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In a game of role reversals, Gene Stechschulte was up to the challenge.

Twenty years ago, on April 17, 2001, Stechschulte, a Cardinals relief pitcher, made his first plate appearance in the majors. Pinch-hitting against Diamondbacks starter Armando Reynoso, Stechschulte hit a two-run home run at Busch Memorial Stadium.

A reliever pinch-hitting in his first plate appearance wasn’t the only unusual occurrence in the game. Bobby Bonilla, a Cardinals first baseman and outfielder, made his first pitching appearance since high school, working the last inning in the 17-4 rout by the Diamondbacks.

College clouter

Stechschulte was a hitter before he became a pitcher. As a shortstop for Ashland University in Ohio, he set school records for total bases, home runs and RBI, leading the club to a NCAA Division II World Series appearance in 1995.

After Stechschulte graduated first in his class from Ashland’s school of business and economics with summa cum laude honors, he signed with the Cardinals in June 1996 and became a relief pitcher in their farm system.

A 6-foot-5 right-hander, Stechschulte had 33 saves for Peoria in 1998 and 26 for Memphis in 2000.

He only got to bat one time in the minors and when he did he cracked a double for Memphis.

Surprise swat

Stechschulte made his Cardinals debut in 2000 and was 1-0 in 20 relief appearances, shuttling back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis.

In 2001, he opened the season with the Cardinals and allowed only one run in his first five relief appearances.

On April 17, a Tuesday night at St. Louis, the Diamondbacks scored eight runs in three innings against Cardinals starter Dustin Hermanson and seven more versus reliever Chad Hutchinson.

In the sixth inning, with the Diamondbacks ahead, 15-1, the Cardinals had Albert Pujols on first, two outs, and reliever Mike James due to bat.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who had substituted liberally after the Diamondbacks built their lead, wanted a pinch-hitter, but his options were limited. He chose Stechschulte, even though he’d never batted in the big leagues.

Stechschulte swung at the first pitch and hit it over the wall in left-center for a two-run home run.

“One pitch, and whack!” broadcaster Jack Buck said on the air. “What a surprise that was.” Video

Stechschulte said it was his first home run since he was Ashland’s cleanup hitter in 1996.

“Most of the guys back home still think of me as a hitter and not a pitcher,” Stechschulte told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They’re probably more surprised that I’m pitching.”

In the ninth, La Russa had Bonilla pitch in a big-league game for the first time and he gave up two runs, including a home run to the first batter he faced. Boxscore

Special fraternity

Stechschulte was the fifth Cardinals player to hit a home run in his first big-league plate appearance. Since then, others have done it. The complete list:

_ Eddie Morgan, pinch-hitter, April 14, 1936, vs. Cubs.

_ Wally Moon, center fielder, April 13, 1954, vs. Cubs.

_ Keith McDonald, pinch-hitter, July 4, 2000, vs. Reds.

_ Chris Richard, left fielder, July 17, 2000, vs. Twins.

_ Gene Stechschulte, pinch-hitter, April 17, 2001, vs. Diamondbacks.

_ Hector Luna, second baseman, April 8, 2004, vs. Brewers.

_ Adam Wainwright, pitcher, May 24, 2006, vs. Giants.

_ Mark Worrell, pitcher, June 5, 2008, vs. Nationals.

_ Paul DeJong, pinch-hitter, May 28, 2017, vs. Rockies.

_ Lane Thomas, pinch-hitter, April 19, 2019, vs. Mets.

Stechschulte became the 16th major-league player to hit a home run on the first pitch in his first plate appearance. He also was the 13th big-league player to hit a pinch-hit home run in his first plate appearance.

Paid to pitch

A week later, on April 25, 2001, Stechschulte got his first big-league save, with 2.1 innings of scoreless relief against the Expos at St. Louis. Boxscore

“Getting this save was definitely more exciting than the home run because we won this game,” Stechschulte told the Post-Dispatch. “It feels better to contribute to a victory. Pitching like that is my role on this team. My role is not to hit.”

The next day, though, La Russa again sent Stechschulte to pinch-hit for Mike James. Stechschulte coaxed a walk from Expos pitcher Masato Yoshii. Boxscore

On May 10, Stechschulte pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Pirates and produced a RBI-single versus Scott Sauerbeck. Boxscore

For the season, Stechschulte was 1-5 with six saves. He had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances.

