It’s not my father’s grain market anymore.
You see, my father got into this business in 1962. He was fresh out of Drake University and landed a job with Cargill. He didn’t know much about Cargill back then, it was just a pretty good job for a kid out of Muscatine, Iowa. It was at Cargill where he leaned the grain business. Cargill has a very good reputation for teaching new hires the ins and outs of agriculture – among other things. It is still one of the largest privately-held companies in the world. If it were a public company, it would rank 15th in the Fortune 500. Their revenues for 2018 were $114 billion. Needless to say, it is a behemoth. Not as big in 1962, but it still had its street cred, if you get what I mean.
My father was lucky – he had a knack for the trading business and was promoted quickly. He was first stationed in Des Moines, Iowa, where I was born, and then subsequently we were moved to Minnesota and finally Chicago. The mighty Chicago Board of Trade was where he would stay until his retirement, and it would also be my launching point into this unique line of work. Wearing a funny colored jacket, in this case a black and white cow print, standing around in an octagon-shaped pit of 300 other loudly-clad men, trying to trade the world’s grain – for a profit. I almost left out the hard part – for profit.
“Agriculture and livestock markets are seeing some crazy prices and volatile times. The world is in a major state of flux and food is at the fulcrum. Add to that the politics that are taking place at home and around the world, and we have a lot of things to talk about,” Scott Shellady writes.
This was the early 1970s and this was raw capitalism. There were no trading screens; the quote boards, where trades were recorded, were staffed by men with chalk and erasers. This wasn’t your normal scene in “Trading Places,” as there was a certain decorum — ties to the top of the neck and a modest sport coat were the norm. While at times the action was frantic, you could still smoke cigarettes in the trading pit during the session. There were big leather sofas for a quick break when the action was few and far between, while some of the older gentlemen (there weren’t very many women back then) would gather for a quick card game in the canteen to keep their minds sharp in between droughts and floods.
My father relished this environment. It was like sports. No homework, when the final bell rang, that was the final score. You either lost money or made money, but it was done – tomorrow was another day. Same ball field, but maybe a slightly different opponent. No two days were ever the same. When the markets were busy, it usually meant there was some sort of calamity in the fields. Too much heat, not enough rain or Russia was buying all our crops – the action was thick and fast. This put my father in the frame of mind that he wanted to be a part of the business, from beginning to end. That is when we bought our farm – 50 years ago. He couldn’t get enough of it, and given half the chance, we always spent our vacations, days off or school breaks out on the farm – my brother, sister and I complaining all the way. We learned some valuable lessons up there all these years. The value of a dollar, where food comes from and the effort it takes to get it on to your table. I will be forever indebted. But the real reason I bring it up is that in the hectic world of trading and finance, if my father were alive today, he wouldn’t recognize a thing.
Some would say we have lost our way. I can understand that point of view. There is a tremendous amount of speculative money in our markets today, and they are all aided by the advent of technology.
You have heard the words “high frequency traders,” “algorithms” and “black box execution.” They are all relatively new to this business, where we used to believe we set the price of food (we still do), but we are now in the business of facilitating this new wave of technological trading where it is more important to have machines than men. Now, I can hear you say it is happening to a lot of people in many lines of work. You are right. I have a basic understanding of how a car works, but I could never get under the hood of a new one today. Wall Street has changed, too. It no longer is a place where good ideas go to get funding to bring their products or ideas to the masses. It seems more of a place where people with good ideas can go get paid, cash out and ride off into the sunset. Those who invest are more concerned with a return on their investment than what the company does for its revenues.
There are no more trading pits. The human mind was a natural governor on the amount of business that can be done at any given moment in time. You see, the exchanges make money on volume; if a machine can count faster to 1,000 than I can, that is going to ensure the exchange will make more money with a machine doing the commission counting than if it were me. The problem with that model is that the humans doing the counting were a natural risk management tool. Things didn’t move too fast because they couldn’t. Speed kills. Mistakes happen. When they do, technology is very unforgiving. Just sit back and relax and let Tesla do the driving.
I am not advocating for the machines to be turned off; I am advocating for a time when things were more customer-focused than volume-focused. Ikea does the same thing to the handmade furniture business, Airbnb to the travel business, and Uber to the taxi business. Things are moving on whether I like it or not, but I just can’t help but hearken back to a different, slower time. I know it won’t happen, but if my dad came back to the business he was in for over 40 years, it would be totally unrecognizable.
It is not a knock on the business — it is here to stay, it’s just an older guy’s romantic observation on the way things used to be.
