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Strange but true: Cardinal meets ‘Mighty Joe’ gorilla and they become inseparable

St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Scipio Spinks' best friend? A stuffed toy gorilla.

HOUSTON — Monkey business? Nah, just some good clean fun.

It was March 1973 and St. Louis Cardinals pitcher Scipio Spinks is photographed with his best friend: A stuffed toy gorilla.

The Houston connection?

Scipio lives in the Houston area and is the head coach of the University of Houston Downtown’s club baseball team.

Plus, back in April of 1972, he sees that 3-foot-tall toy in a Houston hotel gift shop. Buys it for his daughter – a newborn – for $26 and brings it to the Astrodome, where his Cardinals are facing the Astros.

Inside the St. Louis clubhouse, the Cardinals' star players cannot help but notice it.

Joe Torre says, "So what's his name?" recalled Spinks. "And I looked at Joe and I looked at Lou Brock. I said, 'Mighty Joe Lou.' Lou Brock gave me that look, 'I said Mighty Joe.'"

Mighty Joe is born.

He’s dressed in a Cardinals bat boy uniform. Where Scipio goes, Joe goes: Ballparks. Airports. Hotels. Cabs. Becomes a story in nearly every newspaper in the country.

"I only give him one beer on a road trip. He gets a little wild," Scipio tells the New York Times in 1972.

"I wasn’t thinking about publicity," recalled Scipio. "I was just carrying him around. (It was) something to do."

Lou Brock "would go, 'Are you carrying Mighty Joe? Or is Mighty Joe carrying you?' I go 'Well, you know, a little a little bit of both.'"

Other teammates? Not amused. They threaten Joe. Hang him from the rafters.

That first day, Bob Gibson says "I don't like the nose. Pop, as he looks better than me already, Bob. I like that."

Where is Mighty Joe today?

"Probably in the Detroit River somewhere."

Scipio gifted him to a man from Michigan -- Cardinals’ teammate Bernie Carbo -- who had been traded to Boston before the ’74 season. Carbo briefly carried him around, too.

Nearly 50 years later, Scipio explains why Joe was his sidekick. "I wasn't thinking about publicity. It was just something to do."

While there’s no replacing the original, we’ll try. Presenting Scipio with a smaller, not-as-mighty re-creation.

"Ah, that is great."

Scipio Spinks finds Mighty Joe. A strange but true Houston sports story.

Jason Bristol on social media: Facebook | Twitter


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