March 8, 1952, in St. Petersburg, Florida. Spring training. The defending World Champion New York Yankees are facing 1951's third place St. Louis Cardinals in the first test of new player-manager Eddie Stanky. Stanky's main goal is to try and get a good feeling for his new squad—especially the young kids who have been toiling away in Omaha and the rest of the minor-league system—but there's little doubt that he wants to make a respectable showing in his new role.
With an eye towards the future, Stanky pencils in 21-year-old Earl Weaver at second base. Weaver has already played 540 games at various levels of the Cardinals' minor-league system over the last four years, but his time to make it to the big leagues may be running out. Not only has Red Schoendienst been holding down the keystone since 1946 (and will stay there for St. Louis until he's traded in 1956), but new manager Stanky is also on the depth chart up the middle. It's a cruel joke for the man called "the Eddie Stanky of the Cardinal organization". If Weaver can't make a big impression this spring, who knows what will happen to him.
Batting two spots below Weaver is 31-year-old left fielder Stan Musial, who finished second in the Most Valuable Player award voting for the third consecutive year in 1951. It's Musial's 10th season in the big leagues and, with Joe DiMaggio retiring over the winter, he now finds himself neck-and-neck with Ted Williams for title of best player in baseball. He'll play 12 more seasons in the majors, receiving MVP votes in all but three of them (including a second-place finish in 1957).
Musial last played a minor-league game in 1941, when he was 20 years old, while Weaver, though already a minor-league veteran at the age of 21, didn't play his first professional game until 1948. These spring training games are the only chance the two (future) legends will ever get to share a field.
The Saturday afternoon game proved to be a bit wild. Weaver finished the contest batting 2-for-5 with a pair of runs scored while Musial went 1-for-3. Musial's one hit came in the third inning and drove in Weaver, who had reached on an error from New York's shortstop. The Yankees earned the 11-5 victory after a seven-run seventh inning thanks to a "prodigious clout over the centerfield barrier" from Bob Cerv (so much for Stanky's managerial debut!). Also playing in that spring game were Yogi Berra and a very young Mickey Mantle, who pinch hit for Cerv and popped foul to third base. The New York Times said that Mantle "may have to wait a while longer before joining Jensen and Cerv in the centerfield scramble."
Earl Weaver never played a game in the big leagues. He stayed in the St. Louis organization through the 1953 season, but found himself playing for Denver in the Pittsburgh organization in 1954. He got his first big-league managerial position in 1968, taking over in Baltimore for Hank Bauer (who also played in that March 1952 game) midway through the season. Stan Musial had been retired for five years by the time Weaver made his debut. After three MVP awards and more than 3,600 hits, Musial was elected to the Hall of Fame in his first year on the ballot in 1969. Weaver managed the Orioles continuously through 1982 and came back for a second stint in 1985 and 1986. During that time, his teams went to the World Series four times, winning once in 1970. He finished his career with a .583 winning percentage and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.
Sadly, Weaver died while on a "baseball-themed" cruise early Saturday morning at the age of 82. Later on during the day, it was announced that Stan Musial had died at his home in Missouri. He was 92. The two men could not have been more different in temperament when they took the field—Musial's statue at Busch Stadium features the slugger patiently waiting for a pitch; Weaver's statue at Camden Yards shows him leaning in, only seconds away from unleashing a tirade on an unsuspecting umpire—but they were two of the greatest (and most underrated) in baseball history at what they did. Saturday, January 19, was truly a sad day for baseball.
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