This season, forwhat seems the first time in a long, long while, the St. Louis Cardinals havebeen 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) theyare a solid bet, for knowing baseball men insist that only one or two thingsneed happen for St. Louis to be the surprise of the league.
This optimism,however guarded, derives to a substantial degree from the presence in theCardinal lineup of a heavy-browed, lean-jawed young (27) man named Wally Moon.Such reasoning requires justification, for Moon is neither the strongest hitteron the Cardinals, nor the best fielder, nor the fastest base runner, and hedoes not pitch. Yet of him Fred Hutchinson, the dour, undemonstrative managerof the Cardinals, says, "I wish all my players were like him." And JackBuck, a St. Louis sports broadcaster, agrees, "If a manager had 25 playerslike Moon, he'd have no more worries." Earlier in the spring BirdieTebbetts of the Cincinnati Redlegs said of Moon: "He's not a greatballplayer and he never will be, because he can't do everything. He can't throwand he can't hit left-handed pitching. But he's a good fielder and he's alwayson base. And he's always trying to beat you. He's a good ballplayer, a realgood ballplayer."
Jack Herman,baseball writer for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, explained the paradox of highpraise for Moon despite his lack of the heroic skills. "Wally," Hermansaid proudly, "is a real Gashouser."
For St. LouisCardinal partisans, no further explanation is necessary. Others may require aquick peer back into history:
The Cardinals of1935 were a colorful group of ballplayers, aggressive, brash, loudmouthed,uninhibited. The year before, they had won the National League pennant and theWorld Series with their hell-bent-for-election brand of baseball. Dizzy Dean,their star pitcher, would mock an opposing batter and deliberately pitch to hisstrength, defying the batter to hit and laughing at him when he failed. PepperMartin would blithely try for an extra base, lose his race with the throwcoming from the outfield and then turn defeat into victory with a crunchingheadfirst slide that sent dust, his opponent and the ball flying in differentdirections. Manager Frank Frisch, from second base, and Lippy Leo Durocher,from shortstop, would charge in together at an umpire who had, they felt, madea bum call, outraged fury in their eyes, the cords of their necks standing outas they roared a twin howl of protest unmatched in baseball before orsince.
They were a toughteam, a rowdy team. They were supremely confident and fiercely competitive, andthey had almost no respect for anything but victory.
They came into NewYork one day in 1935 to play the Giants. The day previously they had playedwith their usual abandon on a muddy field in Boston, and by the end of the gametheir uniforms were filthy with earth and perspiration. For some reason therewasn't time to have the uniforms cleaned before the next day's game, and so thedamp, dirty suits were packed into the team's trunks and sent on to NewYork.
When the Cardinalswalked onto the green turf of the Polo Grounds the next afternoon, their grayroad uniforms were grimy and wrinkled beyond belief. The white home suits ofthe Giants, freshly laundered and impeccably clean, stood out in blindingcontrast.
The Cardinalsdidn't care. Their infield—Ripper Collins at first, Frisch, Durocher andMartin, who was at third—banged their raucous way through pregame drill. Theirunkempt attire seemed a perfect complement to their belligerent faces.
"Look atthem," said Joe Val, a New York sports editor. "They look like the gangthat hangs around down by the gashouse."
Baseball writersin Val's presence picked up "the gang from the gashouse" phrase. Theyused it in conversation at first and then in their copy. The name caught on,and almost at once the St. Louis Cardinals had become the Gashouse Gang.
The name stuckeven though the original gang of players did not. And even today, more than 20years after that day in the Polo Grounds, the greatest compliment a St. Louisfan can pay to a Cardinal player is to say, as Jack Herman said of Wally Moon:"He's a real Gashouser."
