Biography
 

Part One: 
Childhood and Apprenticeship
 

Kenton Lloyd Boyer was born in Liberty, Missouri, northeast of Kansas City, on May 20, 1931. He was the fifth child and third son of Chester Vernon and Mabel Agnes (Means) Boyer. Eventually there would be fourteen children, seven sons and seven daughters.

When Ken was a year old, Vernon moved his family back to Jasper County, where he and Mabel were raised and married, in the southwestern corner of Missouri. He worked various jobs to put food on the table, clothes on their backs, and a roof over their heads as the nation struggled through the Great Depression. “The depression years were pretty tough for Dad,” Ken remembered. “He worked on a tenant farm and in a grocery store and he did construction work, too, all over Jasper County.”

After graduating from high school in 1949, Ken was invited to a special tryout camp at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis upon the recommendation of Cardinals scout Runt Marr. Though he normally played in the infield and outfield, the Cardinals felt they could use his strong arm as a pitcher instead. He was signed to a $6,000 bonus, just one thousand under the limit that would’ve required him to be on the major league roster for his first two seasons.

Initially, Ken was assigned to the Rochester Red Wings, the Cardinals’ Triple-A club in the American Association, until a roster spot became available at a lower level. His older brother Cloyd was also on the team, but Ken spent his time on the bench. Soon he was sent to their Class D North Atlantic League club in Lebanon, Pennsylvania. The Chix finished the season in second place (80-56), but were 20-and-a-half games behind the league champion Stroudsburg Poconos (101-36). They made it to the playoffs only to be eliminated by the Peekskill Highlanders four games to one.

As a pitcher, Ken had a 5-1 record in 12 games with a 3.62 earned-run average in his rookie season. He struck out 32 batters but walked 34. At the plate, he batted .455 with three home runs and nine runs batted in. Still, the Cardinals wanted him to develop as a right-handed pitcher.

Ken spent his second minor league season with the Hamilton Cardinals in the Class D Pennsylvania-Ontario-New York (PONY) League. Manager Vedie Himsil tried teaching him to throw a changeup to go with his fastball, but Ken struggled with a 6-8 record and 4.39 ERA. “I had no control,” he later recalled. “No curve and not much of a fastball.”

At one point, the team was without a third baseman and Himsil inserted Ken into the starting lineup. The move was intended to be temporary until a replacement arrived, but he proved himself defensively and at the plate so well that he stayed. He still pitched when needed, but more importantly he contributed nine homers, 61 RBI, and a .342 batting average to help lead the Hamilton Cardinals (68-57) to a third-place finish and a playoff berth.

The St. Louis Cardinals finally admitted Ken was a better hitter than a pitcher and promoted him to their Class A Omaha club as a third baseman for the 1951 season. He began the season hitting and fielding poorly, an early season trend that would continue through most of his major league career. But under the tutelage of manager George Kissell, his defense improved and his bat came alive. He hit .306 with 28 doubles, seven triples, 14 homers, and 90 RBI in his first full season as a position player. The Omaha Cardinals captured the Western Association pennant with a 90-64 record.

At the end of the season, Ken was drafted into the Army and served two years overseas. He continued to play ball for the Army, playing games in Germany and Africa. Other changes in his life were his marriage to Kathleen Oliver in April 1952 and the birth of his first child several months later. He was discharged in October 1953.

Ken had catching up to do when he arrived for spring training in 1954. He was assigned to the Houston Buffaloes, the Cardinals’ Double-A Texas League club. Initially there wasn’t room for another infielder on their roster and Ken was grouped with the team’s pitchers. Not only did he show why he was no longer a pitcher, but he also missed much-needed batting practice to work on his hitting.

Dixie Walker, a former National League batting champion, was the Houston manager. He worked with Ken on his hitting and defense over the course of the season. "Ken's hitting bothered me in the beginning," he recalled a year later. "He was sweeping at the ball and not getting his wrists snapping through. I didn't want to fool around with him because I didn't want to have people saying, 'you sure messed him up'...But when we got to Houston and he couldn't even reach that short fence, I realized something had to be done."

Eventually Ken broke out of his slump and belted 21 home runs and drove in 116 runs with a .319 average. Houston finished a game behind the league champion Shreveport Sports with an 89-72 record, yet still won the postseason playoffs over the Fort Worth Cats four games to one.

At the end of the season, the Cardinals encouraged him to play winter ball in Cuba. He played for the Havana club under former St. Louis coach Mike Gonzales. But the experience ended prematurely when a fastball hit him behind his left ear, resulting in a severe concussion that left him unconscious for three days. He tried to return two weeks later, but it was decided to send him home instead.

The Cardinals were confident that Ken would be their starting third baseman in 1955. So confident were they that they traded their current third baseman, Ray Jablonski, who had driven in 104 runs the previous season, to the Cincinnati Reds (along with pitcher Gerry Staley) on December 8, 1954 for relief pitcher Frank Smith.

Going into spring training, the third base job was Ken Boyer’s to lose.

 
 
Check back for Part Two!
 
 

Sources:

Carter, Craig, ed. Daguerreotypes (Eighth Edition). St. Louis, MO: The Sporting News Publishing Company, 1990: 32.

Daley, Arthur. “Pie-In-The-Sky.” New York Times, March 23, 1955.

Johnson, Lloyd and Miles Wolff, eds. The Encyclopedia of Minor League Baseball (Second Edition). Durham, NC: Baseball America, Inc., 1997

Lipman, David. Ken Boyer. New York: G.P. Putman’s Sons, 1967.

Zanger, Jack. Ken Boyer: Guardian of the Hot Corner. New York: Thomas Nelson & Sons, 1965.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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