The next year, 2002, was Stechschulte’s last in the majors. He had a 6-2 record for the Cardinals and was hitless in two at-bats.

Stechschulte became head baseball coach at Ohio Northern University in 2012. His teams set a school record with 79 victories from 2014-2016.

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Batting for the Reds against the Cardinals, Wally Post boldly launched a baseball where none had gone before at the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Sixty years ago, on April 14, 1961, Post hit a home run that struck an Anheuser-Busch sign high atop the scoreboard in left.

If not for the obstruction, the ball would have carried nearly 600 feet, according to estimates.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it the “most impressive, most powerful home run hit in Busch Stadium.”

Big bopper

A right-handed batter, Wally Post reached the majors with the Reds in September 1949 when he was 20.

At 6 feet 1 and 190 pounds, he wasn’t exceptionally large but he was exceptionally powerful. Post hit 40 home runs for the Reds in 1955 and 36 in 1956. In 21 games against the 1956 Cardinals, managed by Fred Hutchinson, Post produced nine home runs and 17 RBI.

In 1959, Post beat Hank Aaron in TV’s Home Run Derby. Video

“He was a fun guy who could hit the ball a ton and was a good fielder with a strong, accurate arm,” catcher Andy Seminick recalled in the book “We Played the Game.”

For 20 years, the folks at Siebler Clothing Store in Cincinnati offered a free suit to any player whose home run hit their advertising sign behind the left field wall at Crosley Field. The store gave away 176 suits. Post won the most, with 11.

The Reds traded Post to the Phillies for pitcher Harvey Haddix in December 1957 but reacquired him in June 1960 when Hutchinson was the Reds’ manager.

Having gotten thick around the middle, Post dropped weight and showed up at spring training in 1961 focused on beating out Gus Bell for a starting outfield spot. Getting trim enabled Post to swing the bat more freely and the results were impressive. He hit seven home runs in spring training games.

“It just shows what a fellow can do when he gets himself in shape and comes down here determined to win a job,” Hutchinson told The Sporting News. “Post’s power has been tremendous.”

We have liftoff

In the Reds’ season opener at home against the Cubs, Post started in right field and hit a three-run home run.

Three days later, the Reds were in St. Louis to play in the Cardinals’ Friday night home opener at Busch Stadium. Batting in the cleanup spot, Post had a triple and a walk in his first two plate appearances against starter Curt Simmons.

In the sixth, the Cardinals led, 3-0, when Post came up with one on and two outs. The first pitch from Simmons was to Post’s liking. As soon as he swung, the players knew it was something special.

Left fielder Stan Musial turned his head and watched the ball soar. “It was like a man in orbit,” Musial said to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Simmons told The Sporting News, “Usually I don’t watch homers, but this one I had to see.”

Applied science

The ball cleared the wall and rocketed over the bleachers. Behind the bleachers was the massive scoreboard. Attached to the top of the scoreboard was a rectangular Budweiser sign. Atop the Budweiser sign was a square sign showing a neon Anheuser-Busch eagle. The animated eagle flapped its wings when a Cardinal hit a home run.

Post’s projectile pounded high off the Anheuser-Busch sign near the eagle’s beak. “The ball almost made the eagle scream,” the Post-Dispatch noted.

In his book “Pennant Race,” Reds reliever Jim Brosnan wrote, “That’s about as high and hard as a ball can be batted by a human being.”

The Anheuser-Busch sign was about 90 feet from the ground. “That ball still had juice left in it when it hit the sign,” Hutchinson said.

Reds pitcher Jay Hook, pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, estimated the ball would have carried 569 feet if its path hadn’t been impeded.

“The ball carried about 150 feet a second,” Hook told the Post-Dispatch.

Cardinals outfielder Charlie James, who had an electrical engineering degree from the University of Missouri, agreed the ball would have gone nearly 600 feet.

Nothing like it

Musial, who two innings earlier hit a pitch from Hook over the pavilion roof in right and onto Grand Boulevard, told the Post-Dispatch, “Post’s shot made mine look like a bunt.”

In comments to The Sporting News, Musial said Post’s home run was “the most powerful I’ve ever seen.”

