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Given a chance to become a division rival of the Cardinals, the Kansas City Royals balked. 

Twenty-five years ago, in November 1997, the Milwaukee Brewers moved from the American League to the National League, joining the Cardinals, Astros, Cubs, Pirates and Reds in the Central Division.

The Brewers went because the Royals said no.

Musical chairs

After deciding to expand by adding the Tampa Bay Rays for the 1998 season, the American League had a geography problem. The Rays, naturally, belonged in the East Division, but five teams already were situated there. Same with the Central. The West had four teams, but putting the Rays there wasn’t practical.

Major League Baseball officials, of course, devised a convoluted solution.

To open a spot for the Rays in the East, the plan was to shift the Detroit Tigers to the Central. To create a spot for the Tigers, it was decided to move a franchise from the American League Central to the National League Central.

Because the Royals were strong proponents of realignment, the American League invited them to be the franchise that moved to the National League.

What appealed to the Royals was the possibility of an in-state division rivalry with the Cardinals, a scenario that had Royals chief executive officer David Glass “picturing a happy life in the National League,” the Kansas City Star reported.

In 1997, baseball had interleague play for the first time, and “our three best gates were when the Cardinals were here Labor Day weekend,” Glass told the Kansas City newspaper.

The Royals “agonized over their decision,” but opted to remain in the American League for two reasons:

_ Public sentiment, including among season ticket-holders, was for the Royals to stay put, general manager Herk Robinson told the Kansas City Star.

_ The Royals, run by a five-person limited partnership since the death of owner Ewing Kauffman in 1993, were for sale and the “timing wasn’t right” to switch leagues, Glass told the Kansas City newspaper. “It would be most helpful if we had an owner in place that could help in this decision,” Glass said.

When the Royals, who had played in the American League since 1969, opted to stay, the Brewers volunteered to be the franchise that switched leagues.

Turn back the clock

On Nov. 5, 1997, Major League Baseball’s executive council voted unanimously to move the Brewers to the National League.

Milwaukee had experienced many changes as a major-league franchise. In 1901, the Milwaukee Brewers were an original American League member. After one season, they became the St. Louis Browns.

In 1953, after unsuccessfully trying to lure the Cardinals from St. Louis, Milwaukee became a National League city when the Braves moved there from Boston. The Milwaukee Braves won two National League pennants and a World Series title before the franchise moved again to Atlanta for the 1966 season.

Big-league baseball returned to Milwaukee in 1970 when the Seattle Pilots of the American League relocated there and were renamed the Brewers. In 1982, the Brewers won their only American League pennant, but the Cardinals prevailed in the World Series.

Having the Brewers become a National League team was a hit with those who appreciated Milwaukee’s years as a Braves franchise.

Brewers owner Bud Selig, who also was the acting baseball commissioner, told the Associated Press, “Those of us old enough to remember the glory days of Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Johnny Logan, and Warren Spahn and Lew Burdette, we view this as coming home.”

Aaron called it “a great day for Milwaukee.”

The Brewers became the first major-league team to switch leagues in the 1900s.

Polling found that 75 percent of fans in Milwaukee favored realignment, the Associated Press reported, and Selig said such overwhelming public support was an important factor in the Brewers volunteering to move to the National League.

Roots of a rivalry

Asked about the Brewers transferring rather than the Royals, Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Either one would have been a good choice. They’re cities which have good baseball histories and which are good Midwestern markets. Both would have fit into the Central Division.”

Five months earlier, the Brewers and Cardinals played a regular-season interleague game against one another for the first time.

Played at County Stadium in Milwaukee on a Monday night before 23,503, the Brewers arranged for four players from the 1982 World Series (Cecil Cooper and Gorman Thomas of the Brewers, and Bob Forsch and Darrell Porter of the Cardinals) to sign autographs before the game. Porter caught the ceremonial first pitch from Selig, no small feat because Selig threw the ball in the dirt, five feet from the plate.

