It’s the end of the baseball season and I still feel excited about the upcoming playoffs and World Series, even though I don’t follow baseball very closely any more. I probably won’t watch many of the games. The Cardinals are still in it as of this writing. St. Louis has been a baseball town since the St. Louis Brown Stockings were formed in 1882. Being a Cardinals’ fan over the years pays off unlike being fans of other teams who are rarely contenders come October.
The 50s and 60s were good times to be a Cardinals fan. Like most boys back then I collected baseball cards. On the back of each card was a wealth of information about the player. My favorite Cardinal was “Stan the Man” Musial. He played for the Cardinals from 1941-1963, a 22-year career, with one year out to fight in WWII. He was a consistently good player and set many records that are still on the books. He loved his fans and treated them with respect. Stan had a career batting average of .331. He was the Cardinals yearly batting champion 7 times, the most of any Cardinal, one more than Rogers Hornsby who played in the 20s. Stan had a very distinctive way of batting, keeping his feet close together while moving his body and his bat around in small circles.
One of the great missed opportunities of my life was the night some friends went downtown to Stan’s restaurant to meet him. I got sick and couldn’t go and felt extremely disappointed. My buddies did bring me back an autographed picture of Stan, which, of course, is long gone. I think my friend, Paul, still has his. In February of this year, Stan received the Presidential Medal of Freedom from President Obama. It couldn’t have gone to a more deserving guy. Watch him receive it on the following link. (Cut & Paste)
As a kid I played baseball every summer. Little league baseball in the St. Louis area was called the Khoury League. It was founded in 1934 by George M. Khoury. The motto was, “The Khoury League is interested in the child that nobody else wants.” It rapidly spread throughout the St. Louis area and included spoiled county suburbanites like me. Participation was not on a try-out basis, but Mr. Khoury wanted all kids of various skill levels to get a chance to play.
There were six divisions, Atom, Bantam, Midget, Juvenile and Senior. The baseball diamonds were smaller than regulation size and even the ball sizes were adjusted for the age of the players. There was an all star game at the end of each season. This game was played at the major league ball park, Sportsman Field, which later became the first Busch Stadium.
I started out in the Bantam league on a very good team sponsored by Van Zant Realty. In the Atom division many of the players picked weeds in the outfield while fly balls dropped around them or ran the wrong way as their parents and fellow players screamed. But in the Bantam league the kids were more skilled and started to take the game seriously. I was totally intimidated by the skills of the other players. The best pitcher on my team was a boy named Jimmy. He could throw a variety of pitches including a wicked curve ball. If the pitch was a little to the outside, Billy Bob, the catcher, would quickly move his glove back to the center of the strike zone, attempting to fool the umpire. It never worked, but I thought it was extremely sophisticated and crafty.
Our manager forgot about Mr. Khoury’s dictum that all kids get to play, because that first year, I spent most games sitting on the bench. My dad must have felt sorry for me, because he decided to manage his own team. The sponsor was Barbay's Market. Unlike most other managers, Dad stayed true to the Khoury League spirit and let all the kids have a chance to play.Consequently, we didn't win many games. His other rule was, whether we won or lost, we all went out for ice cream. For the other teams, ice cream was a reward for winning. We often ran into our old teammates at North Hills Dairy Creamery and I wondered if they thought we were winning as many games as they were, probably not. Even though my dad knew near to nothing about managing a baseball team, he did know something about kids and ice cream.
I got better as a ball player and one year I even got a chance to play in the All Star Game at Busch stadium. I was definitely outclassed by the other players. My goal was not to screw up too badly and I didn’t. I usually played 3rd base and fancied myself a junior Ken Boyer, the Cardinals fantastic 3rd baseman, but in that game I was placed in the outfield. I didn’t get a chance to catch a fly ball, but fielded a few successfully and I was up to bat two times. I walked once and hit a single.
I’ll try to catch some of the post season games this year, but I always liked playing baseball better than watching it. I’d take more interest in the sport if I knew more of the players. Each season it seems I have to learn a whole bunch of new players. Very few stay with the same team for very long, unlike “Stan the Man” who spent his entire career with the Cardinals. I am familiar with Albert Pujols and it will be worth it just watching him play. Go Cardinals!