In 1955 the St. Louis Cardinals were described as the best seventh-place team in baseball history. Last year they finished seventh again, but this time it was no fluke; the 1959 Cardinals made it entirely on merit.
?THE REASONS WHY
Only three pitchers won as many as 10 games, and none could win 15. The staff earned run average was the worst in the league. Stan Musial, who had never hit below .310, hit .255. Hal Smith (left) had to catch most of the schedule by himself. Ken Boyer was the only right-handed power hitter in the lineup. The outfield, with a first baseman in left and a first baseman in right, leaked. And, above all, there was no real punch; despite a second-place team batting average of .269, the Cardinals scored fewer runs, drove in fewer runs and left more people standing helplessly on base than any other team in sight. Solly Hemus, in his first year as a big league manager, had problems.
?OLD FOR THE NEW
Solly still has problems. He has traded some of his old ones in on new ones, but they are problems nevertheless.
The Cardinal pitching staff, which in 1959 was built around Larry Jackson, a tough and determined righthander; Vinegar Bend Mizell, a very large left-hander with a sore back; and Lindy McDaniel, a onetime $50,000 bonus kid who grew up to be a whale of a relief pitcher, is built around the same trio, plus Ron Kline, newly arrived from Pittsburgh. Jackson is capable of winning 20 games, and Mizell, healthy once again, is almost as effective. McDaniel is so valuable in relief that Hemus will not even consider letting him start. No one knows exactly what Kline's contributions will be. In six seasons with the Pirates, he was never able to turn in a winning record, yet twice his earned run average ranked among the best in the league. At any rate, he isn't going to hurt the Cardinals. When asked about his starters, Hemus can now tick off three solid names. Last year it was only two.
Actually, Solly can now name five or six, the others being Ernie Broglio (7-12 last year), Bob Miller (4-3, 3.30 ERA) and Bob Gibson (3-5, 3.32 ERA). Marshall Bridges, a lefty, and Bob Duliba will help McDaniel in relief. The Cardinal pitching isn't very much, but at least it is an improvement over what Hemus had a year ago.
?A FEW GOOD HITTERS
The Cardinal power hitting has improved, too. Boyer has grown in stature each year, until now he is recognized as one of the game's real stars, a big, strong guy who can play third base faultlessly, run like a deer and kill you with his bat (.309, 28 homers, 94 RBIs). Bob Nieman, a nine-year veteran of the American League, hit 21 home runs last year, playing half his games in Baltimore's huge Memorial Stadium. Daryl Spencer, the new shortstop obtained from the Giants, can also hit the long ball. And so can Leon Wagner, also from the Giants. As a matter of fact, power now seems to be one of the Cardinal strong points. Musial, who has worked harder to get into shape this spring than in many years, expects to get up over .300 again. Bill White (.302 with 72 RBIs) should be even better. Joe Cunningham doesn't hit many homers but his sharp, line-drive hitting brought him up to .345, second only to Henry Aaron last year, and he is one of the toughest men in baseball in the clutch. As the new Cardinal lead-off man, Cunningham's sharp eye and good bunting ability could produce 200 hits. George Crowe is one of the most lethal pinch hitters in the league. Carl Sawatski is another strong pinch hitter, and can also relieve Hal Smith behind the plate.
?BUT, OH, THE FIELDING
But the Cardinal defense is downright miserable. In left, neither Wagner nor Nieman can field, and Cunningham in right still makes the most spectacular catches of routine fly balls ever seen. The Cardinals would like to play White in center, thereby loading the outfield with topflight hitters but, like Cunningham, White is basically a first baseman; his arm is too weak to be effective in any outfield position but left. Eventually the Cards may have to put slick-fielding, weak-hitting Curt Flood in center.
The Cardinal second-base combination of Spencer at short and Alex Grammas at second is not one to cause an observer to shudder, but neither is it the fanciest around. In giving up Don Blasingame for Spencer and Wagner, the Cards gave up an awful lot of good fielding. Spencer, who played second base last year, is a big man and lacks a measure of quickness and agility. Grammas, a good shortstop, is moving into a new position at second base, and the question of his double-play ability remains to be answered. "If they don't work out," says Hemus, "we can just switch them back around." Switched back around, Spencer and Grammas will still not resemble Marty Marion and Red Schoendienst.