Former Cardinals player and manager Solly Hemus, the last big-league manager alive who had managed in the 1950s and the last Cardinals player-manager in 1959, died at age 94 on Monday in Houston. He had been in ill health.
Solomon Joseph Hemus, a 5-foot-9, hard-nosed infielder, had a lifetime batting mark of .273 in an 11-season career with the Cardinals and Philadelphia Phillies from 1949-59.
Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst, who played second next to Hemus at shortstop for several seasons in here in the early 1950s, recalled Hemus as a “tough player, a winning-type player. If he needed to get hit by a pitch, he’d stick right in there. He’d try to get on base for the guys behind him.
“He wasn’t a great shortstop but he got the job done,” said Schoendienst, born two months ahead of Hemus in 1923. “Maybe it wasn’t the best, but he always was trying to help the club, I’ll say that.”
After he was traded to the Phillies in 1956, Hemus wrote a letter to Cardinals owner Gussie Busch saying how proud he had been to be a Cardinal. After the 1958 season, Busch re-acquired Hemus and named him player/manager.
Hemus filled the dual role only for 24 games in 1959,, mostly as a pinch hitter, before turning to managing full time. The Cardinals finished seventh in an eight-team league that year at 71-83. The next year, they finished third at 86-68 but he was fired and replaced by coach Johnny Keane after the club started 33-41 in 1961.
Later, Hemus was a coach with the New York Mets and Cleveland Indians before entering the oil business in Houston.
Former Cardinal Tim McCarver, who was a minor-league call-up as a young catcher, said, “The thing that really impressed me about Solly is that he would give cash to guys who were going well so that they could go out and enjoy themselves. I got wide-eyed that he would give somebody $50 ‘to have dinner on me.’ Unfortunately, I didn’t get that opportunity then.”
Hall of Fame pitcher Bob Gibson was shunted between the rotation and the bullpen by Hemus in his three seasons as manager, and both Gibson and center fielder Curt Flood have been quoted as saying that Hemus had told them they would “never make it,” in the majors. Both wrote in their respective autobiographies that Hemus’ statements and actions were racially motivated.
Gibson on Tuesday expressed disappointment upon hearing of Hemus’ death but declined further comment.