Of Earl Weaver, Stan Musial and Idle Thoughts

Earl Weaver, who passed away last weekend, hated the sacrifice bunt. That was made abundantly clear in that many stories written about him in the past few days.

There are numerous quotes floating out there: “if you play for one run that’s all you’re going to get” and “there is a place for the sacrifice bunt and it’s deep in your closet.”earlweaverdies

Stuff like that.

Then there is Game 7 of the 1971 World Series. Orioles vs. Pirates. The Orioles had won the World Series the year before and had four 20-game winners in 1971. They win this game and they go down as one of the greatest teams in history. Game is in Baltimore.

Bottom of the first inning in a scoreless game. Don Buford leads off with a walk for the Orioles and Dave Johnson – now manager of the Nationals – tries to bunt him to second. Instead pops out and the Orioles don’t score against Pirates starter Steve Blass.

Buford also reached on a one-out single in the third but got pick off base. Game stays scoreless before Roberto Clemente hits a home run in the fourth to give the Pirates a 1-0 lead. Jose Pagan’s RBI double makes it 2-0 going into the bottom of the eighth.

Then…

Orioles get leadoff singles by Elrod Hendricks and Mark Belanger to put runners on first and second. Pitcher Mike Cuellar is up so Weaver sends up Tom Shopay to pinch-hit. He is a left-handed hitter facing Blass, who is right-handed and pitching the game of his life.

Shopay was mainly a pinch-hitter with little power. He had gone 19-for-74 with two doubles during the season. Weaver could have gone with Paul Blair, a veteran who hit .262 during the season, including .246 against right-handers. Blair had been the Orioles centerfielder but had been bumped aside by Merv Rettenmund during the Series.

So Shopay pinch-hits and bunts the runners to second and third. Buford scores one run with a grounder to first, then Johnson grounds out to end the inning. Blass retires Boog Powell, Frank Robinson and Rettenmund in the ninth and the Orioles lose, 2-1.

Wonder if that game was the one that shaped Weaver’s views on bunting. Up to that point, the Orioles had bunted just as much as the next team.

Stan Musial, who passed away over the weekend, spent his entire career with the St. Louis Cardinals. He is the greatest sports icon in St. Louis history. He was also revered all over the Midwest, especially in Texas, at a time when the Cardinals were the farthest team west and their clear channel radio station could be heard throughout the region.stan-musial

The Cardinals won four pennants in five seasons from 1942-46. They didn’t win in 1945 while Musial was in the Navy. They beat the Red Sox in seven games in 1946 after Musial returned.

That was Musial’s last World Series. The Cardinals didn’t make it to the World Series again until 1964, the year after Musial retired. From 1954-1959, they had one winning season in a six-year period.

In 1955, the Cardinals were 68-86, finishing seventh out of eight teams. Musial hit .319 with 33 home runs and 108 RBI. The next year they were 76-78. Finished fourth. Musial hit .310 with 27 home runs and 109 RBI.

You know what was unthinkable back then, it seems. Trading Musial. Trading him for young players. Tearing up the Cardinals and starting a big rebuiulding program

Wonder if the Brooklyn Dodgers would have wanted Musial. They had Sandy Amoros in left field. Wonder if they would have traded two young unproven pitchers to the Cardinals for The Man who hit so well in Ebbets Field according to all the old stories.

Wonder if they would have traded Sandy Koufax and Don Drysdale circa 1955-56 to the Cardinals for Stan “The Man” Musial.  Both were in the embryonic stage of their careers. How about Koufax, Drysdale and Bob Gibson on the same staff in the 1960’s in St. Louis.

Nah. The Cardinals probably would have wanted left-hander Tommy Lasorda and right-hander Roger Craig instead.

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