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Twenty years ago, in June 1995, the Cardinals were a franchise in disarray. The depth of their dysfunction was revealed on one dismal day, June 16, when they fired their manager, Joe Torre, and traded their cleanup hitter, Todd Zeile.

todd_zeileRather than signal an inspiring beginning, the moves had the feel of surrender.

The termination of Torre largely was viewed as a lame effort to deflect attention from management’s shortcomings.

The trading of Zeile largely was viewed as spiteful.

A bad team

After being named Cardinals manager in August 1990, Torre led the Cardinals to winning seasons each year from 1991 through 1993. His best record was 87-75 in 1993. When the Cardinals fell to 53-61 in strike-shortened 1994, Torre’s friend, general manager Dal Maxvill, was fired and replaced by Walt Jocketty.

By then, the Anheuser-Busch ownership of the Cardinals seemed more interested in minimizing expense to enhance profitability than it did in investing in the team.

The 1995 Cardinals split their first 18 games, then lost 10 of their next 13 and sunk to 12-19.

“This is a bad team and someone must pay the price,” columnist Bob Nightengale wrote in The Sporting News. “They don’t have a marquee power hitter. They’re awful defensively. They have no speed.”

Published reports indicated Cardinals president Mark Lamping was pressuring a reluctant Jocketty to appease a restless fan base by changing managers.

Cheap PR move

On the morning of June 16, with the Cardinals’ record at 20-27, Jocketty went to Torre’s home and informed the manager he was fired.

“It didn’t surprise me,” Torre told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

His overall record as Cardinals manager: 351-354.

“We worked hard and we did a lot of things,” Torre said. “We just didn’t win enough.”

Said Jocketty: “We will not stand pat and let things keep going as they were.”

Unimpressed, Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote that the Cardinals “dumped a classy guy, Torre, to feed the wolfpack.”

“All I see is a cheap PR move.” Miklasz wrote. “All I see is a twitch reflex from a panic attack.”

Change the dynamics

After considering Cardinals coaches Chris Chambliss and Gaylen Pitts as candidates to replace Torre, Jocketty chose director of player development Mike Jorgensen.

“He is an intense guy … He’ll bring a little fire to the clubhouse as well as to the field,” Cardinals pitcher Tom Urbani said of Jorgensen.

Said Jocketty: “I wanted to bring in someone who could change the dynamics a little.”

Jocketty, though, wasn’t done for the day. Next, he dealt Zeile.

Deal or no deal

Zeile was batting .291 with five home runs and 22 RBI as the first baseman and cleanup hitter for the 1995 Cardinals. In June that year, he revealed that the Cardinals had reneged on a three-year, $12 million handshake agreement he said they made in April.

Lamping was furious. “There never was a deal with Todd Zeile,” Lamping said to Hummel.

Jocketty traded Zeile, 29, to the Cubs for pitcher Mike Morgan, 35, and a pair of minor-league players, first baseman Paul Torres and catcher Francisco Morales.

“We’re not happy with the chemistry and the focus of this team,” Jocketty said. “If you saw Todd Zeile play, you could see he’s not a real aggressive person in his approach to the game. He was kind of at one gait.

“Todd Zeile was not happy here. Todd Zeile asked to be traded … We didn’t want someone here who wasn’t happy.”

In seven seasons with St. Louis, Zeile started at three positions _ catcher, third base and first base _ and batted .267 with 75 home runs.

Zeile told Hummel he would depart “with a lot more fond memories than negative,” but added, “Unfortunately, this situation turned kind of ugly at the end. I think it will be better in the long run to go somewhere where I’ll be embraced.”

Miklasz blasted Lamping and Jocketty, saying the Cardinals executives “smeared Zeile, suggesting he was responsible for poor team chemistry. Zeile wasn’t any more at fault than any of the other veterans on the team. Why single him out as the villain?”

Noting the decisions by Jocketty to acquire underperforming third baseman Scott Cooper and pitcher Danny Jackson, Miklasz wrote: “Jocketty traded for Cooper and he’s a nervous wreck. Jocketty signed Jackson and he’s a physical wreck.”