The Man, Gibby, Ozzie and more: Meet the Cardinals in baseball’s Hall of Fame
JIM BOTTOMLEY, First Baseman
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1922-32
“Sunny Jim” was a fan favorite and a stalwart on the 1926 and ’31 World Series championship teams. He won the National League MVP award in 1928, when he led the league with 20 triples, 31 homers and 136 RBIs. Bottomley, a lefthanded swinger, had six consecutive seasons of 100-plus RBIs from 1924-29, and just missed the 100-mark in 1923 and ’30. In 1924, he produced 12 of his 111 RBIs in one game — when he went 6 for 6 in a nine-inning game at Brooklyn on Sept. 24. The 12 RBIs still stand as an MLB record, which he shares with Mark Whiten, who matched the feat as a Cardinals outfielder in 1993.
ROGERS HORNSBY, Second Baseman
Played for Cardinals: 1915-26, 1933
Hornsby, primarily a second baseman, is widely regarded as the greatest righthanded hitter in baseball history. He won six NL batting titles in a row from 1920-25, with these averages: .370, .397, .401, .384, .424 and .403. He won the Triple Crown (most homers and RBIs, highest batting average) in 1921 and ’25, and is second to Ty Cobb for highest career average (.358).
“The Rajah” was player-manager for the 1926 World Series champion Cardinals, but they traded him after the season to the New York Giants for another future Hall of Fame second baseman, Frankie Frisch. Hornsby returned to the Cardinals in 1933, but played sparingly and was released in July. The St. Louis Browns immediately signed him to be a player-manager, and he lasted with the AL club through 1937.
JESSE HAINES, Pitcher
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1920-37
“Pop” Haines was a three-time World Series champion and one of the 10 pitchers to throw a no-hitter in the organization. He started 387 games in his career, winning 210 and throwing 209 complete games. In the 1926 World Series, Haines went 2-0 with a 1.08 ERA against a Yankees team that featured Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the lineup.
CHICK HAFEY, Outfielder
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1924-31
Charles J. “Chick” Hafey was one of the first major leaguers to wear glasses during games. He spent the first eight seasons of his 13-year career with the Cardinals, winning the World Series twice. He won the NL batting title with a .349 average in 1931 — his fifth consecutive season of hitting .329 or higher for the Cardinals — but was traded after the season to the Reds for two unheralded players and cash. Hafey’s career .317 BA ranks 61st all-time and his .526 slugging percentage is 55th.
FRANKIE FRISCH, Second Baseman
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1927-37
In 1931, Frisch won the NL MVP award and a World Series championship with the Cardinals. His second title would come with the “Gashouse Gang” in a 1934 season where he was an All Star, an MVP candidate and . . . manager of the team! The “Fordham Flash” finished with a .316 career batting average.
BILLY SOUTHWORTH, Manager
Managed for St. Louis Cardinals: 1929, 1940-45
After playing in the majors for 13 seasons, which included a 99-game stint as an outfielder with the World Series champion Cardinals in 1926, Southworth was named Cards manager during the 1929 season. He was 43-45 in that role and replaced after the season, but was rehired in 1940 and became the franchise’s winningest manager. Southworth won three NL pennants and two World Series in a span of three seasons (1942-44). His .642 winning percentage is the highest in the Cardinals’ 126-year history.
DIZZY DEAN, Pitcher
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1930, 1932-37
“If you can do it, it ain’t bragging,” Jay Hanna “Dizzy” Dean once said of his remarkable pitching talent. Ol’ Diz won the NL Most Valuable Player award after going 30-7 in 1934, the last time a National League pitcher won 30 games. He followed up that feat by beating the Detroit Tigers in Game 1 and Game 7 of the World Series. Dean was named to four All Star teams and led the NL in strikeouts four times, complete games three times and wins twice before his career was derailed by injury.
JOE MEDWICK, Left Fielder
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1932-40, 1947-48
“Ducky” Medwick became the second Cardinal in franchise history (after Hornsby did it twice) to win an NL batting triple crown, hitting .374 with 31 HR and 154 RBI in 1937. He was the NL’s Most Valuable Player that season and made his fourth appearance in an All Star Game. Medwick’s .335 BA ranks third in Cardinals history (minimum 2,500 at-bats).
JOHNNY MIZE, First Baseman
Played for St. Louis: 1936-41
Before serving in the military from 1943-45, “Big Cat” played in St. Louis for six seasons and New York for one. With the Cardinals, Mize won the 1939 NL batting title and hit for a 1.018 OPS, the third best in organization history. His .959 career OPS ranks 17th all-time among major league hitters.
ENOS SLAUGHTER, Right Fielder
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1938-53
As a Cardinal, Enos “Country” Slaughter was named to 10 All Star teams, won two World Series (he missed out in 1944 while serving in the military) and hit for a .305 BA and .847 OPS. His “Mad Dash” in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, when he scored from first base on a shallow hit to the outfield in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 3-3 tie against the Boston Red Sox, is part of major-league lore to this day.
