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A central figure in a trade unpopular with many Cardinals loyalists, Al Dark responded with a hitting display that endeared him to St. Louis fans and gained him satisfaction against his former team.

al_darkThis post is dedicated to Alvin Ralph Dark, who died on Nov. 13, 2014, at 92.

A three-time all-star shortstop with the Giants and 1948 National League Rookie of the Year with the Braves, Dark played for 14 seasons in the major leagues. He hit a combined .323 in 16 World Series games for the Braves (1948) and Giants (1951 and 1954). Dark also managed four big-league clubs, winning a pennant with the 1962 Giants and a World Series championship with the 1974 Athletics.

Daring deal

On June 14, 1956, St. Louis general manager Frank Lane upset Cardinals fans when he traded popular second baseman Red Schoendienst, a nine-time all-star, to the Giants. The key player the Cardinals received in return was Dark.

The full trade was Schoendienst, outfielder Jackie Brandt, catcher Bill Sarni and pitchers Dick Littlefield and Gordon Jones to the Giants for Dark, outfielder Whitey Lockman, catcher Ray Katt and pitcher Don Liddle.

Lane made the trade because Don Blasingame, out of position at shortstop, was better suited for second base. To open a spot for Blasingame at second, Lane decided to deal Schoendienst and acquire a shortstop in return. Lane had been trying since the previous winter to convince the Giants to deal Dark to the Cardinals.

“The Giants wanted a second baseman, the Cardinals a shortstop and everybody was pleased except the Cardinals fans, who, understandably, loved Red. He was the finest second baseman in the game,” Dark said in his book “When in Doubt, Fire the Manager.”

Said Lane to The Sporting News: “We let Schoendienst go with great reluctance, naturally, but to get a star like Dark you’ve got to give a star.”

Cardinals fans swiftly expressed their displeasure. “The switchboard at Busch Stadium lighted up like a Christmas tree and stayed that way for more than two hours June 14,” wrote The Sporting News.

Let there be light

Fortunately for Lane and the Cardinals, Dark, 34, had a torrid start to his Cardinals career, hitting .366 in his first 28 games for St. Louis.

On July 12, the Giants visited St. Louis for the first time since the trade and opened a three-game series with the Cardinals.

Dark was spectacular. He had nine hits in 11 at-bats in the three games. He drove in seven runs in the series and sparked St. Louis to a sweep.

Schoendienst, in his first Giants appearance in St. Louis, had three hits in 11 at-bats and walked twice.

Despite their continued affection for Schoendienst, Cardinals fans responded warmly to Dark’s performance, wrote St. Louis journalist Bob Broeg. “Dark, since his acquisition by the Cardinals, has played inspirationally and spectacularly,” Broeg reported.

Super series

In the first game of the Giants-Cardinals series on July 12, Dark drove in the winning run with a sacrifice fly off reliever Marv Grissom in the seventh, snapping a 3-3 tie in a game the Cardinals would win, 5-3. Dark was 2-for-3 and scored a run. Boxscore

Dark drove in the winning run again in Game 2 of the series on July 13. With the score tied at 5-5 in the eighth, Dark hit a two-run double off reliever Hoyt Wilhelm, lifting the Cardinals to a 7-5 victory. Dark was 4-for-5 with a pair of doubles and three RBI. He got his four hits against four different pitchers. Boxscore

In the series finale on July 14, Dark was 3-for-3 with three RBI against starter Al Worthington in the Cardinals’ 5-2 triumph. Boxscore

Dark had seven hits in his last seven at-bats of the series.

“He’s a polished professional, a real leader who leads without being ostentatious,” Lane said of Dark.

Dark delivers

Dark hit .286 in 100 games for the 1956 Cardinals.

In 1957, his only full season with St. Louis, Dark batted .290 in 140 games, including 134 starts at shortstop. One of his best performances that season occurred on July 24 when he tripled twice _ first, off Sal Maglie, and then off Sandy Koufax _ and scored twice in a 3-0 Cardinals victory over the Dodgers. Boxscore

By 1958, Dark, 36, still could hit consistently but had lost fielding range. The Cardinals had a replacement, shortstop Eddie Kasko, on the roster. Dark hit .297 in 18 games for the 1958 Cardinals before he was traded to the Cubs on May 20 for pitcher Jim Brosnan.

