Twelve years ago this month, when Keith McDonald was promoted from Class AAA Memphis to replace injured catcher Eli Marrero and serve as the back-up for Mike Matheny, he reportedly was shocked by the Cardinals’ decision.
McDonald hardly seemed like big-league quality. Since being chosen by the Cardinals in the 24th round of the 1994 amateur draft, he had spent seven seasons in the minor leagues. McDonald was hitting .246 with one home run and 17 RBI for Memphis when the Cardinals called him to the majors in July 2000. He never had hit more than seven home runs in a season.
What happened next remains one of the most magical achievements in Cardinals history.
McDonald hit home runs in his first two big-league at-bats, becoming just the second player (and first National Leaguer) to accomplish the feat. His first three Cardinals hits were home runs. Those would be his only hits in his major-league career.
This month, Padres catcher Yasmani Grandal became only the seventh player since 1900 _ and the first since McDonald _ whose first three big-league hits were home runs, according to the Elias Sports Bureau.
When Marrero tore ligaments in his left thumb, some speculated the Cardinals might make a trade for a catcher. Instead, St. Louis called for McDonald, 27, a right-handed batter, on July 2.
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported: The Cardinals shocked Keith McDonald when they promoted the longtime minor-league catcher from their Class AAA farm club Sunday.
Two nights later, before an Independence Day crowd of 46,022 at St. Louis, McDonald made his major-league debut, pinch-hitting for shortstop Edgar Renteria in the eighth inning of a 14-3 Cardinals romp against the Reds. McDonald cracked a home run against right-handed reliever Andy Larkin.
The crowd urged a curtain call, but manager Tony La Russa, not wanting to show up the Reds in such a lopsided game, convinced McDonald to stay in the dugout, according to the Associated Press. Boxscore
In his next appearance, on July 6, McDonald was given the start at catcher against the Reds. Batting in the No. 8 spot, McDonald led off the second inning with a home run against right-hander Osvaldo Fernandez, tying the score 3-3. This time, teammates Renteria and Jim Edmonds prodded McDonald into waving to the crowd from the dugout steps.
The feat certainly was worthy of such a gesture. McDonald became only the second big-league player to hit homers in each of his first two at-bats, tying the mark first achieved by Browns left fielder Bob Nieman on Sept. 14, 1951, at Boston’s Fenway Park. But the Reds walloped the Cardinals, 12-6. Boxscore
“It would have been a lot better if we’d have won,” McDonald said to the Post-Dispatch of his historic home run.
McDonald’s final hit in the big leagues came in yet another blowout, a 15-7 White Sox victory over the Cardinals on July 15, 2000, at Chicago. Pinch-hitting for Matheny, McDonald (in his sixth big-league at-bat) hit a two-run homer off left-handed reliever Jesus Pena with two out in the top of the ninth. Boxscore
After two weeks with the Cardinals, McDonald was returned to Memphis and replaced by Rick Wilkins, 33, a big-league journeyman. In six games with St. Louis, McDonald had three hits in seven at-bats, with five RBI and three runs scored.
At Memphis, McDonald completed his minor-league season with a .263 batting average and five home runs. He helped Memphis advance to the Class AAA World Series, where he batted .412.
In 2001, McDonald appeared in two games (both in late September) for the Cardinals, going hitless in two at-bats. He left the Cardinals organization after the 2002 season and spent the next four years in the minor-league systems of the Cubs, Pirates, Rangers and Yankees.
In 13 years in the minors, he slugged 78 home runs in 984 at-bats. But it’s those three big-league home runs that make McDonald a permanent part of Cardinals lore.
Joining McDonald and the Padres’ Grandal, the others since 1900 whose first three major-league hits were home runs are Chick Fullis (1929 Giants), Ed Sanicki (1949 Phillies), Billy Conigliaro (1969 Red Sox), Mike Greenwell (1985 Red Sox) and Alfonso Soriano (1999-2000 Yankees), according to the Elias Sports Bureau.