SABR

Howie Krist

This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf.

Right-handed pitcher Howie "Spud" Krist overcame a series of ailments and potentially career-threatening injuries to post an undefeated season (10-0) for the Cardinals in 1941 after a three-year absence from the major leagues. As an important member of the Cardinals' World Series teams in 1942 and 1943, Krist sported a 37-11 lifetime record before a serious back injury suffered in combat during World War II prematurely ended his career.

Howard Wilbur Krist was born on February 28, 1916, in West Henrietta, a small town south of Rochester, in northwest New York. Howie, as his parents called him, his twin brother Harold and his younger brother Allen grew up on the family farm. Their parents were the children of immigrants; father John's family was from Germany and mother Mary's family from Denmark. At the ages of 24 and 25, respectively, John and Mary married in 1912 and lived the rest of their lives in Monroe County, New York.

A versatile athlete at Rush High School in Henrietta, Howie played basketball, football, and pitched on the baseball team. Northwest New York was a hotbed for professional baseball at the time; the Rochester Red Wings, the Syracuse Stars (later the Chiefs) and the Buffalo Bisons played in the International League, one of the two premier minor Double A leagues east of the Mississippi River. Howie caught the attention of Warren Giles, then president and general manager of the Red Wings, an affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals, by winning 12 consecutive games in his senior year in 1934. Giles signed Krist to a minor league contract upon graduation and assigned him to the Class B Bloomington (Indiana) Bloomers in the Illinois-Indiana-Iowa (Three-I) League for the 1935 season.

In his first year of organized baseball, the 19-year-old Krist helped lead the Bloomers to the Three-I League pennant. Pitching for player-manager Burleigh Grimes, who was in his final year of professional baseball, Krist won 10 of 19 decisions and pitched 167 innings. He saw action in one game for the Red Wings after the Bloomers’ season ended.

Krist was scheduled to start the 1936 season with the Red Wings, but was stricken with appendicitis, the first of his many setbacks due to injury and illness. He missed much of spring training and was physically weak. Consequently, he was assigned to the Class B Columbus (Georgia) Red Birds in the newly reorganized South Atlantic (Sally) League. Under the tutelage of his manager, former major league pitcher Eddie Dyer, Krist blossomed into one of the league’s best pitchers, with a 20-9 record and a stellar 2.91 ERA in 247 innings. Krist’s contract was sold to Rochester after the Red Wings won the pennant.

Armed with a wicked fastball and a slow curve, the 6’1” 175-pound Krist was equally effective as a starter or reliever for the Red Wings in 1937. He led the IL in games pitched (47), and topped the Red Wings with 29 starts and 232 innings pitched. He was often a hard-luck loser with a 13-15 record on a 6th-place club. “He is regarded as one of the most promising young hurlers in the IL,” reported the Syracuse News. iDespite his won-lost record, Krist earned a call-up to the Cardinals in September.

Reporting to Cardinals player-manager Frankie Frisch, Krist’s major league career took off in a flurry with his first three appearances coming within a five-day period. On September 12, 1937 Krist made his major league debut by pitching a scoreless 9th inning in a loss to the Cincinnati Reds. Two days later, he tossed a scoreless 14th inning to win his first major league game in exciting fashion as the Cardinals defeated the Phillies 9-8 in their longest game of the season. Krist surrendered only eight hits while going all the way to beat the Phillies 8-1 in his first career start in the second game of a September 16 doubleheader. Krist, a fast worker on the mound throughout his career, finished the game in less than two hours.

