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Bobby Del Greco was a graceful center fielder with a strong arm, but he was no Bill Virdon.

Del Greco died Oct. 13, 2019, at 86. He was a principal figure in one of the Cardinals’ most lopsided trades.

On May 17, 1956, the Cardinals dealt center fielder Bill Virdon to the Pirates for Del Greco and pitcher Dick Littlefield.

Virdon, 24, was the winner of the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year Award. Del Greco, 23, was seeking a chance to play regularly in the major leagues.

The deal was a dud for the Cardinals. Virdon played 11 years with the Pirates, producing 1,431 hits, earning a Gold Glove Award and helping them win a World Series championship. Del Greco played part of one season for the Cardinals, couldn’t hit consistently and was sent to the Cubs.

Great glove

A Pittsburgh native, Del Greco was signed to a Pirates contract by Hall of Famer Pie Traynor. In 1952, Del Greco was 19 when he made his major-league debut with the Pirates against the Cardinals and produced three hits and a walk in five plate appearances. Boxscore

After hitting .217 in 99 games for the 1952 Pirates, Del Greco spent the next three seasons in the minor leagues. He played for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1955 and hit .287 with 26 doubles and 21 stolen bases for manager Bobby Bragan. Del Greco also caught the attention of Fred Hutchinson, manager of the rival Seattle Rainiers.

In 1956, Bragan became manager of the Pirates and Hutchinson became manager of the Cardinals. Bragan chose Del Greco to be the Opening Day center fielder for the 1956 Pirates. Bragan ranked Del Greco behind only Willie Mays of the Giants and Duke Snider of the Dodgers among National League center fielders.

Del Greco has “a strong, accurate arm and the instinct of throwing to the right base,” The Sporting News noted. He “gets a tremendous jump on any fly ball and can outrun some of them.”

Seeing is believing

The Cardinals opened the 1956 season with Wally Moon as the first baseman and an outfield of Hank Sauer in left, Virdon in center and Stan Musial in right.

After batting .281 as a Cardinals rookie in 1955, Virdon got off to a slow start in 1956. Cardinals general manager Frank Lane began to suspect Virdon might have deteriorating vision. Also, Virdon, like Musial and Moon, batted left-handed and Lane wanted to balance the lineup with an outfielder who batted from the right side.

Hutchinson recommended Del Greco as a replacement for Virdon and Lane began trade talks with the Pirates. He also shopped Virdon to the Cubs, who offered pitcher Bob Rush, and to the Phillies, who declined to deal outfielder Richie Ashburn.

On May 13, 1956, Del Greco hit two home runs in a game at Pittsburgh against the Phillies’ Harvey Haddix, a former Cardinal. Lane was at the game to scout Del Greco and, naturally, was impressed. Boxscore

Del Greco’s two-homer game “was the biggest boost for the trade,” Pirates general manager Joe Brown told The Sporting News.

Pirates plunder

Though Virdon was batting .211 in 24 games for the 1956 Cardinals, the trade was viewed as a major risk for them. Del Greco was batting .200 for the 1956 Pirates and they primarily were playing him only against left-handers.

Hutchinson called Del Greco “a terrific outfielder” with “a real good arm and speed.” He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Yes, I’d have to say (he’s) better than Virdon.”

Lane said, “We liked Del Greco because he seemed to have more drive than Bill Virdon.”

Citing the eyesight issue, Lane said, “Maybe, as has been suggested, we decided it would be better to let Pittsburgh or another club worry about whether he still has major-league vision.”

Lane added, “It wasn’t only Virdon’s failure to get base hits. Bill wasn’t even hitting the ball hard.”

Brown said the Pirates “wanted Virdon badly,” and when Lane readily agreed to the deal, “I began to wonder if there might be something wrong with Virdon.”

Turns out, Virdon was fine. He rewarded the Pirates, batting .334 with 170 hits in 133 games for them in 1956 and playing a splendid center field. Virdon “is certainly on a par even with the fabulous Willie Mays,” The Sporting News remarked. “Pittsburgh fans compare him with the gifted Vince DiMaggio and Lloyd Waner.”

