This article was written by Richard Riis
As the 1940 season began, the Cardinals were sputtering in the early going. Losers of their first three games and eight of their first 13, the runners-up to the Cincinnati Reds for the 1939 pennant were limping along a game and a half ahead of the miserable Boston Braves at the bottom of the standings.
In contrast, the Brooklyn Dodgers broke fast from the gate, winning their first nine games before finally losing 9-2 to the Reds. The Dodgers thus headed for St. Louis for a three-game series with the Cardinals with a record of 9-1 and sitting atop the National League standings.
Arriving in the Gateway City by airplane, only the fourth major-league team after the Reds, Cardinals, and Red Sox to fly, the Dodgers showed the stuff of a first-place ballclub by rallying for four runs in the ninth to take the series opener. 9-6, and followed with a 6-2 victory to raise their record to 11-1, while the Cardinals dropped into last place.
“Quite as shocking as the Dodgers’ electrifying start,” wrote one syndicated scribe, “is the utter collapse of the St. Louis Cardinals, the team experts picked to dethrone the Cincinnati Reds.”1
It certainly didn’t help that the Cards’ slick-fielding rookie shortstop, Marty Marion, injured a knee in the first game of the series and would be on crutches for the rest of the month, or that All-Star center fielder Terry Moore had sprained his shoulder making a diving catch in the same game and would miss the next seven games.
Despite the Cardinals’ 5-10 record, there were some signs of life on the team. Catcher Don Padgett was hitting .349 and had driven in a team-high nine runs. Right fielder Enos Slaughter was hitting .377, second highest among NL batsmen, and left fielder Joe “Ducky” Medwick was not far behind at .353. A lack of other baserunners, though, had limited the pair to only three RBIs each.
Dodgers player-manager Leo Durocher wasn’t counting the Cardinals out just yet.
Nobody could have anticipated, however, the explosion of offense from the St. Louis lineup in the third and final game of the series.
Only 2,298 faithful fans were on hand at Sportsman’s Park on a mild Tuesday afternoon to witness the fireworks. St. Louis skipper Ray Blades sent veteran Lon Warneke (0-2) to the mound, while Durocher tabbed Hugh Casey (2-1) to start for Brooklyn.
With Marion out of commission, the Cardinals had an infield problem. Blades put second baseman Stu Martin at third base — a position he had never played before in Organized Baseball — moved third sacker Jimmy Brown to shortstop, inserted untested rookie utilityman Eddie Lake at second base, and hoped this would do.
It was Padgett who started the Cards’ long-ball frenzy by homering off Casey in the second inning. Brown followed with a triple, but was caught in a rundown and tagged out when the next batter, Johnny Hopp, bounced one to Dodgers third baseman Cookie Lavagetto.
Lake poled his first career homer to lead off the third inning for St. Louis. Martin then singled. Slaughter tripled, scoring Martin, and Medwick singled, scoring Slaughter. Johnny Mize then deposited his fourth home run of the season in the right-field seats to make it 6-0 in favor of the Cardinals.
The Dodgers continued to do little of anything at the plate, and Hugh Casey returned to the mound for the fourth inning. “Let me keep pitching,” Casey implored Durocher, “I need the work.”3 Durocher did make one change, sitting himself down and sending 21-year-old rookie Pee Wee Reese in to take his place at shortstop. In the inning, Stu Martin took Casey deep for another Cardinals home run and a 7-0 lead.
Warneke, coasting on a two-hit shutout, retired the Dodgers in order in the fifth and sixth innings, and the Cardinals struck again in the bottom of each frame with an RBI double by Hopp and a two-run double by Lake in the fifth, and a two-run homer by Medwick and a run-scoring fly ball by Brown in the sixth that put St. Louis up 13-0.
The Dodgers finally showed some life in the eighth when Reese led off with a single and Dixie Walker, hitting for the battered Casey, singled Reese to third. After Charlie Gilbert popped out to third, Pete Coscarart grounded to Brown at short, who flipped to Lake at second for the force out, as Reese scored the first Brooklyn run. Jimmy Ripple and Johnny Hudson, spelling Lavagetto at third base, each singled, allowing Coscarart to score, before Babe Phelps flied out to center to end the inning.
