Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Ten years ago, the Angels gave the Cardinals a perfect Christmas gift.

david_ecksteinOn Dec. 21, 2004, the Angels opted not to re-sign their shortstop, David Eckstein, making him a free agent.

The Cardinals, desperate to replace shortstop Edgar Renteria, who had become a free agent and signed with the Red Sox, hardly could believe their good fortune.

Eckstein was one player who filled two needs. He could replace Renteria at shortstop and he also could bat leadoff. Like Renteria, Tony Womack, who batted leadoff for the 2004 Cardinals, had become a free agent. Womack signed with the Yankees.

Pouncing on the opportunity to acquire a player described by general manager Walt Jocketty as “a perfect fit,” the Cardinals signed Eckstein on Dec. 23, two days after he became available.

It was a move they’d never regret, one that felt right from the very moment it occurred.

Eckstein ignited the Cardinals with his hustle, heart and smarts, leading them to two postseason appearances and a 2006 World Series championship.

Shortstop roulette

Though Eckstein had sparked the Angels to their only World Series title in 2002 and had led American League shortstops in fielding percentage in 2004, the Angels sought an upgrade, citing Eckstein’s lack of arm strength as a liability.

Meanwhile, Renteria, a three-time all-star with the Cardinals, had bolted to the Red Sox, who gave him a four-year, $40 million contract.

With Renteria joining Boston, Orlando Cabrera, the shortstop who helped the Red Sox sweep the Cardinals in the 2004 World Series, declared for free agency. The Angels pursued him, offering a four-year, $32 million deal. When Cabrera accepted, Eckstein became expendable.

According to the Associated Press, the Cardinals, unable to find a suitable replacement for Renteria, were considering signing shortstop Barry Larkin, 40, who had become a free agent after 19 seasons with the Reds. When Eckstein became available, the Cardinals called with a three-year, $10.2 million offer.

Eckstein, 29, accepted. It was a bargain for the Cardinals.

“They were very aggressive,” Eckstein said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They were pretty much the first team to call … It was clear that this was a good fit. The best fit.”

John Mozeliak, the Cardinals’ assistant general manager, told the Associated Press, “David was the player we focused on right away after Cabrera signed.”

Said Jocketty to Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch: “We felt this was the guy, the perfect fit for our club for a lot of reasons. For his personality, for the way he goes about playing the game. He’s a gamer through and through. He’s the kind of player St. Louis will embrace. I think he will become a cult hero with our fans. He’s a hustler.”

Angels players and media were disappointed Eckstein departed.

Wrote San Bernardino Sun columnist Paul Oberjuerge: “The Angels just shot Bambi.”

Said Angels first baseman Darin Erstad to MLB.com: “He’s been the heart and soul of the team, an inspiration for all of us.”

Size doesn’t matter

Eckstein, 5 feet 6, 170 pounds, had 156 hits in 142 games for the 2004 Angels. He struck out just 49 times in 637 plate appearances. He made only six errors in 138 games at shortstop.

In the 2002 World Series against the Giants, Eckstein batted .310 with nine hits, three walks and six runs scored for the Angels.

Wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, “Eckstein is the kind of old-school player who commands such great respect and appreciation in St. Louis, a traditional baseball town.”

Rex Hudler, an Angels broadcaster who had been a hustling utilityman for the Cardinals from 1990-92, told Miklasz that he had named his son, David, in honor of Eckstein.

“He’s going to be revered as the new Huckleberry Finn of St. Louis and Missouri,” Hudler said of Eckstein.

Hudler said his 8-year-old daughter cried when she learned Eckstein was leaving the Angels. “Kids are his biggest fans,” Hudler said. “The children look up to him and relate to him because he’s so small … He inspires all of those kids who have been told they aren’t good enough.”

Asked about Eckstein’s subpar arm, Hudler replied, “He’s so smart. Extremely intelligent. He studies the hitters. He positions himself perfectly. He’s always in the right place. The ball comes right to him. I’ve never seen him make a mental mistake.”

Said Eckstein: “I don’t really look like your typical pro athlete. It means I always have to prove myself … I don’t want to lose that edge.”