Del Greco batted .215 in 102 games for the 1956 Cardinals. He hit .176 in home games and overall his batting average with runners in scoring position was .098 (5-for-51).

“What a terrible deal,” Sauer said in the book “We Played the Game.” Virdon “was a great fielder, much better than Del Greco.”

A defiant Lane told the Sporting News, “I make no pretensions of perfection in trading. I merely hope to make more good deals than bad ones.”

Moving on

After the 1956 season, Del Greco played winter ball in Havana for former Cardinals coach and manager Mike Gonzalez. Cardinals scout Al Hollingsworth went to Cuba to see Del Greco and said, “One thing he’s got to learn is to forget the long ball.”

At spring training in 1957, rookie Bobby Gene Smith won the Cardinals’ center field job when Del Greco batted .101 in Grapefruit League exhibition games.

On April 20, 1957, the Cardinals traded Del Greco and pitcher Ed Mayer to the Cubs for outfielder Jim King.

Del Greco played for the Cubs (1957), Yankees (1957-58), Phillies (1960-61 and 1965) and Athletics (1961-63), and batted .229 in his career in the majors.

Jackie Hernandez experienced one of his most joyful moments in baseball after one of his most frustrating performances.

Hernandez died Oct. 12, 2019, at 79. Born in Cuba, he was a shortstop in the major leagues for nine seasons with the Angels (1965-66), Twins (1967-68), Royals (1969-70) and Pirates (1971-73).

Hernandez had his most memorable season in 1971 when the Pirates won the World Series championship. He opened the season as the starting shortstop because incumbent Gene Alley was sidelined with a broken hand. Late in the season, Alley had a bad knee and Hernandez was the primary shortstop in the pennant stretch and in the postseason.

PIrates manager Danny Murtaugh “isn’t looking for base hits from Hernandez,” The Sporting News reported. “The manager wants steady shortstop play.”

On Sept. 22, 1971, at St. Louis, Hernandez struck out four times against Bob Gibson, but the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 5-1, and clinched the National League East Division title.

Hernandez contributed with his fielding, helping the Pirates turn three double plays.

As the Pirates celebrated inside the clubhouse at Busch Memorial Stadium, Hernandez smiled as he wiped champagne off his spikes. He never had been on a club that qualified for the postseason.

“For the first time in my life, I struck out four times and it didn’t bother me,” Hernandez said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t care if I get a hit, or if I get on base. Just so we win the game. That’s all I cared about.” Boxscore

Hernandez started six of the seven games in the 1971 World Series against the Orioles and committed no errors in 53.2 innings at shortstop.

In the ninth inning of Game 7, with the Pirates clinging to a 2-1 lead at Baltimore, Hernandez cleanly handled the last two outs.

After Frank Robinson popped out to Hernandez for the second out in the ninth, Merv Rettenmund hit one on the ground. “The ball skipped up the middle and a foot or so to the right of second base,” The Sporting News reported. “Base hit? No chance. Hernandez was playing almost behind second. It wasn’t a routine play, but he was there in plenty of time to grab the ball and fire to first baseman Bob Robertson for the clinching out.” Boxscore

Hernandez hit .208 in his major-league career, including .205 versus the Cardinals.

One of his most productive games with the bat occurred against the Cardinals on May 17, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Hernandez, batting eighth in the order, was 3-for-4 with three RBI in a 12-0 Pirates victory.

He entered the game with a season batting average of .167 and no RBI.

Hernandez broke the game open in the fourth inning. The Pirates led, 3-0, when Hernandez batted against Cardinals starter Reggie Cleveland with one out and the bases loaded. Hernandez hit a single to left, driving in two and giving the Pirates a 5-0 lead.

In the fifth, the Pirates scored three times against Joe Grzenda, extending their lead to 9-0. Hernandez scored Richie Hebner from third with a two-out single.

Hernandez also had a double to left in the seventh against Lance Clemons. Boxscore

 

On a rainy St. Louis Sunday in 1961, the Cubs became convinced the Cardinals had someone inside the Busch Stadium scoreboard who was stealing the signs of catcher Sammy Taylor.

