Monday, March 31, 2014

March 31, 1998: Grand Slam For Big Mac On Opening Day

     On March 31, 1998, Mark McGwire became the first Cardinal to hit a grand slam on Opening Day as he helped spark the Birds to a 6-0 victory over the Dodgers in St. Louis. This marked the first home run of the historic '98 season for McGwire who surpassed Roger Maris' record of of 61 bombs on his way to 70 which set the single season record that had stood since 1961. The crowd of 47,972 stood for a 2 minute and 46 second ovation following the round tripper before Big Mac stood at the top step of the dugout and took a curtain call. Only two other Cardinals players have since joined McGwire in the opening day grand slam club: Scott Rolen in 2006 and Yadier Molina in 2010.

Check out the box score here:



Sunday, March 30, 2014

March 30, 1948, Murry Dickson Tosses A Spring Training No-No

     On March 30, 1948, righthander Murry Dickson led the way in a 7-0 Cardinals victory over the New York Yankees by not allowing a single hit in the Spring Training contest. All the Cardinals runs came in the first inning off of Bill Bevens. The main highlights of that first frame was a three-run home run by Stan The Man Musial, then later in the inning Red Schoendienst knocked in three more with a bases clearing double. With all the run support that he would need, the 30-year-old Dickson locked in on the Yankees hitters and mowed them down one after another. When it was all said and done the pitcher who had posted a 13-16 record the season before had walked five men, hit one, and struck out six. The Yankees lone threat at getting a hit came off the bat of Joe DiMaggio who hit a screaming line drive right at shortstop Tommy Glaviano who made the key defensive play in preserving the Spring Training no-no.

     According to an article that was printed in the Southeast Missourian this was just the second no-hitter ever thrown in a Spring Training contest, although, the same article did mention that the records were sketchy. However, it was most definitely the first Spring Training no-no that had been tossed since Cy Blanton hurled one for the Pirates in April of '39.

     Dickson's career with the Birds was a bit of a rocky road. He obviously had the talent to succeed at the major league level. The Redbirds manager Eddie Dyer called him the Thomas Edison of pitching as he was an inventor of pitches who could throw just about anything. He posted winning records in '42 and '43 out of the bullpen. Dickson played on a bigger team in '44 and '45 after being drafted into the United States Army.

     When he returned in '46, Dickson joined the Redbirds rotation after Max Lanier and Fred Martin defected to the Mexican League. Dickson made the most of his opportunity by posting a 15-6 record for the pennant winning Cardinals. In the seventh and deciding game of the '46 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, Dickson held onto a 3-1 lead into the eighth. After putting the tying runs on board, Dickson handed the ball to Harry Breechen who finished the job and brought the Cardinals their sixth World Series title. Dickson was not able to post a winning record for the club over the next two years. After going 13-16 in '47, expectations were elevated for the hurler who had no-hit the Yankees in Spring Training. However, he posted a 12-16 record during the regular season.

     The Cardinals parted ways with Dickson following the '48 season. He was sold to the Pittsburgh Pirates in January of '49, by then owner Robert Hannegan. The Cardinals received $125,000 for the pitcher who struggled to post a record that exceeded the .500 mark. Hannegan nearly sold Stan The Man to the Pirates instead. Luckily that was a deal that the trigger wasn't pulled on.

      Dickson went 10-15 in his first year in Pittsburgh. The '51 season saw him post a career high 20 wins while losing 16. Over the next several years, Dickson led the National League in losses. In January of '54 the Pirates traded him to the Philadelphia Phillies where he continued to fall short of the .500 mark. In May of '56 the Phillies sent him back to St. Louis. At the age of 39, Dickson posted a 13-8 record for the Birds during the '56 season. He suffered the first sore arm of his career in '57 and the Cardinals released him.

     At the age of 40 many might have thought his career was over, but he had a few more years left in the tank. He signed with the Kansas City A's following his release by the Redbirds in 1958. After posting a 9-5 record in K.C. the Yankees made a deal with the Athletics to bring the pitcher to New York as they made a run toward a pennant. AS a member of the Yankees, Dickson won the second World Series title of his career. After that season he returned to the Athletics where he capped off his career.

     Over the course of 18 years in the big leagues, Dickson posted a 172-181 record. He posted a 72-54 record in a Cardinals uniform and was a key cog in helping bring the team the title in '46. I think it would be safe to say the World Series titles were the greatest highlights of his career. However, the day he shut down the Yankees lineup in '48 had to be high on the list as well.

You can look over Dickson's career numbers here:

Sunday, March 23, 2014

March 23: 1938: Landis Deals A Heavy Blow To The Cardinals Farm Systems

     On March 23, 1938, the commissioner of baseball, Kenesaw Mountain Landis declared 91 of the players in the Cardinals minor league system free agents. With Branch Rickey leading the way, the Cardinals were the pioneers in minor league development. This began in 1919, and turned the Cardinals into one of the most competitive teams in all of baseball. The commissioner's opinion about the farm system was that it would destroy minor league baseball, and he sought to bring it to an end. (The picture was published in The Evening Independent out of St. Petersburg, Florida two days before the ruling was made)

     The issues with the commissioner began long before this day in 1938. Landis had a low opinion of Rickey, and we already know how he felt about the farm system. The pot began to boil in the mid 20's. Being the team that introduced the farms system to Major League Baseball, the Cardinals were ahead of the curve. By the end of the 20's every team had a minor league team, the Cardinals had several. In the eyes of Landis a team should be restricted to one minor league team and that was it. Keep in mind this was a different era in baseball, and he did have valid points to be made. 

