By Glen Sparks
Jack Faszholz enjoyed just a simple cup of coffee, as the expression goes, in the major leagues. He pitched in four games and 11 2/3 innings for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1953. The right-hander started one game and relieved in three others.
His entire professional baseball career, though, lasted from 1944 through 1956. Faszholz spent much of that time with the Rochester Red Wings of the International League. He won 80 games as a Red Wing, more than anyone before or since. All told, Faszholz won 128 professional games, all in the minors. He went 0-0 with a 6.94 during his short tenure with the Cardinals. He did, however, strike out a young Mickey Mantle during spring training in 1955.
Born April 11, 1927, in St. Louis, Faszholz primarily grew up in Seattle and Berkeley, Calif. He starred on the local sandlots and was signed by the Boston Red Sox as a high school junior in 1944. The Cardinals drafted him in 1949.
During the offseason, Faszholz attended classes at the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod seminary in St. Louis. Not surprisingly, writers and teammates began calling him the Preacher. Fellow players also learned of Faszholz’ religious studies. With that in mind, here is an excerpt from my bio on Faszholz, recently published by the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR):
His fastball was rarely blazing. “I think some people surmised that I was getting some help from above,” he says. Red Wings manager Harry “The Hat” Walker, maybe with a sense of superstition, liked to pitch Faszholz on the Sabbath. He reasoned, Faszholz said, “You can’t beat the Preacher on Sundays.”
The Montreal Royals, Brooklyn’s top farm team, couldn’t defeat Faszholz on Sunday or almost any other day in 1954. Faszholz said he prevailed against the Royals five or six times that season. He recalled one particular at-bat that thoroughly frustrated International League slugger Glenn “Rocky” Nelson.
The left-handed hitter walked to the plate late in one game with Montreal trailing. Faszholz got behind in the count and didn’t want to surrender a walk. He grooved a pitch to Nelson, who hit a sharp liner to Red Wings first baseman Tom Alston. The hot shot ricocheted off the top of Alston’s glove and right into the glove of second baseman Lou Ortiz for an out. Moments later, Faszholz heard a ruckus coming from the Montreal dugout. Bats were flying, profanity filled the air. Suddenly, Nelson yelled out toward Faszholz, “You’re sure making a believer out of me.”
Following his retirement as a player, Faszholz and his family moved to St. Louis. Jack served several years as baseball coach and athletic director at Lutheran South High School. Later, he worked in similar roles at Concordia University Texas in Austin. Now 89 years old, Faszholz remains a faithful member of Salem Lutheran Church in Affton. He still follows the game he loves and still enjoys taking about those great games from days gone by. Just ask him about the time he fanned Jimmie Foxx.
You can read my entire bio of Faszholz by clicking here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/53250da7
By Glen Sparks
Any discussion of Bob Gibson’s great and glorious 1968 season gets around to this one inevitable question: How did the St. Louis Cardinals ace ever lose nine games that year?
Well, as they say, it wasn’t easy. The 32-year-old right-hander pitched 304.2 innings in ’68 and gave up just 38 earned runs. That equated to a remarkable 1.12 ERA, the lowest figure in the live-ball era. He posted a WAR of 11.3, higher than Sandy Koufax (10.7 in 1963), Juan Marichal (10.3 in 1965) or Don Drysdale (8.0 in 1964) ever put up over one campaign.
Gibson compiled a 22-9 won-loss record in ‘68. How is it that he, in his 10th year in the majors, did not win 25 or 30 games? Denny McLain, after all, went 31-6 for the Detroit Tigers in 1968. He posted an ERA of 1.96, an impressive mark but one nearly double Gibson’s number.
This post offers a review of Gibson’s season in the fabled Year of the Pitcher (Drysdale set a record, since broken, with his 58 2/3-inning scoreless streak, Carl Yastrzemski led the American League with a .301 batting average, Luis Tiant topped the A.L. with a 1.60 ERA, etc.) and takes a close look at the Redbird hurler’s nine defeats.
The 6-foot-1-inch right-hander began the season with two no-decisions, one at home and one on the road, both against the Atlanta Braves. He shut out Atlanta over seven innings in the first game and gave up three earned runs in the second.
“Hoot” Gibson as some called the Cardinals pitcher, after the old movie cowboy star, started against Ferguson Jenkins. Billy Williams smacked a two-run home run in the first inning to give Chicago an early lead. Gibson gave up two more runs, both unearned, in the fifth, following an error by St. Louis second baseman Julian Javier. Chicago added a run in the eighth on a Lou Johnson RBI double.
