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Three impact players who defined the style of the National League in the 1960s were Maury Wills of the Dodgers and Lou Brock and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals. Wills and Brock brought speed with their base stealing, Gibson brought power with his pitching, and all three brought savvy and smarts to a championship brand of baseball.

In the 10-year period from 1959 to 1968, the Cardinals and Dodgers combined to win seven league pennants and five World Series titles.

Wills (1962) and Gibson (1968) each earned a National League Most Valuable Player Award.

From 1960 to 1969, the only players to lead the National League in steals were Wills and Brock. Wills led each year from 1960 to 1965. Brock was the leader each year from 1966 to 1969.

In 1962, Wills established the major-league record for stolen bases in a season (104). Twelve years later, Brock broke the mark (with 118).

A switch-hitting shortstop, Wills totaled 2,134 hits and 586 stolen bases in 14 seasons in the majors with the Dodgers, Pirates and Expos.

Record in St. Louis

On Sept. 23, 1962, at St. Louis, Wills, 29, had two stolen bases against the Cardinals, giving him 97 for the season and breaking the major-league record (96) established by Ty Cobb of the 1915 Tigers.

“Mercurial Maury Wills, a preacher’s son with the heart of a burglar, became the greatest base stealer in modern times,” Frank Finch wrote in the lead to his game story in the Los Angeles Times.

Wills twice stole second in the game against the battery of pitcher Larry Jackson and catcher Carl Sawatski. Boxscore

For the season, Wills finished with 104 steals in 117 tries. He was successful on 11 of 12 stolen base attempts versus the 1962 Cardinals.

In his book “Oh, Baby, I Love It,” Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver said of Wills, “He opened up baseball’s eyes to what speed can do for a team.”

“Maury Wills is the greatest slider and the quickest starter in the history of the game,” Phillies manager Gene Mauch told Los Angeles Times columnist Jim Murray in 1965. “He gets the base stolen the first five feet. He’s the most unafraid runner I’ve ever seen.”

In the book “We Played the Game,” McCarver said, “Maury Wills was smart. No one was better at sliding into a base. He had a sixth sense that told him how to be safe. If he knew it would be a close play, he’d slide into the glove and kick the ball out, or he’d avoid the tag and reach the corner of a base with his hand.”

One reason the Cardinals acquired catcher Bob Uecker from the Braves on the eve of the 1964 season opener was to try to slow down the base stealing of Wills.

Walks will haunt

Wills could field (two Gold Glove awards) and hit (five times in the top 10 in the National League in hits) as well as steal bases. Video

With the Dodgers in 1965, he had five hits in a game against the Cardinals. Boxscore

In the 1966 All-Star Game at St. Louis, Wills’ single in the 10th inning drove in Tim McCarver with the winning run for the National League.

With the Pirates in 1967, Wills slugged a three-run home run against the Cardinals’ Steve Carlton in Pittsburgh. “That’s the first one I’ve ever hit over the left field wall at Forbes Field,” Wills told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I was the most surprised person in the ballpark when the ball cleared the wall.” Boxscore

Wills had 15 hits versus Carlton in his career, but the home run was the only one that wasn’t a single.

Against another future Hall of Famer, Bob Gibson, Wills batted .211 and had a paltry on-base percentage of .261. Of Wills’ 26 hits in 123 at-bats versus Gibson, 22 were singles and four were doubles.

In his book “On the Run,” Wills said, “Bob Gibson was the toughest pitcher for me to hit. He had a little slider he’d throw in on my fists. It was small but hard, and I just couldn’t get around on it.”

In the book “From Ghetto to Glory,” Gibson said, “I don’t have any trouble with Maury. I try to throw him high fastballs and let him hit it in the air. He’s not strong enough to hit the ball out. When he’s batting left-handed, he’ll hit a lot of fly balls to left field if you get it up and away.”

Wills drew nine career walks from Gibson, but only one from 1963 to 1971.

In the book “Sixty Feet, Six Inches,” Gibson explained, “If you’re pitching to Maury Wills, for heaven’s sake don’t walk him. I learned to not be too fancy with the little guys who couldn’t hit home runs. Make them take their cuts.”

