Marion at 91: Still Waiting for the Hall
This story originally published on TheCardinalNation.com
Marion in St. Louis (2005)
Marion in St. Louis (2005)

Posted Dec 1, 2008


Former St. Louis Cardinals shortstop Marty Marion celebrated his 91st birthday on Monday, December 1. Why is he again going to miss out on joining Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2009?

Simply put, Marty Marion deserves to be inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 2009. It has been a long time coming for the shortstop, now 91 years of age as of Monday, December 1, but sadly, he is assured of missing out once again this year.

 

Though the defensive wizard known as “Slats” and “The Octopus” is considered by many to be the oldest living former St. Louis Cardinals player, actually he is not. With the passing of Don Gutteridge in September, that mantle passed on to former catcher Herman Franks. Franks, age 94, played with the club in 17 games in 1939.

 

Though not the oldest surviving Cardinal, Marion is clearly the oldest star still with us. Along with his contemporary Stan Musial, he is one of the most prominent links remaining to the glory decade of the 1940’s. That was a period during which St. Louis played in four World Series, winning three.

 

Prior to the arrival of Ozzie Smith on the scene in 1982, Marion held the undisputed crown as the club’s greatest shortstop ever. He was also recognized as the best defensive shortstop of his era – pre-television and pre-Gold Glove Awards.

 

Marion earned nine consecutive All-Star Game invitations and led the National League shortstops in fielding percentage three times, including a career-best .981 mark in 1947.

Along with stumping for Marion and celebrating his birthday, there was another motivation for this article. On our message board recently, there has been lively discussion revisiting the top four Cardinals of all time, inspired by a recent Post-Dispatch vote.

 

Ozzie vs. Marion: closer than you think

 

While arguing the merits of Rogers Hornsby with our readers, I was reminded that in more than one forum, Smith has received considerable support for inclusion in that extremely select group of four.

 

Despite attending scores of Cardinals games during the Ozzie era and still dealing with the ringing in my ears as a after-effect from the Metrodome crowds during the 1987 World Series, I admit I always cringe a bit whenever Ozzie is anointed the best Cards shortstop ever with nary a mention of Marion.

 

I mean to take nothing away from the long-time consistent greatness of Ozzie Smith, nor am I suggesting that Marty Marion should be considered in the top four or even eight Cardinals of all time. Yet, I consider the gap between the two much smaller than most everyone else, it seems.

Like Ozzie, Marion managed to hit enough (.263 career batting average vs. Ozzie's .262) and even won a National League Most Valuable Player Award (succeeding Musial in 1944), something the Wizard never achieved.

 

Marion won despite hitting eighth in the Cardinals line-up that year, but he was solid with the bat. The then-26-year-old drove in 63 runs in 1944, yet clearly earned his reputation with his glove.

 

Had Marion been able to sustain his performance for six or seven years longer like Ozzie did, the gap between the two would have been narrowed much further. As noted above, even playing fewer years, Marion appeared in more World Series, four, with the Cards winning three. That is one record Ozzie surely would love to have.

Again, intending no slight to Smith, but this pulpit is being used to observe that the old-timers don't always receive their just due.

 

One poster on our board wisely asserted that when selecting their greatest player lists, many naturally gravitate to those players most prominent during that fan’s coming of age.

 

I can see where he is coming from, but I didn’t have to see Marion on SportsCenter every night to acknowledge his greatness.

 

To that end, my primary motivation for this article is to try to help reverse Marion’s diminishing chances for election to Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

 

Player: The Senators

 

The son of a cotton farmer from South Carolina, Marion only became a Cardinals third base prospect because Washington Senators owner Calvin Griffith foolishly released him at the age of 17 over a road trip travel misunderstanding.

 

Player, player-manager: The Cardinals

 

Hall-of-Fame executive Branch Rickey is credited for moving the tall and lanky youngster to shortstop, while Marion was still in Double-A. At 6-feet-2, 170 pounds and featuring excellent range and soft hands, he broke the mold that previously dictated all shortstops must be small.

 

Marion came up to the Cardinals in the spring of 1940, never to return to the minor leagues again.

 

Over a 13-season major league playing career, Marion wore a Cardinals uniform as a player for the first eleven before taking over as manager for the 1951 season. Unable to play that year due to a back injury, Marion never actually took the field as a player-manager for the Redbirds.

 

Impatient new owner Fred Saigh quickly fired him after just one third-place season. Though Saigh felt Marion was “too nice” and even the rookie skipper admitted he didn’t communicate with his boss often enough, there was no doubt the then-owner knew what he had in his shortstop.

 

Talking to author Peter Golenbock in the book “The Spirit of St. Louis”, Saigh noted Stan Musial would have been worth $10 or $15 million per season back in 1999. He went on to say, “He’d be worth it… So would Red Schoendienst, and (Enos) Slaughter and Marty. A couple of shortstops the Cards have had since then can’t hold a glove to Marty. I contend now that they are not playing the baseball that we played in my era.”

 

Player-coach, player-manager: The Browns

 

Marion moved over to the cross-town rival Browns and took the field again as player-coach under the legend Hornsby to start the 1952 season. Marion became the field manager after just 51 games when Rajah was canned and he remained in the dual job through the following season under flamboyant owner Bill Veeck.   

 

When Veeck failed in his three-year plan to run the Cardinals out of town, it was he that was eventually forced to vacate St. Louis. Personally, Saigh didn’t come out much better as he had to sell his club due to off-field legal problems. August Busch’s deep-pocketed Anheuser-Busch Brewery empire acquired the Cards, dooming Veeck’s guerrilla war.