The Cardinals finally scored when Curt Flood ripped a solo homer in the ninth inning off Jenkins. Both starting pitchers hurled complete games as Chicago won 5-1. The five runs would tie for the most that Gibson would give up in any one game in 1968. His ERA stood at 2.35, the highest it would be following any contest all season and the only time it would be above 2.00 at the end of the day. His won-loss record was 0-1.
Gibson won three straight decisions following that loss to Chicago. He beat the Pittsburgh Pirates at home, the Houston Astros on the road and the New York Mets in St. Louis. He threw a total of 32 innings in those three wins (Yes, nine innings, 12 innings and 11 innings), surrendered just 17 hits and allowed only one run in each game.
Gibson faced the Houston Astros and Larry Dierker, a 21-year-old right-hander from southern California. Dierker went nine innings in this one and gave up two runs, just one of them earned. Gibson pitched eight innings and allowed three runs, two of them earned. Gibby struck out 10 and gave up 11 hits, one of just four times he’d surrender at least 10 hits. His ERA was now 1.43. His won-loss record dipped to 3-2.
Gibson battled the Phillies’ Woodie Fryman, a third-year left-hander, in this match-up. Neither pitcher gave up a run through nine innings. Fryman shut down the Cards in the 10th, while the Phillies pushed across a run in the bottom of that frame to win 1-0.
Fryman singled to open the 10th and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt Tony Gonzalez. With two outs, former Cardinal Bill White singled to centerfield; Fryman sprinted home. Gibson gave up seven hits and four walks in 9.2 innings. He lowered his ERA to 1.36 and dropped to 3-3.
Not surprisingly, Gibson found himself in the middle of several pitching duels in 1968. In this one, he faced the Los Angeles Dodgers’ Don Drysdale. Two hard-throwing right-handers with big fastballs and nasty reputations for throwing inside would be squaring off against one another. Gibson gave up just one run over his eight innings. L.A. first baseman Wes Parker drilled an RBI double to score Paul Popovich, who had walked, in the third inning. The Dodgers added a second run in the ninth, off Cardinals reliever Joe Hoerner.
Drysdale, though, tossed a shutout in front of a paltry crowd of just 9,560. He gave up five hits, struck out eight and didn’t walk anyone. Gibson, in addition to the one run, walked two and fanned six. (Just for the record, neither pitcher hit a batter.) He gave up just the lone hit, to Parker. Gibson won-loss record was now 3-4 (The Cardinals were 21-16 at this point.) and his ERA was 1.34.
This time, Gibson got to face Gaylord Perry. The Cardinals put a run across in the first inning when Lou Brock scored on a fielder’s choice with Roger Maris at bat. Perry, famous for tossing spitballs (real and imagined), shut out St. Louis the rest of the way.
Gibby gave up a solo home run to Dick Dietz in the sixth inning and a two-run homer to Willie Mays in the seventh. His ERA rose to 1.52, and his won-loss record dipped to 3-5. The great Bob Gibson was fighting a four-game losing streak. In those four games, he pitched 33.2 innings, gave up just 23 hits, struck out 34 and walked 12. His ERA over that span? 1.90.
Gibson pitched a good, not great, game against the New York Mets on June 2 at Shea Stadium. The Redbird muscled up and scored six runs; Gibson allowed three in a complete-game effort. He ended his own losing streak, upped his record to 4-5 and raised his ERA to 1.66. Hoot’s incredible run for the ages began with his next start, June 6 against the Astros in Houston. He shut out the ‘Stros on a three hitter.
Between June 6 and July 30, Gibson made 11 starts and went 11-0. He completed every game and tossed eight shutouts. In the other three games, he gave up one run to each team. No one had a chance. Opponents hit .163 against him and slugged .190. Gibby struck out 83 in 99 innings of work and gave up only 56 hits. He hurled five straight shutouts at one point, from June 6 to June 26. The man with the crackling fastball and the devastating slider was on fire. His ERA on July 30 was 0.96.
The 2016 documentary Fastball goes into details about baseball’s most fearsome pitch. Gibson merits his own section in the film. He talked about his great 1968 season.
“I was in a zone that entire year,” he said. “I had complete control over the game. I felt like I could throw it wherever I wanted.”
He also added, “I lost nine games … I would sit by myself on the bench. No one would get near me. I was (angry). Get me a run!”