On May 7, 1961, the Cubs and Cardinals were scheduled to play a Sunday doubleheader at St. Louis. The starting pitchers in Game 1 were Don Cardwell for the Cubs and Ernie Broglio for the Cardinals. Caldwell, who brought a 3-0 season record into the game, had pitched a no-hitter against the Cardinals the year before.

Detective work

In the doubleheader opener, the Cubs scored twice in the first inning and the Cardinals got a run in the bottom half on Ken Boyer’s sacrifice fly.

In the second, the Cardinals battered Caldwell, scoring three runs on four hits. Carl Sawatski, batting eighth in the order, drove in a run with a single and Julian Javier knocked in two with a double. The damage could have been worse if the Cardinals hadn’t had a runner thrown out at the plate.

Cubs manager Harry Craft concluded batters knew what pitches were coming and suspected it was because the Cardinals were stealing the signs Taylor gave Caldwell.

Craft said he “became suspicious when Cardinals hitters in the lower end of the batting order were hitting pitches they ordinarily wouldn’t be able to handle,” The Sporting News reported.

According to Chicago reporter Jerome Holtzman, Craft and Cubs players “discovered someone from inside the Cardinals’ left-field scoreboard was signaling on every pitch.”

“It was very simple,” Craft said. “Someone just lifted what looked like a white tile into one of the scoreboard openings every time Caldwell was going to throw a curve. When he would throw a fastball, they would just leave the opening black.”

The switcheroo

Craft and Caldwell came up with a plan to cross up the Cardinals.

Craft told Taylor to give the sign for a curve, but to expect Caldwell to throw a fastball.

When Boyer came to the plate to lead off the third for the Cardinals, Taylor gave Caldwell the sign for a curve. Boyer leaned “way over the plate,” Craft told The Sporting News, in anticipation of a breaking ball.

Instead, Caldwell buzzed a fastball near Boyer’s chin and the pitch nearly hit him.

For the remainder of the game, the Sporting News reported, “there was no more signaling from the scoreboard.”

Caldwell held the Cardinals scoreless for the next three innings. The game was called after five innings because of rain and the Cardinals, on the strength of those early runs, won, 4-2. Boxscore

Cardinals nemesis

Two years earlier, in 1959, Taylor was a principal figure in another Cubs-Cardinals controversy when two balls simultaneously were put into play during a game at Wrigley Field.

Taylor, a left-handed batter, also had one of his best career hitting performances against the Cardinals.

In a three-game series at Wrigley Field, June 30-July 2, 1961, Taylor was 8-for-13 with three doubles, two home runs and four RBI. The home runs were hit against Lindy McDaniel. Boxscore

Taylor raised his season batting average from .244 to .295 during the series.

He hit .351 (13-for-37) against the Cardinals in 1961, but overall for the season his batting average was .238.

In 1962, when Taylor was with the Mets, he hit a home run in each game of a July 7 doubleheader versus the Cardinals at the Polo Grounds in New York. Taylor hit a home run off Larry Jackson in Game 1 Boxscore and another against Ray Washburn in Game 2. Boxscore

The Cardinals never envisioned Dave Giusti to be a closer and neither did the Pirates. When Giusti transformed into one of the National League’s best saves specialists, he helped the Pirates become an East Division power.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 21, 1969, the Cardinals traded Giusti and catcher Dave Ricketts to the Pirates for outfielders Carl Taylor and Frank Vanzin.

Giusti, a right-hander, wanted to remain a starting pitcher and the Cardinals didn’t see a spot for him in their projected rotation in 1970.

The Pirates figured Giusti to be a spot starter and middle-inning reliever.

Giusti became the Pirates’ closer only because they had no one else available after their other options faltered.

His emergence as a stopper gave the Pirates an advantage over the Cardinals. The Pirates finished in first place in the East Division five times in a six-year stretch from 1970-75. The Cardinals, who struggled for bullpen help while trading pitchers who became quality closers, failed to win a title in that period.

