Archive for the ‘Opponents’ Category

Lon Warneke threw balls and strikes, and wanted to call those pitches, too.

Eighty years ago, on May 13, 1940, Warneke, a Cardinals pitcher, and Jimmie Wilson, a Reds coach, served as umpires in a game between the teams at Crosley Field in Cincinnati.

When National League umpires didn’t show for the game because of a scheduling snafu, one member of each team was chosen to fill in as arbiters.

The Cardinals, given their choice of a Reds representative, selected Wilson, their former catcher who played in three World Series for them. The Reds, asked to pick a member of the Cardinals, chose Warneke, who viewed umpiring as a dream assignment.

“I had a hankering for it even before I started playing baseball,” Warneke told The Sporting News. “Some kids want to become conductors, engineers, policemen, firemen. I wanted to be an umpire.”

Nine years later, Warneke became a full-time National League umpire.

“I like it better than pitching,” Warneke said. “I get just as much satisfaction out of umpiring a good game as I did out of pitching one.”

Failure to communicate

A communication breakdown between Reds management and National League officials created the need for Warneke and Wilson to fill in as umpires for a game.

After the Ohio River flooded and caused the postponement of the Cardinals-Reds game at Cincinnati on April 23, 1940, the teams agreed to a makeup game on Monday, May 13, at 3 p.m.

The date of the rescheduled game made sense. The Reds played the Cardinals in a Sunday doubleheader on May 12 in St. Louis and both clubs were scheduled to use May 13 as an off day before embarking on road trips to the East Coast.

There was only one problem: Reds officials “failed to notify us that the game, postponed from April 23, was to be played,” National League president Ford Frick told the Associated Press.

Therefore, no umpires were assigned.

Help wanted

As game time neared on May 13 and no umpires appeared, Reds officials frantically began making phone calls. One was to Larry Goetz, a National League umpire who lived in Cincinnati.

Goetz, Babe Pinelli and Beans Reardon were the umpires who worked the May 12 Reds-Cardinals doubleheader at St. Louis. The crew’s next scheduled game was May 14, Pirates vs. Giants, at the Polo Grounds in New York. On his way from St. Louis to New York, Goetz stopped home in Cincinnati.

“Goetz was at the railroad station ready to board a 3 o’clock train for New York when they located him,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

The start of the game was delayed 29 minutes as the clubs waited for Goetz. During the delay, Warneke and Wilson were recruited to round out the umpiring crew.

Fair and square

It was determined Goetz would work the plate, Wilson would be the umpire at first base and Warneke would be stationed at third.

“Wilson wore an umpire’s cap and a black windbreaker over his uniform shirt,” the Globe-Democrat reported. “Warneke had on his regular uniform topped by a red windbreaker, which he soon discarded for a black one.”

Warneke and Wilson “had numerous close plays to decide on the bases and they turned in a good day’s work,” the Globe-Democrat reported. “Each called plays in critical moments against their own mates.”

For instance, in the second inning the Cardinals had the bases loaded with two outs when Stu Martin hit a line drive to center. Harry Craft raced in, dived headlong, rolled over and thrust his arm above his head to show he had the ball.

Some thought Craft trapped it, but Warneke “majestically called it an out,” the Dayton Daily News reported. “The Cardinals couldn’t plead with their own Honest Lon, and thus the side was retired.”

In the eighth inning, the Cardinals’ Joe Medwick “registered a mild beef against Wilson when he was called out on a close play at first,” the Globe-Democrat reported. Three innings later, when Medwick was called out by Warneke on another close play at second, he showed “his disgust by scooping a handful of dust and throwing it back to the ground. However, Medwick said nothing to Warneke.”

Fit to be tied

The game was noteworthy for more than the unusual umpiring setup. Johnny Mize hit three home runs for the Cardinals and Reds leadoff batter Bill Werber hit four doubles.

Mize’s third home run, a solo shot versus Milt Shoffner with two outs in the top of the 13th, gave the Cardinals an 8-7 lead.