Following a mild hiccup that turned into a no-decision—he gave up five runs (four earned) and 12 hits, but in 11 innings on a sweltering day at Busch Stadium against the Cubs on Aug. 4 before giving way to the bullpen—Gibson continued along on his epic roll. He beat the Braves, Cubs and Phillies on the road, throwing three complete games and two shutouts. His record following the Aug. 19 game in Philadelphia stood at 18-5. His ERA was exactly 1.00.
This one looked like it might be a fairly easy win for Gibson. Yes, the Pittsburgh line-up boasted Willie Stargell, Roberto Clemente and Matty Alou. But Gibby was facing Bob Moose, a 20-year-old pitcher in his first full season in the big leagues. And, St. Louis led 4-0 after four innings.
But then Stargell slammed a solo homer in the top of the seventh, and Alou hit a sacrifice fly in the eighth inning to score Freddy Patek. Suddenly, the Cards led just 4-2. But, Gibson was pitching, right? No problem.
Stargell led off the ninth for the Bucs with a double. Donn Clendenon reached base on a Dal Maxvil error, which scored pinch-runner Gary Kolb to make the game 4-3.
Gibson struck out a season high 15 batters. His record slipped to 18-6. His ERA was a masterful 1.07.
Gibson got his revenge against the Bucs just four days later. He hurled a four hit shutout at Forbes Field to go to 19-6 with a 1.03 ERA. This time, he fanned 14.
On Sept. 2, Gibby notched his 20th victory the hard way. He went 10 innings to beat the Cincinnati Reds 1-0 at Crosley Field. Gibson gave up four hits, walked three and struck out eight. Baseball’s top pitcher went to 20-6. His ERA on Sept. 2 dipped to 0.99.
Bobby Bolin, a young veteran having an excellent season (He would finish the year 10-5 with a 1.99 ERA.), matched up against Gibson in the first game of a doubleheader.
The Cards scored first, on an RBI single from Curt Flood in the bottom of the third. The Giants came back with two runs in the top of the fourth, on an RBI single from Jesus Alou (Matty’s brother) and an RBI double from Jack Hiatt. A Maxvil error led to one of the runs.
Hal Lanier added a run-scoring single for San Francisco in the sixth inning to make the score 3-1. St. Louis managed one run in the eighth, and the game ended with a score of 3-2. Gibson pitched eight innings and gave up nine hits and two earned runs. He struck out seven and didn’t walk a batter. His record was now 20-7 with an ERA of 1.03.
The Dodgers came to Busch Stadium on Sept. 11 with Mike Kekich going up against Gibson. This was not one of Hoot’s best games. He went nine innings, allowing 11 hits and four earned runs. Kekich, though, gave up three runs in just 1.2 innings, and reliever Jim “Mudcat” Grant surrendered two in 6.1 innings. The Redbirds won 5-4, and Gibson’s record was 21-7. His ERA was 1.13.
Once again, Gibson locked up with the Giants’ Perry. Once again, Perry won this duel. Each pitcher threw a complete game. Ron Hunt smacked a home run in the bottom of the first inning, and it held up. The Giants won 1-0. Perry hurled a no-hitter, the only one of his career. Gibson allowed the one run and four hits. He walked two and struck out 10. He lowered his record to 21-8. His ERA was still 1.13.
Talented right-hander Don Sutton hooked with Gibson in this late-season game. Neither pitcher allowed a run through the first five innings on this Sunday afternoon. The Dodgers finally broke out on top with a Popovich RBI single in the sixth. Willie Crawford’s solo home run in the seventh inning made it 2-0 Los Angeles.
The Cardinals tied the game 2-2 in the eighth thanks to run-scoring hits by Brock and Bobby Tolan. The Dodgers went ahead for good in the bottom of the eighth. Billy Sudakis opened the inning with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt from Wes Parker. Sudakis scored following a Popovich flyball and error by St. Louis right-fielder Joe Hague. Gibson gave up three runs, two of them earned. He walked five and struck out 11 in his eight innings of work. He was 21-9 with a 1.16 ERA.
Gibson’s season ended with one final masterpiece. He beat Dierker and the Astros 1-0 on Friday, Sept. 27, at Busch Stadium, in front of 18,658 fans. Hoot gave up six hits, no walks and struck out 11 in his 13th shutout of the season, the single-season record in the live-ball era. He raised his record to 22-9 and lowered his ERA to 1.12. It was final start of 1968.
It really was an amazing season. Gibson threw a complete game in every one of his 22 wins. In those games, he posted a microscopic 0.57 ERA. In his nine losses, his ERA went up to 2.14. (That mark alone would have been good for sixth in the National League in 1968). His ERA at night was 1.59. In the daytime, it was 0.95. He pitched five games on three days’ rest and threw four shutouts. He finished in double figures in strikeouts 11 times and with one or fewer walks 15 times. Opponents hit just .184 against him the entire season with a slugging percentage of .233.
