July 5, 1961: Bill White hits three homers as Cardinals bid farewell to Solly Hemus

It was a strange twist of fate that in Solly Hemus’s final game as Cardinals manager, he watched two players whose careers he arguably had mismanaged lead his club to a 9-1 win over a Dodgers team that was chasing a National League pennant.

Bill White hit three home runs and a double and Bob Gibson threw a complete-game four-hitter to lead the Cardinals to the win. The following day, the Cardinals called an 11 a.m. press conference to announce that they were replacing Hemus with Johnny Keane.

The Cardinals entered the game with losses in three of their previous four games. At 32-41, they were in sixth place in the National League, 14 ½ games behind the first-place Reds.

Gibson, the Cardinals’ starter, had not yet made a name for himself as a big-league pitcher. He entered the game with a 5-5 record and 3.34 ERA and was coming off a disappointing loss to the Braves in which he allowed seven runs – four earned – in 4 1/3 innings. His career mark was just 11-16.

Nonetheless, the former Harlem Globetrotter had shown flashes of his superior athleticism and competitive fire. In the second inning, he demonstrated both qualities with a two-run home run off Dodgers starter Johnny Podres. It was the first of 24 home runs Gibson hit over the course of his career.

Bill White, who would hit 202 homers over the course of his 13-year major-league career, launched his first shot of the game to lead off the third inning. The Dodgers scored their lone run in the bottom half of the inning when Maury Wills and Ron Fairly each singled and Willie Davis grounded out to score Mills.

In the fourth, White extended the Cardinals’ lead to 5-1 when he hit a two-run homer off Dodgers reliever Roger Craig. St. Louis maintained its four-run lead until the seventh, when Ken Boyer scored on a ground ball off the bat of Jimmie Schaffer and Carl Warwick added a two-run single that made the score 8-1.

In the eighth, White faced his third pitcher of the day in reliever Jim Golden. It didn’t make a difference. For the third time that day, White homered to right field to make the final score 9-1. In the ninth, White added a double for his fourth extra-base hit of the day.

“I wasn’t thinking so much about (another home run) as the fact that the first pitch might come pretty close to me,” White said. “Then, when I did hit the ball, it looked for a second or two like it might hook in there for another homer.”[1]

Gibson retired the final 10 batters he faced in a complete-game effort. He held the Dodgers to just four hits as he walked three and struck out five.

Despite the lopsided win, Hemus’s fate already had been determined. Owner August A. Busch Jr. had made the call, and general manager Bing Devine had arrived in Los Angeles to make the announcement at 11 a.m. the following day.[2] In three seasons as the Cardinals’ manager, Hemus had compiled a 190-192 record.

Johnny Keane, whose coaching career began in the Cardinals’ organization in 1938, was named the team’s new manager. Keane had spent a decade as the manager of the Cardinals’ Triple-A club before he was promoted to the majors as the Cardinals’ third-base coach in 1959.

Hemus and Keane were both at the press conference announcing the managerial change, and St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg noted the coolness between the two men. After initially refusing to discuss his relationship with Keane, Hemus said he had no comment when he was asked directly whether Keane may have undermined him.[3]

For his part, Keane said he had been frustrated by Hemus’s reluctance to utilize his baseball knowledge.

“I did the only thing I could do then – my job and no more,” Keane said.[4]

Many of the Cardinals who would play a key role in the team’s 1960s championships – including White, Gibson, and Curt Flood – were ready for the change. In 1959, Hemus famously lost the team after an incident in which Pittsburgh pitcher Bennie Daniels hit him with a pitch and Hemus allegedly called Daniels a “black son of a bitch”[5] or a “black bastard.”[6] Hemus also created friction when he began to limit Stan Musial’s playing time, believing that Musial’s days as an effective big leaguer were done.[7] Musial went on to bat .330 and place 10th in the NL MVP voting in 1962.

Gibson thrived once Hemus was replaced by Keane. As he recalled in Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game: “I’d been unpolished when I arrived in St. Louis in 1959, and that might be an understatement – I led the league in walks in ’61, my first year in the rotation – but my pitching skills weren’t as hopeless as Hemus would have had me think. He held them in such contempt that, when he went over an opposing team’s scouting report with the pitching staff, he’d pause and tell me not to worry about all that stuff, just try to throw some strikes. Maybe that’s why I felt as I did about scouting reports. And Solly Hemus.”[8]

Catcher Tim McCarver was witness to the interactions between Hemus and Gibson.

“He said Gibby’d never make it as a big-league pitcher,” McCarver said. “‘Hell,’ he’d mumble, ‘the guy throws everything the same speed.’ Maybe he did, but that speed was about a thousand miles an hour and it nearly tore up my hand every time I caught him.”[9]

Hemus had similar doubts regarding Flood’s abilities.

“Hemus did not share the rather widely held belief that I played center field approximately as well as Willie Mays,” Flood said. “He sat me on the bench, preferring to use men such as Gino Cimoli, Don Taussig, Don Landrum, and even poor Bill White, who unquestionably was the best first baseman in the league but was its most miscast outfielder. Hemus acted as if I smelled bad. He avoided my presence, and when he could not do that, he avoided my eyes.”[10]

Though White had proven himself to be an above-average first baseman, Hemus used him in the outfield in 92 games in 1959, instead opting to use Musial at first base. In 1960, White won the first of seven consecutive Gold Glove awards at first base.

Keane managed the 1961 Cardinals to a 47-33 record the rest of the season to finish fifth in the National League, all the while building up the confidence of future franchise cornerstones such as Gibson and Flood. After leading the Cardinals to 84 wins in 1962 and 93 wins in 1963, Keane reached the pinnacle, guiding St. Louis all the way to the 1964 World Series championship. The feat would not have been possible without Gibson’s 19 regular-season wins, White’s 21 homers and 102 RBIs, and Flood’s .311 batting average and 97 runs scored.

After the season, knowing that Busch had interviewed Leo Durocher for his job prior to the Cardinals’ late-season surge, Keane surprised everyone by announcing at a press conference that he would not be returning to St. Louis for the 1965 season. A few days later, the Yankees announced that they had hired Keane to replace Yogi Berra.

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[1] Al Wolf, “‘Roomies’ Team Up to Wreck Dodgers,” Los Angeles Times, July 6, 1961.

[2] Bob Broeg, “Cards Fire Hemus; St. Louisan Keane New Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 6, 1961.

[3] Bob Broeg, “Cards Fire Hemus; St. Louisan Keane New Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 6, 1961.

[4] Bob Broeg, “Cards Fire Hemus; St. Louisan Keane New Manager,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 6, 1961.

[5] Sridhar Pappu (2018), “Year of the Pitcher,” New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, Page 44.

[6] Bill White (2011), “Uppity: My Untold Story About the Games People Play,” New York: Grand Central Publishing, Page 65.

[7] Paul Golenbock (2000), “The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns,” New York: Harper Collins eBooks, Page 433.

[8] Bob Gibson with Lonnie Wheeler (2015), “Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game,” New York: Flatiron Books, Page 9.

[9] Paul Golenbock (2000), “The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns,” New York: Harper Collins eBooks, Page 433.

[10] Paul Golenbock (2000), “The Spirit of St. Louis: A History of the St. Louis Cardinals and Browns,” New York: Harper Collins eBooks, Page 433.