Ron Plaza never played a game in the major leagues, but he was an influence on several Cardinals big-leaguers.
Plaza was a manager in the Cardinals’ minor-league system for six years, posting a 432-329 record (.568 winning percentage). He also was an infielder in the Cardinals’ organization for 11 years. Plaza, 77, died April 15 at St. Petersburg, Fla.
St. Petersburg was the site of Plaza’s biggest success as a Cardinals minor-league manager. Replacing Sparky Anderson, Plaza managed St. Petersburg to a 96-43 record and the Florida State League championship in 1967. He was named winner of the Class A league’s Manager of the Year Award.
The other Cardinals farm clubs managed by Plaza were Billings in 1963, Winnipeg in 1964, Cedar Rapids in 1965 and ’66 and St. Petersburg in 1968.
Among the players Plaza nurtured in the Cardinals’ system was pitcher Steve Carlton, who would earn election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Pitching for Plaza’s 1964 Winnipeg club, Carlton was 4-4 with a 3.36 ERA.
Future Cardinals who played for Plaza on the 1967 championship St. Petersburg team were outfielders Boots Day (70 RBI and 21 stolen bases in 136 games) and Jose Cruz (.278 batting average in 78 games) and pitcher Santiago Guzman (16-3, 1.74 ERA in 23 starts).
In 1968, pitcher Reggie Cleveland, who would go on to a 13-year major-league career, was 15-10 with a 2.77 ERA in 27 starts for Plaza’s St. Petersburg team.
After the 1968 season, Plaza was selected to the coaching staff of the Seattle Pilots, an American League expansion team managed by Joe Schultz, who had been a coach for the Cardinals from 1963-68. Plaza had played for three Cardinals farm clubs managed by Schultz: 1959 Omaha, 1961 Charleston and 1962 Atlanta.
In his book “Ball Four” (1970, World Publishing), Pilots pitcher Jim Bouton wrote about Plaza. An example:
It is customary for players to pair off and throw easily on the sidelines before a workout or a game. So as I reached into the ballbag to grab some baseballs for the guys Plaza said, “What are you going to do with those baseballs, Bouton?”
“I’m just going to take three or four out to the field because a few guys asked me to.”
“Just take one.”
The Pilots were relocated to Milwaukee after one season in Seattle and became the Brewers. Schultz and Plaza weren’t retained.
Plaza joined manager Sparky Anderson’s coaching staff with the 1978 Reds. He remained a Reds coach through 1983, serving under managers John McNamara and Russ Nixon.
In 1986, Plaza became a coach for manager Jackie Moore with the Athletics. After Moore was fired in June, Plaza served out the season for Moore’s replacement _ Tony La Russa.
As a player in the Cardinals’ organization, Plaza’s best year was 1956 when he hit .297 in 121 games as a second baseman for Class AAA Rochester, managed by Dixie Walker.
Previously: Cards boosted Sparky’s managing career