“I’ve seen some balls go halfway up on that scoreboard but never up there,” Musial told the Dayton Daily News.

Hutchinson said, “That’s the longest homer I ever saw.”

Cardinals manager Solly Hemus and broadcaster Harry Caray echoed Hutchinson’s comment.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said, “Post’s ball has got to be the longest here” at Busch Stadium, formerly known as Sportsman’s Park.

Bill DeWitt Sr., who worked in the front offices of the Cardinals and Browns before becoming Reds general manager, said there was no doubt Post’s home run was a record for the ballpark.

“Paul Easterling of the Tigers hit one out of here at the top of the pavilion roof in center,” DeWitt told the Post-Dispatch. “Babe Ruth hit some long ones here, but they were into the center field seats.”

Scoreboard engineer Lou Adamie recalled Luke Easter of the Indians hitting a ball over the pavilion extremity in center, but agreed Post’s was the mightiest.

Cardinals outfielder Bob Nieman said Post’s home run would have gone at least as far as Mickey Mantle’s epic shot against Chuck Stobbs of the Senators at Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1953. Mantle’s homer cleared the left field bleachers and was estimated to go more than 500 feet.

Cardinals crusher

Post, 31, told the Dayton Daily News that “everything was perfect” with his swing on the tape-measure home run.

“I only wish a sequence camera had recorded the swing so I could study what I did right,” Post said to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Boxscore

Post hit 20 home runs in 99 games for the 1961 Reds, who won the National League pennant. In 13 games versus the 1961 Cardinals, Post hit five home runs and batted .342. Ten of his 13 hits against the Cardinals were for extra bases.

In the World Series against the Yankees, Post hit a home run and batted .333.

Four years later, Jim Wynn of the Astros hit a home run that struck the Budweiser sign on the Busch Stadium scoreboard, a mammoth shot, but still short of where Post’s ball landed.

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Though the Cardinals put Lindy McDaniel on their team because they had to, he showed he deserved to be there.

A right-hander who developed into a quality reliever and pitched 21 seasons in the major leagues, McDaniel was 19 when he got to the big leagues with the Cardinals as a teammate of Stan Musial in 1955. He was 39 when he pitched his final game with the Royals as a teammate of George Brett in 1975.

In addition to Cardinals (1955-62) and Royals (1974-75), McDaniel pitched for Cubs (1963-65), Giants (1966-68) and Yankees (1968-73). 

McDaniel led the National League in saves three times: twice with the Cardinals (1959 and 1960) and once with the Cubs (1963). He had a career record in the majors of 141-119 with 174 saves.

One of his most important wins was his first. It came when he was 20 years old and it helped convince the Cardinals his spot on the club was warranted.

Prime prospect

McDaniel was 19 when he signed with the Cardinals for $50,000 on Aug. 19, 1955. Because of the amount he received, the Cardinals were required by a baseball rule at the time to keep McDaniel on the big-league club for at least the next two years.

The Cardinals signed McDaniel on the recommendation of scout Fred Hawn, who called him “the best pitching prospect, maybe the best player, I’ve ever scouted for the Cardinals.,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported. “His fastball and his curve are alive and he gets them over the plate.”

An amateur baseball standout in Oklahoma, McDaniel had been pursued by the Cardinals since he was 16 in 1952. He attended the University of Oklahoma for a year, but left to join the Cardinals, “fulfilling a childhood ambition to play with Dizzy Dean’s old club and alongside his idol, Musial,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The Phillies, Dodgers, Reds, Yankees, Indians and Red Sox also wanted to sign McDaniel, but “when I found out the Cardinals were interested, I told the others not to bother,” McDaniel said to The Sporting News. “They’re a team of the future with a young staff. I’ll get more chances to pitch with them than with other clubs.”

When Lindy and his father, Newell McDaniel, an alfalfa and cotton farmer, went to St. Louis for the contract signing, Lindy let his dad do most of the talking.

“He don’t talk much,” Newell said to the Post-Dispatch. “You won’t get much out of him. He concentrates on training. He’s one of those boys just born that way, not interested in girls or anything. Exercises every night before retiring. He’s a fanatic.”

