This article was written by Mike Huber
By the middle of June 1949, the National League pennant race came down to two teams, the St. Louis Cardinals and the Brooklyn Dodgers. From that point on, those two battled for the top spot.1 On July 22, the first-place Dodgers hosted a four-game series against the Cardinals. This wound up a 21-game road trip for St. Louis, who managed to lose half a game in the standings over the first 17 contests. Burt Shotton’s Dodgers were completing a 15-game homestand and entered the series with a 2½-game edge over the Cardinals.
The second-place visitors won the first two games of the series, as the Cardinals “had outplayed and outgamed the beloved Bums.”2 Suddenly, Brooklyn held the slimmest of leads, a mere half game, in the senior circuit. A crowd of 34,042 fans turned out to root for the Dodgers on a hot Sunday afternoon, and, according to the St. Louis Star and Times, “The place had a World Series game air.”3 This was the fourth largest crowd of the season for the Flatbush faithful (and the first sellout Sunday crowd4), but many did not stay to see the final out, as the Cardinals won handily, 14-1. Six-time All-Star and reigning National League Most Valuable Player Stan Musial5 led all batters by hitting for the cycle.
Howie Pollet, St. Louis’ 12-game winner, faced off against Don Newcombe, who was in search of his eighth victory for Brooklyn. Newcombe was forced to wait another day for that win. In fact, he threw only 12 pitches before being lifted for reliever Paul Minner in the top of the first inning. Red Schoendienst and Lou Klein started the game for St. Louis with back-to-back singles. With runners at the corners, Newcombe uncorked a wild pitch, allowing Schoendienst to score. That brought Musial to the plate. He entered the game in a mini-slump, having gone just 8-for-35 (.229) in his last eight games. Musial swung at an offering from Newcombe and smacked a triple to deep center. Klein scored and Newcombe hit the showers. Shotton brought in left-hander Minner to face the Cardinals’ clean-up hitter, Enos Slaughter. Slaughter greeted him with an RBI-single and Ron Northey followed with a double to left. Five batters had five hits and St. Louis had an early four-run lead.
Two innings later, the Cardinals sent eleven batters to the plate. Minner only faced the first three. Slaughter doubled, Northey singled, and Rocky Nelson tripled on a line drive to right. The second St. Louis triple of the game brought in the second reliever for the Dodgers, Carl Erskine. The Cardinals put up five more hits, including a single by Musial. With the score 8-0 and runners on first and second, Musial sent a ground ball to right field. Carl Furillo fielded the ball and threw home to catcher Bruce Edwards, whose error then allowed two runners to score, making it a 10-0 ballgame. The Cardinals put together six singles, a double and a triple in the outburst.
The Dodgers had a chance in the first inning to score, putting two runners aboard, but Pollet worked his way out of the jam. In the bottom of the third, however, Pee Wee Reese and Billy Cox hit singles, and after Furillo hit into a double play, Jackie Robinson grounded a single through the infield to left field to plate Reese. That was the lone run Pollet allowed.
In the top of the fifth with two outs, Musial sent a 3-1 Erskine pitch out of the park for a solo home run. The blast “was a perhaps 440-foot smash that cleared the high center field wall toward right, bounding into Bedford [A]ve. and caroming off an automobile agency sign with a bang.”6 Two innings later, he completed the cycle with a double to left-center field, driving in Pollet and Klein. Musial then scored the fourteenth run of the game for St. Louis on a Chuck Diering single.
In his final plate appearance in the top of the ninth inning, “those patrons who remained gave Stan a mighty cheer as he came to bat.”7 With two outs, Musial drew a walk and was stranded when Slaughter grounded to first unassisted. Musial’s line for the day was four hits and a walk in five at-bats (he had flied out to the gap in right-center in the second inning), three runs scored and four driven in, although he also accounted for two unearned runs in the third inning. Slaughter added three hits for the Cards, who amassed 16 safeties in the game. Catcher Joe Garagiola was the only starting player for St. Louis without a hit in the game.
Musial became the 10th St. Louis Cardinals batter to hit for the cycle. It had been nine years since Johnny Mize cycled (July 13, 1940) and it took another 11 years before Bill White accomplished this rare feat (August 14, 1960).8
Reese and Robinson were the offensive standouts for Brooklyn, each with a 2-for-4 performance, and they are the two players who figured in the Dodgers’ lone tally. Erskine pitched seven innings for Brooklyn. He faced 34 batters and allowed seven runs (six earned) on eight hits and four walks. The Cardinals’ Pollet, on the other hand, pitched superbly, scattering eight hits in a complete game. In “notching his thirteenth victory of the campaign, [he] never had to fret. Handed four runs before a Cardinal had been retired in the first, the stylish southpaw was able to coast.”9
In the locker room, Musial remarked, “It’s about time I had a good day.”10 In this game alone, Musial used all of Ebbets Field to spray four hits in collecting the hits necessary for the cycle (see photo below).11 He raised his batting average to .299 and upped his slugging percentage 22 points, to .523. The next day, Musial went 3-for-4, a home run shy of the cycle, and his batting average rose to .304. He had broken out of the slump; in fact, his average never dipped below .300 for the rest of the season, finishing at .339.
In the four-game series with the Dodgers, Musial had 15 at-bats and connected nine times for hits, including two doubles, two triples, and two home runs. In the nine games played at Ebbets Field to this point in the season, Musial was batting .559 (19 for 34). For the season, Musial hit better against the Dodgers than any other team, going 37-for-90 (.411), with an incredible .523 in 12 games at Ebbets Field.
The Cardinals’ victory extended their winning streak to five games (it soon reached nine — with two ties — before a 4-2 loss to Brooklyn in St. Louis). The Brooklyn Daily Eagle told its readers that “Musial and the rest of the maddened marauders from across the Mississippi knocked the Dodgers out of first place by making it three in a row over the stumbling Flock.”12 The victory with Musial’s cycle put them a half-game ahead of the Dodgers in the National League pennant race. As Musial also told reporters about the St. Louis success, “Cream always comes to the top.”13 However, when the 1949 season ended, the Bums (97-57) finished one game ahead of the Redbirds (96-58), earning the chance to face the New York Yankees.
In addition to the sources mentioned in the Notes, the author consulted baseball-reference.com, mlb.com, and retrosheet.org.
1 The Boston Braves held first place in the NL until June 4, but by June 15, the Braves had fallen to third place and finished the 1949 campaign in fourth.
2 “Musial, Pollet Mop Up On Dodgers, 14-1,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 25, 1949: 16.
3 St. Louis Star and Times.
4 St. Louis Star and Times.
5 Musial had played in the All-Star Game every year from 1943 to 1949 (except 1945, when he did not play baseball due to military service). He won the NL’s Most Valuable Player Award in 1943, 1946 and 1948. Musial also placed second in the MVP voting four times, including three years in a row from 1949-1951.
6 St. Louis Star and Times.
7 St. Louis Star and Times.
8 As of 2020, there have been 19 cycles in St. Louis Cardinals franchise history, by 17 different players. Tip O’Neill hit for the cycle twice in an eight-day span in 1887, and Ken Boyer also hit for the cycle twice (in 1961 and 1964).
9 Louis Effrat, “Redbirds Defeat Brooklyn by 14-1,” New York Times, July 25, 1949.
10 St. Louis Star and Times.
11 The photograph is an Associated Press wire photo, found in both the St. Louis Star and Times and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
12 Harold C. Burr, “Missouri Murder, Inc., Pushes Cards Into First,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, July 25, 1949: 13.
13 “Blasting in Best Bat Circles Again,” The Sporting News, August 3, 1949: 1.