     At the annual banquet of the National Association of Professional Baseball Leagues held in Chattanooga, Tennessee in 1929, the commissioner denounced the system. During his speech at that banquet Landis said "Already the seeds of disintegration have sprung into life." Landis saw that both the major league owners and the men who owned the minor league clubs were spreading themselves thin. Those who had multiple farm systems could bury players to where they would never get a shot at the big leagues. He had owners as well as many minor league ballplayers on his side. At the end of that banquet Landis said "I will keep hammering at this thing until something is done about it." 

     There was a key figure missing from that banquet and his name was Branch Rickey. In fact, there was no one there who represented the St. Louis Cardinals who Landis had seemed to have formed an agenda against. Throughout the next ten years, Landis proposed several ideas in an effort to revamp the minor league system altogether. One proposal had a player eligible for a draft after four years in an organization. This would at least give the player a chance to make a major league club rather than toil away in the minors It was a battle that Landis fought diligently, but just could not win. 

     By the Spring of '38, Landis had found the information that he had been looking for. He had launched a full-scale investigation into the Cardinals minor league system. In the years that led up to the investigation the organization had entered into an agreement with a minor league club out of Cedar Rapids, Iowa, but they failed to tell the commissioner about this agreement. Over a three year period players in the Cardinals system were shuffled through Cedar Rapids who then shuffled them through other leagues while still under control of the Cardinals. Once it came to the attention of the commissioner he finally possessed the ammunition he needed to deal a heavy blow to Rickey and company. 

     Rickey denied any wrongdoing. He acknowledged the organization stocked the Cedar Rapids organization, but claimed that the players could be signed by any other club if they so desired. Landis wasn't buying what Rickey was selling and the decision was made the 91 players would hit the open market. The ruling did not have the desired effect that Landis had in mind. He thought it would cripple the Cardinals, however, the club won more games than any other team throughout the 1940's. 

     Of the 91 players who hit the open market, only second baseman Skeeter Webb and outfielder Pete Reiser made it to the majors. Webb bounced around for  12 years at the major league level. In two of those years he started more than 100 games, but spent most of his career as a utility man with very limited playing time. On the other hand, Reiser, a native St. Louisan was signed by the Dodgers. While wearing Dodger blue, Reiser was selected to the All Star game three times and helped them win the National League pennant in 1941 as they beat out the Cardinals by 2 1/2 games. Unfortunately for Reiser he injured himself the next year in game against the Cardinals in St. Louis when he ran into the wall at Sportsman's Park trying to field a ball that turned out to be a game winning inside the park homerun for Enos Slaughter. After that injury his career went into decline. 

     Landis continued his battle against the farm systems following the ruling against the Cardinals. On January 15th of 1940, the commissioner dropped a bomb on the Detroit Tigers organization by freeing 92 of their minor leaguers for infractions against baseball policy. If Landis continued  on the same path it was estimated that at least 10 different minor league teams would fold. A month after the ruling against the Tigers the commissioner met with 5 owners and reached a mutual agreement when it came to the minor league systems. It was a long war between the commissioner and the owners. While Landis had some of them on his side it was not enough to make the changes that he believed should happen. The owner of the Cardinals, Sam Breadon attended that meeting and for the first time in more than two years the owner and the commish were refraining from throwing verbal punches at each other through the media. It had been a long battle. In the end the Cardinals won the war. 

Monday, March 17, 2014

March 17, 1969: The Cards Swap Orlando Cepeda For Joe Torre

     On March 17, 1969, Bing Devine engineered a deal that sent first baseman Orlando Cepeda to the Atlanta  Braves in exchange for catcher/third baseman Joe Torre. The trade was not well received in St. Louis. Cepeda took home the league's MVP award in '67. That same year he helped bring another World Series title to the organization, and the next year he would help them win another pennant. While the Cardinals did win the National League pennant in '68, Cepeda's batting average sank to .248, at 31 years of age he was reaching a turning point in his career which had a downhill slope on the other side. On the other hand, Torre was 28-years-old at the time and was just beginning to peak. The trade turned out to be a great deal for the Birds as Torre spent the next six seasons in St. Louis, batting .308 with 96 homers. Torre's greatest achievement while wearing the birds on the bat came in 1971, when he took home the league's MVP award.

     The wheels were in motion to move Torre out of the Braves several months before the deal was made. Torre had been in a verbal feud with the vice president of the Braves organization Paul Richards since the early part of that year. As an active member of the players association, Torre was fighting to improve the players pension plan. As you could imagine this did not go over well with those who had the money he was trying to help spend. As the feud escalated Torre refused to sign his contract with the Braves. He was demanding more money as well as an apology from Richards. They were at a point of irreconcilable differences, as Richards was quoted as to saying "Torre could hold out to Thanksgiving." The Braves organization engaged in trade talks with the New York Mets for several months before realizing that they would not be able to get a deal done. Then came a conversation with Bing Devine. Four hours later, Torre was headed to St. Louis.

