Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

Jackie Brandt was an outfielder who earned a National League Gold Glove Award and was named to the American League all-star team, but people wanted more from him.

He was supposed to be the next Mickey Mantle, but he wasn’t.

He was supposed to be a sure bet to receive the National League Rookie of the Year Award with the Cardinals, but he didn’t.

He was supposed to be a flake, but maybe was just good at pretending to be one.

Quick rise

Brandt was an accomplished amateur pitcher and outfielder in his hometown of Omaha, but he didn’t get any offers to turn pro. Three months after he graduated from high school in 1952, he was wielding a sledgehammer as a boilermaker’s helper for the Union Pacific Railroad when Bob Hall, president of the minor-league club in Omaha, contacted the Cardinals and recommended Brandt to them, The Sporting News reported.

Cardinals scout Runt Marr went to Omaha, saw him throw and offered a contract, Brandt recalled to The Sporting News. A right-handed batter, Brandt preferred playing the outfield instead of pitching, and the Cardinals went along with his request, he told the Associated Press.

In his first regular-season game as a pro for Ardmore (Okla.) in the Class D Sooner State League, Brandt tore ligaments in his right leg and was sidelined for a month. When he came back, he tore up the league, hitting .357 with 131 RBI in 120 games.

Brandt made an impressive climb through the Cardinals’ system, hitting .313 for manager George Kissell’s Class A Columbus (Ga.) team in 1954 and .305 for Class AAA Rochester in 1955.

His performance for Rochester marked Brandt, 21, as a prime prospect for the majors. He excelled as a hitter (38 doubles, 12 triples), fielder (20 assists, 420 putouts) and base runner (24 steals). “Brandt is one of the best-looking kids I’ve ever seen,” Rochester manager Dixie Walker told the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. “He’ll be a major league star.”

Cardinals general manager Frank Lane said his Reds counterpart, Gabe Paul, offered $100,000 for Brandt. In rejecting the proposal, Lane told The Sporting News, “If Gabe offers $100,000 for him, the kid is worth every bit of $400,000.”

After Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson saw Brandt play winter ball in Havana following the 1955 minor-league season, he said to The Sporting News, “He has a physical makeup similar to Mickey Mantle. He’s got the same kind of sloping shoulders, strength and speed. He showed exceptional aptitude defensively, a great knack of getting a jump on the ball and a strong arm.”

When New York Times columnist Arthur Daley got his first look at Brandt during spring training in 1956, he observed that the rookie had the “cat-like gait of Mickey Mantle. In fact, he looks as if he might be Mickey’s little brother.”

Another New York columnist, Red Smith, described Brandt as “a smaller, slighter version of Mickey Mantle.”

Great expectations

Brandt’s spring training performance earned him a spot on the Cardinals’ 1956 Opening Day roster and heightened expectations. Cardinals outfielders had won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1954 (Wally Moon) and 1955 (Bill Virdon), so Brandt was being touted as a favorite to get the honor in 1956.

“He is faster than either Moon or Virdon, both on the bases and in the outfield,” The Sporting News reported. “He loves to run, loves to hit and he doesn’t know the meaning of pressure.”

Brandt “could be another Terry Moore,” Cardinals chief scout Joe Mathes said to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, referring to the center fielder on the club’s 1940s championship teams.

Unfazed, Brandt told The Sporting News he could hit as well as any Cardinals player “except Stan” Musial. “Confidence is my major asset,” Brandt said.

Hutchinson, though, preferred a lineup with experienced big-leaguers. The Cardinals opened the 1956 season with Hank Sauer in left field, Virdon in center, Musial in right, Moon at first base and Brandt on the bench. In May, they dealt Virdon to the Pirates for Bobby Del Greco and made him the center fielder.

When Del Greco got injured, Brandt filled in and came through with consecutive three-hit games. Boxscore and Boxscore

Future shock

After a few starts in late May, Brandt was back on the bench. Dissatisfied with sitting and watching, he asked the Cardinals to send him to the minors so he could play every day, he told author Steve Bitker in the book “The Original San Francisco Giants.”

