This article was written by Tom Hawthorn
The turnstiles at Busch Stadium, the renamed Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, counted 15,444 customers for a game played on June 23, 1961, a Friday evening in early summer. The San Francisco Giants were in town, trying to halt a three-game losing streak against a hometown club not yet playing .500 ball.
The Giants starter was Billy “Digger” O’Dell (3-3), a left-hander who, as a member of the Baltimore Orioles, had been named the Most Valuable Player of the 1958 All-Star Game after retiring the nine National League batters he faced. Behind him on this night was a lineup that included future Hall of Famers Orlando Cepeda and Willie Mays. Willie McCovey, another future inductee, would pinch-hit later in the game.
Veteran lefty Curt Simmons (2-6), the one-time schoolboy phenom from Egypt, Pennsylvania, who made his major-league debut at age 18 in 1947, took to the mound for the hometown side. The Cardinals had some offensive stars of their own, including Ken Boyer at third base and Bill White at first base. Tim McCarver, a chatty rookie, was behind the plate, though he would spend most of the season in the minors. The lineup included Stan Musial, Stan the Man, the Donora Greyhound (after his Pennsylvania birthplace), the surefire future Hall of Famer whose name had been on the roster for nearly two decades. The left fielder had marked his 40th birthday seven months earlier and his numbers, while solid, were no longer spectacular. He went into the game hitting .305 with 7 home runs and 27 runs batted in.
Musial was nursing the lingering effects of a head cold, as well as the nuisance of a sore heel. He was also approaching the 20th anniversary of his major-league debut, on September 17, 1941. The newspapers were already speculating whether this season would be his last. In the end, he would not retire until the end of the 1963 campaign, missing out on the Cardinals’ pennant and World Series championship the season after that.
The third-place Giants (36-27) were starting to slip in pursuit of the Cincinnati Reds, whom they now trailed by four games. The Cardinals were already a disappointing 11 games back with a 28-33 record in sixth place, ahead of only the Chicago Cubs and Philadelphia Phillies.
Both teams went out in order in the first. Mays got things going for the Giants in the second with a single and a stolen base, only to be picked off by Simmons. The putout went 1-4-5, Simmons to second baseman Bob Lillis to Boyer at third. The Cardinals sandwiched two singles around a Musial fly out to right to open their half of the second inning, but the rally ended without damage when Simmons struck out with the bases loaded.
The game remained scoreless until the bottom of the third, when Musial stepped to the plate with two outs, White on third and Boyer on second, both getting on base via walks and advancing on a groundout to first. Musial promptly sent an O’Dell pitch over the screen and onto the roof of the pavilion in right field to give his club a 3-0 lead.
The Giants got on the board in the fourth when Mays reached on a single and scored on Cepeda’s two-out double to left. The Cardinals responded in the fifth by pushing across a run on four singles in an inning in which Musial popped out to shortstop.
The Giants chased Cardinals starter Simmons in the sixth by bunching two singles, a Harvey Kuenn double, and a Cepeda triple, which tied the game, 4-4. Ernie Broglio coaxed a flyout, with Cepeda tagging up and scoring the go-ahead run, before he issued a walk to Ed Bailey. Manager Solly Hemus pulled Broglio for Craig Anderson, a 6-foot-2 reliever called up from Portland of the Pacific Coast League the previous day. The 22-year-old right-hander was making his major-league debut. With one out, Bailey was caught stealing second before Anderson ended the inning by striking out O’Dell. But the Giants led 5-4.
The Cardinals tied the game in the bottom of the inning, with Boyer scoring on a double by Charlie James. Stu Miller came in to walk Musial intentionally. He then walked Curt Flood before ending the inning by inducing McCarver to pop out to Cepeda at first.
In the seventh, the Cardinals retook the lead on back-to-back doubles by Anderson, in his first major-league at-bat, and Julio Gotay. A single by White chased Miller, who was replaced by righty Bobby Bolin. The new reliever intentionally walked Boyer before fanning James.
Next, Musial came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. A St. Louis Post-Dispatch photographer captured the veteran completing his swing, an image that appeared in the paper the next day. It showed Musial erect, the result of a fluid swing whose grace belied the power behind it, his left foot pivoting on the toes, his right foot bent slightly to the outside from the torque, his upper hand leaving the bat in the follow-through, his mouth open as his 40-year-old eyes followed the trajectory of the ball over the head of right fielder Kuenn toward the fence and, beyond that, the stands. “I didn’t hit the second one real good, and I thought it would just hit the screen,” Musial said after the game.1
The ball landed in nearly the same spot as the first homer.2 The grand slam was the ninth of Musial’s career, giving him seven RBIs for the game. The blast also gave him 2,340 extra bases on long hits, as he surpassed Lou Gehrig on the all-time list (2,339), trailing only Babe Ruth (2,926). (Musial had once recorded seven RBIs in a spring-training game against the Philadelphia Phillies on March 23, 1954, on a homer, triple, and a single. He also recorded seven RBIs in a doubleheader sweep of the Chicago Cubs on May 27, 1956.) Carl Warwick replaced Musial in the field for the next inning, as the Cardinals won, 10-5.Anderson earned the win in his debut, while Miller suffered his first loss of the season against six wins.
After the game Musial insisted he was not considering an imminent retirement. “I don’t feel any older than, say, seven years ago when I hit five homers in a doubleheader off the Giants,” he told a reporter.3 Musial recorded nine RBIs in those games on May 2, 1954.
St. Louis manager Hemus was hopeful the victory would spark the Cards. “A big win can make a turning point,” he said. “It’s not just that Musial hit the grand slammer. He doesn’t surprise you when he does anything. People get to expect it, because he’s so great. The new momentum goes to everything we did right, especially getting a relief pitcher to come in and stop them.”4
In the Giants clubhouse, manager Alvin Dark was asked his opinion of Musial’s work after the two-homer, seven-RBI performance. “He sure can hit ’em, can’t he?” Dark said, echoing what managers had been saying about Stan the Man for 20 years.5
The outfielder got the next day off, standard practice for the veteran when a day game followed a night game. Musial posed on the infield for teenage photographers before the game as part of a Camera Day promotion.
Hemus’s optimism turned out to be misplaced. The Cardinals won just three of their next 11 games and Hemus was fired on July 6, replaced by his lieutenant, Johnny Keane, a St. Louis-born career minor leaguer who days later would make an example of pitcher Mickey McDermott by releasing him after he missed a bedcheck before a doubleheader in San Francisco. (At the same time as the change in manager was announced, second baseman Red Schoendienst was made a playing coach. He’d replace Keane as manager after the Cards won the 1964 World Series.) The Cardinals improved their play considerably over the rest of the season, finishing 80-74, but managed to overtake only the Pittsburgh Pirates in the standings, finishing fifth, 13 games behind the Reds.
This article appears in “Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis: Home of the Browns and Cardinals at Grand and Dodier” (SABR, 2017), edited by Gregory H. Wolf. Click here to read more articles from this book online.
In addition to the sources listed in the Notes, the author also consulted the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Oakland Tribune, the Daily Capital (Jefferson City, Missouri), the Hayward (California) News, The Sporting News, and Retrosheet.org.
1 “Ailing Musial Rocks Giants With Grand Slam and 3-Run Homer,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 24, 1961: 6.
2 “Giants Losing String Hits 4,” Oakland Tribune, June 24, 1961: 11.
3 “Cards Gain Steam,” Oakland Tribune, June 24, 1961: 11.