The aftermath

Getting fired by the Cardinals turned out to be a blessing for Torre. He was hired to manage the Yankees and led them to four World Series titles and six American League pennants. Torre was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Jorgensen managed the Cardinals to a 42-54 record and returned to the front office after the season. He was replaced as manager by La Russa, who would lead St. Louis to two World Series championships and three National League pennants and would be inducted into the Hall of Fame with Torre.

Rookie John Mabry replaced Zeile as the Cardinals’ first baseman.

Zeile was a bust with the 1995 Cubs, hitting .227. After leaving the Cardinals, Zeile played for 10 teams: Cubs, Phillies, Orioles, Dodgers, Marlins, Rangers, Mets, Rockies, Yankees and Expos. He had 2,004 hits and 1,110 RBI in 16 seasons in the majors.

Morgan made 17 starts for the 1995 Cardinals and was 5-6 with a 3.88 ERA. The next year, he was 4-8 with a 5.24 ERA for St. Louis before he was released.

The two minor-league players acquired with Morgan from the Cubs never reached the big leagues.

Previously: George Kissell, Cardinals inspired Joe Torre to be manager

Previously: Why the best Joe Torre Cardinals club was not good enough

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Joe Medwick was a special hitter for the Cardinals. He also was expensive and high maintenance. When his popularity waned, the Cardinals decided the value Medwick could bring them in a trade was greater than what he could produce for them in the lineup.

joe_medwick3Seventy-five years ago, on June 12, 1940, the Cardinals traded Medwick and pitcher Curt Davis to the Dodgers for $125,000 and four undistinguished players, or, as one writer described them, “a few ham sandwiches.”

Cardinals owner Sam Breadon and general manager Branch Rickey got exactly what they wanted. With attendance sagging and the Cardinals out of contention, Breadon and Rickey were seeking cash.

As The Sporting News noted, the Cardinals traded Medwick “while he had high market value.”

Medwick, a hitter of Hall of Fame skills, had sulked about being lifted in the late innings for a defensive replacement. When he fell into a hitting funk, Cardinals fans taunted him from the Sportsman’s Park bleachers. Witnessing this, Breadon realized there wouldn’t be a public relations backlash if he traded the club’s standout hitter. That’s when he instructed Rickey to pursue a deal.

“The tide had turned,” wrote columnist Dan Daniel. “The fans would not shout against the departure of (Medwick).”

Remarkable hitter

A right-handed batter who swung at pitches outside the strike zone with savage aggressiveness, Medwick, 20, debuted with the Cardinals in September 1932 and became their starting left fielder in 1933.

Among his many remarkable hitting feats with the Cardinals, Medwick:

_ Achieved the Triple Crown in 1937, leading the National League in batting average (.374), home runs (31) and RBI (154). Medwick is the last NL player to accomplish the feat.

_ Won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1937. He also led the NL that season in runs (111), hits (237), doubles (56), slugging percentage (.641) and total bases (406).

_ Led the NL in hits in 1936 (223).

_ Led the NL in doubles in 1936 (64) and 1938 (47).

_ Led the NL in RBI in 1936 (138) and 1938 (122).

_ Hit .379 (11-for-29) with five RBI in the 1934 World Series vs. the Tigers.

Medwick remains the Cardinals’ all-time single-season leader in doubles (64) and RBI (154).

Interest from Dodgers

Larry MacPhail, Dodgers president, had offered the Cardinals $200,000 for Medwick in 1939, The Sporting News reported. In contention then, the Cardinals rejected the offer.

In 1940, the Cardinals started poorly, losing 20 of their first 32 games. On June 3, Medwick was hitting .297 _ good for most but subpar for him.

Medwick felt disrespected by Breadon and Rickey. After his Triple Crown and MVP season in 1937, the Cardinals rewarded Medwick with a salary of $20,000 in 1938. When he followed his .374 batting average of 1937 with a .322 mark in 1938, the Cardinals cut his pay to $18,000 in 1939. After hitting .332 in 1939, Medwick demanded a $20,000 salary in 1940. Instead, the Cardinals gave him $18,000.

