Wednesday, May 1, 2013

May 1, 1934: This Date in St Louis Cardinals Championship History

May 1, 1934:  April had not been a particularly good month for the St Louis Cardinals (4-7); however, they were playing host to their favorite patsies - the Cincinnati Reds - in the second game of a three-game series at Sportsman's Park.  The Redbirds had already beaten Cincy in the first game, breaking out the heavy lumber in a 10-6 thrashing; so they were confident they could do it again on this sunny Tuesday afternoon.

April had been even worse for the Reds (3-8), with a lineup featuring two over-the-hill future Hall of Famers who used to star for the Cardinals - Chick Hafey (traded after the '31 season) and Jim Bottomley (traded after the '32 season).  Branch Rickey was running things for the Cardinals in those days, and he had a knack for knowing when a player was declining, well before anyone else had a clue; even before saber-metrics!  He also knew when a player's value would be inflated, knowing he would probably get more in return than he was actually parting with.  Such was the case with Chick Hafey, who was entering his age 29 season after posting a NL-leading .349 BA in 1931 - helping the Cardinals win their second World Championship.  He also hit 16 home runs with 95 RBIs; good numbers, but slightly in decline from his previous production.  It was apparent Hafey's eyesight was deteriorating (he already had to wear glasses to play); plus, he wanted more money, and there was no way Rickey was going to pay it.  Off to Cincinnati he went.  Sure enough, Hafey's first season with Cincinnati ('32) was marred by increasingly deteriorating eyesight and sinus problems, limiting him just 83 games played.  Unfortunately for Hafey and the Reds, he never quite regained his old form, maxing out with just 67 RBIs in 1934 (He got one in this game against his old team).  Fortunately for Hafey, however, the Reds at least gave him the pay raise he wanted from the Cardinals.  I'm sure Branch Rickey got a kick out of that.

"Sunny Jim" Bottomley was the National League MVP in 1928 - with a NL-leading 31 home runs and 136 RBIs - helping the Cardinals make it back to the World Series for the second time in three seasons.  The first time ('26), St Louis beat Babe Ruth and the New York Yankees in a Seven Game Fall Classic.  The second time, the Bambino & Company destroyed the Redbirds in four straight games.  By 1932, injuries and age (he was 32) had taken their toll, as Bottomley only played in 91 games, hitting a career-low .296 with only 11 home runs and 48 RBIs.  Rickey then shipped  Bottomley off to his favorite patsies - the Reds - where he could continue his decline with a rival NL team.  In Cincinnati, Bottomley was able to play in 144 games, but his batting average dramatically dipped to .250 with mediocre run production (by his previous standards) - 13 home runs and 83 RBIs.

Certainly, both "Sunny Jim" and Chick were anxious to prove to the Cardinals (especially Branch Rickey) that they were still good players, and they were going to do their best to spoil any post game festivities their old teammates might be anticipating.  They almost pulled it off.

The starting pitchers - "Wild Bill" Hallahan for the Cardinals and Si Johnson for the Reds pitched well enough to keep the game scoreless through five innings.  "Wild Bill" actually threw strikes on this particular Tuesday afternoon; walking just one in his eight-innings of work.

The Reds broke through first, with successive sixth-inning two-out singles by Adam Comorosky, and the dynamic duo:  "Sunny Jim" and Chick.  It seemed as though Hafey's run scoring single might be all the Reds would need this day, but the Cardinals' slugging first baseman - Ripper Collins - hit a dramatic two-out home run off Johnson in the bottom of the ninth to tie the score.  It was Collins' emergence as a younger version of Bottomley which made "Sunny Jim" expendable to begin with.  Here was an example of what he could do when the game was on the line.  This is also an example of allowing a starting pitcher to remain in the game for a little bit longer than he should have.  Apparently, the Reds' bullpen wasn't so hot back in those days.  No Aroldis Chapman, eh?

After a scoreless tenth-inning, Cincinnati again broke through for another run, when Mark Koenig's two-out double off Cards reliever Burleigh Grimes scored Adam Comorosky with yet another go-ahead run.  Given the chance to go the distance for the win, Reds pitcher Johnson served up another home run to the first batter he faced in the bottom of the eleventh - none other than Ripper Collins, who ripped it onto Grand Avenue to tie the game again.  Reds manager Bucky Walters kept Johnson in the game to face Cards catcher Bill Delancey who laced a double on the first pitch he saw.

Finally, Johnson was removed from the game after working 10 IP on 10 hits, 2 walks and 4 strikeouts.  There was no "pitch count" in those days, but Si might've thrown 150 in this game; who knows?  Don Brennan was the new hurler for Cincinnati.  He managed to record an out before Burgess Whitehead delivered the RBI single to score Delancey with the winning run.

Grimes got credit for the win, despite giving up a run in his two innings of work, as the Cardinals improved to 5-7.  Johnson was the hard-luck loser for Cincinnati, as the Reds fell to 3-9

The 3-2 victory for this colorful and talented St Louis team came at a time when they had been struggling a bit.  The following day, the team that would soon come to be known as the "Gashouse Gang" completed the sweep of the Reds.  The two teams had identical 3-7 records when Cincy came to town for this three-game set.  Two teams; heading in different directions.

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