The Cardinals finished the year 97-65, nine games in front of the second-place Giants, and faced the Detroit Tigers in the World Series. Gibson’s big run continued into the postseason. The Tigers knocked off the Cardinals in seven games. Gibson won two games and lost one. He had an ERA of 1.67. In Game One, he set a World Series record with 17 strikeouts and beat McLain 1-0. He defeated McLain again in Game 4, 10-1, and lost to Mickey Lolich, 4-1, in Game 7.
Postseason, Gibson won the N.L. Cy Young award, the MVP and even the Gold Glove for his fielding excellence.
Over a 17-year career, all it spent with the Cardinals, Gibson won 251 games with a 2.91 ERA. He won at least 20 games five times and won a second Cy Young award in 1970. He struck out 3,117 batters and tossed 56 shutouts. In his nine postseason starts (all in the World Series), Gibson went 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. He won Game 7 match-ups in 1964 and 1967. The first-ballot Hall of Famer went into Cooperstown in 1981.
Chicago Cubs great Ernie Banks said this about Gibson in Fastball: “He was such a great competitor. … He wanted it more than the hitter wanted to hit him.”
By Glen Sparks
New York Mets starter Jerry Koosman fired the first pitch to St. Louis Cardinals lead-off batter Lou Brock at 8:11 p.m. Eastern Time on Wednesday, Sept. 11, 1974, at Shea Stadium in Flushing, N.Y.
Seven hours and four minutes later, at 3:15 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 12, Redbird reliever Sonny Siebert struck out the Mets’ Jon Milner to end this 25-inning marathon.
The Cards knocked off the Mets 4-3. Only one National League game has ever lasted more innings than this one. The Brooklyn Dodgers and Boston Braves played to a 1-1 tie over 26 innings on May 1, 1920, at Braves Field. (In the American League, the Chicago White Sox and Milwaukee Brewers endured a 26-inning battle on May 8-9, 1984, at Chicago’s Comiskey Park.)
The Cards-Mets contest ended not on a dramatic home run blasted deep into the New York night, or a ringing double ripped to the wall with a man on second. No, St. Louis speedster Bake McBride, from Fulton, Mo., scored the winning run following a single and two New York errors. Well, it was time to go home, anyway. Though, Cardinals outfielder Reggie Smith warned his teammates: “There’s no way that your wives are going to believe you guys were out playing baseball all night.” Just one more wild night in the Big Apple.
New York sent 103 men to the plate, an all-time record; St. Louis sent 99. The teams compiled 175 at-bats and hit a collective .194. That puny batting average doesn’t tell the entire story, though. The pitchers gave up 19 walks, but they stranded 45 runners, another record.
Each team scored a run in the first inning. The Cardinals’ Joe Torre rapped a single to left-field that brought in Ted Sizemore, who had walked with one out and advanced to second after Koosman also walked Smith. New York tied the game 1-1 following Milner’s RBI double off Cardinals starter Bob Forsch. Cleon Jones, safe on a force out, sprinted home.
Jones, a 32-year-old veteran outfielder, made it 3-1 in the fifth inning. He blasted a two-run homer off Forsch. Ken Reitz added a two-run home run of his own, off Koosman, in the top of the ninth. That round-tripper ended the scoring for the next 15 innings.
St. Louis skipper Red Schoendienst called on six pitchers to provide 19 innings of outstanding relief. Claude Osteen, a veteran lefty near the end of his career, came into the game with one out in the 14th for St. Louis and hurled 9.1 scoreless innings. Mets manager Yogi Berra called on five relief pitchers. Jerry Cram tossed eight innings of shutout baseball.
Sizemore went 1-for-10 for St. Louis, Brock 1-for-9. Both McBride and Reitz enjoyed 4-for-10 games. Among New York hitters, Milan went 4-for-10 and Jones ended up 3-for-9. Light-hitting shortstop Bud Harrelson put up an 0-for-7 goose egg. No one, though, suffered though this epic clash quite like Wayne Garrett did. The infielder failed get a hit in any of his 10 at-bats (He did draw a first-inning walk, though.)
Each team had its chances. The Mets loaded the bases with two outs in the 23rd, for instance. Jones, though, flied out. Both teams loaded the bases in the 24, but could not score.
