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
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
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
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
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
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
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.