St. Louis Baseball's 5 Strangest Players and Events

Josh Kipnis@JKipnis22Correspondent IIJune 30, 2012

St. Louis Baseball's 5 Strangest Players and Events

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    The "Rally Squirrel" supposedly was the St. Louis Cardinals' secret to success in winning the 2011 World Series title.

    And you think that was bizarre?

    Whether it was with the Browns or the Cardinals, this list highlights the strangest events and players to ever be a part of St. Louis' baseball history. 

5. Bob Nieman and Keith McDonald

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    Have you ever watched an amateur long-distance race? Ever notice how there are a handful of runners who sprint out of the gate to claim an early lead, only to fall to the very back of the pack moments later?

    That would best describe the careers of Bob Nieman and Keith McDonald.

    Separated by nearly half a century, Nieman's and McDonald’s names sit side by side in MLB record books, not for their long-lasting success, but rather for a brief spark in their first few games as professional ball players.

    They are the only two players in MLB history to hit two home runs in their first two major league at-bats.

    On September 14, 1951, Bob Nieman made his debut as an outfielder for the St. Louis Browns and became one of three players to ever have two home runs in the very first game of his career (Bert Campaneris and Mark Quinn). 

    49 years later, on July 4, Keith McDonald would pinch-hit for the St. Louis Cardinals and homer in his first MLB plate appearance. Two days later, pinch-hitting again, McDonald homered in his second professional at-bat.

    The rookie would finally cool off, going without a hit in his next six visits to the plate. A week later, however, McDonald knocked one out of the park in his ninth and final career at-bat. 

    For those of you keeping score at home, that’s three career hits, all of which were home runs. Keith McDonald is the only player in history to do so.

4. "The Mad Hungarian"

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    Anyone who is entertained by San Francisco Giants’ closer Brian Wilson will surely enjoy the company of former St. Louis Cardinals’ reliever Al Hrabosky.

    Back in the 70s, Al Hrabosky was known for his intense pre-pitch routine—spiking the rosin bag on the ground, pounding the ball into his mitt, and marching up the mound to deliver his fearsome heater. This, along with his unforgettable Fu Manchu moustache, was what gave him the one-of-a-kind nickname, “The Mad Hungarian.”

    In 1975, Hrabosky posted a 13-3 record with a 1.66 ERA and a major league-leading 22 saves. In 1977, however, his numbers plummeted after Vern Rapp took over the Cardinals’ managing position, banning his players’ rights to grow facial hair.

    Hrabosky was forced to shave his beloved stache and had one of the worst years of his career: a 6-5 record with a 4.38 ERA. Said Hrabosky about his clean look, “How can I intimidate batters if I look like a goddamn golf pro?”

    The following year, Hrabosky was traded to the Kansas City Royals where he was able to regrow his moustache and regain his intimidation over batters.  His ERA soon dropped by 1.5 runs.

3. September 11, 1974

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    13,460 people came to Shea Stadium to watch the New York Mets host the St. Louis Cardinals on September 11, 1974. But not nearly that many stayed to witness the longest game in Cardinals’ history.

    The game finally ended after seven hours and four minutes.

    The Cardinals scored two runs in the top of the ninth to force the game into extra innings. However, the night (or rather morning) wouldn’t come to a close until the 25th inning, when Cardinals’ outfielder Bake McBride scored all the way from first on a wild pick off attempt thrown by Mets’ pitcher Hank Webb. The final score was 4-3.

    Despite losing the game, Mets’ 3B/SS Wayne Garrett had to have been the most relieved to leave the field after going 0 for 10 in the game, earning the infamous golden sombrero (four strikeouts in a game).

2. Eddie Gaedel

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    St. Louis Browns’ owner Bill Veeck could never resist a good publicity stunt. If only Jackie Moon of the Flint, Michigan Tropics could’ve thought of this move.

    In the second game of a doubleheader in 1951, newly acquired Browns’ player Eddie Gaedel stepped into the batter’s box to pinch-hit against the Detroit Tigers.

    At 3’7’’ and 65 lb. Gaedel was by far the shortest and lightest man to ever play in the MLB.

    Gaedel, born with dwarfism in 1925, wore the number “1/8” and was told by manager Zack Taylor to never swing the bat. Tigers’ pitcher Bob Cain threw four straight balls and walked Gaedel.

    By reaching safely in his one and only plate appearance, no player will ever top Gaedel’s all-time major league-leading on-base percentage of 1.000.

1. Pete Gray

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    When the United States Military began the draft for WWII, many major leaguers were forced to put their baseball careers on hold. With a limited amount of talent available, the St. Louis Browns signed Pete Gray in 1945.

    Gray had a .218 batting average and .958 fielding percentage in his only year as a professional baseball player. He would bat left. Throw left. And field left too. 

    That’s right, Pete Gray remains the only one-armed baseball player in the history of the major leagues.

    Losing his right arm at the age of six, Gray would wear a glove on his left hand, catch the ball, and quickly exchange it over to his right side where he would grab the ball from his glove and hit the cut-off man in less than two seconds.

    As a hitter, he would rock his bat back-and-forth until the pitcher’s windup, when he would throw his arm up over his shoulder and strike the ball with just as much power as any other hitter. 

    Remarkably, in 234 professional at-bats, Gray struck out just 11 times.


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