In the bottom half of the inning, backup catcher Williard Hershberger, batting for shortstop Eddie Joost with two outs and none on against Clyde Shoun, doubled. Lee Gamble ran for Hershberger.

Pitcher Bucky Walters, batting for Shoffner, was up next. Walters struck out swinging for what should have been the game-ending out, but catcher Bill DeLancey allowed the ball “to squirt out of his hands and roll into the Cardinals dugout,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

The error enabled Walters to reach first and Gamble to get to third. Jack Russell relieved Shoun and Werber smacked his first pitch for a single, his fifth hit of the game, scoring Gamble with the tying run.

After neither team scored in the 14th, Goetz stopped play at 7 p.m. because of darkness with the score tied at 8-8. Although Crosley Field had lights, a National League rule prohibited lights from being turned on to finish a day game. Boxscore

“It was a game that had everything but a decision at the end of it,” wrote Si Burick of the Dayton Daily News.

All statistics counted, but the tie didn’t count in the standings and the game was scheduled to be replayed as part of an Aug. 11 doubleheader at Cincinnati.

The Cardinals won both games of the Aug. 11 doubleheader, 3-2 and 3-1. Warneke was the winning pitcher in Game 2. The umpires for both games were the three who were supposed to officiate the May 13 game: Goetz, Pinelli and Reardon.

Career change

In July 1942, the Cardinals sold Warneke’s contract to the Cubs, whose manager was his one-time umpiring partner, Jimmie Wilson. Warneke pitched for Wilson in 1942 and 1943.

After finishing his playing career with the 1945 Cubs, Warneke became an umpire in the Pacific Coast League in 1946. He joined the umpiring staff of the National League in 1949 and remained on the job through the 1955 season.

“Hustling, being in the right position to see the plays, and calling them quickly is half the battle in good umpiring,” Warneke told The Sporting News.

“The first and hardest thing I had to learn when I became an umpire was to forget I played ball. As a pitcher, I anticipated where I would throw the ball and what I would do the minute it was hit to me. When I first started umpiring, I did the same thing, anticipating plays, but I soon learned everybody didn’t think like I did. When the play was made, I was often leaning or starting the wrong way. I decided to treat every play, every pitch, as a separate and distinct challenge and handle it accordingly.”

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In his first game against the Phillies after being traded to the Cardinals, Richie Allen savored sweet satisfaction.

Fifty years ago, on May 11, 1970, Allen hit a three-run walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, ending a scoreless duel between future Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Steve Carlton and carrying the Cardinals to a 3-0 triumph.

Seven months earlier, in October 1969, Allen was traded by the Phillies to the Cardinals in a multi-player deal involving Curt Flood, Tim McCarver and others. Allen’s relationship with Phillies management deteriorated when they suspended him for part of the 1969 season because of insubordination.

Given his first chance for revenge, Allen delivered a spectacular result.

Masters on the mound

The Monday night matchup between Bunning, 38, and Carlton, 25, was a classic. Bunning was in his second stint with the Phillies. He and Allen were Phillies teammates from 1964-67. Carlton was two years away from being traded to the Phillies and becoming their ace.

Carlton gave up two hits in the first inning and two more over the last eight. He retired 15 batters in a row until Tony Taylor hit a double with one out in the ninth.

Bunning held the Cardinals hitless until the sixth. With one out, Carlton singled to center and Jose Cardenal followed with an infield hit on a slow bouncer to short. After Leron Lee struck out, Lou Brock sliced a shot toward third. Don Money, the third baseman, lunged for the ball, knocked it down and held Brock to a single, loading the bases for Allen.

Working carefully, Bunning got the count to 1-and-2 to Allen and threw a low, inside pitch. Allen swung and missed.

Surprise sign

After Carlton worked out of a tight spot in the top of the ninth, getting former teammate Byron Browne to ground out with two on and two outs, the Cardinals went to work against Bunning in the bottom half of the inning.

Leron Lee led off and drilled a high pitch against the wall in right-center for a double. Looking to set up a force play and avoid facing a left-handed batter, Bunning gave an intentional walk to Brock, preferring to face Allen.

