|Joe C still has the same
slanting Willie Stargell-like penmanship!
Have autograph collectors ever give Joe Cunningham his due?
A tireless signer, he often would take two lines for a signature. “Joe” on top, last name on bottom. Every letter stands out in the whole name.
I’m guessing that more Midwestern Cardinals fans met Joe than any former player in the 1970s. He’d make any appearance on behalf of the team and his sales job. I considered him the team’s ambassador for more than a decade.
I asked the New Jersey native about Ken Boyer. Cunningham replied:
“Ken Boyer was a good friend. I gave him the nickname ‘Captain.’ He ran well, especially on a triple. A country boy!”
Then, Cunningham surprised me with some philosophy, something I bet he never would have shared during his after-dinner banquet appearances.
“Baseball has changed. Curt Flood brought on free agency through the courts. The owners owned us for 100 years. Today, the players run the game.”
Tomorrow: Cunningham opens up about broadcaster Harry Caray.
Ernie Fazio is remembered as a steady infielder of the 1960s. However, on August 18, 1963, he shared the same path of a future Hall of Famer.
“I will never forget my first major league home run off Warren Spahn. It was a great thrill and an accomplishment by another great ballplayer, Willie Mays.”
In a sense, Fazio began the Houston franchise. The team signed Fazio first, hours before they made a deal with Rusty Staub. I asked Fazio about a seldom-mentioned topic in the pre-Astrodome days.
“The humidity and mosquitoes in Houston in 1962 was unbearable. The mosquitoes ate you alive. what I did try was to eat a lot of peanut butter to keep the mosquitoes away. It helped a little. Johnny temple supplied the peanut butter.”
Just as Curt Flood stood up for free agency, Fazio is on the front line in the battle for pension rights. He’s one of the slighted major leaguers who, prior to 1980, needed four full seasons to qualify for a pension. Baseball signed a new contract granting pensions to anyone with only 43 days of service, but never provided retroactive acknowledgement of the hundreds who deserved the same benefit from seasons past.
“As for the pension plan, I still represent about 1,000 players who played in the major leagues but are not vested in the pension. We are finally making some progress. It is not about money. We are part of history.”
Despite baseball’s unwillingness to recognize Fazio’s service, he harbors no bitterness.
“Baseball was great. I do not think I was ready for the big leagues, going straight from college and playing against the Pittsburgh Pirates in a matter of five days. I wish I was still connected to baseball in some way. The pension is a problem. But I would not change anything. I love the game and always will.”
Playing in Houston and Kansas City, Fazio flew under the radar of most baseball media. I found but one account of his Houston toiling at this fun Astros history website.
For the whole picture of the pension fight Fazio and his compatriots are waging, be sure to read Douglas Gladstone’s A Bitter Cup of Coffee: How MLB and the Players Association Threw 874 Retirees a Curve
Johnny Edwards shined behind the plate from 1961-74, serving the Reds, Cardinals and then Astros.
A three-time All-Star and recipient of two Gold Gloves, Edwards doesn’t remember Jim Maloney’s two gems as the majestic records some fans might.
“In the first no-hitter, I was taken out for a pinch-runner. Boy, was I mad.
(Ironically, Maloney was credited only with the loss, not a no-no, as the Mets rallied in 11 innings. See the box score here.)
“In the second no-hitter, Jim was so wild, I believe he walked 11 hittters. Every time in the late innings, there was a man on third and I was afraid of losing the game on a wild pitch.”
(This happier ending, this official no-hitter, is documented here.)
Edwards followed the path of Curt Flood. Both moved from the Reds to Cardinals.
“I didn’t play with Curt in Cincinnati, but he was great outfielder with St. Louis. The modern players should thank him. He (Edwards’ emphasis) was responsible for obtaining free agency. The owners blackballed him. I don’t think he will get into the Hall.”
Ironically, Edwards never mentioned partnering with pitcher Ray Washburn on a no-hitter for the Cardinals in 1968. Flood patrolled center field that day.
Edwards once told Tim McCarver that he remembered Flood always cheering on teammates, no matter the score or Flood’s own success in the game.
You can’t help but keep cheering for Johnny Edwards, too.