According to The Sporting News, Lindy invested part of the signing bonus in purchasing a 160-acre farm near his home in Hollis, Okla., and turning it over to his father to tend.

Teen dream

McDaniel reported to the Cardinals on Sept. 1, 1955, and he made his debut in the majors the next day at Chicago. McDaniel, 19, entered in the seventh inning with the Cubs ahead, 11-1, and the second batter he faced, Walker Cooper, 40, hit a home run. McDaniel regrouped and didn’t allow another run over two innings. Boxscore

“That boy may never have to go down to the minors,” Cardinals manager Harry Walker told the Post-Dispatch.

On Sept. 19, 1955, McDaniel got his first start in the majors against the Cubs at St. Louis. He gave up a grand slam to Ernie Banks, making him the first player in the majors to hit five in one season. McDaniel gave up five runs, 10 hits and four walks in seven innings, but didn’t get a decision after the Cardinals rallied to win. Boxscore

McDaniel made four September appearances for the 1955 Cardinals and was 0-0 with a 4.74 ERA. According to The Sporting News, he “demonstrated he might be just more than ornamental in 1956.”

On his way

The Cardinals changed managers after the 1955 season, hiring Fred Hutchinson, a former pitcher, to replace Harry Walker.

McDaniel didn’t pitch much at spring training in Florida, but Hutchinson told The Sporting News, “I saw enough of him to know he had good stuff.”

As the Cardinals headed north from Florida to open the season, they were scheduled to play an exhibition game against the White Sox at Oklahoma City. McDaniel was supposed to pitch before a big crowd in his home state, but the game was canceled because of bad weather.

In the Cardinals’ final exhibition game at Kansas City two days before the season opener, McDaniel pitched two scoreless innings against the Athletics.

After losing two of their first three games of the regular season, the Cardinals were home to play the Braves on April 21, 1956, a Saturday afternoon.

With the Braves ahead, 5-3, McDaniel made his first appearance of the season, entering in the fifth inning in relief of starter Willard Schmidt.

Hutchinson “appeared to be taking a long gamble by bringing in a kid” whose “total professional experience consisted of 19 innings last September,” the Post-Dispatch reported, but Hutchinson “had been impressed with Lindy’s poise and potential.”

McDaniel rewarded his manager’s faith in him, retiring 12 of the 15 Braves batters he faced and pitching five scoreless innings. The Cardinals rallied for a 6-5 victory, giving McDaniel his first win in the majors.

A turning point came in the eighth inning. Eddie Mathews led off with a single and Hank Aaron walked, but catcher Bill Sarni made a snap throw to first baseman Wally Moon, picking off Aaron. McDaniel struck out Bobby Thomson and got Joe Adcock to ground out, ending the threat. He retired the side in order in the ninth.

“The kid did great,” Hutchinson said. Boxscore

Plate umpire Babe Pinelli told the Sporting News, “He showed one of the best curves I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in baseball 40 years. He doesn’t scare. He looks nerveless.”

Family affair

The win gave McDaniel a considerable boost. He was 4-0 with a 2.83 ERA entering June. Hutchinson tried him as a starter, but it didn’t work out. McDaniel finished the season at 7-6. He was 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 32 relief appearances and 2-4 with a 5.25 ERA in seven starts.

The next year, the Cardinals signed Lindy’s brother, Von McDaniel, 18, for $50,000 and he joined Lindy on the big-league club.

Von won his first four decisions with the 1957 Cardinals, finished 7-5 and flamed out.

Lindy was 66-54 with 66 saves in eight seasons with the Cardinals before he was traded with Larry Jackson and Jimmie Schaffer to the Cubs for George Altman, Don Cardwell and Moe Thacker on Oct. 17, 1962.

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In the longest outing of his Cardinals career, Bob Gibson set a record that illustrated his consistency, dominance and endurance.

Fifty years ago, on Aug. 12, 1970, Gibson pitched 14 innings for a complete-game win in the Cardinals’ 5-4 victory over the Padres at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

In the second inning, Gibson got his 200th strikeout of the season when he fanned Nate Colbert. Gibson, 34, became the first major-league pitcher to strike out 200 batters in a season eight times. Before then, he shared the mark of seven 200-strikeout seasons with Rube Waddell and Walter Johnson.

