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Cardinals of Yore: Max Lanier

Who was the Cardinals player who first challenged the reserve clause that perpetually bound players to one major league team?

If you said Curt Flood, you didn't read the title of this post.

Max Lanier was a lefthanded pitcher with the great Cardinals teams of the 1940s. He led the National League in earned run average in 1943 when the Cardinals lost the World Series to the Yankees and he was the winning pitcher in the deciding game of the 1944 World Series when the Redbirds defeated the Browns. But he is best known for being one of a dozen major league players who skipped out on their contracts to defect to the Mexican National League in 1946.

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American players were offered many times their current salaries to come to the Mexican league to give it credibility. Lanier's teammate, Stan Musial was offered $50,000 to make the jump. Despite the fact that he was making $13,000 with the Cardinals, Musial famously said that he wouldn't be able to look his son in the eye if he went back on his word by not honoring his St. Louis contract and he rejected the lucrative offer.

Lanier accepted nearly twice what the Cardinals were paying him to go to Mexico. But bad playing conditions and bounced checks caused him to regret the decision and to try to return to Major League Baseball in 1948.

One ballpark in the Mexican league had railroad tracks that ran between the infield and the outfield, Lanier complained. Another had sheep in the outfield so the groundskeepers didn't have to mow the grass.

Commissioner Happy Chandler suspended Lanier and his cohorts for five years and Lanier sued with a claim that the reserve clause was a violation of anti-trust law. Baseball settled out of court and let the players return.

He was back on the hill for the Cardinals in 1949, but much of the magic was gone. Lanier managed only a 34-36 record with the Redbirds, Giants and Browns before retiring in 1953. Overall, Lanier was 108-83 with a career 3.01 ERA. In three World Series, he was 2-1 1.71 ERA.

In addition to leading the league with a 1.90 ERA in 1943, Lanier paced the National League in 1944 for strikeouts per inning pitched with 5.66.

Lanier is the father of former Houston Astros manager Hal Lanier.