Wanted man

After winning their second consecutive pennant in 1968, the Cardinals sought to acquire Giusti from the Astros to join a starting rotation of Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nelson Briles and Ray Washburn. Giusti achieved a double-digit win total for the Astros each season from 1966-68.

On Oct. 11, 1968, the Cardinals got Giusti and catcher Dave Adlesh from the Astros for catchers Johnny Edwards and Tommy Smith, but three days later the Padres selected Giusti in the National League expansion draft.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine was willing to try again. On Dec. 3, 1968, the Cardinals acquired Giusti from the Padres for infielder Ed Spiezio, outfielder Ron Davis, catcher Danny Breeden and pitcher Philip Knuckles.

Initially, the move paid dividends. Giusti won two of his first three starts for the 1969 Cardinals, but in May he injured his back and spent a month on the disabled list. When he returned, he struggled and was moved into a long-inning relief role. Giusti finished the 1969 season with a 3-7 record and 3.61 ERA.

The Cardinals in 1970 planned to have a starting rotation of Gibson, Carlton, Briles, Mike Torrez and Jerry Reuss. In need of a hitter to improve their bench strength, the Cardinals dangled Giusti in trade talks.

Supply and demand

Devine was confident the Cardinals made a good deal in acquiring Taylor for Giusti. A right-handed batter and the step-brother of Orioles slugger Boog Powell, Taylor hit .348 in 221 at-bats for the 1969 Pirates. He had a .415 batting average (17-for-41) as a pinch-hitter. After Taylor accused Pirates management of keeping him on the bench because of “politics,” teammates nicknamed him “Senator.”

The Tigers offered pitcher Joe Sparma for Taylor, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported, but the Pirates preferred Giusti after getting a recommendation from their best player, Roberto Clemente. “He always had good stuff and he is a tough competitor,” Clemente said.

Pirates general manager Joe Brown told The Sporting News, “He can start and relieve. This was a big factor in making the trade.”

The Pirates projected their 1970 starting pitchers to be Steve Blass, Bob Moose, Dock Ellis, Bob Veale and Luke Walker, but Giusti said, “I want to be in the starting rotation. I think I can be a better pitcher if I’m used in rotation.”

Surprising development

Giusti, 30, went to spring training, hoping to convince Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh to make him a starter. Instead, he pitched poorly, yielding 12 runs in 15 spring training innings.

“His curveball hangs and his fastball lacks zip,” the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported. “He is not getting the ball down. Most of his pitches, especially his breaking pitches, appear to go to the hitter’s strength, about chest high.”

Giusti told the Pittsburgh Press, “I guess I was pressing. I went down there trying to show the club I could become the fifth starter and, as a result, I wasn’t throwing the ball the way I can.”

The Pirates opened the 1970 season with Giusti as a middle-inning reliever and Chuck Hartenstein as their closer. A slender right-hander, Hartenstein was nicknamed “Twiggy.” He struggled in April, posting a 7.04 ERA in six appearances. Two other closer candidates, Joe Gibbon and Bruce Dal Canton, weren’t the answer, so in desperation Murtaugh turned to Giusti.

Using a palmball, his version of a changeup, Giusti was able to pitch often and well as the closer. By mid-July, he was 8-0 with 14 saves and a 2.37 ERA.

“He’s our bread and butter now,” Murtaugh said.

In June 1970, the Pirates placed Hartenstein on waivers and he was claimed by the Cardinals. A month later, after he posted an 8.77 ERA in six appearances for the Cardinals, Hartenstein was released.

No relief

Giusti finished with a 9-3 record and 26 saves in 1970. The Pirates (89-73) won the division title, five games ahead of the second-place Cubs, and the Cardinals (76-86) came in fourth.

One of the Cardinals’ biggest problems was relief pitching. The staff produced 20 total saves, including eight by team leader Chuck Taylor.

Cardinals management counted on the starters to pitch deep into games and was slow to recognize the growing importance of having a strong bullpen with a dependable closer. The Cardinals weren’t developing top relievers, and they were giving away pitchers, like Giusti, who had the ability to do the job.