Instead, the Cardinals traded him. He was part of the June 1956 deal that sent second baseman Red Schoendienst to the Giants for shortstop Al Dark and others. The Giants insisted on Brandt being included. “We wouldn’t have made the deal without him,” Giants general manager Chub Feeney told United Press. “Frankly, we were surprised that the Cards would let him go.”

Brandt batted .286 with one home run in 42 at-bats for the Cardinals and fielded flawlessly. (According to researcher Tom Orf, Brandt is one of two players who began his career with the Cardinals, hit one home run for them and went on to slug 50 or more in the majors. The other is Randy Arozarena.)

On the day the trade was made, the Cardinals were 29-23 and one game out of first place in the National League. Frank Lane thought having Dark as their shortstop could spark them to a pennant. “Brandt could come back to haunt us, but we’re concerned about 1956 and not the future,” Lane explained to The Sporting News.

J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch countered: “We don’t consider the Cardinals a sufficient threat in 1956 to justify trading away Brandt.”

(The Cardinals hit the skids in July and finished 76-78, 17 games behind the champion Dodgers.)

Schoendienst told the Post-Dispatch, “Lane didn’t hurt the Cardinals trading me. It was his dealing off young players like Bill Virdon and Jackie Brandt … Brandt alone, counting what he can do now and what he’ll do in the future, is worth all four players the Cardinals got in the Giants deal.”

Golden gate

The Giants made Brandt their left fielder and he hit .299 with 11 home runs for them in 1956.

After spending most of the next two seasons in military service, Brandt was the Giants’ left fielder when they opened the 1959 season at St. Louis against the Cardinals. In the ninth inning, with a runner on first, one out and the score tied at 5-5, Brandt made two unsuccessful sacrifice bunt attempts, then ripped a Jim Brosnan pitch 400 feet to left-center for a double, driving in the winning run. Boxscore

Brandt went on to hit .270 for the 1959 Giants and ranked first among National League left fielders in fielding percentage (.989), earning him a Gold Glove Award. The other NL Gold Glove outfielders that season were teammate Willie Mays (center) and the Braves’ Hank Aaron (right).

(According to the authorized biography “Willie Mays: The Life, The Legend,” there were tensions between Brandt and Mays. “Brandt was outspoken and he was always criticizing Mays,” Giants broadcaster Lon Simmons said.)

Brandt was traded to the Orioles after his Gold Glove season.

Offbeat Oriole

Brandt played six seasons (1960-65) for the Orioles and was their center fielder for most of that time. In 1961, when he hit .297 and scored 93 runs, Brandt was named to the American League all-star team, but it was during his Orioles days that he got labeled a flake.

Teammate Boog Powell told the Baltimore Sun, “He had a pair of alligator shoes and, at a team party, decided to take them for a swim. He just walked into the pool, then out, and continued the evening like nothing had happened.”

(Decades later, when Powell operated a barbecue stand at Camden Yards in Baltimore, Brandt tapped him on the shoulder, said, “Pardon me, sir, but can you spare a poor man a sandwich?” and then kissed his old teammate square on the lips, the Sun reported.)

In a spring training game, Brandt got caught in a rundown and did a backflip to avoid the tag, the Sun reported. Another time, Brandt scored ahead of Jim Gentile, who missed the plate with his slide. Brandt bent down, picked up Gentile’s foot and placed it neatly on the plate, according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

Brandt’s words could be as amusing as his actions.

According to Milton Gross of the North American Newspaper Alliance, after the 1964 season, when Brandt hit less than .250 for the second straight year, Orioles general manager Lee MacPhail wished him a good winter. Brandt replied, “I always have a good winter. The bad summers are what troubles me.”