The Brewers won the game, 1-0, with Mike Matheny catching the combined shutout of Ben McDonald and Bob Wickman. Boxscore

The next night, 38,634 came to watch, with the teams wearing replicas of their 1982 World Series uniforms (Brewers in pinstripes and Cardinals in robin-egg blue). The Cardinals’ left fielder was Willie McGee, 38. As a rookie, he had hit two home runs and made a leaping catch against the wall in Game 3 of the 1982 World Series at Milwaukee. McGee had two hits in the regular-season interleague game, but the Brewers won, 4-3, beating Fernando Valenzuela. Boxscore

In the series finale, after franchise icon Robin Yount made the ceremonial first pitch, the Brewers completed the sweep, winning 8-4. Boxscore

Win some, lose some

The first time the Brewers faced the Cardinals as National League rivals was at St. Louis in May 1998. Spectators received pins recognizing the Brewers’ first season in the league. Todd Stottlemyre and Jeff Brantley pitched a combined shutout, and Ron Gant, Brian Jordan and Ray Lankford hit home runs in a 7-0 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore

The Cardinals were 8-3 versus the Brewers in 1998, the most wins they had against any opponent that season, but the Astros won the Central Division title. (The Astros switched to the American League starting with the 2013 season, reducing the National League Central to five teams.)

Since joining the National League Central, the Brewers have won three division titles. The first was in 2011. The Cardinals, who placed second in the division, were allowed into the playoffs anyway and prevailed against the Brewers in the National League Championship Series.

The 2018 division champion Brewers had the best regular-season record in the National League (96 wins) but lost four of seven to the Dodgers in the playoffs. After winning a division title in 2021, the Brewers were ousted by the Braves in the playoffs.

The Royals have won just one division title since deciding to remain in the American League. That came in 2015 when the Royals (95 wins) had the best regular-season record in the league, won the pennant and prevailed against the Mets in the World Series.

In 2014, the Royals placed second to the Tigers in the division, but were deemed a playoff qualifier nonetheless. They won all eight of their American League playoff games, securing the pennant, but the Giants prevailed in the World Series.

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The first home run hit by Leon Durham for the Cubs came against the relief ace the Cardinals acquired for him.

On April 29, 1981, Durham slugged a two-run home run versus Bruce Sutter to tie the score at Wrigley Field in Chicago.

Four months earlier, the Cardinals had traded Durham, Ken Reitz and Ty Waller to the Cubs to get Sutter as their closer. He did the job, leading the National League in saves in three of his four seasons with the Cardinals and helping them win a World Series championship in 1982.

Nonetheless, it was a peculiar quirk of fate that when Sutter did have his first setback with the Cardinals, it was Durham who was responsible.

Still pals

Sutter was successful in his first four save opportunities for the Cardinals, including his first appearance against the Cubs.

In St. Louis on April 20, 1981, the Cubs played the Cardinals for the first time since the Sutter trade. Sutter, who played five seasons for the Cubs and won the 1979 National League Cy Young Award while with them, visited his former team’s clubhouse before the game “to renew old acquaintances,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Later, from the Cardinals’ dugout, “It was really strange before the game, looking over there at the Cubs across the field and realizing I wasn’t one of them,” Sutter told the Tribune, “but once the game started, all of the feelings were gone. When I had to pitch against them, it was just a job. That’s what they pay me to do.”

Entering in the eighth to protect a 2-1 lead, Sutter retired all six batters he faced. He struck out two (Ivan DeJesus and Steve Henderson) and got Durham on a pop fly to left for the final out. Boxscore

“Bruce is the best at what he does,” Cubs manager Joey Amalfitano told the Tribune. “It looked like somebody pulled the pins out the way his ball was dropping when he struck out DeJesus.”

Showing there were no hard feelings, Sutter said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I’ll probably go out later and have a few beers with some of the guys I played with.”

Durham delivers

Nine days later, the Cardinals made their first visit of the season to Chicago for a doubleheader with the Cubs at Wrigley Field.

The Cubs won the opener, snapping a 12-game losing streak to put their season record at 2-13. Sutter relieved in the seventh inning of the second game with the Cardinals ahead, 2-0. He hadn’t allowed a run in five appearances totaling 10.2 innings for the Cardinals.

Sutter retired the first Cubs batter, then gave up a single. Durham was up next. As a Cardinals rookie in 1980, Durham had a single and a walk in two plate appearances versus Sutter, then a Cub.

Like many of the Cubs, Durham got off to a poor start in 1981. The triple he hit against the Cardinals’ Jim Kaat in the first game of the doubleheader raised his batting average to .209 and produced just his second RBI of the season. He still was seeking his first home run as a Cub.

Digging in against Sutter in Game 2, Durham later told the Tribune, “I was really keyed up to face him. Any time you face a guy you’ve been traded for, you really want to get a piece of him.”