When Wills did reach base against Gibson, the Cardinals’ ace would try to keep him from stealing by going into the stretch position and then pausing for as long as possible. In the book “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson said, “After I’d been in the league a few years, I stopped wasting my time and energy by throwing to first to hold runners on. I eventually learned that I didn’t have to throw the ball to keep the runner close. I just held it a little longer. That drove Maury Wills crazy.”

In a typical Gibson wisecrack, he also said in the “Sixty Feet, Six Inches” book, “Honestly, though, when Wills was on base it didn’t bother me as much as you might think because I was resigned to the fact that Tim McCarver, my good buddy and catcher, wasn’t going to throw him out. I loved pitching to McCarver, but we both know that he wasn’t about to throw out Maury Wills.”

(McCarver, no doubt, would like to have it noted that on July 16, 1964, at St. Louis, he twice threw out Wills attempting to steal second. The first time was with Ray Sadecki pitching and the other was with Mike Cuellar on the mound. Boxscore)

Running a stop sign

In 1974, Lou Brock was 35 when he made his bid to break Wills’ record for stolen bases in a season. Though he’d led the National League in steals seven times before 1974, Brock never had achieved 100. His highest total was 74 in 1966.

In Brock’s autobiography, “Stealing is my Game,” Hall of Famer Stan Musial said, “I don’t think Lou or anybody else believed Maury Wills’ mark would topple after only 12 years. It looked like one of those eternal records. What Maury did was magnificent. Lou had to have everything going for him in 1974 to do even better.”

In his book “On the Run,” Wills recalled, “As the season went on and Lou Brock got closer to my record, I found myself watching the games on TV and rooting for the pitchers. Nothing worked.”

According to Wills, Brock called him for advice during the season.

“My legs are hurting, Maury,” Brock said. “What should I do?”

Wills said he jokingly replied, “Ice them down, Lou. Take a couple weeks off. Then quit.”

In his book, Wills said, “The record was my identity. I was the stolen base king. I didn’t want to see my record broken. It meant a lot to me. Records were made to be broken, but not mine.”

On Sept. 10, 1974, Brock got his 105th stolen base of the season, breaking Wills’ record, in a game against the Phillies at St. Louis,

“I wasn’t at the game when Brock stole his 105th base,” Wills said in his book. “I was at the NBC studio waiting to comment on it.”

Asked how he felt about seeing the record surpassed, Wills said he replied, “I don’t like it at all. I wasn’t pulling for him. I wasn’t wishing him any bad experiences or any harm, but I wasn’t pulling for him.”

In Brock’s autobiography, his collaborator, Franz Schulze, wrote of Wills, “The way he responded to it warms my heart. He took an attitude which to me is as rational as Brock’s. He grieved over the winnowing away of the single accomplishment in which he had taken the greatest pride. He didn’t like to give up what was precious and hard-earned. So far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfectly healthy outlook. Lou, just as smart, just as honest, thought so, too.”

Hall of Famer Ernie Banks said in the Brock autobiography, “People like to contrast Lou and Maury. You know, Lou has the short slide. Maury had the great, broad hook slide.

“Well, I think they’re much more alike than different because the best thing about both of them is their brains. I’ve seen Lou and Maury both psyche out a pitcher as if they were inside the man’s head, just reading the meter. After the smarts, it’s their motivation. Both wanted tremendously to get where they are.”

 

 

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Rogers Hornsby set a standard that, a century later, never has been matched by another Cardinals player.

In 1922, Hornsby had a 33-game hitting streak for the Cardinals. It remains the franchise record.

Hornsby, 26, achieved the feat in a dominant season for him. A right-handed batter and second baseman, Hornsby in 1922 led the National League in batting (.401), on-base percentage (.459), slugging percentage (.722), runs (141), hits (250), total bases (450), doubles (46), home runs (42), RBI (152) and extra-base hits (102). He also had 17 stolen bases and struck out a mere 50 times in 704 plate appearances.

Collared by Cubs

On Aug. 12, 1922, Hornsby was hitless in a game against the Cubs at St. Louis. His long fly to right against Tiny Osborne (6-foot-5, 215-pound rookie starter) with the bases loaded in the fifth was caught near the fence by former Cardinal Cliff Heathcote.

