Cardinals Blast from the Past – Meet Lon Warneke

photo: Lon Warneke

In the second installment of our solo Blast from the Past series, we introduce you to Lon Warneke, a pitcher who played for the Chicago Cubs and the St. Louis Cardinals in his 15-year major league career.  Warneke appeared in two World Series for the Cubs and spun a no-hitter while with the Cardinals.

Lonnie Warneke was born March 28, 1909 in Owley, Arkansas.  Owley was a farming community that consisted of 15 families, located six miles south of Mount Ida, the county seat of Montgomery County.  Warneke was born the fourth of five children to Louis and Martha Warneke.  He learned to play baseball during his elementary school days, but upon entering high school, he was denied a spot on the baseball team because he was not considered good enough. Warneke persisted and made the team the following year, initially playing first base.  During the summer of 1927, as Warneke played for the Mount Ida town team, the manager decided to try him as a pitcher.  He proceeded to strike out five of the six best opposing hitters.

Warneke made his way into professional baseball through his sister Kate, a beautician in Houston, Texas.  One of Kate’s customers was the wife of Fred Ankenman, the president of the Houston Buffaloes, a Class A farm team of the Cardinals. Kate told Mrs. Ankenman about her brother who played baseball, and the message was relayed to Mr. Ankenman.

Warneke decided to move to Houston and live with his sister and her husband for the purpose of attempting to get a tryout with the Buffaloes.  Eventually Warneke met the manager of the Buffaloes, Frank Snyder, and convinced him to give him a trial at first base.  Snyder was not impressed with his infielding skills but asked him to pitch instead.  Snyder liked what Warneke had to offer on the mound and signed him to a contract.  He was just 19 years old.

Lon Warneke

Warneke was sent to play for a team in Laurel, Mississippi, where he pitched a couple of games before being released.  He went to Shreveport, Louisiana and was signed to pitch for a team in Alexandria that was affiliated with the Cincinnati Reds. Warneke finished the 1928 season there and returned for 1929.  At the end of that season, the Chicago Cubs bought his contract for $7,500.

Warneke made his major league debut with the Cubs on April 18, 1930.  He played for Chicago from 1930-1936, and then again from 1942-1945 with a year off in 1944 to serve in the military in a civilian supporting role during World War II.  Warneke posted a record of 109-72 with an ERA of 2.84 in his 10 seasons with the Cubs.  He pitched in two World Series, 1932 and 1935, was named the outstanding National League pitcher in 1932 and was named to three All-Star Games while with Chicago.

Lon Warneke

In October 1936, the Cubs traded Warneke to the Cardinals for infielder Ripper Collins and pitcher Roy Parmalee.  It was an unpopular trade with Cubs fans.

In his first season with the Cardinals, in 1937, Warneke posted a record of 18-11 with an ERA of 4.53.  In six St. Louis seasons, he posted a record of 83-49 with an ERA of 3.67.  He was named to two more All-Star teams, in 1939 and 1941.  On August 30, 1941, Warneke pitched a no-hitter in a 2-0 shutout of the Cincinnati Reds.

Lon Warneke (right)

A sportswriter for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Roy Stockton, dubbed Warneke “The Arkansas Hummingbird” due to his darting fastball.  It was a nickname that stuck.  He fit right in with the Cardinals, joining a band assembled by Pepper Martin called the “Mississippi Mudcats”. Warneke played guitar along with Martin, Bob Wieland, Frenchy Bordagaray, Bill McGee, and Max Lanier.

In 1940, Warneke was recruited for umpire duties when a rescheduled rained out game against the Reds had no umpires because National League President Ford Frick neglected to assign any.  One umpire was found preparing to board a train, but two more were needed, so one player from each team was selected to assist.  Warneke was the Cardinals’ choice.

The Cardinals traded Warneke back to the Cubs on July 18, 1942.  After returning from his stint in the military, he pitched for Chicago starting in June 1945 but retired at the end of the season.

Warneke became an umpire for the Pacific Coast League from 1946-48, then in the National League from 1949 through 1955.  He umpired in the 1952 All-Star Game and the 1954 World Series.

Warneke returned to Arkansas and became a businessman and then county judge of Garland County, Arkansas from 1963 to 1972.  He passed away on June 23, 1976 at his home in Hot Springs, Arkansas.

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