Berra sent in Webb to pitch the 25th. The New York native was making his first appearance of ’74 and the ninth of his career. McBride led off the final frame with his base hit. Then, he nearly got thrown out. Webb’s pick-off attempt, though, sailed into right field; McBride rushed to second and kept going.
Milner, the New York first baseman, ran to the ball and threw it home as McBride rounded third. Mets catcher Ron Hodges caught the toss, but dropped it before he could apply a tag. And, an estimated 1,000 or so fans out of the original 13,460 watched and groaned. Siebert set the Mets down in order in the bottom of the ninth.
Following the game, the oft-quoted relief pitcher Tug McGraw (who sat this one out in the bullpen) said: “The only thing I regret now is that all the eating places are closed. I’ll have to go home and make myself a baloney sandwich.” New York, it seems, is a city that does indeed sleep.
The Cardinals improved to 75-68 with the victory. They were in second place in the National League East at that point. They’d finished the year in second, at 86-75, 1 ½ games behind the Pittsburgh Pirates. Left-fielder Brock, 35 years old, set a major-league record (since broken) with 118 stolen bases.
The Mets, coming off a National League championship season, fell to 65-75. They were in fourth place in the East and dropped to fifth by season’s end, finishing 71-91. This was the year that two-time Cy Young winner Tom Seaver pitched through an 11-11 (3.20 ERA) off-season at age 29.
Of note, St. Louis and New York played another marathon contest years later, this time at Busch Stadium. The Mets won 3-1 in 18 innings on July 19, 2015. Time of the game: 5 hours, 55 minutes. At least it didn’t go 25.
By Glen Sparks
Brock for Broglio.
Few trades in the game’s history—Delino for Pedro?—have inspired quite as many smiles from one side and groans from the other side as this one still does, more than 50 years later.
On June 15, 1964, the Chicago Cubs sent young outfielder Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals in exchange for pitcher Ernie Broglio. The transaction also involved four other players. No one cares about those guys. The trade is known now and forever as simply “Brock for Broglio.”
The Redbirds won the deal, of course. Brock went on to complete a Hall of Fame career. He retired with 3,023 hits and 938 stolen bases. The left-fielder made six All-Star games and batted .391 in three World Series as a Cardinal.
Broglio, a 21-game winner for St. Louis in 1960 and an 18-game winner in 1963, sputtered to a 7-19 won-loss record in two-plus seasons as a Cub. The right-hander retired following the 1966 campaign. He was just 31 years old.
St. Louis knew all about Brock. The team’s scout liked what they saw of him at Southern University in Baton Rouge, La., according to the book October 1964 by David Halberstam. Cardinals Manager Johnny Keane asked General Manager Bing Devine to look into a deal for the left-handed hitter.
The Cardinals were struggling. They had just lost three games to the Los Angeles Dodgers and had fallen into seventh place with a 28-29 won-loss mark. Devine made a call to Chicago. The Cubs were also struggling. They needed some starting pitching.
Might Ernie Broglio be available, Chicago G.M. John Holland asked. Broglio lost one of the games to L.A. His won-loss record dropped to 3-5 on the season, although he did sport a decent ERA of 3.50 (110 ERA+).
Holland agreed to trade Brock. The speedster was still something of a puzzle to the Cubs. He was only hitting .251 that year for Chicago. More to the point, he had just 10 stolen bases.
Redbird players hated the trade, according to Halberstam’s book. Bob Gibson asked how you could let go of a former 20-game winner. First baseman Bill White and shortstop Dick Groat also criticized the deal. Who was this Lou Brock guy, anyway?
Well, the truth is, Brock wasn’t that much of any unknown commodity. He was in his third full season. In 1963, he knocked 11 triples (third in the National League) and stole 24 bases (sixth in the N.L.). Brock, stronger than his slender appearance might suggest, launched a titanic blast into the center-field bleachers at the Polo Grounds in 1962. Few players had ever done that.
Even so, Chicago sportswriter Bob Smith wrote this after the trade was made: “Thank you, thank you, oh, you lovely St. Louis Cardinals.”
But, Keane gave Brock the green light. Run whenever you want, the skipper said. Over the final 103 games of the season, No. 20 swiped 33 bases and batted .348 for a St. Louis team that quickly began climbing in the standings. Behind Brock, White (21. 102. .303), Ken Boyer (24 HR, 119 RBI, .295 avg.) and the pitching of Gibson (19-12, 3.01 ERA), Ray Sadecki (20-11, 3.68) and Curt Simmons (18-9, 3.43), the Cardinals captured the pennant with a 93-69 mark. They beat the New York Yankees in the World Series.