In Moon's case, ofcourse, the Gashouse characteristics are not blatantly obvious. Off the field,for example, his behavior is about as different from that of Pepper Martin, thespiritual leader, so to speak, of the old Gashouse Gang, as Lucius Beebe's isfrom Tony Galento's. Pepper was always a mischievous boy, even at the end ofhis playing career. Moon was a mature, reasoning adult even as a rookie. Pepperdropped paper bags filled with water out of hotel windows, raced midgetautomobiles, played practical jokes, organized and led his Mississippi Mudcatband (see box, page 28) and generally had a hell of a time. Moon dressesconservatively, talks in a quiet, well-modulated voice, holds a master's degreein education, once taught school in Arkansas, is a member of the board ofdirectors of a Texas insurance company, talks of someday establishing aspeech-therapy clinic for children with speech handicaps, works industriouslyin a public relations job during the off season, carefully appraises investmentpossibilities.
On the field, too,he differs. His uniform is generally clean and his face shaven. Though he moansa little at umpires, he doesn't blaze in anger. On the base paths he depends onspeed, timing and deft sliding rather than on a violent, explosiveapproach.
He does, however,bear a strong resemblance to the near-legendary Pepper in three very importantways. He has: 1) an overwhelming confidence in his own ability; 2) an absolutedetermination to accomplish what he sets out to do; and 3) a definite flair forthe dramatic.
These are thequalities Moon possesses that can catalyze the Cardinals into the championshipthis year. The team has very real defects (even as Moon has defects as aplayer), but its virtues, especially those that are not yet fully realized, areexciting for the Cardinal fan to contemplate.
Fred Hutchinsonknows this, but Hutch is not given to running off at the mouth. He looks at areporter, a little mocking smile just touching the corners of his mouth, and heanswers his question: "Yeah, we could win the pennant. All we need is acouple of 20-game winners and three or four .300 hitters."
This is fairlyroutine baseball humor, and Hutch is too smart a man, too rational, too logicalto assume that it will happen.
But it couldhappen, and quite easily, and he knows it. Hutchinson has an elite group ofhitters. Stan Musial has never batted below .300, and Ken Boyer, Del Ennis,Alvin Dark and Moon have all batted above it at one time or another. Any one ofthe five could go over Hutchinson's desired standard without creating theslightest stir. Why couldn't all five, if they were fired up by the pursuit ofthe pennant?
Why couldn'tMusial hit .330 again, and Ennis drive in over 100 runs? Why couldn't themarvelously gifted Boyer lose his self-conscious fear of failure and playall-out all the time instead of just now and then, and attain the maturity thathis boyhood rival, Mickey Mantle, achieved last year? It could happen.
Twenty-gamewinners are harder to come by. Murry Dickson did it once, but Murry is 40 nowand his quota of victories is 15, or less. But Herman Wehmeier, after a decadeof hovering around 10 victories annually, has at 30 discovered poise andconfidence. If he continues to pitch as brilliantly as he did the last half oflast season, he could go up to 20 this year without any trouble at all.
The otherimportant pitchers, Vinegar Bend Mizell and Sam Jones, are enigmas: they throwwith frightening speed and have startling curve balls but they possess only aspasmodic notion of how to control their pitches. Jones led the league lastyear in both strikeouts and walks; Mizell was a close fourth in strikeouts andthird in walks. They are Wild Men; but batters respect them. Why couldn'teither or both surge to 20 victories?
A realist likeHutchinson cannot rely on "coulds." But a Gashouser like Moon or AlvinDark can and does. Dark, who even in the twilight years of his career, has thecompetitive hunger of youth, saw "coulds" explode into realities twice(in 1951 and 1954) when he was with the New York Giants. Moon looks you in theeye and says with a sincerity approaching fervor: "I know this club can winthe pennant. I know it can. I know it as sure as I'm sitting here. All we haveto do is realize the fact that we're good enough."
For Moon suchrealization is easy, because no player ever believed more fully in himself. Noplayer had more need to, either, when you consider the barriers Moon had tohurdle to achieve success in the major leagues.