Dark had 306 hits in 258 games over three seasons for the Cardinals and batted .289. He produced four hits in a game seven times for St. Louis.

Previously: Kolten Wong, Don Blasingame: Similar St. Louis 2nd sackers

Previously: Ken Boyer converted from infield to center field

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Jerry Reuss Banner

Jerry Reuss, left-handed pitcher and St. Louis native, joined his hometown Cardinals at age 20 in 1969. He was a neophyte on a team of championship-tested veterans such as Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Tim McCarver, Lou Brock and Curt Flood.

On Nov. 11, 2014, I visited the Dodgers Adult Baseball Camp at Historic Dodgertown in Vero Beach, Fla., to seek out Reuss for an interview about his time with the Cardinals. I found him as he climbed the stands at Holman Stadium after coaching a morning game between campers.

Dressed in a home white Dodgers uniform with the familiar No. 49, Reuss, 65, quickly and graciously accepted my request for an interview, inviting me to find a seat with him in the shade in the stands. We sat near the top row along the first-base line. Reuss answered every question and was patient, thoughtful, articulate and polite.

A graduate of Ritenour High School in St. Louis, Reuss was selected by the Cardinals in the second round of the 1967 amateur draft. (Their first-round pick was catcher Ted Simmons.) Reuss debuted with the Cardinals in September 1969 and pitched for them in 1970 and 1971. He had a 22-22 record with the Cardinals before he was traded to the Astros in April 1972.

In a 22-year major-league career, primarily with the Dodgers (nine years) and Pirates (six years), Reuss was 220-191 with a 3.64 ERA. In 2014, he published a book “Bring in the Right-hander,” an anecdote-rich retrospective on his career. You can order an autographed copy at his Web site www.jerryreuss.com.

Here is Part 1 of 2 of my interview with Jerry Reuss:

jerry_reuss3Q.: Early in the 1969 season, you were a 19-year-old left-hander assigned by the Cardinals to Class AAA Tulsa. The manager there was Warren Spahn, perhaps the best left-handed pitcher all-time. What was it like for you to play for him?

Reuss: “Warren was a Hall of Fame player. We weren’t of the caliber he was. We didn’t have the experience he had. Some of the things he was doing, well, it was just new to us. And, at least for me, I had no experience whatsoever. So, whatever Warren said, I said, ‘Let’s do it.’ I didn’t even know enough to ask questions.”

Q.: In your major-league debut for the Cardinals on Sept. 27, 1969, at Montreal, you started, pitched seven scoreless innings, gave up just two hits, drove in a run with a single and got the win in a 2-1 Cardinals victory. The bullpen gave up a run in the eighth. Do you recall that your first big-league hit was the game winner in your first big-league win?

Reuss: “That hit turned out to be the difference in the ballgame. It’s the dream of everybody: get to the major leagues, win a ballgame and then have something really special to talk about. It had a little bit of drama.”

Q.:  Your batterymate in your big-league debut was Tim McCarver, who had been the Cardinals’ catcher in three World Series. What was it like pitching to McCarver?

Reuss: “In that particular game, all I know is I wondered whether he could hear my knees shaking. We talk a little bit about that now when I see him. He says, ‘I remember that.’ I think he’s being nice. Here’s a guy who caught some very important World Series games for the Cardinals. If he remembers my first game, that is a hell of a memory.”

Q.: Ted Simmons was your catcher at Tulsa and then with the Cardinals. He’s known for his hitting. Does he get the credit he deserves as a catcher?

Reuss: “Probably not because of contemporaries like Johnny Bench, Steve Yeager. As far as his game-calling ability, Cardinals pitchers later on told me, ‘This guy thinks it through.’ He had a game plan for everybody who came to the plate and then made the adjustments if the hitter made adjustments. He’d go out and let the pitcher know, ‘This is what I’m seeing here. They’re changing their feet or moving this way.’

“He became a student of the game. That may have made up for his lack of ability in other areas. He wasn’t the quickest down to second base and he wasn’t always able to hold on to some pitches, particularly early in his career. But he turned into a pretty good receiver.”

