The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 71-80
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 68 SS SOLLY HEMUS
He had a weak arm and mediocre glove, was despised by Bob Gibson, and became the last player-manager the St. Louis Cardinals ever employed.
But Solly Hemus was a 5-foot-8 firebrand who got the most out of his limited natural ability and could torture pitchers with a penchant for getting on base and finding his way home.
But where to play him?
Early in the 1951 season, at age 28, he had been a light-hitting utility man, blocked at his natural position by second baseman Red Schoendienst. But first-year manager Marty Marion — Mr. Shortstop himself — liked the young scrapper he called “Mighty Mouse” and gave him a shot at short.
In just 120 games, he batted .281 with 68 runs scored. Marion, who must have expected little, rewarded Hemus with a backhanded compliment, telling sportswriters he was better “than we had the right to expect.”
Marion lost his job in a feud with owner Fred Saigh, but Hemus had found a home.
The Cardinals new manager, Eddie Stanky — a slight, former middle infielder who may have modeled the mold that made Hemus —batted his shortstop leadoff, challenging him in 1952 to find his way on base at least 250 times.
Hemus’ average slipped 13 points from the previous season, but he drew 96 walks and leaned into 20 pitches to go with 153 base hits. His on-base percentage reached .392 and he led the National League with 105 runs scored.
And he showed a little pop at the plate.
On June 15 of that season, the Cardinals trailed the New York Giants 11-0 in the first game of a double header at the Polo Grounds. But rallies in the fifth and seventh innings, both sparked by RBI hits from Tommy Glaviano and Enos Slaughter, closed the deficit to a single run.
Leading off the eighth, Hemus asked Stanky if he should take a strike and try to draw a walk. “No,” Stanky told him. “Attack.”
Hemus tied the game by hitting the first pitch he saw from George Spencer over the right field wall. Then, in the top of the ninth, he capped the biggest comeback in team history with a two-run homer that proved to be the game winner.
He padded his scrappy reputation once again in 1953 by scoring a career-best 110 runs, hitting 32 doubles, and, for the second straight year, leading the majors in getting hit by pitches. But the Cardinals, now under the ownership of Anheuser-Busch, shipped seldom-used reliever Jack Crimian and $100,000 to the Cincinnati Reds for up-and-coming rookie Alex Grammas, a shortstop.
He had gushed to the press about the chance to share the middle infield with Schoendienst, but injured his shoulder badly in spring training. Hemus, once again the starter, went on to career bests in average (.304) and OBP (.453), but his reprieve was temporary.
Healthy again in ‘55, Grammas was the shortstop and Hemus was sent back to his old utility role then traded to Philadelphia the following spring.
When manager Fred Hutchinson, Stanky’s successor, was fired after a fifth-place finish in 1958, brewery president Gussie Busch remembered the gushy thank-you note he received from Hemus following the trade, expressing his desire to someday manage.
Rather than promote long-time minor league mentor Johnny Keene, Busch brought Hemus back as player-manager.
But in that new role, scrappy and fiery didn’t work. Hemus shattered the confidence of a rookie pitcher, Bob Gibson, whose name he couldn’t even remember. And Stan Musial, who had been benched, told management he planned to announce his retirement at the All-Star Break rather than sit for the new skipper.
In less than three seasons, Keene got that promotion and Hemus never managed again.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1949-1956, 1959
.275/.392/.411 with Cardinals| 459 runs | 21.6 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.60