Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

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, Boggs pitched nine seasons in the majors for the Rangers and Braves.

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.

Read Full Post »

On the day he secured his sixth National League batting title, Stan Musial learned he should stick to hitting instead of pitching.

Musial pitched for the only time in a big-league game on Sept. 28, 1952, in the Cardinals’ season finale against the Cubs at St. Louis.

He threw one pitch to one batter, his closest pursuer for the batting title, Cubs outfielder Frankie Baumholtz, then returned to the outfield.

Musial’s pitching appearance was prearranged by the Cardinals, who hoped it would generate interest in a game with nothing at stake in the standings.

Instead, the stunt was an embarrassment to Musial.

Show time

The Cardinals (88-65) entered the final day of the 1952 season in third place in the National League and the Cubs (76-77) were in fifth. Regardless of the outcome in the season finale, both teams were assured of finishing in those spots in the standings.

On the morning of the final game, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported Musial would pitch that Sunday afternoon, but only to Baumholtz. Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky told the newspaper Musial would pitch at least once to Baumholtz.

According to The Sporting News, the Cardinals received permission from National League president Warren Giles for Musial to pitch against Baumholtz.

In his book, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said he “was persuaded” to pitch to Baumholtz “as a box office promotion.”

Musial entered the game with a league-leading .336 batting average. Baumholtz was second at .326. According to the Post-Dispatch, it remained mathematically possible for Baumholtz to surpass Musial for the batting title. For that to happen, Baumholtz would have to go 5-for-5 in the finale and Musial would need to go hitless in at least four at-bats.

If Baumholtz went 5-for-5, he’d finish with a batting average of .334. If Musial went 0-for-4 or 0-for-5, he’d finish at .333.

Though the odds were stacked against Baumholtz overtaking Musial, the Cardinals thought having Musial pitch to him would make it more intriguing.

On the mound

Musial began his professional career as a left-handed pitcher in the Cardinals’ system. After pitching two seasons (1938-39) for Williamson (W.Va.), Musial pitched for another Class D farm, the Daytona Beach (Fla.) Islanders, in 1940.

Musial was 18-5 with a 2.62 ERA for Daytona Beach. On days he didn’t pitch, he often played the outfield. In August 1940, he was playing center field against Orlando when he damaged his left shoulder trying to catch a sinking line drive.

The injury ended Musial’s pitching career. Moved fulltime to the outfield in 1941, Musial, 20, rose through the farm system, impressing with his hitting, and reached the majors with the Cardinals in September that year.

Eleven years later, he was asked to give pitching another try in order to end Frankie Baumholtz’s last-gasp bid to snatch the batting crown from him.

Having regrets

A crowd of 17,422 gathered at Sportsman’s Park for the 1952 season finale. Rookie left-hander Harvey Haddix was the Cardinals’ starting pitcher. Musial began the game in center field.

Haddix walked the Cubs’ leadoff batter, Tommy Brown. Then, with Baumholtz coming up, Musial went to pitch, Haddix moved to right field, and Hal Rice shifted from right to center.

“Musial took only a couple of pitches for warmup,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

In his autobiography, Musial said, “I didn’t relish the contrived show. I didn’t like it particularly because the one batter I’d face would be Baumholtz. I didn’t want to give any impression I might be trying to show him up.”

As Musial warmed up, Cubs manager Phil Cavarretta said to Baumholtz, “They’re trying to make a fool of you, Frank,” Baumholtz told author Danny Peary for the book “We Played the Game.”

Baumholtz said he replied, “I don’t think so. I think it’s just a gimmick to get a lot of people in the stands to watch two also-rans on the last day of the season.”

Send in the clowns

Baumholtz was strictly a left-handed batter, but he stood in from the right side to face Musial. Baumholtz never had batted right-handed. According to The Sporting News, Baumholtz made the switch as a gesture of sportsmanship because he “refused to try for a cheap hit” against the National League batting leader posing as a pitcher.