Q.: What was Bob Gibson like as a teammate?

Reuss: “He was tough. He demanded excellence of himself and everybody who played behind him. His feeling was, ‘If I’m going to come out here and work this hard and give what I give _ and he was hurting at this time physically; his elbow was killing him _ then I expect everybody to play like that. I expect that same intensity from anybody else.’ And he wasn’t afraid to let people know about it.

“You respect a guy like that _ You don’t like him because nobody likes to get called on the carpet _ but when you have an earned run average of 1.12 and 28 complete games in 1968 and have what many would consider the greatest season a pitcher could ever have, it’s hard to get right up to him and say no. He knew what he was talking about.”

Q,: What did you think of your fellow left-hander on the Cardinals, Steve Carlton?

Reuss: “With St. Louis, he showed just how good he could be. I don’t know that if he had stayed with St. Louis that he’d have had those same kinds of seasons he later had with the Phillies. When he went to Philadelphia, he changed his mental outlook.

“He didn’t like to run. So there was a Phillies strength and conditioning coach, Gus Hoefling, who said, ‘You don’t have to do that. Here’s what we’ll do. I’ll give you all the conditioning that you need.’ Steve bought into it. He believed it. If you believe something, then there’s a good chance it is going to work for you.

“He believed it would work. As a result, he won 27 games in 1972. He started doing things his way and developed into a Hall of Fame pitcher.”

Next: In Part 2 of the interview, Jerry Reuss offers his views on Joe Torre and Gussie Busch.

Previously: Cardinals home opener links Michael Wacha, Jerry Reuss

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Paul Molitor is linked with Willie McGee and Darrell Porter as central figures in two of the most prominent plays in the 1982 World Series between the Brewers and Cardinals.

paul_molitorThirty-two years after he batted leadoff and played third base for the American League champion Brewers, Molitor was named manager of the Twins on Nov. 4, 2014.

Selected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2004 after a 21-year big-league career as a player for the Brewers, Blue Jays and Twins, Molitor had 3,319 hits, ranking 10th all-time.

In 1982, Molitor, along with Robin Yount, Cecil Cooper and Ted Simmons, played a prominent role in the Brewers winning their lone league championship.

Molitor then had a World Series versus the 1982 Cardinals that was both sensational and strange.

Here’s a look:

Hits record

Molitor became the first player to get five hits in a World Series game. After grounding out in the first inning, Molitor had five singles in his next five at-bats in Game 1 at St. Louis.

Only one other player, the Cardinals’ Albert Pujols in Game 3 of the 2011 World Series, has had five hits in a World Series game. Boxscore

Molitor got his five hits in Game 1 off three pitchers: Bob Forsch (singles in the second, fourth and sixth), Dave LaPoint (single in the eighth) and Jeff Lahti (single in the ninth). Boxscore

“He’s a heck of a ballplayer,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said to The Sporting News about Molitor. “But he had only one line drive. He had three infield singles and a broken-bat bloop. Nothing you can do to stop things like that.”

In the book “Where Have You Gone ’82 Brewers?,” Molitor said, “Five singles. Ozzie (Smith) dove and knocked down three of them at short and almost threw me out on two of them. It was a heck of a way to have your first World Series game unfold.”

Molitor and Yount (four hits in Game 1) were the first teammates to get four hits apiece in a World Series game since the Cardinals’ Joe Garagiola, Whitey Kurowski and Enos Slaughter each had four hits against the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 1946 World Series. Boxscore

Bashing at Busch

Molitor batted .355 (11-for-31) in the seven-game World Series in 1982.

Surprisingly, though, he hit .526 (10-for-19) in the four games at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and .083 (1-for-12) in the three games at County Stadium in Milwaukee.

After his 5-for-6 performance in Game 1, Molitor hit .240 (6-for-25) for the remainder of the World Series. When he grounded out to lead off Game 2, he missed a chance to tie Goose Goslin (1924 Senators) and Thurman Munson (1976) for the World Series record of hits in six consecutive at-bats.

Molitor was devastating when batting with runners in scoring position, hitting .714 (5-for-7) against the Cardinals.