Recalling MacPhail’s interest in Medwick, Rickey contacted the Dodgers in June 1940. “Rickey telephoned and said that the Cardinals were in the mood to do some trading,” MacPhail told The Sporting News.

The ensuing conversation:

MacPhail: “Who will you trade?”

Rickey: “Anybody.”

MacPhail: “Does that go for Medwick, too?”

Rickey: “Yes.”

MacPhail took a flight to St. Louis and closed the deal.

Finances a factor

In exchange for Medwick and Davis (who had 22 wins for the 1939 Cardinals), the Dodgers sent the cash, plus pitchers Carl Doyle and Sam Nahem, outfielder Ernie Koy and third baseman Bert Haas. The Cardinals assigned Nahem and Haas to the minor leagues.

“St. Louis believes the passing of Medwick and the development of a better feeling on the club, minus Joe and his $18,000 salary, will lift the (Cardinals),” Daniel wrote.

Said Breadon: “The Cardinals were going no place with Medwick and Davis on the job _ and they certainly couldn’t be any worse without them.”

The reduction in salaries paired with the infusion of cash helped the Cardinals overcome a drop in attendance. After drawing 400,245 paid customers in 1939, the Cardinals had a total home attendance of 324,078 in 1940. According to columnist Dick Farrington, Breadon was facing “the specter of a financial loss on the season.”

Hit by pitch

In joining the Dodgers, Medwick was reunited with his pal, manager Leo Durocher. They had been Cardinals teammates from 1933-37, when Durocher was the St. Louis shortstop. They played golf together almost daily in the off-season.

Said MacPhail: “Frankly, the Medwick deal surprised me more than anyone else. If you’d have told me a week before that we’d come up with Medwick, I’d have said you were crazy. A month ago, I put out a feeler for him and was told there wasn’t a chance.”

On June 18, in his sixth game for the Dodgers, Medwick faced the Cardinals at Brooklyn. In the first inning, a fastball from Bob Bowman struck Medwick behind the left ear, knocking him unconscious. As Medwick was carried on a stretcher to the clubhouse, MacPhail “stormed over to the Cardinals dugout and challenged the players, individually and collectively,” The Sporting News reported.

All of the Cardinals stood but none made a move. “Take it easy,” Cardinals outfielder Pepper Martin said to MacPhail.

Medwick was taken to a hospital and diagnosed with a concussion.

Bowman said he didn’t intend to hit him. “Medwick was looking for a curveball, expecting the ball to break,” Bowman said.

After the game, Bowman was being escorted from the ballpark by two detectives when MacPhail approached and “sent a wild swing at him,” according to The Sporting News.

The Cardinals visited Medwick in the hospital. Manager Billy Southworth, the only member of the contingent admitted to the room, expressed regrets for the injury. Medwick absolved the Cardinals, calling the incident “just one of those things.” Boxscore

Medwick was released from the hospital on June 21. He hit .300 in 106 games for the 1940 Dodgers. In 1941, he helped them win the pennant, hitting .318 with 18 home runs and 88 RBI.

Medwick returned to the Cardinals in 1947 and finished his playing career with them in 1948. He was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1968.

Previously: Joe Medwick set a doubles pace that is hard to beat

Previously: Joe Medwick, Stan Musial: Double trouble for pitchers

 

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Cardinals manager Ray Blades lost the confidence of his pitching staff. Then he lost the confidence of the team owner. Naturally, he lost his job.

ray_bladesSeventy-five years ago, on June 7, 1940, the Cardinals fired Blades and replaced him with Billy Southworth. Cardinals owner Sam Breadon made both decisions without consulting general manager Branch Rickey.

Blades had been Rickey’s choice to be manager. By firing Rickey’s personal favorite and keeping the general manager out of the decision-making process, Breadon made it clear who was boss. In doing so, he damaged the relationship with his top executive. Two years later, in October 1942, Rickey resigned and became general manager of the Dodgers.

