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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Celebrating George Kissell, the Hall and The Cardinal Way

In recent months, the success of the St. Louis Cardinals has led to attacks from outside as well as inside the Cardinal Nation.

Some have been fostered by the organization itself. An example is the marketing of the slogan “Best Fans in Baseball” by the team. The derisive “BFIB” tag has been coined by those who use it as a vehicle to mock the Cardinals fan base.

“The Cardinal Way” is another term that has led to unintended backlash. The title of a working document to ensure consistent teaching across the organization has been twisted by some into a perceived smug attitude of superiority. Club officials are now doing their best to reposition and downplay the entire matter.

I understand it in a way, but it also disappoints me on several fronts.

As the Cardinals announced their 2014 Hall of Fame class last Wednesday, former player and long-time broadcaster Mike Shannon was awarded the one spot per year held back by ownership for a selection of their choice.

I really like the concept, as it was designed to ensure deserving non-players are not left out of the Hall. That population could include coaches, broadcasters or front-office personnel. Still, because these are non-players, the selections must be made wisely.

I certainly appreciate why Shannon was named to the Hall via this method for 2014. His highly-visible (and audible) contributions to the major league club over the years have been substantial, making it a very popular selection with the fan base. It would not have been my first choice, however.

Not related to this particular subject, but in a more general sense, I have often said that I wished more people were recognized while still alive. I am not suggesting “Moon Man” will leave us soon, but the 74-year-old has had heart problems and cut back his work schedule.

Even so, I wondered if the negative publicity over “The Cardinal Way” hurt one man’s Hall of Fame candidacy – the one who may have done the most to develop its true meaning, the late George Kissell.

Kissell is far lesser-known than Shannon, but to those who are aware of him, his impact on generations of Cardinals players is appreciated more than any other teacher in organization history. It began in 1940 and continued for 69 seasons.

The Cardinals top player development award is named after Kissell, as is the quad in Jupiter, Florida where the minor leaguers compete. A permanent plaque outside the Jupiter clubhouse reads, in part: “Every player in the Cardinals’ Organization since 1940 has had contact with George Kissell and they have all been better for it. … Well known for his emphasis on fundamentals, George taught several generations of Redbirds how to play baseball.”

Sadly, Kissell passed away in October 2008 due to injuries sustained in an automobile accident so would not be able to acknowledge such recognition personally. Even so, I really hope ownership commissions another Kissell plaque, this one to commemorate him joining the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2015.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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8 Responses to “Celebrating George Kissell, the Hall and The Cardinal Way”

  1. Brian Walton says:

    Rob Rains wrote a fantastic article about George Kissell and his impact on so many. It is a must-read if you want to learn more.

  2. Bw52 says:

    Great article.Enjoyed the Kissell story.Stories like that really make it more worthwhile to read this site and subscribe.Thanks.

  3. blingboy says:

    I was lucky enough to meet Mr. Kissell several times when I was a youngster. Unfortunatly I don’t remember much about that. Then in the summer of 1976 I was in Johnson City for a little while (I had worked there the summer before) and I remember Mr. Kissell was there a few days. There was a kid named Paris who was supposed to be a UT type infielder and George worked with him for a while one day. The kid didn’t seem to be impressing George or anybody else. Later, in July 2005, a mutual friend arranged for dinner with Earl Weaver after an Orioles game in Kansas City. One of the things Earl talked about was George Kissell. Earl had played for him one year in the Cardinals system. He spoke of George as as some kind of baseball god who had a strong positive influence on him.

    Thinking about this made me remember sort of an oddity that I’m sure I have not thought about since 1976. The reason we were in Johnson City that summer was to visit a guy named Buzz Keller, who had just lost his job running a baseball acadamy for the Royals organization. That acadamy, in Florida, aimed to take athletes who were not baseball players and develop them into prospects. The acadamy had a team that played in the Gulf Coast League, in addition to the Royals GCL team. Sometimes they played each other. A relative of mine had managed the Royals GCL team one year and the Acadamy’s GCL team another year.

    • Brian Walton says:

      I remember Baseball City. In fact, I passed by there a few years ago. Very much gone now.

      I also met George a few times. I recall one spring sitting there quietly as he told stories.

      • blingboy says:

        I am told that I was present for a couple of epic story tellings featuring George and others. Sadly I was a little kid and didn’t care about some old guys sitting around a hot stove. Later I was introduced to him on a couple occasions but nothing beyond that. My loss.

        I did get to sit and listen to Harry Walker, Hub Kittle and others for several hours one night at Johnson City in 1975. Some of it could not be repeated in polite company.

      • blingboy says:

        Baseball City was ringing a bell but I couldn’t place it. Finally I mentioned it to my wife and she said we spent a day there during a trip to Orlando with the kids. Late 80s I guess. ??
        Saw a minor league game, don’t remember the team. The attached amusement park was a dump, that I remember. The stadium was nice, though. It seems like I remember hearing that the stadium, which was all that was left, was finally torn down. 10 years ago, or so. ??

        Last I remember, some ML org was still using the old Royals Acadamy facility for ST or something. It was pretty close to St. Pete, I remember that much.

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