Archive for the ‘Opponents’ Category

Born and raised in St. Louis, Dave Nicholson was one of baseball’s all-time best power-hitting prospects, but the Cardinals were unwilling to pay the price it took to sign the hometown slugger.

In January 1958, Nicholson was 18 when he signed with the Orioles for more than $100,000, a shocking sum for an amateur at that time.

A right-handed batter, he was “probably the hottest prospect in the country,” the Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.

Though he went on to hit some mighty home runs in the majors, the records Nicholson set were for striking out. As Frank Hyland of the Atlanta Constitution noted, Nicholson “turned around the can’t-miss label. He could miss, and did almost every opportunity.”

An outfielder, Nicholson played seven seasons in the majors with the Orioles, White Sox, Astros and Braves. He was 83 when he died on Feb. 25, 2023.

Special talent

At 6-foot-3, 215 pounds, strong and swift, Nicholson attracted pro scouts to St. Louis to see him play in amateur leagues and for Southwest High School. “He has power, physique, the arm and speed,” White Sox farm director Glen Miller told the Chicago Tribune. “His hands are as big as hams.”

The Cardinals scouted Nicholson for two years, The Sporting News reported.

In the summer of 1957. when Nicholson was playing in the amateur Ban Johnson League after his junior season in high school, Orioles scout and former Cardinals catcher Del Wilber tracked him. “Best prospect I’ve ever seen,” Wilber told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

The Orioles sent seven scouts at various times to St. Louis to verify Wilber’s glowing reports on Nicholson. All liked what they saw. Paul Richards, who had the dual role of general manager and manager of the Orioles, and his pitching coach Harry Brecheen, the former Cardinal, showed up, too. They put Nicholson through a special workout, with Brecheen pitching to him. Nicholson passed the test, according to the Globe-Democrat. 

By the end of the summer, scouts from every big-league team had come to see the teen who crushed baseballs with the power of a hulk.

Your bid

In the fall of 1957, Nicholson, a senior, dropped out of high school and took a job with a St. Louis printer for $60 a week, the Baltimore Sun reported. According to the Chicago Tribune, Nicholson withdrew from school because of a disagreement with a coach who wanted him to play football. The Sporting News reported he left because of “weakness in the classroom.”

The pro scouts didn’t care. Every big-league team, except the Tigers, made Nicholson an offer, the Associated Press reported. It put the teen and his parents in a strong negotiating position. They let the clubs drive up the bidding in visits to the family’s Arthur Avenue home.

The Cardinals dropped out when the price reached $60,000, the Globe-Democrat reported. The Yankees didn’t stick around long either. Their scout, Lou Maguolo, who signed the likes of Tony Kubek, Norm Siebern and Lee Thomas, told The Sporting News, “Nicholson struck out seven times in 10 trips when I saw him, and I can’t recommend anybody like that.”

When the bidding reached six figures, three teams were left in the running: Cubs, Orioles, White Sox. According to The Sporting News, the Cubs and White Sox made the highest offers, but Nicholson said he chose the Orioles because, “I like Paul Richards, and I honestly think the quickest road to the majors is through the Orioles’ farm system.”

In addition to the bonus of more than $100,000 (published estimates of the amount ranged from $107,000 to $150,000), the deal included two new Pontiacs _ one for Dave and one for his father, Larry, The Sporting News reported. Larry Nicholson also was given a part-time scouting job with the Orioles.

According to the Globe-Democrat, the only other baseball amateurs to get signing bonuses of $100,000 or more were Paul Pettit (Pirates, 1950), St. Louisan Frank Baumann (Red Sox, 1952) and Hawk Taylor (Braves, 1957). Nicholson “is worth every penny,” White Sox scout Pat Monahan told the Globe-Democrat.

Learning curve

A month after signing, Nicholson was at the Orioles’ spring training camp in Scottsdale, Ariz. Watching him in batting practice, Richards told The Sporting News, “He has as much bat speed as I have seen in a youngster.”

The quick bat didn’t result too often in contact, especially against breaking pitches. Nicholson struck out in seven of his first eight at-bats in spring training games, The Sporting News reported. His only hit in 11 at-bats in exhibition games was a home run against the Giants’ Curt Barclay.

“The kid’s stance is too wide,” Cubs hitting coach Rogers Hornsby told The Sporting News. “He has to do it all with his arms, and the breaking stuff will give him a fit.”

Richards planned to have Nicholson start his pro career at the Class D level of the minors, but changed his mind and sent him to Class A Knoxville. After 25 games, he was dropped to Class B Wilson, N.C. He struggled there, too, and was demoted to Class D Dublin, Ga. 

The Dublin club was managed by a St. Louisan who spent six years playing in the Cardinals’ farm system, Earl Weaver. His task was to restore Nicholson’s sagging confidence. “He has the tools to make the majors,” Weaver told The Sporting News. “He just has to get the experience to catch up with the other boys.”

Nicholson’s combined numbers for the 1958 season were 98 hits (15 for home runs) and 158 strikeouts.

The Orioles assigned Nicholson, 19, to Class AA Amarillo in 1959, and again it was a mistake. Overmatched, he was dispatched to the Class C Aberdeen (S.D.) Pheasants and put under the care of their manager, Earl Weaver.

Weaver got Nicholson to relax and play loose. Nicholson responded, producing 35 home runs and 119 RBI for Aberdeen. When injuries depleted the Pheasants’ pitching staff, Weaver had Nicholson take some turns on the mound. In nine pitching appearances, including two starts, Nicholson was 3-1 with a 2.91 ERA. He struck out 43 batters in 34 innings.

Swishing sound

Nicholson, 20, began the 1960 season with Class AAA Miami, then was called up to the Orioles in May. He batted .186 and struck out 48 percent of the time (55 whiffs in 113 at-bats) in his first big-league season.