Or, as the St. Louis Globe-Democrat put it, “Baumholtz didn’t want to get something for nothing.”

Musial threw Baumholtz a fastball, the Post-Dispatch reported. In describing the pitch in his book, Musial said, “I flipped the ball.”

Baumholtz “met the ball squarely and it bounced on a big hop” to third baseman Solly Hemus, the Post-Dispatch reported. “Figuring on a double play, Hemus fumbled the ball. He then threw late and wide to first, and Brown took third.”

As United Press noted, “Baumholtz was safe on an error on what should have been a double play ball.”

Reaching on an error made Baumholtz 0-for-1 for the game and virtually eliminated his chance of overtaking Musial for the batting crown.

“I’m not proud of that circus,” Musial said in his autobiography.

After the Baumholtz at-bat, Musial, Haddix and Rice returned to their original positions. Haddix got the next batter, Bill Serena, to ground into a double play, but Brown scored from third for a 1-0 Cubs lead.

When Musial batted in the third inning, Cubs starter Paul Minner “tried to tease him with a slow underhand toss but it was wide of the plate,” the Globe-Democrat reported. On a curve, Musial fouled out to the catcher.

In the ninth, Musial lined a 3-and-2 pitch from Minner to left for a single. In going 1-for-3 in the game, Musial finished the season with a .336 batting average.

Baumholtz went 1-for-4 _ his hit was a bunt single in the sixth _ and placed second in the batting race at .325.

Haddix pitched eight innings and allowed three runs. Minner pitched a shutout in a 3-0 Cubs victory. Boxscore

Higher standards

In the seven seasons in which he won batting titles, Musial’s .336 mark in 1952 was his lowest. It also was the lowest figure by a NL batting leader since Ernie Lombardi of the Reds hit .330 in 1942.

“I had a bad year,” Musial said to the Globe-Democrat. “I wish I could have done better. My timing was off during the season.”

Yep, it was terrible. In addition to winning the batting crown, Musial, 31, led the National League in slugging percentage (.538), hits (194), total bases (311) and doubles (42) in 1952.

In his autobiography, Musial said he was “most disappointed” in his RBI total of 91 in 1952. It was the only time in a 10-year stretch from 1948-57 that Musial didn’t drive in 100 runs in a season.

 

Read Full Post »

Tasked with putting team ahead of family, Andy Benes didn’t like the assignment but he performed like a pro and did his job exceptionally well.

On Sept. 6, 2002, brothers Andy Benes of the Cardinals and Alan Benes of the Cubs were the starting pitchers in a game at St. Louis. It was the first time a Cardinals starting pitcher was matched against a sibling, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Andy was the winner, pitching a complete game and producing two hits _ one to ignite an uprising and another to drive in a run _ against his younger brother in an 11-2 Cardinals victory.

The win was the 155th and last of Andy’s career in the majors.

Baseball brotherhood

Picked by the Padres as the first overall choice in the 1988 amateur baseball draft, Andy was a free agent when he signed with the Cardinals in December 1995.

Alan was chosen by the Cardinals in the first round of the 1993 draft immediately after the Blue Jays selected pitcher Chris Carpenter.

Andy and Alan were Cardinals teammates in 1996 and 1997. They were the Cardinals’ first brother pitching tandem since Lindy McDaniel and Von McDaniel in 1957-58.

The Benes brothers combined for 31 wins (Andy, 18; Alan, 13) in 1996 and 19 wins in 1997 (Andy, 10; Alan, 9). Alan came within an out of pitching a no-hitter against the Braves.

A contract snafu made Andy a free agent after the 1997 season and he went to the Diamondbacks. Alan injured his right shoulder and required two operations _ one in September 1997 and the other in September 1998.

Granted free agency after the 1999 season, Andy returned to the Cardinals, and he and Alan were teammates again in 2000 and 2001.