Regarding his inability to measure up to Mickey Mantle, Brandt told Gross, “I do everything pretty fair, but I’m not up to my potential. Maybe I’m living in the future.”

Orioles manager Hank Bauer said to the Sun, “I asked him how he managed to misplay a fly. He said, ‘I lost in the jet stream.’ “

According to the Baltimore newspaper, other gems uttered by Brandt included:

_ “This year, I’m going to play with harder nonchalance.”

_ “It’s hard to tell how you’re playing when you can’t see yourself.”

Brandt told author Steve Bitker, “My mind works crazy. I don’t do anything canned. Whatever comes to mind, I say or do.”

At least one popular story told about Brandt turned out to be untrue. As reported by the Associated Press and the Newspaper Enterprise Association, Brandt, wanting to experience some of the 40 flavors offered at an ice cream place, drove 30 miles out of his way to get there _ and then ordered vanilla. In 1983, the Baltimore Sun reported it was Ed Brandt, a reporter who covered the Orioles for the newspaper, who drove the extra miles for the ice cream and settled for vanilla. Over time, Jackie, not Ed, got associated with the tale.

“I’m shrewder than most of the guys think,” Brandt, the player, said to North American Newspaper Alliance.

Being a pro

When the Phillies swapped Jack Baldschun to the Orioles for Brandt in December 1965, Larry Merchant of the Philadelphia Daily News called it a trade of “a screwballing relief pitcher for a screwball of an outfielder.”

Regarding his reputation for being a flake, Brandt told Merchant, “We’re paid to entertain. It’s like being on stage. People want a show. They pay three bucks, so they ought to get one.”

The 1966 Phillies were a haven for free spirits, with Bo BelinskyPhil Linz and Bob Uecker joining Brandt on the roster. Brandt didn’t play regularly, but was serious about finding ways to contribute.

“For weeks at a stretch, he would pitch batting practice 25 minutes a day,” Bill Conlin reported in the Philadelphia Daily News. “He would catch batting practice and became Jim Bunning’s preferred warmup catcher because of his knack of setting a low target with his glove.”

The Phillies sent Brandt to the Astros in June 1967 and he completed his final season in the majors with them. In his last big-league appearance, on Sept. 2, 1967, at St. Louis, Brandt singled versus Steve Carlton. Boxscore

In 11 seasons in the majors, Brandt produced 1,020 hits, including 112 home runs.

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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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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.

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For a player labeled a utility man, Dick Schofield left a prominent mark.

He helped the Pirates, Dodgers and Cardinals win National League pennants. He played 19 seasons in the majors. He was the second of four generations in his family to play pro baseball.

An infielder who reached the majors with the Cardinals at 18, Schofield had three stints with them in three different decades.

All in the family

Dick Schofield’s father, John Schofield, played in the minor leagues for 10 seasons and was nicknamed Ducky. At home in Springfield, Ill., John taught baseball to his son. “We’d go out and he’d hit nine million ground balls to me,” Dick told author Danny Peary for the book “We Played the Game.”

When Dick was 8, his father showed him how to bat from both sides of the plate and Dick, a natural right-hander, remained a switch-hitter in the pros.

John Schofield also took Dick on trips to St. Louis to see the Red Sox play the Browns because Ted Williams was Dick’s favorite player. Dick became a Red Sox fan, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

During his senior baseball season in high school, Dick Schofield drew the interest of most big-league teams. A shortstop, he hoped to sign with the Red Sox, but the highest offers came from the Cardinals and White Sox.

Big bonus

On June 3, 1953, Schofield signed with the Cardinals, even though, as he told Danny Peary, they were a team “I had always rooted against.”

The $40,000 he received was then the largest bonus paid by the Cardinals. “He’s got a great arm,” Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky told the Post-Dispatch after seeing Schofield work out with the team. “His hands are extremely quick.”

Under the rules then, an amateur player signing for more than $6,000 was required to spend his first two seasons with the big-league team.