St. Louis sparkplug

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa was delighted by the acquisition, calling Eckstein “a winning player.”

After speaking with La Russa, Eckstein told the Associated Press, “Mr. La Russa just said to play my game, be a pest at the plate and play solid defense.”

That’s exactly what Eckstein did for the Cardinals.

In three seasons (2005-07) as the St. Louis shortstop, Eckstein twice was named an all-star. He batted .297 with 465 hits in 398 career games for the Cardinals. He had a .357 on-base percentage with them. In 2005, Eckstein ranked second among National League shortstops in both assists (517) and double plays turned (123).

His crowning achievement came in 2006 when he was named winner of the World Series Most Valuable Player Award. Eckstein hit .364 (8-for-22) in the five-game series versus the Tigers, with four RBI and three runs scored.

Previously: 4 Series aces for Cards: Gibson, Porter, Eckstein, Freese

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Before Johnny Mize played a game for the Cardinals, they gave up on him and gave him away to the Reds.

Fortunately for the Cardinals, the Reds gave him back.

johnny_mize5During six seasons as the Cardinals’ first baseman, Mize would win a National League batting title (.349 in 1939), a RBI crown (137 in 1940) and twice would lead the league in home runs (28 in 1939 and 43 in 1940).

In three consecutive years (1938-40) with the Cardinals, Mize led the NL in slugging percentage and total bases. Nicknamed “The Big Cat,” Mize was a four-time all-star with St. Louis. He would be elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

The story of how Mize transformed into one of the Cardinals’ all-time sluggers is filled with a dizzying array of twists and turns.

Rich Reds

In 1934, Mize, 21, was with the Cardinals’ minor-league Rochester (N.Y.) affiliate. His season was cut short because of a groin injury. In 90 games, Mize hit .339 with 17 home runs.

Larry MacPhail, the Reds’ brash general manager, needed sluggers for a team that ranked last in the major leagues in runs scored (590) in 1934. MacPhail saw Mize as a cornerstone for that rebuilding project.

Jim Bottomley was the Reds’ first baseman. Bottomley, who would be elected to the Hall of Fame, had been a standout for the Cardinals, helping them win two World Series titles (1926 and 1931) and four pennants. He won the NL Most Valuable Player Award in 1928 when he produced 42 doubles, 20 triples, 31 home runs and 136 RBI. The Cardinals traded him to the Reds in December 1932.

Though he hit .284 with 31 doubles for the 1934 Reds, Bottomley, 34, had peaked as a run producer.

Powel Crosley, the Cincinnati radio manufacturer and broadcasting titan, had purchased the Reds in 1934 and was willing to spend money to revive a franchise that had finished in last place in the NL that year. In December 1934, MacPhail approached the Cardinals and offered $55,000 for Mize.

It was an astonishing sum at a time when the nation still was staggered by the economic hardships of the Great Depression. MacPhail’s offer topped the $50,000 the Yankees had paid the San Francisco Seals a month earlier for their highly touted prospect, outfielder Joe DiMaggio.

The Cardinals, who had won the 1934 World Series championship, were quite willing to accept such a large sum for a hobbled player who never had appeared in the big leagues.

Eighty years ago, on Dec. 13, 1934, the Cardinals sent Mize to the Reds.

String attached

“Whatever happens to the Reds (in 1935), it cannot be said (they) have not put plenty of cash and industry into their efforts,” The Sporting News reported. “The substantial sum of $55,000 was turned over to the Cards for (Mize) … There is ample reason for believing that Mize will prove well worth the expenditure. He is a strapping youngster … who puts a great deal of power into his swing.”

The deal came with one important condition. Wrote The Sporting News: “As for the injury, so confident are the Cardinals that it will not prove a hardship that they have guaranteed the first sacker will be sound for 1935, which means that if the injury still handicaps the player, the Reds need not keep him but instead may return him and get back the money paid for his services.”

As spring training started in February 1935, Mize told reporters he was “entirely recovered” from the groin injury. The Sporting News speculated Bottomley would be traded to the Cubs or Giants.