(When Osborne was lifted in the seventh, Cubs shortstop and team captain Charlie Hollocher, a St. Louis native, “took the ball from the big pitcher and in so doing must have made some sort of a curt remark,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported. “Osborne took exception and made a break as if to swing on the captain’s jaw. As he did, umpire Charlie Moran interfered and Osborne was dragged off the field by two huskier mates.”)

In the ninth, facing Percy Lee Jones, Hornsby made the game’s last out, completing an 0-for-4 afternoon and dropping his season batting average from .381 to .377. He wouldn’t have another hitless game for more than a month. Boxscore

Hot hitting

During the 33-game hitting streak, Hornsby’s performances included:

_ Four hits against the Dodgers on Aug. 17. National League strikeout leader and future Hall of Famer Dazzy Vance was the Dodgers’ starter. Boxscore

_ Three hits and four RBI versus the Reds on Sept. 9. Boxscore

_ Three hits and six RBI against the Phillies on Sept. 15. Two of the hits were home runs, a solo shot and a grand slam, both versus starter Jimmy Ring. Four years later, Ring and Frankie Frisch were traded by the Giants to the Cardinals for Hornsby. Boxscore

On Sept. 19, with a cold breeze cutting through the field in Boston, Hornsby extended his streak to 33 games when he pulled a Frank Miller pitch past third baseman Walter Barbare and into left field for a single in his fourth and last plate appearance of the afternoon. Boxscore

Hornsby’s batting average for the season was .400 with 12 games left to play. During the streak, he batted .466, with 68 hits in 146 at-bats.

Nobody’s perfect

On Sept. 20, 1922, the Cardinals were in Brooklyn for a Wednesday doubleheader with the Dodgers at Ebbets Field.

In the opener, spitball specialist Burleigh Grimes was the Dodgers’ starter. Hornsby would collect 59 hits against Grimes in his career, but none came on that day. Grimes won the matchup of future Hall of Famers, holding Hornsby hitless in four plate appearances and snapping his streak.

Hornsby never got a ball out of the infield. In his first three plate appearances, he grounded out twice and struck out.

In the ninth, with Jack Smith on first and none out, Hornsby tapped a ball to Grimes, who made an accurate throw to shortstop Jimmy Johnston, covering second. Johnston dropped the ball and Smith was safe at second on the error. Hornsby reached first on the fielder’s choice.

“Hornsby was just stopped by a great pitcher,” the St. Louis Star-Times reported. “That was all there was to it.”

Grimes pitched a three-hitter and allowed only an unearned run in achieving his 16th win of the season, including four against the Cardinals.

“Burleigh Grimes probably would have held the Cards hitless and runless had Jimmy Johnston removed some of the lead from his shoes,” the New York Daily News noted. “As it was, Grimes allowed only three hits, each of which bounced off the glove of the Brooklyn shortstop.” Boxscore

In the second game, Hornsby, “considerably peeved at being held hitless” in the opener, according to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, had two home runs and a single. The Dodgers’ Leon Cadore pitched the entire game, allowing 20 hits, two walks and 13 runs (three earned). Boxscore

(Two years earlier, on May 1, 1920, Cadore and Joe Oeschger each pitched 26 innings in a game between the Dodgers and Braves. Boxscore)

Entering the Oct. 1 season finale against the Cubs, Hornsby had a season batting average of .400. He went 3-for-5 in the finale to finish at .401, his first of three .400 seasons as a Cardinal. Boxscore

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In a game that brought together the three best National League hit producers _ Hank Aaron, Pete Rose and Stan Musial _ the most prominent catcher of the era started in center field.

On May 17, 1970, Johnny Bench was the Reds’ center fielder in the second game of a doubleheader against the Braves at Cincinnati. For Bench, the National League’s Gold Glove-winning catcher, it was the first time he played the outfield in a major-league game.

Bench fielded flawlessly and hit a home run, helping the Reds complete a doubleheader sweep, but the spotlight was on Aaron, who got his 3,000th career hit in the game. 

Musial, the retired Cardinals’ standout and the last player before Aaron to achieve 3,000 hits, was in the stands to witness the feat, and Rose, who would become baseball’s all-time hits leader, was in right field that day for the Reds.

Hot ticket

With Sparky Anderson in his first season as their manager, the Reds won 13 of their first 17 games in 1970. Entering the Sunday doubleheader on May 17, the Reds were 25-10 and five games ahead of the second-place Braves.

