Top Five All-Time Cardinals Executives: Number Three – Bing Devine

My series on top five Cardinal executives continues with a man who got his start working for the great Branch Rickey and then went on to lead the Cardinals through the early part of the turbulent 1960’s and then earned a second chance as the Cardinals’ General Manager in 1968.  Vaughan Pallmore “Bing” Devine. 

Bing Devine was born on March 1, 1916.  St. Louis born and bred, he attended University City High School and Washington University of St. Louis.  His first job out of college was as an office assistant for the Cardinals.  This began a career in baseball that lasted ALMOST uninterrupted until his death.  Like his one of his successors in the front office, John Mozeliak, he also threw batting practice.

After service in the Navy during World War II, Bing would rejoin the Cardinal organization, becoming the business manager for a number of Cardinal farm teams.  This would make him a key cog in Branch Rickey’s farm system concept (though Branch Rickey had, by this time, moved on to become General Manager of the rival Brooklyn Dodgers).  In 1949, he became General Manager of the Rochester Red Wings, the Cards’ top farm club and the 1952 Red Wings won the International League championship.  After six seasons at the helm of the Red Wings, Bing joined the front office of the big club in 1954.  It was that same year that the Cardinals signed their first African American player, First Baseman Tom Alston.  Alston spent parts of four seasons in St. Louis, batting .244 with 4 home runs and 36 RBI’s.

 

In 1957, Cardinal General Manager Frank “Trader” Lane was dismissed, but not before he tried to make a move that would have been very unpopular with Cardinal fans, sending Stan Musial to the Pittsburgh Pirates.  His replacement as GM?  Bing Devine.  The 1957 Cardinals would finish second in the National League to the eventual World Champion Milwaukee Braves.  Once Devine settled in as the new GM, he took a different approach.  He began to add talent and depth to the roster in the form of African American and Latin ballplayers.  In December of 1957, the Cardinals acquired Centerfielder Curt Flood (along with Joe Taylor) from the Cincinnati Reds for Marty Kutyna, Willard Schmidt and Ted Wieand.  Flood became a fixture in Center Field for the next 12 years, batting .300 or better six times and winning seven Gold Gloves.  Though they got something of a late start, the cardinals were quickly seen as being very progressive when it came to the signing of African American and Latin ballplayers.  Other African American players on the cardinal roster would include:  All-Star First Baseman (and future National League President) Bill White and Hall of Fame Pitcher Bob Gibson.  Key Latino additions included Second Baseman Julian Javier and infielder Julio Gotay.  The approach taken by Bing Devine was in stark contrast to that taken by longtime Yankee GM George Weiss who was widely known to be a bigot.  Devine was piecing together a team that would become perennial contenders in a very powerful National League.  In 1963, he added a key piece to the puzzle, acquiring Shortstop Dick Groat (a former All-American Basketball player at Duke University) from the Pittsburgh Pirates.

The 1964 Cardinal season got off to a rocky start.  For most of the season, the Cards were stuck in the middle of the pack, spending a good portion of the 1964 Campaign in Sixth Place.  After a 9-1 loss to the Pirates on July 24, the team found itself in SEVENTH Place with a 47-48 record.  After that, the team caught fire.  They would go on a 46-21 tear to finish in First Place in the NL with a 93-69 record, overtaking the Cincinnati Reds and the fading Philadelphia Phillies (who spent most of the 1964 Season in First Place).  The Cards went into First Place for the first time with five days left in the season after a 4-2 win over the Phillies.  They clinched the NL Pennant on the last day with a 11-5 win over the hapless Mets.  The Cardinals would cap off their amazing season with a hard fought seven game victory over the New York Yankees in the World Series – their first World Championship in 18 years.  It would the Yankees’ last postseason appearance for 12 years.  However, Bing Devine would be around for the final celebration.  On August 17, with Cards stuck in Fifth Place, Devine was fired as Cardinal GM and replaced by Bob Howsam.  The man that advised Cardinal owner Gussie Busch to fire Devine?  Branch Rickey.  Before his untimely dismissal, Devine made a move that continues to resonate with Cardinal fans to this day.  He sent Ernie Broglio, an 18 game winner in 1963, to the rival Cubs for speedy Left Fielder Lou Brock.  Brock became a fixture in the Cardinal lineup for the next sixteen seasons and a Hall of Famer.  Broglio?  he developed arm trouble and quickly faded into obscurity.  “Brock for Broglio” continues to be regarded as one of the greatest trades in Cardinal history, 

