This article was written by Gregory H. Wolf
Baseball and baseball players need people like Grover Resinger — those who dedicate their lives to the sport so that others may achieve the success they never had. “People say I do nothing but talk baseball,” said baseball lifer Resinger. “Is there anything else?”[fn]Tom Loomis, “Grover Resinger – Another Bit of Tigers Class,” Toledo (Ohio) Blade, April 5, 1969, 14.[/fn] After spending 11 seasons playing primarily in the low minors without making it to the big leagues, Resinger left the game in 1949 to become a cattle farmer, but the tug of baseball was too strong. He returned in 1960 to coach and later manage (1961-65) in the St. Louis Cardinals’ farm system. Known for his stress on physical fitness, belief in fundamentally sound baseball, and tireless commitment to teaching, Resinger served as a big-league coach for a number of teams, including the Braves in their inaugural season in Atlanta (1966), Chicago White Sox (1967-68), Detroit Tigers (1969-70), and California Angels (1975-76). Universally praised and liked by his players, Resinger also scouted for several organizations.
Grover S. Resinger grew up in the shadows of two famous baseball parks on the north side of St. Louis. He was born October 20, 1914, in the Mound City, the only child to Grover and Mayme (Bryant) Resinger. (Baseball encyclopedias give a 1915 birth date, but the Social Security Death Index, his military enlistment record, and his gravestone say 1914.) The elder Resinger, a former semipro pitcher, was employed as a plasterer. The Resingers resided at 4045 Dryden Avenue, located less than a mile-and-a-half from Robison Field. Also known as League Park and Cardinals Park, Robison Field was home of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1893 until June 6, 1920, after which time they abandoned the out-of-date park, and began playing their home games in Sportsman’s Park. Only about a half-mile from Robison Field, Sportsman’s Park had been the home of the St. Louis Browns since its opening in 1902, and later served as the home park for both the Browns and Cardinals until 1953.
Acquired by the city, Robison Field was torn down and on its site was built Beaumont High School, which Resinger attended. As if inspired by the memories of baseball’s past, Beaumont High produced a number of big-league ball players, such as All-Stars Pete Reiser, Roy Sievers, and Lee Thomas, and Hall-of-Fame manager Earl Weaver. Beaumont’s class of 1933 churned out two baseball lifers: Resinger and Bobby Mattick, a big-league shortstop, manager and well-regarded scout who signed Frank Robinson.
Little is known about how Resinger began his professional baseball career as a 19-year-old first baseman, batting .291 in 64 games with the Charleroi Tigers and Greensburg Trojans (a Cardinals affiliate) in the Class D Pennsylvania State League in 1934. From 1935 through 1937, Resinger was a member of the Jackson (Tennessee) Generals in the Class D Kentucky-Illinois-Tennessee (Kitty) League. Though team and individual statistics for those seasons are incomplete, Resinger was described by Tom Silver of the Associated Press in 1936 as “shining at bat and in the field.”[fn]Tom Silver, “Tennessee Sports” (Associated Press), Kingsport (Tennessee) Times, July 3, 1936, 2.[/fn] After batting .280 and playing in 110 of the Generals’ 120 games in 1937, Resinger was declared a free agent by baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis in spring 1938 because his “contract was not filed for promulgation.”[fn]United Press, “Five Minor Ballplayers Declared Free Agents,” The Waco (Texas) News-Tribune, April 19, 1938, 16.[/fn] [Also known as “pigeon-holing,” this was a practice of major-league teams signing players and stockpiling their minor league teams, without sending the contracts to major league baseball].
Out of baseball in 1938, Resinger played with the Selma (Alabama) Cloverleafs of the Class B Southeastern League in 1939. In his two season with the club he was named to the league’s all-star team as an outfielder and then as a third baseman in consecutive seasons, batting .325 and .315 respectively. Described by sportswriter Bill Wise as a “pepper pot at third base,” Resinger was promoted to the Chattanooga Lookouts of the Class A1 Southern League near the end of the 1940 season.[fn]The Sporting News, August 1, 1940, 14.[/fn] The A1 classification, a rung above Class A ball, was instituted in 1936 when the Texas League and the Southern Association were elevated to that designation.