“It was a situation Rich must have been dreaming about,” wrote Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson.

Allen stepped into the batter’s box and looked for a sign from George Kissell, the third-base coach. Kissell signaled for Allen to bunt.

“Rich stared at him, seemingly unable, or perhaps unwilling, to comprehend the signal,” the Inquirer reported.

Allen asked for the sign again. Kissell walked up to Allen and told him to bunt.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he ordered the bunt because “the third baseman was playing back.”

Allen squared around and took the first pitch from Bunning for strike one.

“No way he wanted to bunt,” said Phillies pitcher Chris Short, who was watching the drama from the dugout.

Allen again looked toward Kissell and got the sign to swing away. Schoendienst said he switched gears because the Phillies’ corner infielders “were coming in” to play for a bunt.

Allen fouled the pitch back, making the count 0-and-2.

Wrong pitch

Bunning wanted the next pitch to be a fastball inside. “I wanted to get it in because he likes the ball out over the plate,” Bunning told the Inquirer.

Bunning hoped to drive Allen off the plate and come back with a pitch away. “I was trying to set him up for a curveball,” Bunning explained.

Instead, Bunning’s third pitch to Allen was “way up and over the middle of the plate,” Bunning said. “It was over his head, in fact.”

Allen swung his 40-ounce bat and drove the ball into the “fourth or fifth row of the bleachers in right-center,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

As Bunning walked slowly off the mound, “Allen trotted around the bases to be mobbed at home plate by his teammates,” the Inquirer reported. He was “the center of attention in the raucous Cardinals clubhouse, as noisy as if a team had just won a pennant.”

“Rich Allen wanted to hit that ball out of here something bad and he did it,” Carlton told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Said Allen: “I’m happy I helped Steve Carlton win a game the way he pitched.” Boxscore

Gene Mauch, who had issues with Allen when he managed him with the Phillies before going to the Expos, told The Sporting News, “I wouldn’t give him a high fastball or a fast highball.”

Allen had a career batting average of .478 versus Bunning. Of Allen’s 11 hits against him, three were home runs and three were doubles.

In December 2014, Bunning was a member of a Baseball Hall of Fame committee and lobbied for Allen to be elected to the shrine. Allen needed 12 of 16 votes from the committee and got 11. The close miss upset Bunning, who absolutely had firsthand knowledge of Allen’s qualifications.

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Pete Retzlaff was a Philadelphia Eagles receiver who was difficult to defend because of the precise pass patterns he ran and his reliable hands. Initially a flanker and split end, Retzlaff became a tight end and was instrumental in transforming the position.

During his 11 NFL seasons (1956-66), all with the Eagles, Retzlaff developed a respect for St. Louis Cardinals safeties Jerry Stovall and Larry Wilson. In 1965, Retzlaff told The Sporting News, “St. Louis has the toughest defensive backs. Larry Wilson was real tough when he played me, but now I find Jerry Stovall even tougher to shake. Jerry has to be the most improved player at his position in the league.”

Retzlaff later told the Akron Beacon Journal, “Once, after we’d played in the Pro Bowl, Larry Wilson told me he always said I was the toughest tight end he ever tried to cover.”

Retzlaff had multiple impressive performances versus the Cardinals, but the best was the day Stovall and Wilson were out of the lineup because of injuries.

Thinking game

Retzlaff died on April 10, 2020, at 88. He was born Palmer Edward Retzlaff in Ellendale, North Dakota. His father was a grain farmer and his mother was a German immigrant. As a high school student, Retzlaff was working a construction job when the foreman kept referring to him as Pete. The name stuck, Retzlaff told the Philadelphia Daily News.

A halfback at South Dakota State, Retzlaff was selected by the Detroit Lions in the 22nd round of the 1953 NFL draft and spent the next two years in the Army.

Lions offensive coordinator George Wilson determined Retzlaff would be better at split end than at running back, but they had no room for him, so Retzlaff was sent to the Eagles for the waiver price of $100.

