Saturday, August 16, 2014

August 16, 1953: Dick Schofield Becomes The Youngest Cardinal To Hit a Big Blast

     On August 16, 1953, after dropping the first game of a doubleheader to the Reds in Cincinnati, the Cardinals bounced back with a 6-2 victory. The Birds got to work early in the second game by plating three runs in the first. the fifth run of the contest was a history maker, as shortstop Dick Schofield belted his first major league home run off of Frank Smith in the seventh. The solo shot made Schofield the youngest player in the history of the organization to put one past the fence, as he was exactly 18 years and 223 days old at when he took the cut. Stan Musial knocked in a run in the eighth, before the Cardinals starter Stu Miller locked down a complete game victory after surrendering back to back home runs in the ninth.

     Schofield was what they called a "bonus baby" which basically meant that any player that signed a contract that exceeded a certain number had to be placed on the major league roster, and could not take the time in the minors to develop. The idea was introduced to the game in an effort to keep the talent rich teams from buying up the best prospects, then hoard them in their farm systems. The Cardinals were one of those teams who were talent rich, so this had a direct effect on the franchise.

     Schofield was the first "bonus baby" signed by the team. He was kid right out of high school putting ink on a $35,000 contract that guaranteed him a roster spot with the big club. By today's standards that would equate to more than $300,000. Not bad coin for a youngster. There was the problem with the "bonus babies" though. Kids need to develop, and what happened the majority of the time is they would contribute off the bench, rather than get those at bats in the minors that helped season them for the big leagues. While there were exceptions, such as Sandy Koufax and Al Kaline, the majority of these kids had their career development severely stunted because of skipping the minors.

     Schofield was a prime example of the stunted growth. While he did make some history, he struggled at the plate for the Birds, as he hit a meager .147 over the course of five seasons with the club. He was shipped to the Pirates in 1958. While he never did turn into a premier major league hitter, he did have value, and he proved that in 1960 when Dick Groat went down with an injury during the stretch run in 1960. He stepped in and hit over .400 down the stretch, and even after Groat returned he was productive in the World Series that was won a walk off blast by Bill Mazeroski in Game 7 against the Yankees. Simply being in the house for that one had to be something that he never forgot.

     All in all Schofield spent 19 years on the big league diamond. He was just a .227 hitter, who hit 21 home runs, while wearing seven different uniforms as he forged a career as a utility infielder. He returned to the Cardinals organization twice, after his departure in '58. The first time came in 1968 as utility player for the pennant winners, and then again in 1971, but he was traded to the Milwaukee Brewers mid season. That '71 season proved to be his last. He had come a long way since that day when he put one over the fence in Cincy. His career might not of been a career that ended with an induction ceremony, but even then it is career to be admired, and yeah you can admire a career .227 hitter. He lived a dream that many kids have the moment they pick up a stick on a sandlot. That dream started in St. Louis.

Check out the box score here:

This link is one of the best interpretations of the bonus baby rules I could find:

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