Alan’s shoulder surgeries took a toll, though, and he no longer was a promising starter. He was a reliever with the 2000 Cardinals and spent most of 2001 in the minors before becoming a free agent. The Cubs signed him to a minor-league contract for 2002.

Alan opened the 2002 season in the Cubs farm system. Andy made three April starts for the 2002 Cardinals before being sidelined because of an arthritic knee.

Family matter

On July 3, 2002, Andy was with the Cardinals’ Memphis affiliate, working himself back into form after his stint on the disabled list, when he and Alan, pitching for Iowa, opposed one another as starters for the first time. Alan got a hit, but Andy got the win in an 8-5 Memphis triumph.

Two weeks later, Andy rejoined the Cardinals. In late August, the Cubs called up Alan.

That set up their September showdown in St. Louis.

Because of their competitiveness, “I know he would throw some balls in on me if he needs to, and I would throw some balls in on him if I need to,” Alan told the Chicago Tribune.

The matchup of Andy, 35, and Alan, 30, was the first time pitching brothers started against one another in the majors since Ramon Martinez of the Dodgers faced Pedro Martinez of the Expos on Aug. 29, 1996. Ramon got the win in a 2-1 Dodgers triumph at Montreal. Boxscore

(Brothers Bob Forsch of the Cardinals and Ken Forsch of the Astros never faced one another as starting pitchers, but they did pitch as opponents in the same game four times.)

Oh, brother

Attending the 2002 Cubs versus Cardinals game at St. Louis were Benes family members, including Charles Benes, the father of Andy and Alan. Seated 20 rows behind home plate, Charles wore a Cardinals cap while Andy pitched and switched to a Cubs cap when Alan was on the mound.

“We were hoping for a 1-0 game,” Andy told the Associated Press.

The game was scoreless when Alan led off the top of the third inning and hit a soft liner to his brother. Andy caught it for an out, but then let the ball slip out of his glove in order to make Alan think he should run to first base. Alan took a few steps up the line before veering back to the dugout.

“I was just being playful,” Andy said to the Associated Press.

The kid stuff ended in the bottom half of the inning. Andy led off for the Cardinals and drove a high fastball to left for a single.

The hit triggered a merciless assault on poor Alan.

After Fernando Vina singled, Alan unleashed a wild pitch, enabling Andy and Vina to each move up a base. Eli Marrero singled, scoring Andy for a 1-0 lead. After Jim Edmonds walked, Albert Pujols singled, scoring Vina and Marrero. The Cardinals led 3-0.

Scott Rolen struck out, but Tino Martinez lofted a fly ball to deep right. Sammy Sosa leaped for the ball, missed it completely and it fell for a double, driving in Edmonds and Pujols and making the score 5-0.

During the barrage, Andy left the dugout and went into the tunnel that led to the clubhouse. “It just kind of killed me watching it,” Andy explained to the Belleville (Ill.) News-Democrat. “I had to kind of regroup. He’s my younger brother and I’m his second-biggest fan behind his wife. It’s gut-wrenching. It’s like you can beat up your younger brother, but nobody else can.”

After Edgar Renteria was walked intentionally, Mike Matheny made the second out, bringing Andy to the plate for the second time in the inning.

Andy delivered the knockout blow, a single to center that scored Martinez and made it 6-0.

Alan was relieved by Jesus Sanchez, who allowed both runners he inherited, Renteria and Andy, to score. Those runs were charged to Alan. The Cardinals scored 11 runs in the inning. Alan was responsible for eight of those. Boxscore

“I couldn’t make the big pitch to slow them down,” Alan told the Post-Dispatch.

Andy concluded, “I knew it was going to be tough today. It was going to be very emotional for everybody, regardless of results.”

Read Full Post »

In the same year Jackie Robinson integrated the big leagues, Dan Bankhead became the first black pitcher in the majors.

In August 1947, Bankhead debuted for the Dodgers against the Pirates. His second appearance came against the Cardinals.

