Austin McHenry hit .330 with 17 homers and 102 RBIs for the 1921 Cardinals -- figures near the top in each category -- promising a bright future for a club that was still five years away from raising its first championship trophy.
He came to the Redbirds in 1918 after being acquired out of the Cincinnati farm system in trade. Shortly thereafter earned a spot as a regular in the St. Louis outfield, establishing a .302 career batting average.
According to a Sporting News report about McHenry at the time:
He has not in the past received all that is his due. Even in St. Louis the fans, though they would resent any intimation that McHenry is not among the great, probably have not rated him as he deserves. His work is not of the spectacular sort, he does not furnish great thrills. If he makes a shoestring catch that would do credit to a [Tris] Speaker, it’s so neatly done the spectators can’t realize the difficulty of it. If he goes far afield for a long drive he ambles over the ground with a stride that makes it appear he is just out for practice. That’s the McHenry way and before he showed that he was getting results he was even accused by some who did not study him as inclined to be indifferent. McHenry is without a question one of the game’s greatest outfielders. And he is one of the game’s greatest hitters.”
McHenry was such a good player that the Reds offered the Cardinals $25,000 in 1920 to purchase their former farmhand back. In 1921, the Giants offered $50,000. General manager Branch Rickey flatly refused.
In 1922, McHenry batted .302 into July when he suddenly and mysteriously started having trouble judging fly balls. According to reports at the time, McHenry was afraid that he was going blind.
McHenry was diagnosed with a brain tumor and, on this date 88 years ago, he succumbed to his illness at the age of 27.
Sadly, McHenry's death wasn't the only tragic loss to hit the Cardinals in 1922. Bill "Pickles" Dillhoefer -- McHenry's teammate in the Reds farm system before joining the Cardinals in 1919 as a second string catcher -- contracted typhoid fever in January of that year. He died in the hospital on Feb. 23.
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