Brock went on to play 19 seasons in the majors. He led the league in stolen bases eight times and notched a then-major league record 118 thefts in 1974. Brock retired with a .293 lifetime batting average and with 3,023 hits. His 938 steals rank him second on the all-time list. Brock went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1985.
After leaving baseball with a 77-74 career mark, Broglio moved to San Jose, Calif., near his boyhood home. Broglio turns 81 years old today. The man who may have had the best curveball in baseball at one time, according to none other than Lou Brock, revealed in an article for espn.com a few years ago why St. Louis let him go: He was damaged goods, he said.
He hurt his elbow late in the 1963 season. The Cardinals gave him treatments and some cortisone shots in ’64. His arm hurt so much that he hurled three wild pitches and walked five batters in a game on May 19 …. against the Cubs. Several balls bounced into the grass on their way to the plate.
In November of 1964, Broglio underwent surgery to remove bone chips from his right arm and to repair the ulnar nerve. He was never the same.
Broglio pitched with pain for the Cubs, and he didn’t complain. Brock once said this about the man he was dealt for: “Ernie s top of the charts. He is a good man, a man with integrity.”
By Glen Sparks
George “Whitey” Kurowski was a tough guy and an unlikely baseball star. His big-league dreams could easily have died after he slipped off a fence when he was just seven years old. He nearly lost his right arm.
Instead, he played nine seasons in the majors, all with the St. Louis Cardinals. He made five All-Star teams and banged out 106 home runs. Kurowski, nicknamed “Whitey” because of a thick mop of blond hair atop his head, batted .286 lifetime with a .366 on-base percentage. The right-handed hitter, born on this date in 1918, finished in the top 10 in the MVP race two times.
Kurowski did all that, and he supposedly couldn’t hit the outside pitch, all due to that ugly mishap while growing up in his hometown of Reading, Pa.
The youngster fell onto a pile of broken glass and cut up his right arm. Blood poisoning set in afterward. That led to osteomyelitis, an inflammation of the bone and bone marrow.
Doctors thought about amputating the limb. Instead, they removed three inches of bone above Whitey’s wrist, making the arm weak and with an unusual bend. (Baseball legend Mickey Mantle also dealt with osteomyelitis. Someone kicked him in the shin during a high school football game. Doctors gave him penicillin, which reduced the infection and saved the leg. More recently, pitcher Rick Rhoden wore a brace on one leg as a youngster due to the effects of osteomyelitis. He went on to win 151 games in the big leagues, mostly with the Los Angeles Dodgers and Pittsburgh Pirates in the 1970s and ‘80s.)
Kurowski kept playing ball. Not only that, he started playing third base, a position that requires a strong throwing arm. He compensated for his deformed appendage by developing a powerful group of muscles in his shoulders and back.
Whitey signed with the St. Louis Cardinals organization in 1937. He made a quick and favorable impression, hitting .339 as a rookie for Caruthersville, Ark., of the Class D Northeast Arkansas League. He batted .386 the following year for Portsmouth, Va., of the Mid-Atlantic League.
The Redbirds called up Kurowski late in 1941. He played with the club throughout World War II. His boyhood injury had left him ineligible for military duty. Over the next several seasons, Kurowski teamed with Stan Musial, Marty Marion and Red Schoendienst on some great Cardinals teams.
As mentioned, Kurowski could not hit the outside pitch, in part because his right arm was so much shorter than his left. He compensated by crowding the plate. That led to some bumps and bruises. Whitey led the league in 1947 when pitchers plunked him 10 times.
Also, he turned over his right wrist rather dramatically when he swung the bat. That made Kurowski a dead-pull hitter to left field. Some teams utilized a shift against him, moving the second baseman over to the left side of the infield.
Kurowski played on World Series winners for the Cardinals in 1942, 1944 and 1946. His greatest moment on a baseball field came Oct. 5, 1942, in Game 5 of the Series against the New York Yankees. With the scored tied 2-2 in the ninth inning, Whitey blasted a two-run home run off New York’s Red Ruffing to give St. Louis a championship.
”We nearly killed Whitey when he crossed the plate,” Marion said. ”I remember tackling him, and we mobbed him until he begged for us to let him go.”
The fans back in Reading loved their hometown hero. They honored him with a parade. Kurowski also did a radio spot with bandleader Fred Waring and his Pennsylvanians. “I got $25 and a record album,” Whitey recalled years later.