Star pupil

The connection between Rickey and Blades took root in 1920 when Rickey, then Cardinals manager, discovered the outfielder at a tryout camp. Rickey said Blades “ran like a deer,” according to Rickey’s biographer, Murray Polner.

Blades made his big-league debut in 1922. He played 10 seasons with the Cardinals and hit .301 with a .395 on-base percentage. Rickey was his manager from 1922-25.

After Rickey became Cardinals general manager, he continued to mentor Blades, grooming him for leadership opportunities. Blades was a player-coach with St. Louis from 1930-32. Rickey then made Blades a manager, giving him prominent assignments within the farm system Rickey had built.

Blades managed the Cardinals’ Columbus (Ohio) club from 1933-35 and their Rochester (N.Y.) affiliate from 1936-38.

Manager moves

During the 1938 season, Rickey clashed with Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch. Rickey wanted Frisch out. Frisch was a favorite of Breadon. About this time, the Cubs began wooing Rickey for their top front-office job.

Faced with the prospect of losing Rickey to the Cubs, Breadon reluctantly allowed Frisch to be fired in September 1938. Rickey selected Blades to replace Frisch.

Blades led the 1939 Cardinals to a 92-61 record and second-place finish. His pitching staff had the fewest complete games (45) in the major leagues. At the time, most starting pitchers wanted and expected to pitch complete games. Blades had a different approach, believing a team should utilize whichever pitcher could be most effective.

Because of the Cardinals’ good record in 1939, Blades’ steady use of relievers was tolerated. When the Cardinals started poorly in 1940, though, Blades’ handling of the pitching staff became an issue.

Trouble in St. Louis

The 1940 Cardinals lost six of their first eight games and 16 of their first 24. Their slugger, Joe Medwick, was miffed at Blades. Pouting, Medwick went into a slump.

Published reports indicated Blades would be fired. Breadon issued a denial, telling The Sporting News, “I’m not thinking of any change now. Sure, we’re disappointed, but the failure of the Cardinals cannot be blamed on the manager.”

On June 4, the Cardinals played their first home night game. What was supposed to be a celebratory occasion turned into an embarrassment. The Dodgers scored five runs in the first inning. Fans booed and threw bottles onto the field. The Dodgers rolled to a 10-1 victory. Breadon decided then a change was necessary.

The plot thickens

On June 5, Breadon contacted Oliver French, president of the Rochester farm team, and arranged to meet in New York City. The Rochester club was playing a series in Newark, N.J. French called his manager, Southworth, and asked him to come to the New Yorker Hotel in Manhattan. When Southworth arrived, Breadon was there, according to Southworth biographer John C. Skipper.

Breadon informed Southworth he would replace Blades.

With the Cardinals’ record at 14-24, Breadon announced the firing of Blades and hiring of Southworth on June 7 at St. Louis. The Sporting News described the moves as “impulsive.”

“Branch Rickey was not even informed by Breadon on either of these moves … While Breadon was away doing his plotting, Rickey was telling sports writers that no change was contemplated,” wrote Dick Farrington of The Sporting News.

Though Rickey respected Southworth and had helped him revive his managerial career in the Cardinals’ system, “Rickey had been holding out for more time on Blades.”

Breadon said firing Blades was necessary because “the team was in a rut,” adding, “I like Ray and I’m sorry it had to happen. It hurt me a whole lot to do it … I have no criticism to make on his strategical moves.”

The Sporting News, however, reported that “the entire (pitching) staff was demoralized” by Blades’ handling of the starters.

Southworth led the Cardinals to two World Series championships (1942 and ’44) and three consecutive National League pennants (1942-44) before resigning after the 1945 season.

Blades became a coach with the 1942 Reds. After Rickey joined the Dodgers, he hired Blades. From 1944-46, Blades managed the Dodgers’ St. Paul (Minn.) affiliate. He was a Dodgers coach in 1947 and ’48.

In 1951, Blades returned to St. Louis as a coach on the staff of Cardinals manager Marty Marion. Blades also was a Cubs coach from 1953-56.