After another year in the minors in 1961, Nicholson was with the Orioles in 1962. He batted .173 and struck out 44 percent of the time (76 whiffs in 173 at-bats).

The Orioles dealt Nicholson, Ron Hansen, Pete Ward and Hoyt Wilhelm to the White Sox for Luis Aparicio and Al Smith in January 1963. The White Sox made Nicholson their left fielder. He hit 22 home runs for them in 1963, but struck out 175 times, a major-league record.

Just six years earlier, the batter who fanned the most times in the American League in 1957 was the Senators’ Jim Lemon, with 94. As The Sporting News noted, “It wasn’t too long ago when the total of 100 strikeouts in any one season was considered staggering … but those days are gone, perhaps never to return.”

(Today, the major-league record for striking out the most times in a season is held by Mark Reynolds, 223 whiffs with the 2009 Diamondbacks. At least Reynolds hit 44 home runs that year. In 2011, Drew Stubbs of the Reds struck out 205 times and hit 15 homers. According to baseball-reference.com, the career big-league salaries paid to those players: $30 million to Reynolds and $15 million to Stubbs.)

Playing hardball

On May 6, 1964, in the first game of a doubleheader at Comiskey Park in Chicago, Athletics starter Moe Drabowsky threw a slider to Nicholson on a 2-and-1 count. Nicholson launched a towering shot that disappeared over the roof covering the upper deck in left and landed in nearby Armour Square Park. White Sox officials estimated the ball carried 573 feet, the Chicago Tribune reported.

The ball was retrieved by 10-year-old Michael Murillo Jr., who was listening to the game on his radio while his father was at softball practice in the park, the Tribune reported. In exchange for the home run ball, Nicholson gave Michael an autographed baseball and one of his bats.

Some witnesses in the upper deck said the ball cleared the roof on a fly; others said it hit atop the roof, then skidded out of the ballpark. Regardless, Nicholson joined Jimmie Foxx, Mickey Mantle and Eddie Robinson as the only players to propel a home run out of Comiskey Park, the Tribune reported.

Nicholson’s prodigious homer was the first of three he hit that day. He had another against Drabowsky an inning later, and hit one in the second game against Aurelio Monteagudo. Boxscore and Boxscore

Two months later at Kansas City, in his first plate appearance against Drabowsky since hitting the home runs against him, Nicholson was struck in the forehead, just above the left eye, by a fastball. He fell to the ground, bleeding. Teammates carried him off the field on a stretcher. Nicholson was taken to a hospital and needed stitches to close the wound.

“The beaning was clearly an accident,” the Kansas City Times reported. “It appeared Nicholson was hit by a fastball that took off. Drabowsky was not warned by the plate umpire, Joe Paparella, and there was nothing said to him by the White Sox players.”

Paparella told The Sporting News, “It was an inside pitch that sailed.” Boxscore

Hit or miss

As Nicholson’s strikeout rate increased, his playing time decreased with the White Sox in 1964 and again in 1965. His totals in three seasons with them: 176 hits (37 for home runs) and 341 whiffs.

One person who didn’t lose faith in Nicholson was Paul Richards, who had become general manager of the Astros. He traded for Nicholson in December 1965.

Going to a National League team meant Nicholson would get to play in his hometown for the first time as a big-leaguer. On May 30, 1966, in his first at-bat in his first game in St. Louis, Nicholson singled against Bob Gibson. Boxscore 

On July 5, 1966, Nicholson hit two home runs against the Braves’ Denny Lemaster. One of the shots reached the purple seats in the fourth level of the Astrodome, 512 feet from home plate. Boxscore A month later, Nicholson belted a home run against Sandy Koufax. Boxscore

The long balls were thrilling; the strikeouts, not so much. Nicholson had the most strikeouts among Astros batters in 1966. After the season, he went to the Florida Instructional League, tried converting into a pitcher and “showed some promise,” The Sporting News reported.

Then, Paul Richards came back into his life. Richards, who left the Astros to become general manager of the Braves, acquired Nicholson in the trade that sent Eddie Mathews to Houston in December 1966.

Richards had hopes Nicholson, 27, still could be a consistent hitter, but he wanted him to begin the 1967 season in the minors at Class AAA Richmond, where he could play every day. The Braves sent hitting instructor Dixie Walker to Richmond to work with Nicholson, but the plan unraveled.

Nicholson struck out 100 times in 254 at-bats and was demoted in July 1967 to Class AA Austin (managed by Hub Kittle).

In September, Richards did Nicholson a favor and brought him to the Braves. He played his last 10 games in the majors that month. His last hit, a single, came against Bob Gibson in Atlanta. Boxscore

Nicholson’s last big-league game was Oct. 1, 1967, against the Cardinals. Naturally, his last at-bat, against Nelson Briles, resulted in a strikeout. Boxscore

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Prevented by racism from playing in the minors in 1955, Roman Mejias opened the season in the majors as the Pittsburgh Pirates’ starting right fielder ahead of another rookie, Roberto Clemente.

That season, Mejias (of Cuba), Clemente (Puerto Rico) and Felipe Montemayor (Mexico) formed the first all-Latino starting outfield in the big leagues.

Though Mejias didn’t play often for the Pirates as a rookie, he had some of his best games versus the Cardinals. For the rest of his career, Mejias hit well against them.

A right-handed batter and outfielder, Mejias played nine seasons in the majors with the Pirates, Houston Colt .45s and Boston Red Sox, He was 92 (and probably much older) when he died on Feb. 22, 2023.

