A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

A nonprofit, independent news source to inform, inspire, educate and connect the St. Louis Jewish community.

St. Louis Jewish Light

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Remembering Butch Yatkeman and his six decades with the Cardinals

Courtesy of the St. Louis Cardinals
Butch Yatkeman.

The following story first appeared in the Jewish Light on Nov. 17, 1982.

Butch Yatkeman was one of the first to enter and one of the last to leave Busch Memorial Stadium for the historic Game Seven of this year’s World Series. But he saw just a scant two innings of the excitement of the Cardinals 6-3 victory over the Milwaukee Brewers.

Instead Yatkeman, the Cardinals equipment manager, was inside the clubhouse, icing the traditional celebratory champagne and covering the players lockers with rolls of plastic to protect them from the spewing spray. Although he did not take in much of the games actions, Yatkeman himself was a focus of attention on national television’s post game coverage.

In a moment of spontaneous exuberance captured by the camera, first baseman Keith Hernandez lifted the diminutive equipment manager and spun him around.

“We were all so emotional, it felt so great,” exclaimed Yatkeman.

The win was especially sweet for the 5-footer since he is retiring on December 31st after 51 years of traveling with the Cardinals and a total of 59 years of service to the team. Although Yatkeman has been on the Cardinal staff through all thirteen of their World Series, which include nine wins, this season had been particularly special.

Several years ago Yatkeman had decided to retire in 1981, but after the baseball strike, the split season and a year in which the Cardinals had the best overall record in their division but did not make it to the playoffs, manager Whitey Herzog convinced Yatkeman to extend his tenure one more season.

And what a season it was for the 74-year-old, he was given the honor of throwing out the baseball on Opening Day, and on September 12th was proclaimed Butch Yatkeman Day at the ballpark. At that time Cardinals owner August A. Busch Jr. presented him with a Buick Riviera. The team gave him a gold and diamond Watch, which he now delightfully wears along with his 1942 World Series ring.

In addition, equipment men from around the country sent him a video recorder. Perhaps the only detriment to the day was that the Cardinals lost the game to the New York Mets, which he laughingly blames on his sister. “They always lose when she comes to the game.”

But the World Championship win was perhaps the biggest gift of all for Yatkeman.

“When we were in Chicago this spring, shortly after the season opened the visiting clubhouse man said win one for Butch as a  take off on Knute Rockney’s now famous win one for the Gipper,” said Yatkeman. 

After that, during the whole season, “Win won for Butch” became the Cardinals watchword and at the last game of the World Series, shortstop Ozzie Smith assured Yatkeman “you’re going to go out in a blaze of glory.”

Although Yakuman indeed is going out in a blaze of glory, he joined the team in a rather unspectacular manner.

The native St. Louisan, who now resides in a Hazelwood condominium, lived in North Saint Louis, where he attended William Glasgow and Penrose Elementary Schools and Central High School. He and his friends, whom he labeled a sort of “Knothole Gang’ used to walk to a mile to Sportsman’s Park in the early 1920s.

Yatkeman became a bat boy, several years before teams even provide a uniform for youths serving in that capacity. A would be lawyer Yatkeman took pre law at St. Louis University, but after two years opted for a career with the Cardinals instead.

On Opening Day in 1932, Yatkeman became the team’s first and so far only equipment manager. After spring training in Florida, the Cardinals trainer, Doctor Harrison J. Weaver approached team owner Sam Braden to request the creation of that position. Braden agreed, and Yatkeman readily accepted. His job entails just about anything anyone can think of. He is in charge of everything from preparing for road trips to sending out the laundry and obtaining autographs for fans who request them.

To get all this accomplished, he has worked long hours. During the season he arrives at the stadium at 10:00 a.m. and never leaves for home until at least an hour and a half after the games completion. But baseball has been his whole life and he does not regret a moment spent at the ballpark.

Perhaps it is all his dedication and hard work which have enabled him to stay so slim. But Yatkeman, whose given name is Morris, still says that he was dubbed with the nickname Butch because he was a rather plump kid. His job longevity has outlasted the best of them. He has seen the Gas House Gang, Bob Gibson and Lou Brock all come and go. He will tell a few ancedontes here and there, but no one could never pry a personal secret or unpleasant word about a player from Yatkeman’s mouth. For him and equipment manager’s top priority should be to see all, hear all, and saying nothing. Although he will not reveal much about any individuals, it is clear that he is almost possessively proud of the team the office staff and manager Whitey Herzog.

He spyrly steps around the locker room, smiling as he points out each player’s locker, the case which houses the World Series trophy, and the trunks in which he is packing all the gear now that the season is over. He also  gestures to the player’s mailboxes and expresses his hope that catcher Darrell Porter, the Most Valuable Player in the playoffs and the World Series, stops by soon since his mail slot is crammed to the top with fan mail. 

In his own office, which double s as a storage room, there is a wooden receptacle for extra bats taken on the road and used as replacements when others are broken. Yatkeman pulls one out, then another, beaming as he says this one belongs to Mike Ramsey, this one to Ken Oberkfell, this one is Steve Braun and of course adding how well each of them played this year.

Stepping into Herzog’s office, he notes the many baseball cartoons by the St. Louis Post Dispatch’s Amadee, which adorn the wall, including several featuring Yatkeman.

“You know, Whitey took over the ballclub 2 1/2 years ago.” Then, according to Yatkeman, “we were 14 1/2 games under .500 in last place, 10 and half games out of first place. In the 2 1/2 years Whitey turned the club around and made us World Series champions.

Though Yatkeman keeps a radio on his desk to tune in to the games while performing his myriad myriad of duties, Herzog does not allow televisions or radios in the lockeroom. Card playing also is banned once the players arrive at the stadium, they don their uniforms and begin warming up.

“This is an excellent idea of Whitey’s,” said Yatkeman. “Evidently why these ideas are great ideas. The results are there.”

He also made certain to recall the memory of Herzog’s predecessor, Ken Boyer, who died earlier this year.

“The whole Boyer family was great to me,” Yatkeman said.

He then noted that one of his “biggest satisfactions out of the game baseball” has been the number of “fine people he has come in contact with, including the Cardinals front office and other personnel, as well as various individuals who have worked with him as Batboys.

Yatkeman,  a long time bachelor almost sounded like a proud father when he mentioned that one of his proteges is now a physician in Florida, a Colonel in the St. Louis Police Department and a Lieutenant Colonel in he Air Force. Even though he’s  retireing,  Yatkeman plans to remain an avid Cardinals booster. He has received a lifetime pass from the National and American Leagues for all Major League games and he intends to use it often.

What else will he do? Follow the advice of his friend in Dallas, who wrote him: “Don’t quit running around with the women and don’t quit drinking the Budweiser,” proclaimed Yatkeman. “I think that’s an excellent idea.” 


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