Whitey enjoyed his best seasons in 1945 and 1947. He batted .323 with 21 home runs and 102 RBI in ’45, finishing fifth in the MVP voting. Two years later, the line-drive hitter ripped 27 homers, drove in 104 and batted .310. He ended up ninth in the MVP race.
Kurkowski retired early in the 1949 campaign. He had hit just .214 the previous season. Most people didn’t know it, but that bad throwing arm always bothered him. He underwent 13 operations during his playing days and suffered from pinch nerves and other problems.
Later, Kurowski got into managing, first with Lynchburg of the Piedmont League in 1950. He skippered several teams over the next few decades, for the Cardinals, New York Mets and Cleveland Indians.
Eventuallly, he retired to a life of playing golf and signing autographs. Whitey Kurowski died Dec. 9, 1999, in Pennsylvania, age 81. He lived a big-league dream, an unlikely one at that.
By Glen Sparks
If I had to bet, and I really don’t bet, but if I had to bet on whether or not Yadier Molina will ever be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., I’d toss a dollar onto the table and wager that the St. Louis Cardinals catcher will indeed be enshrined someday as one of the game’s immortals.
Let the argument begin.
The Sporting News published an article on Oct. 10, 2015, titled “Yadier Molina’s surprisingly weak Hall of Fame case.” First off, writer Graham Womack praises Molina for his outstanding defense. The 33-year-old owns eight Gold Gloves. That number should go up at least another one or two before he retires. (Ivan “Pudge” Rodriguez leads all catchers with 13 Gold Gloves. Johnny Bench earned 10. They’re the only two ahead of Molina at the catcher’s spot.)
Molina has, as Womack points out, been selected to seven All-Star teams. He also has been the de facto leader of four pennant-winning teams and two World Series winners. If the Cardinals had an official captain, and they don’t, Molina would be it.
Going into the 2016 season, Molina’s defensive WAR stands at 20.2 (baseball-reference.com), best among active catchers and fifth-best in baseball history at that position. He trails only Gary Carter, Pudge, Bob Boone and Jim Sundberg. Of that quartet, Carter is already in the Hall of Fame and Pudge probably will be there soon. Boone and Sundberg have no chance.
Baseball fans, especially those in Cardinal Nation, marvel at the way Molina shuts down an opposing team’s running game. He has a cannon of a right arm, throwing out 45 percent of would-be base stealers going into 2016. He also has 55 career pick-offs.
The problem, Womack writes, is that Molina’s great defense doesn’t not make up for his good, but hardly great, offense. Molina’s career WAR (offense and defense) is 30.3, or about 22 points behind the average Hall of Fame catcher.
Womack writes, “Molina’s bat hurts his case.”
Molina has 100 career home runs and 645 RBI. His batting average stands at .283, with an on-base percentage of .336 and slugging percentage of .397.
Below is a comparable set of stats for the last five major-league catchers elected to Cooperstown:
Mike Piazza: (1992-2007), 427 HR, 1,335 RBI, .308 Avg., .377 OBP, .545 SLG., 59.4 WAR, O GGs
Gary Carter: (1974-92), 324 HR, 1,225 RBI, .262 Avg., .335, OBP .439 SLG., 69.9 WAR, 3 GGs
Carlton Fisk: (1969, 1971-93), 376 HR, 1,330 RBI, .269 Avg., .341 OBP, .457 SLG., 68.3 WAR, 1 GG
Johnny Bench: (1967-83), 389 HR, 1,376 RBI, .267 Avg., .342 OBP, .476 SLG., 75.0 WAR, 10 GG
Ernie Lombardi: (1931-47), 190 HR, 990 RBI, .306 Avg., .358 OBP, .460 SLG., 45.9 WAR, 0 GGs
Now, take a look at the stats of some other All-Star catchers. All these backstops have come up short in Hall of Fame voting.
Thurman Munson: (1969-79), 113, 701, .292, .346, .410, 45.9, 3 GGs
Lance Parrish: (1977-95), 324, 1,070, .252, .313. .440, .39.3., 3 GGs
Ted Simmons: (1968-88), 248, 1,389, .285, .348, .437, 50.1. O GGs
Bill Freehan: (1961, 63-78), 200, 758, .262, .340, .412, 44.7. 5 GGs
Jim Sundberg: (1974-89), 95, 624, .248, .327, .348, 40.5 6 GGs
Molina’s offensive stats seem more in line with the second group than with the first. He enjoyed a trio of solid seasons from 2011-13, posting oWARs of 3.2, 5.1 and 4.3, respectively. In his nine other seasons, his total oWAR is just 5.8.