Bayou bigotry

Mejias was born in Abreus, Cuba. Most sources list the date of his birth as Aug. 9, 1930. Others list it as 1925. Pirates scout Howie Haak said Mejias was 32 when he signed him for $100 before the 1953 season. Pirates general manager Branch Rickey agreed to list Mejias’ age as eight years younger, Haak told Peter Gammons of the Boston Globe in 1985.

(According to the Waco Herald-Tribune, George Sisler was scouting for the Pirates in Cuba, spotted Mejias in a game, “liked the way he snapped those wrists and signed him on the spot.”)

In 1953, Mejias’ first season in the Pirates’ system, he hit .322 for Class D Batavia, N.Y. The next year, he batted .354 with 141 RBI for Class B Waco, Texas, and had a 55-game hitting streak.

At spring training in 1955, the Pirates assigned him to the Class AA New Orleans Pelicans, but that club “refused his contract because of color,” The Pittsburgh Press reported. According to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, “The Pelicans owners decided they wouldn’t take his contract because he is a Cuban Negro.”

Because Mejias hit well in spring training, the Pirates put him on their Opening Day roster, hoping he could make the leap from Class B to the majors.

Latino talent

Mejias and Clemente were assigned to be road roommates with the 1955 Pirates, according to The Pittsburgh Press. Clemente was drafted from the Dodgers’ system during the winter, but when the Pirates opened the 1955 season at Brooklyn their starting right fielder was Mejias. Frank Thomas started in left and Tom Saffell in center. Boxscore

The next day, for the Pirates’ home opener against the Phillies, Mejias again started in right and Clemente was on the bench. Mejias hit a home run against Herm Wehmeier but also made an error, leading to a pair of Phillies runs. Boxscore

After a third consecutive start in right, Mejias was benched by manager Fred Haney and replaced by Clemente.

On April 24, 1955, at Philadelphia, when Haney started an outfield of Mejias in left, Felipe Montemayor in center and Clemente in right, “the Pirates were told they are making history with the first all-Latin American outfield,” The Pittsburgh Press reported. Boxscore

A week later, on May 2, the Pirates started the same outfield combination against the Cardinals in Pittsburgh. Boxscore

Put me in, coach

On June 12, 1955, in a game against the Braves at Pittsburgh, Mejias snapped a 3-3 tie with a two-run home run against Warren Spahn, lifting the Pirates to a 5-3 victory. Boxscore

As the summer wore on, though, Mejias got less playing time. He had three hits in July and four in August. When the Cardinals came to Pittsburgh at the end of August, Mejias was batting .197 for the season.

In the series opener on Aug. 30, Mejias got the start in right, smacked a two-run triple against Harvey Haddix and scored a run in the Pirates’ 3-1 victory. Boxscore

Starting again in the series finale on Sept. 1, Mejias had four RBI, including a three-run double versus Luis Arroyo, in a 7-6 Pirates triumph. Boxscore

Mejias hit .355 (11-for-31) against the Cardinals in 1955 _ far better than his season batting mark of .216 in 176 plate appearances.

“It didn’t do him good to be on a big-league roster (in 1955),” Jack Hernon of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette wrote. “He wasted away a season when he could have been developing. It was because the club didn’t have a farm team which would accept him. The player suffered and perhaps the Pirates killed off a fine prospect.”

Ups and downs

After playing for minor-league Hollywood (Calif.) in 1956, Mejias was the Pirates’ Opening Day right fielder in 1957 when Clemente was sidelined because of a bad back. Boxscore When Clemente recovered, he joined an outfield with Bill Virdon in center and Bob Skinner in left. Mejias was sent back to the minors.

In 1958 and 1959, Mejias was a reserve outfielder with the Pirates. A highlight came on May 4, 1958, in a start against the Giants, when he slammed three home runs in the game at San Francisco’s Seals Stadium. Two of the homers were hit against Johnny Antonelli and the other off Marv Grissom. All were pulled to left. Mejias was the first Pirate to hit three homers in a game since Ralph Kiner.

“I hit line drives, try to get base hits,” Mejias told the San Francisco Examiner. “I’m not a home run hitter really.” Boxscore

In 1959, when he hit .236 for the season, Mejias batted .377 (20-for-53) against the Cardinals.

Mejias spent most of the next two seasons (1960 and 1961) in the minors and wasn’t on the roster when the Pirates prevailed against the Yankees in the 1960 World Series.

Houston calling

In October 1961, the Houston Colt .45s selected Mejias in the National League expansion draft, and he finally got a chance to play every day.

Mejias, the starting right fielder, hit a pair of three-run home runs in Houston’s Opening Day win at home against the Cubs. Boxscore

As usual, he battered the Cardinals, hitting .290 against them. On April 26, 1962, Bob Gibson held Houston hitless until Mejias hit a home run in the eighth. Boxscore Mejias hit another home run against Gibson in August. Boxscore (Mejias batted .300, 6-for-20, versus Gibson in his career.)

Mejias went on to lead the expansion team in runs scored (82), hits (162), home runs (24), RBI (76), stolen bases (12), batting average (.286) and total bases (252) in 1962. According to his listed birth date, Mejias turned 32 that season. “He was 40,” Howie Haak insisted to the Boston Globe.

“He’s a wonderful person, and he’s a very fine ballplayer,” Houston manager Harry Craft told the Globe. “I know of at least 10 games we never would have won without Mejias. He has a tremendous throwing arm. He’ll never embarrass you.”

Fenway follies

Envisioning Mejias launching home runs over the Green Monster wall in left at Boston’s Fenway Park, the Red Sox traded two-time American League batting champion Pete Runnels to Houston for him in November 1962.

When Red Sox officials learned Mejias’ family was unable to get permission from the Fidel Castro regime to leave Cuba, they worked with the Red Cross to make it happen. Mejias’ wife, two children (ages 12 and 10) and two sisters joined him in the United States in March 1963. “Best day of my life,” he told the Globe.

