The July project for the writers of the United Cardinal Bloggers is to pick the first five inductees into the upcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame. Well, not really, but if we were asked, these would be our top five nominees.
Curt Flood (1958 – 1969)
Whether or not he was the greatest center fielder of his era, or even in Cardinals history, can certainly be debated. What cannot are his seven consecutive Gold Gloves, three All Star Game invitations, a career .293 batting average with the Cardinals (1,853 hits) and a being a key member of two World Series Championship teams and one NL Pennant winner.
What may have been forgotten over the years was that Flood was the first player acquired in what would soon become the core of a perennial championship team. Soon to follow would be Bill White and Julian Javier, adding to a particularly rich pool of draftees – Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, Ray Washburn, Mike Shannon and Dal Maxvill.
Like many young players of the era, Flood struggled under manager Solly Hemus. When Johnny Keane (one of my next inductees) took over, a more confident Flood emerged and became one of the best players, hitting for average and playing stellar defense.
Another piece that is frequently lost in the Flood vs Edmonds vs McGee debate is that Flood frequently hit behind Lou Brock, patiently taking pitch after pitch while Brock threatened to steal a base. Flood often took a pair of strikes before being able to swing his bat. Even then, he hit over .300 for most of his Cardinals career, and was in race for the NL batting title through all of 1967.
That Curt Flood is not already in the Hall of Fame is great travesty that I hope some future Veterans Committee takes care of. His motives for challenging the Reserve Clause were not charitable, but it still took a lot of courage to do what Flood did, and it cost him the remainder of his career in doing so. Every player playing the game today owes Curt Flood a bit of thanks for huge salaries they receive.
George Kissell – (1940-2008)
The phrase “Play like a Cardinal” has special meaning to the fans of this great franchise. It’s chief architect was a man that never made it to the Major Leagues, but spent seven decades coaching and teaching players, managers and future Hall of Famers. Whitey Herzog once said of Kissell, “(he) is the only man that could talk for 15 minutes about a ground ball.”
Kissell started his minor league career as an infielder in 1940. After a short career, and break for military service, he would return as a player manager. One of those teams, the 1950 Winston-Salem Cardinals went 106-47. One of his players from that season was a 19 year old Earl Weaver, who would go on to a Hall of Fame Career with the Orioles. Other managers he would influence include Whitey Herzog, Red Schoendienst, Tony La Russa, Sparky Anderson – quite an impressive list.
Three words describe George Kissell: The Cardinals Way. For seven decades of dedication, teaching, coaching, hitting ground balls, helping players learn the fundamentals of good baseball, George Kissell should be one of the initial inductees into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Johnny Keane (1938-1964)
Many fans will know the name Johnny Keane as the manager of the World Series Champions from 1964. While he was the skipper of the big league club for only 3 1/2 years, his contributions go far beyond that, and rival those of George Kissell.
Keane was signed out of high school in 1938 and played shortstop for 15 years in the Cardinals minor league system. An injury resulting from being hit in the head by a pitch cut short a promising career, but it opened the door to a better and much longer one. Keane took over as a player-manager of the Albany Travelers in 1938, until the end of his playing days in 1941. He returned to manage the Houston Buffaloes in 1946, taking over the helm of the AAA team in Rochester three years later. Keane would earn a 1288-1203 record (.517) over 23 years as a manager, winning more than 90 games three different seasons.
Keane would take over as a coach under Solly Hemus in 1959, working with young players such as Bob Gibson and Curt Flood. He would take over as manager midway during the 1961 season. The Cardinals never posted a losing record with Keane at the helm, and a large part of that was how he handled Curt Flood and Bob Gibson.
My favorite Keane story took place on June 5, 1962. The Cincinnati Reds had a 4-1 lead in the sixth inning as young left hander, Ray Sadecki took over. To say that it was a bad outing would be an understatement. Sadecki would start the inning by giving up a home run to the Reds pitcher, Bob Purkey. A single and two errors by Sadecki would plate another run. His day would end when Frank Robinson followed that with a long three run home run. What had started out as a winnable 4-1 deficit quickly turned into a 9-1 blowout. Keane’s frustration would be compounded when the Cardinals scored three runs the following inning off Purkey. Ironically, the Cardinals would eventually tie the game, and win it in the bottom of the 11th, on a walk off home run by Stan Musial.