Impressed with Krist’s adjustment to major league hitters, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon revealed that many teams had inquired about the hurler’s availability. Krist finished the season with a 3-1 record and a 4.23 ERA in 27 2/3 innings prompting The Sporting News to write “[he’s] shown enough to encourage the idea that he will be a regular starter next year.” ii

Krist didn’t make it back to the big leagues for almost three years. In arguably his most frustrating year in baseball, Krist must have wondered what he had to do to catch a stroke of luck in 1938. He reported to St. Petersburg for his first major league spring training expecting to join the Cardinals starting rotation but illness struck for the second year in a row. He developed a severe case of influenza and missed much of camp. Weak and not yet in pitching shape when the season began, Krist made two brief appearances in relief before being optioned to Rochester. With the Red Wings, Krist developed a sore arm by adjusting his pitching motion to compensate for his lack of stamina. With his fastball lacking its typical velocity, Krist struggled to a 6-11 record and an unsightly 5.09 ERA in 115 innings before a broken ankle ended his season.

Assigned to the Houston Buffaloes of the Class A-1 Texas League in 1939, Krist developed bone chips on his elbow. Following reports from the Associated Press that his career was in jeopardy and he’d likely be out all season, Krist traveled to St. Louis for surgery by Cardinals’ team physician Dr. Robert Hyland. Recovering quickly and returning to the Buffaloes in May, Krist was used primarily in relief (with nine starts) and finished with a 5-2 record and 3.58 ERA in 103 innings. Managed by Eddie Dyer and led by pitchers Murray Dickson (22 wins), Harry Brecheen (18), Ernie White (15), and Red Wilks (14), the Buffaloes won the first of three consecutive Texas League titles.

With just ten wins in the previous two years and fearing that his career might soon be over, Krist arrived at the Buffaloes spring training in 1940 needing to prove himself to an organization stacked with young pitchers. Krist “looked like Dizzy Dean” that season, winning his first five decisions along with his last nine consecutive starts. iii Described as the "best all-around hurler in the Texas League," he finished with a career-high 22 victories and a career-low 1.71 ERA in 253 innings. iv Along with 19-year-old Howie Pollet (20 wins), Krist led the Buffaloes to the league pennant and championship (winning four more games in the playoffs), but lost in the Dixie Series to the Nashville Volunteers. “[Krist’s] comeback with the Buffs was nothing short of sensational,” wrote The Sporting News. v Cardinals owner Breadon and general manager Branch Rickey were impressed and offered the 24-year-old hurler a major league contract for the 1941 season.

In the offseason, Krist married Ellen Elizabeth Parsons of Delevan, New York (located 75 miles southeast of West Henrietta) and they made their home in St. Louis. vi Having regained his fastball, which had suggested unlimited potential before his injury-riddled 1938 season, Krist was again rated the Cardinals' top prospect by The Sporting News. vii Joining other highly touted pitching prospects, such as 19-game winners Hersh Lyons and Hank Gornicki (from the Rochester Red Wings) and 18-year-old phenom Max Surkont (Class B Decatur Commodores) at the Cardinals spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Krist faced difficult competition from a veteran staff led by Lou Warneke and Mort Cooper. Manager Billy Southworth, in his first full season at the helm of the Redbirds, slated the tall, lean, square-jawed Krist for the bullpen to start the season. After tossing 1 1/3 innings of scoreless relief against the Pirates on April 22, Krist was buried deep in the Cardinals' bullpen and did not pitch again until May 2 at Shibe Park in Philadelphia. In one of his eight spot starts during the season, Krist tossed his first of two complete games, struck out four, and surrendered just five hits as the Cardinals won 4-2 for the their seventh consecutive victory to remain tied with the Brooklyn Dodgers in first place.

Ignited by good pitching and timely hitting, the Cardinals played their best first half of baseball since 1936, and were in second place at the All-Star break. On June 11, Krist relieved Cooper in the fifth inning and pitched 5 2/3 innings of one-hit baseball to defeat the Phillies 3-2 for his fifth consecutive win when leftfielder Don Padgett doubled home centerfielder Don Moore in the top of the 10th. Though not known as a good-hitting pitcher (he batted .168 in 149 at bats with no home runs and seven runs batted in his major league career), the left-handed hitting Krist helped his cause by rapping a career-high three hits in three at-bats and scoring a run.