A combination of the Reds’ hot start and the chance to possibly see Aaron get his 3,000th hit generated a big turnout at Crosley Field. Swelled by 4,000 standing room-only tickets sold, the doubleheader drew 33,217 spectators, the Reds’ largest home crowd since 36,961 came out for a Sunday doubleheader versus the Pirates on April 27, 1947.

The Braves were playing at Crosley Field for the last time. When they next returned to Cincinnati to open a series on June 30, the Braves were the Reds’ first opponent in the new Riverfront Stadium.

Special support

Aaron got his 2,999th career hit on Saturday afternoon, May 16, at Crosley Field. Musial wanted to be present when Aaron got No. 3,000. Wearing a blue suit, Musial, 49, arrived at the Cincinnati airport at 10:48 on Sunday morning, May 17, stopped to get his shoes shined and headed to Crosley Field.

At 11:55 a.m., Aaron and Musial posed for pictures inside the clubhouse. “They laughed and swapped stories about baseball,” the Atlanta Constitution reported.

As Aaron headed to the field for batting practice, Musial took a front-row box seat next to Braves owner Bill Bartholomay.

In Game 1, Aaron went hitless in four at-bats against Jim Merritt. Bench caught all nine innings and had a RBI in the 5-1 Reds victory. Boxscore

Bold move

Bench, 22, entered Game 2 of the doubleheader with 10 home runs and 30 RBI for the young season. Wanting to keep Bench’s bat in the lineup but not wanting him to catch two games in one day, Sparky Anderson looked to shift Bench to another position in Game 2.

Bench had started three games at first base in place of an ailing Lee May in April, but the Braves were starting a left-hander, George Stone in Game 2, and Anderson wanted all of his right-handed sluggers, Bench, May and third baseman Tony Perez, in the lineup. The Reds’ regular center field, ex-Cardinal Bobby Tolan, batted left.

Bench’s favorite player as a youth was Yankees center fielder and fellow Oklahoman Mickey Mantle, so when Anderson suggested Bench play center field in Game 2, he got an enthusiastic response.

“This sort of fulfills a boyhood dream,” Bench told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Anderson said, “I believe Bench can play anywhere and do a major-league job. I was going to play him in right field, but he said he has trouble with balls curving away from him. In center, everything is hit straight at you, so he shouldn’t have any trouble.”

Magic moment

The Reds’ starting outfield in Game 2 was Hal McRae in left, Bench in center and Pete Rose in right. Ex-Cardinal Pat Corrales was their catcher. The Reds’ starting pitcher, rookie Wayne Simpson, was 5-1 with a 2.05 ERA.

Aaron, 36, got his 3,000th hit when he faced Simpson, 21, in the first inning. Aaron’s grounder was scooped on the shortstop side of second by second baseman Woody Woodward, who couldn’t make a throw. Felix Millan scored from second on the play. Video

As the crowd gave Aaron a standing ovation, Musial vaulted over the railing in front of his seat and joined him at first base. Photographers snapped pictures of the only living 3,000-hit players.

According to the Dayton Daily News, Musial said to Aaron, “It’s a thrill for me to be here and see this.”

Aaron replied, “I really appreciate your taking the time to come from St. Louis to Cincinnati for this.”

Musial was playing left field the night Aaron got his first hit in the majors. It came against the Cardinals’ Vic Raschi on April 15, 1954, at Milwaukee.

After witnessing Aaron get his 3,000th hit, Musial told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Right after I got my 3,000 hits (the milestone came in May 1958), I was playing against the Braves. I was standing around the batting cage and I told Henry he’d be the next man to reach 3,000. It wasn’t too hard to predict. He looked like a great hitter, he could run, and you could see he wasn’t the kind of player who would be injured often.”

Elite group

Hit No. 3,000 for Aaron came in the 2,460th game of his career.

Aaron was the ninth player with 3,000 hits. The others: Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Paul Waner and Musial.

Aaron was the first to get 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

Two innings after his 3,000th hit, Aaron hit his 570th home run, a two-run shot against Simpson.

“If he hits like this now,” Simpson said to the Dayton Daily News, “how did he hit 10 years ago? I’m glad I wasn’t pitching then.”

After the game, Aaron told the Atlanta Constitution that Willie Mays and Pete Rose were the most likely to next reach 3,000 hits.

