- 3B, SS, CF, OF, 1B
- May 20, 1931
- 6' 1"
- 190 lbs
- Major League Debut:
- 4-12-1955 with SLN
- Allstar Selections:
- 1958 GG, 1959 GG, 1960 GG, 1961 GG, 1963 GG, 1964 LG, 1964 ML, 1964 MVP
One of the most overlooked and underrated players in the rich history of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ken Boyer rarely receives the credit he deserves for having been one of the finest all-around third basemen in National League history. Overshadowed by Eddie Mathews for much of his career, Boyer also had to contend with Ron Santo for preeminence among players who manned the hot corner in the senior circuit his final few seasons. Only in two or three of his 15 major league seasons was Boyer widely recognized as the National League’s top player at his position. Nevertheless, the Cardinals captain earned All-Star honors seven times, won five Gold Gloves, and finished in the top 10 in the league MVP voting four times, winning the award in 1964, when he led his team to the world championship.
Born in Liberty, Missouri on May 20, 1931, Kenton Lloyd Boyer grew up the fifth of 14 children in Alba, Missouri. The third eldest of seven brothers, Boyer had little difficulty fielding a team to compete in pick-up baseball games as a youngster. In fact, two of his siblings – Cloyd and Clete – went on to play in the major leagues as well.
After graduating from Alba High School in 1949, Boyer received an invitation to attend a special tryout camp at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Although he usually played either the infield or the outfield, Cardinals scout Runt Marr believed that Boyer’s strong arm made him a potential candidate to join the St. Louis starting rotation. Signed by the Cardinals to a $6,000 bonus, Boyer spent most of his first two minor league seasons working as a pitcher. However, as he later recalled, “I had no control. No curve, and not much of a fastball.”
While Boyer struggled as a pitcher, he performed so well at the plate that the Cardinals eventually decided to shift him to third base. Playing every day for the first time as a professional, Boyer finished the 1951 campaign with 90 runs batted in and a .306 batting average, while also doing a solid job at third base. Apparently ready to advance to the next level of the St. Louis farm system, Boyer temporarily put his baseball career on hold when the Army drafted him. He spent the next two years serving overseas, although he continued to play ball for the Army, playing games in Germany and Africa.
St. Louis years
Boyer resumed his professional playing career after being discharged from the Army in October 1953. He spent the 1954 season with the Cardinals’ Double-A affiliate, making such a strong impression on the members of the St. Louis front office that they traded away starting third baseman Ray Jablonski at the end of the year to make room for Boyer.
The 24-year-old Boyer had a solid rookie season for the Cardinals, hitting 18 home runs, driving in 62 runs, and batting .264, while also fielding his position well. He developed into a star the following year, when he hit 26 homers, knocked in 98 runs, scored 91 others, and batted .306, earning in the process his first selection to the N.L. All-Star Team. Boyer displayed his versatility in 1957, when the Cardinals moved him to center field to allow rookie Eddie Kasko to break in at third base. Yet, even though he did a creditable job in the outfield, Boyer exhibited a decrease in offensive production, batting just .265 and driving in only 62 runs.
Back at his more familiar position of third base in 1958, Boyer excelled both at the bat and in the field for the Cardinals. In addition to hitting 23 home runs, driving in 90 runs, scoring 101 others, and batting .307, he won the first of four straight Gold Gloves for his outstanding defensive work at the hot corner. His 41 double plays that year equaled the second-highest total in league history to that point.
Named captain of the Cardinals prior to the start of the 1959 campaign, Boyer drew praise from manager Solly Hemus, who said, “Boyer is the guy everybody walks up to in the clubhouse and talks to.”
Although quiet and reserved, Boyer had a great deal of influence in the Cardinals clubhouse. Rather than yelling and screaming, he preferred to lead by example, and he usually managed to get his point across through subtle prodding. Boyer also received a great deal of credit from several of his black teammates for helping to create the racial harmony on the Cardinals that made them what is often considered the first truly integrated team in the major leagues.
Fred Hutchinson, who preceded Hemus as St. Louis manager, once said of his third baseman, “Ken is the kind of player you wish you had 12 of, so you could play nine and have three on the bench just to stir things up. He’s the kind of guy you dream about: terrific speed, great arm, and brute strength. There’s nothing he can’t do.”