A left-handed batter, Durham sliced a Sutter pitch into a strong wind. “The ball barely reached the basket in front of the left field stands,” the Tribune noted, but was good enough for a two-run home run, tying the score at 2-2. 

“I just wanted a hit off him,” Durham said to the Post-Dispatch. “He got me in St. Louis, and I got him today.”

Sutter told the newspaper, “I threw my best pitch. He hit it out. That’s the way it goes when you’re a relief pitcher.”

Sutter held the Cubs scoreless in the eighth and ninth before being lifted for a pinch-hitter.

With the score still tied after 11 innings, the game was suspended because of darkness. It was scheduled to be resumed July 3, but the players’ strike kept that from happening. The suspended game never was resumed and was declared a tie, with all statistics counting in the record books. Boxscore

Durham hit two more home runs against Sutter. Both came for the Cubs in 1985 when Sutter was with the Braves. For his career, Durham had a .412 batting average and .444 on-base percentage (seven hits and a walk in 18 plate appearances) versus Sutter.

In 1982, when the Cardinals were World Series champions, Sutter had six saves in seven appearances versus the Cubs, but his career ERA against them was 5.36, by far his highest versus any foe.

Against the Cardinals, Sutter had 25 career saves and a 3.21 ERA.

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Stan Musial played in 3,026 regular-season games for the Cardinals. Only once did he strike out three times in a game. The pitcher who did it: Dick Ellsworth.

A left-hander who pitched in 13 seasons with the Cubs, Phillies, Red Sox, Indians and Brewers, Ellsworth had a career record of 115-137. He twice lost 20 in a season with the Cubs (9-20 in 1962 and 8-22 in 1966).

Ellsworth’s most noteworthy season was 1963. He was 22-10 for the Cubs and his 2.11 ERA ranked second in the National League to the Dodgers’ Sandy Koufax (1.88).

That also was the year Ellsworth did to Musial what no other pitcher had been able to do.

Top talent

As a youth in Fresno, Calif., Ellsworth followed the local minor-league team, an affiliate of the Cardinals. One of the players who made a strong impression on him was Larry Jackson, who had a 28-4 record for the 1952 Fresno Cardinals.

Ellsworth developed into an outstanding pitcher with Fresno High School. He had a 15-0 record his senior season and struck out 195 in 100 innings, according to the Fresno Bee. He was one of three future big-league players on the 1958 Fresno High School team. The others: Jim Maloney and Pat Corrales. Later, Tom Seaver attended the school.

The day after he graduated in June 1958, Ellsworth, 18, signed with the Cubs. Brought to Chicago, he started in a charity exhibition game against the White Sox at Comiskey Park and pitched a four-hit shutout.

A week later, Ellsworth made his official big-league debut in a start against the Reds at Cincinnati. With the bases loaded and the score tied at 1-1, Ellsworth was lifted for Glen Hobbie, whose belt-high fastball was slugged for a grand slam by Gus Bell. Boxscore

Sent to the minors, Ellsworth came back to stay with the Cubs in 1960. In his first appearance against the Cardinals, on May 14, 1960, at Chicago, he pitched seven scoreless innings and got the win. Boxscore

A year later, on May 20, 1961, Ellsworth earned his first big-league shutout, a 1-0 win against the Cardinals at Chicago. Matched against the pitcher he used to watch at Fresno, Larry Jackson, Ellsworth won the duel, tossing a three-hitter. After Ellsworth got Musial to tap to the mound with a runner at second for the final out in the top of the ninth, Ed Bouchee led off the bottom of the inning and walloped Jackson’s first pitch for a walkoff home run. Boxscore

Words of wisdom

After Ellsworth’s 20-loss season in 1962, two former Cardinals _ Cubs pitching coach Fred Martin and (there’s that name again) Larry Jackson _ helped convert him into a 22-game winner in 1963.

Ellsworth had stopped using a slider because the pitch caused him elbow pain, but at spring training in 1963 Martin showed him a better way to throw it, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

(Martin later taught Bruce Sutter to throw the split-fingered pitch that put him on the path to the Hall of Fame.)

Larry Jackson, acquired by the Cubs from the Cardinals after the 1962 season, helped Ellsworth develop the slider taught by Martin. “When Jackson joined our club, I asked him how he threw his slider because he has one of the best in the business,” Ellsworth told The Sporting News. “He showed me how to grip the ball and release it without jerking my arm. Now I can throw it without the slightest twinge in my arm.”