He had batted .307with Rochester in 1953, and he had expected to be given a trial with the parentCardinals the next spring. During the off season he played winter ball inVenezuela. Just before spring training he was advised by the Cardinals toreport to the St. Louis camp at St. Petersburg, Fla. But the Venezuelan clubauthorities had wired the Cardinals and asked if Moon could remain with theVenezuelan team for the Caribbean World Series. The Cardinals said sure. Whenthe Caribbean Series was over, Moon asked the Cardinals for instructions. DickMeyer, then general manager, told him to report either to St. Petersburg or tothe club's minor league base at Daytona Beach, whichever worked out best withthe transportation facilities he had available.
Moon talked itover with his wife, Bettye, who, with their infant son, had spent the winterwith him in Venezuela. The question of transportation facilities didn't enterthe discussion. The major league camp was in St. Petersburg, the minor leaguecamp in Daytona. The Moons went to St. Petersburg, lugging diapers, a crib andbaby bottles with them.
In St. PetersburgMoon checked in at the Hotel Bainbridge, the Cardinal headquarters, andreported to Eddie Stanky, then manager of the St. Louis team. Stanky wasangry.
"You weresupposed to report to Daytona," he said. "You weren't supposed toreport here."
Moon explained thechoice he had been given. Then he argued: "They've seen me play. They knowwhat I can do. I want you to see me."
Stanky growled alittle, but finally Moon was given to understand that he could hang around fora couple of days until the situation was straightened out and he could beshipped on to the minor league base. He could work out with the Cardinals.
"I'd beenplaying all winter, of course," Moon recalled this spring, "and I wasin good playing shape. I got a hit the first time I went to bat, and I kepthitting the ball pretty good."
Stanky decided tokeep him around, even though Moon was still on the Rochester roster. Given thechance to show what he could do, Moon drove himself unmercifully.
"I gambled oneverything. If I hit a single I'd go for two. If I had two I'd go for three. Itried to catch everything I had the slightest chance for in the outfield. I ranevery place. Boy, was I tired that spring. I'd get home after practice and I'dfall asleep on the couch. Bettye would wake me up for supper and we'd eat, andthen I'd fall asleep again. That's the way it went all spring."
Stanky said littleto Moon but he continued to play him. He used him frequently in right field,which was strange, because the Cardinals had a good right fielder. His name wasEnos Slaughter, he'd held the job since 1938, and he was still going strong.The year before he'd played his usual full season at top speed, had batted .291and had driven in 89 runs.
Slaughter wasconscious of the situation. He paused at Moon's locker one day and said,"Don't worry. You're not gonna get my job."
Moon played a gooddeal in Florida, but after the Cardinals broke camp and started north Stankyapparently forgot about him. Moon played an inning or two in Memphis, which isonly 40 miles from his home town, Bay, Arkansas, and he served as a pinchrunner in Houston, nearest port of call to Texas A&M, where Moon had goneto college.
But that was allhe played until the Sunday before Opening Day, when the Cardinals played theirlast preseason exhibition game in Busch Stadium in St. Louis. Moon started inright. Halfway through the game the Cardinal management made a stunningannouncement: Enos Slaughter had been traded. He had been sent to the New YorkYankees for three unknown minor league players.
There was animmediate and furious protest from Cardinal fans who had cheered the colorfulSlaughter through season after season after season. The comments they directedat Stanky and the Cardinals' new owner, Gussie Busch, made last season'sdenunciations of Frank Lane for trading Red Schoendienst and Bill Virdon seemmild and gentle.
That day everyoneknew Moon would take Slaughter's place, but it wasn't until Monday, the daybefore Opening Day, that the rookie was called into the front office.
"I guess youbetter sign a contract," he was told casually.
"I guessso," Moon agreed. Three years later, thinking about it, he said: "Iwould have signed anything after all those weeks." Then he added, grinning:"But you know what I should have done? I should have held out. What a spotI had them in."
But he signed andthe next day he played his first major league game, in St. Louis before a crowdthat booed the announcement of his name and chanted, "We wantEnos."