The Red Sox opened the 1963 season with Mejias in center, but he got off to a dreadful start, hitting .117 in April and .189 in May.

He started to press and tried too often to hit home runs over the Green Monster. “I’m playing like a bush-leaguer,” Mejias said to the Globe.

Red Sox executive Mike Higgins told him, “Forget about the fence. Don’t even look at it when you’re batting,” the Globe reported.

“You’ve got fence-poisoning,” Higgins said. “You’re spoiling your swing and your timing because you’re trying to hit the fence. Just try to hit the ball anywhere.”

Mejias had a good June _ batting .304 for the month and hitting three home runs in a doubleheader against the Orioles Boxscore and Boxscore. September was good, too. He hit .310 for the month and had seven RBI in a game against the Twins. Boxscore

Overall, though, he hit .227 with 11 home runs. The Red Sox thought he was 33, but if Howie Haak was correct, Mejias was 41.

The next year, Tony Conigliaro, 19, started in center for the Red Sox and Mejias was on the bench. Mejias batted .238 in 1964, his last season in the majors.

A career .254 hitter, Mejias batted .316 versus the Cardinals.

Of Mejias’ 54 career home runs, 12 came against pitchers who got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame _ Warren Spahn (4), Sandy Koufax (2), Bob Gibson (2), and Jim Bunning, Robin Roberts, Don Drysdale and Juan Marichal (1 each).

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About the same time that fans of Milwaukee baseball learned the Braves planned to abandon them, the club’s most prominent pitcher, Warren Spahn, got cast aside, too.

So, when Spahn returned to Milwaukee for the first time as a member of the Mets, the fans there came out to cheer for him and against the Braves.

The drama didn’t end there. Spahn was matched that night against his protege and former road roommate, Wade Blasingame. Both were destined to wind up with a Cardinals farm team.

Mr. Brave

A left-hander who developed into a consistently big winner, Spahn began his major-league career with the 1942 Boston Braves (managed by Casey Stengel), served in combat during World War II, and moved with the club to Milwaukee in 1953. He was revered in Milwaukee for being the staff ace and for helping the Braves win two National League pennants (1957 and 1958) and a World Series title (1957).

“No individual made a greater contribution to the fabulous Milwaukee baseball story,” The Sporting News reported on Spahn. “He was truly Mr. Brave.”

Spahn won 20 or more 13 times, including six years in a row (1956-61). He was 42 when he won 23 for the 1963 Braves.

Trouble developed for both Spahn and the Milwaukee fan base in 1964. Spahn quit winning, and was shifted to the bullpen against his wishes by manager Bobby Bragan. Spahn finished the season at 6-13 with a 5.29 ERA.

“He was dead on his feet,” Bragan told The Sporting News. “His legs were gone. He couldn’t get off the mound, and they were bunting him silly.

“If any other pitcher had been shelled the way he was,” Bragan said, “he would have been shipped to (minor-league) Denver.”

The Braves wanted Spahn to stop pitching and offered him several jobs in the organization, including a radio broadcasting gig, The Sporting News reported. Spahn wanted to play instead.

Then the Braves delivered a double salvo of damaging decisions to the fans of Milwaukee baseball:

_ In October 1964, the Braves’ board of directors voted to approve a move of the franchise to Atlanta. The Braves were ready to go, but the National League ordered them to play one more season in Milwaukee in 1965, putting them in a lame-duck position with a furious fan base.

_ A month later, the Braves sold Spahn’s contract to the Mets, a move the scorned fans viewed as thankless.

“They got rid of me because of the money, my salary,” Spahn told The Sporting News. According to the New York Daily News, Spahn was paid $85,000 in 1964.

Double duty

The Mets’ manager, Casey Stengel, gave him the dual role of pitcher and pitching coach. “Pitching is first, then coaching,” Spahn told The Sporting News. He said to Dick Young of the Daily News, “I think I’m still a 20-game winner.”

Whitey Ford, who attempted to be both pitcher and pitching coach for manager Yogi Berra’s 1964 Yankees and found it daunting, delivered a message to Spahn through The Sporting News: “You’ll be sorry.”

(Berra, who was fired by the Yankees after the club was defeated by the Cardinals in the 1964 World Series, joined Spahn as a coach on Stengel’s 1965 Mets staff. Berra played in four May games for the 1965 Mets, then stuck solely to coaching.)

Spahn, 44, won his first two decisions with the 1965 Mets. Both were complete games _ one against the Dodgers Boxscore and the other versus the Giants. Boxscore

(In his first start versus the Cardinals as a Met, Spahn was matched against Bob Gibson. Lou Brock hit a two-run home run and the Cardinals won, 4-3. Boxscore and radio broadcast)

Out for revenge

Spahn was 3-3 with a 3.51 ERA heading into his return to Milwaukee to oppose the Braves. The fans there were showing their contempt about the impending move to Atlanta by staying away from County Stadium. 

After a paid crowd of 33,874 attended the 1965 home opener, subsequent April and May Braves home games drew an average paid attendance of 3,000. Paid attendance figures for the Cardinals’ three-game series at Milwaukee April 27-29 were 1,677, 1,324 and 2,182.

The turnout for the Thursday night game with the Mets on May 20, 1965, was a lot bigger _ 19,140 total (17,433 at full price, 1,707 youngsters admitted for 50 cents each) _ and most were there to pay tribute to Spahn.

“They made no secret of the fact they were rooting not for the Braves but for Spahn,” The Sporting News reported. “They cheered when his name was announced, when he took the mound and when he threw so much as a strike. They gave him a standing ovation when he went to bat.”