Jackson and another veteran Cubs pitcher, Bob Buhl, mentored Ellsworth on his approach to pitching. “I’d sit and talk to them after a game and they’d ask, ‘Why did you throw this pitch to that hitter in that spot?’ or ‘Why didn’t you curve with a 3-and-2 count?’ They helped teach me to think.”

Ellsworth, 23, learned his lessons well. He won eight of his first 11 decisions in 1963. One of the losses was to Ernie Broglio and the Cardinals by a 1-0 score. Boxscore

The next time Ellsworth faced the Cardinals, on July 15, 1963, at St. Louis, he used his bat, as well as his arm, to beat them. Ellsworth pitched 6.2 scoreless innings, exiting after a strikeout of Musial, and drilled a two-run single to center versus Broglio in the 2-0 victory. Boxscore 

Though his sinking fastball remained his best weapon, “the slider gave me a pitch that kept them honest,” Ellsworth explained to The Sporting News. “I’d push the right-handers back by jamming them on the wrists with the slider.”

Special stuff

Two weeks later, on July 28, 1963, Ellsworth started against the Cardinals at Chicago and beat them for his 15th win of the season. Ellsworth pitched a complete game, drove in a run, and struck out 10. Most remarkable, though, were his three strikeouts of Musial. No one had done that to The Man. Boxscore

With his whiff on July 15, followed by the three on July 28, Musial struck out in four consecutive plate appearances versus Ellsworth.

“It surely marked the lowest point of his 1963 season,” author James N. Giglio wrote in his book “Musial: From Stash to Stan the Man.”

Though 42 and in his final season as a player, Musial remained a tough out. That month, for instance, he belted a home run against Juan Marichal and produced two hits in a game versus Warren Spahn. He still made consistently hard contact and would finish his 22-year career never having struck out as many as 50 times in a season.

Against Ellsworth, it was different. Musial hit .219 with 10 strikeouts versus Ellsworth for his career. All seven of his hits against him were singles.

“I just can’t seem to pick up his ball,” Musial told the Post-Dispatch. “My timing hasn’t been right against him.”

Ellsworth said to the Fresno Bee, “I never think about strikeouts. I try to make them hit my pitch. I get more satisfaction in using my head than my arm. I don’t think I’m doing a real good job when I strike out a batter.”

On Sept. 2, 1963, Ellsworth beat the Giants for his 20th win of the season. That same day, his former high school teammate, Jim Maloney of the Reds, beat the Mets for his 20th win of the season.

Ellsworth was the first Cubs left-hander to achieve 20 wins in a season since Hippo Vaughn did it in 1919. 

“I wouldn’t trade him for Sandy Koufax,” pitching coach Fred Martin told The Sporting News. “Dick has more pitches than Koufax and he gets them over.”

Moving on

Ellsworth had losing records in each of the next four seasons. On July 18, 1966, at St. Louis, he gave up a pair of three-run home runs. Tim McCarver hit one and Mike Shannon belted the other 450 feet to left. Boxscore

In 1968, Ellsworth had a resurgence with the Red Sox, posting a 16-7 record for the defending American League champions.

Ellsworth finished with a career record of 15-14 versus the Cardinals. He had more wins against the Cardinals than he did versus any other club.

A son, Steve Ellsworth, pitched for the Red Sox in 1988.

Dick Ellsworth had a long and successful second career as a real estate salesman in Fresno. He died on Oct. 10, 2022, at 82.

 

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Looking to cap a comeback from an injury that nearly shattered his season, pitcher Tommy Boggs was expecting to start Game 2 of the National League Championship Series for the Braves against the Cardinals.

Instead, his hopes for a storybook ending got washed away on a stormy St. Louis night.

After suffering a partial tear of the rotator cuff in his right shoulder early in the season, Boggs wasn’t expected to pitch again in 1982, but he defied the odds and returned to the starting rotation on the last day of August, helping the Braves over the final month in their bid for a National League West Division title. The Braves felt so confident about Boggs’ recovery that they planned to give him a start in the playoff series versus the East Division champion Cardinals.

A right-hander who pitched nine seasons in the majors for the Rangers and Braves, Boggs died on Oct. 5, 2022, at 66.

Top talent

Born in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., Boggs was a year old when his family moved to Lexington, Ky. Boggs later played youth baseball there and rooted for the Reds, according to the Lexington Herald and the Austin American-Statesman.

