In 1951, a twelve-year-old boy from a small town in north central Kansas wrote a letter to Enos Slaughter asking the Cardinal great for some advice on playing the game of baseball and also asking Mr. Slaughter if he had some suggestions on becoming a Cardinal bat boy. Slaughter took the time to send the young boy a hand-written letter, signing it “your friend.” In the letter, which was published on the front page of the Belleville Telescope (Belleville, Kansas), January 24, 1952, Slaughter offered advice on how to play the great American game and also expressed his wish that he could help his new pen pal become a bat boy for the Cardinals.
That boy was my father. In the letter, Slaughter tells my dad, Eddie Tamerius, to “play ball, hard and honest” and “don’t swing at balls, too far over your head.” He also says, “Don’t be afraid to take that 1,000 to one chance for a base! The other fellow with the ball may hesitate just long enough, wondering what you’re going to do!” In 1951, that advice from Slaughter – to take a chance for the extra base – would have conjured up the cherished memory of Slaughter’s late game heroics only five years earlier in a play still recognized as one of the top ones in World Series history. In the eighth inning of the seventh game of the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox, with the score tied at 3-3, “Country” Slaughter (as he was nicknamed) took off on a called hit-and-run with two outs. Slaughter scored from first base on a double to left-center, as Boston shortstop Johnny Pesky hesitated in throwing the relay to the catcher. In what is remembered as the “Mad Dash Home”, Slaughter scored the decisive run as the Cardinals claimed their sixth league title.
My father grew up on the great plains of Kansas in a family that, in and of itself, resembled a baseball team. There were nine children (one girl and eight boys) in the lineup and Dad was at the bottom of the birth order as the light-hitting rookie on the team. His father worked the Rock Island Railroad line and was a devoted Chicago Cubs fan. Dad’s loyalties, however, were clearly with the Cubs’ bitter rival, the St. Louis Cardinals. While Grandpa was away on the railroad, somewhere between Belleville and Topeka, Kansas, Dad would sit in the dining room listening through a Motorola tabletop radio as Harry Caray gave the play-by-play of the Cardinals games. The station signal came out of St. Joseph, Missouri and was strong enough for day games but would weaken considerably at night. Dad would listen through the AM static and on a piece of notebook paper, he would make a scorecard of the action he was hearing on the radio broadcast. (The family wouldn’t get their first television until 1953.)
A few months ago, while preparing for my Uncle Dean’s funeral, I was searching the internet for obituaries. My objective was rather simple. I was trying to figure out the birth order of dad’s siblings. Nine children in one family is a lot to keep organized in your head. As I tried to sort through the “players” in the family lineup, my mental cogitations started to sound like an old Abbott & Costello routine. Let’s see. Who was first? Uncle Ernie? Or wait, was it Aunt Mildred? Ok, well if Aunt Mildred was on first, who was on second? And what’s on third?
While trying to answer these riddles I discovered that a lot of historic, small town newspapers have been archived in recent years and they can now be accessed online. In the course of my online browsing for obituaries, I came across a front page article about my dad’s correspondence with baseball Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter. The headline said “Want It Hard, You’ll Get It, Local Youth Told.” I was shocked. Dad had never told us about the letter. We had been following the Cardinals for a lifetime. While growing up in Hannibal, Missouri, my father had taken the three of us boys to numerous games at Busch Stadium. We had heard countless other baseball stories as Dad shared his remembrances of Al Kaline’s defensive prowess in the Detroit Tigers outfield and his cannon of an arm, of Bob Gibson’s intimidating demeanor on the mound, of Curt Flood’s career with the Cardinals and legacy in baseball and of watching the New York Yankees while stationed at Staten Island with the United States Coast Guard.
But this one was new: a hand-written letter from a Hall of Fame player for for the St. Louis Cardinals! A lot of questions came to mind. Did Dad still have the letter among his personal keepsakes? Given that it was so long ago, did Dad even remember writing the letter? How exactly did Dad become a Cardinals fan, given that his dad was a Chicago Cubs fan? What led him to write Slaughter in the first place? And how did the story originally come to the attention of the Belleville Telescope back in 1952?
As curious as I was to ask Dad these questions, I also started to think about another set of questions. What if Dad’s childhood wish finally came true? What if he could be an honorary batboy with the Cardinals for one day? While not as cat-quick as he once was when he was a spry, energetic twelve-year-old boy playing junior league baseball in a small town on Highway 36, perhaps Dad could symbolically fulfill his childhood wish in some small way. For now, I’d leave some of the original questions unanswered to see if the Cardinals would help us make a memory.
I first enlisted the help of Charlie James, a former Cardinals player who roamed the outfield for the Redbirds from 1959 – 1964 and played on the World Series championship team of 1964. Charlie is a board member at William Woods University (Fulton, Missouri) where I work and is as gracious a guy as you’ll ever meet. Whenever I have opportunity, I like to ask Charlie about the past. Charlie has a locker room full of stories from his playing days with the Missouri Tigers and later, with the St. Louis Cardinals. He was a teammate of Stan Musial and batted against Sandy Koufax (hitting two home runs off of the great Dodger lefty, including a grand slam in 1962). Charlie shared the outfield with Curt Flood before getting traded to the Cincinnati Reds to make room for some guy named Lou Brock.