Dick Young of the Daily News observed, “He was to be their instrument of revenge. They came just for him, hoping, praying, he would beat the Braves.”

Several brought homemade banners and placards, including one with the message, “Down the Lousy Saboteurs. C’mon, Spahn, Mow Down the Betrayers,” the Daily News reported.

The Braves’ lineup that night featured Hank Aaron, Eddie Mathews, Joe Torre, Felipe Alou and 21-year-old starting pitcher Wade Blasingame. A left-hander, Blasingame got called up to the Braves in June 1964 and roomed on the road with Spahn, who became a mentor. Blasingame was 9-5 (including a shutout of the pennant-bound Cardinals Boxscore) for the 1964 Braves.

“There is a growing feeling (Blasingame) is about to become the new Spahn,” The Sporting News reported.

Spahn “taught me more in a year than I ever knew before,” Blasingame told United Press International.

All business

Blasingame and Spahn waged a scoreless duel for four innings. Then, in the fifth, Spahn became unglued. The Braves scored twice, then loaded the bases for Eddie Mathews, the left-handed slugger who was, according to George Vecsey of Newsday, “one of Spahn’s closest friends.”

When the count got to 1-and-1, “I couldn’t afford to get behind,” Spahn explained to United Press International. “He had been looking bad on the slider all night, but I second-guessed myself and threw him a fastball. Trouble was, I was indecisive about whether to throw it down and in, or down and away. So I came right over the plate.”

Mathews clobbered it _ “a mile past the bleachers in right,” the Daily News reported _ for a grand slam, giving the Braves a 6-0 lead.

“Spahn kicked the top of the mound to dust, and picked up the resin bag and slammed it down,” Dick Young noted.

Mathews said to Newsday, “If I felt something special about hitting a home run against Spahn, I’d tell you. I didn’t. He’s just another pitcher.”

In his book, “Eddie Mathews and the National Pastime,” Mathews said, “Spahnie and I went out and drank together after the ballgame, but there was no sentiment while he was on the mound.”

Hank Aaron followed with a single, stole second and eventually scored on Rico Carty’s second double of the inning, capping the seven-run outburst.

Spahn completed the inning, then was lifted for a pinch-hitter.

Blasingame held the Mets hitless until the seventh when, with two outs, Ron Swoboda singled, scoring Billy Cowan, who had walked and moved to second on a wild pitch.

Blasingame, who finished with a one-hitter, told George Vecsey he felt bad for Spahn: “I know he wanted to beat us very much _ maybe more than I wanted to beat them.” Boxscore

Tulsa time

Four days after his loss at Milwaukee, Spahn pitched a complete game, beating Jim Bunning and the Phillies. Boxscore Then he lost eight in a row, and the Mets placed him on waivers. In 20 games with the Mets, Spahn was 4-12.

The Giants claimed him and he finished the 1965 season, his last, with them, going 3-4. Spahn’s 363 career wins are the most by a left-handed pitcher. 

“I never did retire from pitching,” Spahn told writer Roger Kahn. “It was baseball that retired me.”

Wade Blasingame was 16-10 for the 1965 Braves, but never achieved another double-digit win season. In 10 years with the Braves, Astros and Yankees, he was 46-51.

(Blasingame and Jim Bouton were Astros teammates in 1969. In his book, “Ball Four,” Bouton wrote, “Today, Blasingame was wearing a blue bellbottom suit, blue shirt, a blue scarf at his throat and was smoking a long thin cigar, brown. Teammate Fred Gladding said, ‘Little boy blue, come blow my horn.’ Everybody on the bus went ‘Oooooh.’ Blasingame feigned indifference.”)

In 1967, Cardinals general manager Stan Musial hired Spahn to be manager of the Tulsa farm club. Spahn held the job for five years, but was gone by March 1973, when the Cardinals acquired Blasingame from the Yankees and assigned him to Tulsa.

Blasingame was 1-0 with an 0.90 ERA in two months with Tulsa before being traded to the Cubs’ Wichita farm team for another left-hander, Dan McGinn.

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John Roseboro of the Dodgers and Tim McCarver of the Cardinals were opposing catchers with similar styles. Both were former football players who viewed baseball as a contact sport.

As a standout high school athlete in Memphis, McCarver had football scholarship offers from the likes of Alabama and Notre Dame. Roseboro played football at Central State, a historically black college, in Ohio.

According to the Los Angeles Times, Roseboro was “generally recognized as the toughest plate blocker” in baseball. When he and McCarver collided one day at the plate, the force was unlike any they’d experienced on a baseball field.

Matter of pride

The Dodgers came to St. Louis in June 1963 for a three-game weekend series with the first-place Cardinals. A sweep could vault the Dodgers from 2.5 games behind into the lead.

In the June 21 opener, Sandy Koufax was on the verge of pitching his third consecutive shutout when McCarver, batting with two outs in the ninth, slammed a three-run home run onto the pavilion roof in right. A left-handed batter, it was McCarver’s first big-league home run against a left-handed pitcher.

The Dodgers escaped with a 5-3 victory. Boxscore

Full impact

The next day’s pitching matchup on June 22 featured rookie left-hander Nick Willhite for the Dodgers against Bob Gibson. In his Dodgers debut six days earlier, Willhite shut out the Cubs. Gibson was riding a streak of four wins in a row.

With the score tied at 1-1 in the fifth inning, McCarver was on third, one out, when Curt Flood tapped the ball toward third baseman Maury Wills. McCarver broke for the plate, but Wills got to the ball and tossed it to Roseboro. “I foolishly tried to score against him,” McCarver recalled in his autobiography, “Oh, Baby, I Love It.”