Moon was thesecond man in the St. Louis batting order, and his first major league time atbat came therefore in the home half of the first inning against Paul Minner, aleft-handed pitcher. The crowd booed him again. Moon responded by hitting ahome run into the right field seats.
GREAT DAY FORGUSSIE
"That's stillmy big thrill in baseball," Moon said recently. "But I don't think Ireally appreciated it at the time. I was sort of numb the first couple ofweeks. All I really remember about the homer is coming back to the bench afterI hit it and seeing Gussie Busch in his box near the dugout, jumping up anddown."
Moon admires thedaring shown by Stanky and Busch in taking a chance on an unproven rookie, andthe gratification he takes in his own success that season (he batted .304 andwas named National League Rookie of the Year) seems to be based more than alittle on the fact that their confidence in his ability was justified.
Stanky had severalserious faults as a manager, which Moon will admit, but Wally remembers himwith a warm respect for something else during that first season. In a lateinning of a close game that year Moon, on third base, suddenly tried to stealhome. The play was close, but Moon was out. Afterward the sportswriters askedStanky his opinion of the play.
"I sent himin," Stanky said. "If it was a bad play I'm to blame."
But the steal hadbeen completely Moon's idea. Stanky had had nothing to do with it. Moon hadbeen studying the length of time the pitcher took in his wind-up, and hesuddenly realized that he'd be able to beat the pitch to the plate. "Ididn't think twice about it. I knew I could make it. I stumbled just as Istarted, and even so it was pretty close. I still think maybe I was safe. But,anyway, it was my own idea."
Stanky, however,refused to put any blame on Moon. A couple of days later he called Wally intohis office. "It didn't work," he said, "but don't worry about it.I'm not going to bawl you out. I'll bawl you out when you're afraid to trysomething like that."
Moon tells thisstory almost reverently. "Trying something" is, of course, thetrademark of a Gashouse ballplayer. They play best when their team is in thethick of a fight, for the game or for the pennant, when every hit is needed andevery run is vital, and the responsibility for providing same is theirs. Moon,for example, is at his best under pressure. So, for that matter, is Alvin Dark.Moon and Dark hit better when they have two strikes or when there are two outsand important runs are waiting to be driven in. They think ahead. They planlittle things, little surprise moves, little variations in strategy with ateammate, anything, just to upset their opponents a trifle and keep them on thedefensive long enough to gain an edge, an advantage, the breaks. They get theirteammates to thinking, and trying things, and winning.
And with Dark,unhappily, slowing down a little as a ballplayer, the responsibility of keepingthe Cardinals charged with the Gashouse spirit—that confident assumption thatthey should win, and the fierce determination that they will—rests more andmore on the willing shoulders of Wallace W. Moon, M. Ed.
MUDCATS IN THE GASHOUSE
The original Gashouse Gang was as bizarre off the fieldas on. Coach Terry Moore, who broke in with the Cardinals in 1935, reminiscedrecently about Pepper Martin's famous Mississippi Mudcats, a country-music bandthat started as clubhouse fun and eventually commanded a $1,000 fee for playingon national radio broadcasts. "Pepper played the banjo-guitar," Moorerecalls. "And Lonny Warneke played the guitar. Fiddler Bill McGee playedthe fiddle. He held it down low, in the crook of his arm. I never did see himput it under his chin. He'd sit there straight as a board, real serious holdingthe fiddle down low and sawing away on it. Bob Weiland played the jug. Boomp,boomp. Boomp, boomp. And Frenchy Bordagaray played the washboard. You know,running a stick up and down on it. Damn, they practiced all the time. Theydrove Frank Frisch crazy. Their favorite song was Buffalo Gal. I heard BuffaloGal so often I used to dream it at night: 'Buffalo Gal, ain't you comin' outtonight, comin' out tonight, comin' out tonight.' Frisch couldn't stand it. Heused to say he was going to trade McGee and send Weiland down to the minorsjust to break up the Mudcats. We sure had a lot of fun."