SABR

Ed Spiezio

This article was written by John Stahl.

Strong quick wrists, an open, positive demeanor, and unwavering confidence made young Ed Spiezio an outstanding baseball prospect. Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst once told The Sporting News that Spiezio was the “the finest looking young hitter” he had ever seen.1 In five seasons with the Cardinals (1964-1968), Spiezio played on three National League championship teams and two World Series winners. In his nine-year major-league career, he also played for the San Diego Padres and the Chicago White Sox. Called up to the Cardinals in late July 1964, Spiezio appeared in 12 games as a pinch-hitter. He did not play in the subsequent World Series.

Edward Wayne Spiezio was born on October 31, 1941, in Joliet, Illinois. Located about 40 miles south of Chicago, Joliet has always strongly supported semiprofessional baseball. His father, Edward Wayne Spiezio, Sr., an ironworker, was an all-around athlete. “Everything from ping-pong to hockey to boxing,” Spiezio told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.2 In particular, his father loved baseball and played semiprofessionally. He instilled his love of the game into his son.

According to Sports Illustrated, his dad Edward Sr. put a catcher’s mask on Ed at an “alarmingly young age,” and stood him at the edge of the infield. He then hit blistering grounders over and over to his son. A daily two-hour session in the batting cage was also part of the training session. His father pitched and provided a running critique of his young son’s hitting. “Coil like a snake,” he instructed young Ed, “and then when the ball is close, explode.”3

Young Spiezio supplemented these on-the-field sessions with weight training and began seriously studying some of baseball’s greatest hitters at the time, including Stan Musial, Joe DiMaggio, and Ted Williams. Late in his career he was spotted still reading over a well-worn copy of Williams’s book on hitting.

As a youngster Spiezio usually led his team in hitting wherever he played. After high school, at his father’s insistence, he went to college. After initially spending a year at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, he transferred to Lewis College (now Lewis University), in Romeoville, about ten miles south of Joliet.

Spiezio played two seasons at Lewis for College Baseball Hall of Fame coach Gordie Gillespie, who in 1993 passed USC’s Rod Dedeaux to become college baseball’s winningest coach. In 1962 and 1963 Spiezio was a spectacular hitter. He established several Lewis hitting records that still stood in 2011, among them the highest season batting average (.491 in 1963); the highest career batting average (.445 over two years); the most total bases in a game (13); and the most home runs in a game (3). The National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics (NAIA) named him a first-team baseball All-American in both of his seasons.4 During the summer of 1962 Spiezio played for Winner, South Dakota, in the summer college Basin League, and was chosen by the league’s managers as the all-star third baseman.5 In 1981, in his first year of eligibility, he was elected to the Lewis University Hall of Fame.

After the 1963 season Spiezio was signed by Cardinals scout Joe Monahan, and got a $25,000 signing bonus. He gave a substantial portion of his bonus to his father, who in 1957 had lost a leg in an accident at work.6

Spiezio broke in with the Cardinals’ Brunswick (Georgia) team in the Class A Georgia-Florida League. He played 14 games at shortstop and after the season ended went to Tulsa in the Double-A Texas League, where he played third base and in 64 games hit .265 with 11 home runs and 37 runs batted in. Eight of the RBIs came in a game against El Paso, when he belted two home runs (one a grand slam), a double, and a single.7 In the offseason, Spiezio became a student again, attending the University of Illinois and majoring in accounting.8 On November 23, 1963, he married Verna June Fretty.

In 1964 Spiezio started the season with Triple-A Jacksonville (International League), but after hitting.190, he was sent back to Tulsa in late June. There he hit.360 in 32 games, and in late July, the Cardinals brought him up to the major leagues. His first major-league appearance was as a pinch-hitter. After an all-night trip from Tulsa, a sleepy Spiezio sat in the Busch Stadium grandstand before the July 23 game with Pittsburgh. St. Louis bench coach Red Schoendienst spied him and told him to get into a uniform. Manager Johnny Keane later put him into game to pinch hit against veterancloser Roy Face and his famous forkball. With his knees “knocking,” Spiezio managed a soft fly to center field that was caught by Bill Virdon for the final out in an 8-5 loss.

At that point St. Louis was in seventh place at 47-47, nine games behind league-leading Philadelphia. The Cardinals appeared to be adrift. If the team continued to languish, there might be plenty of late-season opportunities for a top prospect like Spiezio to gain some low-pressure major-league experience by occasionally subbing for Ken Boyer, the regular third baseman. Instead, the Cardinals began to click, and became part of the hotly contested pennant race, eventually winning the pennant when the Phillies collapsed. Within this new environment, the first-year player rode the bench. He ended up appearing in 12 games, all as a pinch-hitter, and got four hits, all singles, in 12 at-bats. He did not play in the World Series, but the players voted him a quarter share (slightly over $2,100) of their World Series money,9 and got a World Series ring.