Retzlaff, 25, earned a spot as a flanker with the 1956 Eagles. Two years later, Retzlaff and Raymond Berry of the Baltimore Colts tied for the NFL lead in receptions. Each had 56 in a 12-game season.

In 1960, with Norm Van Brocklin at quarterback, Retzlaff at split end and Tommy McDonald at flanker, the Eagles won the NFL championship. Retzlaff led the 1960 Eagles in receptions (46) and averaged 18 yards per catch.

“I learned more from Van Brocklin while he was quarterback than any one single individual,” Retzlaff told The Sporting News. “Van Brocklin gave me the basic philosophy that enabled me to go from there. He impressed upon me why it was necessary to do certain things and to think about them. He initiated an education that hasn’t stopped. He taught me how to think.

“You must constantly make adjustments and make your moves according to what your opponent does and according to the way a situation actually develops.”

Championship season

Two of Retzlaff’s best performances in 1960 came against the Cardinals. On Oct. 9, he had seven catches for 132 yards and two touchdowns in a win at Philadelphia. On Dec. 4, when the Eagles won their ninth in a row and clinched the Eastern Division title, Retzlaff made five receptions for 123 yards and a touchdown at St. Louis.

Retzlaff should have had a third touchdown in the Oct. 9 game, but the officials blew the call.

Van Brocklin connected with Retzlaff on a 36-yard pass. Retzlaff caught the ball at the St. Louis 1-yard line, fell backwards, “hit the ground on his rump and bounced into the end zone” untouched, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

The officials, who ruled the ball down at the 1, “obviously goofed because pro rules permit a player to move on the ground with the ball provided he’s not in the grasp of a tackler or had not been thrown by one,” the Inquirer noted.

Big move

In 1963, the Eagles moved Retzlaff from split end to tight end. Retzlaff resisted the shift initially because the position traditionally focused on blocking, not receiving. Like Jackie Smith of the Cardinals, Retzlaff helped make it an integral part of the air attack.

“To his pleasant surprise, Retzlaff found he could handle his blocking assignments, fight off linebackers and still run patterns and catch passes even more effectively than he did playing on the outside,” The Sporting News reported.

Washington Redskins head coach Bill McPeak called Retzlaff “the best tight end in the league.”

Baltimore Colts head coach Don Shula said, “He’s fantastic. No other tight end has the moves of Retzlaff and no one else at his position can go as deep as he does.”

The Sporting News concluded, “Retzlaff has been helped to stardom with the aid of good hands, tricky moves and the ability to run like a halfback, but his greatness stems from the perfect execution of his patterns.” Video

Said Cleveland Browns head coach Blanton Collier: “No one runs patterns better than Retzlaff.”

Retzlaff was a success off the field, too. He was a radio and television broadcaster in Philadelphia and he and Cardinals baseball pitcher Curt Simmons were owners of a resort motel in the seaside town of Wildwood, N.J.

Mighty mismatch

Nursing a bruised heel and sore ribs, Retzlaff didn’t practice the week before the Eagles played the Cardinals at St. Louis on Nov. 28, 1965, but there was no way he’d miss the game. His adversaries, Stovall and Wilson, were sidelined because of injuries, so the Cardinals were starting Monk Bailey, a second-year pro, and rookie Carl Silvestri as the safeties.

“Stovall is the best strong safety in the league,” Retzlaff told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I was glad to see him out.”

With his heel numbed by novocaine, Retzlaff, 34, made nine catches for 148 yards and three touchdowns. He leaped or dived for several grabs and most were “as spectacular as Jayne Mansfield doing the frug,” the Philadelphia Daily News noted.

For the beleaguered Monk Bailey, the experience was embarrassing.

“It would be easier playing golf for a living than trying to cover Retzlaff,” Bailey said to the Post-Dispatch. “If Carl Silvestri, Jim Burson and Pat Fischer hadn’t helped out at times, I’d have been beaten even more often. Retzlaff’s moves are in-out-in, yet always forward. If you let him get close to you, you’re dead.”

Bailey told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I felt like I was doing the twist on one play. I actually spun around three times on one of his patterns. When I was done spinning, I fell on my face in a patch of mud. My hand and nose guard stuck in it.”

