BY KEVIN CZERWINSKI
Larry Miggins isn’t a name that will conjure up many, if any, baseball memories for most fans of any recent generation. Chances are that he wasn’t even well known by many of the fans that followed the game in his day, apart from those in St. Louis and certain New York City neighborhoods.
Miggins, however, was close friends with some of the most historical figures in the game and participated in one of the most important contests in all of baseball history. Additionally, Miggins is, at age 97, according to Seamheads.com’s Frank Jackson, the third oldest living former Major Leaguer. Jackson’s research has only Art Schallock, 99, and Bill Greason, 98, as being older. Miggins is, however, the oldest living left fielder and if not for Greason, he’d be the oldest surviving St. Louis Cardinal.
The Bronx, New York native was, for a brief time, considered by some in the Cardinals’ organization as the heir apparent to Stan Musial as the Hall-of-Famer began transitioning out of left field. While Miggins was a productive slugger in the minor leagues, lack of opportunities prevented him from matching that success at the Major League level, where he was limited to just 43 games and 97 at-bats in parts of two seasons.
Miggins played nine seasons in the minor leagues between 1944 and 1954, missing the 1945 season while serving in the military during World War II. He topped the 20-homerun mark four times, including having a career-high 27 for Houston of the Double-A Texas League champion Houston Buffaloes in 1951. It may seem unremarkable, but for a kid who grew up idolizing the New York Giants – despite living in the Bronx – he was able to begin his career with his favorite team before going to St. Louis in 1948.
“I grew up in the Bronx and I went to Fordham Prep [where he was a classmate of Hall-of-Fame broadcaster Vin Scully],” said Miggins, who played baseball, basketball, and football in high school. “We only had 81 kids in the graduating class. That’s not that many, but they chose me to be valedictorian. I didn’t deserve it, though. I spent most of my time focusing on athletics.
“I was a Giants’ fan, too. I knew some policemen in the precinct around the Polo Grounds [where the Giants played] and they were all Giant fans going back to their glory days [in the early 20th century]. So, I was a Giants fan, Mel Ott, Carl Hubbell, all those great guys. I went to college [The University of Pittsburgh] on a football scholarship; but whenever the Giants came to town, I was there [at Forbes Field].”
While Miggins always favored the Giants, they were also aware of him, signing him to a contract in the winter of 1943. He was able to play eight games for Jersey City, the Giants’ affiliate in the then Double-A International League, before spending the better part of the next two years in the Merchant Marines during World War II. By most accounts, he had some success in those eight games. The then 18-year-old Miggins batted cleanup and went 1-for-4 in an Opening Day loss to Toronto. That came on the heels of his play against the parent club in an exhibition game in Lakewood, N.J., with the Associated Press reporting that “Miggins’ timely hitting” helped Jersey City defeat the Giants, 4-2.
Miggins returned from the war in 1946 and split the season between Jersey City, now of the Triple-A International League, and Jacksonville and Columbia of the Class-A South Atlantic League. He was the starting third baseman for Jersey City on April 18 when Jackie Robinson made his debut against them for the Montreal Royals. Robinson went 4-for-5 with a homer, four RBIs, four runs scored, and two steals.
Montreal won the game, 14-1; but Miggins, who hit sixth, went 2-for-4 and is in several historic photos of Robinson during plays in and around third base.
“There is a famous picture of Jackie going first to third that I’m in,” Miggins said. “He could run; he was quite a ballplayer. At the time, I never had any idea that it was that big of a game. I was just there playing third base.”
Miggins hit .245 at his three stops that season while driving in 32 runs. He was then traded from Jersey City to Jacksonville at the end of July and was later loaned to Columbia, which was a Cincinnati affiliate. He committed 35 errors, though, that year, offsetting whatever power he displayed at the plate.
He began 1947 with Minneapolis of the Triple-A American Association and was demoted after hitting .233 with six homers and 31 RBIs. He tore up the Class-A Western League upon his arrival in Sioux City, however, where he hit .289 with 16 homers and 47 RBIs in 263 at-bats to lead the Soos to a first-place finish and a berth in the finals.
Miggins was grabbed off waivers following the season by the Cardinals, who liked his power potential and saw him as a possible everyday outfielder – or at the very least as a fourth outfielder – someday in the Major Leagues. He was sent back to the Western League, this time with Omaha, in 1948 and once again displayed his potential at the plate. Miggins finished with 26 homers and was one of three players to break the league’s seasonal homerun record. He finished third on the circuit in homers and also had 82 RBIs while hitting .303 in just 97 games. He missed much of August after developing a blood clot in his knee.
The Cards brought him up to the parent club late in the year and he made his Major League debut on Oct. 3 as a pinch-hitter against the Cubs. He hit for pitcher Harry Brecheen and reached base on an error in the eighth inning.
The Nov. 17 edition of The Sporting News lauded him in a story that bore the headline “Miggins Mighty Mauler,” talking about how he would eventually make an impact someday in St. Louis. That, however, proved not to be the case. While Miggins continued to slug away in the minors and make All-Star teams – he hit 66 homers over the next three seasons in the Double-A Texas League and the Triple-A American Association – he was never able to make the impact The Sporting News had predicted.
“I hit 20 something homeruns a couple of times but I got hurt too much,” Miggins said.
Miggins did get a chance to play with the Cardinals in 1952, getting 96 at-bats and hitting .229 with a pair of homers and 10 RBIs. He singled off Chicago’s Joe Hatten on April 27 for his first Major League hit and then connected for his first career homer in Brooklyn off Preacher Roe on May 13. Scully, who made the call, had predicted when the two were still in high school that he would broadcast Miggins’ first homer. He picked up his second and final homer on Sept. 16 in Boston off Hall-of-Famer Warren Spahn in the first game of a doubleheader, but admits he doesn’t remember much about it.
The Cardinals sent him back to the minor leagues, though, and Miggins split 1953-54 between the American Association and the Texas League before calling it a career. He finished with 141 homers in nine minor league seasons before going on to a lengthy career as a federal probation officer in Houston.
Miggins remained friendly with Musial, however; and when the Hall-of-Famer’s farewell tour stopped in Houston for the final time in August of 1963, he was there to greet his old friend.
“Stan was quiet and never said much to anybody,” Miggins said. “On the last day he played in every city, they gave him a gift of some sort and when he came to Houston I called him at the hotel,” Miggins said. “I said Stan, it’s Sunday, why don’t you come to mass with me and I’ll get you to the park. So, I picked him up and went to the church and there was a big crowd around him. Everyone knew he was coming. After he met most of the people at church I said, ‘There’s someone I want you to meet’ – and I introduced him to the pastor, Father Monahan. Father said, ‘I know Stan; I recognize his face,’ and they visited for a while.
“After a bit, Father Monahan said ‘There’s a priest inside I’d love you to meet.’ He was from Spain and didn’t hardly speak English. We introduced him and said this is Stan Musial, the great ballplayer. We told him he played for the Cardinals and he said, ‘Isn’t that wonderful.’ He was delighted to meet a Cardinal. He didn’t know any different.”