After the family relocated to Austin, Texas, Boggs became a standout pitcher at Lanier High School. The Rangers took him with the second overall pick in the first round of the 1974 amateur baseball draft. Boggs was selected ahead of other first-rounders such as Lonnie Smith (Philies), Dale Murphy (Braves), Garry Templeton (Cardinals), Willie Wilson (Royals) and Rick Sutcliffe (Dodgers).

The Rangers called up Boggs, 20, from their Sacramento farm club in July 1976 and he joined a starting rotation with the likes of Gaylord Perry, Bert Blyleven and former Cardinal Nelson Briles. Boggs made his major-league debut in a start against the Red Sox, The first batter he struck out was Fred Lynn. The first hit he gave up was to Carl Yastrzemski. Boxscore

Relying on his fastball, Boggs impressed many, including Cleveland Indians manager Frank Robinson, who told The Sporting News, “He’s good now and he can be a great one. He has poise. He gives the impression he’s in total command, and that’s rare for one his age.”

After Boggs got his first big-league win against Whitey Herzog’s Royals, Rangers manager Frank Lucchesi told the Kansas City Times, “The kid is something special. He reminds me of a young Tom Seaver.” Boxscore

Trials and tribulations

The high expectations created a strain not even an exceptional fastball could overcome. Boggs’ record in two seasons with the Rangers was 1-10. In December 1977, they traded him to the Braves.

“Everything was always, potential, potential,” Boggs told the Austin newspaper. “You really get sick of hearing about it. One time, in triple-A, I saw this sign, one of those Charlie Brown things, that said, ‘The greatest burden in life is potential.’ For about three years, I really believed that.”

Boggs lost 21 of his first 24 decisions in the majors.

It wasn’t until 1979, when he was with the Braves’ farm club in Richmond, Va., that Boggs, 23, began fulfilling his potential. He credited Richmond pitching coach Johnny Sain, who taught him to throw a slider. “Before that, I was a two-pitch pitcher, fastball and curve,” Boggs told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “When my curve was off, the batters would just sit on my fastball.”

Boggs had his best season as a pro with Richmond, posting a 15-10 record with 16 complete games.

“I finally got the confidence that I could win again, and the slider was a big part of it,” Boggs said to the Austin American-Statesman. “The pitch, and the confidence, were the two big differences.”

In 1980, Braves manager Bobby Cox and pitching coach Cloyd Boyer, the former Cardinal, gave Boggs a spot in the starting rotation. Mixing his pitches effectively, he finished 12-9, including 3-0 versus the Cardinals.

“The key to pitching against the Cardinals is to keep Garry Templeton off base in front of the big guys,” Boggs told the Atlanta Constitution.

Boggs regressed in 1981 (3-13 record), but showed enough at spring training in 1982 to be a starter for manager Joe Torre and pitching coach Bob Gibson. In the Braves’ home opener, Boggs and Al Hrabosky combined to beat Don Sutton and the Astros. Boxscore

After two more starts in April 1982, Boggs felt pain in his right shoulder.

Down, not out

“When they told me it was a rotator cuff, it really scared me,” Boggs said to the Atlanta Constitution. “There goes your livelihood.”

Torre said, “If he helps us before the end of the season, I’d consider it a plus. I’m not thinking of him coming back before the end of the year.”

Specialists advised Boggs that rest, rather than surgery, was best. Two months later, Dr. Frank Jobe informed Boggs the tear in the rotator cuff had healed and cleared him to begin workouts.

When the Braves played the Cardinals that season, Boggs sought the advice of catcher Darrell Porter, who had experienced a similar injury in 1981. “It’s healed as much as it can, but I still have pain,” Porter told the Atlanta Constitution. “I can’t throw over the top like I used to. I can’t extend my arm. Boggs is facing something difficult.”

After working to strengthen the shoulder, Boggs made three starts for Richmond and was called up to the Braves.

On Aug. 31, 1982, in a start against the Phillies, Boggs made his first big-league appearance since the injury. He pitched six shutout innings and got the win. The two batters he struck out were Pete Rose and Mike Schmidt. Boxscore

“His control was phenomenal,” pitching coach Bob Gibson told the Atlanta Constitution. “I didn’t expect him to have control. He could be a big lift for us.”

Boggs said, “There were times in the last four months when I didn’t know if I could pitch again. Just to go out there was more gratifying than I can explain.”

Boggs made six starts in September for the Braves, showing he could contribute in the playoff series against the Cardinals.

