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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
Player, player-manager: The
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
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
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
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
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
1953 also represented the end of
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
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
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
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
As the locals pursued a major
league expansion franchise which became the Colt ‘45's in 1962, believe it or
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
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
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,
hopes are clearly slipping away.
His teammates remained among those
most strongly in support of Marion's long and fruitless
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
"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
What should be done,
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
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%,
Wes Ferrell (3.6%,
Joe Gordon (4.1%,
Sherry Magee (1%,
Carl Mays (2.3%,
Allie Reynolds (33.6%,
Mickey Vernon (24.9,
Bucky Walters (23.7%,
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 email@example.com.
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