1922- Top Prospect Dies

The 1922 season brings bad news before the season begins and again at the conclusion of the year.

Backup catcher dies of Typhoid Fever

On February 23, the Cardinals receive the news that catcher William “Pickles” Dilhoefer has died of typhoid fever at age 27. The backup catcher was a solid player and well liked by his teammates.

Tumor Takes Top Prospect

After the season closed, Austin McHenry, a highly sought after outfielder and a top prospect dies of brain cancer on November 27 after having a tumor removed. Earlier in the season he was complaining of difficulty seeing the ball and headaches during games. Branch Rickey sent him home before the seasons end to have a doctor check him out. He was 27 years of age.

More on the Story

Here is an article from the Belleville Democrat comparing the death of McHenry to the Oscar Taveras death…

Unfortunately, Oscar Tavaras isn’t the first St. Louis Cardinals outfielder to tragically lose his life at a far too young age.

Nearly 100 years ago, the Redbirds had another 22-year-old outfielder who seemed destined to be a great player — only to have his life cut short. Austin McHenry, a left-handed swinger with a productive bat much like Taveras, crashed onto the big league scene in 1918. The similarities are eerie:

McHenry was a guy who had a huge amount of natural talent that showed through even though his game wasn’t as polished as some would like. When he played Class D ball for the Portsmouth Cobblers in the Ohio State League one newspaper described his defensive play by saying McHenry “wasn’t on speaking terms with the finer points of the National Game.” But of his offense, the Portsmouth Daily Times wrote he was “a veritable demon at the bat.”

Despite his raw state, McHenry was appreciated as an enthusiastic young kid was eager to learn. He often made up for technical shortcomings with pure talent.

The Cardinals quickly became enamored with McHenry who passed more highly-touted prospects in the Cardinals food chain to earn a starting job in the St. Louis outfield in 1919. By 1921 McHenry graduated to superstar status, hitting .350 in the big leagues with 17 homers, an extremely respectable total in those days and 102 RBIs.

Like with Tavares was the last two years, McHenry became a target of competitors who sought to steal him away in a trade or by outright purchase. The Cincinnati Reds offered St. Louis general manager Branch Rickey $25,000 for McHenry while John McGraw’s New York Giants offered $50,000.

Rickey insisted McHenry wasn’t available at any cost.

It seemed that St. Louis legend Rogers Hornsby had some competition on his hands as the Cardinals’ best player and McHenry might finally be the piece that St. Louis needed to get over the hump to move from a second division club to a legitimate contender.

But in the middle part of the 1922 season, with McHenry hitting .303 through 64 games, McHenry told Rickey that he was having problems with his vision.

McHenry was sent home to Ohio to rest. But it was eventually determined that he had a brain tumor and just a few months later he was dead. The biggest Cardinals prospect since Hornsby, McHenry played in only 543 MLB games. But he was claimed to be one of the best left fielders of all-time by sports writers of his day.

Unfortunately, McHenry’s death wasn’t the only tragedy for the Redbirds of the 1920s. His teammate, catcher William “Pickles” Dillhoefer, contracted Typhoid fever in 1922 and died shortly before the start of the baseball season. Two major league players dead in the prime of their lives in the span of less than a year.


Triple Crown Winner Hornsby

During the year, Hornsby had a spectacular season as he smacked hits 42 home runs to set an N.L. record. He had a 33 game hit streak end by Brooklyn’s Burleigh Grimes and he led the league with a .401 batting average along with 250 hits and 152 RBI’s to win the Triple Crown.

Bottomley makes Debut

It was in August the future star Jim Bottomley makes his major league debut for the Cardinals and promptly hits .325 in 37 games and becomes a compliment in the lineup to Hornsby. The Cardinals finished in third place with an 85-69 record and set a club attendance record with 536,988 paid customers.