Scott Spiezio had the pedigree, the championship experience and the right amount of nonconformity to appeal to the Cardinals. What they didn’t know when they invited him to spring training was whether he still could produce.
Ten years ago, on Feb. 17, 2006, the Cardinals signed Spiezio, a free agent, to a minor-league contract and brought him to camp at Jupiter, Fla., to compete for a utility role with the major-league club.
“There is a chance to give him some at-bats and see what he’s got,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
The low-risk gamble yielded a big return for the Cardinals. Spiezio, 33, impressed in spring training, earned a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster and contributed to St. Louis winning its first World Series title in 24 years.
Based on what Spiezio had done the previous two seasons, it was hard to envision him having the success he did with the 2006 Cardinals.
Happy in a halo
In 2002, as the everyday first baseman for the Angels, Spiezio batted .285 with 82 RBI. He had a spectacular postseason against the Yankees, Twins and Giants, batting .327 with 19 RBI, helping the Angels to their lone World Series championship.
Spiezio drove in 83 runs for the 2003 Angels, then became a free agent and signed with the Mariners. Limited by back problems, Spiezio’s career nosedived in Seattle. He hit .215 in 112 games in 2004 and .064 (3-for-47) in 29 games in 2005.
The Mariners released him in August 2005 and no other team showed interest until the Cardinals signed him six months later on the eve of spring training.
St. Louis was seeking a replacement for John Mabry, who performed as a backup at first base, third base and in the outfield for the 2005 Cardinals. After that season, Mabry became a free agent and signed with the Cubs.
To replace Mabry, the Cardinals looked outside the organization. In December 2005, they signed Brian Daubach, 33, a free agent who had played in the big leagues with the Marlins, Red Sox, White Sox and Mets.
Daubach hit 20 or more homers in each of four consecutive seasons (1999-2002) with the Red Sox. He had spent most of the 1995 season with the Mets’ Class AAA club at Norfolk, hitting .325 with 29 doubles, 16 home runs and 62 RBI in 99 games.
Spiezio was signed to provide competition for Daubach. A switch hitter, Spiezio could play first base, third base, second base and outfield. Daubach, a left-handed batter, primarily was a first baseman and outfielder.
All in the family
A Belleville, Ill., native, Daubach had been a Cardinals fan as a youth.
Spiezio, a native of Joliet, Ill., was the son of a Cardinals player. Ed Spiezio was a third baseman and outfielder who played five years (1964-68) with the Cardinals and appeared in two World Series (1967-68) for them.
When Scott Spiezio showed up at Cardinals training camp in 2006, he was assigned uniform number 26, the same his father had worn for St. Louis.
Scott Spiezio also turned some heads at camp with his appearance. His left arm was covered with a tattoo displaying the full body image of his wife, Jennifer. A tuft of hair _called a soul patch_ below his lip and above his chin was dyed red in tribute to the Cardinals.
“We’ve got some reports he can be a little bit off the wall,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said to Post-Dispatch writer Joe Strauss. “But he’s also a good guy. We don’t want to bring guys in here who are jerks. It’s something we research very heavily before we acquire a player.”
Cardinals shortstop David Eckstein, who was Spiezio’s teammate with the Angels, vouched for him, saying, “Scott is a hard-nosed guy who really understands and loves playing the game … He wants to win.”
Said Spiezio: “I just like to have fun. You’ve got to remember it’s just a game.”
Making the grade
Spiezio got five hits in his first six spring exhibition game at-bats.
“We’re watching him really closely,” La Russa said. “He’s smart enough to know that he doesn’t have a real long leash. I’m impressed with the life in his body.”
Daubach hit well in Cardinals exhibition games, but Spiezio’s ability to play both corner infield positions gave him an edge. Daubach was sent to Class AAA Memphis and Spiezio earned a spot with the Cardinals as a backup to Albert Pujols at first and Scott Rolen at third.
Ed Spiezio and Scott Spiezio became the third father and son to play for the Cardinals. The others were outfielder Ed Olivares and his son, pitcher Omar Olivares, and pitchers Pedro Borbon and Pedro Borbon Jr.
Up, then down
In 2006, Spiezio hit .272 with 13 home runs and 52 RBI in 119 games for the Cardinals. He hit .318 versus left-handers. He produced all of his home runs against right-handers.
Spiezio played in 38 games at third base, 35 in left field, 13 at first base, eight at second base and five as designated hitter for the 2006 Cardinals.
In 2007, Spiezio underwent treatment for substance abuse and missed more than a month of the season. In December that year, he was involved in a car crash in California.
Two months later, a warrant was issued for Spiezio in that accident and he was charged with drunken driving and assault. The Cardinals released him.
Regarding the club’s decision, La Russa told the Associated Press, “I think it’s a consistent message about what the team represents.”