I read with interest that 93-year-old Don Gutteridge was among the surviving members of the 1946 Boston Red Sox invited to throw out the ceremonial first pitch for their opener on Tuesday. Fact is, he was at the wrong ballpark, in my humble opinion.
Gutteridge belonged at the opening of the new Busch Stadium, not the old Fenway Park. You see, not only is the Pittsburg, Kansan the oldest living retired Cardinal player and last surviving member of the Gas House Gang, he only played in 76 games across two seasons for the BoSox as a reserve near the end of his career.
On the other hand, Gutteridge was a Cardinal from 1936-1940 and logged four more years as a Brownie from 1942-1945, spending by far his most productive years in St. Louis.
The third baseman registered career highs in triples (15), home runs (nine) and RBI (64) in 1938. That same season, Gutteridge was named the fastest man in the National League and over his career, ranked in the top 20 in the league in triples and stolen bases four times.
Gutteridge is best known as a member of the Cardinals’ rough-and-tumble Gas House Gang of the 1930’s. Fights were common and Gutteridge remembers frequently having to protect his outspoken teammate, pitcher Dizzy Dean.
Gutteridge told the Pittsburg Morning Sun, "Dizzy would start a fight, then we would push him aside and take his place. We didn't want him to get hurt, because if we didn't have him pitching we weren't going to win many games. I got in six or seven fights with him and he never got hit, but I took a punch in every one of them. Now, how does it make sense for a little squirt like me to protect a big guy like him?"
In fact, on May 19, 1937, during a game against the Giants, Dean got into a fight not over a pitch, but due to a collision at first base. Peacemaker Gutteridge ended up with a pair of shiners.
Even after all these years, Gutteridge is amazed over the attention people still give the Gas House Gang. He told Sports Illustrated this in 2002: "At the time they made a pretty big deal of it, because of how we played. But I thought it would pass on. I certainly didn't think they'd be talking about it 50 years later."
After leaving the Redbirds, Gutteridge led off and started at second base for the Browns, most notably during the 1944 World Series as they fell to Billy Southworth’s Cardinals in the Streetcar Series. He posted career highs in doubles (35) in 1943 and stolen bases (20) as a Brown in 1944.
Yet, Gutteridge did play for the Red Sox in the 1946 World Series against the Cardinals. He went 2-for-5 with an RBI as he covered for future Hall-of-Famer Bobby Doerr, who missed Game Six with a migraine.
The Cardinals, led by Harry Brecheen, Harry Walker, Enos Slaughter and Marty Marion won the Series four games to three. But, to show how different this era was, 1946 was the first time ever that the BoSox lost a World Series. Yet until 2004, when they again faced the Cardinals, they weren’t destined to win it again.
Gutteridge was sold to the Pirates in March 1948, where he ended his playing days. But, he was not done with baseball. Following Gutteridge's 12-year playing career, he logged another 40 years as a scout and coach, including 281 games as manager of the Chicago White Sox in 1969 and 1970.
In closing, I have to wonder what is it about infielders that enable them to live such long lives? Lee Cunningham, who had been the oldest living Cardinal until his passing last year at 100 years of age and Marion, at age 89 an almost five-year junior to Gutteridge, also played on the infield dirt.
Whatever the reason, here is hoping Gutteridge, Marion, Musial and all the other former Cardinals greats live many more years.
In the meantime, I wish the current Cardinals regime would do more to recognize these few players remaining from the 1940’s and 1950’s. Perhaps not as many fans know them or remember them, but men like Don Gutteridge are an important part of the rich history of the Cardinals franchise.
To learn more about Don Gutteridge, I recommend reading his 2002 hardcover autobiography, “Don Gutteridge: In Words and Pictures”. If you’re a Cardinals heritage buff, it will be well-worth the read. Signed copies are orderable from the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society Gift Shoppe here.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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