Whiffs of change started to waft through the air for the St. Louis Cardinals in 1961. Stan Musial, the franchise’s 40 year old cornerstone legend, was entering his 20th season. The need to find a replacement had started to become more urgent with each passing year. Someone the Cardinals gambled on having a shot to be that player was Floyd Wicker; a prospect so promising that he was signed at just 17 years of age.
Wicker was signed out of North Carolina and despite his youth, was immediately sent to the minor leagues to start his professional career. As might be expected, he struggled somewhat during his first few seasons, showing that he needed seasoning before being considered for the majors. Unfortunately a wrench was thrown into the works by Wicker missing the 1964 and 1965 seasons due to military service. Although he continued playing during that time, it was not against the same level of competition he would have faced otherwise.
When Wicker returned to professional baseball at the age of 22 in 1966 he quickly emerged as a top prospect, finally putting together all of his tools. The left-handed hitter did not hit for much power, but was solid in other aspects of the game. He finally made his major league debut with St. Louis in 1968, appearing in 5 games for the eventual National League champs. He had 2 singles in 4 at bats, but was hard pressed to find playing time in an outfield featuring Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and Roger Maris.
The roster crunch in St. Louis led to Wicker being left unprotected in the 1968 Rule 5 Draft and he was snatched up by the Montreal Expos. Over the next several seasons he bounced between the Expos, Milwaukee Brewers, and San Francisco Giants, but was never able to find consistent playing time. He retired following the 1971 season, having played in a total of 81 major league games, with a .159 batting average, 1 home run and 6 RBI. More information about his career statistics is available at http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/wickefl01.shtml.
Floyd Wicker Interview:
How did you first become interested in baseball?: It started when I was in about the sixth grade and I wanted to be a major league baseball player. I just loved to play the game, but there’s only about one in five thousand who make it. I had a love for the game and it was all I ever wanted to do.
Who were your favorite team and player when you were growing up?: Oh yeah. Mantle. Mickey Mantle. I liked the Yankees because they were always in the World Series and winning.
You signed with the St, Louis Cardinals when you were 17; what was that experience like?: That was a dream come true. I had a chance to sign right out of high school, but waited another year and played for East Carolina and played on a National Championship team.
How did you find out that you had been called up to the major leagues in 1968?: Well, I had a heck of a spring with the big club, and hit like .500, and I was the last guy cut, trying to break into an outfield with Maris, Brock, and Flood, which was a pretty difficult task.
The Cardinals came to Tulsa to play us in an exhibition game, and I had two hits against them. Before the Cardinals left, Red Schoendienst came to the clubhouse and he told me then. He said, ‘You’re going to be in the big leagues before the year’s over.’ He used the reason that they had outfielders who would have to go into the service for two weeks and weekends, and that’s when I got called up.
Who did you pal around with after you got called up?: I was accepted pretty well. I had a couple of friends that were on the ball club that I had played with. Larry Jaster was on the club and I had played with him in Winnipeg.
Do you have a favorite moment from your playing career?: Oh yes, the first at bat in the big leagues.
What was that like?: I got called up to pinch hit in St. Louis against the Braves. The announcer said, ‘Please welcome to newest addition to the St. Louis Cardinals, Floyd Wicker from Siler High School and East Carolina College in East Spokane, North Carolina. That was on the message board out in center field.
I guess that the umpire at the time could see that I was nervous, and he came out and cleaned home plate, and he came by and he said, ‘Deep breath and take your time.’ He was trying to relax me a little bit.
Do you think that missing a couple of seasons due to military service impacted your baseball career much?: I don’t think so because I played probably three to five times a week in the service.
Who was the biggest character you ever played with or against?: That’s a hard questions. Someone in the minor leagues was probably Bill Edgerton, probably the most comical one I ever played with. He was a left-handed pitcher who always had something going.
If you could do anything differently about your baseball career, what would that be?: If I could do it over again, I would go right down the same road.
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