In 1970, three of the top closers in the majors were pitchers recently traded by the Cardinals _ Wayne Granger (35 saves) of the Reds, Giusti (26) and Mudcat Grant (24) of the Athletics. The Pirates acquired Grant from Oakland in September 1970 to join Giusti for the pennant push.

Against the Cardinals in 1970, Giusti was 3-0 with a save.

The next season, the Pirates became World Series champions. Giusti produced 30 saves and a 2.93 ERA. His ERA against the Cardinals, who finished as runners-up to the Pirates in the division, was 1.13. The Cardinals’ saves leader in 1971 was Moe Drabowsky, with eight.

Giusti pitched a total of 5.1 scoreless innings in the 1971 World Series against the Orioles and got a save in Game 4.

In seven seasons with the Pirates, Giusti was 47-28 with 133 saves and a 2.94 ERA.

Donnie Moore embraced the opportunity to join the Cardinals, but his two-year stay in the organization was marred by his involvement in a deadly accident.

Forty years ago, on Oct. 17, 1979, the Cardinals traded second baseman Mike Tyson to the Cubs for Moore, a right-handed relief pitcher.

Moore opened the 1980 season with the Cardinals, pitched in 11 games, was ineffective and got sent to the minors.

Near the end of spring training with the 1981 Cardinals, Moore was involved in a fatality in Florida. A passenger was killed when the car Moore was driving became airborne and crashed upside down. Moore was injured, recovered and pitched in the Cardinals’ farm system in 1981.

The fatal accident drew little national attention, but eight years later, long after Moore left the Cardinals, he was involved in another horrific incident.

On July 18, 1989, Moore’s life came to a violent end when he shot himself in the head after critically injuring his wife.

Looking for work

Moore began his professional career in the Cubs’ organization and, like fellow prospect Bruce Sutter, learned to throw a split-fingered pitch taught by instructor and former Cardinals pitcher Fred Martin.

“The best at it, besides Bruce, is Donnie Moore, but he threw it so much harder,” Cubs pitcher Mike Krukow said to The Sporting News.

Moore made his major-league debut with the Cubs in 1975 and had his breakout season in 1978 when he earned nine wins, four saves and led the club in games pitched (71) as the setup reliever for the closer, Sutter.

In May 1979, Moore’s role changed when the Cubs acquired Dick Tidrow from the Yankees. Tidrow became the setup man for Sutter. As Moore’s workload decreased, so did his effectiveness and he finished the season with a 1-4 record and 5.18 ERA.

After the 1979 season, the Cubs approached the Cardinals about Tyson, who had lost the second base job to Ken Oberkfell. Tyson was eligible to become a free agent, so the Cardinals were delighted when the Cubs offered to make a trade if Tyson would agree to a long-term contract. When Tyson, 29, accepted their five-year offer, the Cubs dealt Moore, 25, for him.

“I’m truly happy to be going to St. Louis,” Moore told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Warning sign

Like many on the 1980 Cardinals, Moore struggled. He allowed 15 runs in 21.2 innings and was 1-1 with a 6.23 ERA. Even in his win against the Giants on May 6, 1980, he gave up four runs in 1.2 innings. Boxscore

In late May 1980, the Cardinals sent Moore to their farm club in Springfield, Ill., and he produced a 6-5 record and 3.07 ERA.

The next year, Moore went to spring training as a Cardinals non-roster player.

On April 11, 1981, four days after he was assigned to the Cardinals’ minor-league camp, Moore was injured and his passenger, Donald Harvey, 31, was killed when Moore’s car sped through a dead-end street in St. Petersburg, Fla., shortly after 2 a.m., police told the St. Petersburg Times.

Moore was driving a 1981 Mustang “at a high rate of speed,” a police spokesman said to the newspaper. The car “jumped a curb and rode up an incline to a railroad track,” the Tampa Tribune reported. The car “became airborne, flipped several times and landed upside down atop several junk cars in a vacant lot,” according to the St. Petersburg Times. A police spokesman told the Tampa Tribune the car soared 152 feet before landing.

Harvey “was thrown from the car and died at the scene,” police said to the newspaper. Moore “suffered lacerations and internal injuries.”