Charlie made an outfield assist by directing me to Martin Coco, the Director of Ticket Sales and Marketing for the St. Louis Cardinals. Martin read the original article with interest and appreciation and agreed it was a great story. He then offered to help us connect some of the dots in Dad’s lifetime of following the Cardinals by surprising our father with a memorable evening.
On Monday, August 5, twenty-four of us went to Busch Stadium to watch the Cardinals face the Dodgers. Dad thought it was just another Cardinals game, like so many others we have enjoyed before. Six of us left the family picnic at the Gateway Arch, under the pretense of needing to get a few more tickets at the stadium. Dad accompanied the group, ready to open his wallet for any extra tickets we might need. We walked around the stadium until we arrived at the VIP/Press entrance.
Dad wondered why we going in this particular door, after having passed numerous ticket windows along the way. To Dad’s question about what we were up to, Troy only said, “Dad, you haven’t seen anything yet.” Upon the hospitable welcome by Martin, we finally shared the news with Dad. He’d have to change his shirt. We had a different one for him to wear, an authentic 1946 Enos Slaughter replica home jersey made by Mitchell and Ness as part of their Cooperstown Collection. Dad put on the No.9 jersey that Slaughter made famous so many years ago.
Then we showed him a framed copy of the front page of the Belleville Telescope from January 24, 1952.
“Where in the world did you get this?” he asked.
“Dad, do you remember writing Enos Slaughter 62 years ago?”
Dad replied, “I certainly do. I had told my dad that I wanted to be a bat boy for the Cardinals and he encouraged me to write them. I don’t know if he thought they’d actually write me back. But they did.”
“Do you still have the letter?” we asked.
“I wish I could say that I did but Mom and Dad had a flood in the basement when I was away from home and we lost most of my personal keepsakes.”
“Well, I told Martin that you were still pretty nimble and quick and that you could probably shag some fly balls still. But we have some other things planned tonight.”
Then, Martin did his maestro magic and kindly rolled out the Red(bird) carpet for our group. He took us on the field where we watched the Cardinals and Dodgers take batting practice. We saw Mark McGwire’s return to Busch Stadium as the new batting instructor for the Dodgers. We also saw the Busch Stadium debut of Dodger rookie sensation Yasiel Puig who put on a power show in batting practice.
The highlight, however, was Dad’s opportunity to meet Cardinal legend Red Schoendienst. A young 90 years of age, Red played for the Cardinals alongside of Slaughter. Red still comes to most of the home games, donning his own Cardinal uniform, with the striped socks pulled up high just as they were in his former playing days. No. 2 came over and visited with our group. We shared with him the story of Dad’s childhood dream 62 years ago.
Dad mentioned how he grew up as a big fan of “Stan the Man, Enos Slaughter and Red”. Red shared with us some stories of playing with Enos Slaughter. “He was a great teammate and always played hard. He never took a play off.”
I asked Red if the 100 percent wool authentic jersey that dad was wearing was authentic. He reached over to touch dad’s jersey, rubbed it between his fingers and said, “We did wear wool. But our jerseys were even heavier than that.”
“We read this morning that your signing bonus back in 1942 was a ham sandwich and a glass of milk. That was a great story.”
“Well, yes, it’s a little bit different today”, Red told us.
“I guess the good news, though, is that the signing bonus of milk and ham probably explains why you are in still in such good shape today.”
“Well, I don’t know about that.” Red said while chuckling.
After our conversation was over, we made a visit to the broadcast booth where Dad met longtime broadcaster Mike Shannon just before the start of the game. Both of them had graduated from high school in 1957. And both had gone on to the University of Missouri in Columbia. After talking a bit about Shannon’s playing days with the Tigers under legendary coach Frank Broyles, we left the radio booth for our seats, but not before Dad had a chance to study the day’s lineups in the KMOX booth.
When the game finally started, dad did what he’s done for so many years now. In pencil, he marked the boxes of the scorecard in the endangered language of passionate baseball enthusiasts: K, BB, 1B, E4, HBP.
On this night, the Dodgers got the best of the Cardinals, winning the game 3-2 and extending their winning streak on the road to fifteen games. As nice as it would have been to drive back home to Columbia and Hannibal and Lexington` with a Redbird victory, this particular night was about something else. Our family was together and we were relishing a story sixty-two years in the making. On an unseasonably pleasant evening, we were in a sea of summer red among the best fans in baseball, celebrating the dreams of childhood, the glory of America’s national pastime and the proud tradition of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In 1951, Enos Slaughter concluded his letter to my dad with a bit of advice: “no matter what you want in life, want it HARD and you’ll get it!” If Mr. Slaughter were still around, he’d be pleased to know that our dad has followed his advice. Since that letter, Dad has played out his years with honesty and hard work and a lot of smart decisions on the base path of life. “Country” Slaughter would be proud of Dad’s “mad dash home”.