Spiezio’s prospects for making the Cardinals team in 1965 were slight – after all, third baseman Ken Boyer had been voted the National League’s Most Valuable Player. But Ed finished spring training with a.515 batting average, and the Cardinals took him north to open the season.10 (His hitting in Florida earned him the nickname the Joliet Jolter from his teamates.) But Spiezio played in only 10 games before being sent back to Jacksonville in mid-April. There he was plagued by a series of injuries, including a badly sprained ankle, a heel injury, and a fractured right thumb, and hit only .221. “It was a tough year all around for Spiezio,” Cardinals minor-league director Sheldon “Chief” Bender said, “But we still like his bat.”11

In the offseason, the Cardinals traded the aging Ken Boyer to the New York Mets for veteran third baseman Charley Smith. Spiezio started the 1966 season with Tulsa, now in the Triple-A Pacific Coast League). He played in 112 games and hit .301 before the Cardinals called him up in early August. Spiezio pinch-hit in his first five plate appearances, but starting on September 4 he started at third base in 19 of the team’s 21 remaining games. He hit his first two major-league home runs, on September 11 in Pittsburgh off Bob Veale and on September 30 at the then-new Busch Stadium off Fergie Jenkins. With the Cardinals he hit .219.

Charley Smith was traded to the New York Yankees for Roger Maris in 1967, but instead of going for Spiezio, the Cardinals moved right fielder Mike Shannon to third base. Spiezio spent the entire season with the Cardinals, who won the pennant and World Series, but his playing time actually diminished. During the Cardinals’ 161-game season, he played in 17 games at third base, four games in right field, and two games in left field, and pinch-hit 29 times, batting .210 for the season. He had one appearance in the World Series, grounding out as a pinch-hitter in Game Six. Although he spent most of the season on the bench, he remained a positive factor in the clubhouse. An accomplished accordion player, Spiezio often played for his teammates. With teammate Nelson Briles, he played in a musical group that occasionally made public appearances on offdays.

The Cardinals won the pennant again in 1968 but lost to the Detroit Tigers in seven games in the World Series.Again Spiezio made just one appearance, getting a pinch-single in Game Four. His playing time during the season had dropped again. He played in 29 games, pinch-hitting 17 times and playing third base twice. He hit .157. In December Spiezio and three other Cardinals were traded to the San Diego Padres, an expansion team that would begin play in 1969.

In his five years with the Cardinals, Spiezio played in 132 games and recorded a .205 batting average. He pinch-hit in 72 games and played 41 games at third base. Although he played on three pennant winners, he may simply have been in the wrong place at the wrong time when it came to being the Cardinals’ regular third baseman. Spiezio acknowledged his dilemma after he went to the Padres. He told The Sporting News, “I didn’t have a future with the Cardinals. Mike Shannon’s going to be around a long time. I’m 27 and I need to play every day if I’m going to make any money in baseball.”12

Spiezio began the season as the Padres’ regular third baseman. On opening night he got the franchise’s first hit (a home run) and scored its first run.13 On August 6 Spiezio hit a walk-off home run off Steve Carlton to beat the Cardinals. (It was his only hit off Carlton.) He played a career-high 121 games and hit .234. Spiezio’s .939 fielding average in 98 games at third base was one of the lowest in the National League, and his limited fielding range troubled the Padres. By the end of the season, he faced stiff competition at third as the team tried other players.14

Spiezio took the competition seriously and spent the winter in Joliet fielding groundballs in a local fieldhouse. His winter regimen succeeded, as his fielding range significantly improved. Though he started the 1970 season splitting time with others at third base, in mid-July, injuries hit his competition and he regained his role as the regular third baseman. For the season Spiezio played in 110 (93 at third base) games and hit .285.

After the 1970 season Spiezio played winter ball for the first time, for a team managed by Padres first-base coach Dave Garcia in the Venezuela League. He continued to work hard to improve his fielding. By season’s end was among the league’s leading hitters and was second in fielding among third basemen.15

Spiezio held out for a salary increase before the 1971 season, but he ended his holdout by reportedly agreeing to a $25,000 contract.16 During the season he was plagued by injuries, including a pulled muscle in his side, a hand injury, strained knee ligaments, and injuries from being struck in the face by abouncing ball. He played in 97 games and hit.231. The Sporting News reported that his season all but eliminated him as a candidate for a starting job at third base.17

The 1972 season began contentiously for Spiezio. The Padres demanded that he take the maximum 20 percent allowable pay cut. When he refused, they assigned him to their Hawaii team in the Pacific Coast League. Spiezioplayed in five games there and went back to the Padres. Primarily pinch-hitting, he played in 20 games before the Padres traded him to the Chicago White Sox in early Julyto replace third baseman Bill Melton, who had suffered a season-ending herniated disc.18 He ended up playing 74 games, all at third base, for the White Sox and hitting .238 for the season.19 It was his final major-league season. In March 1973 the White Sox released him. His last at-bat was on September 27 and Spiezio finished just as he had started in 1964, by being the last out in a 4-2 loss to the Kansas City Royals.