According to Pinellas County public records, Moore was charged with one count of manslaughter, entered a plea of no contest and was placed on probation.

Ups and downs

Moore rejoined the Cardinals’ Springfield club in the middle of May 1981. After posting an 8-6 record and 3.42 ERA for Springfield, the Cardinals traded Moore to the Brewers for cash on Sept. 3, 1981.

Moore pitched in three September game for the Brewers, but they returned him to the Cardinals two months later “without telling us why,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog told The Sporting News.

On Feb. 1, 1982, the Cardinals traded Moore to the Braves for pitcher Dan Morogiello. Working with Braves minor-league instructor Johnny Sain, Moore produced 12 saves and a 2.29 ERA for Richmond.

“I learned it’s better to get someone out with one pitch rather than trying to strike everybody out,” Moore said.

In August 1982, Moore was called up to the Braves. Playing for manager Joe Torre and coach Bob Gibson, Moore was 3-1 with a save in helping the Braves win a division title. Moore pitched 2.2 scoreless innings against the Cardinals in the 1982 National League Championship Series.

“Moore now uses a split-fingered changeup that leaves hitters flat-footed,” The Sporting News noted. “He no longer tries to break a bat with every pitch.”

In 1984, Moore became the Braves’ closer and had 16 saves and a 2.94 ERA.

“I’ve been on a roller coaster my whole career,” Moore said. “Up and down. Up and down. That gets old after a while. Maybe I’m a survivor.”

After the 1984 season, Moore became a free agent and Torre, fired by the Braves, became an Angels broadcaster. The Angels signed Moore on Torre’s recommendation. Moore earned 31 saves for them in 1985 and 21 in 1986.

In the best-of-seven 1986 American League Championship Series, the Angels won three of the first four games against the Red Sox. In Game 5 at Anaheim, the Red Sox trailed, 5-4, with two outs and a runner on first in the ninth inning. Needing one more out to clinch the pennant, Angels manager Gene Mauch brought in Moore to relieve Gary Lucas and face Dave Henderson.

Moore’s moment of glory turned into a nightmare when Henderson hit a two-run home run, giving the Red Sox a 6-5 lead. Video Though the Angels rallied to tie the score in the bottom of the ninth, the Red Sox won, 7-6, scoring a run against Moore in the 11th. Boxscore

The Red Sox won the next two games at Boston, advancing to face the Mets in the World Series.

Terror and pain

Moore, plagued by shoulder and rib ailments, was limited to 14 appearances for the 1987 Angels. In 1988, he had a 4.91 ERA when the Angels released him in August.

In 1989, the Royals signed Moore on the recommendation of their catcher, Bob Boone, Moore’s former Angels teammate, and assigned him to Omaha. Moore, 35, pitched in seven games for Omaha, had a 6.39 ERA and was released in June 1989, about the same time he and his wife, Tonya, also 35, separated.

A month later, Donnie and Tonya Moore met at the house they owned in Anaheim. The couple argued after Moore said he wanted to sell the $850,000 estate. Moore grabbed a .45-caliber handgun and fired at his wife. Tonya Moore was struck by three bullets, one in the neck and two in the upper torso.

The Moore’s 17-year-old daughter, Demetria, who was in the house with her two brothers, ages 7 and 10, and her best friend, managed to get her mother into a car. Just before they drove off, Donnie Moore pointed the gun at his head and, in front of his sons, killed himself with a single shot, police said to the Los Angeles Times.

Demetria got her mother to a hospital, where she underwent surgery and eventually recovered from her wounds.

Donnie Moore “was despondent over his failing career and marital troubles,” the Associated Press reported.

Moore’s agent, David Pinter, cited the home run to Henderson as a contributing factor.

“Ever since Henderson’s home run, he was extremely depressed,” Pinter told the Associated Press. “He blamed himself for the Angels not going to the World Series.”

Pinter said to the Los Angeles Times, “That home run killed him.”