Schofield, 18 and looking younger, joined the Cardinals in New York. “I was scared to death,” he recalled to Peary. “The team was playing Brooklyn and I checked into the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan. Then I rode to the ballpark with Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. They asked me to come along. Imagine that!”

Schofield was assigned to room on the road with the Cardinals’ backup catcher, Ferrell Anderson, 35. “He was like my dad and took good care of me,” Schofield told Peary. “He made it easier for me.”

Learning curve

Schofield was called Ducky by Cardinals players after they were introduced to his father and learned it had been his nickname.

He didn’t get into a game during his first month with the Cardinals, and spent his days being mentored by Stanky and shortstop Solly Hemus.

Stanky “knew baseball better than anybody I ever met,” Schofield told Peary. “Stanky and Hemus helped me learn to play shortstop in the majors, especially turning the double play.”

On June 25, in a game at St. Louis, Stanky complained that Giants pitcher Jim Hearn wasn’t coming to a stop in his delivery. After losing his argument with umpire Augie Donatelli, Stanky threw a towel from the dugout and got a warning from the ump, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Not wanting to back down, but not wanting to get ejected, Stanky turned to Schofield. Knowing the rookie wouldn’t get into the game, Stanky told him to toss a towel, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Schofield obeyed, and Donatelli ejected him from a game before he’d ever played in one. Boxscore

Hello and goodbye

When Schofield made his big-league debut, on July 3, 1953, against the Cubs at Chicago, it was as a pinch-runner. Boxscore

His first hit came two weeks later, a single versus Johnny Podres at Brooklyn. Boxscore 

Used primarily as a pinch-runner, Schofield hit .179 for the Cardinals in 1953 and .143 in 1954.

With the two mandatory seasons on the big-league club completed, Schofield spent most of the 1955 and 1956 seasons playing for manager Johnny Keane at minor-league Omaha.

(Schofield married his wife Donna in Omaha in 1956. Tyrone Power and Kim Novak, in town to promote their movie, “The Eddy Duchin Story,” sent them a cake, the Post-Dispatch reported, and that’s why the Schofields’ first child, a daughter, was named Kim.)

A backup to Cardinals shortstop Al Dark in 1957, Schofield was a reserve again in 1958 when he was traded to the Pirates in June for infielders Gene Freese and Johnny O’Brien.

“I was totally surprised,” Schofield said to Peary. “I thought the world had come to an end. Nobody wanted to play on the Pirates then. They were a last-place team and Forbes Field was a tough park.”

(According to Schofield, Freese’s reaction to the deal was: “They traded two hamburgers for a hot dog.”)

Key contribution

Schofield, strictly a shortstop with the Cardinals, also was used at second and third by Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh. With Bill Mazeroski at second and Dick Groat at short, Schofield got few starts, but grew to like the Pirates.

On Sept. 6, 1960, with the Pirates contending for a National League pennant, Groat suffered a broken left wrist when hit by a pitch from the Braves’ Lew Burdette. Schofield, hitless since May, was Murtaugh’s choice to replace Groat.

Steady on defense, Schofield surprised with the bat. He hit .375 in September and his on-base percentage for the month was .459.

“He was as fine a utility infielder that ever played this game,” Groat said to Peary. “He could give you two or three weeks of great play at any one of those positions.”

The Pirates won the pennant, but Groat was reinserted at shortstop for the World Series against the Yankees. In Game 2, a Yankees rout, Schofield entered in the sixth and got a single and a walk versus Bob Turley. Boxscore

Helping hand

Groat was traded to the Cardinals after the 1962 season and Schofield, at last, became a starting shortstop. He was the Pirates’ starter in 1963 and 1964. When rookie Gene Alley was deemed ready to take over in 1965, Schofield was dealt to the Giants in May and started for them that season.

Another rookie, Tito Fuentes, became the Giants shortstop in 1966 and Schofield was shipped to the Yankees in May.

