Enos Slaughter

Why the Cardinals traded Enos Slaughter

When Enos Slaughter was informed that he had been traded to the Yankees on April 11, 1954, the Cardinals’ captain broke down and wept.

Slaughter was just two weeks away from his 38th birthday and the Cardinals were two days away from opening their season against the Cubs when they finalized the deal that sent Slaughter to New York for Bill Virdon, Mel Wright, and outfield prospect Emil Tellinger.

Commonly referred to as “Country” but also known affectionately as “the Old Warhorse,” Slaughter had been the franchise’s last tie to the spirit of the Gashouse Gang, though he didn’t make his big-league debut until 1938. Since then, however, Slaughter had personified the rough and tumble style of the Redbirds while emerging as one of the league’s best – and toughest – players.

Slaughter enjoyed arguably the best season of his career as a 26-year-old in 1942, when he led the league with 188 hits. With a .318 batting average, 31 doubles, 13 homers, and 98 RBIs, Slaughter led all of baseball with 17 triples and led the Senior Circuit with 292 total bases. He finished second to teammate Mort Cooper in that year’s NL MVP voting, and in that season’s World Series, he went 5-for-19 with a double, home run, and two RBIs.

After the Cardinals won the World Series, Slaughter enlisted in the U.S. Air Force, where he became a sergeant and served as a physical education instructor. When he returned to the Cardinals in 1946, he hadn’t missed a beat. Now 30 years old, he hit .300 with 18 homers and a league-high 130 RBIs.

Once again, the Cardinals reached the World Series – this time after tying the Dodgers for the pennant and winning a three-game series to qualify for the World Series. Slaughter went 8-for-25 with a double, triple, home run, and two RBIs in the World Series and his “mad dash” home to win Game 7 earned a permanent place in baseball history.

Though Slaughter and the Cardinals were unable to win another NL pennant together, the now-veteran star continued to impress, batting .321 and finishing seventh in the MVP vote in 1948, then hitting .336 and finishing third in the balloting in 1949.

In 1952, he hit .300 and drove in 101 runs to finish sixth in the MVP race, and in his final season with the Cardinals, at age 37, he continued to defy Father Time, batting .291 and driving in 89 runs. In fact, on the same day the trade was announced, a story appeared in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat in which Tom Henrich, former outfielder and now a telecaster in New York, said, “They say baseball is a young man’s game, but look at that Slaughter. He was pitching for Little Rock when I was playing for New Orleans and they called him a veteran then. No, sir, it’s not a young man’s game altogether.”[1]

Coming off an 83-71-3 season in which they finished third in the National League, however, the Cardinals were inclined to disagree. With rookie Wally Moon ready to make his big-league debut, manager Eddie Stanky preferred to go with an outfield of Rip Repulski, Moon, and Stan Musial, and he knew that the proud Slaughter would chafe at playing a reserve role.

“A player like Slaughter just can’t stand sitting on a bench and, while I’m not trying to put myself on a pedestal by comparing myself with him, I couldn’t stand it either,” Stanky said.[2]

Indeed, Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the Cardinals’ captain had already noticed his decreased playing time during spring training, and while he had not said anything directly to Stanky, he “had made no secret of his displeasure within earshot of reporters.”[3]

“I signed a contract to play,” Slaughter said.[4]

Slaughter was informed of the trade during the Cardinals’ spring training game against the Orioles. General manager Dick Meyer asked Slaughter to put on his street clothes and then come to his office on Dodier Street. When Slaughter arrived, Meyer broke the news.

“The Old Warhorse, seated with hands on his knees, nervously folding and unfolding a handkerchief, still was sobbing when reporters, who had been handed mimeographed copies of (team president August A.) Busch’s announcement and newcomer Wright’s record a few minutes after the game ended, walked into Meyer’s office,” the Post-Dispatch reported.[5]

“It’s the greatest shock I ever had in my life,” Slaughter said several times, occasionally dropping his voice occasionally to a whisper. “To think that I spent nearly all my life with this organization and then they trade me after I’ve given them everything I got.”[6]

Though Slaughter was clearly still stunned by the news, he soon regained his competitive fire.

“I thought I could help them to a pennant this time and if some other guys hustled as much as I did, they’d make it,” he said. “But you can tell ‘em in New York I’ll give ‘em 100 percent just as I did the Cardinal organization.”[7]

Stanky announced to the assembled media that second baseman Red Schoendienst would replace Slaughter as the Cardinals’ new captain,[8] and Meyer told reporters that whenever Slaughter decided to call it a career, he would be welcomed back to the organization.

“I don’t think he’s ready to quit now, any more than he does, but I’ll say this – the door here would be wide open,” Meyer said.[9]

In a prepared statement, Busch wrote that the move gave the Cardinals a chance to give Moon an opportunity for playing time while strengthening the team’s prospect pool.