Porter power

After the Brewers won Game 1, 10-0, at St. Louis, the Cardinals felt pressure to win Game 2 before heading to Milwaukee. In the eighth, the Cardinals scored a run, breaking a 4-4 tie.

Molitor led off the ninth against closer Bruce Sutter. In a matchup of future Hall of Famers, Molitor bunted for a single, increasing the pressure on Sutter and his catcher, Porter.

The next batter was another future Hall of Famer, Yount.

“I told Bruce to be sure to hold him (Molitor) close to the base because I figured they might either try a bunt or a steal,” Porter said to The Sporting News.

Brewers manager Harvey Kuenn called for a hit-and-run.

Said Porter: “I never thought they would try to hit and run.”

Sutter threw his signature pitch, the split-finger fastball. When thrown effectively, the ball dipped sharply into the dirt.

This time, Sutter made a mistake. The pitch stayed up, at shoulder level.

Yount, trying to hit the ball the opposite way to right field, swung and missed.

Porter fired a strike to second base and nailed Molitor on the botched hit-and-run attempt.

Sutter retired the next two batters and the Cardinals had their first World Series win since Game 4 of 1968. Boxscore

Robbed by McGee

In Game 3 at Milwaukee, Molitor led off the bottom of the first by smashing a Joaquin Andujar fastball into the teeth of a 16 mph wind in center field. McGee, the rookie center fielder, raced to the wall, 402 feet from home plate, climbed the canvas and made the catch.

Inspired, McGee went on to have one of the all-time best games in World Series lore, hitting two home runs, driving in four runs and making another leaping grab in the ninth to deprive Gorman Thomas of a two-run home run. Boxscore

Previously: George Hendrick influenced hitting style of John Mabry

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Performing an escape act on the sport’s grandest stage, the Cardinals were the first team to emerge victorious in a World Series that ended with the tying run on third base.

red_schoendienst9In Game 7 of the 2014 World Series, the Royals had the tying run (Alex Gordon) on third base with two outs in the ninth when Giants pitcher Madison Bumgarner got Salvador Perez to pop out to third, clinching the title for San Francisco.

That was the fourth time a World Series had ended with the tying run on third base, according to Jacob Pomrenke of the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR).

The first time it happened was in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series between the Red Sox and Cardinals.

(The 1962 and 1992 World Series also ended with the tying run on third. In Game 7 in 1962, Willie McCovey of the Giants lined out to second with two outs in the ninth, stranding Matty Alou on third with the tying run against the Yankees. In the decisive Game 6 in 1992, Otis Nixon of the Braves bunted into a ground out to pitcher Mike Timlin with two outs in the 11th, stranding John Smoltz on third with the tying run against the Blue Jays.)

Nervous ninth

Game 7 of the 1946 World Series is best remembered for the daring dash by Enos Slaughter from first to home on a hit by Harry Walker that scored the decisive run in the eighth inning, earning the Cardinals their third World Series championship in five years. What often is overlooked is that the Red Sox nearly tied the score in the ninth.

Like fellow left-hander Bumgarner in 2014, the Cardinals’ Harry Brecheen was pitching in relief in Game 7 in 1946 after having achieved wins in two starts in the World Series.

Rudy York led off the Red Sox ninth with a single and Bobby Doerr followed with another single, advancing York to second. Red Sox manager Joe Cronin replaced York with pinch-runner Paul Campbell.

That brought to the plate Pinky Higgins, 37, a 14-year big-league veteran. In what would be his last major-league at-bat, Higgins grounded to third baseman Whitey Kurowski, who threw to shortstop Marty Marion to get the force out on Doerr at second base.

Campbell advanced to third on the play.

With one out, Roy Partee batted next. A backup catcher, Partee had hit .315 in 1946.

Brecheen got him to pop out to first baseman Stan Musial for the second out.

Brecheen vs. McBride

Cronin then sent Tom McBride, a right-handed batter, to pinch-hit for pitcher Earl Johnson.

McBride had hit .301 in 1946, including .333 against left-handers.

In the press box, some expected Cronin to use Don Gutteridge as a pinch-runner for Higgins at first base. Cronin, though, didn’t make the move.

Brecheen threw McBride “a good screwball.” McBride rapped it on the ground. Red Schoendienst, the second baseman, got to the ball and gloved it, but the ball rolled up his arm.