In 1941 Resinger played the entire season with the Little Rock (Arkansas) Travelers of the Class A1 Southern Association. Distinguishing himself at third base, the “fielding fool” (in the words of The Sporting News) set career highs in games (152) and hits (167), and batted .305 for a sub-.500 team.[fn]The Sporting News, April 10, 1941, 2.[/fn]
After reaching the pinnacle of his baseball career, Resinger was out of Organized Baseball for the next four seasons (1942-1945). According to Resinger’s Army enlistment record, he was classified as semi-skilled and was employed as an aircraft builder in 1942. Inducted into the Army on December 29, 1942, at Jefferson Barracks in St. Louis, Resinger was later stationed at the Aviation Cadet Center (renamed Lackland Air Force Base in 1948) in San Antonio, Texas. He played third base and pitched on the successful camp team known as the Warhawks. His teammates included St. Louis Cardinals’ pitcher Howie Pollet and outfielder Enos Slaughter.[fn]George Wright, “Three-Way Tie For the 4th Looms in Army Loop,” San Antonio (Texas) Light, August 26, 1945, 35.[/fn]
By the time Resinger resumed his baseball career, in 1946, he was 30 years old, according to his baseball age, and the chances for a 5-feet-9, 180-pound third baseman with little power of making a major-league club were slim to none as big leaguers returned en masse from their wartime duties. Released by Little Rock after playing in 28 games, Resinger caught on with the Vicksburg (Mississippi) Billies in the Class B Southeastern League. The line-drive hitter batted .322 and was named third baseman on the league all-star team. He spent his final three seasons playing for various teams in the Southeastern League from 1947 through 1949. In 1947, he served as player-manager of the Pensacola (Florida) Fliers, but his first stint as skipper ended on June 14 when he was released with a 28-31 record.
Following his 11th season in the minor leagues, Resinger hung up his cleats in 1949 for the last time as a player and settled down with his wife, St. Louis native Marguerite (nee Goebel), whom he married in 1943. The Resingers owned a large farm in Eolia, Missouri, located about 75 miles northwest of St. Louis in the fertile flatlands along the Mississippi River.
Throughout the 1950s, Resinger remained close to baseball and especially the St. Louis Cardinals through friendships with several players, notably Enos Slaughter. Resinger exchanged the cow field for the ball field in 1960 when he joined player-manager Slaughter’s coaching staff on the Houston Buffs, the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate in the American Association.
In 1961, Resinger began a successful five-year run as a manager, working his way up the ladder in the Cardinals organization. He started off north of the border, in Canada, with the Winnipeg Goldeyes in the Class C Northern League, and was later transferred to the Billings (Montana) Mustangs of the Class C Pioneer League in midseason. After leading Billings to the league championship in 1962, he guided the Double-A Tulsa (Oklahoma) Oilers in the highly regarded Texas League to the league championship series in 1963 and 1964, winning once. In 1964 he was named the league’s manager of the year. He piloted the Triple-A Jacksonville (Florida) Suns to a sixth-place finish in the eight-team International League in 1965.
In his return to the diamond, Resinger was exposed to the “Cardinal Way” of playing baseball. He took his cues from George Kissell, a renowned baseball instructor and Redbird legend, who influenced practically every player who went through the Cardinals’ system from the 1940s through the 1980s. Resinger advocated fundamentals, situational hitting, physical fitness, speed, and mental awareness as keys to success. “I was around Grover a short time early in my playing career,” said baseball lifer Gaylen Pitts, a longtime manager in the Cardinals farm system. “He was cut out of same mold as Kissell — a great teacher, full of energy and great with young players.”[fn]Author’s email exchange with Gaylen Pitts on May 8, 2014.[/fn] Said Hall-of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton, “Resinger was stern, but he was always talking baseball. In two weeks under him, I doubled my baseball knowledge.”[fn]The Sporting News, June 15, 1968, 9.[/fn] Resinger advocated a hardnosed and aggressive sort of game, more in line with the rough-and-tumble “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals of the 1930s at a time when he started his professional career than with the home-run philosophy of the 1960s. In fact, one of the heroes of those teams –“The Wild Horse of the Osage,” Pepper Martin — served as Resinger’s coach with Tulsa in 1963. “Part of the game,” Resinger once said, “is to get your uniform dirty.”[fn]The Sporting News, April 18, 1970, 5.[/fn]
Resinger had a keen interest in pitching and established a reputation as an astute developer of young pitchers. “I didn’t know what to do with hitters and how to set them up,” said 20-year-old Nelson Briles while hurling for Tulsa in 1964 in his only year of minor league ball, “until Skip made a pitcher out of me.”[fn]The Sporting News, August 22, 1964, 37.[/fn] Reliever Don Dennis, who pitched for Resinger in Jacksonville, provided insights to Resinger’s approach to pitching: “Resinger does a good job of teaching you the art of pitching, attitude, keeping the ball down and moving the ball around. He emphasized that the secret to pitching is to throw harder than the batter thinks or throw easier than the batter thinks.”[fn]The Sporting News, July 24, 1965, 17.[/fn] Of course, keeping a hitter off balance is easier said than done.
