St. Louis Cardinals Blast from the Past – Taylor Douthit

photo: Taylor Douthit

This week’s Blast from the Past takes the reader to the era before the Gashouse Gang to the decade in which the St. Louis Cardinals won their first World Series title. The subject is an outfielder who was not only considered one of baseball’s top defensive outfielders in his time, but still today, ranks first among all major league outfielders all time in range factor.

Taylor Lee Douthit was born on April 22, 1901 in Little Rock Arkansas as the eldest child of Abram Lee Douthit and Annie Taylor Douthit. When Taylor was 17 months old, his family moved to Oakland, California.

After a growth spurt, Douthit started playing baseball in his senior year at Oakland Technical High School. That season, the outfielder and his team won the 1919 state championship.

At the University of California at Berkeley, Douthit earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Agriculture. He was an outfielder on the varsity team and hit .400+ his senior year, 1923. A professor of history at Berkeley, Charles Chapman, was also a part-time scout for Branch Rickey, then manager of the Cardinals. Chapman persuaded Rickey to offer Douthit a contract. The 22-year old signed on the dotted line 10 days after his graduation.

Douthit was initially assigned to Fort Smith (Arkansas) in the Class C Western Association. In 94 games, the right-handed batter hit .304, which earned him a call up to St. Louis in September. He debuted on September 14, 1923, singling to center and scoring a run in the Cardinals’ 3-2 win over the Philadelphia Phillies at Sportsman’s Park.

Taylor Douthit

Douthit was reassigned to Class A St. Joseph (Missouri) in 1924. The agreement to send him down included a recall, but the Cardinals failed to do so by the stipulated deadline. This error allowed Douthit’s contract to become the property of the minor league club and made him eligible to offers from other major league teams. The business manager of the St. Joseph Club, Warren Giles, did the Cardinals a favor, however, and allowed St. Louis to recall him for less than offers received from other major league clubs.

Later, Rickey rewarded Giles by hiring him to run the Cardinals top farm teams – the Syracuse Stars (1926-27), and the Rochester Red Wings (1928-36).  Giles went on to become the general manager of the Cincinnati Reds, and eventually the president of the National League.

Douthit spent most of 1925 at Class AA Milwaukee and was again called up in September. Douthit dazzled in center field and made the team out of spring training in 1926. He was the backup to the regular in center, Heinie Mueller. On May 6, manager Rogers Hornsby started Douthit in center field, and he remained there the rest of the season. He led the National League in outfield putouts that season with 440. Douthit hit .308 with 52 RBI, stole 23 bases and scored 96 runs. He also led the NL that season in sacrifice hits with 37.

The Cardinals won the pennant in 1926, and Douthit, batting in the leadoff spot, hit .321 with a .390 OBP. In the World Series against the Yankees, he was injured in the fourth inning of Game 4 in a collision with left fielder Chick Hafey. Douthit stayed in the game but was injured enough to miss the rest of the Series.

1926 St. Louis Cardinals

(Douthit is at the far right of the center row)

The remainder of Douthit’s Cardinals career was marked by inconsistency. 1927 became his worst season but he returned in 1928 to play in all 154 games. He led the league in plate appearances with 752 and set the major league record for putouts in a single season with 547, a record that still stands. The Cardinals won the pennant the 1928 but lost the Series to the Yankees. Douthit hit only 1-for-11 and made a critical fielding blunder in Game 3.

The center fielder had solid seasons in 1929 and 1930, but once again slumped in the World Series in 1930, which the Cardinals lost to the Philadelphia Athletics in six games. Rumors swirled that Douhit’s days as a Cardinal were numbered, despite owner Sam Breadon’s denials.

(Douthit is second from the right in the front row)

Douthit got off to a slow start in 1931, then injured his hip. He was replaced by Pepper Martin, who took advantage of his opportunity to shine. When the June 15 trade deadline arrived, Douthit was shipped off to Cincinnati for outfielder Wally Roettger and cash.

Douthit played for the Reds through the 1932 season but was claimed by the Chicago Cubs off waivers in April 1933. That June, the Cubs traded him to the Kansas City Blues, a minor league team in the American Association.  Douthit chose to retire from baseball rather than return to the minors.

He left the game entirely, returning to California to work at his family’s insurance and real estate company. Two years later he became a full-time partner and the firm name was changed to Douthit Insurance Agency. The firm was sold in 1970.

Douthit passed away in Fremont, California on May 28, 1986 at the age of 85.

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