Maxwell Kates: About Bobby Shantz

THE SLOW BOAT TO MISSOURI

Bobby Shantz’ Improbable Journey from Washington to St. Louis

Author Maxwell Kates

By Maxwell Kates

 

Bobby Shantz Throws the First Pitch.

It’s a well known fact that on April 10, 1962, Bobby Shantz threw the very first pitch in Houston major league history, a strike one curve to Lou Brock of the Chicago Cubs. It proved to be a 11-2 complete game victory for the diminutive southpaw, the first big league win in the State of Texas.

(Editorial Apology. And pass the “E” to me. As the knows-better editor here on the pertinent facts about the original opening day in the life of our Houston MLB franchise, I take responsibility for the scoring error reaching print originally as 5-0. I also want to thank Tom Hunter for what he does so well. And that is – pointing out the obvious and not so obvious publication errors in baseball history. We’ll try, as always, to do better in the future here at TPPE.)

Shantz recently remarked that he would have liked to have spent more time with the Colt .45s. In actual fact, he pitched only two additional games for Houston, a no-decision at the Polo Grounds on April 17 followed by a 2-1 loss to the Milwaukee Braves at Colt Stadium on April 27. Shantz was traded to the St. Louis Cardinals for John Anderson and Carl Warwick on May 7, thereby ending his tenure both with the Houston Colt .45s and as a starting pitcher. What you may not know, Bobby Shantz was a gnat’s eyelash away from joining the Cardinals two seasons earlier.

Robert Clayton Shantz was born on September 26, 1925 in Pottstown, Pennsylvania. After a tour of duty in the Second World War with service in the Philippines, Shantz in 1947 signed a minor league contract with the Philadelphia Athletics. He reached the varsity club in 1949 and in 1952, enjoyed the season of his career. Posting a record of 24-7, Shantz maintained a slash line of 152 strikeouts against 63 walks, 27 complete games, and a 2.48 earned run average. Not only did Shantz win the American League’s Most Valuable Player Award, he also starred in an RKO Pictures short entitled “Bobby Shantz.”

Bobby Shantz Movie Poster.

Injuries derailed Shantz’ progress until 1955, by which time the Athletics had moved to Kansas City. He was an impressive fielding pitcher per se, winning the first of eight consecutive Gold Glove Awards in 1957 as a member of the New York Yankees. Leading the junior circuit with an earned run average of 2.45, Shantz pitched in his first World Series, a losing effort to the Braves. He also pitched in the 1960 World Series, limiting the Pirates to one hit in his first five innings of relief work in the epic Game 7 before being responsible for three Pittsburgh runs in the bottom of the 8th. The Yankees tied it up in the top of the 9th before losing the World Series on Bill Mazeroski’s walk-off home run.

Shantz joined the defending World Champions in 1961 in a trade with the Washington Senators after they selected him first overall in the expansion draft. In slightly less than two years, he embarked on an odyssey from New York to Washington to Pittsburgh to Houston to St. Louis. This is when Shantz nearly went directly to the Cardinals from the Washington Senators.

That Old Man River Just Keeps Rolling Along.

Almost immediately, St. Louis general manager Vaughn P. ‘Bing’ Devine approached Ed Doherty, his counterpart in Washington, to express interest in Shantz. Devine wanted to use Shantz as a setup man for Lindy McDaniel. The Senators demanded 1st baseman Joe Cunningham in return, but when Devine refused to trade him, offered a package of three players instead.

Meanwhile, after being outscored in the World Series 60 runs to 27, Pittsburgh wanted to shore up their mid-relief as well. General manager Joe Brown envisioned Shantz as a potential set-up man for Elroy Face and offered the Senators a package of three players of his own. Washington’s manager was Mickey Vernon, a popular player and batting champion for the original Senators who served as a coach for Brown’s Pirates in 1960. Vernon was particularly impressed by power hitting 1st base prospect R C Stevens, who became a catalyst in any trade talk for Bobby Shantz. After including outfielder Harry Bright and pitcher Bennie Daniels, the deal became official – Shantz was going to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

Bobby Shantz as a Pittsburgh Pirate, 1961.

Stevens hit 37 home runs while driving in 109 runs for the Pirates’ Pacific Coast League affiliate at Salt Lake City. Teammate Harry Bright, meanwhile, walloped 27 home runs with 119 RBI.  Neither one of them lived up to their potential as members of the Washington Senators. Stevens played in 33 games with no home runs and two RBI during his swan song in the major leagues. Bright offered two respectable seasons for Washington, batting .273 with 17 home runs and 67 RBI in 1962 before he was traded to Cincinnati after the season. Daniels, meanwhile, posted a record of 27-60 with an earned run average of 4.14 in parts of five seasons with the Senators.

Now, what about those three players the Cardinals were offering for Shantz?

Bobby Shantz as a St. Louis Cardinal.