On his first touchdown catch, a 23-yard pass from Norm Snead in the first quarter, Retzlaff “zigzagged against Bailey,” driving him deep, before turning and making the grab, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Retzlaff’s second touchdown was controversial. Snead rolled to his right and fired a five-yard pass to Retzlaff, who was inches from the goal post. The ball hit Retzlaff’s chest, caromed off the goal post and back into Retzlaff’s hands. The officials signaled a touchdown, but the pass should have been ruled incomplete because the ball becomes dead immediately if it strikes the goal post or crossbar.

After the Cardinals took a 24-21 lead, the Eagles drove downfield. When they got to the Cardinals’ 37, Snead connected with Retzlaff on four consecutive passes, concluding with the 11-yard touchdown strike for a 28-24 victory. Game stats

Retzlaff “outfought Bailey and (Jimmy) Burson for the pass that won the game,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported. “He fell in the end zone with the ball as Bailey and Burson collided and fell on him.”

In the huddle, Snead had called for Ollie Matson to be the primary target on the play. Retzlaff, who was supposed to be a decoy, ran to the corner of the end zone, started back and Snead found him.

“I looked for the old son of a gun all the way,” Snead said. “He’s the man to hit.”

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Glenn Beckert rarely struck out, but he did get knocked out by Mike Shannon.

Beckert died on April 12, 2020, at 79. He was the Cubs’ second baseman from 1965-73 and finished his playing career with the 1974-75 Padres. A four-time National League all-star, Beckert won a Gold Glove Award  in 1968.

On April 16, 1969, Beckert and Shannon were involved in a painful play at Busch Memorial Stadium. Shannon crashed into Beckert while trying to stretch a single into a double. Beckert suffered a concussion, was carried off the field on a stretcher and spent a night in a hospital. Shannon became woozy and was removed from the game.

Contact hitter

A Pittsburgh native, Beckert played shortstop at Allegheny College and graduated with a degree in political science. The Red Sox signed him and after a year in their farm system as a shortstop he was chosen by the Cubs in the November 1962 minor-league draft.

Beckert primarily played third base and shortstop in two years in the Cubs’ farm system. After the 1964 season, the Cubs converted him to a second baseman at their winter instructional league. Beckert adapted quickly, impressed at spring training and made his major-league debut as the starting second baseman and leadoff batter in the Cubs’ 1965 season opener versus the defending World Series champion Cardinals. Boxscore

At the plate, Beckert was adept at making contact. When Leo Durocher became Cubs manager in 1966, he took a liking to Beckert for his ability to execute hit-and-run plays and advance runners by hitting behind them. Beckert reminded Durocher of two other favorites he’d managed, Al Dark and Eddie Stanky.

“Glenn always gets a piece of that ball,” Durocher told The Sporting News.

A right-handed batter, Beckert choked up on the bat and perfected a short stroke. “I try not to swing too hard,” he said, “and when the pitcher gets two strikes on me, I concede a little more to him. I don’t choke up any further on the bat, but I cut down more on my swing.”

Bat control

Beckert five times led National League batters in fewest strikeouts per at-bat. In 1968, when he had a career-high in hits (189), Beckert struck out 20 times in 643 at-bats. He averaged one strikeout every 32.2 at-bats that season. By comparison, the next-best, Felix Millan of the Braves, averaged one strikeout every 21.9 at-bats.

In 1,320 career games in the majors covering 5,208 at-bats, Beckert had 1,473 hits and a mere 243 strikeouts. The most times he struck out in a season was 52 as a rookie in 1965.

“In this era of swinging from the heels, he has become the thinking man’s player,” The Sporting News reported in 1968.

Said Beckert: “Once I got home runs out of my mind, I stopped striking out. Now when I go to the plate, all I think about is making contact. I want to hit the ball.”

