Sunday, May 19, 2013

May 19- St. Louis Cardinals

The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most storied franchises in Major League history, and with that there also came a lot of players who temporarily hung up their cleats to enlist in the armed services to fight for their country. The franchise itself has been around since 1882; however, the Cardinals name became a staple at the start of the 1900 season. They’ve won 11 World Series titles, the most in the National League and the second-most in MLB history. The Cards also have 16 players enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame, the third-most by any team in MLB. But it’s the fours guys down below that truly stand out amongst the pack.

One of the more interesting things, in my opinion at least, I found during my research lies heavily on the name of the stadium in which the Cardinals reside. The current incarnation of Busch Stadium is the third baseball park to carry that name; however, the second stadium had a much more appropriate name. From 1966 through 2005 Busch II was called Busch Memorial Stadium. After World War II most newly built and opened stadiums carried the “Memorial” moniker in tribute to the men who perished in World War I and II. Obviously it’s not mandatory for teams to do this, but I find it a little odd that in these modern times of showing support for the troops it’s become a bit of a dying tribute.

This season the Cardinals are allowing fans to pay tribute to their friends, family or pretty much anybody who has served, or is currently serving in the armed forces. Fans are encouraged to send in messages to the Cardinals on the team’s Web site which will be shown during the fifth inning on the ribbon of screen that revolve around the circumference of the stadium during every home game.

Since 1971 the Cardinals have gone 21-18 on Memorial Day; they split one doubleheader against the Ney York Mets in 1978 and only missed playing on four of those days due to travel days. As far as any Memorial Day patterns outside of the protest fiasco against the Florida Marlins in 1999, the Cardinals have consistently played against three teams: Atlanta Braves, Houston Astros and Colorado Rockies. The Cardinals’ record against the Braves is a modest 3-2, their last win coming in 2012… but the first four matchups coming from 1971-1987. For the Rockies the Cardinals are 2-4 against them, which included three straight losses from 1996-1998. And last, the Astros in which the Cardinals have gone 3-4; all four losses came 1986-1990 as in ’87 they lost to the Braves.

#2- This one starts with an interesting tale of how scumbaggish the Cardinals were back in the day. Red Schoendienst made his Major League debut on April 17, 1945 and the jersey he was given in the locker room was #6. For those who aren’t savvy on the Cardinals, #6 belongs to Stan Musial. Now, Musial had been playing ball since 1940, but took one year off after being drafted into the Navy during World War II. That year, 1945. In most cases this wouldn’t be a big deal; however, Musial had all read won the National League MVP in 1943, now he was fighting for his country. No one thought there would be anything wrong with giving Schoendienst Musial’s number. Wow! With the war over and Musial back in the lineup, Schoendienst gave up #6 and switched to #2 in 1946.

Now I have to go back in bring everything up to speed, kind of like the movie Memento.
At the age of 16, Schoendienst quit school to join the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) where he continued to play baseball at Greenville, Illinois. While building fences with the CCC a nail hit him in the eye. He was driven to the Marine hospital in St Louis, where he pleaded with doctors not to remove the badly damaged eye. Schoendienst had limited vision in his eye when he returned to the CCC. Once the United States entered WWII the CCC was disbanded and he took a job as a supply clerk at Scott Field in Belleville, where he continued to play baseball.

In 1942, he hitchhiked to a Cardinals’ tryout camp in St Louis and signed with the team. He joined Union City in the Kitty League for $75 a month and when that league disbanded he was sent to Albany in the Georgia-Florida League. In 1943 he played at Lynchburg and got off to a great start. He was batting .472 when he was sent to Rochester of the International League where he hit .337. Despite his eye injury, Schoendienst was expecting to be called for military service. He started the 1944 season with Rochester and was batting .373 after 25 games when the call to arms came. Schoendienst reported to Camp Blanding in Florida in May 1944. “Joining the Army was not something I was real excited about,” he explained in his autobiography Red: A Baseball Life, “but I knew I didn’t have any choice. Training for the infantry, we were exposed to just about every situation you can imagine – how to wire for mines, how to blow up bridges, how to set booby traps and dig up mines.”

He was later transferred to Pine Camp, New York – a prisoner of war camp for Italian prisoners. “One of our jobs was to build ballfields so we could keep the prisoners entertained and give them something to do. We also put together a camp team. We played on weekends, traveling to some of the nearby Army bases.” During one of the Pine Camp games, Schoendienst suffered a shoulder injury. It was diagnosed as a shallow shoulder socket and would continue to pop out on occasions. A combination of the shoulder injury and eye injury led to Schoendienst’s medical discharge in January 1945. He went home to rest briefly before joining the Cardinals at the Cairo, Illinois spring training camp in 1945. The guy is pretty much indestructible.

Schoendienst’s career lasted from 1945-1963. He made 10 All-Star Game appearances and finished in the Top-five for the NL MVP twice in 1953 and 1957. He hit .289 lifetime along with 2,449 hits. In 1965 Schoendienst took the helm of the Cardinals and managed them from then until 1976, as well as two more one-year stints in 1980 and 1990. He went 1041-955 and won two NL pennants in 1967 and 1968, winning the whole enchilada in 1967. He was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1989 by the Veteran’s Committee despite never receiving more than 42 percent of the vote from the National Baseball Writers Association of America.