When Mickey Vernon left the St Louis Cardinals’ coaching staff after the 1965 season, it was widely believed Resinger would finally make it to the big leagues. However, Resinger accepted skipper Bobby Bragan’s offer to join the Braves’ staff in their inaugural season in Atlanta. “He is a physical fitness disciple of some repute,” wrote Furman Bisher of Resinger.[fn]The Sporting News, December 6, 1965, 32.[/fn] Even at 50 years of age (and older), Resinger cut an impressive image and weighed about the same as he did in his playing days decades earlier. In his 20s and 30s he was a nationally ranked handball player and still enjoyed the sport. While managing Winnipeg he even challenged any fan to a game of handball with the loser purchasing 100 tickets. Resinger was “hired to give the Braves their lessons in how to make the most of their speed,” continued Bisher. For Resinger, speed was about keeping pitchers, catchers, and infielders off balance: “How many times you succeed in stealing isn’t as important as establishing pressure,” he said.[fn]The Sporting News, June 26, 1965, 33.[/fn] Resinger’s tenure with the Braves lasted less than one full season. When Bragan was fired after 112 games, Resinger submitted his resignation.
Resinger wasn’t out of a job long. After a brief stint scouting for the New York Mets, he joined the Chicago White Sox’ coaching staff following the conclusion of the 1966 season. He teamed with another firebrand, skipper Eddie Stanky, who like Resinger, was firm on discipline and an advocate of small ball. “He’s an aggressive coach and not a safety-first man when it comes to waving runners home,” said Stanky about his new third base coach.[fn]The Sporting News, April 29, 1967, 23.[/fn] Cut from the old school, Resinger resigned in when Stanky was fired in midseason 1968. “A manager should have the right to select his coaches,” he said.[fn]The Sporting News, July 28, 1968, 10.[/fn]
Resinger had a unique ability to bring out the best in both prospects and veterans. Players respected his commitment to baseball and trusted his judgment despite never making it to the big show. “If it weren’t for Resinger,” said Sandy Alomar matter-of-factly, “I wouldn’t be here [in the big leagues].”[fn]The Sporting News, August 24, 1968, 12.[/fn] Shortstop Luis Aparicio, then 34 years old and in the 13th year of a Hall of Fame career, credited Resinger with refining his infield skills.[fn]The Sporting News, May 30, 1970, 28.[/fn] An unabashed fan of players like Pete Rose, infielder Tommy Helms and outfielder Bobby Tolan, Resinger believed that hustle and desire were the difference-makers in a player’s career, and had little patience with players who wasted great natural talent.
After serving on skipper Mayo Smith’s staff with the Detroit Tigers for two years (1969-70), Resinger joined the Oakland A’s organization. In 1972 he managed for the last time in his career, guiding the Coos Bay-North Bend (Oregon) A’s to a fifth-place finish in the short season, Class A Northwest League. One of his players was 17-year-old future All-Star outfielder Claudell Washington. “Resinger helped me with my hitting, with my fielding and with my base running. He kept my confidence up,” said Washington. “He’s not like some managers, getting on you when you make a mistake. He knows how to work with young ballplayers.”[fn]The Sporting News, August 9, 1975.[/fn]
Resinger’s final two years in a big-league uniform were spent as the bench coach for California Angels manager Dick Williams 1975-76. Described as a “baseball teacher more than a coach,” Resinger seemingly had his hand in every aspect of the team’s preparation, especially the players’ mental approach to the game.[fn]The Sporting News, May 15, 1976, 17.[/fn] “I try to tell them the little things,” he once said about his teaching philosophy. “Moves, anticipation moves. Getting the body in position. How to tag a runner.”[fn]Loomis.[/fn] When Resinger retired at the age of 62 after the 1976 season, All-Star pitcher Frank Tanana was effusive in his praise, “It breaks my heart to see him go … he is the man who helped me. He’s helped more guys on this team than anyone.”[fn]The Sporting News, August 7, 1976, 16.[/fn]
Resinger’s success as a coach may be from his recognition baseball changes and coaches have to adapt. Rather than molding a player into his idea of what that player should or could be, Resinger attempted to bring out the best in him. “No one is an authority,” said the down-to-earth, unpretentious Resinger. “The perfect book on how to play baseball has never been written and it will never be written. We can only have theories and the theories change all the time.”[fn]Loomis.[/fn]
After scouting for the New York Yankees for three years (1977-79), Resinger left baseball for good. He remained on his farm in Eolia with his wife. On January 11, 1986, Resinger died in a St. Louis hospital at age 71. He was buried at Friedens Cemetery in St. Louis. The fact that he parlayed an 11-year minor league playing career into a lifetime association with baseball was never lost on Resinger. “I’m the luckiest guy in the world just to be in the game,” he once said.[fn]Loomis.[/fn]
The Sporting News