A week after the shooting, the attorney for the Moore family, Randall Johnson, revealed he arranged to have Moore’s body brought to the hospital where Tonya Moore was being treated. The lawyer acted on the request of Tonya Moore, who wanted a private viewing because she couldn’t travel to Texas for the funeral. According to the Los Angeles Times, “The body was delivered to a vacant room at the hospital and Tonya Moore was wheeled from her private room.”

In an interview from her hospital bed, Tonya Moore told the Los Angeles Times, “I told him I forgive him. I told him I love him. I asked, ‘Why?’ “

Pepper Martin interrupted a successful stint as a manager to return to the Cardinals as a player and help them get to another World Series.

In 1943, Martin managed in the Cardinals’ farm system for the third consecutive year. After the season, while in St. Louis to interview for a radio sports announcer job, Martin met with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon, who was looking for players to replace those called to serve in the military during World War II.

Accepting Breadon’s offer to come back to the Cardinals, Martin, 40, was a utility player for them in 1944 and contributed to a successful run to a third consecutive National League pennant.

With mission accomplished, Martin sought to resume his managing career and the Cardinals obliged by giving him his unconditional release 75 years ago in October 1944.

Spice to the lineup

Martin debuted with the Cardinals in 1928. With his aggressive, fun-loving style of play, he was a prominent part of the Cardinals clubs of the 1930s. Martin and his pal, pitcher Dizzy Dean, symbolized the spirit of the group known as the Gas House Gang.

Dean “was just a big-hearted old country boy, from a cotton patch, like myself,” Martin said to The Sporting News. “So I guess that’s why I liked old Diz.”

An outfielder and third baseman nicknamed “Wild Horse of the Osage,” Martin led the National League in stolen bases three times and scored more than 120 runs in a season three times.

As a third baseman, Martin “introduced a style of play all his own,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Martin described his approach to fielding groundballs as “stop it with your chest, then throw them out.”

In the 1931 World Series against the Athletics, Martin had an on-base percentage of .538, producing 12 hits and two walks in 26 plate appearances, and swiped five bases. He batted .355 and scored eight runs in the 1934 World Series versus the Tigers.

“Pepper always was fighting to win, trying for that extra base or an impossible chance, no matter whether his team was miles ahead or furlongs behind,” The Sporting News noted in an editorial.

After the 1940 season, Martin became a player-manager in the Cardinals’ farm system. His Sacramento teams finished 102-75 in 1941 and 105-73 in 1942.

In 1943, Martin took over a Rochester team which finished 59-93 the year before and helped it improve to 74-78. One of his best Rochester players was shortstop Red Schoendienst.

Martin batted .280 for Rochester and “was the best outfielder on the club,” Breadon said. “He could outrun any man on the club on the bases.”

Slow to age

Martin told the Associated Press he was offered a radio sports broadcasting job for 1944 but after talking with Breadon decided to play instead.

Breadon told the Post-Dispatch, “I asked him how he would like to play with the Cardinals and he shot back, ‘I sure would.’ ”

Though he was 40, Martin insisted his age was 10 because his birthday was Feb. 29, a date which appears on the calendar only in a leap year, or once every four years.

“He still has his old-time sparkle and speed,” said Cardinals manager Billy Southworth. “I think he will help a lot.”

Said Martin:  “I’ll play any time and place they need me.”

Teaching by example

Martin played in 40 games, 29 as an outfielder, for the 1944 Cardinals, batted .279 and had an on-base percentage of .386. He finished with a flourish, producing five hits, including two doubles and a home run, in the last eight at-bats of his big-league career.

He also was a mentor who “sold the Cardinals’ rookies on his undying spirit,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

After the Cardinals won the 1944 Word Series championship against the Browns, Martin asked for his release so he could “negotiate for any coaching or managerial post he wants,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

Breadon mailed him the release on Oct. 13, 1944, and Martin received it on Oct. 16. “We hate to let him go, but he wants it that way,” Breadon said.

San Diego, an unaffiliated minor-league team in the Pacific Coast League, needed a manager and narrowed its field of candidates to two finalists, Martin and Casey Stengel. Martin got the job and Stengel went to manage the Yankees’ farm club at Kansas City.

Martin managed 14 seasons in the minors and had an overall record of 1,083-910.