Monday, January 29, 2007

Bing Devine, Former Cardinals GM (1916-2007)

Major League Baseball lost a legend this past weekend as Bing Devine, former general manager, and architect of three National League pennant-winning St. Louis Cardinals teams, died at age 90. Yahoo News AP wire excerpt:

ST. LOUIS - Bing Devine, the St. Louis general manager who helped build Cardinals teams that won three National League pennants and two World Series in the 1960s, died Saturday. He was 90.

Vaughan P. "Bing" Devine, was general manager of the Cardinals from 1958 to 1964 and again from 1968-78, and was credited with acquiring Hall of Fame players Bob Gibson and Lou Brock. The Brock trade with the Cubs, which cost the Cardinals sore-armed pitcher Ernie Broglio, is considered his best.

I'll say. Broglio was an 18-game winner in 1963, had won 70 games for the Cards (including 21 in 1960), but was just 3-5 when he was shipped to the Cubs for a young, speedy outfielder named Lou Brock. Brock had struggled as a Cub, but he quickly began to turn his career around. He stole 33 bases and hit .348 for the remainder of the season, as he became the best base stealer in the NL until 1979 (he broke Maury Wills stolen base mark in 1974 with 118, and retired with the career standard of 938 until Rickey Henderson came along). Brock also hit .391 in 21 World Series games with 14 steals (only having been caught twice) as the Cardinals catalyst. Broglio went 7-19 as a Cub, and was out of major league baseball after the 1966 season. Yeah, I'd say Bing got the best of that deal...

Many of the players Devine acquired led the Cardinals to World Series titles in 1964 and 1967 and the pennant in 1968, among them Curt Flood, Dick Groat, Bill White and Julian Javier.

That was a monster of a team. Brock, Gibson, a later acquisition Orlando Cepeda, and the young Steve Carlton are all Hall of Famers. Bill White, Curt Flood and Ken Boyer aren't too far away from HOF-quality themselves. Christ, Tim McCarver was the catcher for these guys, but you'd never know it the way he gushes over the Yankees and Derek Jeter. I wish Timmeh had a little Joe Morgan in him, that way we'd hear more about what a great team that was (and then probably get quickly sick of it, just as we do when Joe shamelessly drops Big Red Machine-Johnny Bench-Tony Perez into all his broadcasts).

There is a terrific book, October 1964 by Bill Halberstam that outlines the respective league pennant races through the eyes of both the Cardinals and the Yankees. It showcases how the men mentioned above matured into stars and clutch performers just as the great Yankee team was falling apart as age and injury began to catch up with icons like Mickey Mantle, Whitey Ford and Roger Maris all at once.

The book also details how Devine put that team together, but how that first championship in 1964 was a bittersweet one as the Cardinals got off to a slow start, with Devine having been fired in the middle of the season, and replaced by co-GM Branch Rickey (who was, according to the book, trying to undermine Devine's efforts). Obviously, the Cards brass realized their mistake as they brought him back into the fold a few years later.

There are two sets of Cardinals clubs in my lifetime that I consider classic baseball teams: Whitey Herzog's Runnin' Redbirds of the 1980s and the 1960s teams that Devine helped to build. Here's a salute to a true baseball man and legend - Bing Devine.

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