#9- Another teammate of the great Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter has arguably one of the most badass names in the history of mankind. Slaughter signed with the Cardinals back in 1935 and didn’t make his MLB debut until April 19, 1938. A left-handed batter who threw with his right hand, Slaughter hit .300 for his career with 2,383 base-knocks, 148 triples, 169 home runs and 1,304 RBI in 19 seasons. Slaughter’s best season came in 1942 when he finished in second place for the NL MVP after going .318/13/98 with a league-leading 17 triples and league-leading 188 hits. The cool thing about ’42 is that Slaughter had enlisted with the Army Air Force earlier that year, but his deployment date to boot camp was postponed due to the fact that he was playing in the World Series. The 1942 World Series against the New York Yankees was the first to be broadcast live to American troops overseas. After the fourth game, Slaughter was asked to speak to the troops by radio. “Hi fellows,” he told them. “We played a great game today and we won. And we are going to finish this thing tomorrow. Then I’m going to report for duty in the Army Air Corps and join you.”

The Cardinals did indeed wrap up the World Series the following day with Slaughter contributing a home run in the fourth inning. He was then assigned to the San Antonio Aviation Cadet Center (SAACC) for what he hoped would be flight school. “I wanted to be a pilot,” he told author Frederick Turner, “but they said I was color blind. They wanted me to be a bombardier, but I said if I couldn’t be the one flying the plane, I’d just as soon not be flying. So, I became a physical education instructor in charge of about 200 troops.”

Slaughter was assigned to the 509th Base Headquarters Squadron at SAACC, where he led the base team in hitting with a .498 average in 75 games during 1943. On August 26, 1943, he was involved in a war bonds game that raised $800 million dollars in war bond pledges. Held at the Polo Grounds in front of 38,000 fans, the three New York teams combined as the War Bond All-Stars against an Army all-star line-up that featured Slaughter, Hank Greenberg and Sid Hudson. The War Bond All-Stars won 5 to 2.

Slaughter was based at Camp Kearns, near Salt Lake City, Utah in March 1945, and was told that if he would go with other players to the South Pacific he would be guaranteed a quick discharge when the war ended. He accepted the deal and was part of a contingent of 94 ballplayers that arrived in Hawaii in June 1945. Representing the 58th Wing, along with teammates Bobby Adams, Joe Gordon, Birdie Tebbetts and Howie Pollet, the ballplayers island-hopped towards Japan following American forces. On Tinian, the Seabees bulldozed out a ballfield on top of a coral reef and made bleacher seats out of bomb crates. Exhibition games were also staged at Saipan, Guam and Iwo Jima with an estimated 180,000 soldiers getting the chance to witness major league baseball players in action. Twenty-seven games were played on the tour and Slaughter batted .342 with five home runs and 15 RBIs. The tour concluded in October and the players returned to the United States in early November. Slaughter received his military discharge on March 1, 1946 and returned to the Cardinals to lead the National League with 130 RBI and guided the Cardinals to a World Series win over the Boston Red Sox.

Like Schoendienst, Slaughter was not voted into the Hall of Fame by the BBWAA, but did get in based on the vote of the Veteran’s Committee in 1985.

BR- Most people know about Branch Rickey the general manager, but very few people remember that he was a player for four years and a field manager for 10 years. The majority of his managerial career came with the Cardinals from 1919-1925. He certainly wasn’t the greatest of managers, going 458-485 with the Cardinals. Rickey was replaced by Rogers Hornsby in 1926 who went on to lead the Cardinals to a World Series victory that season.

Rickey served as the Cardinals GM from 1925-1942 and had been the GM for the St. Louis Browns prior to that in 1914. What’s most interesting about this position is that it technically never existed prior to Rickey. The title he was originally serving under was business manager; however, Rickey’s innovations in the game by investing in the Minor Leagues paid off big time. See, prior to Rickey “pilfering” the Minor Leagues this was an uncommon, if not unheard of practice. In essence, Rickey’s methods pioneered the modern far system. Then commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis had a huge problem with this by the time 1930s were ending as the Gashouse Gang that Rickey had assembled had been one of the most dominant teams in the game. Rickey didn’t budge. Instead, other teams started their own farm league system. A few notable signing by Rickey: George Sisler, Dizzy Dean, Daffy Dean, Enos Slaughter and Stan Musial.

Rickey’s time in the military came during World War I as a commissioned officer in the U.S. Army in France. He commanded a chemical training unit that included Ty Cobb and Christy Mathewson. Rickey served in the 1st Gas Regiment during the war, and spent over four months as a member of the Chemical Warfare Service.

#6- I don’t normally mark number on the opposite side of my hat, but it wouldn’t have felt right to leave Musial out. I’ve all ready written about him at great length on May 1st. So, I’ll leave it with that.

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