On Sept. 10, 1966, the Dodgers acquired Schofield to help them in their pennant drive. He took over for Jim Gilliam and John Kennedy at third base, and stabilized the position, helping the Dodgers win the pennant.

According to The Pittsburgh Press, Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale said, “He’s been making the big play for us ever since we got him. If it isn’t his glove, it’s his bat. If it isn’t his bat, it’s his base running.”

Because Schofield joined the Dodgers after Sept. 1, he wasn’t eligible to play in the World Series. He watched on TV as the Dodgers got swept by the Orioles.

“The Dodgers couldn’t have won the league flag without him, and they collapsed in the World Series because he wasn’t eligible,” Los Angeles Times columnist Sid Ziff wrote.

Long, winding road

Released by the Dodgers after the 1967 season, Schofield, 33, was signed by the reigning World Series champion Cardinals to be a backup to Dal Maxvill at shortstop and Julian Javier at second base.

Fifteen years after he accompanied Schofield on his ride to the ballpark on the rookie’s first day in the big leagues, Red Schoendienst, manager of the 1968 Cardinals, told the Post-Dispatch, “Schofield is the finest all-round utility infielder we’ve got on the club.”

Schofield made 17 starts at second base and 13 starts at shortstop for the 1968 Cardinals, who repeated as National League champions. On May 4, he contributed four hits and three RBI against the Giants. Boxscore

Schofield got into two games of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers but didn’t have a plate appearance.

Two months later, the Cardinals traded Schofield to the team he rooted for as a boy, the Red Sox. Schofield spent two seasons with the Red Sox and was dealt back to the Cardinals in October 1970.

In July 1971, the Cardinals traded Schofield, 36, for the third and last time, packaging him with Jose Cardenal and Bob Reynolds to the Brewers for Ted Kubiak and a prospect.

A son, also Dick Schofield, played 14 seasons as an infielder in the majors, and a grandson, Jayson Werth (Kim’s son), was a big-league outfielder for 15 seasons.

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Being a Little League phenom is no guarantee of success at the professional level. The Cardinals made that costly discovery with Art Deras.

An exceptional Little League, Pony League and high school player, Deras was signed by the Cardinals, who outbid multiple teams with the intention of grooming him to replace Ken Boyer at third base.

A right-hander who threw hard and hit with power, Deras played five seasons in the Cardinals’ system, but never reached the majors.

Super powers

When Deras grew up in Hamtramck, Mich., near Detroit in the 1940s and 1950s, the town was a Polish-American enclave. His Polish grandmother nicknamed him Pinky. “I never did learn how she picked the name Pinky, but it stuck,” Deras said to the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

In 1959, when he turned 13, Deras led Hamtramck into the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Against San Juan, Puerto Rico, in Game 1, Deras pitched a one-hitter and struck out 17 in a 5-0 victory. In Game 2, Deras played shortstop and hit a grand slam in Hamtramck’s 8-1 triumph versus Kailua, Hawaii.

For the Game 3 championship final, Deras pitched a three-hitter, struck out 14 and hit a three-run home run in Hamtramck’s 12-0 rout of Auburn, Calif. Among those in attendance were Baseball Hall of Famers Frank “Home Run” Baker and Frankie Frisch.

In the two six-inning games Deras pitched in the Little League World Series, 31 of the 36 outs he recorded were strikeouts. He allowed four total hits and no runs.

The Sporting News described him as “this super boy from Hamtramck.”

For the season, Deras pitched 10 no-hitters, including five in a row, struck out 296 in 108 innings, and had 18 wins, including 16 shutouts, The Sporting News reported. Video

Soon after the Little League World Series, Chrysler Corporation arranged for the team to be flown to California for an appearance on The Lawrence Welk Show. Michigan-based Chrysler was a sponsor of the television program.

“They introduced us, and at the end of the show I danced with the champagne lady,” Deras recalled to the Detroit Free Press. “Can you imagine that? Twelve years old and dancing with the champagne lady. Where do you go from there?”