Unlike Robinson, Bankhead didn’t have a Hall of Fame career. He pitched in three seasons for the Dodgers and had a 9-5 record. Versus the Cardinals, he was 2-0, including his lone shutout.

Talent search

During the 1947 season, while the front-running Dodgers tried to fend off the Cardinals in the National League pennant race, Dodgers executive Branch Rickey launched a nationwide search for pitching help. Two of his scouts, Hall of Famer George Sisler and Wid Matthews, recommended Bankhead, a right-hander with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League.

Bankhead was 20 when he began his pro baseball career in 1940 with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. According to the New York Times, he served three years (1942-45) in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

After his discharge, Bankhead joined the Memphis Red Sox and his baseball career soared. B.B. Martin, a dentist who owned the Memphis club and had been involved in Negro League baseball for many years, called Bankhead “one of the great pitchers I have ever seen,” the Associated Press reported.

On July 27, 1947, Bankhead was the winning pitcher in the Negro League All-Star Game before 48,112 spectators, including Dodgers scouts, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. About the same time, Rickey began his search to bolster a Dodgers pitching staff led by 21-year-old ace Ralph Branca and closer Hugh Casey.

“I’ve flown all over the country trying to find the best possible solution to a problem that I consider desperate,” Rickey told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Rickey eventually focused his attention on Bankhead. In August, he saw him pitch a five-hitter and strike out 11 in a win against Birmingham. Rickey was as impressed with Bankhead’s poise and confidence as he was with his fastball. For the season, Bankhead was 11-5 with more strikeouts than innings pitched.

Rickey, who told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “In the last three weeks, I’ve looked at more pitchers than any man in North America,” became convinced Bankhead, 27, could help the Dodgers immediately.

Dan or Diz?

On Aug. 24, 1947, the Dodgers purchased Bankhead’s contract from Memphis for $15,000. He became the second black player in the National League, joining Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson, who integrated baseball four months earlier.

As the first black pitcher in the big leagues, Bankhead’s arrival in Brooklyn received much attention. Rickey upped the ante when he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “If he were a couple of inches taller and if he had better command of that change of pace, his style would strongly suggest that of Dizzy Dean.”

Rickey added, “He wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think he had extraordinary ability, but, at the same time, I regret the necessity of rushing him right into the National League.”

On Aug. 26, two days after he signed with the Dodgers, Bankhead made his debut at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. About one-third of the crowd of 24,069 were blacks, according to the Associated Press. As the game began, Bankhead walked to the bullpen “to the tune of welcoming applause,” the New York Times reported.

Pitching in relief of starter Hal Gregg, Bankhead gave up eight runs in 3.1 innings. His highlight came in his first plate appearance in the big leagues: a two-run home run into the left field seats against the Pirates’ 39-year-old Fritz Ostermueller. Boxscore

Dodgers manager Burt Shotton suggested Bankhead was tipping his pitches, inadvertently letting the Pirates know what was coming.

“I admit the boy didn’t look good,” Shotton said to the Associated Press, “but he certainly showed me he knows how to pitch. He has speed, a good curve and control. His delivery could be improved. The boys were calling all his pitches before they were made. His motion is too slow with men on bases.”

Noting that at Memphis he made three starts a week and often relieved on other days, Bankhead told the Associated Press, “I’m quite a bit overworked,” but added, “This is no alibi … They (the Pirates) smoked back every pitch faster than I threw it.”

Another test

Bankhead didn’t pitch again until two weeks later, Sept. 12, at St. Louis.

The Cardinals were an especially difficult test. Before facing Jackie Robinson for the first time in May, some of the Cardinals’ players reportedly threatened to boycott the game in protest of having a black player on the field. Three months later, Cardinals baserunner Enos Slaughter spiked Robinson on the foot. Some thought it was intentional.

Naturally, the first Cardinals batter to face a black pitcher was Slaughter.