Tough break

Torre chose Phil Niekro, Pascual Perez and Rick Camp as the starting pitchers for the first three games of the best-of-five National League Championship Series. Boggs was picked to start if a Game 4 was necessary.

Wet weather in St. Louis altered those plans. In Game 1 on Wednesday Oct. 6, Niekro pitched 4.1 scoreless innings and had a 1-0 lead when the game was called off because of rain. In the rescheduled Game 1 on Thursday Oct. 7, the Cardinals routed Perez and won, 7-0, on Bob Forsch’s three-hitter.

After the loss, Torre said he would start Niekro in Game 2 on Friday night Oct. 8, but on the morning of the game he changed his mind and said Boggs would start that night against the Cardinals. Torre told the Atlanta Constitution he based his decision on two factors: (1) Whether it’d be fair to pitch Niekro on one day’s rest, and (2) the possibility of having another Niekro start rained out that night.

Gibson called Boggs in his hotel room and informed him of Torre’s decision. Pitching in the playoffs is “something you prepare yourself for all your life,” Boggs told the Post-Dispatch.

Unfortunately for Boggs, it rained relentlessly and the game was called off before a pitch was thrown.

Afterward, Torre changed his mind again, saying Niekro, not Boggs, would start the rescheduled Game 2 on Saturday Oct. 9.

“Someone once told me that changing your mind is a sign of intelligence,” Torre said to the Atlanta Constitution. “After all the times I’ve changed my mind about pitching this year, I must be the most intelligent guy in the world.”

Though Torre said Boggs would start Game 4, if one was necessary, it didn’t soothe the sting Boggs felt about having his Game 2 assignment rained out and being bypassed for Niekro in the rescheduled game. “I’m disappointed,” Boggs told the Post-Dispatch. “I thought I had earned a right to pitch.”

The Cardinals won Game 2, rallying against reliever Gene Garber after Niekro went six innings, and clinched the pennant by beating Rick Camp in Game 3.

Boggs never got to pitch in a playoff game. His last season in the majors was 1985. He ended with a career record of 20-44.

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The Cardinals acquired the player who might have helped them win a division title in 1973, but gave him away before he played a game for them.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 26, 1972, the Cardinals got outfielder Larry Hisle from the Dodgers for pitchers Rudy Arroyo and Greg Milliken.

Hisle might have been a fit to join a Cardinals outfield with Lou Brock and either Jose Cruz or Bake McBride.

Instead, on Nov. 29, 1972, a month after acquiring him, the Cardinals traded Hisle to the Twins for reliever Wayne Granger.

Hisle fulfilled his potential with the Twins and later with the Brewers. Granger, in his second stint with St. Louis, was a disappointment.

The 1973 Cardinals, who ranked last in the National League in home runs, finished 1.5 games behind the division champion Mets. Hisle’s 15 home runs for the 1973 Twins would have made him the team leader on the 1973 Cardinals.

Prized prospect

Born in Portsmouth, Ohio, Larry Hisle was named by his mother, a baseball fan, in honor of Larry Doby, who became the first black player in the American League, according to the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR). Hisle’s parents died when he was a youth and he was adopted by Orville and Kathleen Ferguson, “two of the finest people in the world,” Hisle told United Press International.

Hisle played youth baseball with two other future big-leaguers, Al Oliver and Gene Tenace, according to SABR, but he also was a standout prep basketball player. When Oscar Robertson, recruiting for the University of Cincinnati, called, “I almost dropped the phone,” Hisle told The Sporting News.

After agreeing to play basketball at Ohio State, Hisle was picked by the Phillies in the second round of the 1965 baseball draft and signed with them. A right-handed batter, he played two seasons at the Class A level in the minors, then reported in 1968 to Phillies spring training camp, where he roomed with Bill White.

In choosing Hisle, 20, to be the Phillies’ 1968 Opening Day center fielder, manager Gene Mauch told The Sporting News, “Hisle is the best center fielder I’ve ever had.”

The experiment didn’t last long. Though he hit .364 in 11 at-bats for the 1968 Phillies, Hisle was sent to the minors before the end of April.

Rookie season

The Phillies named Hisle their center fielder for 1969, but he had a shaky start. He hit .159 in April and removed himself from a game because of what the team physician described to The Sporting News as “acute anxiety.”

“We’re all aware he’s a very intense, high-strung young man who is going to take a little longer to adjust up here,” Phillies manager Bob Skinner said to The Sporting News.