Injuries to key players (Cooper and top sluggers, first baseman Johnny Mize and outfielder Enos Slaughter) made it impossible for the Cardinals to fend off the Dodgers' powerful offense. Nonetheless, their tenacity and a seemingly endless supply of emerging major leaguers (such as Stan Musial who batted .426 in September and staff ace, 24-year-old Ernie White, who won 17 games in his first full season) suggested a bright future for the Redbirds.

With his ability to pitch in any situation, from short and long relief to spot starting, Krist proved to be an invaluable "fireman" on the Cardinals' staff. "Unbeaten Krist Hurls Eighth Victory," read a subhead in the New York Times after Howie tossed eight innings in the second game of a doubleheader to defeat the Braves 8-6 in Sportsman's Park. viii Winning his final two decisions of the season, "Spud," so named for his boyish good looks and ever-present smile, finished the season with 10 wins and no losses to set a National League record for the most wins in one season without registering a defeat (Tom Zachary 12-0 for the Senators in 1929 and Dennis Lamp 11-0 for the Blue Jays in 1985 are the only pitchers in major league history to register more than 10 wins without a defeat). Krist tied for the team-lead in appearances (37) and relief appearances (29), led the team with 17 games finished, and notched a 4.03 ERA in 114 innings for the second-place Cards.

When spring training opened in 1942, the Cardinals were a young team whose farm system was bursting at the seams with major-league-ready talent. Led by youngsters Musial and Slaughter and fielding an everyday starting lineup with only one player older than 27 (30-year-old Terry Moore), the Cards led the NL in batting average and runs scored. Southworth juggled his young pitching staff, which saw seven hurlers start at least 10 games during the season. When the old man of the staff, 33-year-old Warneke was sold in mid-season to the Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals boasted one of the youngest staffs in the league. Led by NL MVP Mort Cooper (22 wins) and newcomer, 24-year-old Johnny Beazley (21 wins), the Cards easily paced the senior circuit with a 2.55 ERA.

Described in an Associated Press wire story as "overlooked in 1941" despite his undefeated season, the "unknown" Krist began the 1942 season as the Cardinals' fireman and good luck charm. ix By the end of May, Krist sported a 1.35 ERA in 10 appearances, but it appeared as though the Dodgers were running away with the pennant with a six game lead over the Cardinals. Shelved for two weeks with arm pains in June, Krist gave up a run in the ninth inning to the Phillies on June 14 to blow a save, but the Cards scored in the bottom of the ninth to give Krist his 13th consecutive victory.

After losing his first major league game since 1937 (pitching the last two frames in a 14-inning, 2-1 defeat to the Phillies on June 28), Krist enjoyed one of the best months of his career that July, earning wins in five straight appearances. He earned consecutive victories in long relief against the Braves pitching five innings of three-hit ball on July 12 and then 4 2/3 innings without surrendering a hit on July 14 to keep the Cards in second place, eight games behind the streaking Dodgers.

Mort Cooper’s injury in mid-July put the Cardinals' pennant aspirations in jeopardy, but Krist stepped in and threw a five-hitter on July 17 to defeat the Phillies 10-1 in St. Louis for his first complete game of the season. Four days later, he went the distance and surrendered six hits to defeat Philadelphia at Shibe Park 9-6. In his last game of the month, he tossed 8 1/3 innings to secure the victory over the Braves to put the Cardinals six games behind Brooklyn. "[He's] too valuable as a relief pitcher, a bringer of too much luck," said Southworth when asked why Krist had not been used exclusively as a starter. x

By going 25-8 in August, the Cardinals closed the gap between themselves and Brooklyn to just three games. After losing two consecutive games for the first time in his career, Krist made nine appearances in the month and won three times, including his third and final complete game of the season (a 5-2 victory over the Reds on August 17). "I guess you have to be lucky to get by that way," said Krist trying to explain how he had a knack for earning wins in relief or as a spot starter and even when he didn't pitch his best. xi Krist only surrendered two home runs the entire season, which helps explain his uncanny success.