Roseboro, mentored by Roy Campanella, “was the best in baseball at blocking the plate,” pitcher Johnny Klippstein said in the book “We Played the Game.” “He was tough.”

McCarver knew that, too. In his autobiography, he said Roseboro “was as intransigent at home plate as a derrick.”

Favoring what The Sporting News described as a “rock-’em, sock-’em type of play,” McCarver gave no thought to turning back. As Roseboro protected the plate, bracing for a collision, McCarver barreled into him.

“He stood his ground, as always, his knee digging into me,” McCarver recalled in his book, “and the whole right side of my face opened up like a can of tomatoes. I had a long burn along one side of my face and he knocked my neck into a stiff state.”

According to the Los Angeles Times, McCarver came out of the crash with “a shiner, the size of a dollar.”

Roseboro lost a lens from his eyeglasses, but held onto the ball and tagged out McCarver. The impact “jammed Roseboro’s shoulder, hurt his knee and spiked his left ankle,” the Times reported. Roseboro told the newspaper it was the hardest he’d ever been hit _ “and I’ve got the bruises to prove it.”

In his 1987 book, McCarver said, “I still suffer from nerve damage in my neck, more than 20 years after that Roseboro collision. (Dodgers coach) Leo Durocher said it was the worst collision he’d ever seen.”

Another jolt

Both Roseboro and McCarver stayed in the game. Charlie James broke the tie with a solo home run for the Cardinals in the sixth.

Like McCarver, Roseboro batted left-handed. With left-hander Bobby Shantz pitching in the ninth, Dodgers manager Walter Alston sent Doug Camilli to bat for Roseboro. Camilli singled, but the Cardinals held on for a 2-1 triumph, evening the series. Boxscore

Though the Cardinals started a right-hander, Ernie Broglio, in the series finale, Alston gave Roseboro the day off. McCarver was in the Cardinals’ lineup and tripled, but the Dodgers prevailed, 4-3. Boxscore

Roseboro didn’t start a game for more than a week because of the damage caused by the crash with McCarver.

The day after the Dodgers left town, the Giants began a series at St. Louis. In the June 24 opener, after leadoff batter Harvey Kuenn tripled, Chuck Hiller grounded to second. When Kueen broke for home, Julian Javier threw to McCarver.

“As I took the throw, I looked to my left, and Kuenn’s belt buckle was about two inches from my face,” McCarver said in his book.

Kuenn crashed into McCarver, then reached over him, trying to touch the plate, but McCarver held him off and made the putout. Boxscore

“I believed in denying the runner the plate on bang-bang, very close plays,” McCarver said in his autobiography. “That was the way I was taught, and I continued to think that’s what I was being paid to do.”

Playing to win

The Dodgers and Cardinals turned out to be the two best teams in the National League in 1963. The Dodgers took control of the pennant race in late September when they swept a three-game series in St. Louis. They also swept the Yankees in the World Series. The Cardinals, with 93 wins, placed second to the 1963 Dodgers. They won the pennant with the same number of wins in 1964.

Roseboro and McCarver were the catchers for the National League champions in seven of the 10 World Series played between 1959 and 1968, the last year the best team in the league automatically went to the World Series.

Roseboro started in all 21 games the Dodgers played in four World Series in that stretch (six in 1959, four in 1963, seven in 1965 and four in 1966). McCarver also started in all 21 games the Cardinals played in three World Series during that period (seven apiece in 1964, 1967 and 1968).

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From his first regular-season game as a head coach in the NFL with the St. Louis Cardinals, Don Coryell showed signs of being special. He got the Cardinals to play with confidence and collective pride.

When he was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame on Feb. 9, 2023, Coryell correctly was hailed as an innovator whose offenses with the Cardinals, and later the San Diego Chargers, were thrilling to watch and nerve-wracking to defend.

Those progressive schemes were just part of his skillset. Coryell also was an effective leader who got players to buy into his philosophies and to execute consistently within a framework of selfless collaboration.

Meet the new boss

The season opener between the Cardinals and Eagles on Sept. 16, 1973, at Veterans Stadium in Philadelphia marked the NFL head coaching debuts of Coryell and Mike McCormack.

Coryell came to the Cardinals from the college coaching ranks. In 15 years as a college head coach, Coryell never had a losing season. His record was 127-24-3, including 104-19-2 in 12 seasons at San Diego State.

Like Coryell, McCormack would be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but, unlike Coryell, he got in as a player, not as a coach. An exceptionally quick and strong right tackle on the Cleveland Browns’ offensive line, McCormack protected quarterback Otto Graham and blocked for running back Jim Brown. In his autobiography, Browns head coach Paul Brown said, “I consider McCormack the finest offensive tackle who ever played pro football.”

(Paul Brown told the story of how another Browns quarterback, Milt Plum, had trouble staying in the pocket before releasing the ball. At practice one day, a frustrated McCormack picked up Plum by the neck, shook him, cursed him and put him back down. After that, “our passing game improved considerably,” Brown told The Sporting News.)

McCormack had been an assistant coach for seven seasons with the Washington Redskins, but never a head coach.

The 1973 opener also was the Eagles debut of quarterback Roman Gabriel, 33, who got traded to Philadelphia after 11 seasons with the Los Angeles Rams.

(Gabriel, a glamour boy in Los Angeles, still was effective. He would lead the NFL in passing yards, completions and touchdown passes as an Eagle in 1973.)

During training camp, Coryell made a favorable impression as a coach of “unquenchable spirit and unflagging energy.” The Sporting News reported. Cardinals director of operations Joe Sullivan told the publication, “He’s one of the best teachers I’ve ever seen.”

On the eve of the season opener, Coryell said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I think we’ll be pretty darn potent this season. We’ll have the capability of breaking things open.”

