You can’t believe how long I have waited to write this story! Nor can you possibly know how personal and important it is to me. Unless, just maybe, you had a special team growing up that you rooted for like life itself depended on it…..
Buddy Wiggleton tossed our only ball toward the bare spot that served as a pitcher’s mound. “Guys, I’m going home. The game is about to start.”
We were in that vacant lot beside Ricky Hale’s house. There was six or seven of us; the usual gang. We had been playing baseball since mid morning. For crying out loud, nobody leaves in the middle of a gam—
He didn’t get past the Mabry house till we took off after him. All of us! THE GAME he was talking about was the St. Louis Cardinals. The radio sat just inside in the living room. We gathered on his porch and turned the volume up just as loud as it would go. It was the summer of 1957.
You need to understand some history here. We had no TV. No money. No place to go. We were ten years old and life wasn’t exactly hopping in our remote corner of the universe. The Cardinals had finished a distant 6th place behind the Giants in 1954. They were 7th in an 8 team race in 1955. And only a tad better in ’56.
1957 was different. Don Blasingame, the Cards lead-off man was having the year of his life. We’d picked up Del Ennis from the Phillies. Wally Moon could flat out hit. Eddie Kasko was a rookie but he was playing a great third base. I gave my second son Ken Boyer’s number “14.” And, of course, our hero, Stan Musial, was, and is to this day, the greatest baseball player who ever lived!
Our pitching staff was not bad. Vinegar Bend Mizell, Larry Jackson, Sam “Toothpick” Jones, Lindy McDaniel all contributed. Lindy’s eighteen year old brother, Von, won seven games for us that season. And Lloyd Merritt would stroll in out of the bullpen and save a game when we most needed it.
We were battling the Milwaukee Braves for first place going into September. We lived and died on every game, every inning, every pitch…. And oh, we came sooo close! Don’t tell nobody, but I went out in the woods behind Archie Moore’s house and cried.
Me and Buddy talked about that team for years. We knew Don Blasingame was from Corinth, Mississippi, but we wondered what he was like. Was Wally Moon a friendly guy? Did Hal Smith have any children? It’s hard when you just “know them” through the radio.
I was at my son’s house last week. “Dad, I’ve got a patient you might be interested in. His name is Lloyd Merritt. I believe he played for the Cardinals.”
It took less than a second to tell Cathy we were staying a few more days and get Mr. Merritt’s next appointment time from Josh!
I met him at the door of the clinic. “Mr. Merritt, do you remember Don Blasingame?”
He smiled, “That little guy could hit. Left hander. He was from Mississi—”
I didn’t need statistics; they were branded on my heart! I wanted to know about the man. I wanted to know if they were “good guys,” like we hoped and prayed they were back in ’57.
Lloyd Merritt’s eyes lit up, “Don was a wonderful person. He married our coach, Walker Cooper’s daughter. They had a great family.”
I asked about Wally Moon, “He was really nice. He and I, Al Dark and Joe Cunningham would play bridge on the long train ride from New York to Chicago. Stan Musial was a better person than he was a ballplayer! Kenny Boyer was another super guy. He came from a baseball family.”
Every 1957 Cardinal I could name, which was all of them, was a “great guy” or a “wonderful person.” It validated my childhood memories like nothing had ever done before!
And Mr. Merritt fit right into that good-guy category. “You know,” he also read my mind, “we came close that year. We lost six out of seven to the Cubs down the stretch. That was the end for us. We just couldn’t catch the Braves. Gosh, they had Covington, Aaron, Matthews, Adcock, Logan…..it was a much better team than ours. But we had such good guys and we played hard and we played together.”
That was all we asked for in the summer of 1957.