Beckert only once struck out three times in a big-league game. It happened on May 5, 1967, against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field. Starter Dick Hughes struck him out twice and Ron Willis got him once. Those were Beckert’s first strikeouts of the season after going 69 at-bats without a whiff. Boxscore

Dazed and confused

Two years later, on a Wednesday night in St. Louis, pitchers Ferguson Jenkins of the Cubs and Steve Carlton of the Cardinals were locked in an early-season duel.

The Cubs were ahead, 1-0, when Shannon led off the bottom of the seventh inning and lined a pitch down the third-base line. Shannon said he thought the ball was headed toward the left-field corner for a double. He didn’t see the ball hit Satch Davidson, a rookie umpire stationed at third, and drop to the ground. Cubs third baseman Ron Santo retrieved the ball.

As Shannon neared first base, he saw coach Dick Sisler point toward second base.

“I saw the ball hit the ump, but then I was blocked out by Santo,” Sisler told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought the ball caromed away.”

Santo told the Chicago Tribune, “When I got the ball, I saw Shannon rounding first like he hadn’t seen what had happened.”

Santo threw to first baseman Ernie Banks, hoping to catch Shannon. Said Sisler: “When Santo came up throwing, he surprised everybody.”

The ball arrived too late to nab Shannon, who was steaming toward second.

Banks threw to Beckert and the ball arrived before Shannon did. Beckert braced and applied the tag as Shannon barreled into him, knocking him to the ground.

Santo said he saw Beckert’s head “jerk back and he went flat on the ground like he was paralyzed. He told me he couldn’t see out of his right eye.”

The collision was deemed a clean play. “The runner is trying to knock the ball loose,” Jenkins told the Post-Dispatch. “Shannon didn’t mean to hurt him. If we’d thought he did it on purpose, we’d have had a little brawl.”

While Beckert was taken to a hospital, Shannon complained of dizziness. “I didn’t pass out, but I did see wavy lines,” Shannon told the Post-Dispatch.

Phil Gagliano replaced Shannon at third base the next inning.

Jenkins completed a five-hit shutout for the win. Boxscore

The next day, Beckert was released from the hospital and diagnosed with a concussion and a stiff neck. Two days later, he was back in the Cubs’ lineup.

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One ball, two home runs.

Sixty years ago, on April 23, 1960, Cardinals sluggers Ken Boyer and Daryl Spencer each hit a home run with the same baseball.

The unusual feat occurred in the second inning of a game against the Dodgers at St. Louis.

With the Dodgers ahead 4-0, Boyer led off the bottom of the second against Danny McDevitt and hit a home run into the pavilion in right-center. A spectator tried to catch the ball, but muffed it and the ball fell back onto the playing field, according to the Los Angeles Times.

Umpires examined the ball, “found it to be in good condition and put it back in play,” The Sporting News reported.

The next batter, Stan Musial, flied out to right fielder Sandy Amoros, who threw the ball back to the infield.

McDevitt, still using the same ball he threw to Boyer and Musial, delivered a pitch to Spencer, who connected for “one of the most robust home runs ever to dent the bleacher scoreboard” in left, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The ball “almost knocked the cap off” the electronic animated cardinal on the far left side of the scoreboard, according to the Post-Dispatch.

A spectator retrieved the ball and put it in his pocket, The Sporting News noted.

Boyer hit another home run, a two-run shot in the fifth, against Larry Sherry. He also had a run-scoring double and a sacrifice fly and finished with five RBI in a 9-5 Cardinals victory.

The game also was noteworthy for Cardinals right-hander Bob Duliba, who pitched five innings of relief for his first big-league win. Duliba also got his first hit in the majors, a single against Sherry. Boxscore


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In a World Series filled with epic performances and major controversies, Al Kaline produced with his usual quiet consistency. His steady professionalism calmed, not tamed, the Tigers and inspired them to overtake the defending champion Cardinals.

Kaline died April 6, 2020, at 85. The Hall of Fame right fielder played in the major leagues for 22 years, all with the Tigers, and appeared in one World Series, the 1968 classic.

After the Cardinals won three of the first four games, the Tigers rallied to win the last three, including Games 6 and 7 at St. Louis. The 1968 World Series was highlighted by:

_ The Cardinals’ Bob Gibson striking out 17 batters in Game 1.