Entering in relief of Casey with two outs and a runner on third in the seventh, Bankhead got Slaughter to ground out. Boxscore

(It would take seven more years, 1954, before the Cardinals had a black pitcher, Bill Greason, play for them.)

Bankhead pitched in four games, earning one save, for the 1947 Dodgers, who won the pennant. His roommate on the road, Jackie Robinson, won the Rookie of the Year Award.

In the book “We Played the Game,” another black pitcher, Don Newcombe, who was with the Dodgers’ farm team in Nashua, N.H., in 1947, said Bankhead “was a pretty good pitcher who struck out a lot of batters, but I think he was brought in mostly as a companion for Jackie.”

Sign of the times

Bankhead spent the next two years in the minors, achieving 20 wins in each season.

With nothing more to prove in the minors, Bankhead seemed ready for a return to the Dodgers in 1950, but there was a catch. According to the New York Daily News, Branch Rickey Jr., the Dodgers’ farm director and son of Branch Rickey Sr., candidly called it the “saturation point.” The 1950 Dodgers already had three blacks _ Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson _ and the ignorant consensus of the time was that a ballclub wasn’t ready for more.

Branch Rickey Sr. “worked hard” to sell Bankhead’s contract to the White Sox, but was unsuccessful, The Sporting News reported. The Braves wanted Bankhead but the cost was deemed too steep.

“Rickey made it clear his price for Bankhead ran in the six figures,” The Sporting News reported.

Right stuff

Unable to trade Bankhead, the Dodgers opened the season with him and he won his first four decisions.

On June 18 at Brooklyn, Bankhead shut out a Cardinals lineup that included Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter.

“Bankhead smothered each scoring chance as he poured across his fastball and snapped off his curve,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

Bankhead also had three hits and scored a run. Boxscore

The New York Daily News described him as “the tremendous triple threat man who is the pleasant surprise of the season. Dan can pitch, he can hit and he can run.”

Moved to the bullpen, Bankhead was 3-0 with two saves for the Dodgers in September. He finished the 1950 season at 9-4 and was hailed by The Sporting News as “a competitor of high quality. He has the stuff and the brass.”

Border crossings

In 1951, Dan’s brother, Sam Bankhead, became the first black manager “in organized baseball” when he signed to lead the Farnham club of the Class C Provincial League in Canada, United Press reported. As player-manager of the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League, Sam had led them to pennants in 1949 and 1950.

The 1951 season didn’t go so well for Dan Bankhead. He began the year with the Dodgers, went 0-1 in seven games and never again pitched in the majors.

“Dan and I were roommates for a while,” Don Newcombe told author Danny Peary. “He was a good pitcher, but didn’t have that much desire to play in the majors. Dan preferred playing in the wintertime because he had fallen in love with a woman in Mexico.”

Bankhead pitched in the Mexican League until 1966 when he was 42. He also became a manager there.

Read Full Post »

Naturally, a ballplayer who craved the spotlight and never missed a chance to put on a show should be the subject of a Hollywood movie.

In 1952, the film “The Pride of St. Louis,” about the life of pitcher and broadcaster Dizzy Dean, came to theaters across the United States.

It got a better critical reception in New York and Los Angeles than it did in St. Louis.

From mound to movie

A master showman on the Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang teams of the 1930s, Dean was the last National League pitcher to achieve 30 wins in a season. Other pitchers of the era, such as Carl Hubbell, may have been as talented, but none matched Dean’s ability to perform theatrics and attract attention.

In his big-league debut for the Cardinals, he pitched a three-hitter and gained the affection of the fans. When he faced Babe Ruth for the first time, Dean got the best of the matchup and even had the Babe laughing. When armed robbers learned it was Dean who had been a victim of their stickup, they sent him a batch of neckties as a token of apology.

By 1951, Dean was an established and popular baseball broadcaster. Producer Jules Schermer pitched the idea of a movie about Dean to 20th Century Fox executives. After they bought in, Schermer approached Dean, “who was, of course, delighted” with the suggestion, the Associated Press reported.