The Cardinals played even better in September, winning 21 of 25 games to overtake the Dodgers on September 13 and win the pennant by two games, setting a franchise record with 106 victories. Krist surrendered just two runs in 12 2/3 innings in five appearances that month, and won twice, despite not pitching the last two weeks of the season. He finished the season with a career-high 13 wins against three losses, with a career-best 2.51 ERA (136 ERA+) in 34 appearances and 118 1/3 innings pitched. His .813 winning percentage led the NL. xii

After losing Game One of the World Series to the Yankees, the Cardinals won four consecutive games to secure their first title since the Gas House Gang in 1934. With impressive complete-game victories by Johnny Beazley in Games Two and Five and Ernie White in Game Three, Cardinals relievers were little used and Krist saw no action in the Series.

In 1943 the World Champion Cardinals conducted spring training in Cairo, Illinois, about 150 miles southeast of St. Louis, because of travel restrictions resulting from World War II. Like other teams, the Redbirds needed to be flexible with their roster as players were inducted into the military. Camp broke without 21-game winner and World Series hero, now second lieutenant Beazley, and rumors swirled that 27-year-old Krist would soon be drafted. After two relief appearances to start the season, Krist got a spot start on May 16 and tossed a career-best 11 innings in a complete game 4-3 victory over the Phillies, surrendering just six hits and three runs. Starting a career-high 17 games during the season (fourth most on the team and one of seven pitchers to start at least 10 games), Krist was an integral member of the league’s best pitching staff, led again by 21-game winner Mort Cooper and supported by outstanding seasons by Max Lanier (15 wins, 1.78 ERA) and Howie Pollet (8-4, 1.75 ERA).

On a depleted staff, Krist started five games in June as the Cards vaulted into first place. On June 27 against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, Krist won both games of doubleheader, pitching 1 1/3 and 5 2/3 innings of scoreless relief. Southworth, a master at juggling his staff to secure the best possible pitching matchups, often used Krist as a starter in doubleheaders. Krist concluded the first half of the season with his third complete game, a 4-3 victory over the Phillies in the second game of a doubleheader on July 5, pushing his career-record to 32-7 and maintaining the Cardinals' two-game lead over the Dodgers.

While the Cardinals won at least 20 games in July, August, and September to run away with the pennant, Krist started and completed all five games he started in the last two months of the season. On August 18, he pitched his first career shutout in blanking the Phillies 6-0 on six hits and also rapped two hits and drove in a run. On September 4 he tossed a 10-inning complete game to defeat the Reds in dramatic fashion when Musial knocked in Harry Walker to secure the victory. Facing the Phillies for the last time that season on September 25, Krist pitched a five-hit complete game to beat them for the fifth time in 1943 and 17th and final time in his career. Krist concluded the season by pitching arguably the best game of his career: a six-hit 1-0 shutout over the Giants at Sportsman's Park. It proved to be his last victory in the major leagues. Krist finished with 11 wins and a 2.90 ERA (116 ERA+) in a career-high 164 1/3 innings.

In a World Series rematch with the Yankees, Southworth opted for a three-man staring rotation (Lanier, Cooper, and Al Brazle) and the staff responded by surrendering just 17 runs. However, in a tightly contested and low-scoring series, the Cardinals scored only nine runs and had no answer for the Yankees' Spud Chandler, who tossed two complete-game victories, including a shutout in the deciding Game Five. In the only World Series appearance in his career, Krist relieved Al Brazle in the eighth inning of Game Three, faced just one batter and was removed after surrendering a run-scoring single to Joe Gordon (the run was charged to Brazle).

After pre-induction tests in February 1944, Krist officially entered the U.S. Army on March 15, 1944 in Fort Dix, New Jersey. Krist was assigned to Company A in the 35th Infantry Battalion and was deployed to France after the Allied invasion of Europe in June 1944. Krist joined Murry Dickson, Lou Klein, Harry Walker, and Ernie White as members of the 1943 Cardinals squad lost to the military. When the Cardinals won 105 games and the World Series in 1944, teammates remembered these five players by awarding them a World Series share to be divided among them.