Gibson’s 14-inning stint versus the Padres surpassed a pair of 13-inning complete games he pitched against the Giants on July 7, 1965, Boxscore and on July 25, 1969. Boxscore

Wobbly warm-up

Before his Wednesday night start against the last-place Padres, Gibson didn’t throw well in the bullpen. “I wouldn’t have given two cents that he’d go nine innings,” manager Red Schoendienst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Though he lacked command of his pitches, Gibson retired the first nine batters in a row, including four on strikeouts. “I was lucky in the early innings that they were swinging,” Gibson told the Associated Press. “A lot of the strikeout total has to do with the ball club you’re facing.”

The Padres scored a run in the fourth and three in the sixth. Colbert, a St. Louis native, put the Padres ahead, 4-3, in the sixth with a two-run home run that landed 10 rows up in the seats in left.

“I was hitting the corners, but I hung some pitches, too,” Gibson told the Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals tied the score at 4-4 in the eighth on Richie Allen’s home run versus starter Danny Coombs.

Carrying on

Gibson held the Padres scoreless over the last eight innings.

He worked out of a jam in the 11th. After the Padres loaded the bases with one out, Gibson’s former teammate, Ed Spiezio, batted. With the count 3-and-2, Gibson got Spiezio to ground into a double play.

“Gibson didn’t have his real good stuff, but you could see him reach back for something extra in that spot,” said Padres manager Preston Gomez.

In the 13th, Gibson struck out the side. After pitching the 14th, Gibson was ready to come out if the Cardinals didn’t score in the bottom half of the inning.

“That was my last inning whether we won it then or not,” Gibson said. “Red Schoendienst and I had talked it over and decided the 14th would be it.”

Ron Willis, a former Cardinal, was the Padres’ pitcher in the 14th. Willis had held the Cardinals hitless in the 12th and 13th.

Dal Maxvill, who batted .201 for the season, led off the Cardinals’ half of the 14th with his fourth consecutive hit, a single. Gibson, who hit .303 in 1970, was allowed to bat. He bunted and reached safely on a fielder’s choice, with Maxvill advancing to second. Lou Brock’s sacrifice bunt moved the runners to second and third, and Leron Lee got an intentional walk, loading the bases.

The next batter, Carl Taylor, worked a walk, scoring Maxvill from third with the decisive run and giving Gibson his hard-earned win. Boxscore

Wins matter most

Gibson gave up 13 hits and struck out 13.

Asked about becoming the first to achieve eight 200-strikeout seasons, Gibson told the Post-Dispatch, “I’m pleased to have the record. It shows I was a consistent pitcher over the years. Winning games is the big thing, though.”

Gibson threw 178 pitches in the marathon against the Padres, but said, “I don’t care about the number of pitches. You can throw 90 pitches and lose.”

The win gave Gibson a 16-5 record for the season. He went on to finish at 23-7 with 274 strikeouts, earning his second National League Cy Young Award. The 23 wins and 274 strikeouts were his single-season career highs. No other Cardinals pitcher has achieved as many strikeouts in a season as Gibson did.

Gibson had a ninth season of 200 strikeouts when he fanned 208 batters in 1972. His 3,117 career strikeouts, as well as his 251 career wins, are most by a Cardinals pitcher.

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After six seasons in the minors, Chris Richard got called up to the Cardinals and, on the first pitch he saw, showed he belonged in the major leagues.

Twenty years ago, on July 17, 2000, at Minneapolis, Richard hit a home run in his first plate appearance in the big leagues. It came on the first pitch of the second inning from Twins starter Mike Lincoln.

A left-handed batter who played first base and the outfield, Richard, 26, lasted two weeks with the Cardinals, but went on to play in the majors for five seasons.

Prospect with power

Richard was at Oklahoma State University when he was chosen by the Cardinals in the 19th round of the June 1995 amateur baseball draft. Multiple injuries, including a left shoulder tear requiring rotator cuff surgery, slowed his progress in the Cardinals’ system.

In 1999, Richard was injury-free for the first time in nearly two years and produced a successful season. At Arkansas, he led the club in home runs (29) and RBI (94) and batted .294.

With Memphis in 2000, Richard had 16 home runs and 75 RBI before he was called up to the Cardinals in July to fill in for outfielder J.D. Drew, who went on the disabled list because of a severely sprained left ankle.

