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A Storied Rivalry, Part II

The second part of a four part series chronicling the shared history of the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals

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Not even the outbreak of World War II could stop the St. Louis Cardinals. They appeared in three straight World Series from 1942 through 1944, winning two. In 1945, they slipped to second place in the National League, likely due at least partially to Stan Musial's absence because of his military service. Musial returned to the Cardinals in 1946, and probably not coincidentally, the Cardinals returned to the World Series that year as well.

Despite winning back to back National League pennants in 1939 and 1940, and a World Series championship in 1940, the Reds were mostly unable to compete with the Cardinals during the 1940’s. They came closest in 1943, finishing in second place, but they ended the season a full 18 games behind the pennant-winning St. Louis club. Between 1941 and the mid 1950’s, the Reds only managed a winning record against the Cardinals once.

Naturally, the Cardinals were intimately involved in the Reds' most important moment of the war years, although it probably didn't seem that important at the time. On June 10, 1944, during the game between the Reds and the Cardinals at Cincinnati's Crosley Field, nobody in either dugout could have known that they were about to witness the beginning of a relationship between a team and player that would last the better part of 63 years. But that's exactly what happened when Reds manager Bill McKechnie (who had managed the Cardinals to the National League pennant in 1928) called on 15 year old Joe Nuxhall to take the mound in the ninth inning with the Cardinals already up 13-0.

As he stepped into the record books as the youngest player ever to appear in a major league game, Nuxhall retired the first Cardinal he faced, walked the second, and then retired the third. He was an out away from harmlessly finishing the game. The next batter drew a walk, bringing up Musial, the reigning National League Most Valuable Player. Musial has the honor of making the first hit off of Joe Nuxhall with an RBI single. After that, Nuxhall had trouble throwing strikes and would not record another out, and when the dust settled, Nuxhall had given up five runs in two thirds of an inning and wouldn't see the major leagues again until 1952. When he did return to the Reds, his second appearance was against the 1952 version of the Cardinals, and although Nuxhall took the loss in that game, he fared considerably better, giving up two earned runs over five innings.

Over the course of his long career, Nuxhall threw more innings against the Cardinals than he did against any other team. He had a 3.80 ERA against St. Louis over 369.1 innings. The fact that he faced them the most helps explain why the Cardinals drew more walks against the sometimes wild Nuxhall than did any other team. However, Joe Nuxhall was a Cincinnati Red all the way, which is how I choose to interpret the fact that he hit more Cardinals with pitches than he did any other team.

The decade of the 1950’s was an unusually mediocre time for the Cardinals. In fact, the period between 1947 and 1963 is the longest playoff drought the Cardinals have experienced since 1928. That is even more impressive considering the fact that there were no divisions until 1969, so only one team from each league even made the postseason up until then. The Reds would also remain in the middle of the National League pack in the 1950’s, a decade that included their Redlegs period.

In 1954, both the Reds and Cardinals joined the growing list of major league teams that were desegregated. The Cardinals color barrier was broken by Tom Alston on Opening Day of the 1954 season, which was on Tuesday, April 13, 1954 at Busch Stadium. The following Saturday, April 17, 1954, the Reds color barrier was broken as well, against the Braves in Milwaukee. Nino Escalera was the first Pueto Rican of African descent to play for the Reds, while Chuck Harmon was the first African American to play for the Reds. Both players were used as pinch hitters in the same game. Escalera got a hit, and Harmon made an out. The Cardinals and Reds were the 10th and 11th of the then 16 major league teams to desegregate, respectively, and they did so in the same week. The Pittsburgh Pirates and Washington Senators also desegregated during the 1954 season. 1954 was Escalera's only year in the majors, but two years later, Harmon was traded to the Cardinals.

In the late 1950's, the Reds and Cardinals would be partners in two trades that would involve ground breaking ballplayers. The first was in December of 1957 when the Reds traded Curt Flood to the Cardinals. This was the first and far less famous of the two trades in Flood's career, but it played an important role in setting the stage for the second.

Flood was signed by the Reds out of high school and came up through their minor league system. Though he played well in the minors, Flood had a difficult time as an African American player in the mostly Southeastern minor leagues in the mid 1950's. The Reds attempted to convert Flood from center field to third base, but he struggled defensively there, so they wound up trading him to the St. Louis Cardinals for three pitchers, none of whom would be particularly successful major leaguers.

Flood was informed of the trade while playing in a Venezuelan winter league. Brad Snyder's book A Well Paid Slave describes the scene when Flood, a proud man who held the revolutionary belief that he should have some say in where and for whom he worked, was informed that he was being traded to the Cardinals: "He was sitting on a stool in the Pastora Milkers clubhouse in Maracaibo when a long telegram arrived from [Reds General Manager] Gabe Paul announcing he had been traded. For 30 minutes, Flood stared at the telegram in shock. He vowed that he would not allow himself to suffer the indignity of being traded again." Despite his misgivings about the trade, Flood was very successful in St. Louis, winning seven straight Gold Glove awards and appearing on several All Star teams. But when the Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia following the 1969 season, he followed through on his vow from 1957 – he fought the trade and helped pave the way for free agency and baseball as we know it today.

Two years later, in 1959, the Reds would make another trade with the Cardinals, this time acquiring pitcher and author Jim Brosnan. Unbeknownst to either team, Brosnan was in the middle of writing a day to day account of his 1959 season with the Cardinals when he was abruptly traded to the Reds. When his account was published a year later as the book The Long Season, much of the baseball world was outraged at what Brosnan had revealed. While not as incendiary as some of the revelations in Jim Bouton’s later, similar and far more famous book Ball Four, Brosnan had clearly broken the unwritten rules of baseball that decree that players aren’t to share anything about what goes on in the clubhouse with outsiders. It was clear from the book that Brosnan preferred his time in Cincinnati to his time in St. Louis, although some of that may have been due to the fact that he was a Cincinnati native. Particularly angry was his former manager in St. Louis, Solly Hemus, who famously said of the book, "You think Brosnan's writing is funny, wait until you see him pitch."

In Cincinnati, Brosnan was reunited with manager Fred Hutchinson later in 1959, who had formerly managed Brosnan in St. Louis in 1958. In 1961, Hutchinson led Brosnan and the rest of the Reds to the World Series, where they fell to the New York Yankees. Fortuitously, Brosnan had chosen that season to write a follow up to his first book, which was published as Pennant Race. Any Reds fans who haven't read Brosnan's two books should do themselves a favor and check them out for a fascinating look at life as a Red (and for the first half of the first book, life as a Cardinal) in that era.

Please join us next week for Part III, wherein punches will be thrown, a machine will be assembled, and things between the Reds and Cardinals will get seriously incestuous.

You can find Part I of this series here.

Other Sources:

The Cincinnati Reds by Lee Allen

Joe: Rounding Third and Heading for Home by Greg Hoard

A Well Paid Slave: Curt Flood's Fight for Free Agency in Professional Sports by Brad Snyder

The Long Season by Jim Brosnan

Pennant Race by Jim Brosnan