The first of the players offered was Washington’s choice of pitcher Ron Kline or outfielder Walt Moryn. While Moryn had only one season left, Kline pitched respectably for another decade in the big leagues – five years, ironically enough, with the Washington Senators.

The second player was a choice of minor league prospects or veterans from Ed Bauta, Willard Schmidt, Dean Stone, John Glenn, or Ben Mateosky. It would be easy to see why Washington might not have been over the moon about any of them.

Not This John Glenn.

The third and final player was a 25 year old right-handed pitcher from Nebraska who split the 1960 season between the rotation and the bullpen. After posting a record of 3-5 in 1959, he went 3-6 with an earned run average of 5.61 in 1960. Clashing frequently with Cardinals’ manager and Houston resident Solly Hemus, it was easy to see why St. Louis was eager to trade this pitcher.

That’s right. Congratulate yourself if you guessed it was Bob Gibson.

Bob Gibson

Would Gibson have emerged as the eminent pitching superstar in a Washington uniform? We’ll never know for sure. For one thing, he would not have known the benefit of the all-star cast who behind him for the Cardinals. Secondly, it was only after Hemus was replaced as manager by Johnny Keane that Gibson was moved into the starting rotation permanently. By 1962, Gibson’s earned run average was lowered to 2.85 as he struck out 208 batters. Two years later, Gibson went 19-12 with a 3.01 earned run average, striking out 245 before pitching a complete game victory over the Yankees in Game 7 of the World Series. He was on his way to writing his own ticket to Cooperstown as a first ballot Hall of Famer.

Joining the Cardinals in May 1962, Shantz remained a Cardinal until June 1964 when he was traded to their archrivals, the Chicago Cubs. After ending the season with his hometown Phillies, he ended his 16 year career in the major leagues. Shantz still lives in the Philadelphia area and, at 92, he is the oldest living player ever to appear in a Houston Colt .45s uniform.

Bobby Shantz Today.

 

 

********************

Bill McCurdy

Principal Writer, Editor, Publisher

The Pecan Park Eagle

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4 Responses to “Maxwell Kates: About Bobby Shantz”

  1. Tom Hunter Says:

    Mr. Kates: I enjoyed your piece on Bobby Shantz. However, on April 10, 1962 in Houston’s inaugural game, the Colt.45s beat the Cubs, 11-2.

  2. maxwell1901 Says:

    You got me, Tom. Thanks for the correction

  3. Mark W. Says:

    That’s a terrific article on the favorite player of my youth and beyond Mr. Kates. I listened to that Game 7 of the 1960 World Series on my transistor radio, which was cleverly concealed from my 7th grade teachers beneath my shirt. It was the bottom of the 8th, Pirates batting, trailing 7-4. The first batter, pinch-hitter Gino Cimoli, singled through the hole. This was the second Pirates hit off Shantz. Bill Virdon then stroked the famous ground ball that took a weird bounce and slammed Tony Kubek in the throat. You can’t assume a double-play, as the official scorers say. But the odds are that a cleanly fielded version of that grounder would have erased Cimoli and Virdon, leaving 2 out with nobody on base. Instead Kubek took a trip to the hospital, and 2 runners were on base with no out when Dick Groat singled through the hole and drove in Cimoli. So Casey Stengel replaced Bobby Shantz with Jim Coates, one of baseball history’s most fateful decisions. At that point, one run was in and the Yankees still led 7-5 with the tying run on base. That game ended with me believing in my bones that Casey should have left in Shantz. And that’s why Monday morning quarterbacks were invented.

    Thanks for stoking the memories, and for the new (to me) information that Bob Gibson almost went to Washington for Bobby Shantz!

  4. Mark W. Says:

    A couple of other notes.

    While Shantz pitched in only three games for Houston, as you noted, he gave up fewer earned runs in his other two starts combined than he yielded in his 11-2 complete game Opening Day win. He left the game in the Polo Grounds with a 2-0 lead, but the Mets tied it up in the 9th off Jim Golden before the Colt .45s won it with 3 runs in the 11th. In his Houston swan song on April 27th, an E4 on Joey Amalfitano set the stage for a Hank Aaron triple that drove in the go-ahead run for Milwaukee, and the Colt .45s could gather no more run support for Shantz that day as the Braves escaped with a 2-1 win. That’s one earned run in his other two Houston starts.

    Bobby Shantz made one other appearance in a game for the Colt .45s that season, and I was at that game. On April 25th, the St. Louis Cardinals battled the Houston Colt .45s to a 5-5 tie in a game called after 17 innings. In the 13th inning, pinch-hitter Pidge Browne stroked a single with Bob Lillis on base. Harry Craft then sent in speedy Bobby Shantz to pinch run for the much slower Pidge Browne. Lillis was thrown out trying to steal third, and Bob Aspromonte popped out to third base, ending the threat.

    It was a Wednesday night game, and 13 year-old Mark had to get up for school the next day, so my parents hustled me out of the ballpark in the 10th inning and I missed the one time I could have seen Bobby Shantz in a game.

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