Sweet swing

On the day Richard joined the Cardinals at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, manager Tony La Russa put him in the starting lineup as the left fielder, batting seventh.

After the Cardinals sent six batters to the plate in the first inning, Richard got his first chance to bat as the leadoff man in the second.

The first pitch to him was a fastball in the middle of the strike zone and Richard drove it to right-center. Twins center fielder Jacque Jones raced back in pursuit and reached over the short fence.

“I thought he was going to get it,” Richard told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Instead, the ball cleared the fence just before Jones tried to grab it with his glove. As the umpires signaled a home run, “I think I was just floating,” Richard said. “It was just unreal.” Video

Retired Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett later approached Richard and needled him. “If I had been playing center field, you’d have been 0-for-1,” Puckett said. Boxscore

Dream come true

Richard became the fourth Cardinals player, and the second in two weeks, to hit a home run in his first plate appearance in the majors. Catcher Keith McDonald achieved the feat on July, 4, 2000.

Since then, several others have done it for the Cardinals. The complete list:

_ Eddie Morgan, pinch-hitter, April 14, 1936, vs. Cubs.

_ Wally Moon, center fielder, April 13, 1954, vs. Cubs.

_ Keith McDonald, pinch-hitter, July 4, 2000, vs. Reds.

_ Chris Richard, left fielder, July 17, 2000, vs. Twins.

_ Gene Stechschulte, pinch-hitter, April 17, 2001, vs. Diamondbacks.

_ Hector Luna, second baseman, April 8, 2004, vs. Brewers.

_ Adam Wainwright, pitcher, May 24, 2006, vs. Giants.

_ Mark Worrell, pitcher, June 5, 2008, vs. Nationals.

_ Paul DeJong, pinch-hitter, May 28, 2017, vs. Rockies.

_ Lane Thomas, pinch-hitter, April 19, 2019, vs. Mets.

“You dream about that kind of stuff, but for it to happen, it’s unbelievable,” Richard said.

Name game

Richard had two hits and two walks in 18 plate appearances for the Cardinals before Drew came off the disabled list. Richard was assigned to Memphis when on July 29, 2000, the Cardinals traded him and pitcher Mark Nussbeck to the Orioles for reliever Mike Timlin.

The Orioles projected Richard as a player to help them rebuild. “We really hate to give him up,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the Post-Dispatch.

Viewing the trade as an opportunity to stick in the majors, Richard said to the Baltimore Sun, “I’ll have the chance to get some at-bats and get into some games. This team is going through a transition and it’s an atmosphere where we can kind of grow as a team.”

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove welcomed Richard, but told the Sun he was struggling to remember the newcomer’s name: “I told him, ‘I’m going to keep calling you Keith Richards for a while. Don’t get upset when it happens. I’m not even a fan of the Rolling Stones.”

Richard soon made a name for himself with the Orioles, hitting 13 home runs and batting .276 in 56 games in 2000. The next year, he led the Orioles in doubles (31) and tied for the club lead in home runs (15).

Besides the Cardinals and Orioles, Richard also played for the Rockies and Rays.

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Outfielder Bob Nieman, who made an unprecedented debut with the Browns, returned to St. Louis as an accomplished hitter with the Cardinals.

On Dec. 2, 1959, the Cardinals acquired Nieman from the Orioles for outfielder-catcher Gene Green, plus catcher Chuck Staniland.

Eight years earlier, Nieman became the first player to hit home runs in his first two major-league at-bats. Since then, the only other player to do it is the Cardinals’ Keith McDonald.

A right-handed batter, Nieman appealed to the Cardinals because he hit left-handers well and “southpaws have been a constant plague” to them, The Sporting News reported.

Marty Marion, the former Cardinals shortstop who was Nieman’s teammate with the Browns, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He’s only a mediocre outfielder and he’s a hypochondriac, but, man, he can whale that ball.”

Overcoming hurdles

Nieman was born in Cincinnati and began going to Reds games when he was 3 with his father, a semipro catcher.

Nieman developed into a baseball catcher and football fullback in high school. After graduation, he joined the Army, was stationed in France and got pneumonia. The drugs used to treat him damaged his kidneys and he developed nephritis. Given a medical discharge, Nieman returned home, recovered, married his high school sweetheart and tried out with the Reds.