The movie people envisioned the central characters to be Dizzy Dean, his wife, Patricia Dean, and Dizzy’s brother, Paul Dean, who also had pitched for the Cardinals. According to John Carmichael of the Chicago Daily News, Dizzy got $50,000 for the movie rights to his story. Paul was offered $15,000, but held out for more.

“Finally, I said I’d give him $5,000 of my end if he’d sign the danged contract, or we might never have got it made,” Dizzy told Carmichael.

In the book “Diz,” biographer Robert Gregory wrote that Patricia Dean negotiated the movie rights to Dizzy’s story and “settled for $100,000 _ payable, she insisted, in spread-out sums so the taxes would be smaller.”

Music man

Herman Mankiewicz was hired in 1951 to write the screenplay for “The Pride of St. Louis” from a story by Guy Trosper. Nine years earlier, Mankiewicz and Orson Welles won an Academy Award for best original screenplay for “Citizen Kane.”

Dan Dailey, known best for his work in musicals, was cast as Dizzy Dean.

In 1949, Dailey got an Academy Award nomination for best actor in “When My Baby Smiles at Me,” co-starring Betty Grable. (The best actor Oscar that year went instead to Laurence Olivier for “Hamlet.”) Dailey also appeared in 1949’s “Take Me Out to the Ball Game” with Frank Sinatra and Gene Kelly.

Soon after he was tabbed for the Dizzy Dean role, Dailey admitted himself to the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan., for psychiatric treatment because of an emotional breakdown. “I’d cracked,” he told syndicated columnist Hedda Hopper.

Dizzy Dean kiddingly told people that Dailey “went nuts” at the thought of having to portray him, The Sporting News reported.

After five months at the clinic, Dailey was discharged and began preparing to film “The Pride of St. Louis” in late summer 1951.

Joanne Dru got the part of Patricia Dean. An actress who co-starred with John Wayne in westerns such as “Red River” (1948) and “She Wore a Yellow Ribbon” (1949), Dru was the sister of Peter Marshall, who went on to host the “Hollywood Squares” TV game show. Marshall’s son, Pete LaCock, became a big-league first baseman and hit a grand slam against Bob Gibson to beat the Cardinals’ ace in the last game of his Hall of Fame career.

A newcomer to movies, Richard Crenna was cast as Paul Dean. A radio performer, Crenna went on to have a long career in television (“The Real McCoys”) and film (most memorably, 1981’s “Body Heat”).

Learning curve

Dailey spent weeks studying slow-motion footage of Dean on the mound. “Then, working before mirrors, Dailey painstakingly imitated his windup, rear-back, and follow-through,” The Sporting News reported.

According to the Associated Press, Dailey pitched 45 minutes a day for three weeks to Ike Danning. A former minor-league catcher who got into two games with the 1928 St. Louis Browns, Danning coached Dailey on pitching motion.

“If determination means anything, he’ll look something like a pitcher,” Danning said. “It isn’t easy to teach a guy to look professional when he hasn’t played much baseball. It’s especially hard with a style like Dizzy’s.”

The baseball scenes were shot in Los Angeles at Gilmore Field, home of the Pacific Coast League’s Hollywood Stars, according to Internet Movie Database.

To get a feel for being a ballplayer, Dailey, wearing a Hollywood Stars uniform, sat on the team’s bench during a game, The Sporting News reported.

Dean, who went to Hollywood to see early clips of the movie, said Dailey “looks just like me when I was fogging them in there,” The Sporting News reported.

Starry night

The Missouri Theater at North Grand Boulevard and Lucas Avenue in St. Louis was site of the world premiere of “The Pride of St. Louis” on Friday night, April 11, 1952. The next day, the Browns and Cardinals were to play the first of two exhibition games at Sportsman’s Park before the regular season opened.