About two months after the Cardinals championship, Krist seriously injured his back in November 1944 when he jumped head first into a fox hole while carrying ammunition during a battle in northern France. Krist received a Purple Heart for his injury, and was transferred to a military hospital in England where he remained for most of 1945. After being honorably discharged from the military and returning to New York, Krist was involved in a serious car accident on January 18, 1946 when his automobile struck a culvert in inclement weather in Wellsville, New York, approximately fifty miles from his residence in Delevan. Krist was hospitalized with a fractured jaw, and his wife and four-year-old daughter were also injured. xiii

Arriving late to the Cardinals' spring training camp in St. Petersburg in 1946, Krist was eager to resume his playing career, but the war and injuries had taken a serious toll on his body. Playing for new manager Eddie Dyer, who was instrumental in his development as a pitcher in Houston, Krist’s playing time was limited by lower back pain. While the Cardinals cruised to their fourth pennant in five years, Krist made just 15 appearances and sported a dismal 6.75 ERA in 18 2/3 innings. Krist was on the roster for the Cardinals’ exciting seven-game victory over the Boston Red Sox in the World Series but did not play.

On January 30, 1947, the Cardinals sold Krist's contract to the Rochester Red Wings, where he had trouble pitching due to Sacroliitis (pain in the lower back where the spine and pelvis are connected). In 71 innings spread over 29 games (three starts), Krist went 2-4 with a 4.94 ERA. The 31-year-old Krist retired from baseball at the conclusion of the season with a 37-11 record and a 3.32 ERA (107 ERA+) in 444 1/3 innings in his major league career to go with 78 wins and 1,192 innings in the minors.

Howie settled with his wife and three children (two daughters and a son) in Delevan, where he operated a furniture store for more than three decades with his brother-in-law, Claris Persons. Injuries continued to dog him even after he hung up the spikes. Two years after retiring from baseball, Krist was seriously injured in a hunting accident when he fell and accidentally shot himself in the hip. xiv Fortunately, the injury had no long-term consequences.

After a protracted illness, Krist died at the age of 73 on April 23, 1989 at Veterans Hospital in Buffalo, New York, and was buried at Delevan Cemetery. In 2007 his wife, Ellen, passed and was laid to rest beside him.

 

Sources

Ancestry.com

Baseball Almanac

Baseball Cube

BaseballLibrary.com

Baseballreference.com

New York Times

Retrosheet

The Sporting News

 

Notes

i "Krist of Red Wings to Cardinals," (Associated Press) Syracuse Herald, September 3, 1937, 19.

ii Dick Farrington, "Bottomley in bad over Cincy Dicker," The Sporting News, September 23, 1937 , 1.

iii Dick Farrington, "Haney a Good Bet to Win Third Term," The Sporting News, September 19, 1940, 3.

iv "Card Pilot May Keep 11 Pitchers" St. Petersburg Times, May 9, 1941, 5.

v Dick Farrington, "Cards and Browns draw Four Texas," The Sporting News, October 21, 1940 , 3

vi "Caught on the Fly," The Sporting News, January 9, 1941, 7.

vii Dick Farrrington, "Southworth taking 20 Pitchers to Camp," The Sporting News , January 16, 1941 , 3.

viii " Cards Break Even to Lead by 2 Games: Unbeaten Krist Hurls Eighth Victory" The New York Times , July 28, 1941 , 17.

ix Jason Baily, "Spud Krist, Cardinal Relief Hurler, Registers 15th Win in Dour Season," The Gettysburg Times (Gettysburg, Pennsylvania), May 27, 1942, 2.

x J. Roy Stockton, "Long Howard Krist, Relief King of Cardinals, Keeps Stretching his Victory List with Short Pitching Jobs," The Sporting News, July 23, 1942, 3.

xi Ibid.

xii ERA+ is earned-run average adjusted to ballpark and the league ERA. Anything over 100 is considered better than average.

xiii "Major League Flashes," The Sporting News, January 24, 1946, 15.

xiv "Caught on the Fly," The Sporting News, July 6, 1949, 16.

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