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This season, for what seems the first time in a long, long while, the St. Louis Cardinals have been seriously mentioned as a possibility to win the National League pennant. They are still long shots, but at the odds (10 to 1 at the last reading) they are a solid bet, for knowing baseball men insist that only one or two things need happen for St. Louis to be the surprise of the league.
This optimism, however guarded, derives to a substantial degree from the presence in the Cardinal lineup of a heavy-browed, lean-jawed young (27) man named Wally Moon. Such reasoning requires justification, for Moon is neither the strongest hitter on the Cardinals, nor the best fielder, nor the fastest base runner, and he does not pitch. Yet of him Fred Hutchinson, the dour, undemonstrative manager of the Cardinals, says, "I wish all my players were like him." And Jack Buck, a St. Louis sports broadcaster, agrees, "If a manager had 25 players like Moon, he'd have no more worries." Earlier in the spring Birdie Tebbetts of the Cincinnati Redlegs said of Moon: "He's not a great ballplayer and he never will be, because he can't do everything. He can't throw and he can't hit left-handed pitching. But he's a good fielder and he's always on base. And he's always trying to beat you. He's a good ballplayer, a real good ballplayer."
Jack Herman, baseball writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, explained the paradox of high praise for Moon despite his lack of the heroic skills. "Wally," Herman said proudly, "is a real Gashouser."
For St. Louis Cardinal partisans, no further explanation is necessary. Others may require a quick peer back into history:
The Cardinals of 1935 were a colorful group of ballplayers, aggressive, brash, loudmouthed, uninhibited. The year before, they had won the National League pennant and the World Series with their hell-bent-for-election brand of baseball. Dizzy Dean, their star pitcher, would mock an opposing batter and deliberately pitch to his strength, defying the batter to hit and laughing at him when he failed. Pepper Martin would blithely try for an extra base, lose his race with the throw coming from the outfield and then turn defeat into victory with a crunching headfirst slide that sent dust, his opponent and the ball flying in different directions. Manager Frank Frisch, from second base, and Lippy Leo Durocher, from shortstop, would charge in together at an umpire who had, they felt, made a bum call, outraged fury in their eyes, the cords of their necks standing out as they roared a twin howl of protest unmatched in baseball before or since.
They were a tough team, a rowdy team. They were supremely confident and fiercely competitive, and they had almost no respect for anything but victory.
They came into New York one day in 1935 to play the Giants. The day previously they had played with their usual abandon on a muddy field in Boston, and by the end of the game their uniforms were filthy with earth and perspiration. For some reason there wasn't time to have the uniforms cleaned before the next day's game, and so the damp, dirty suits were packed into the team's trunks and sent on to New York.
When the Cardinals walked onto the green turf of the Polo Grounds the next afternoon, their gray road uniforms were grimy and wrinkled beyond belief. The white home suits of the Giants, freshly laundered and impeccably clean, stood out in blinding contrast.
The Cardinals didn't care. Their infield—Ripper Collins at first, Frisch, Durocher and Martin, who was at third—banged their raucous way through pregame drill. Their unkempt attire seemed a perfect complement to their belligerent faces.
"Look at them," said Joe Val, a New York sports editor. "They look like the gang that hangs around down by the gashouse."