Previously: Rift with Branch Rickey led Cardinals to oust Frankie Frisch

Previously: How Mike Gonzalez became first Cuban manager in majors

Previously: Why 1940 was year Cardinals saw the light

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An unhappy fan base and an unreliable pitching staff combined to create an unhealthy situation for Eddie Stanky and the 1955 Cardinals.

eddie_stanky2Unable to overcome those obstacles, Stanky was fired in his fourth season as Cardinals manager 60 years ago on May 28, 1955.

The Cardinals replaced Stanky with Harry Walker, who was managing their farm club at Rochester. Walker was more popular than Stanky but no better able to win with such poor pitching.

From foe to friend

A three-time all-star, Stanky was the second baseman on National League pennant winners with the 1947 Dodgers, 1948 Braves and 1951 Giants. His aggressive play earned him the reputation as a pest and led to him being a frequent target of boos when he played the Cardinals at St. Louis.

Imagine the surprise then of Cardinals fans when on Dec. 11, 1951, St. Louis acquired Stanky from the Giants for pitcher Max Lanier and outfielder Chuck Diering. The surprise turned to rancor when Stanky was named player-manager, replacing Marty Marion, who was fired by team owner Fred Saigh. Marion, the popular former shortstop, had guided the 1951 Cardinals to an 81-73 record and third-place finish in his lone season as manager.

Good start

In his first St. Louis season, Stanky, 36, led the 1952 Cardinals to an 88-66 record and third place in the NL. He was named manager of the year by The Sporting News.

In 1953, Saigh sold the Cardinals to Gussie Busch. Stanky, in his last season as a player, managed the 1953 Cardinals to an 83-71 record and another third-place finish.

Stanky’s career took a downturn in 1954. The low point occurred when he used stalling tactics in an attempt to avoid a loss. Umpires forfeited the game to the Phillies and, in a stunning rebuke of Stanky, Cardinals fans cheered the decision. Stanky was suspended. Humbled, he apologized for his actions. With a staff ERA of 4.50, the 1954 Cardinals finished sixth at 72-82.

Heightened expectations

Heading to spring training in 1955, expectations soared because of young standouts such as Ken Boyer, Wally Moon and Bill Virdon joining a lineup with Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst.

Bill Walsingham, a club vice president, told The Sporting News that the 1955 Cardinals “will run faster and throw better than players on the Cardinals champions of 1942.”

Stanky heightened the hope, telling Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that his everyday lineup “is the best _ the fastest and finest-fielding _ I’ve had. And, unless the kids fail to hit at all, it’s of championship caliber.”

The pitching, though, hadn’t improved.

On May 22, 1955, in the first game of a doubleheader at Cincinnati, the Reds rallied for two runs in the bottom of the ninth and won, 4-3. Stanky stormed into the clubhouse and smacked at mustard and mayonnaise jars on a food table, sending glass and goo flying.

Displaying a hand dripping with blood and condiments, Stanky said, “No, it’s not true I was trying to cut my throat.”

Time for a change

Four days later, on May 26, Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer met with Walker in Rochester and told him he would replace Stanky. Meyer instructed Walker to be in St. Louis on May 28 and to keep the news a secret.

Stunned, Walker said to Meyer, “Is this a joke?”

Replied Meyer: “We have been considering the change for some time.”

Walker, 38, had been a Cardinals outfielder and played for their World Series championship clubs of 1942 and ’46. He managed Cardinals farm clubs at Columbus (1951) and Rochester (1952-55).

His brother, Dixie Walker, was a coach on Stanky’s Cardinals staff.

At 8:15 on the morning of May 28, Stanky got a call from Meyer, who informed the manager he was fired. Meyer asked Stanky to attend a 2 p.m. press conference at Busch’s estate at Grant’s Farm. Stanky agreed.

Flanked by Stanky and Walker, Busch informed the media of the change, saying it had been contemplated for three weeks. The Cardinals’ record was 17-19.

The Sporting News offered that “Stanky’s unpopularity had reached a point regarded as alarming to an organization concerned with the goodwill of consumers as well as customers.”

Said Stanky: “Nothing in baseball shocks me any more and there’s no such word as malice in my vocabulary.”