Attending the premiere were Dailey, Dru and her husband, actor John Ireland, Dizzy Dean and St. Louis mayor Joseph Durst, who proclaimed April 11-18 as Dizzy Dean Week in the city.

Several members of the Browns, including team owner Bill Veeck and manager Rogers Hornsby, attended, but no one from the Cardinals.

“It is understood the Cardinals declined to attend, even though the film has a great deal about the Cardinals team,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted without offering an explanation.

Television station KSD did a live broadcast of the ceremonies from the plush theater lobby.

Different perspectives

New York Times critic Bosley Crowther wrote, “Baseball itself, while it runs loudly and rampantly all through the film, is not the major interest in this picture … It is Dizzy Dean, the character, the whiz from the Ozark hills, the braggart, the woeful grammarian, the humbled human being, that is dished up here.”

He rated the Herman Mankiewicz script “howlingly humorous,” noted that Dailey played Dean “in high gear and in accents that reek of the hills,” and gushed that the ending “brings a little tug on the heart and it leaves you grateful to all who made this picture _ and to a legend by the name of Dizzy Dean.”

Los Angeles Times critic John L. Scott also gave a rave: “How much of this is fact and how much fiction need worry nobody. It is entertaining and whether you like baseball or not you will find ‘Pride of St. Louis’ an enjoyable movie.”

In St. Louis, “Singing in the Rain” with Gene Kelly and Debbie Reynolds opened the day before “The Pride of St. Louis” premiered. Praising “Singing in the Rain” for having “everything you could want in a musical,” Post-Dispatch critic Myles Standish noted that “Kelly does a solo on a rain-swept street to the title song which should rank as a classic.”

As for “The Pride of St. Louis,” Standish disliked “a rather trite and tepid screenplay” that showed Dizzy “as an amiable, rather child-like, buffoon.”

Standish also didn’t like Patricia Dean being portrayed as a “conventional sweet movie wife bolstering up her man” instead of “the shrewd manageress she seems to be,” or that the concerns of a few teachers regarding Dean’s lousy grammar were “absurdly magnified into a phony dramatic climax.”

(“The Pride of St. Louis” earned Guy Trosper an Academy Award nomination for best story. The 1953 Oscar, however, went to a trio of writers for “The Greatest Show on Earth.”)

Dizzy Dean loved “The Pride of St. Louis.” By mid-April 1952, he’d seen it six times, according to biographer Robert Gregory.

“I ain’t saying this just because it’s about me,” Dean said, “but I think them Hollywood boys outdid theirself.”

See it for yourself: You Tube video

Read Full Post »

Ed Bauta overcame a difficult beginning to his big-league career with the Cardinals and gained the confidence of his manager.

A right-handed sinkerball specialist, Bauta was a Pirates prospect when the Cardinals acquired him and second baseman Julian Javier in 1960.

The Cardinals wanted Bauta, even though they knew his right knee was injured.

Frustrated by the slow healing process, Bauta nearly quit before pitching a game for the Cardinals. When he finally made his debut with them, it went badly.

Bolstered by the support of trainer Bob Bauman, Bauta persevered and went on to pitch in 80 games over four seasons with the Cardinals. 

Pitching prospect

Eduardo Bauta was raised on a family farm in central Cuba. Doing farm chores and cutting sugar cane as a youth enabled him to develop a strong work ethic, according to his obituary.

Bauta was a catcher as an amateur until a ball struck him in the throat. “I could take only liquids for 15 days,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Attending a Pirates tryout camp, he got a chance to pitch and impressed scout Howie Haak, who signed him. Bauta was 21 when he played his first season in the Pirates’ system at Clinton, Iowa.

In 1960, Bauta had an 0.95 ERA in 12 relief appearances for the Pirates’ Columbus (Ohio) affiliate. Eddie Stanky, special assistant to Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, scouted Bauta and recommended him.