After Nieman signed a minor-league contract with the Reds, a tumor was discovered in his right arm and he underwent surgery. When he healed, the Reds converted him from catcher to outfielder. In 1948, his first minor-league season, Nieman hit .367.

During his off-seasons in the minors, Nieman pursued a college education at Kent State. Nieman was studying journalism in the hope of being a sports reporter and his wife, Patricia, was majoring in advertising.

“Next to actual participation, I can think of no life more enjoyable than watching games and being paid to do so,” Nieman said.

In June 1951, the Reds determined they had a surplus of outfielders in the minors and placed Neiman on waivers. He was claimed by Oklahoma City, an unaffiliated team in the Texas League. Nieman led the league in hitting (.324) and his contract was purchased by the Browns.

Boston fireworks

Nieman, 24, joined the Browns in Boston. Manager Zack Taylor didn’t plan to play him, but changed his mind when the Red Sox started a left-hander, Mickey McDermott. Nieman played left field and batted fifth in the Friday afternoon game on Sept. 14, 1951, at Fenway Park.

When he came to bat for the first time as a big-leaguer in the second inning, Nieman hit a solo home run. In his second at-bat in the third, he hit a two-run home run. According to the Post-Dispatch, those were the only pitches he swung at in those at-bats.

“This is really the day of my life,” Nieman said.

He almost got upstaged in the eighth when Satchel Paige, 45, relieved for the Browns and faced Ted Williams. With the count 0-and-2, Williams moved up in the batter’s box, expecting an off-speed pitch. Paige fired a fastball and Williams swung and missed, striking out.

When Williams got to the dugout, he “smashed his bat into pieces,” the Boston Globe reported. “He first whacked it against the railing leading to the dressing room. When that didn’t suffice, Williams flung the bat toward the rack. He still wasn’t satisfied, so he smashed it on the floor of the dugout. That ended the bat’s worth for good.”

Watching from the mound, Paige “was laughing his head off,” the Globe noted.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in the big leagues,” Paige said. “He was sore because I crossed him up.”

Asked about Nieman’s performance, Paige said the burly rookie “is just a lot of boy. Leans into that ball pretty good and hits the pitch where it is.” Boxscore

Designated hitter

Nieman hit .372 in 12 games for the 1951 Browns. The next year, he led the 1952 Browns in batting average (.289), home runs (18) and RBI (74), but they traded him to the Tigers after the season. Nieman played for the Tigers (1953-54), White Sox (1955-56) and Orioles (1956-59). He batted .322 for the Orioles in 1956 and .325 in 1958.

In 1959, when Nieman hit .292 with 21 home runs for the Orioles, The Sporting News described him as “a terror at the bat but sometimes frightful in the field.” Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch suggested Nieman “thought defense was the time to rest.”

The Cardinals got Nieman for his hitting, not his fielding. He batted .287 in 81 games in 1960 and had an on-base percentage of .372.

Among his highlights:

_ A home run against Sandy Koufax in a 2-0 triumph over the Dodgers on Aug. 21. Boxscore

_ A double, triple and home run for four RBI against Dick Ellsworth in a 4-3 victory versus the Cubs on Sept. 4. Boxscore

_ A ninth-inning home run against Johnny Podres to force extra innings against the Dodgers on Sept. 21. Boxscore

In 1961, Nieman, 34, was hitting .471 (8-for-17) when the Cardinals traded him to the Indians on May 10. The Cardinals made the deal because they wanted to give more playing time to Charlie James, 23, who they were grooming to replace Stan Musial in left.

“At least Nieman has the consolation of being one of the few .471 hitters ever traded,” the Post-Dispatch concluded.

Nieman said, “I certainly hate to leave this club. I mean it when I say this is the finest outfit I’ve ever been associated with.”

As he departed, Nieman wrote a message on the blackboard in the Cardinals’ clubhouse: “Good luck, boys, see you in the World Series.”

The Cardinals didn’t reach the World Series in 1961, but Nieman did a year later. After hitting .354 in 39 games for the Indians in 1961, they traded him to the Giants the next year and Nieman appeared in the 1962 World Series.

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