Hisle did better in May, producing four hits, two RBI, two runs and two stolen bases in a game against the Cardinals. Boxscore

Before a game in Philadelphia, the Giants’ Willie Mays chatted with Hisle and told him, “Open your stance, take it easy and concentrate on just meeting the ball,” The Sporting News reported. Hisle responded with four hits and two RBI that day. Boxscore

Phillies teammate Dick Allen aided Hisle, too, and became a mentor. “I’ll never forget how much he helped me,” Hisle told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Hisle hit .266 with 20 home runs and 18 stolen bases for the 1969 Phillies.

Too far, too fast

Dick Allen was traded to the Cardinals after the 1969 season in a deal involving center fielder Curt Flood, who refused to report.

With neither Allen nor Flood, the Phillies needed Hisle to step up, but he didn’t, hitting .205 in 1970 and .197 in 1971.

“I put too much pressure on myself,” Hisle said to the Chicago Sun-Times. “I doubted my ability.”

In October 1971, the Phillies dealt Hisle to the Dodgers for Tommy Hutton.

Hisle “was built up as the potential superstar who would lead the Phillies out of the wilderness, and he wasn’t ready to handle the role,” Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson wrote. “The enormous pressures beat him down, sent his batting average plummeting, and turned the fans who had cheered him as a rookie into a booing mob that virtually chased him out of town.”

Mind games

At spring training in 1972, Hisle was the last player cut by the Dodgers, according to the Albuquerque Journal. Rather than go to the minors, Hisle said he considered quitting baseball. He was attending Ohio University in the off-seasons, studying math and physical education, “and has thought of teaching and social work,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

A voracious reader of authors as diverse as B.F. Skinner and James Joyce, Hisle “dabbles in analytic geometry, and worries about what happened to his hitting,” the Los Angeles Times noted. “He may be, he says, too much of a thinker for his own good.”

The Dodgers assigned Hisle to Albuquerque, hoping the manager there, Tommy Lasorda, would help him overcome self-doubts.

Playing for Lasorda, “I learned that the most important thing a person can say about himself is, ‘I believe in myself,’ ” Hisle told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Hisle hit .325 with 23 home runs and 91 RBI for Albuquerque in 1972.

The Twins tried to acquire him after the season, but the Dodgers wanted pitcher Steve Luebber in return. Luebber was rated the best pitching prospect in the Twins’ system and they didn’t want to trade him, so the Dodgers dealt Hisle, 25, to the Cardinals.

Coming and going

“Hisle could play a big part in the youth movement of the Cardinals,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch declared. 

The Cardinals brought Hisle to St. Louis and told him “they were hoping I could help the outfield defense,” Hisle told the Minneapolis Star Tribune. “From what I heard, it needed help. I was really happy to join the Cardinals.”

General manager Bing Devine also was seeking help for the bullpen, and approached the Twins about Wayne Granger, a former Cardinal. Granger’s 19 saves for the 1972 Twins were six more than Cardinals pitchers totaled that year.

“We had talked with the Twins about Granger shortly after the season ended, but they wanted a hitter in return and we didn’t have anyone available,” Devine told The Sporting News. “After we got Hisle, they expressed a strong interest in him.”

The Twins hardly could believe their good luck. Granger “had not endeared himself to the front office with charges that the Twins weren’t a first-class organization,” The Sporting News reported, and they were eager to trade him.

“It was fortunate for us that Bing Devine was interested in Wayne Granger,” Twins owner Calvin Griffith told columnist Sid Hartman. “We talked to Devine about Hisle. He was reluctant to give him up, but he wanted Granger.”

Devine said to The Sporting News, “We really had figured on Hisle as an extra man on the club because he can do so many things.”

Nothing personal

Hisle was at home when the Cardinals called, informing him of the trade to the Twins. “I was disappointed and hurt,” he told the Minneapolis Star Tribune.

According to the newspaper, “Hisle later received a handwritten note from Bing Devine. Devine apologized for the quick trade to Minnesota, explaining it was not intentional nor a snub at Hisle, but merely something which Devine felt could help the Cardinals. Hisle appreciated the letter, and still has it.”

The Twins made Hisle feel at home, naming him their center fielder. “I’m getting a chance to play regular here,” he told the Minneapolis newspaper. “I don’t know if I would have played every day for the Cardinals.”