“We have just traded one of the greatest players in the history of the Cardinals,” Busch said. “Personally, this has been one of the toughest decisions I have ever had to participate in. Enos Slaughter has been ‘Mr. Baseball’ for almost 20 years. Fans in every part of the country have been thrilled by his aggressiveness and determination. The term ‘hustle’ was practically coined for him. Slaughter is a champion all the way and it is fitting that he joins the world champion New York Yankees.”[10]

“This is the toughest part of my job as manager, but a championship ball player is going to a championship ball club,” Stanky said. “We feel we have good young outfielders and if we have Enos around, we won’t play those young players.”[11]

Meanwhile, the Yankees were delighted to add Slaughter as a bench bat to a team that already had Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Hank Bauer, Joe Collins, and Andy Carey.

“We gave up nothing that could help us this year in return for something who is sure to help us a lot,” Yankees co-owner Del Webb said.[12]

“He’s an excellent man to have on the bench and should be very useful for pinch-hitting duties,” one Yankees official said. “Besides, he gives us protection in case Mantle’s knee doesn’t come around too quickly.”[13]

In St. Louis, the trade was met with anger and disgust.

“Cardinal fans probably are more indignant over the departure of Slaughter than they have been over any deal since Rogers Hornsby was traded to the Giants for Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring after the 1926 season,” J. Roy Stockton wrote in the Post-Dispatch.[14]

In the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, Robert L. Burnes explained that, “Enos Slaughter was more than a ballplayer, as any Cardinal fan could tell you. He was an institution – not only among the fans, but among the players as well. To be trite again, Enos was the ball players’ ball player. He played the game the way it should be played.”[15]

As the player tabbed to replace Slaughter, nobody felt the pressure more than Moon. As he stepped to the plate for his big-league at-bat, the hometown crowd at Sportsman’s Park booed the 24-year-old mercilessly.

“What should have been one of the best days of my life, April 13, 1954, was turning out to be one of the worst,” Moon wrote in 2010. “As I stepped to the plate for my first major-league at-bat in the home half of the first inning of the first game of the new season, I was greeted with a torrent of verbal castigation and denunciation from seemingly every corner of the park.”[16]

Incredibly, Moon responded by hitting a solo home run over the right-field wall, becoming just the second Cardinal to hit a home run in his first major-league at-bat. It was the beginning of a Rookie of the Year-winning campaign for Moon, who hit .304 with 12 homers, 76 RBIs, and 18 stolen bases. Moon went on to play five seasons with the Cardinals before he was traded to the Dodgers, where he became famous for his “Moon shots” over the high screen just 251 feet down the left-field line at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Slaughter hit .248 with a home run and 19 RBIs for the Yankees in 1954 and was traded to the Athletics after just nine at-bats in 1955. At the time, the owners of the Yankees and A’s were friends, and the A’s essentially functioned as another farm team for the Yankees. Playing regularly once again, Slaughter hit .322 with five homers and 34 RBIs.

In 1956, the A’s traded him back to the Yankees, allowing him to win his third and fourth career World Series rings with the Bronx Bombers in both ’56 and ’58. In Game 3 of the 1956 World Series, Slaughter hit a key three-run homer to lift New York to a 5-3 win.

The Yankees released Slaughter in 1959, and he played the final games of his career with the Braves before retiring after 19 big-league seasons. In 1985, Slaughter was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and in 1996, the Cardinals retired his number 9.

Virdon went on to win the Rookie of the Year trophy in 1955, batting .281 with 17 homers and 68 RBIs. In 1956, the Cardinals traded Virdon to the Pirates for Bobby Del Greco and Dick Littlefield. Virdon went on to play in 1,583 games and bat .267 across a 12-year major-league career.

Wright pitched two big-league seasons for the Cardinals, going 2-2 with a 7.14 ERA across 46 23/ innings.

Tellinger spent just one season in the Cardinals’ system and never reached the majors.

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[1] Robert L. Burnes, “The Bench Warmer,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 11, 1954.

[2] Bob Broeg, “Trade of Slaughter Puts Rookie Moon and Cardinal Office on Spot,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[3] Bob Broeg, “Trade of Slaughter Puts Rookie Moon and Cardinal Office on Spot,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[4] Bob Broeg, “Trade of Slaughter Puts Rookie Moon and Cardinal Office on Spot,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[5] “Yanks Sought Enos in Raschi Deal; Cards Reopened Case,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[6] “Yanks Sought Enos in Raschi Deal; Cards Reopened Case,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[7] “Yanks Sought Enos in Raschi Deal; Cards Reopened Case,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[8] “Yanks Sought Enos in Raschi Deal; Cards Reopened Case,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[9] “Enos May Return To Cards Some Day,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[10] “Busch Says Slaughter Deal Will Give Rookies a Chance,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 12, 1954.

[11] “Yanks Sought Enos in Raschi Deal; Cards Reopened Case,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[12] Hy Turkin, “Yanks Get Enos Slaughter,” New York Daily News, April 12, 1954.

[13] “‘Good Deal for Us, We Gave Up Practically Nothing,’ Says Webb,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[14] J. Roy Stockton, “Extra Innings,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 12, 1954.

[15] Robert L. Burnes, “The Bench Warmer,” St. Louis Globe-Democrat, April 13, 1954.

[16] Wally Moon with Tim Gregg (2010), Moon Shots: Reflections on a Baseball Life, Rhesa Moon Enterprises, Page 1.