Their given names were John and George.
Their baseball names were Sonny and Sparky.
Together, they contributed to a standard of teaching that has become a hallmark of the Cardinals.
Sonny Ruberto, mentored by Sparky Anderson in the Cardinals organization, influenced St. Louis players and prospects from 1977-81 as a big-league coach and minor-league manager.
Ruberto, 68, died March 24, 2014, near Naples, Fla.
Two of his pupils in the Cardinals system, Jim Riggleman and John Stuper, carry on with reputations as first-rate instructors. Riggleman, who managed four big-league teams, is manager of the Reds’ Class AAA Louisville club. Stuper, who started and won Game 6 of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals, is head coach of the Yale University baseball team.
George “Sparky” Anderson, who built a Hall of Fame career as manager of the Reds and Tigers, was 30 when he began his managerial career with Class AAA Toronto in 1964. A year later, he became a manager in the Cardinals system.
John “Sonny” Ruberto was 24 when he began his managerial career with the Padres’ Class A Lodi club in 1970. At 31, he became the youngest coach in the major leagues when he joined the staff of first-year Cardinals manager Vern Rapp in 1977.
A standout catcher at Curtis High School in Staten Island, N.Y., where he played with other future major leaguers such as Terry Crowley and Frank Fernandez, Ruberto signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1964. Two years later, he was on a Class A St. Petersburg team managed by Anderson.
In a 1966 game that began on June 14 and ended at 2:30 a.m. on June 15, the visiting Miami Marlins beat St. Petersburg, 4-3, in 29 innings. “It was the darndest thing I’ve ever seen,” Anderson told The Sporting News.
Ruberto played all 29 innings _ the first nine as catcher and the last 20 at shortstop. He had two hits in 10 at-bats and scored a run.
Ruberto hit .283 in 88 games for St. Petersburg. The next year, he played for the Cardinals’ Class A Modesto club, managed by Anderson.
On May 22, 1969, the Cardinals traded Ruberto and second baseman John Sipin to the Padres for infielder Jerry DaVanon and first baseman Bill Davis. Ruberto made his big-league debut as a player with the Padres that month.
Big Red Machine
After a season managing Lodi, Ruberto in 1971 joined the Reds organization, where he was reunited with two key figures from his Cardinals days: Anderson (the Reds’ manager) and Bob Howsam, the former Cardinals general manager who took over the same role with Cincinnati.
Ruberto resumed his playing career and was sent to Class AAA Indianapolis. His manager there for the next five years, 1971 through 1975, was Rapp. As catcher, Ruberto was credited with helping the progress of several Reds pitching prospects, including Joaquin Andujar, Ross Grimsley, Tom Hume, Milt Wilcox and Pat Zachry.
“I feel I had something to do with their development,” Ruberto told The Sporting News.
When Rapp was named Cardinals manager, replacing Red Schoendienst, for the 1977 season, he selected Ruberto to be the first-base coach.
Wrote The Sporting News: “Like Rapp, Ruberto had been a career Triple-A catcher highly regarded for his ability to handle pitchers. Ruberto even has some ideas on helping Ted Simmons improve his backstopping duties.”
Rapp was brought to the Cardinals to instill discipline. At spring training in 1977, The Sporting News reported, “Rapp sized up his charges to make sure that the regulation baseball uniforms were worn properly. He had coach Sonny Ruberto demonstrate how he wanted the uniforms worn.”
At the helm
Rapp was fired in April 1978 and replaced by Ken Boyer. After the season, two of the coaches Boyer had inherited, Ruberto and Mo Mazzali, were replaced by Schoendienst and Dal Maxvill.
The Cardinals, though, kept Ruberto in the organization, naming him manager of the 1979 St. Petersburg club, succeeding Hal Lanier, who was promoted to Class AAA Springfield.
“What kind of manager will I be?” Ruberto said in response to a question from the St. Petersburg Times. “Well, a little of Vern Rapp, a little of Sparky Anderson, a little of Billy Martin and a lot of Sonny Ruberto.”
St. Petersburg finished 64-71, but the Cardinals were pleased with how their prospects, such as Stuper and fellow starting pitcher Andy Rincon, developed under Ruberto.
In 1980, Ruberto managed the Cardinals’ Class AA Arkansas team to an 81-55 record and a Texas League championship. Stuper had a 7-2 record for Arkansas. Riggleman, a third baseman, hit .295 with 21 home runs and 90 RBI in 127 games.
Ruberto managed the Cardinals’ Class A Erie team to a 44-30 record in 1981.
He operated a photography business in St. Louis and resided there with his family for 26 years.