More than anything, Molina needs to put up a few more solid seasons with the bat. Is age starting to creep up on the catcher? He missed 52 games in 2014 and hit .282, with just seven home runs and 38 RBI. Last year, his average dropped to .270. He ripped just four homers in 136 games.
The Sporting News’ Ryan Fagan wrote last July that, “In an abstract way, Molina feels like a Hall of Famer.” He ranked Moina as one of 15 current players who are “Hall of Fame bound.”
Respected writer Joe Posnanski from NBC Sports rates Molina’s chances of making it into the Hall of Fame at 84 percent. He writes: “At retirement, he will have an argument as the greatest defensive catcher in the history of baseball. That gets him in, even with an average bat.”
One argument for Molina’s induction might be in the election of Bill Mazeroski in 2001. Yes, the former Pittsburgh Pirates second baseman crashed a historic home run in the 1960 World Series. That certainly helped his Cooperstown case. But, he hit just .260 lifetime with a .299 on-base percentage. Maz ripped 138 homers, but he posted just a 19.1 oWar over 17 seasons. Fortunately, he enjoyed a great reputation as a fielder, especially in being able to turn the double play. His career dWAR is 23.9. Molina may be the catching equivalent of Mazeroski.
(My personal thoughts: I don’t know how I’d vote on Molina. I just think he’s going in. Or, that he has better chance of going in than not going in. Simmons and Freehan, among others, have stronger cases.)
Viva el Birdos, a great web site, for Cardinals news, published an article Jan. 6 that looked at “Who will be the next Cardinal in the Hall of Fame?” Writer Ben Godar predicts that Molina will be enshrined in 2026, just a few years after going onto the ballot. (Godar figures that Yadi will retire after his contract ends in 2018, making him Hall eligible in 2024. I think he plays a few years longer.)
Godar, like most observers, concedes that Molina lacks strong offensive numbers. He argues, though, that Yadi’s defense, as well as his leadership on so many good St. Louis teams, should help put him over the top.
The hubbub was about $65,000.
Steve Carlton, a 27-year-old, 6-foot-4-inch lefty with a nasty slider, asked the St. Louis Cardinals for that amount following the 1971 season. The Cardinals said “No.” Carlton, coming off a 20-win season, held out.
That was Carlton’s second contract squabble as a Redbird. He reported late for spring training in 1970 following a big year in ’69. He went 17-11 that season with a 2.17 ERA (second lowest in the National League) and 210 strikeouts.
Lefty wanted $50,000 in 1970 (He made $26,000 in 1969). The Cardinals offered Carlton a more modest pay increase, to $31,000. The pitcher, maybe miffed about the whole affair, proceeded to go 10-19 and put up a 3.73 ERA.
Each side probably had a sour taste in the mouth during Squabble II. On Feb. 25, 1972, St. Louis unloaded Carlton, under the order of team owner Gussie Busch, to the Philadelphia Phillies for Rick Wise.
At that point, Carlton, going into his age-27 season, had 77 career wins. Wise, entering his age-26 campaign, had 75 career wins. It seemed like a fairly even deal. But, it wasn’t.
Wise put together a pretty good career. The right-hander from Jackson, Mich., pitched two seasons in St. Louis before moving on to the Boston Red Sox. He won a career-high 19 games in 1975, the year Boston celebrated an American League pennant.
Following four seasons with the Red Sox, Wise left for the Cleveland Indians. He ended his career in 1982 as a San Diego Padre. Wise retired with a 188-181 lifetime won-loss record in 18 seasons.
Carlton, though, did even better. His first season in Philadelphia was his best. The Phillies were terrible that year. Some teams limp into September. The Phillies limped into May. They finished the year 59-97, dead last in the N.L. East.
Lefty went 27-10. So, without Carlton, the team was 32-87. The Miami native posted a league-low 1.97 ERA and a league-high 310 strikeouts. He also topped the N.L. in innings pitched (346.1), complete games (30) and ERA+ (182). Not only did he win the Cy Young award, he finished fifth in the MVP voting.
Before retiring early in the 1988 season, Carlton won four Cy Young awards and at least 20 games six times. He topped the senior circuit in innings pitched and strikeouts five times each. He remains the last N.L. pitcher to win 25 games (1972) and the last pitcher from either league to pitch at least 300 innings (1980).
He retired with a 329-244 record in 24 seasons. Carlton went into the Hall of Fame on the first ballot in 1994, He received 95.6 percent of the vote.
Cardinals fans still think back at Carlton’s departure and cringe. The hubbub was about $65,000.