By Bill Beard
For the Star-Gazette
After 46 years as a family getaway, the heirs of St. Louis Cardinals great Marty Marion have sold the 276.56-acre property. Sullivan Auctioneers held the auction at 4 p.m., Saturday, November 2 in St. Luke’s Banquet Hall in Virginia. Dick McCormick of Central Illinois Outfitters (CIO) in Springfield., purchased the property, which includes a fine home and 28-acre lake, for $1,440,222, or $5,222 per acre. The ground is 3.5 miles south of Chandlerville, on the Philadelphia Road, and within a half-mile of the Jim Edgar Panther Creek State Fish and Wildlife Area (JEPCSFW).
CIO operates the Grigsby, east of JEPCSFW and north of Ashland, and is a leading trophy white tail deer and upland-hunting destination in Illinois, with 23,000 acres of hunting land in Cass, Fulton, Menard, and Montgomery counties. McCormick did not specify a use for the site, stating he would “try to keep it beautiful like the Marion family did.” The question remains, however, of how Marty Marion and his family spent nearly a half-century frequenting their rural retreat near Chandlerville?
After the recent collapse of the St. Louis Cardinals in the World Series, many fans may not want to read much more about the team, its players, or former players. But it can be said the late Marty “Mr. Shortstop” Marion was the best Cardinals’ player not in the Hall of Fame. Red Schoendienst, his double play partner for seven years, said: “You look at his stats and everything, he should be in the Hall of Fame. He never tried to say that he belonged in the Hall of Fame. He liked baseball. That’s why he played it.” Indeed he did! A St. Louis Cardinal for 12 years, 1940-1952, the 6’2” and 170 pound shortstop was an 8-time National League All-Star, 1943-1950; NL Most Valuable Player, 1944; NL doubles leader (38), 1942; and won three of four World Series with the Cardinals – 1942, 1944, and 1946 against the Boston Red Sox in seven games. The Cardinals fell in five games to the New York Yankees in 1943.
Marion was born on December 1, 1916 in Richburg, South Carolina, and is a descendent of the family which included Francis “The Swamp Fox” Marion, the great guerrilla cavalryman of the Continental Army during the American Revolution. He signed with the Cardinals in 1936, after attending the Georgia Institute of Technology. He played his first game in the “bigs” on April 16, 1940. He batted .263 with 36 home runs and 624 RBIs in 1,572 games. Besides Schoendienst, Marion played with second baseman Frank “Creepy” Crespi, who once fought 1937 Triple Crown winner Joe Medwick on the field, during the game, for trying to intimidate Marion. They remained friends until Creepy’s death in 1990.
His batting average wasn’t bad for a shortstop, but Marion excelled as a defensive whiz. Nicknamed “Slats” for his slender frame, Marion had unusually long arms which reached for grounders like tentacles, prompting sportswriters to call him “The Octopus.” He led NL shortstops in fielding percentage four times during the decade of the1940s.
Marion did about everything in baseball. He served as Cardinals’ player-manager in 1951. He moved to the American League and became the last manager of the St. Louis Browns in 1952-53, who moved to Baltimore. He played his final game, as a Brown, on July 6, 1953. After his playing days, Marion coached and managed the Chicago White Sox until he purchased the Double-A minor league Houston Buffaloes from the Cardinals in 1958. He sold the team in 1960, and they later became the Houston Astros. Marion said, “I did everything in baseball – played, coached, managed and even owned a team, the Houston Buffs.” His self-reliance is evident in this 1941 exchange with St. Louis general manager Branch Richey: “Accept terms I have offered and I’ll take care of you.” Marion replied: “Give me what I want and I’ll take care of myself.”
Marion did take care of himself and family, wife Mary, a native of Atlanta, Geo., and their four daughters – Martina, Linda, Ginger (Virginia), and Nancy. He owned and operated the Stadium Club in Busch Stadium, St. Louis, for a quarter-century after the new ballpark opened in 1966. According to Rick Richard, the Chandlerville property’s current farm tenant, Marion quit attending games “because of high salaries and bad attitudes. He saw it as all about money, with no loyalty any more.”
The Marion family found their weekend escape, two-and-a-half hours northeast of their Ladue, Mo. home, on the acreage purchased in 1967 from Dr. Otis E. Blair and his brother Edgar. Mr. Shortstop intended to enjoy fishing and his true passion – duck hunting. A year later, Marion hired Freesen Inc. of Bluffs, Ill., to build the lake. Stocked with bass, redear sunfish, and channel cat, the lake was renowned in local lore for its rich fishing. This writer, as a kid, never stepped foot on the place because of stories of wild-eyed, armed guards. This, of course, proved to be bunk. Richard said the mild-mannered Marion, if he caught a poacher fishing or hunting, allowed them to finish the day, but “please, do not return.”
Years after the lake’s construction, Marion had the Department of Natural Resources conduct a population survey by shocking selected sections. DNR’s Dan Stephenson showed Marion an 8-pound bass before releasing it. Richard asked the owner if he wanted the day or night shift, as “everyone and their uncle would try to sneak onto the property and fish after hearing about the monster bass!”
No one knows how many succeeded in poaching the lake, but none were celebrities. Richard, called “caretaker” by Marion’s girls, noted, “There were no celebrities, baseball or otherwise, ever out at the house – just family. Marty especially enjoyed time with his 11 grandchildren and nephew, Ken Marion, a wildlife biologist. His brother Roy, a super nice guy, often visited. Marty didn’t talk much about baseball, but never turned down an autograph seeker. He liked to be ‘made over a bit.’ He also helped local Little Leagues get good tickets to Cardinal games, though he did expect to be paid for them.”
The Marion’s spent most weekends at their retreat from April to October. In 1987, they had Jack and Davey French build, according to Richard, “a beautiful $150,000 house overlooking the lake. Jack and Davey did all the work, except Marty and Roy, thinking they were carpenters, made a family room out of the garage.”
Rick’s father, Jack Richard, farmed the 163 tillable acres from 1968 to 1978, when Rick took over the responsibility. Rick speaks of the Marion family and their rolling meadow and forested spread in fond terms – a time of hard work, fine friendships, and lasting memories. Marty Marion died at age 94, in Ladue, on March 15, 2011. Mary, 92, also died at home on May 22, 2012.