In his book “Red: A Baseball Life,” Schoendienst wrote, “Just as I went to field the ball, it took a crazy hop and I blocked the ball with my left shoulder. Luckily, I was able to trap it.”

Schoendienst kept his cool and flipped a low, underhand toss to Marion, who caught it just in time to nip Higgins at second base for the final out.

In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial told writer Bob Broeg, “Our hearts stood still” as the ball rolled up Schoendienst’s arm. “Red looked like a magician pulling a rabbit out of his sleeve when he finally flipped the ball to Marion,” said Musial.

$40,000 assist

In the St. Louis Star-Times, Sid Keener reported that Schoendienst’s toss beat Higgins to the bag “by no more than a step.”

Wrote Keener: “Cronin’s critics insist Gutteridge would have beaten the play at second,” enabling Campbell to score from third with the tying run.

McBride told biographer Jim Sargent of SABR, “The ball I hit was a low liner right by Brecheen’s left knee, and when it went by Harry, I thought I had a hit … But the second baseman, Schoendienst, made a good play on the ball. He didn’t catch it clean. The ball bounced up and looked as if it balanced on the web of his glove. He picked it off and threw to second base for a force out.”

Said Schoendienst: “People began to refer to that play as the $40,000 assist because the $40,000 was the approximate difference between the total shares for the winning team and the losing side.”  Boxscore

The play had another benefit to Schoendienst. He wanted to marry his girlfriend, Mary, but her grandfather, Patrick O’Reilly, said he wasn’t keen about a “German” joining the family.

Said Mary: “He was still not sure about Red until he made that play. After the ball hit him in the chest, then rolled up his arm, and he still made the play and we won the game, then my grandfather said, ‘You can marry him now.’ “

Previously: Think Buster Posey is good? How about Joe Garagiola?

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Seventy-five years ago, a Cardinal was National League batting champion, but it wasn’t the player who nearly hit .400.

don_padgettIn 1939, Cardinals first baseman Johnny Mize won the league batting title with a .349 mark in 153 games. At that time, a player needed to appear in 100 games in a season to qualify for the National League batting crown.

Mize’s teammate, catcher Don Padgett, hit .399 in 92 games for the 1939 Cardinals. Padgett produced 93 hits in 233 at-bats. No National League player with at least 200 at-bats in a season has had a higher batting average since then, according to baseball-reference.com.

If not for bad timing, Padgett, 27, would have hit .400 that season.

Untimely time out

On Oct. 1, the last day of the 1939 season, the Cardinals played the Cubs at Chicago’s Wrigley Field. Padgett, a left-handed batter, was sent by manager Ray Blades to pinch-hit for pitcher Max Lanier against the Cubs starter, right-hander Claude Passeau.

Padgett lined a single to center, according to author John Snyder in the book “Cardinals Journal,” but the hit didn’t count. First-base umpire Bick Campbell had called time out just before Passeau delivered the pitch because a ball had rolled from the bullpen onto the field.

The hit in his final at-bat of the season would have given Padgett a .402 batting average.

Instead, Padgett returned to the batter’s box and drew a walk, settling for the .399 mark. Boxscore

Ripping righties

Two years later, Ted Williams of the Red Sox became the last big-league player to hit .400 in a season with at least 200 at-bats. Williams hit .406 in 1941.

Padgett was used almost exclusively against right-handed pitchers in 1939. He hit .399  (89-for-223) versus right-handers and .400 against left-handers (4-for-10). He was especially productive at home, hitting .455 (46-for-101) for the 1939 Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

Primarily a backup to starting catcher Mickey Owen, Padgett enjoyed a torrid June (.441 batting average) and July (.484). His batting average was .400 on Sept. 27. Then he went 1-for-3 against the Reds on Sept. 28, dropping his batting mark to .399 and setting up that final at-bat versus the Cubs three days later.

In five years with the Cardinals, Padgett hit .292 in 525 games. His career mark in eight big-league seasons with the Cardinals, Phillies, Dodgers and Braves was .288.