Hisle scored 88 runs and drove in 64 for the 1973 Twins. His 230 total bases ranked third on the team, behind only Rod Carew and Tony Oliva.

Granger was 2-4 with five saves and a 4.24 ERA for the 1973 Cardinals before he was traded to the Yankees in August.

Hisle had big seasons for the Twins in 1976 (96 RBI, 31 stolen bases) and 1977 (28 home runs, 119 RBI). Granted free agency, he signed with the Brewers and had 34 home runs, 115 RBI and 96 runs scored for them in 1978.

A two-time all-star, Hisle played 14 seasons in the majors. He was the hitting coach for the World Series champion Blue Jays in 1992 and 1993.

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Even in a rivalry as intense as Cubs vs. Cardinals, sometimes a little common courtesy prevails.

Seventy-five years ago, on Sept. 28, 1947, at Chicago, the Cardinals and Cubs created their own rule during the last game of the season.

When a Cubs baserunner, slugger Bill Nicholson, needed to leave the field for treatment of a minor foot problem, the Cardinals agreed to let the Cubs use a substitute, or courtesy runner, and then allow Nicholson to return to the game.

Under standard baseball rules, a player leaving the game needs to stay out of the game. The Cardinals, with nothing at stake in the standings, opted to make an exception for the Cubs.

A goodbye game

Regardless of the outcome of the 1947 season finale, the Cardinals were assured of finishing in second place in the National League behind the champion Dodgers, and the Cubs were guaranteed to end up sixth in the eight-team league.

Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer had just one regular, second baseman Red Schoendienst, in the starting lineup. Among those getting the day off were Marty Marion, Terry Moore, Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter.

Cubs manager Charlie Grimm started most of his top hitters, including first baseman Eddie Waitkus and outfielders Phil Cavarretta and Bill Nicholson.

Nicholson had the nickname “Swish” because of his propensity for striking out. Nicholson led the National League in most times whiffing in 1947 (83), but in 16 seasons in the majors he never struck out 100 times in a year.

(Today’s swing-and-miss hackers include Joey Gallo, who struck out 213 times in 2021 and received a salary of $6.2 million, according to baseball-reference.com. In 2022, Gallo batted .160 for the season and received $10.2 million.)

Nicholson gave the Cubs a 1-0 lead in the second inning with a home run, his 26th of the season, against Cardinals starter Ken Burkhart.

Give me a break

With one out in the fourth, Burkhart issued walks to Nicholson and Bob Scheffing. On ball four to Scheffing, Cardinals rookie catcher Del Wilber, who lost track of the count, made a wild throw to second in a futile bid to nab Nicholson.

As the ball sailed into the outfield, Nicholson headed to third. Sliding safely into the bag, he scraped an ankle, the Chicago Tribune reported. (According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Nicholson damaged a shoe sliding into third.)

Regardless of the reason, Nicholson needed to leave the field for a quick patch-up, but all indications were he’d be fit to return _ if the Cardinals would permit it.

With 17,414 spectators on hand at Wrigley Field, the Cubs were eager to keep the club’s top home run and RBI producer in the game.

“By courtesy of the Cardinals,” the Chicago Tribune reported, pitcher Hank Borowy was permitted to run for Nicholson, with the understanding Nicholson would return to the game as soon as he was able.

Thus, Borowy became known as the courtesy runner.

Headed home

With Scheffing on first and Borowy on third, Ray Mack singled to left. Borowy scored, extending the Cubs’ lead to 2-0. Scheffing reached second safely on the hit, took a step or two toward third and was caught flat-footed on Erv Dusak’s strong throw to Schoendienst, who applied the tag for the out.

Nicholson re-entered the game in right field in the top of the fifth. An inning later, he singled but Scheffing followed by grounding into a double play.

In the seventh, with Joe Medwick on first, Dusak launched a drive “that for a moment appeared headed for the seats,” the Tribune reported, but Nicholson caught it near the wall.

The Cubs prevailed, 3-0, behind the five-hit shutout of Johnny Schmitz in a game completed in one hour, 35 minutes. Boxscore

A slender left-hander, Schmitz finished the 1947 season with a 13-18 record, leading the league in losses, but he was 5-4 versus the Cardinals that year.

“The Cardinals left by train for St. Louis shortly after the game, and were ready to return to their various homes,” the Globe-Democrat reported. “For the first time, players will be given expense money to their hometowns under the provisions of the player-owner agreements reached last season.”

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