The beat goes on

Deras advanced to Pony League and in 1961 he led Hamtramck to a national title. One of his teammates was Tom Paciorek, who went on to hit .282 during 18 seasons (1970-87) in the majors.

In an interview with the Free Press, Paciorek described Deras as “very, very talented. A tremendously gifted athlete. At his age level, from 12 to 14, I doubt if there is any question that he was the finest athlete in the country.”

Deras continued having success in high school sports. In addition to his pitching and hitting in baseball, he was a standout running back in football. In April 1964, he signed a letter of intent to play football at Michigan State.

Big-league baseball scouts had other plans for him.

Highest bidder

“Claimed by many to be the greatest natural hitter ever to come off the Detroit sandlots,” Deras received interest from at least 10 big-league teams, the Free Press reported.

Cardinals scout Mo Mozzali recommended the club go all-out to sign Deras. Knowing it would take a substantial offer to outbid others, the Cardinals sent their 82-year-old consultant, major-league legend Branch Rickey, to Hamtramck to see the 17-year-old amateur legend and determine whether he was worth the cash.

Rickey arrived at the Hamtramck high school ballfield in a black limousine and was escorted to a roped-off area behind home plate, according to the Free Press. Rickey was impressed with what he saw, and endorsed the Cardinals’ effort to pursue Deras.

On June 1, 1964, the Cardinals came to Detroit to play the Tigers in an exhibition game to benefit amateur baseball. Wearing a Cardinals uniform, Deras worked out with the team before the game at Tiger Stadium, the Free Press reported.

Two weeks later, on June 10, Deras graduated from high school. Attending the family graduation party that night at the home of Deras’ parents were the Cardinals’ scout, Mo Mozzali, and scouts for the Red Sox and Yankees. The hometown Tigers dropped out of the chase when Deras asked for $50,000.

According to the Free Press, Deras’ father was a security guard at General Motors. Deras’ mother worked in an auto supply factory. Deras saw a big-league signing bonus as a chance to help his parents, and decided to go with the team that made the highest offer.

On June 15, 1964, the same day the Cardinals traded for Lou Brock, Deras signed with them for $80,000, $20,000 more than the other finalist, the Red Sox, offered, the Free Press and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Attending the signing ceremony were Mozzali and Cardinals director of scouting George Silvey. Deras “has the talent to reach the majors in two years,” Mozzali told the Post-Dispatch.

Cavorting with champions

Though he primarily was a pitcher in high school, the Cardinals wanted Deras to play every day because of his bat. He hit .478 his senior season.

“The Cardinals have high hopes for him at third base” as the eventual replacement for all-star Ken Boyer, the Free Press reported.

The Sporting News designated Deras and Ed Spiezio as “the best bets as eventual successor to Ken Boyer.”

Assigned to Class A Rock Hill, Deras hit .208 in 51 games in 1964. He did better at the fall Florida Instructional League, attacking pitches the way the Cardinals hoped he would, and was invited to join the big-league club at spring training in February 1965.

Placed on the 40-man winter roster, Deras, 18, joined the reigning World Series champions at their St. Petersburg, Fla., training camp. He posed for pictures with club executive Stan Musial, took batting practice from Bob Gibson, and played cards with Mike Cuellar. “He used to cheat,” Deras told the Free Press. “Whenever you’d call him on it, he’d pretend he didn’t speak English.”

Deras returned to Class A in 1965 and hit .260 with 18 stolen bases, but the Cardinals decided to move him to the outfield. “We would have preferred to keep him at third base,” farm director Sheldon Bender told The Sporting News, “but the throwing from there to first base was bothering him.”

Peaked too soon

After two seasons at Class AA Arkansas, Deras was demoted to Class A Modesto in 1968. While Deras, 21, was on the way down, his Modesto teammate, Ted Simmons, 18, another Michigan high school standout who was signed by Mo Mozzali, was on the way up.