     The initial plan for Torre was for him to man first base, as well as back up catcher Tim McCarver. His versatility made him a valuable commodity, as the team had a prospect by the name of Joe Hague who they had hoped to give a legitimate shot with the big club. Hague did not live up to expectations, however, Torre did. His first year with the Birds he stood at first base during 144 games and just 17 games behind the dish. In 1970 he split catching duties with an up and coming catcher by the name of Ted Simmons. When he wasn't catching, he was holding down third base. Torre was great mentor for the kid who would catch games for the Cardinals until the end of the 1980 season. With the emergence of Simmons, Torre moved over to third base permanently. He was taking over for Mike Shannon, who had been diagnosed with a kidney disease, which led to his playing days coming to an end. The 1970 season had been a career year for Torre at the plate, as he knocked in 100 runs while batting .325. The MVP year in '71 was one for the ages.

     During that MVP campaign Torre belted out a .363 average, with 230 hits, and 137 RBI's. 24 of those 230 hits were home runs, and another 34 of them were doubles. The season began with a 22 game hitting streak, and by the time the All Star break rolled around Torre was selected as the starting third baseman for the National League squad. At that point he already had 118 hits and 60 ribbies. He was playing like a man on fire and no one could extinguish his flames. He never went more than 10 consecutive at-bats without a hit as he forged a legendary season. When Torre was named the league's MVP, he was the tenth Cardinal to receive the honor and he was the first National League third baseman to win the award in 59 years. Torre never did get to experience winning a World Series in St. Louis, however, he was one of the most productive men in the league while he wore the Cardinals uniform. He helped the club finish in second place in '73 and '74 and even hit for the cycle with those birds on the bat across his chest.

     This generation might remember Joe Torre as the skipper of the club before Tony LaRussa arrived on the scene. What they might not know is that when he stepped on the diamond as a player he was an offensive force who gave Cardinals fans a reason to cheer on many summer days throughout the early seventies. In 1974, Kenny Reitz was the heir apparent at third, and with Torre now 34-years-old the club decided to move him to the New York Mets. Coincidentally, they got Tommy Moore and Ray Sadecki in return. Sadecki had been a part of the deal that brought Cepeda to the Cardinals in 1966. By the time the Cardinals dealt Torre in '74, Cepeda's playing days had come to an end. It's safe to say the deal worked out in St. Louis.

Friday, March 14, 2014

March 14, 1899: SOLD!!! The St. Louis Browns Hit The Auction Block

     On March 14, 1899, the club that would become known as the Cardinals were auctioned off at the Old Courthouse in downtown St. Louis. The club, then known as the Browns had been owned by Chris Von der Ahe who had been losing money for many years. The winning bidder was a longtime St. Louis lumber dealer by the name of G.A. Gruner who purchased the club for $33,000. By today's standards that would be nearly $900,000. Three days after winning the auction, Gruner sold the club to Edward C. Becker, a prominent St. Louis attorney who was working for  Frank and Stanley Robison who owned the Cleveland Spiders and would take ownership of the team in St. Louis. The Robison brothers changed the team's name to the Perfectos. Along with the name change the two brothers decided to change the uniforms as well, as they had decided a red with white trim was a good look for the club. After hearing a woman remark that the new uniforms were a lovely shade of cardinal, a new nickname was born for that ballclub who called St. Louis home. (The cartoon was printed in the Sporting News on March 18, 1899)

     At the time of the purchase there were no rules against owning more than one team. The Robison brothers had built a pretty decent club in Cleveland. Throughout the 1890's, the Spiders were always considered a contender, although, they never did win a pennant. Despite being a contender the Spiders didn't draw the crowds needed to support the club. The Browns in St. Louis were far from contenders, yet they outdrew the Spiders in every season from 1892 to 1898. When the Robison's took control in St. Louis they brought eight players from the Spiders with them. This included Hall of Famers: Cy Young, Jesse Burkett, and Bobby Wallace. The revamped club in St. Louis went from bottom dwellers who had posted a 39-111 in 1898 to 84-67 in 1899. Meanwhile, the Spiders had the worst season in baseball history as they watched their best players shift to St. Louis. They had posted an 81-68 record in 1898, then in 1899 they only won 20 games while losing 134. Most of the fans in Cleveland refused to watch the club play, because of that they played 112 of  their 154 games on the road. This spelled the end for Cleveland organization who disbanded in 1900.

     Von der Ahe, who was once estimated to be worth more than $1 million had lived well beyond his means. After his days as an owner of a Major League ballclub he worked as a bartender. Von der Ahe had a drinking problem that caused him many problems. He went bankrupt in 1908. The Cardinals and the newly christened American League St. Louis Browns played a benefit game to help him out. They raised $5,000 for the former owner who lived a few more years before passing away in 1913.