On August 2, 1961, Joe Cunningham's seventh inning three run blast proved to be the difference maker in a 4-2 win over the Pirates in St. Louis. The outfielder formed a legacy in St. Louis that continued well past his playing days.
The Birds jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the first when Ken Boyer came up with a two out RBI single, but watched as that lead disappeared in the top of the second with one swing of Roberto Clemente's bat that tied things up. It looked like both starters were settling in after giving up the early runs. The Pirates hurler Bob Friend gave up just one hit after the first, until the fifth when Julian Javier hit a scorcher right back at the pitcher, which caught him on the foot, and ended his day.
The Pirates skipper Danny Murtaugh called on Bobby Shantz to take over on the bump, and Shantz worked himself out of two jams before helping his own cause with an RBI in the top of the seventh. He wasn't so lucky in the bottom of the inning, as he surrendered a leadoff single to shortstop Bob Lillis, and a one out single to Julian Javier to set the table for Cunningham, who put the first pitch that Shantz threw him over the right field wall. It was all the Cardinals starter Larry Jackson needed for victory, as he was nearly flawless in the last two innings, as he locked down the complete game victory.
Cunningham played 738 games with the Birds on the Bat across his chest, and he carried a .304 average during that time. While he had the ability to launch the ball, he was not a true home run hitter. His highest total or home runs in a single season came in 1958 when he hit 12. His best year came in 1959 when he finished with the second best average in the National League at .345. Hank Aaron's .355 kept him from wearing that crown. The 1960 season saw his average fall to .280, and after a .286 campaign in '61 Cunningham as shipped to the White Sox for Minnie Minoso.
That trade did not turn out the way management had hoped for, as Cunningham hit .295 in the Windy City, while Minoso hit .196 for the Birds before being sold to the Washington Senators in the offseason. A collarbone injury in 1963 was a game changer in the career of Joe Cunningham, as the once consistent hitter never was able to find his swing following the bad fortune. the White Sox shipped him to the Senators in July of '64, and he spent the last couple years of his career in D.C. before being released in the Spring of '66.
Cunningham's days as a player might have ended in '66, but his days in baseball were far from over. Several teams courted him to manage their minor league affiliates, but Joe proclaimed "once you are a Cardinal you are always a Cardinal", which led to him taking a job within the organization. He managed several minor league affiliates, took a position in sales, and was even a member of the coaching staff for the 1982 World Series championship squad. Cunningham continued to work for the organization for many years to come in a community relations role. While he might not be a household name among this generation of fans, I do believe that he is a man who deserves a proverbial tip of the cap, so here's to you Joe.
Check out the box score here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/boxes/SLN/SLN196108020.shtml
Check out Cunningham's career numbers here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/cunnijo01.shtml