Dixie Walker was named Rochester manager, replacing his brother.

Different styles

Among media reactions to the dismissal of Stanky:

_ The Sporting News: “The move perhaps was inevitable because of the disappointing start of the young, highly regarded team and the mounting fan clamor for a change.”

_ J. Roy Stockton, Post-Dispatch: “Eddie showed major-league courage and acumen in the rebuilding of the Redbirds. All the club needs now to make a serious bid for the pennant is good pitching.”

_ Lloyd Larson, Milwaukee Sentinel: “Eddie Stanky undoubtedly knows baseball … So where did he fall down? The answer, I believe, rests in his handling of people _ the key to successful management in many fields.”

New boss, same results

A few hours after the press conference announcing his promotion, Walker made his Cardinals managerial debut that night against the Reds at St. Louis. Jackie Collum, a former Cardinal, spoiled the festivities, pitching a four-hitter in a 5-1 Reds triumph.

The 1955 Cardinals were 51-67 under Walker and finished seventh at 68-86 overall. The staff ERA of 4.56 was the worst in the NL.

After the season, the Cardinals replaced Walker with Fred Hutchinson, former Tigers manager. Walker went back to managing in the Cardinals’ farm system. He would return to the big leagues as manager of the Pirates (1965-67) and Astros (1968-72).

Stanky managed the Giants’ farm club at Minneapolis in 1956. His roster included future Cardinals players Bill White and Eddie Bressoud and future Cardinals manager Vern Rapp.

After serving as an Indians coach in 1957 and ’58, Stanky rejoined the Cardinals in 1959 as player development director under general manager Bing Devine. Stanky served in that role until he, along with Devine, was fired again by Busch in August 1964.

Previously: Cardinals fans cheered when 1954 game was forfeited to Phillies

Previously: Bill White interviewed about autobiography

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Convinced he had the leverage to demand a more lucrative contract, Cardinals ace Mort Cooper played hardball with Sam Breadon. The club owner responded by trading Cooper rather than negotiating with him.

mort_cooper4“In reckoning on his ability to outmaneuver Sam Breadon, Cooper encountered an old master who is familiar with a wide variety of curves,” The Sporting News wrote.

Seventy years ago, on May 23, 1945, the Cardinals traded Cooper, 32, to the Braves for pitcher Red Barrett, 30, and $60,000. Three months later, Cooper had elbow surgery. Barrett earned 21 wins for the 1945 Cardinals.

Show me the money

Cooper was a key reason the Cardinals won three National League pennants and two World Series championships from 1942-44. He was named winner of the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1942 when he was 22-7 with a 1.78 ERA. He followed that with a 21-8 record and 2.30 ERA in 1943 and a 22-7 record and 2.46 ERA in 1944.

Before the 1945 season, Cooper signed a one-year contract for $12,000. That amount, Breadon told Cooper, was the club ceiling on salaries. In spring training, though, Cooper learned the Cardinals had made an exception for Marty Marion and had signed the shortstop for $13,500.

Cooper demanded the Cardinals give him a new contract for $15,000. Breadon refused. In protest, Cooper and his brother, Walker Cooper, left the Cardinals’ spring training camp at Cairo, Ill., and threatened to boycott the club’s opening series against the Cubs.

The Cooper brothers eventually gave in and were with the club on Opening Day at Chicago. Soon after, Walker Cooper was inducted into the Navy. Mort Cooper made his first appearance of the season on April 22, pitching in relief against the Reds at St. Louis.

When the Cardinals left St. Louis by train for an April series at Cincinnati, Cooper, still miffed about his contract, didn’t show. Instead, he arrived in Cincinnati the next day with his lawyer, Lee Havener, and demanded a salary increase.

Cooper started on April 29 against the Reds and earned the win. He also won his next start, versus the Cubs, on May 6 and got a no-decision in his third start on May 13 against the Giants.

With a 2-0 record and 1.52 ERA, Cooper appeared headed toward another big season. Because of injuries and commitments to military service, the Cardinals had little pitching depth. Sensing he had the upper hand, Cooper decided the time was right to force the issue of a new contract.