Spiezio retired in March 1973 after a brief spring-training trial with the California Angels. In his nine-year career he played in 554 games and finished with a .238 batting average. He played in 395 games at third base and 19 games in the outfield, and pinch-hit in 147 games. During the 1972-73 offseason and his wife, Verna, opened Spiezio’s Furniture Inc., in Morris, Illinois, about 60 miles from Chicago.

Ed’s son, Scott, was born on September 21, 1972. Using many of the same drills his father had used with him, Ed played a significant role in Scott’s development as a baseball player, and Scott had a 12-year career as a major-league infielder.20

In 2002 Scott Spiezio’s Anaheim Angels team won the World Series. Scott hammered a three-run home run late in Game Six to help the Angels roar back from a 5-0 deficit. Ed Spiezio was in the stands for the Game Seven 4-1 victory over the San Francisco Giants. After the game, a reporter asked how he felt. “This is better,” Ed said, comparing the celebration to his in 1964 and ’67. “When it’s your son, this is definitely the best.”21

Scott Spiezio continued his baseball career and in 2006 played for a second World Series winner, the Cardinals. When the Cardinals handed out their world-championship rings before their first 2007 home game, Scott received his ring from his father during a ceremony on the field. They had become the first father and son to each receive a World Series ring from the same team. “It’s a super special moment,” Ed said.22

 

This biography is included in the book "Drama and Pride in the Gateway City: The 1964 St. Louis Cardinals" (University of Nebraska Press, 2013), edited by John Harry Stahl and Bill Nowlin. For more information, or to purchase the book from University of Nebraska Press, click here.

 

Notes

1 Lowell Reidenbaugh, “A Delectable Taste of Spring Training,” The Sporting News, April 10, 1965

2 Bob Broeg, “Meet Ed Spiezio, the Joliet Jolter,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 25, 1965

3 Tom C. Brody, “Please, Please, Ed Spiezio, Won’t You Please Pop Up?’, Sports Illustrated, April 12, 1965

4http://www.lewisflyers.com, Men’s Sports, Lewis Baseball History, Lewis Baseball Record Book

5 Don Linder, “Cowboys Trim Huron to Grab Playoff Crown,” The Sporting News, September 10, 1962

6 Jack Herman, “Keep Eye on Spiezio—That’s Stan’s Tip,” The Sporting News, April 28, 1964

7 “Rookie Spiezio Drives in Eight Runs to Pace Tulsa”, The Sporting News, July 27, 1963

8 Herman, op. cit.

9 Clifford Kachline, “Small Park Shrinks Cards’ Share in Swag”, The Sporting News, November 7, 1964

10 Jack Herman, “Cards Count On Boyer Bat for Big Edge,” The Sporting News, April 24, 1965

11 Neal Russo, “Card Clan Gathers To Finger Culprits; Vets See Ax Falling,” The Sporting News, October 2, 1965

12 Paul Cour, “Padres Eye Spiezio Bat to Lead ‘Em,” The Sporting News, March 22, 1969

13 Paul Cour, “After 33 Years in Wing, San Diego on Majors’ Stage,” The Sporting News, April 26, 1969

14 Paul Cour, “Spiezio Heats Up at Padres Hot Sack,” The Sporting News, August 29, 1970 As to Spiezio’s fielding, see The Sporting News, June 28, 1969

15 Paul Cour, “Who Said Iron Glove? Spiezio Sharp in Field,” The Sporting News, January 30, 1971

16 Ed Spiezio clippings file, National Baseball Hall of Fame and Museum, Cooperstown, New York,

Research Department, Bill Francis, Sent via E-Mail, on June 13, 2011

17 Paul Cour, “14 Original Selectees Still Wear Padre Garb,” The Sporting News, November 27, 1971

18 Jerome Holtzman, “Back Injury Shelves Melton Rest of the Year,” Spiezio Purchased as Replacement,

The Sporting News, July 22, 1972

19 Edgar Munzel, “Ex-Padre Spiezio Answer to Chisox Prayer,” The Sporting News, November 2, 1972

20 Julia Dankovich, “Like Father, Like Son,”, Chicago Tribune, July 12, 1996

21 Paul White, “After a generation circle complete for Angels, Spiezios,” USA Today Baseball Weekly, October 29, 2002

22 Daniel Berk, “Special night as Cards get their rings,”Cardinals.com, April 4, 2007

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