system.

_ After the 1977 season, Boyer was runner-up for big-league manager jobs that went to Bobby Cox with the Braves and George Bamberger with the Brewers.

_ The Cardinals fired Rapp in April 1978 and replaced him with Boyer. “It was difficult to imagine the same people who had made the decision a year ago changing their minds and giving me another opportunity,” Boyer said.

Previously: With Ron Santo in Hall, Ken Boyer should be there too

Previously: 1964 effort supports Ken Boyer Hall of Fame case

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