Jumping ship

In mid-May, while the Cardinals were in Boston, Cooper called traveling secretary Leo Ward about 3 a.m. at the team hotel and informed him he was leaving without permission and returning to St. Louis. Manager Billy Southworth suspended the AWOL pitcher indefinitely and fined him $500.

In St. Louis, Cooper and Havener asked Breadon to discuss a new contract. A meeting was scheduled for May 23 in Breadon’s office.

Secretly, Breadon began talking with clubs to gauge interest in trading for Cooper. The Giants offered cash but no players. The Cubs and Phillies offered a combination of players and cash. The Braves, though, offered the most cash, plus Barrett.

On May 23, Cooper and Havener arrived at Breadon’s office, expecting to renegotiate a contract. Southworth was there with Breadon. After exchanging pleasantries, Breadon delivered his surprise, informing Cooper he had been traded to the Braves.

Deal of the year

“In disposing of Cooper, Breadon took the best course, since there was little chance of an amicable agreement,” The Sporting News opined.

United Press wire service called the transaction “the most important baseball deal of 1945″ because the departure of a perennial 20-game winner gave hope to NL teams that the three-time defending champion Cardinals could be dethroned.

Cooper “almost overnight transformed (the Braves) into a pennant contender,” wrote The Sporting News.

Singing slinger

Barrett nearly was overlooked in most reviews of the trade. He was 2-3 with a 4.74 ERA for the 1945 Braves.

Barrett was almost as well-known as a singer as he was a pitcher. He sang a role in the opera “Narcissus” with the Los Angeles Philharmonic. He toured with bands during the off-season.

“There is scarcely a big jazz band in the country that I haven’t sung with,” Barrett said. “Sammy Kaye. Tommy Dorsey. Skinny Ennis and the rest of them.”

No one expected Barrett would be the equal of Cooper. His career record in seven seasons with the Reds and Braves was 16-37.

Barrett, though, sensed a turnaround. “A fellow really ought to win a few ballgames with that club,” Barrett said of the Cardinals. “What a treat it is to have a real infield in back of you.”

Informed of the trade by Braves manager Bob Coleman, Barrett said, “I didn’t give them a chance to change their minds. I was packed and ready to leave for St. Louis two minutes later. I’d have been ready sooner but I had difficulty in getting my suitcase closed.”

Inserted into the rotation, Barrett was 21-9 with a 2.74 ERA and pitched 22 complete games for the 1945 Cardinals. Cooper was 7-4 with a 3.35 ERA for the 1945 Braves.

Final years

The 1945 Cardinals finished in second place at 95-59, three games behind the Cubs. The Braves finished sixth in the eight-team league at 67-85, 30 games behind Chicago.

With Breadon’s approval, Southworth left the Cardinals after the 1945 season and accepted an offer to manage the Braves. His replacement, Eddie Dyer, preferred using Barrett in relief and giving him spot starts. Barrett was 3-2 for the 1946 Cardinals. After the season, he was sent back to the Braves. He pitched three more years for them.

Under Southworth, Cooper was 13-11 with a 3.12 ERA for the 1946 Braves. It was his last hurrah. In 1947, his final season as a major-league pitcher, Cooper was a combined 3-10 with a 5.40 ERA for the Braves and Giants.

Previously: How Mort Cooper pitched 2 straight one-hitters for Cardinals

Previously: Big-game losses haunt Mort Cooper, Justin Verlander

Previously: Mike Matheny, Eddie Dyer share rare rookie achievement

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Unwilling to bend on principle, Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill reluctantly traded a slugger he wanted to keep. In a stroke of good fortune, he got in exchange a closer who would rank among the franchise’s all-time best.

lee_smith3Twenty-five years ago, on May 4, 1990, the Cardinals sent right fielder Tom Brunansky to the Red Sox for reliever Lee Smith.

It was one of Maxvill’s best trades during his tenure (1985-94) as Cardinals general manager.

Anatomy of a deal

Maxvill didn’t want to trade Brunansky.

Brunansky wasn’t seeking a trade.

