My dad, George, was one of the most fanatic, loyal Cub fans one could ever meet. During the very lean years, it was honestly difficult to attend a game in person with him because he took every strikeout, error, missed opportunity and blown save to heart. When the Cubs finally won the World Series in 2016, I maintained that George would have had a heart attack during game seven because of the way the Cubs tried to grasp defeat from the jaws of victory.
It is no wonder then why one of the most frequently asked questions at the funeral home has to do with a contract with the St Louis Cardinals dated May 27, 1962. To see it, one has to be in the men’s room, so it’s not prominently on display. But it is too unusual not to display somewhere at least, even for a Cub fan.
I actually remember the story pretty well. The St. James Lutheran Church men’s group traveled to St. Louis on May 27, 1962 to see the Cardinals play the Milwaukee Braves. (For the younger fan, these Braves relocated to Atlanta and Milwaukee eventually got The Brewers when the Seattle Pilots moved to Milwaukee. Originally the Brewers were in the American League, but switched to the National League.) I wish I had asked who was along on the trip, but knowing some of the older guys and what fans they were, I can assume it included Jack Nauber, Herb Kroeter, Hardin Stratman, Gene Witsken, Herb Schwagmeyer, Lewis Pfirman, Hilmar Swanson, Howard Rutledge, Marvin Jording, and probably a number of others.
The game was played at the old Busch Stadium (Busch I not circular Busch II) during the day. Even though the Cardinals were off to a 24-17 start, only 11,673 were in attendance.
The contract was the result of dad catching a fly ball (foul), and was because, “…this performance clearly indicates an extraordinary degree of proficiency, agility and skill as an off-field outfield.” The contract further stated that, “…at no time will the holder’s loyalty to the St. Louis Cardinals be traded to any other Major League baseball club.” I’m sure he heard plenty from the likes of Misters Kroeter, Stratman, Nauber and other die-hard Cardinal fans when the usher presented this to my father.
One of the reasons I wish I had asked was to verify a few details. He always claimed that Hank Aaron hit the ball. This goes back to when I was a kid, so it’s not like he just picked Aaron, one of the top home run hitters of all time, to add to his story. Hank Aaron was a good player but no one knew how great he would become.
I went on-line to get some game details, and what a game they saw. Bob Gibson was pitching for the Cards while Bob Shaw pitched for the Braves. The Cardinals got an early lead when sixth place hitter, Stan Musial, reached on a two out single and ultimately scored on a two run double from Julio Gotay in the second inning. The Braves roared back in the fifth after two Gibson walks were followed by hits from Eddie Mathews, Hank Aaron and Mack Jones.
The game remained 4-2 into the ninth when Ken Boyer hit a triple and scored on a Carl Sawatski base hit. With one out and representing the winning run, Stan Musial, (wait for it, wait for it) hit into a game ending double play.
I should have asked dad or one of the other guys about more details. The people they saw that day, the future Hall of Famers, is remarkable; Gibson, Musial, Schoendienst, Mathews and Aaron. And to see a close games go down to the final at bat as well as lasting only 2 hours and 23 minutes is impressive. Today a game like this would take close to three and a half hours with numerous pitching changes..
I guess there are two points to this blog. Number one is that there is no time like the present to ask questions. All of the participants as far as I know have died, so there is no one left to give a first-hand review of the situation. I think I always felt my dad would live forever, and seemingly meaningless questions about an old baseball game could be delayed until a more perfect time. I was wrong.
Number two is, with Quincy suffering a miserable January and ice into February, it’s never too early to talk baseball. And by that I mean actually talk strategy, hot stove developments, or the latest rumors. One of the things I always respected most about my dad was his ability over a lifetime that did not include the Cubs winning a World Series, was the grace under fire that he presented when being mercilessly berated by Cardinal fans. I get it. The Cardinals have won a bunch of World Series titles. So what. If the Cardinals perform up to expectations this year, they might just add another. But wouldn’t it be more fun to actually talk baseball than talk trash? (And Kris Bryant doesn’t drink so his recent comments were meant as a joke.) My father loved his Cubs, but he also loved baseball. That’s why he took the time to go see the Cardinals play in 1962. And the story he could tell about that day had nothing to do with his beloved Cubs!