Previously: The strange case of Hugh Casey versus 1940 Cardinals

Previously: Baseball and romance: Cardinals’ Cuban adventures

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A highly regarded Cardinals outfield prospect died in a violent accident as he was on the verge of fulfilling his potential with the big-league club. The tragic story of Charlie Peete is chillingly similar to that of another star-crossed Cardinals phenom, Oscar Taveras.

Charlie_PeeteOn Nov. 27, 1956, four months after he had made his major-league debut with the Cardinals, Peete, 27, was killed in an airplane crash in Venezuela. His wife and three children also died in the crash.

Fifty-eight years later, on Oct. 26, 2014, five months after he had made his major-league debut with the Cardinals, Taveras, 22, was killed in a car crash in the Dominican Republic. His girlfriend also died in the crash.

Like Taveras, Peete was a potent left-handed batter. Playing for the Cardinals’ Omaha affiliate, managed by Johnny Keane, Peete was the 1956 batting champion of the Class AAA American Association. Like Taveras, Peete was planning to play winter ball and then report to spring training as a strong contender for a starting spot in the Cardinals’ outfield.

Path to the majors

Peete was born on Feb. 22, 1929, in Franklin, Va. He went to high school in Portsmouth, Va. After serving a two-year hitch in the Army, Peete began his professional baseball career with the independent Portsmouth team in the Piedmont League. The Cardinals signed him in 1954 and he quickly advanced to Class AAA the following year. Because of his thick build (190 pounds) on a short frame (5 feet 9), Peete was nicknamed “Mule.”

In July 1956, Peete was promoted from Omaha to the Cardinals. Hampered by a split thumb, he hit (10-for-52) .192 in 23 games for St. Louis and made 13 starts in center field.

There were some highlights.

Peete got his first major-league hit, a single to left, off the Dodgers’ Roger Craig on July 21, 1956, at St. Louis. Boxscore

Five days later, July 26, Peete had his most significant game in the majors, hitting a two-run triple off Phillies ace Robin Roberts, giving the Cardinals a 7-6 lead and propelling them to a 14-9 victory at Philadelphia. Boxscore

Peete also had a RBI-triple against the Pirates’ Ron Kline on Aug. 1 at Pittsburgh. Boxscore

Peete had his batting average above .250 before going into an 0-for-13 tailspin that led to his being sent back to Omaha. He finished the minor-league season with a .350 batting mark, winning the American Association hitting crown. The runner-up was Yankees shortstop prospect Tony Kubek, who hit .331 in 138 games for Denver.

The Sporting News wrote that Peete’s performance “made him one of the brightest prospects in the Redbirds system” and described him as a “highly regarded outfielder.”

Bill Bergesch, Omaha general manager, predicted to the Associated Press that Peete would be a Cardinals contributor in 1957. “I don’t think there’s any doubt about that,” Bergesch said. “He can do everything the rest of them (in the majors) do _ plus hit the ball a little harder than most.”

Disaster in Venezuela

Accepting a chance to play winter ball in Cuba, Peete signed with a Cienfuegos team that included Senators pitchers Camilo Pascual and Pedro Ramos and Dodgers shortstop Chico Fernandez. Peete expected to spend the winter in Cuba. But he slumped early and was released.

The Valencia team in the Venezuela winter league wanted Peete. He could have flown from Cuba to Venezuela to begin play. Instead, Peete chose to return to the United States to meet his wife, Nettie, and their children, Ken, Karen and Deborah, and bring them to Venezuela with him.

At 10 p.m. on Nov. 26, the Peete family boarded a commercial flight at Idlewild Airport in New York. The plane was scheduled to arrive in Caracas at about 7 a.m. on Nov. 27.

The flight was late. At 8:05 a.m., the French pilot, Capt. Marcel Combalbert, 34, radioed to the control tower that he was preparing his approach to the seaside airport.

It was raining and foggy. Clouds limited visibility.

About two miles from the airport, the four-engine Constellation slammed into a 6,000-foot mountain top. All 25 people _ 18 passengers and seven crew _ on board were killed.

“We are terribly shocked,” Cardinals general manager Frank Lane said. “It’s not a question of any effect on the ball club. It’s the terrible tragedy of the thing.”

Previously: Oscar Taveras, Eddie Morgan: Flashy starts to Cardinals careers

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