Hutchinson’s assessment was quite accurate. In addition to possessing outstanding power, the 6’2”, 200-pound Boyer had good speed. After stealing a career-high 22 bases as a rookie, he finished in double-digits in stolen bases another four times. Furthermore, even though he never hit more than 32 home runs in a season, Boyer surpassed the 20-homer mark a total of eight times with the Cardinals, despite playing his home games in Sportsman’s Park – an extremely difficult park for right-handed power hitters like him.
Boyer put together two straight excellent years after being named team captain, hitting a total of 60 home runs from 1959 to 1960, while also driving in a total of 191 runs and batting over .300 both years. He went on a 29-game hitting streak in 1959, which represented the longest in the major leagues since Stan Musial hit in 30 consecutive games for the Cardinals nine years earlier. Boyer finished 10th in the league MVP voting in 1959, before placing sixth in the balloting the following year.
Boyer had his finest season to-date in 1961, when he hit 24 homers, knocked in 95 runs, and established career-highs with 109 runs scored, 194 hits, and a .329 batting average. He finished third in the league in batting, fourth in runs scored and hits, and placed seventh in the MVP voting.
After another solid year in 1962, Boyer reached the 100-RBI mark for the first time the following season, finishing second in the senior circuit with 111 runs batted in. He topped that figure in 1964, driving in a league-leading 119 runs, while also hitting 24 home runs, scoring 100 runs, and batting .295, en route to capturing N.L. MVP honors. Led by Boyer, the Cardinals won an extremely close National League pennant race, prompting veteran St. Louis shortstop Dick Groat to state, “Ken Boyer is the best third baseman in the major leagues. He’s carried our club all year. Without him, we would be a second division team. You can’t be chosen the number one third baseman by your fellow players unless you’re great like Ken. He’s a ballplayer’s ballplayer.”
Boyer capped off his brilliant year with a clutch performance against the New York Yankees in the World Series. With the Yankees ahead two-games-to-one in the Fall Classic and leading Game Four by a score of 3-0 heading into the top of the sixth inning, Boyer shifted the momentum of the Series by hitting a grand slam home run off New York starter Al Downing. The Cardinals won the contest 4-3 and ended up winning the Series in seven games. Boyer homered, collected three hits, and scored three runs in the decisive Game Seven, leading his team to its first world championship since 1946. His younger brother Clete hit a home run for New York in the final contest as well, making the Boyer brothers the only pair of siblings to ever homer in the same World Series game.
Later playing career
After appearing in virtually every game for the Cardinals in each of the three previous seasons, Boyer began to experience back problems in 1965 that limited both his playing time and offensive production. Forced to sit out almost three weeks of the campaign, Boyer finished the year with only 13 home runs, 75 runs batted in, 71 runs scored, and a .260 batting average – easily his lowest figures in eight seasons. The Cardinals elected to trade their 34-year-old captain to the New York Mets for journeyman third baseman Charley Smith at the end of the year, bringing Boyer’s time in St. Louis to an end. He spent parts of two seasons in New York, before splitting his final two-and-a-half years between the Chicago White Sox and the Los Angeles Dodgers. Failing to regain his earlier form, Boyer finished out his career as a part-time player with the Dodgers in 1969, retiring at season’s end with 282 home runs, 1,141 runs batted in, 1,104 runs scored, and a .287 batting average. In addition to topping 20 home runs eight times, he surpassed 90 RBIs eight times, driving in at least 90 runs each year from 1958 to 1964. Boyer also scored more than 100 runs three times and batted over .300 on five separate occasions. His 255 home runs as a Cardinal place him third on the team’s all-time list, behind only Stan Musial and Albert Pujols. Boyer also led all N.L. third basemen in double plays a record-tying five times.
Following his playing career, Boyer became a Cardinals coach in 1971, serving the team in that capacity for two seasons. After managing in the minor leagues for several years, he took over the managerial reigns of the Cardinals in 1978, leading the team to a third-place finish the following year. Replaced at the helm by Whitey Herzog early in 1980, Boyer anticipated managing the St. Louis Triple-A affiliate. However, lung cancer forced him to give up the job. Boyer lost his battle with cancer some two years later, passing away in St. Louis, Missouri on September 7, 1982 at age 51. The Cardinals retired his number 14 in 1984, making him the only player not in the Hall of Fame to be so honored.
Stan Musial, whose kindness and encouragement made a strong impression on Boyer early in his career, said of his former teammate, "Kenny Boyer was a pillar of strength in the Cardinal organization. It was kind of an understood thing that Kenny took care of the players coming into the organization. He took people under his wing -- it was kind of like a father image."
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