A troubled talent, Cardinals shortstop Garry Templeton let his emotions reach a boiling point, resulting in a public meltdown.
Forty years ago, on Aug. 26, 1981, during a game at St. Louis, Templeton got booed for not hustling and reacted by making obscene gestures.
Ejected by umpire Bruce Froemming, Templeton was approaching the dugout when he was confronted by manager Whitey Herzog, who pulled him down the steps and backed him against a wall before teammates separated them.
The Cardinals suspended and fined Templeton, then moved him to the disabled list when he entered a St. Louis hospital for treatment of emotional problems.
Three weeks later, Templeton returned to the Cardinals’ lineup and finished the season. During the winter, the Cardinals traded him to the Padres for a future Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith.
Good and bad
In his book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said Templeton, a switch-hitter with speed, “was the single most talented all-around player I’d seen since Mickey Mantle.”
Battle of wills
In 1981, Herzog’s first full year as Cardinals manager and general manager, Templeton hit .345 in April, but slumped in May.
On May 25, Herzog moved Templeton out of the leadoff spot and put Tommy Herr there.
Herr “was the best leadoff man we’ve had here,” Herzog said to The Sporting News. “Templeton is not a good leadoff man. He doesn’t get any walks.”
Miffed, Templeton told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he wanted to be traded to a team near his home in southern California.
“Put Tony Scott and me in a package deal and send us to San Diego for Ozzie Smith and Gene Richards,” Templeton told the Post-Dispatch in a story published June 1.
“This organization has had enough of me,” Templeton said. “I’m tired of this.”
Herzog responded, “No player is going to make out my lineup for me.”
Templeton batted in the No. 2 spot in the order until the players went on strike June 12.
When play resumed Aug. 10, Templeton was restored to the leadoff position, but he wasn’t content. He informed Herzog he didn’t want to play in day games after night games.
In “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said his response to Templeton was, “What’s the matter with you? You’re tired?”
According to Herzog, Templeton’s teammates were tired of his antics. “They could see he was dogging it on ground balls, pulling up short on the bases, and generally acting like he didn’t give a damn about baseball or them,” Herzog said.
After a night game on Tuesday, Aug. 25, the Cardinals had a game against the Giants the next afternoon at Busch Memorial Stadium.
In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog said, “I told Templeton he’d have to play, even if he didn’t feel like it.”
The start of the game was delayed 88 minutes because of rain, and some of the 7,766 spectators spent the time drinking.
In the first inning, Templeton struck out, but catcher Milt May dropped the third strike. Rather than hustle to first, Templeton took a few steps up the line, then veered toward the dugout. Fans booed the lack of effort.
In “White Rat,” Herzog said, “I didn’t blame them. If I’d paid good money to see a professional ballplayer put out, I’d have been booing, too.”
Templeton responded to the jeers by slapping his left hand under a raised right arm with fist clenched.
Plate umpire Bruce Froemming warned Templeton that any more gestures would lead to an ejection.
Out of control
In the bottom of the third, when Templeton entered the on-deck circle, he was booed. He turned toward the fans and grabbed his crotch.
After Froemming ejected him, Templeton started toward the dugout, stopped, clutched his genitals and raised a middle finger to the fans, the Associated Press reported.
In “White Rat,” Herzog recalled, “When he got to the dugout, I reached out and pulled him down the steps, and if the other players hadn’t come between us, I guess we’d have had a pretty good fight. I’d never been so mad at a player.”
Herzog ordered Templeton to go to the clubhouse and wait for him, but Templeton packed and left the ballpark under police protection, The Sporting News reported.
Herzog suspended Templeton indefinitely and fined him $5,000.
“There’s no ballplayer big enough to show up the fans and make the gestures he was making,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch. “When he grows up to be a man and publicly apologizes to our fans and to his teammates, he can come back and play. It’s up to him.”
Asked about Templeton, Cardinals catcher Gene Tenace said to The Sporting News, “We’re better off without him. He’s a loser. I’ve lost all respect for him as a human being.” Boxscore
Ready to return
In “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said Cardinals owner Gussie Busch told him, “Get rid of the son of a bitch.”
Busch wanted Templeton traded the next day. “He didn’t care what we got in return,” Herzog said, “but that wasn’t going to help us any.”
Instead, team physician Dr. Stan London met with Templeton on Aug. 27 and convinced him to undergo a psychiatric evaluation the next day. London said Templeton was “very receptive” to be evaluated.
On Aug. 31, Templeton entered a St. Louis hospital for treatment of depression, the Post-Dispatch reported. The Cardinals lifted his suspension and put him on the disabled list.
On Sept. 15, Templeton returned to the club. He apologized to his teammates in the clubhouse before a doubleheader at Montreal and they welcomed him back.
“He was kind of emotional, but he made it short and to the point,” Tenace told the Post-Dispatch.
Tommy Herr noted, “He said he wanted to come back and play hard. That’s all I wanted to hear.”
Batting second in the order, Templeton had four hits in the opener versus the Expos. Boxscore
On Sept. 23, in his first home game since his return, Templeton “was cheered when the lineups were read and again before each time at-bat,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “The applause drowned out a smattering of boos.”
Templeton had two hits and a RBI in the game against the Phillies. Boxscore
Herzog kept Templeton in the second spot in the order the rest of the season. He hit .386 in 18 September games.
For the season, Templeton batted .288, including .351 with runners in scoring position, and had 96 hits in 80 games.
Batting leadoff in 1981, Templeton had a .273 batting average and .279 on-base percentage. From the No. 2 spot, he hit .336 with a .366 on-base percentage.