When the Cardinals had Bobby Shantz in their lineup, it was like having two players instead of one _ a reliable reliever and a fifth infielder.
Sixty years ago, on May 7, 1962, the Cardinals traded pitcher John Anderson and outfielder Carl Warwick to the Houston Colt .45s for Shantz.
A month earlier, Shantz, 36, was the starting pitcher for the Colt .45s in the franchise’s first regular-season game. The Cardinals got him for the bullpen.
A left-hander who baffled batters with precision pitches and fielded with graceful glovework, Shantz gave the Cardinals what they hoped. In three seasons with them (1962-64), Shantz was 12-10 with 15 saves and a 2.51 ERA, and became the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence.
Born and raised in Pottstown, Pa., Shantz moved with his parents to the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia after he graduated from high school. He was 19 when he joined the Army in December 1944, and was discharged two years later.
Shantz was playing sandlot baseball in Philadelphia when he was signed by the hometown Athletics in November 1947 on the recommendation of Tony Parisse, a butcher and former big-league catcher.
Though no more than 5 feet 6 and 140 pounds, Shantz showed a big-league assortment of pitches. Assigned to Lincoln, Neb., in 1948, Shantz was 18-7 in his lone season in the minors.
Shantz, 23, opened the 1949 season with the Athletics, managed by 86-year-old Connie Mack. After debuting in relief against the Senators on May 1, Shantz was told he was being sent to the minors, but the Athletics changed their minds when another pitcher developed a sore arm.
On May 6, Shantz appeared in his second big-league game and gave a performance that, as the Philadelphia Inquirer described, “bordered on the incredible.”
Relieving Carl Scheib with none out in the fourth and the A’s trailing, 3-1, Shantz pitched nine hitless innings against the Tigers. He allowed no hits from the fourth through the 12th.
After the Athletics went ahead, 5-3, with two runs in the 13th, Shantz gave up two hits and a run in the bottom half of the inning, but held on for a 5-4 win.
The game showcased Shantz’s fielding as well as his pitching.
In the eighth, “Bob Swift cracked Shantz’s shins with a line drive, and Johnny Lipon bowled him over with a screamer to the throat in the 10th,” the Inquirer reported. “Both times Bobby picked himself up, grabbed the ball and threw his man out. After that, local rooters were with the kid.”
In the bottom of the 13th, George Kell led off with a double and scored on Vic Wertz’s single. Attempting to move Wertz into scoring position, Hoot Evers bunted. The ball was popped up near the first-base line. Catcher Buddy Rosar lunged for it and missed, but Shantz vaulted over the fallen catcher, caught the ball and whipped a throw to first base to nab Wertz for a rally-killing double play. Shantz struck out the next batter, Swift, to secure his first big-league win. Boxscore
Doing it all
Following an 18-10 season for the 1951 Athletics, Shantz was 24-7 for them in 1952 and received the American League Most Valuable Player Award.
“He does everything you could ask any player to do,” Browns manager Rogers Hornsby told The Sporting News. “He pitches well, he fields superbly and he can hit the ball.”
(A right-handed batter, Shantz had 107 hits and 46 RBI in 16 years in the majors. His lone home run was a liner to left against Allie Reynolds at Yankee Stadium in 1950. Boxscore)
Yankees manager Casey Stengel called Shantz the greatest fielding pitcher. “The best I ever saw,” Stengel told the New York Journal-American. “He’s all over the infield.”
Shantz was with the Yankees the first time a Gold Glove Award was given in 1957. He won the award in eight consecutive seasons (1957-1964).
In four years with the Yankees (1957-60), Shantz was 30-18 with 19 saves and a 2.73 ERA. He pitched in six World Series games for them.
After the Senators claimed him in the American League expansion draft in December 1960, the Cardinals tried to acquire him, offering Bob Gibson, but the Senators dealt Shantz to the Pirates. After posting a 6-3 record, including a complete-game win against the Cardinals, for the 1961 Pirates, Shantz was selected by the Colt .45s in the National League expansion draft. Boxscore
Though The Sporting News described his fastball as “mostly a figure of speech,” Shantz, 36, dazzled with his all-around skills at spring training with the Colt .45s.