In 1965, Bing Devine moved on to the Mets and became the eventual successor to George Weiss.  While in New York, he helped to build the Mets’ pitching staff that became the core of the 1969 World Champs and 1973 NL Pennant winners, signing the likes of Gary Gentry, Jerry Koosman and a young flame throwing Texan named Nolan Ryan. He also recommended that Weiss take a chance on a University of Southern California dental student named George Thomas Seaver.

Though Devine did his job in New York with enthusiasm, he never uprooted his family from St. Louis.  On December 2, 1967, Gussie Busch brought him back for a second tour of duty as General Manager of the Cardinals.  The Cardinals had just won the 1967 World Championship, but the core of the roster consisted of players (Brock, Gibson, Flood, etc.) that had been on the team during Devine’s first term as GM.  The Cards would return to the Fall Classic in 1968, but would fall just short, losing to the Tigers in seven games.  In a six year period from 1963 to 1968, the Cardinals jockeyed for supremacy in the National League with the Los Angeles Dodgers.  During that time, the Dodgers and the Cardinals each won three NL Pennants and two Wold Championships.  The Dodgers won the pennant in 1963, 1965 and 1966 and the World Championship in 1963 and 1965.  The Cards won the pennant in 1964, 1967 and 1968 and the World Championship in 1964 and 1967.  The years that followed were mostly lean, but the Cardinals contended for the National League Eastern Division title in 1973 and 1974.  They finished Second to the Mets in 73 with a 81-81 record and again the next year to the Pirates with a record of 86-75 – a game and a half out.  It was during Devine’s second tour of duty as Cardinal GM that the Cardinals made what many people now regard as one of the worst trades in the club’s history.  Pitcher Steve Carlton had been involved a contract dispute with Gussie Busch over a matter of $10000.  On February 26, 1972, he was traded by the Cardinals to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Rick Wise.  At the time, the trade didn’t seem as one sided as it does now because Wise won 32 games in his two seasons with the Cardinals before being sent to the Boston Red Sox.  In 1978, after the Cardinals finished with a record of 69-93, Bing Devine was fired for the second time as the Cardinals’ GM and replaced by John Claiborne.  Notable signings during Devine’s second tour of duty as Cardinals’ GM included:  Al-Star First Baseman and 1979 NL co-MVP Keith Hernandez, Pitcher Bob Forsch, author of two no-hitters and Second Baseman and RBI machine Tommy Herr.  All three would be key members of the 1982 World Championship team.

After leaving the Cardinals’ organization for the second time, Bing joined the front office of the St. Louis Football Cardinals in 1979, serving as club President from 1981 to 1986.  Among the players drafted during Devine’s time with the football Cardinals were: Quarterback Neil Lomax, All-Pro Linebacker EJ Junior and Special Teams standouts Stump Mitchell and Ron Wolfley.  It was during his time with the football Cardinals that Devine tried to coax a Michigan State Wide Receiver out of playing baseball and into playing football.  That receiver’s name…..Kirk Gibson!  Devine also worked as Assistant General Manager of the San Francisco Giants, in player development for the Montreal Expos and as a scout for the Phillies.  He eventually returned to the Cardinals and became an advisor to General Manager Walt Jocketty.  He died on January 27, 2007 at the age of 90.


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