Left-hander Max Macon, who had come up with the Cardinals in 1938, took the mound for Brooklyn in the bottom of the eighth. Hugh Casey had pitched seven innings and been pounded for 15 hits, including five home runs, and 13 runs, an ignominious pitching line that would remain unmatched by another major-league starter for more than 70 years.
He asked to stay in there,” said Durocher. “He hadn’t had much work, and as long as the game was gone, I let him continue.”4
The removal of Casey did nothing to cool the Cardinals’ hot bats. With one out, Mize slugged his second homer of the game. After another out, Joe Orengo, hitting for Brown, singled and stole second. Hopp singled, scoring Orengo for the Cardinals’ 15th run. Warneke got in on the action, stroking a double to score Hopp. Lake then clubbed his second homer of the game, a two-run shot that made it 18-2. Macon finally induced Martin to hit a grounder to Dolph Camilli at first, who stepped on the bag to retire the side.
It wasn’t the Cardinals’ feats at the plate that drew the loudest ovation of the afternoon, however. A great cheer arose from the stands when Bill DeLancey strode from the home dugout in the top of the ninth inning to replace Don Padgett as catcher. The Cardinals’ receiver from the world champion “Gas House Gang” of 1934 had been forced to retire after the 1935 season after contracting tuberculosis.
The Cardinals established a Class-D farm team in Albuquerque, New Mexico, in 1937 and hired the convalescing DeLancey as its manager. He led the Albuquerque Cardinals to two Arizona-Texas League championships and regained enough strength to return to the field for brief periods as a player — nine games in 1938 and 19 games in 1939. By 1940, his health had improved to the point that he was able to return to the big league Cardinals as the team’s third-string catcher. As DeLancey took the field, it marked his first time on a major-league diamond in nearly five years. DeLancey would only play 15 games in 1940 before retiring a second time, eventually succumbing to his illness on November 28, 1946, his 35th birthday.
With Warneke still on the mound, Camilli hit a foul in back of third that Martin caught for the first out. Roy Cullenbine singled, but Reese flied out to left. Max Macon, left in to bat for himself, poked a single, advancing Cullenbine to second. Warneke then fanned Gilbert for the final out.
In the 18-2 pounding of the Dodgers, the Cardinals shattered two batting records and tied another. The team’s 49 total bases topped the NL mark of 47 established by the Giants in 1931. Their seven total homers tied a NL record shared by five others and fell one short of the major-league record of eight set on June 28, 1939, by the New York Yankees in a game against the Philadelphia Athletics. The Cardinals’ 13 extra-base hits tied the modern major-league record held by the Tigers and matched twice before by the Cardinals.
Not to be overlooked was the fine pitching performance of Lon Warneke, who pitched shutout ball for seven innings, weakening only in the eighth when he was reached for four of the nine hits he allowed in the game and the Dodgers’ only two runs.
As for Hugh Casey, as a Brooklyn sportswriter put it, “There is no pitcher on the club who hates losing worse than [Casey] and he can get downright mean about it. He gave the Redbird sluggers something to remember him by. One by one they hit the dirt and he actually did hit three of them — Padgett, Mize, and Slaughter. Padgett and Mize had previously hit homers off Casey but Slaughter’s worst offense was a triple.”5
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:
Decatur (Illinois) Herald.
New York Times.
St. Louis Star-Times.
The Sporting News.
1 George Kirksey, “Collapse of Cards Stuns Baseball World,” Daily Times (New Philadelphia, Ohio), May 3, 1940: 7.
2 “Lippy Leo Respects Bill Terry’s Pitcher,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 7, 1940: 12.
3 Tommy Holmes, “Dodgers Relax After Pinning Back of Ears,” Brooklyn Daily Eagle, May 8, 1940: 17.
4 “Casey Wanted to Stay In,” The Sporting News, May 16, 1940: 1.