“That little fellow is a remarkable athlete,” manager Harry Craft said. “Have you ever noticed the way he moves toward every ball hit on the ground? He could play anywhere. I wouldn’t be afraid to let him catch. He’d be a darned fine catcher. Before the season is over, you may see him at third base.”
Shantz was the Opening Day starting pitcher against the Cubs at Houston. The first batter he faced was Lou Brock, who struck out. Shantz pitched a five-hitter in a 11-2 win. Brock was 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly. Boxscore
(Two years later, Shantz was among the players the Cardinals dealt to the Cubs for Brock.)
In his next start, Shantz pitched 5.2 scoreless innings against the Mets before his shoulder tightened. Ten days later, he started against the Braves, allowed one earned run in six innings, but continued to experience tightness in his shoulder.
Because of the shoulder ailment, Shantz didn’t think he could pitch deep into games as a starter, but could be effective in short relief. The Cardinals determined he was worth the risk and traded for him.
“The only thing Shantz can’t do any more is pitch long or often,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told the Philadelphia Daily News.
In his Cardinals debut, Shantz pitched two scoreless innings against the Giants. Boxscore
(Shantz faced the Giants three times in 1962 and in each game Willie McCovey was lifted for a pinch-hitter against him. McCovey was 0-for-8 versus Shantz in his career.)
Shantz got his first Cardinals save with 1.2 scoreless innings against the Phillies on May 21.
With the Cardinals ahead, 4-1, in the eighth, the Phillies had Ted Savage on third and Johnny Callison on second, one out, when Shantz relieved Ray Washburn. Cleanup hitter Tony Gonzalez scorched a line drive toward the right of the mound. Shantz lunged, snared the ball backhanded, whirled and fired a strike to Ken Boyer at third, “doubling up a startled and stranded Savage, who had been on his way home, sure the ball would get through,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Boxscore
The Philadelphia Inquirer described it as “a play that had to be seen to be believed.”
Shantz “makes improbable plays look easy, and impossible plays just a trifle harder,” Stan Hochman wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News.
Bobby vs. Goliath
Shantz got his first Cardinals win on June 10 with three scoreless innings against the Giants. Boxscore
On Aug. 10, he had two infield hits and a RBI, and pitched four innings for the win against the Phillies. Boxscore
Shantz got a save in his final appearance of 1962. Trailing 7-4, the Giants had runners on first and third, two outs, in the bottom of the ninth when Shantz struck out Willie Mays. Boxscore
“Shantz caught Mays off-balance with a changeup for the third strike,” Curley Grieve of the San Francisco Examiner reported. “Catcher Gene Oliver called it a Stu Miller pitch _ all motion and nothing on the ball. The swing Willie took was just a gesture. He knew he was hooked.”
Shantz was 5-3 with four saves and a 2.18 ERA for the 1962 Cardinals.
The next year, he appeared in 55 games for St. Louis and was 6-4 with 11 saves and a 2.61 ERA.
One of his highlights with the 1963 Cardinals occurred on July 16 when he struck out eight of 11 batters faced in a win against the Reds. Vada Pinson, 0-for-13 against Shantz in his career, struck out twice. Shantz also fanned Frank Robinson and Pete Rose. Boxscore
“He’s unbelievable,” Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver told the Post-Dispatch. “His control, his change of speed. I’ve never caught anybody who could change speeds like that.”
Shantz said, “I had about as good a curveball as I’ve had all year, but it still took a lot of luck. If they don’t swing at a lot of those balls, I’m in trouble because some of them were bad pitches.”
Shantz had a 1-3 record when he was sent to the Cubs in the Brock deal in June 1964. Two months later, his contract was sold to the Phillies, who were in first place. In 14 appearances with the Phillies, Shantz was 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA, but the Cardinals clinched the pennant on the last day of the season.