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Saturday, April 18, 2020

Yogi Berra Could Have Been a Cardinal for $500. They Said No

It’s another hot and humid St. Louis summer in July 1941. But that’s not what 16-year-old Lawdie Berra is thinking about right now. He’s sitting in the back seat of Cardinal General Manager Branch Rickey’s big black Lincoln on his way to Forest Park with his friend Joe Garagiola up front and some kid named Schoendienst fidgeting in the seat next to him. Poor guy is covered with angry red bites all over his arms and neck. Lawdie heard someone call him Red at the tryout camp in Sportsman’s Park just a few minutes ago, but these bites can’t be the reason.

Lawdie saw right away that Schoendienst can hit — from both sides of the plate — smacking line drives to all fields when it was his turn at bat. And he wasn’t bad at shortstop, either, though the Cardinal scouts kept asking him to shift over to second base. Albert, that’s his first name. Albert Schoendienst.

Schoendienst is one of the many out-of-town boys who saw the same Cardinal advertisement for an open tryout at Sportsman’s Park in the newspaper that also caught the attention of Lawdie and Joey. Anyone who wasn’t the property of a major league team was invited to try out for the Cardinals’ minor league system. Damn, there must have been 400, maybe 500 boys who showed up yesterday, chasing the dream of playing baseball in the major leagues.

That was far too many to judge in one afternoon, so Rickey told all the St. Louis kids to go home and come back the following day. The Cardinal GM wanted to see what the out-of-town kids could do first.

It isn’t every day when the cagiest general manager in baseball history makes a major mistake- and it’s an interesting read beyond that detail as well.

 

QLE Posted: April 18, 2020 at 12:40 AM | 11 comment(s) Login to Bookmark
  Tags: branch rickey, cardinals, red schoendienst, what-ifs, yogi berra

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   1. The Duke Posted: April 18, 2020 at 10:52 AM (#5941507)
I’m sure Rickey was deceived by the most obvious flaw, Berra didn’t look like a ballplayer. Happens all the time.

Right now on the Cardinals we have a guy named Tyler O’Neil who looks like Bam Bam from the Flintstones. Doesn’t look at all like a ballplayer. And we have a guy named Lane Thomas. He looks like a ballplayer, “plays the game the right way” etc etc. But any review of minor league stats would tell you O’Neill is the better prospect. I’m betting Thomas ends up being the player the Cardinals gravitate towards. FYI, I’m a big Thomas fan too. Feels like he will be another Tommy Edman.



   2. snapper (history's 42nd greatest monster) Posted: April 18, 2020 at 01:20 PM (#5941543)
The story I heard was that Rickey was already negotiating his leap to the Dodgers and wanted to snag Berra for them. Don't know how true that is.
   3. greenback used to say live and let live Posted: April 18, 2020 at 01:35 PM (#5941548)
Right now on the Cardinals we have a guy named Tyler O’Neil who looks like Bam Bam from the Flintstones... But any review of minor league stats would tell you O’Neill is the better prospect.

Kinda tough to be much of anything as a hitter when the MLE's say you're going to strike out 1/3 of the time.
   4. Fred Lynn Nolan Ryan Sweeney Agonistes Posted: April 18, 2020 at 01:58 PM (#5941560)
The photo with the article shows Yogi "dropped a pinky" on the bat, which is pretty common now, but would've been unusual in Yogi's time.
   5. bobm Posted: April 18, 2020 at 02:48 PM (#5941576)
[2] from the same book excerpted here:

And then, a week or so before Berra's set to leave, there's a knock on the front door. It's a man with a telegram from the new Brooklyn Dodger GM, Branch Rickey. Mr. Larry Berra, the telegram reads, the Dodgers request that you report to our spring training camp in Bear Mountain, N.Y. There is a contract with an unspecified bonus to play for the Dodger organization.

Well, don't that beat all? First no one wants to sign him. Now he has a second offer-from Mr. Rickey, no less. Guess old Branch needs players, with even more minor leaguers than major league players drafted or enlisting in the armed services--more than 4,000 in all. But Rickey is too late. Larry "Yogi" Berra is about to start his career in the Class B Piedmont League, a New York Yankee prospect playing for the Norfolk Tars.

Timing, it appears, is everything. What a difference two years make.
   6. Walt Davis Posted: April 18, 2020 at 06:42 PM (#5941656)
I'm most impressed that there were at least 3 ML-quality players that turned up at the same tryout.
   7. SoSH U at work Posted: April 18, 2020 at 06:50 PM (#5941659)
How is I grew up right across the river from there and never realized the Dodgers once held spring training at Bear Mountain.
   8. Walt Davis Posted: April 18, 2020 at 07:02 PM (#5941661)
Since simulated reality is way better than actual reality at the moment, I'll note that O'Neill is hitting 273/400/568 with a 27% K-rate in the b-r sim league. Thomas is apparently not on the roster (there seem to be some roster issues with the sim -- e.g. Luis Robert isn't on the White Sox roster).
   9. cardsfanboy Posted: April 18, 2020 at 07:17 PM (#5941667)
Right now on the Cardinals we have a guy named Tyler O’Neil who looks like Bam Bam from the Flintstones. Doesn’t look at all like a ballplayer. And we have a guy named Lane Thomas. He looks like a ballplayer, “plays the game the right way” etc etc. But any review of minor league stats would tell you O’Neill is the better prospect. I’m betting Thomas ends up being the player the Cardinals gravitate towards. FYI, I’m a big Thomas fan too. Feels like he will be another Tommy Edman.


I don't think there is anyone within or outside of the organization that thinks Lane Thomas is anything other than a 4th outfielder on a decent team, or a 5th outfielder on a good team, while O'neil has flaws, his strengths are clearly there... it's whether or not he ever grows into a major league player, that is a big if, there were similar issues with Luke Voit, great power, lack of contact, but if he contacts enough, he is a worthy major leaguer.
   10. cardsfanboy Posted: April 18, 2020 at 07:17 PM (#5941669)
As far as the book goes, that excerpt was well written and entertaining.
   11. Starring RMc as Bradley Scotchman Posted: April 19, 2020 at 09:56 AM (#5941821)
He wasn't a Cardinal, but he met the Pope!

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