_ The Tigers’ Mickey Lolich overshadowing teammate and 30-game winner Denny McLain by earning three wins, including Game 7.

_ Cardinals catalyst Lou Brock trying to score standing rather than sliding and being called out, turning the tide in the pivotal Game 5.

_ Gold Glove center fielder Curt Flood failing to catch a drive by Jim Northrup, allowing the Tigers to take control in Game 7.

Kaline, who got into the World Series lineup as the right fielder because of Tigers manager Mayo Smith’s bold decision to shift Mickey Stanley to shortstop, didn’t do anything epic or controversial, but his performance was integral.

Kaline batted .379 against the Cardinals and had an on-base percentage of .400. He had 11 hits, two home runs and eight RBI. He also fielded splendidly.

After the Tigers’ Game 7 triumph, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “You know what the turning point in the Series was? It was Kaline carrying them all along with him. That’s what beat us.”

Rising up

Kaline was born in Baltimore and grew up in a row house. His father worked in a broom factory and his mother scrubbed floors. His parents encouraged Kaline to play baseball.

“My dad was always there to play catch with me,” Kaline told Joe Falls of The Sporting News. “He’d be on his feet all day long at the factory and he’d come home dead tired, but we’d go down to the corner and start playing catch. He’d hit me some fly balls.”

In a 1965 profile, Sports Illustrated reported, “The Kaline family was poor, proud and hungry _ no Kaline had ever graduated from high school _ and before long the whole clan had decided little Al was going to be something different.”

Like his contemporary, Mickey Mantle, Kaline had osteomyelitis, a bone infection. “When he was 8 years old, doctors took two inches of bone out of his left foot, leaving jagged scars and permanent deformity,” Sports Illustrated reported. “They left him with a set of sharply swept-back toes on his left foot. Only two of those toes touch the ground when he walks, which has forced him to develop a running style on the heel and toes of his right foot and on the side of his left foot.”

Kaline overcame his physical limitations and developed into a top prospect. On June 19, 1953, Kaline, 18, signed with the Tigers for $30,000.

“He turned every penny of it over to his father and his mother,” Sports Illustrated reported. “The mortgage was paid off on the house and Mrs. Kaline’s failing eyesight was saved by an operation.”

On June 25, 1953, a week after his signing, Kaline made his debut in the majors against the Athletics at Philadelphia and never played a day in the minors.

Under pressure

In 1955, Kaline, 20, became the American League batting champion, hitting .340. He had 200 hits and struck out a mere 57 times.

Asked who Kaline reminded him of, Red Sox slugger Ted Williams replied, “Joe DiMaggio,” The Sporting News reported.

Kaline was called the Tigers’ best player since Hall of Famer Charlie Gehringer and comparisons also were made to Ty Cobb. For Kaline, it was too much too soon.

“The worst thing that happened to me in the big leagues was the start I had,” Kaline said. “This put the pressure on me. Everybody said this guy’s another Ty Cobb, another Joe DiMaggio. What they didn’t know is I’m not that good a hitter. I have to work as hard, if not harder, than anybody in the league.”

Described by Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch as “gracefully methodical,” Kaline remained the Tigers’ best player, even though he suffered setbacks such as a fractured cheekbone, fractured collarbone, rib injuries and a broken right hand.

According to Broeg, Chuck Dressen, who managed Kaline from 1963-66 after managing the Reds, Dodgers, Senators and Braves, said, “He’s the best player who ever played for me. Jackie Robinson was the most exciting runner I ever had and Hank Aaron the best hitter, but for all around ability _ hitting, fielding, running and throwing _ I’ll go with Al.”

On May 25, 1968, Kaline’s right forearm was broken when hit by a pitch from Lew Krausse of the Athletics. Mayo Smith moved Jim Northrup from center to right and put backup Mickey Stanley in center.

The outfield of Stanley, Northrup and Willie Horton in left excelled, and when Kaline returned to the lineup on July 1 he split time with Northrup in right and with Norm Cash at first base.

