photo: Ken Reitz (St. Louis Cardinals)
Among 15 Cardinals to have left us during 2021 are third baseman Ken Reitz and ambassador Joe Cunningham.
Those Cardinals still with us include 1954 pitcher Bill Greason, the oldest living former Cardinals player. The right-hander celebrated his 97th birthday on September 3rd.
A short remembrance of each of the 15 follows. We conclude with a brief look at the St. Louis Browns, as is our annual custom.
2021 Cardinals deaths
February 16, Lew Krausse, age 77
The first former Cardinal to leave us in 2021 tied for the shortest career with one appearance for St. Louis, a two-inning mound outing. Krausse’s contract was purchased from Oakland to open September 1973 and the right-hander was released the next month. At that time, Krausse was in his 11th partial year in the majors, most of which he spent with the A’s.
In his post-playing years, Krause lived in Holt, MO.
February 20, Stan Williams, age 84
Williams was yet another player who became known with other teams to make a brief stop in St. Louis late in his career. The right-handed pitcher was a World Champion with the 1959 Dodgers and was an All-Star the next season. He was in his 14th MLB campaign when traded to the Cardinals in September 1971. After pitching in 10 games to close the schedule, Williams was released the next April.
Following his playing days, Williams was an MLB pitching coach. He made seven stops in 14 seasons, including two stints with Cincinnati (leading the “Nasty Boys” from the 1990 World Series winners).
March 8, Rheal Cormier, age 53
The left-hander from New Brunswick, nicknamed “Frenchy”, played 16 seasons in the majors, after first coming up with the Cardinals in 1991. St. Louis dealt Cormier to Boston in 1995, and a year later, he moved to Montreal in a multi-player trade that included current Cardinals bullpen coach Bryan Eversgerd going the other way. The Canadian Baseball Hall of Famer also pitched for Philadelphia and Cincinnati and represented his homeland in numerous international competitions.
Pancreatic cancer at a far too early age was the cause of Cormier’s death.
March 25, Joe Cunningham, age 89
The onetime St. Louis first baseman-outfielder and two-time All-Star enjoyed an even longer post-playing career in player development, in ticket sales and as an ambassador for the Cardinals. Seven of Cunningham’s 12 major league seasons were spent wearing the Birds on the Bat (1954, 1956-1960) and he also played for the White Sox and Senators while posting a career .291 batting average and stellar .403 on-base percentage.
Cunningham passed while in hospice care in Chesterfield, MO.
March 25, Tom Hilgendorf, age 79
This was an especially difficult date, as two former Cardinals passed away. Signed by the Cardinals as a free agent prior to the 1960 season, left-hander Hilgendorf had a long minor league apprenticeship, reaching St. Louis in August 1969. He pitched in a total of 29 games with the team, posting a 3.33 ERA. Following the 1970 season, Hilgendorf was traded to the Royals. The Iowa native pitched for Cleveland and Philadelphia, as well over his six partial seasons in the majors.
March 31, Ken Reitz, age 69
The third baseman was given the nickname “Zamboni” due to his fielding prowess, including the Gold Glove Award in 1975. Reitz was the first National Leaguer to start 150 games at third and commit fewer than 10 errors in a season, which he did in both 1977 and 1980.
Reitz spent 11 seasons in the majors, including eight with St. Louis.
May 10, Richie Scheinblum, age 78
The famed minor league slugger concluded the relatively short MLB phase of his career with six at-bats over six games with the 1974 Cardinals after his contract was purchased from Kansas City that August. Prior to then, Scheinblum had appeared in parts of seven prior big-league seasons, but only one as a starter (the 1972 Royals, when he was an All-Star). The outfielder concluded his playing career with two seasons in Japan.
June 11, Jim “Mudcat” Grant, age 85
12 years into his distinguished 14-year MLB career that included two All-Star berths, Grant was traded to the Cardinals. The right-hander joined St. Louis in June 1969 from Montreal and pitched in 30 games as a Cardinal, posting an ERA of 4.12. His contract was sold to Oakland that December.
August 3, Duke Carmel, age 84
The outfielder-first baseman signed with St. Louis prior to the 1955 season and reached the majors briefly in 1959. In an odd set of transactions, Carmel went to the Dodgers, came back, moved to LA again and returned to St. Louis again – all in a season and a half during 1960 and 1961. The strangeness continued as the Cardinals sold his contract to Cleveland in the spring of 1962, only for Carmel to rejoin St. Louis one more time that June. The Cardinals traded him to the Mets in July 1963 and from there he went to the Yankees. For all that movement, Carmel played in just 124 MLB games in his career, batting .211.
September 20, Cloyd Boyer, age 94
The right-handed pitcher was Missouri-bred and lived there until his passing. Boyer, the elder brother of fellow major leaguers Ken and Clete, was signed by the Cardinals prior to the 1945 season. He pitched for parts of the 1949 through 1952 seasons with St. Louis before moving to Kansas City in the 1954 Rule 5 Draft. In his post-playing days, Boyer coached, scouted and worked in the minor leagues.
October 2, Chuck Hartenstein, age 79
The right-handed pitcher from Texas appeared in six games for St. Louis in the middle part of the 1970 season, registering an ERA of 8.78. Hartenstein spent less than a month as a Cardinal, arriving via a waiver claim from Pittsburgh and leaving for Boston. He had spent the first three of his six-year MLB career with the Chicago Cubs.
November 9, Memo Luna, age 91
The career of Luna both started and ended in his homeland, but after his purchase by the Cardinals after the 1953 season, the knuckleball-curveball specialist made the team to open the 1954 season. Luna pitched in one game for the Cardinals, on April 20, becoming the first Mexican left-handed pitcher in major league history. On April 30, Luna was sent to Triple-A, never to return, with his big-league experience consisting of 2/3 of an inning with an 0-1 record and a 27.00 ERA. Luna remained in the Cardinals organization through 1955 and from there, returned to Mexico, where he pitched until 1961.
November 15, Jerry Johnson, age 77
The right-handed pitcher opened his 10-year MLB career with the 1968 Phillies. Following the 1969 season, Johnson came to St. Louis in the huge trade that also netted the Cardinals slugger Dick Allen. However, the Cardinals phase of Johnson’s career lasted just seven games with a 3.18 ERA before he was shipped to the Giants in May 1970.
November 15, Julio Lugo, age 45
The veteran shortstop spent 51 games of his 12-year MLB career (2000-2011 with seven clubs) with the 2009 Cardinals. Lugo was acquired from the Red Sox in a mid-season trade for outfielder Chris Duncan and departed the next spring in another trade, with Baltimore.
Earlier, Lugo earned a World Series ring with the 2007 Red Sox. The cause of death of the 45-year-old native of the Dominican Republic was presumed to be a heart attack.
November 23, Bill Virdon, age 90
The Missouri native won the 1955 NL Rookie of the Year Award with St. Louis, before being traded away early in the 1956 campaign. The strong defensive center fielder spent the remainder of his 12-year MLB career with Pittsburgh, where he earned a ring in 1960.
Virdon went on the manage 13 seasons in the Major Leagues, with the Pirates, Yankees, Astros and Expos.
The living former St. Louis Browns dropped by one-third in 2021, with the passing of Al Naples (age 94 on February 26) and Johnny Groth (age 95 on August 7).
The count of Browns still with us as 2022 opens is just four – from the 764 men who once played for the team. Former players still alive are George Elder, Frank Saucier, Ed Mickelson and Billy Hunter. The elder statesman is appropriately Elder at 100 years of age.
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