Rose, who played his entire career in the National League, went on to become baseball’s all-time leader in hits (4,256). Cobb, an American Leaguer, is second at 4,189. Aaron ranks third (3,771) and Musial is fourth (3,630).

Aaron had 3,600 hits as a National League player with the Braves and 171 as an American Leaguer with the Brewers. Thus, the top three in career hits in the National League are Rose (a switch-hitter), Musial (who batted left) and Aaron (who batted right).

Versatile and durable

Almost overlooked in the drama surrounding Aaron was the play of Bench in center. He had no problems fielding the position, but in the ninth inning, with the score tied at 3-3, Bench went back to catching and Tolan took over in center.

After the Braves scored three times in the top of the 10th, the Reds rallied against Ron Kline, an ex-Cardinal. Tony Perez stroked his fifth hit of the game, and Bench and Lee May followed with home runs, tying the score at 6-6.

The game reached the 15th inning before 19-year-old rookie Don Gullet, who pitched two scoreless innings, drove in the winning run for the Reds with a single. Boxscore

Nine days later, against the Padres at San Diego, Bench started in center field for the second and last time. Boxscore

In 15 total innings as a center fielder, Bench made three putouts and no errors.

Bench made 17 outfield starts _ eight in left, seven in right and two in center _ in 1970, plus five starts at first base.

In 17 seasons in the majors, Bench made 1,627 starts at catcher, 182 at third base, 98 at first base and 96 in the outfield.

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A four-game sweep by the Cardinals contributed to an epic losing streak by the Phillies.

In 1961, the Phillies lost 23 consecutive games _ the longest losing streak by a team since the American League joined the National League to form the majors in 1901.

Before then, two clubs deemed as major-league had longer losing streaks. The Cleveland Spiders of the National League lost 24 in a row in 1899. The Louisville Colonels of the American Association lost 26 straight in 1889.

Dim view

Managed by Gene Mauch, 35, the 1961 Phillies were not expected to be good. In its preview of the 1961 season, Sports Illustrated listed the Phillies’ weak spots as “pitching and hitting.”

In May, the Phillies traded one of their best pitchers, Turk Farrell, to the Dodgers for outfielder Don Demeter and third baseman Charlie Smith. By the end of June, the Phillies were 22-45 and out of contention.

The first of their 23 consecutive losses came on July 29 against the Giants. In the first inning, with Giants runners on second and third, one out, Mauch ordered an intentional walk to Willie Mays. Orlando Cepeda followed with a grand slam and the Giants won, 4-3. Boxscore

Wrong direction

The losing streak was at five when the Phillies went to St. Louis for a four-game weekend series with the Cardinals.

In the Aug. 4 opener, the Phillies trailed by a run in the ninth, but had runners on first and second, none out.

Tony Gonzalez hit a drive to deep right. Joe Cunningham leaped and caught the ball for the first out, but the runner on second, rookie George Williams, failed to tag and didn’t advance. The baserunning lapse prompted Mauch to stage “a helmet-throwing tantrum in the dugout,” according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

The next two batters, ex-Cardinal Bobby Gene Smith and Lee Walls, struck out, and the Cardinals escaped with a 9-8 victory. Boxscore

In the clubhouse, Mauch “singed the entire team with a post-game lecture,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

“It was building up, up, up,” said Mauch, who regretted the outburst.

On Aug. 5, the Cardinals won, 7-0, on a shutout by Curt Simmons, a former Phillie, and two home runs by Bill White. Boxscore

The next day, the Cardinals used the Polish power of Ray Sadecki and Carl Sawatski to win both games of a Sunday doubleheader .

In the opener, Sadecki hit a three-run double and pitched a four-hitter for a 3-1 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore

In the second game, Sawatski, a former Phillie, drove in all three runs in a 3-2 victory. Boxscore

The Cardinals’ sweep stretched the Phillies’ losing streak to nine. “This team doesn’t act like a team that goes out to get beat,” Mauch told the Philadelphia Daily News. “They’re trying.”

That’s a winner

The Phillies had one extra-inning game during the streak and it resulted in their 20th consecutive loss, 7-6 to the Braves on Aug. 17. The Braves won in the 11th on a RBI by Philadelphia native Al Spangler. Boxscore

“The Phillies have had some inept clubs, but nothing to match this,” The Sporting News declared. “It was hard to assess more blame on the pitching than the hitting. Both were failing.”

