After the passing of Ray “Lee” Cunningham during the summer of 2005 at the age of 100, like many, I assumed the next person to assume the mantle of oldest living Cardinals player was Don Gutteridge.
Gutteridge, now 94, wore the Cardinals uniform from 1936 through 1940 before moving across town to play for the Browns from 1942 through 1945. His long career in the game included a stint as the manager of the Chicago White Sox ten years prior to when an unknown youngster named Tony La Russa took the reins. Gutteridge still lives in his native Kansas.
Turns out I was mistaken. After doing my homework, I can confirm that Gutteridge is the oldest living Cardinals player now, but until yesterday, he was not.
That honor belonged to Ernie Koy. The 97-year old died in his sleep in his Bellville, Texas ranch on New Years Day. He had suffered a broken hip last month.
Known as “Big Ernie” as well as “Chief” due to his Indian ancestry, Koy was born in Sealy, Texas on September 17, 1909. He was a two-sport athlete at the University of Texas, also playing football for the Longhorns. He was a three-time all-conference performer at running back before graduating in 1933.
After five seasons in the minor leagues, Koy was sold by the Yankees to the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1938 and hit a home run in his first major league at-bat. He started in the outfield for the Dodgers during the next two seasons. At his playing size of 6-feet, 200 pounds, the stout Koy was said to have exceptional speed and a solid line-drive bat.
In his rookie year, Koy was second in the National League in stolen bases, fourth in triples, and ninth in slugging. The following season, the right-handed hitter was fifth in the League in doubles.
Among Koy’s accomplishments were playing in both the first televised baseball game (in 1939) and the first night game ever held at Brooklyn’s Ebbets Field (in 1938).
In June of 1940, Branch Rickey and the Cardinals made a huge deal, selling off two key assets. They sent former MVP, Triple Crown winner and future Hall-of-Famer Joe “Ducky” Medwick along with 22-game winner, pitcher Curt Davis, to Larry MacPhail’s Dodgers in return for Koy and three other players plus $125,000, a huge sum in that day.
Koy spent less than a year wearing the Birds on the Bat and playing in left field before being sold to the Cincinnati Reds in May of 1941. In 1942, Koy moved on to the Philadelphia Phillies before leaving for the Navy. He did not return to baseball after serving in World War II.
Overall, Koy posted a .279/.332/.427 line in 558 career major-league games, 106 of which were with the Cardinals. In just a partial season in 1940 in St. Louis, Koy batted .310, hit 19 doubles, five triples, eight home runs and drove in 52 runs in just 348 at-bats. His 13 stolen bases (12 with the Cardinals) were sixth-best in the League.
Koy’s two sons, Ernie Jr. and Ted, followed their father by playing football at UT and both also later competed in the National Football League.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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