Answer Man

Maxvill cut ties with Cards after firing in 1994

Q. I'd like to know what has happened to Dal Maxvill, Cardinal legend from the ’60s They never seem to mention him when they talk about the other Cardinals from that era. He was a great shortstop.

— F.I., of Fairview Heights

A. There might not be any crying allowed in baseball, but apparently there can be a ton of hard feelings. My BND colleague Joe Ostermeier tells me that after Maxvill was summarily fired as Redbird general manager by a new owner in 1994, he seems to have pretty much estranged himself from the organization. Now thought to be living in Florida, the 76-year-old Maxvill even declined an invitation to take part in last year’s 50th anniversary reunion of the 1964 World Series champs, according to Ostermeier, who is the chairman of the St. Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America.

It’s a sad state of affairs for us old-timers, made worse because he was born and raised in Granite City, where his parents helped him fall in love with the American pastime early on. They frequently took him to Cardinal games at Sportsman’s Park, where he was able to idolize seven-time All-Star shortstop Marty Marion. And when no coaches could be found for his Khoury League team, his mom, Eileen, volunteered, and little Dal reportedly would ride on the handlebars of her bicycle to practices and games.

At 5-11 and 135 pounds as a Granite City High School senior, he certainly had the build for becoming a speedy shortstop. He was so light as a child that his grandmother reportedly financed a series of shots to boost his appetite. “But all I got out of the shots was a sore arm,” he once told the Sporting News.

He also had plenty of smarts. When it came time to pick a college, he chose Washington University in St. Louis, from where he graduated in 1960 with a degree in electrical engineering in just 3 1/2 years. But as a senior, he also batted .350 for the Bears’ baseball team. So although most scouts thought he was just too small, Cardinal G.M. Bing Devine, also a Wash U. alum, just happened to need a shortstop for his Winnipeg farm team when Maxvill’s college coach arranged a tryout. With a $1,000 bonus and the promise of another $1,000 if he lasted the season, he was on his way.

Batting .348 after 48 games with Double-A Tulsa in 1962, Maxvill was brought up to the Cardinal squad, where he became the starting shortstop once Dick Groat was sent to Philadelphia after the 1965 season. He was hardly a threat at the plate with a lifetime average of .217 and just six home runs in nearly 3,500 plate appearances during a 14-year career. But his always reliable fielding made up for it. His best season was 1968, when he batted a career-high .257, earned a gold glove and even received 20 votes for the most valuable player award (which Cardinal pitching ace Bob Gibson won). He wound up in four World Series, including Oakland’s 1974 championship. Playing second base, he even caught Bobby Richardson’s pop-up to finish off the Cardinals’ seven-game Series win over the Yankees in that stunner of a 1964 season that had broadcaster Harry Caray screaming “The Cardinals win the pennant!” over and over when the Cards beat the Mets on the final day of the regular season.

After finally retiring from Oakland after the 1975 season, Maxvill served as a coach with Oakland, New York Mets, Atlanta Braves (for Joe Torre) and, from 1979 to 1981, as a coach and instructor with the Cardinals. (He and former Cardinal hurler Joe Hoerner also opened and ran Cardinal Travel.) In 1985, former team owner Gussie Busch was looking for a new Cardinal general manager. According to the Sporting News, he considered Torre and former catcher Tim McCarver, but ultimately chose Maxvill.

In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” former Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog said, “I had my doubts about him when he was hired. … He’d never made a trade, never negotiated a contract and I wondered what the hell was going through their minds when they hired him.”

After the Cardinals won pennants in 1985 and 1987, he changed his tune.

“He turned out to be a hell of a baseball executive,” Herzog said. “… Maxie is smart and he caught on fast.”

But after Gussie died in 1989, many say the brewery did not have the same gusto for the team, so it began putting out feelers to sell. Without the support, the Cardinals usually played well in the early ’90s but failed to produce another pennant for Maxvill. On Sept. 21, 1994, Mark Lamping, three weeks after he became the team’s new president, fired the hometown boy.

“I don’t think any of us were satisfied that we haven’t had postseason play here since 1987,” Lamping said at the time. “It came down to a gut call. Dal understands our position.”

Understand? Maybe. Like it? Probably not. So unless Maxvill has a change of heart by the time the Cards’ celebrate the 50th anniversary of their win over Boston in 2017, the closest you’ll likely come to him again will be getting out his old baseball cards to relive those great memories in your mind.

Today’s trivia

What now-common highway structure did motorists encounter for the first time in 1929 in New Jersey?

Answer to Saturday’s trivia: Just months into World War I, Great Britain was desperately seeking a way to fight Germany’s Untersee (“undersea”) boats — U-boats — which were strangling British sea-lanes. Since depth charges were relatively primitive, the Brits needed a way to lure U-boats to the surface so they could be rammed or attacked with gunfire. One solution they devised was the Q-boat. Built to look like just another boat that the Germans could prey on, the Q-boat would lower its fake exterior panels to reveal its hidden armaments. Sometimes the crew would even pretend to abandon ship to sucker the U-boat to the surface. Its first success came on June 23, 1915, when the decoy vessel Taranaki helped a British sub torpedo the U-40. A month later, the Q-ship Prince Charles single-handedly sank the U-36. Overall, however, Q-boats were responsible for only 10 percent of the U-boats sunk. Still, in World War II, both the British and Americans used the decoys, and there has even been talk about resurrecting idea to battle the pirates operating along the coast of Somalia. Their name, by the way, referred to the vessels’ home port of Queenstown, Ireland, which had been the Titanic’s final port of call. It is now known as Cobh.

Send your questions to Roger Schlueter, Belleville News-Democrat, 120 S. Illinois St., P.O. Box 427, Belleville, IL 62222-0427, or call 618-239-2465.