Deras hit .269 for Modesto, then walked away from the Cardinals. “I didn’t tell them I was retiring, and they didn’t ask why,” Deras told the Free Press. “I guess they knew.”

In five seasons in the Cardinals system, Deras hit .243 with 32 home runs.

Deras had invested part of his signing bonus in a Hamtramck sporting good store, but the business collapsed, according to the Free Press. In 1974, he joined the Warren, Mich., police force. He retired as a detective in 2001.

Looking back at Deras’ time in the Cardinals’ organization, the Free Press concluded, “It was never a question of ability. It was a question of desire _ and it was gone.”

Deras said, “By the time I was 21, I had already had a full career _ playing every day, two amateur championships, a room full of trophies. I should have been reaching my prime, and I was exhausted. Looking back on it, I guess it was just a problem of getting too much too soon.”

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John Cumberland was a teenager from Maine who yearned to play professional baseball. A Cardinals scout took him to dinner and launched him on a path to becoming a big-league pitcher and coach.

A left-hander, Cumberland made his debut in the majors with the Yankees. He later joined Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry as a starter for the division champion Giants, and got his last win in the big leagues as a reliever with the Cardinals.

As a coach, Cumberland mentored 18-year-old Dwight Gooden in the minors, and was the first big-league pitching coach for Zack Greinke with the Royals. 

Bargain player

Born and raised in Westbrook, Maine, Cumberland was a high school baseball and football player. Though he wasn’t selected in the amateur baseball draft, Cumberland’s ability to throw hard impressed Cardinals scout Jeff Jones. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jones bought Cumberland a steak dinner and got him to sign with the Cardinals in 1966.

“I got 52 scholarships out of high school, mostly for football, but the opportunity came up for baseball, so I signed for a steak dinner,” Cumberland recalled to the Clearwater (Fla.) Times. “What a dummy. If I’d waited a little longer, I could have gotten $30,000 or $40,000, even back then. I was anxious, though, for the publicity and all.”

Cumberland was assigned to the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, a minor-league club stocked with Cardinals and Phillies prospects. According to the Post-Dispatch, his roommate at Eugene was another future big-league pitcher, Reggie Cleveland.

After posting a 4-1 record for Eugene, Cumberland was taken by the Yankees in the November 1966 minor-league draft.

Two years later, he made his big-league debut for the Yankees against the Red Sox. The first batter he faced, Carl Yastrzemski, grounded a comebacker to Cumberland, who threw to first baseman Mickey Mantle for the out. Boxscore

After making two appearances with the 1969 Yankees, Cumberland got a chance to stick with them in 1970. He got his first big-league win, pitching 6.1 innings of relief against the Senators, and also stroked his first big-league hit, a single that scored Thurman Munson, in that game. Boxscore

The performance earned him a spot in the starting rotation. A month later, in a start against the Indians at Cleveland, Cumberland became the first Yankees pitcher to give up five home runs in a game. Ray Fosse and Tony Horton hit two apiece, and Jack Heidemann slugged the other. Boxscore

In his next start, against the White Sox at Yankee Stadium, Cumberland recovered and pitched his first complete game in the majors, a 3-1 victory. Boxscore

In July 1970, the Yankees traded him to the Giants for pitcher Mike McCormick.

Wakeup call

Soon after joining the Giants, Cumberland was demoted to the minors “with instructions to lose 15 pounds and gain a new pitch,” the New York Daily News reported.

“Getting sent down was the big blow,” Cumberland told reporter Phil Pepe. “It shook me up. I was kind of complacent until that happened. It made me think about my future.”

Cumberland worked on improving his curveball. Called up by the Giants in September, he was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in five relief appearances that month.

Pleasant surprise

In 1971, Cumberland entered spring training 15 pounds lighter than he was the previous year, and earned an Opening Day roster spot as a reliever.