Three days later, in a Sunday doubleheader at Milwaukee, the Braves won the opener, 5-2, on Warren Spahn’s five-hitter, giving them 10 consecutive wins and extending the Phillies’ losing streak to 23. Boxscore

Relief came in the second game. Clay Dalrymple had three hits, ex-Brave Wes Covington hit a home run and the Phillies prevailed, 7-4. Boxscore

The winning pitcher, John Buzhardt, went the distance and held Eddie Mathews and Joe Torre hitless.

“I had a feeling we were going to win,” Buzhardt told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I said, ‘Get me two runs and I’ll win.’ It’s a good thing they got me seven.”

Buzhardt was the lucky charm the Phillies had been seeking. He wore uniform No. 23, same number as the losing streak, and he was the winning pitcher in the Phillies’ last victory before the streak began.

“The kid probably felt like he was pitching in the seventh game of the World Series,” Mauch said to the Associated Press.

In the victorious Phillies clubhouse, the mood was more consolation than celebration.

“We were so embarrassed by then that we had no elation,” Mauch recalled to Sports Illustrated.

Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News observed, “If you think champagne corks popped or pheasant suddenly appeared out from under glass, think again. They had spare ribs, cheese and crackers, and beer in the clubhouse.”

Welcome home

The Phillies’ charter flight from Milwaukee arrived in Philadelphia at 1:10 a.m., 90 minutes late.

As the plane taxied to the gate, the Phillies saw a crowd of about 200 people waiting for them in a drenching rain.

Peering from his window seat, Phillies pitcher and funnyman Frank Sullivan shouted to his teammates, “They are selling rocks at $1.50 a pail. Leave the plane at five-minute intervals. That way, they can’t get us all with one burst.”

The fans had come to congratulate the team on snapping the losing streak, “and nobody threw anything more dangerous than confetti,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported.

As a band played “Hail, Hail the Gang’s All Here” and “Take Me Out to the Ballgame,” fans hoisted Mauch on their shoulders and staged an impromptu victory march through the airport.

Mauch told the crowd, “One day, we’ll come home after winning 23 out of 24, and they’ll have to build a new airport.”

Summing up the day, Frank Sullivan dead-panned, “Well, we gained a half-game on first-place Cincinnati.”

Bad numbers

The 1961 Phillies lost 19 of 22 games against the champion Reds and finished the season in last place at 47-107.

The Cardinals were 13-9 versus the Phillies. Curt Simmons (4-0, 1.52 ERA) and Bob Gibson (3-0, 0.67) did best against them.

Don Demeter led the Phillies in home runs (20) and RBI (68). Their top hitter was Tony Gonzalez (.277).

John Buzhardt finished with a 6-18 record. Frank Sullivan needed a sense of humor. He was 3-16. Future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts was 1-10.

The Phillies placed last in the league in batting average (.243), on-base percentage (.310) and runs (584). Their staff ERA of 4.61 was worst in the league.

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At his best, Bill White hit for average and distance.

In July 1961, White achieved an unprecedented slugging feat against the Dodgers, then tied a major-league base hit record held by Ty Cobb.

A left-handed batter and first baseman, White did the following:

_ On July 5, he became the first player to hit three home runs over the right-field fence in a game at the Los Angeles Coliseum.

_ From July 17 to July 18, he totaled 14 hits in four games, equaling a record set by Cobb 49 years earlier for most hits in two consecutive doubleheaders.

Tough test

In 1961, White was a National League all-star and Gold Glove Award winner who was among the Cardinals’ leading hitters, but the club wanted him to produce more power. In each of the three previous seasons (1958-60), Ken Boyer was the only Cardinal to hit 20 home runs.

Heading into the game against the Dodgers at the Coliseum, White was hitting .294 with five home runs for the season.

The Coliseum seemed an unlikely place for White to go on a home run binge. The distance from home plate to the fence in right-center was 440 feet and it was 390 feet in straightaway right. Left-handed sluggers, such as the Dodgers’ Duke Snider, found those dimensions daunting.

