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1952: Stan the man could pitch in

At Sportsman's Park on Sept. 28, 1952, Cubs outfielder Frank Baumholtz swings at the only pitch that Stan Musial threw for the Cardinals in his 22-year-career in St. Louis. The Cardinals catcher is Bill Sarni, and the umpire is Augie Guglielmo. Baumholtz was a lefthanded hitter who switched to the right side for his at-bat against Musial. He grounded the ball to third and reached base on an error. (AP file photo)

ST. LOUIS • With the White Sox trailing by a couple touchdowns Tuesday night, manager Robin Ventura turned to an old quarterback for help.

Adam Dunn, a/k/a Big Donkey, took the mound late in Chicago’s 16-0 loss to the Texas Rangers. The ChiSox already were down 15-0 when the hulking designated hitter started his warmup tosses. He didn’t crack 85 mph and he did allow a run on two hits. But he didn’t walk anyone to prolong the miserable game. At the time of his first pitch, Dunn had 14 years in the majors and 457 homers. That put him in some elite company — the rare 400-homer slugger who also threw a pitch in a major-league game.

Of course Babe Ruth did. He still holds team pitching records.

Most folks will remember the Jose Canseco circus act on the mound.

And Stan Musial did.

Back in 1952, the Cardinals’ Hall of Famer took the mound to throw one pitch. It’s there, clear as pixels, on his Baseball-Reference.com page. It was a gimmick that he later told Post-Dispatch baseball writer and sports editor Bob Broeg he regretted.

“I wanted to get it over with,” Musial told the P-D in 2002.

On Sept. 28, 1952, the Cardinals hosted the Chicago Cubs at Sportsman’s Park, and neither team was going anywhere. The Cardinals, at 88-65, were stuck in third place and about to finish the season 8 ½ games back. The Cubs were 76-77 and playing for a .500 record. What was at stake was a personal triumph Musial. He was putting the finishing brushstrokes on a third consecutive batting title, and the only player with a mathematical sliver of a glimmer of a chance to catch him was Cubs right fielder Frank Baumholtz. Both were in the starting lineup for the final game of the season, and that got Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky scheming.

He intended and he even advertised that Musial would clinch the batting title by facing Baumholtz himself.

Musial came to baseball as a pitcher — a wild, slinging lefty who injured himself and had to leave the mound behind to pick up a bat. That injury cost the Cardinals a minor-league pitcher and launched a Hall of Fame hitter, one of the best of all time.

That September day against the Cubs, Musial was about to complete his 10th full season in the majors and claim his sixth batting title. He’d hit .376 to win one in 1948, .346 to win it in 1950, .355 to claim the crown in 1951, and in 1952 he would hit .336. No other hitter in the 1950s had won a batting title yet because of Musial. And Baumholtz would need one historic day to nip Musial on the final day of the ’52 season.

In the first inning, starter Harvey Haddix walked the first batter to bring Baumholtz to the plate. Stanky brought Musial in from center field, shifted Hal Rice to center field, and planted Haddix in right field. Musial took two warmup pitches, according to reports from the time. Baumholtz, a lefthanded hitter, switched to the right side of the plate to face Musial. In a career that spanned 3,810 plate appearances, this was the only one where Baumholtz batted righthanded. Neither player seemed thrilled by the moment.

Musial put one pitch right over the plate to Baumholtz. The crowd of 17,422, about to see a 1-hour, 55-minute game, watched as Baumholtz obliged with a groundball to third base. Solly Hemus bobbled the ball as he tried to turn the double play and Baumholtz reached on an error.

Musial’s final pitching line, for his career:

0 0 0 0 0 0 0, one batter faced, one pitch thrown, one inherited runner who did not score

“I didn’t really want to do it,” Musial told Post-Dispatch staff writer Dan O’Neill in '02. “They wanted to bring some people into the park, knowing I was going to pitch to one hitter. I was leading Frank by five or six points in the batting race. If it had been any closer than that, I wouldn’t have done it.”

Stanky told Musial if he walked the batter he’d be fined $50.

The batting race finished with Baumholtz’s .325 average second to Musial’s .336.

Christopher Kamka, Comcast SportNet Chicago’s uber-researcher and baseball historian, posted on Twitter the list of players who have the most home runs and at least a pitch thrown in a major-league game. Ruth tops the list (really in both categories: homers and best pitches) at 714. After the Bambino there’s Jimmie Foxx (534), Ted Williams (521), Musial (475), Canseco (462), and now Dunn. Ventura didn’t call on the former University of Texas quarterback (Major Applewhite’s backup, FYI) as a gimmick, just as a life preserver. In exchange, Dunn got to throw his way into a little history.

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Derrick Goold is the lead Cardinals beat writer for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and past president of the Baseball Writers' Association of America.