Keane would give Sadecki a tongue lashing to go with a $250 fine – a large sum for 1962. The next day, Sadecki did not report to the clubhouse and he eventually demanded a trade. Sadecki would soon find himself in the minor leagues and got things turned around, returning the big club in 1963. Both would cool off eventually, but there was a tension between them that would last until Keane’s departure following the 1964 season.
Keane’s time with the Cardinals would come to an abrupt end following the 1964 World Series in an unbelievable power play between the former General Manager, Bing Devine and Branch Rickey. Devine would be fired in August, just as the Cardinals were starting to make their historic run to the NL Pennant. Rickey’s next move was to replace Keane following the end of the season with former Giants manager, Leo Durocher. That move backfired when Keane signed a deal to manage the Yankees, scaring off Durocher. That left the Cardinals without a manager and a huge public relations nightmare.
Unfortunately, things did not go well for Keane in New York. Keane would not even finish out his second season with Pinstripes.
While he might not have had the seven decades of influences of George Kissell, Keane’s impact on Bob Gibson, Curt Flood and even the turmoil with Ray Sadecki brought a winning tradition back to St. Louis. One that carried on with his successor, Red Schoendienst.
Mike Shannon (1962 – present)
The “Moon Man” has become something of a treasure for Cardinals fans. Younger fans may not appreciate how good of a player Shannon was, but a comparison to what they are seeing today with Matt Carpenter would be very close. Shannon was big player for his era and what he lacked in gracefulness, he more than made up for in determination. He would not be known so much as an outfielder or third baseman – Mike Shannon was just a ballplayer. A darn good ballplayer.
As the Cardinals retooled for their now historic Pennant run in 1964, the final piece to the puzzle was the promotion of Mike Shannon to stop the revolving door of players in right field. From July 9, when he took over as the every day right fielder, to the end of the regular season, Shannon hit .264 with 9 home runs and 43 RBIs. He also provided some much needed protection in the order for Dick Grote and Tim McCarver, giving the Cardinals some much needed punch at the bottom half.
He would go on to be a very solid and dependable .260 hitter that you could count on to hit 12 home runs and drive in 60 or more runs. His versatility as an athlete helped the Cardinals win their second championship of the decade when he moved from right field to third base to make room for Roger Maris.
Shannon and the Cardinals were dealt a severe blow in 1970 when a kidney disease abruptly ended his playing career. Two years later, Shannon would be back, but this time in the broadcast booth. As with his playing career, what he lacked in gracefulness was more than made up with sheer determination. For three decades, he would broadcast games with Jack Buck, getting better with each passing year. He is still a joy to hear calling Cardinals games today, especially during rain delays when there is no action on the field to disturb whatever story he is trying to tell.
Thanks for five decades of being a Cardinal.
Willie McGee (1982-1990, 1996-1999)
Willie McGee may go down in history as the player that seemed to be least impressed by his greatness. The expression on his face as he stuck out on a fastball over his head was just about the same as he went from home plate to third base in the blink of an eye, or when making an eye-popping catch in the outfield. The caption on his placque should just read, “Aw sheeeeez”.
Fortunately, most Cardinals fans are old enough to have seen McGee play, even if it was at the end of his career. If you aren’t, all you need to know is that he was missing piece to Whitey Herzog’s Championship team in 1982. McGee was only supposed to spend a few days with the big club while David Green was on the disabled list. McGee would make such an impact that it would be Green that would spend the rest of his career as a backup outfielder while McGee went on to win 3 Gold Gloves and an NL MVP award.
Over his 18 year career, McGee collected 2,254 hits (94 triples) and stole 352 bases. He also had a lifetime batting average of .295. While this might not qualify him for a place in Cooperstown, he certainly deserves a spot in the upcoming Cardinals Hall of Fame.
These are my five selections. Unfortunately, it did not leave enough room for Bob Forsch, Ted Simmons, John Tudor, Tim McCarver, Bing Devine or point out the fact that Ken Boyer is still not in the actual Hall of Fame. Maybe next year.
If you would like to find out who the other United Cardinal Bloggers chose on their ballots, send your browsers off in this direction. If you would like to discuss any of my selections, or share some of your own ideas, please feel free to leave a comment or two.