STAN MUSIAL, Outfield-First Base
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1941-63
“Baseball’s Perfect Warrior” is the eternal face of the St. Louis Cardinals franchise.
Stan “The Man” spent his entire 22-year career with the Cardinals. He was an All Star in all but two of those years, making it onto the team in 20 straight seasons. Musial was a three-time MVP and World Series winner, and is one of 31 major leaguers to have reached the 3,000 hit mark. His 3,630 hits still are fourth-highest all-time.
RED SCHOENDIENST, Second Baseman-Manager
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1945-56, 1961-63
Managed the Cardinals: 1965-76, 1980 (interim), 1990 (interim)
One of the more prolific players and managers in the history of St. Louis, Red was a symbol of the Cardinals winning tradition. He won World Series titles with the Redbirds as a player (1946), manager (1967) and coach (1964, 1982). His 1,041 wins as a manager are the second-most in the team’s history. As a player, Schoendienst made the All-Star team nine times as a Cardinal and won the 1950 Midsummer Classic for the National League with a 14th-inning homer.
BOB GIBSON, Pitcher
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1959-75
“Gibby” reigns as the most dominant pitcher in franchise history. He was a two-time Cy Young Award winner and won the World Series twice (1964 and ’67), being named World Series MVP both times. Gibson’s most dominant season came in 1968, when he posted a record-low 1.12 ERA and forced a rules change that lowered the pitching mound. He is the runaway leader in wins (251), strikeouts (3,117),complete games (255) and shutouts (56) by a Cardinals pitcher.
LOU BROCK, Left Fielder
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1964-79
In the summer of 1964, the Chicago Cubs dealt Lou Brock to the St. Louis Cardinals for pitcher Ernie Broglio. The rest is history. Brock went on to win two World Series titles in St. Louis and joined Stan Musial in the 3,000-hit club with 3,023 in his career (2,713 with the Cardinals. Still, he is best-known forhis dominance on the basepaths. Brock stole 938 bases throughout his career, second only to Rickey Henderson in MLB history, and his 118 steals in 1974 still stand as the NL record.
WHITEY HERZOG, Manager
Managed for St. Louis Cardinals: 1980-90
Dorrel Norman Elvert “Whitey” Herzog, the pride of New Athens, Ill., managed the Rangers (138 games), Angels (four games) and Royals (four-plus seasons) before joining the Cardinals in 1980. While he did well in his previous stop, those Kansas City teams couldn’t match the success of Whiteyball in St. Louis. Herzog’s Cardinals teams won one World Series and three NL pennants in the 1980s, and his 822 career wins are third-most in the history of the franchise.
BRUCE SUTTER, Relief Pitcher
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1981-84
Before becoming a member of the Cardinals, Sutter won a Cy Young with the Chicago Cubs in 1979. With the Redbirds, “Bruuuuuce” was an All-Star twice and a World Series champion, and had four seasons with at least 20 saves. The righthander who made the split-fingered fastball famous posted the 28th-most saves in MLB history with 300.
OZZIE SMITH, Shortstop
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1982-96
“The Wizard” made his mark on the history of baseball with his magical glove. Smith won 13 Gold Gloves, the most all-time among MLB shortstops. His 44.2 defensive WAR is the highest among any player in MLB history, and The Wizard’s 580 stolen bases rank 22nd in the major league leaderboards. Smith won the World Series with the Cardinals in 1982.
TONY LA RUSSA, Manager
Managed the St. Louis Cardinals: 1996-2011
He didn’t go into the Hall of Fame with the famed STL logo (or any other logo) on his hat, owing to the success he had previously enjoyed with the Chicago White Sox and Oakland A’s. La Russa joined the Cardinals in 1996 and won two World Series titles and three NL pennants before retiring. No manager in Cardinals history won more games than La Russa’s 1,408.
TED SIMMONS, Catcher
Played for St. Louis Cardinals: 1968-1980
Year Inducted: 2021 (was elected in 2020, but the ceremony was delayed due to the pandemic)
OTHER HALL OF FAMERS WHO WORE BIRDS ON THE BAT
Players and managers with connections to the franchise who did not go into the Hall of Fame as Cardinals (years with Cardinals in parentheses):
Jesse Burkett (1899-1901)
Bobby Wallace (1899-1901,1917-18)
Roger Bresnahan (1909-12)
Grover Cleveland Alexander (1926-29)
Rabbit Maranville (1927-28)
Burleigh Grimes (1930-31, 1933-34)
Joe Torre (player 1969-74; manager 1990-95)
Dennis Eckersley (1996-97)
Scott Shellady serves as markets anchor for RFD-TV and appears regularly on CNBC, Bloomberg, CNN and Fox Business News. His early years were on a farm in Jo Daviess County. He later worked on the floor of the Chicago Board of Trade before teaching finance at DePaul University.