After the Tigers clinched the pennant, Smith moved Stanley to shortstop, a position he hadn’t played, for nine games in place of weak-hitting Ray Oyler. Satisfied Stanley could handle the switch, Smith kept Stanley at shortstop for the World Series and went with an outfield of Horton, Northrup and Kaline.

New heights

The Cardinals in 1968 were in the World Series for the third time in five years. The Tigers hadn’t been in a World Series since 1945. Kaline had waited 16 seasons for the chance. Entering Game 1 at St. Louis, “I’d never been so nervous in my life, ” Kaline told The Sporting News.

Kaline hit a double against Gibson but also struck out three times. Gibson tied Sandy Koufax’s World Series strikeout mark of 15 when he fanned Kaline for the first out in ninth before completing the game with strikeouts of Cash and Horton.

Said Kaline: “That was the greatest pitching I’ve seen in a long, long time.” Boxscore

In Game 2, Kaline had two hits and scored two runs, but his defense was the story. In the first inning, the Cardinals had Julian Javier on second and Flood on first with one out when Orlando Cepeda lifted a ball to the corner in right. As the ball sliced into foul territory, Kaline, stationed in right-center, raced over, made a running one-handed catch and crashed through a gate.

“I guess I was only about a step, or a step and a half, away from the sideline fence out there,” Kaline told the Post-Dispatch. “I figured I’d make the catch, stop, pivot and throw, but when I hit the fence, I went through it. It’s well-padded out there, but there’s a gate, and I hit it. I was surprised when the fence opened.”

Kaline’s throw to the infield kept both runners from advancing.

The next batter, Mike Shannon, hit a looping fly to right-center and Kaline made another running one-handed grab. Boxscore

In Game 3 at Detroit, Kaline hit his first World Series home run, a two-run shot versus Ray Washburn. Boxscore In Game 4, Kaline had two of the Tigers’ five hits versus Gibson, but the Cardinals were a win away from clinching the championship. Boxscore

Title run

In the seventh inning of Game 5, the Cardinals led, 3-2, but the Tigers loaded the bases with one out. Kaline came up to face Joe Hoerner, a left-handed reliever. “The situation called for a right-handed replacement,” the Post-Dispatch declared, “but Schoendienst’s lack of regard for his right-handed relievers seemed even more pronounced than his confidence in Hoerner.”

Kaline took a mighty cut at a Hoerner pitch and missed. “He was trying for the home run with the bases loaded,” said Mayo Smith, “but then he realized he had to get the base hit.”

Kaline stroked Hoerner’s next pitch to right-center for a two-run single, giving the Tigers a 4-3 lead on the way to a 5-3 victory. Boxscore

“I wanted to hit it up the middle to get away from the double play,” said Kaline. “I enjoy batting with men on base. When there aren’t, there’s no incentive.”

The Series returned to St. Louis and the Tigers cruised to a 13-1 victory in Game 6. Kaline contributed three hits, four RBI and three runs. In the Tigers’ 10-run third inning, Kaline had two hits, a RBI-single against Washburn and a two-run single versus Ron Willis. In the fifth, he hit a solo home run off Steve Carlton. Boxscore

“I wanted it to go seven games,” Kaline said. “If we lose it, I want it to be to Gibson.”

Gibson and Lolich were locked in a scoreless duel in Game 7 until the Tigers broke through with three runs in the seventh and went on to a 4-1 victory. Boxscore

As his teammates celebrated in the clubhouse and sprayed each other with champagne, Kaline “sat in a dry uniform, one arm resting on a bottle of champagne, and answered questions,’ the Post-Dispatch reported.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine showed his respect by going into the Tigers’ clubhouse to congratulate Kaline and shake his hand.

For the Series, Kaline hit .571 with runners in scoring position. He was 4-for-5 versus Cardinals left-handers. Video of Kaline Series highlights

In the Post-Dispatch, Bob Broeg wrote, “It’s nice that this underrated athlete has made the most of the long-awaited Series opportunity, even if it has come at the expense of the Cards.”

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