When Frank Reberger got injured, Giants manager Charlie Fox chose Cumberland to start against the Cubs on June 22. He beat Ferguson Jenkins in a 2-0 duel. Boxscore

Cumberland remained in the rotation, and on July 3 he pitched a four-hitter, beating Steve Carlton and the Cardinals. Boxscore

“Cumberland is perhaps the most unartistic-looking left-handed pitcher since Hal Woodeshick went into retirement,” San Francisco columnist Wells Twombley observed.

The results, though, were effective. Cumberland was 9-6 for the 1971 Giants, who won a division title. He ranked second on the team in ERA (2.92) and third in innings pitched (185).

“He’s been the biggest surprise of the season,” Fox told United Press International. “What I like best about him is the way he battles the batters. He’s a real bulldog.”

Winding down

At spring training in 1972, teammate Juan Marichal worked with Cumberland on developing a screwball. After posting a 1.61 ERA in 28 exhibition game innings _ “My best spring training ever,” he told the Post-Dispatch _ Cumberland seemed poised to succeed in the regular season, but the opposite happened.

Cumberland was 0-4 with an 8.64 ERA for the Giants when they arrived in St. Louis on June 16, 1972, for a series with the Cardinals. Before the game that night, the Giants swapped Cumberland to the Cardinals for minor-league infielder Jeffrey Mason.

“He’s only 25 and has good control,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the Post-Dispatch. “If he can come along with that screwball, he could really help us.”

In his St. Louis debut, a start versus the Expos and former Cardinal Mike Torrez, Cumberland gave up six runs in 3.1 innings. Boxscore

After that, Schoendienst used Cumberland as a reliever.

On Aug. 19, facing the Giants in San Francisco, Cumberland pitched three innings and got the win, his last in the majors. Boxscore

“I can’t think of any club I’d rather beat,” Cumberland told the Oakland Tribune.

In 14 games with the 1972 Cardinals, Cumberland was 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. After the season, they dealt him and outfielder Larry Hisle to the Twins for reliever Wayne Granger.

Helping hand

Cumberland’s final season in the majors was 1974. Eight years later, the Mets hired him to be a coach in the minors.

At the Lynchburg, Va., farm club in 1983, teen phenom Dwight Gooden got off to a mediocre start and was challenged by Cumberland.

“I just told him I didn’t think he wanted to win, and that he wasn’t much of a competitor,” Cumberland told the Newport News Daily Press.

According to Cumberland, Gooden responded, “You were right. I was too timid. That will never happen again.”

Gooden finished 19-4 with 300 strikeouts in 191 innings for Lynchburg.

At the Florida Instructional League after the season, Cumberland helped Gooden develop a changeup and worked with him to shorten his motion.

Cumberland coached in the Mets system from 1982-90. Others he mentored included Rick Aguilera, Randy Myers and Calvin Schiraldi.

“He was the best pitching coach we had in the minor leagues,” Mets scouting director Joe McIlvaine told the Boston Globe. “He toughened the kids up. He worked better with the mind of the player than with the body of the player. That’s a hard thing to get. When we sent a pitcher to John Cumberland in the minor leagues, he was always better for the experience.”

In addition to stints as a minor-league coach for the Padres and Brewers, Cumberland coached in the big leagues with the Red Sox and Royals.

When he was Red Sox pitching coach in 1995, the staff included Roger Clemens, and future Cardinals pitching coaches Derek Lilliquist and Mike Maddux. Derek Lowe transformed from starter to closer while Cumberland was Red Sox bullpen coach from 1999-2001.

Cumberland was Royals pitching coach for manager Tony Pena from 2002-04. When Zack Greinke, 20, made his big-league debut in 2004, he reminded Cumberland of Gooden at a similar age.

“Dwight was more of a power pitcher,” Cumberland told the Kansas City Star, “but the two have the same type of makeup: ‘Here I am. I’m not intimidated. Stand in the box. I’m going to get you out.’ That’s the way Dwight was at 18, just like this kid.”


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