Soon after, Bauta made a wager with a Columbus teammate that he could get a base hit during batting practice. Swinging mightily at a pitch and missing, Bauta fell and tore ligaments in his right knee, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals had agreed to send pitcher Vinegar Bend Mizell and infielder Dick Gray to the Pirates for Julian Javier and a pitching prospect. Bauta was one of four pitchers the Pirates offered. Aware of his knee injury, the Cardinals chose him on the strength of Stanky’s scouting report.

Welcome to The Show

Bauta joined the Cardinals on June 12, 1960, and reported to trainer Bob Bauman for treatment of the damaged knee. Frustrated with being sidelined, Bauta said Bauman helped restore his confidence as well as strengthen his knee.

“Doc talked me out of quitting,” Bauta told the Post-Dispatch. “Doc spent a lot of time with me every day. He said, ‘Eddie, you’re not going to quit as long as I’m around here.’ “

On July 6, 1960, the Cubs were routing the Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago when Bauta was called into the game to make his major-league debut. He hadn’t pitched in a game since injuring his knee in May.

Bauta gave up a three-run home run to George Altman in the seventh, and then another three-run home run to Altman in the eighth. Boxscore

“I got Altman out most of the time in the (Caribbean) winter league,” Bauta said to the Post-Dispatch, “but I couldn’t put the ball where I wanted it today.”

True grit

A month later, on Aug. 10, after three consecutive scoreless outings, Bauta was brought in to protect a one-run lead against the Phillies in the bottom of the 10th at Philadelphia.

He retired two batters, but gave up a single and walked two, loading the bases and prompting manager Solly Hemus to visit the mound.

“I had Ronnie Kline warmed up and I was thinking of making a move,” Hemus told the Post-Dispatch.

Hemus asked Bauta, “How do you feel?’ The rookie replied, “I can get them, Skip.”

“Go get them,” Hemus said before returning to the dugout.

Clay Dalrymple swung at Bauta’s first pitch and lofted a fly to center for the final out. Bauta had his first save in the majors. “He showed me something,” Hemus said to the Post-Dispatch. “Anyone who can do that can pitch for me.” Boxscore

Back and forth

Assigned to minor-league Portland (Ore.) in 1961, Bauta was 9-1 with a 1.95 ERA when he got called up to the Cardinals in July. He got his first big-league win on Aug. 23 against the Dodgers. Boxscore

In 13 relief appearances for the 1961 Cardinals, Bauta was 2-0 with five saves and a 1.40 ERA.

Based on that performance, Bauta was in the Cardinals’ plans for 1962. The season began promisingly for him. On April 25, he pitched eight scoreless innings of relief against the Houston Colt .45s. Boxscore

(The game ended in a tie after 17 innings because of a local curfew in Houston that forbid starting an inning after 12:50 a.m. The game was replayed on another date but all the statistics counted.)

After 11 relief appearances in 1962, Bauta had an 0.93 ERA, but then he had a terrible June. After he gave up two home runs to Smoky Burgess of the Pirates on June 30, the Cardinals demoted Bauta to their Atlanta farm club. Boxscore

On the road again

Bauta was back with the Cardinals in 1963. He was 3-4 with three saves when the Cardinals dealt him to the Mets on Aug. 5 for reliever Ken MacKenzie.

(MacKenzie was a Yale graduate. One time, when MacKenzie was brought in at a critical point in a game, Mets manager Casey Stengel said to him, “Make like those guys are the Harvards.”)

In four seasons (1960-63) with the Cardinals, Bauta was 6-4 with 10 saves.

When Bauta faced the Cardinals for the first time after the trade, he pitched 2.1 scoreless innings and struck out Stan Musial. Boxscore

With the Mets, Bauta pitched in the last game played at the Polo Grounds Boxscore and the first game played at Shea Stadium. Boxscore

The 1964 season was Bauta’s last in the majors, but he continued to play until 1974, primarily in the Mexican League. In 1973, Bauta, 38, was a starting pitcher for Petroleros de Poza Rica and was 23-5 with a 2.25 ERA.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »