Sunday, December 8, 2013

December 8, 1966: Maris Traded To The Birds

On December 8, 1966, Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam sent a journeyman third baseman by the name of Charley Smith to the New York Yankees in exchange for Roger Maris. Smith arrived in St. Louis as a part of a deal that sent Ken Boyer to the Mets in '65. In his one season as a Cardinal he hit 10 homers, knocked 43 runs, .266 over 116 games. With the Yankees shopping the man who broke Babe Ruth's home run record Howsam saw it as a good fit that could add a bit of pop to the team, play the outfield, as well as become a solid option off the bench. What the Cardinals were receiving was a two time MVP that had capped off the second MVP campaign with 61 bombs in the '61 season. He was also a champion before he arrived in the Lou, winning back-to-back titles as a member of the Yankees in '61 and '62. Despite all the success the media and fans alike turned on him. During the great home run chase of '61 Mickey Mantle looked to be the true favorite amongst both parties which made it a season of great success for Maris, however, it was a season of undue stress and criticism. It was something he had to battle through. After the second championship in New York, Maris was hampered by injuries. He had an off year in '63, back on in '64, then a hand injury limited him to just 46 games in '65 which led to the decision to shop him. The Cardinals were buying, with Smith headed to New York they plugged Mike Shannon in at third, had Maris playing right and would go on a run that ended with a parade downtown. During that '67 campaign he played in 125 games, hitting .261, 9 homers, and 55 ribbies. It was during the postseason that the trade paid true dividends. In the World Series he hit .385, parked a ball over the wall, and knocked in 7 runs on 10 hits he won his third championship ring. After helping the Cardinals return to the Fall Classic in '68 Maris called it a career. Smith played one more full season in the bigs which simply hammers home it was a great deal by Cardinals management. However, it was more than a great deal for the Cardinals it was a great deal for Maris as well. He found new life in St. Louis being out of the scrutiny of New York was a breath of fresh air for him. He was closer to his family that lived in Independence, Missouri and it didn't take long for him to endear himself to the fans and his teammates. In his first at bat with a Cardinal uniform on he stretched an apparent single into a double and the fans gave a loud ovation to their newest Cardinal. Curt Flood once said that the Cardinals wouldn't have won the National League Pennant in '67 without his quiet leadership and intensity. When he was on the field it was said he never made a fundamental mistake which helped each of those players around him work that much harder to be the best they could be. In the end Maris was another piece to a Championship puzzle and he was a perfect fit. When he was asked if he was happy in St. Louis he said " I've never been happier in my life."  I might be too young to have watched him play but I can tell you as a lifelong  fan of the St. Louis Cardinals I am happy that he wore those Birds on the Bat.

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