Will to win

The fired-up Cardinals charged out to a 21-0 lead in Coryell’s debut. Jim Hart threw touchdown passes to Donny Anderson and Mel Gray, and Anderson also rushed for a score.

“The Eagles came after Hart with a vengeance, and the veteran quarterback proceeded to waste them with draws and screens,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Cardinals turnovers (two fumbles and an intercepted pass) helped the Eagles rally. They got within a point, 24-23, in the fourth quarter.

Recent Cardinals clubs might have panicked, but the Coryell Cardinals kept their poise. Hart moved them into position for a Jim Bakken 20-yard field goal, extending the lead to 27-23 with 1:10 to play. When the Eagles’ Tom Sullivan fumbled the ensuing kickoff, the Cardinals recovered. Anderson capped a 34-23 victory with another scoring run, his third touchdown of the game.

Though describing the Eagles as “a poor team,” the Post-Dispatch noted that the Cardinals “showed the ability to move under pressure, to capitalize on opposition mistakes and to make the big offensive play, three areas sadly lacking for them in recent years.”

Anderson, the former Green Bay Packer acquired in a trade for MacArthur Lane, had 66 yards receiving, 58 yards rushing and also was praised by Coryell for his blocking. “He has such a great understanding and concept of our offense,” Coryell told the Post-Dispatch.

Terry Metcalf, a third-round draft choice making his NFL debut, rushed for 133 yards and added another 25 yards with a catch. Plus, “he was blocking on me all afternoon,” Eagles linebacker Dick Cunningham told the Inquirer. “He will stick his head into you.” Video

Coryell said to the Philadelphia Daily News that Metcalf “is quick, tough, agile and has a heart as big as a lion.” Game stats and Game video

In a “rah-rah-sis-boom-bah” locker room celebration after the victory, the Inquirer reported, tight end Jackie Smith presented Coryell with the game ball and said, “This is for the man with the most enthusiasm.”

High praise

After the Cardinals scored 34 points again in winning their home opener against the Redskins, defensive tackle Bob Rowe said to the Post-Dispatch, “We have a confidence in ourselves, a confidence that Coach Coryell built. He has made us believe we’re football players. He has made us respect one another.”

Recalling his days playing for Packers head coach Vince Lombardi, Donny Anderson told Rich Koster of The Sporting News, Lombardi “was more than a coach. He was a man who taught you to become a man. You seemed to grow up faster and accept the responsibilities that you have as a player. In Coach Coryell, I think we have a man who in many respects is like Lombardi. Both loved people, and that’s the biggest thing in relating to players.”

Though the Cardinals faded, finishing 4-9-1 in Coryell’s first season, the players recognized he had changed the clubhouse culture for the better.

“We’ve got great life on our team, as opposed to what it used to be,” linebacker Jamie Rivers said to The Sporting News.

Jim Hart told the publication, Coryell “is a great man. He won’t pull any punches with you privately, but he’ll defend you to the letter publicly.”

In five seasons with Coryell, the Cardinals posted a 42-27-1 record and twice qualified for the playoffs. Those were the Cardinals’ first playoff berths since 1948 and their first division titles since moving from Chicago to St. Louis in 1960.

Coryell continued to have success with the Chargers in San Diego. His overall record as a NFL head coach is 115-89-1. According to the College Football Hall of Fame, Coryell was the first head coach to win 100 games at both the college and pro levels.

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(Updated Feb. 13, 2023)

Seven years after he integrated major league baseball, Jackie Robinson led an effort to end discrimination at the Chase Hotel in St. Louis.

In 1954, the Cardinals had their first black player, first baseman Tom Alston. The United States Supreme Court unanimously ruled in Brown v. Board of Education of Topeka that racial segregation of children in public schools was unconstitutional. Despite these milestones, the Chase Hotel still prohibited blacks from using its dining room, bar or pool.

Robinson took a stand in trying to uproot the hotel’s segregationist policies when the Dodgers came to St. Louis to play the Cardinals in 1954, but it created friction with other blacks on the team.

White lodge

Located at the corner of Lindell and Kingshighway and across the street from Forest Park, the elegant Chase Hotel was built in 1922 by Chase Ullman and became known for its luxury, glamour, fine dining and entertainment. Features included a roof garden, Turkish steam baths and “rubbing rooms” for men and women, St. Louis Magazine noted. The roof garden eventually was enclosed and turned into the Zodiac Room Lounge.

A Mediterranean-style swimming pool became another popular feature of the Chase. The pool was “about the shade of the gold lame briefs Rudolf Nureyev is rumored to have worn there,” according to St. Louis Magazine. Pirates baseball broadcaster Bob Prince dived into the pool from a third-floor guest room to settle a $20 bet, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, prompting the hotel to erect metal barriers on the windows facing the pool.

In 1929, the rival Park Plaza was built next door to the Chase. The two merged into the Chase Park Plaza in 1961. Today, the Chase Park Plaza Royal Sonesta Hotel boasts on its Web site: “Upholding the grand tradition of early 20th century style and gracious hospitality.”

Until the 1950s, the hospitality was extended only to whites. The hotel didn’t accept black guests, but it did entertain its white customers with top black performers such as Count Basie, Nat King Cole, Dorothy Dandridge, Ella Fitzgerald, Lena Horne and Eartha Kitt.

Horne told the Washington Post, “The first time I worked at the Chase, I couldn’t come in through the front door.”

In 1952, Dandridge demanded to be the first black performer to stay at the hotel. Though Chase officials “reluctantly agreed,” parts of the building remained off limits to her and all blacks. She was required to use the service elevator before and after each performance rather than walk through the lobby to the guest elevators, according to the website Vanguard of Hollywood.