 

Marion brought the lame-duck 1953 Browns home with a difficult 100-loss last-place season, as Veeck sold off his star players in a futile attempt to remain afloat. It was the club’s final year in the Midwest.

 

1953 also represented the end of Marion’s playing career. He delivered a .263 batting average with 36 home runs, 624 RBI and a .969 fielding percentage in 1572 major league games.

 

Manager: The White Sox

 

No one could blame Marion for jumping ship when the Chicago White Sox called with a job offer at the end of the 1953 campaign. Marion left the Browns before the move to Baltimore was finalized, as the other MLB owners first forced Veeck to sell his club.

 

In Chicago, Marion once again was called upon to take over managerial reigns during the season, this time when Paul Richards bailed out near the end of the 1954 campaign.  Ironically, Richards moved to Baltimore, where he would lead the new Orioles/old Browns as manager/GM for their first seven seasons on the East Coast.

 

Marion went on to skipper the Sox to a pair of third-place finishes in 1955 and 1956 before retiring with a career managerial record of 356-372.

 

Owner: The Houston Buffs

 

According to Houston baseball historian Bill McCurdy, Marion returned to the game in 1959 as the lead owner of the Houston Buffs of the American Association when his group purchased the club from the Cardinals. He even lured his former teammate Slaughter to skipper the 1960 Buffs, but the end was near.

 

As the locals pursued a major league expansion franchise which became the Colt ‘45’s in 1962, believe it or not, Marion’s Triple-A club served as a Chicago Cubs affiliate for their final three seasons of existence. That ended Houston’s 37 consecutive years under Cardinals ownership.

 

Career recognition lacking

 

For whatever reason, being a defensive stalwart seems to have closed off the most important career recognition possible – selection to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

 

In 1970, Marion received approval from 40% of the writers, his high-water mark in 11 different regular votes held from 1960 through 1973. Once he fell off the regular ballot, Marion often continued to be singled out as one of the primary candidates under consideration by the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee.

 

Yet, the anticipated call never came.

 

With his contemporaries becoming fewer and fewer, Marion’s Veterans Committee support has been eroding. He last appeared on the 2007 ballot, garnering 13.4% of the ballots cast (11 votes). In the 2005 Veterans election, he received 20% (16 votes) and 21% of the vote (17 votes) in 2003.

 

With 75% approval needed, Marion’s Hall hopes are clearly slipping away.

 

His teammates remained among those most strongly in support of Marion’s long and fruitless candidacy.

 

Max Lanier, who pitched in front of Marion for almost his entire 14-year major league career told Golenbock, “Marty should be in the Hall of Fame. He’s on a par with (contemporaries and Hall inductees Phil) Rizzuto and Pee Wee Reese. He hand long arms and he caught a lot of balls that would have gone for triples if he hadn’t caught them.”

 

His successor as the Cardinals shortstop and later manager of the club from 1959-1961, Solly Hemus, said this about Marion. “Needless to say, I could never fill his shoes. I believe he should be in the Hall of Fame. I can’t believe that he’s not.”

 

Gutteridge saw it the same way. “Marty was very, very skilled. He was big and tall and very agile, and everybody said you can’t be a tall shortstop. That was the old adage. But he could stretch out and reach and field more balls than anyone. He could cover a lot of ground. He was a fine, fine shortstop.

 

“I don’t know why he isn’t in the Hall of Fame. I always thought he should be,” Gutteridge told Golenbock.

 

What should be done, isn’t

 

One chronic Cardinals career injustice was corrected this summer when Marion’s skipper during their glory years, Billy Southworth, was finally inducted into the Hall of Fame. Sadly, as so often seems to be the case, that recognition was posthumously awarded.

 

On the other hand, while 91-year-old Marty Marion is still with us, he has to wait longer.

 

Next week, on December 8 at the Winter Meetings, the results of special pre-1943 and post-1942 Hall of Fame voting will be announced. Those receiving over 75% of the vote will officially enter the Hall in July, 2009.

 

Voters for the post-1942 candidates are all 64 living Hall of Famers. (Joe Torre is the longest-serving Cardinal among those ten finalists.)

 

Since Marion’s MLB career began in 1940, he was a part of the pre-1943 group under consideration. Amazingly, he did not make the list of ten finalists.

 

The 12-man Veterans Committee voters that selected and voted for this slate of candidates are of Hall of Famers Bobby Doerr, Ralph Kiner, Phil Niekro, Robin Roberts, Duke Snider, Don Sutton and Dick Williams plus historians Furman Bisher, Roland Hemond, Steve Hirdt, Bill Madden and Claire Smith.

 

Their pre-1943 finalists follow with each player’s highest-ever regular vote percentage and year in parenthesis following their names:

Bill Dahlen (0.4%, 1938)

Wes Ferrell (3.6%, 1956)

Joe Gordon (4.1%, 1958/1960)

Sherry Magee (1%, 1937)

Carl Mays (2.3%, 1958)

Allie Reynolds (33.6%, 1968)

Vern Stephens (NA)

Mickey Vernon (24.9, 1980)

Bucky Walters (23.7%, 1968)

Deacon White (NA)

 

How disappointing is that?

 

Remember that Marion once pulled down a 40% score, more than any of these ten finalists, and ahead of most of them by a factor of ten or more.

 

It is past time for the Veterans Committee to send Marion to Cooperstown where he rightly belongs alongside The Man, Billy the Kid and his old double-play partner Red, but alas, again in 2009 it just isn’t going to happen.

 

 

Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

 

© 2008 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.



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