On Saturday night, Brock Peterson became the oldest St. Louis Cardinal to collect an RBI in his first MLB at-bat since at least 1935.
The St. Louis Cardinals purchased the contract of first baseman Brock Peterson from Triple-A Memphis on Saturday. In a most inspirational story, Peterson toiled for 11 years to finally reach the majors.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder began his professional career in 2003 after being drafted by the Minnesota Twins in the 49th round. Peterson signed a minor league deal with the Cardinals last August after almost two seasons with Bridgeport of the independent Atlantic League.
In 93 games at Memphis this season, Peterson was batting .306 with a Pacific Coast League-leading 22 home runs. The right-handed hitter was fourth in the PCL with 66 RBI and second in slugging at .564 and OPS at .946. He was recognized as a 2013 Triple-A All-Star.
On Saturday evening, at 29 years, 243 days old, Peterson became the 10th player to make his MLB debut with the 2013 Cardinals. In a fifth-inning pinch-hitting appearance, the right-handed hitter saw nine pitches before driving in a run via an infield ground out. Peterson received a standing ovation from the Busch Stadium crowd at both ends of his initial major league at-bat.
Almost as if planned rather than a special coincidence, at the microphone in the FOX Sports Midwest booth at the time was former Cardinals second baseman and manager Red Schoendienst. The Hall of Famer made his own MLB playing debut 68 years ago, in 1945.
Even that is too recent to find another Cardinal with a debut like Peterson’s. In fact, one has to go back at least 10 and perhaps 15 years prior to that to identify a Cardinals player older than Peterson who collected an RBI in his first major league at-bat. Thanks to a data pull from researcher Tom Orf, we have a partial answer.
Due to a lack of detailed play-by-play for some old games, we don’t know for sure if Peterson is the oldest since 1930 or “just” since 1935. We cannot confirm if he is the second-oldest or is only third-oldest since records have been kept.
At 29 years, 315 days of age on April 15, 1930, George Watkins celebrated St. Louis’ Opening Day with a pinch-hit appearance. It was in the bottom of the eighth at home against the Cubs. While the left-handed hitting outfielder was retired, he was credited with an RBI. It helped the Cards come back to take a 9-8 win.
In the first game of a September 22, 1935 doubleheader, pitcher Mike Ryba came on in relief in the third inning and finished the game on the mound, getting the win against Cincinnati. At the plate, the right-hander was very successful as well, going 2-for-3 with a walk and three RBI. Without play-by-play data, however, we cannot confirm that Ryba drove in a runner in his first at-bat. At the time of his initial appearance as a major leaguer, Ryba was 32 years, 105 days old.
Looking at the careers of Watkins and Ryba following their first RBI might offer additional hope to a later arrival like Peterson.
Watkins went on to play four seasons with the Cardinals and seven total in major league baseball, through age 36. Number one on his similarity list at Baseball-Referemce.com is current major leaguer Melky Cabrera.
Ryba (pronounced REE-bah) was clearly a late bloomer, pitching until age 43 in the majors and one year longer in the minors. He spent parts of the 1935-38 seasons with St. Louis before being traded to the Red Sox in 1940 for a future Cardinals stalwart in pitcher Al Brazle. Ryba returned to the bigs with the 1941-46 Red Sox.
To bring this story full circle, it only seems fitting that Ryba’s long stint as a major leaguer finally concluded with a 2/3 inning appearance against Schoendienst’s Cardinals in Game 4 of the 1946 World Series. As Schoendienst again shared during the Saturday night broadcast, he considers winning that championship to be his favorite career achievement.
What happened when Schoendienst batted against Ryba on October 10, 1946, you ask?
Red reached base on a Ryba missed catch error. A run scored on the play, but alas, Red was not credited with an RBI.
Footnote: Even Ryba is not the oldest Cardinal to drive in a run in his first MLB game. That honor goes to Nelson Burbrink, who was 33 years, 159 days of age on June 5, 1955. In that contest, Burbrink had an RBI – but not in his first at-bat. Therefore, Peterson is the fourth-oldest Cardinal to drive in a run at any time in his first MLB game.