The Coliseum was friendlier to right-handed pull hitters, with a distance of 251 feet down the line from home plate to the left field fence. Though a screen stretching 42 feet high was erected, routine fly balls reached the seats.

Adding to the degree of difficulty for White was the Dodgers’ choice of a starting pitcher, left-hander Johnny Podres. White hit for a higher average and with more power against right-handers than he did left-handers.

Pulling power

Batting second in the order in the last game managed by Solly Hemus, White grounded out his first time at the plate against Podres.

Leading off the third, White swung at an inside fastball from Podres and pulled it over the fence near the foul line for a home run.

An inning later, facing Roger Craig, White got a hanging changeup and drove it over the wall in right-center for a two-run home run.

The next time up, with two outs and a runner on second in the sixth, White was walked intentionally by Craig.

In the eighth, White led off against rookie Jim Golden and hit a slider into the seats in right-center for his third home run.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, White was the sixth Cardinals player with three home runs in a game. The others: Frank Shugart (1894), George Harper (1928), George Watkins (1931), Johnny Mize (1938 and 1940) and Stan Musial (1954).

Lee Walls of the 1958 Cubs and Don Demeter of the 1959 Dodgers also hit three home runs in a game at the Coliseum, with all carrying the short distance to left.

“I took extra batting practice last Monday determined to practice getting out in front of the ball,” White said to the Post-Dispatch. “I believe the club expects it of me.”

White had a chance to hit a fourth home run in the game when he faced Golden again in the ninth. He took a rip and lined a double to the base of the wall in right near the foul line.

Asked whether he was trying for a home run, White told the Los Angeles Times, “I wasn’t thinking so much about that as the fact that the first pitch might come pretty close to me. Then, when I did hit the ball, it looked for a second or two like it might hook in there for another homer.”

White’s road roommate, Bob Gibson, also contributed impressively to the 9-1 Cardinals triumph. Gibson pitched a four-hitter and slugged his first home run in the majors. Boxscore

Hot hitting

Two weeks later, with Johnny Keane managing the club, the Cardinals faced consecutive twi-night doubleheaders against the Cubs at St. Louis.

White produced 14 hits in 18 at-bats in the four games, all won by the Cardinals.

When Cobb achieved the mark while playing for the Tigers against the Athletics at Philadelphia in 1912, he was 14-for-19. Cobb had seven hits in 11 at-bats in the doubleheader played July 17 and, after an off day for the teams, he was 7-for-8 in the doubleheader played July 19.

In an eerie bit of serendipity, White’s record-tying performances occurred on almost the same exact July dates as when Cobb achieved the feat. In addition, Cobb died on July 17, 1961, the same day White played the first of the two doubleheaders.

White was 8-for-10 in the July 17 doubleheader against the Cubs.

In the first game, he was 4-for-5, getting three singles against starter Don Cardwell and another single versus Don Elston. Boxscore

White went 4-for-5 again in the second game. He had a double and a single against starter Jim Brewer and two singles versus Barney Schultz. Boxscore

Julian Javier also had eight hits, including seven in succession, for the Cardinals in the doubleheader.

The second game didn’t end until nearly 1 a.m. When White got home, he sat up with an ailing child and didn’t get any sleep, the Associated Press reported.

In the morning, White fulfilled a commitment to instruct youngsters at a baseball clinic at a local park from 10 a.m. to noon. According to the Post-Dispatch, White had lunch after the clinic, went to Busch Stadium and took a 45-minute nap in the trainer’s room before batting practice.

Showing no signs of fatigue, White was 3-for-4 in the opener of the July 18 doubleheader. He had two singles and a home run against starter Glen Hobbie. Boxscore

In the second game, White again was 3-for-4. He had a pair of triples, one against reliever Mel Wright and the other versus Don Elston. The hit that tied Cobb’s record was a double against Bob Anderson that “just escaped Ed Bouchee’s leap at first base,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Boxscore

Asked about tying the record, White told the Post-Dispatch, “It feels good to win two more ballgames.”

For the two doubleheaders, White had nine singles, two doubles, two triples and a home run.

White had a .417 on-base percentage in July 1961 and hit .331 for the month.

He finished the season with these numbers: .286 batting average, 28 doubles, 11 triples, 20 home runs and 90 RBI. Against the Cubs, he had 33 hits in 21 games and batted .371.

 

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

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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