Yet, when Brunansky demanded a no-trade clause as a condition for waiving free agency and re-signing with the Cardinals, Maxvill wouldn’t budge. He called Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman and quickly arranged the trade.

According to the Associated Press, the deal “climaxed several weeks of talks” between the Cardinals and Red Sox.

Maxvill, though, insisted the Cardinals never discussed with the Red Sox a trade of Brunansky for Smith until Maxvill called Gorman the afternoon of May 4 “despite Gorman’s public posturing that the deal had almost been made in early April,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“I haven’t been looking to trade him,” Maxvill said. “We wanted to keep Brunansky.”

Seeking security

The Cardinals had acquired Brunansky from the Twins for second baseman Tommy Herr on April 22, 1988, five months after Minnesota had prevailed in a seven-game World Series with St. Louis.

Early in the 1990 season, the Cardinals approached Brunansky about a three-year contract. Brunansky, like Smith, was eligible to become a free agent after the 1990 season. In the contract the Cardinals inherited from the Twins in 1988, Brunansky had a limited no-trade clause. Brunansky wanted a no-trade provision in any new contract.

“We tried to work around this somehow, but it just couldn’t be done,” Maxvill said.

Said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog: “We tried to negotiate a little bit with (Brunansky), but he wanted a no-trade contract and we don’t have those in St. Louis.”

Brunansky explained “my wife and I wanted to settle down and buy a house here,” but couldn’t commit to that without the no-trade clause.

“The no-trade was the whole thing,” said Brunansky. “We never got to the point of talking money. For me to stay here, I would need some kind of security. I wasn’t going to sign here for three years, buy a house and everything and keep hearing trade rumors. It was a big issue for me and, of course, it was a big issue for the ball club.”

Motivated to act

The Red Sox were eager to deal because they needed a right fielder to replace Dwight Evans, who was restricted to designated hitter duties because of back problems.

The Cardinals needed an established closer to replace Todd Worrell, who was recuperating from elbow surgery. The Cardinals had opened the 1990 season with Scott Terry as the closer.

Smith, 32, became available when the Red Sox signed free-agent closer Jeff Reardon.

Brunansky, 29, was deemed expendable because reserve Milt Thompson could step in as Cardinals right fielder.

The Cardinals also had talked with the White Sox about closer Bobby Thigpen, according to the Post-Dispatch. The Red Sox, though, were motivated to act fast.

“They called us. It’s as simple as that,” Red Sox manager Joe Morgan said to the Worcester (Mass.) Telegram and Gazette. “Nobody would give us the kind of pitcher we wanted, so we went with the right-handed power.”

Reunited with Roarke

Brunansky hit 43 home runs in three years with the Cardinals, but only 11 at Busch Stadium in St. Louis. “He’ll hit homers in Fenway (Park),” said Red Sox catcher Tony Pena, a former Cardinal. “St. Louis was a tough park for him to hit in.”

Said Red Sox third baseman Wade Boggs: “He’s the stick we need in the middle of the lineup.”

Smith had posted a 2-1 record with four saves, a 1.88 ERA and 17 strikeouts in 14.1 innings for the 1990 Red Sox. In joining the Cardinals, Smith was reunited with coach Mike Roarke, who had been his coach as a rookie with the 1980 Cubs.

Said Smith: “I’m really pleased. Something had to be done. With the two closers we had, it wasn’t fair to either one of us. I’ve always been a Whitey Herzog fan and the way he uses pitchers. And I like pitching in Busch Stadium.”

Lee Smith joined a Cardinals roster that included pitcher Bryn Smith and shortstop Ozzie Smith. “We might as well try to get Lonnie (Smith of the Braves) and Zane (Smith of the Pirates),” said Ozzie Smith.

Brunansky played four years with the Red Sox and hit 56 home runs.

Lee Smith played four years with the Cardinals and earned 160 saves while posting a 2.90 ERA. Only Jason Isringhausen (217) has more saves as a Cardinal.

Previously: Why Cardinals traded Tommy Herr to Twins in 1988

Previously: Cardinals years among best for Hall candidate Lee Smith

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