Strings attached

After Jackie Robinson integrated the major leagues with the Dodgers in 1947, the Chase didn’t permit the black players of visiting ballclubs to stay there. If a ballclub chose to stay at the Chase, it meant the white team members went there and the blacks went to another hotel, usually a so-called black hotel.

“For years, St. Louis has been the only city on the circuit where Negro players lived apart from the team,” Lou Smith reported in the Cincinnati Enquirer.

In 1953, the Chase altered its policy and allowed the entire New York Giants team to stay there, including its three black players _ Ruben Gomez, Monte Irvin and Hank Thompson, the Baltimore Afro American newspaper reported. (Willie Mays wasn’t with the Giants in 1953 because of military service.)

The Giants’ black players “didn’t care for” the restrictions placed on them at the Chase, The Sporting News reported. The restrictions included no use of the bar, dining room or swimming pool, author Neil Lanctot noted in his book “Campy,” a biography of Dodgers catcher Roy Campanella.

Nonetheless, the Dodgers declared they would stay at the Chase in 1954. When the ballclub arrived in St. Louis on April 26, the Dodgers’ six black players (Sandy Amoros, Joe Black, Roy Campanella, Jim Gilliam, Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson) were given the option by traveling secretary Lee Scott of staying at the Chase with its restrictions or going to the Adams Hotel, which catered to blacks.

If the black players stayed at the Chase, they would have to eat all meals in their rooms instead of the dining room, stay out of the bar and the pool, and not appear in the hotel lobby except for going to and coming from the ballpark and the train station, The Sporting News reported.

Split decision

Robinson was the only one of the six black Dodgers to agree to stay at the Chase. Though he bristled at the restrictions, Robinson said he believed staying there was an important step toward ending discrimination.

In a column by Sam Lacy of the Baltimore Afro American, Robinson said, “Other fellows coming along behind me will benefit by this opening wedge. If you don’t get your foot in the door, you’ll never force it open.”

The other black Dodgers disagreed. Roy Campanella and Joe Black persuaded Sandy Amoros, Jim Gilliam and Don Newcombe to go to the Adams Hotel in the Gaslight Square entertainment district, the Baltimore Afro American reported.

“The Chase is not for me,” Campanella said to Sam Lacy. “As I see it, they didn’t want us down there for seven years. So as far as I’m concerned, they can make it forever.”

Campanella also told Wendell Smith of the Pittsburgh Courier, “I’m not going to stay there. If they didn’t want us before, they won’t get my business now.”

Campanella and the others had additional reasons for preferring the Adams.

“The manager of the (Adams) had been good to us for years,” Newcombe told Dick Young of the New York Daily News in May 1954. “He even supplies us with a car to get to and from the ballpark. Why should we let him down now? We’re not trying to set any precedents.”

In an interview with Neil Lanctot, Dodgers executive Buzzie Bavasi said the Adams “had a superstretch limo pick up the black players, usually with a blonde or two in the backseat.”

Dodgers divided

Robinson, who viewed Campanella as being too timid on civil rights issues, was upset with his teammate’s decision to choose the familiar comfort of the Adams. According to Neil Lanctot, “The issue of segregation at the Chase destroyed whatever little remained of their relationship.”

Dick Young wrote in the Daily News, “A lively argument ensued in the clubhouse _ Robinson against Newcombe and Campanella.”

According to Young, Campanella said, “I’m no crusader. I’m a ballplayer and I’m happy right where I am,” and Newcombe said of Robinson, “He thinks we owe him something because he was the first. We owe him nothing.”

(Decades later, in interviews with the Daily News and Los Angeles Times, Newcombe claimed he joined Robinson in trying to reverse discrimination at the Chase.)

When the Pirates arrived at the Chase after the Dodgers departed, their black second baseman, Curt Roberts, registered, went to the dining room and waited 45 minutes without being served. Frustrated, he checked out and went to the Adams, the Pittsburgh Courier reported.

“Within a few days, the situation at the Chase had become a national story in the black press,” according to the Campanella biography. (Most of the mainstream newspapers, including the two St. Louis dailies, provided little or no coverage of the issue.)

Change for the better

The Pirates, whose general manager, Branch Rickey, was the Dodgers executive who brought Robinson to the majors, acted quickly to defend Curt Roberts. Pirates traveling secretary Bob Rice told Chase officials the ballclub wouldn’t return there unless Roberts was given the same treatment as other team members, the Pittsburgh Courier reported.

Jackie Robinson told Dodgers traveling secretary Lee Scott he would insist on being served in the Chase dining room the next time the ballclub went there. Dodgers management pledged support, the Baltimore Afro American reported.

Just before the Dodgers and Giants returned to St. Louis for games in June 1954, they received letters from Chase management, assuring them blacks no longer would be restricted from using the dining room or lobby, and could attend shows in the roof garden, according to the Baltimore Afro American.

(The bar and pool remained off limits to blacks as late as 1957, according to Neil Lanctot. In his autobiography, “I Had a Hammer,” Hank Aaron of the Braves said, “Even after we moved to the Chase … we always had rooms facing a brick wall or the alley where they threw the garbage.’)

The St. Louis NAACP (National Association for Advancement of Colored People) and two weekly newspapers, St. Louis Argus and St. Louis American, had protested to Chase management about discriminatory policies, “and this, along with the undesirable publicity, is believed to have influenced the hotel’s capitulation,” Sam Lacy reported.

When the Dodgers went to St. Louis in June 1954, the entire team, including all the black members, stayed at the Chase. It was the first time since 1946 that every member of the Dodgers stayed in the same St. Louis hotel.

It would not have happened when it did “if Robinson had not been made of sterner stuff than Campanella, Gilliam and Newcombe,” Clifford McKay concluded in the Baltimore Afro American.

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