After watching Mize perform, though, it became evident something was wrong with him. It later was determined spurs had developed on his pelvic bone, restricting his movement and causing pain.

Return to sender

On April 15, 1935, the Reds voided the deal, returning Mize to the Cardinals the day before the start of the season.

Assigned to Rochester, Mize played in 65 games and hit .317 with 12 home runs until the pain became too intense to continue. With his career in jeopardy, Mize agreed to surgery after the season.

In December 1935, The Sporting News reported, “Mize recently underwent an operation to correct a condition that interfered with the free action of his legs … The surgery (Mize) submitted to was for the removal of a growth on the pelvic arch and it has been pronounced a success.”

The report was accurate. Mize opened the 1936 season with the Cardinals and soon after took over from Rip Collins as the everyday first baseman. The rookie hit .329 with a team-leading 19 home runs and 93 RBI for the 1936 Cardinals.

In six seasons with St. Louis (1936-41), Mize batted .336 with 1,048 hits in 854 games. His .600 slugging percentage with the Cardinals ranks third all-time in franchise history and first among left-handed batters. The only players with higher career slugging percentages as Cardinals are Mark McGwire (.683) and Albert Pujols (.617).

Mize also ranks fifth all-time among Cardinals in career on-base percentage. At .419, Mize is just below Pujols (.420) and just ahead of Stan Musial (.417).

On Dec. 11, 1941, seven years after they sent him to the Reds, the Cardinals traded Mize to the Giants for catcher Ken O’Dea, first baseman Johnny McCarthy, pitcher Bill Lohrman and $50,000.

Previously: How Mark McGwire learned about Johnny Mize

Previously: Johnny Mize and his 4 three-homer games for Cardinals

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In losing their closer and top run producer within a six-day stretch in December 1984, the Cardinals appeared to be a franchise in danger of decline.

george_hendrick2Instead, they became champions.

With Bruce Sutter (45 saves, 1.54 ERA) and George Hendrick (28 doubles and 69 RBI), the 1984 Cardinals achieved 84 wins and finished 12.5 games behind the champion Cubs in the National League East.

Without Sutter and Hendrick, the 1985 Cardinals achieved 101 wins and clinched the National League pennant.

On Dec. 7, 1984, Sutter, a free agent, signed with the Braves. Five days later, on Dec. 12, the Cardinals dealt Hendrick and minor-league third baseman Steve Barnard to the Pirates for Tudor and utility player Brian Harper.

Distraught by the trade of a player who had led the Cardinals in RBI for five consecutive years (1980-84) and in home runs for four seasons in a row (1980-83), second baseman Tommy Herr told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, “It’s hard to understand. I think we’ve taken some serious steps backward. … I don’t know why they would trade George, especially to a team in our division. I don’t see how our lineup can withstand the loss of a guy like George.”

Strengthen rotation

Sutter’s departure had created an urgency for the Cardinals to find a No. 2 starter to join ace Joaquin Andujar as starters who could pitch deep into games. Without Sutter, the Cardinals are “going to have to have our starters go like hell and get us to the eighth inning,” manager Whitey Herzog told The Sporting News.

Hendrick, 35, was deemed expendable because the Cardinals believed they had candidates to replace him.

Cardinals general manager Joe McDonald told United Press International, “We are sorry to give up George Hendrick and wish him well, but young outfielders like Andy Van Slyke and, a little further into the future, Vince Coleman are deserving of their chances and I’m sure they’ll respond in a way St. Louis fans like.”

In his book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said Hendrick “became one of the most respected players on my team. When I traded him to the Pirates, it was only out of baseball necessity.”

Tudor, 30, had a 12-11 record for the 1984 Pirates. McDonald noted, though, that the left-hander had yielded fewer hits (200) than innings pitched (217) and had 117 strikeouts compared with 56 walks. “What I like about him is his ratio of bases on balls to strikeouts,” said McDonald.

Positive Pirates

The Pirates, who had finished in last place in the six-team NL East in 1984, were confident Hendrick would produce runs and excite the fan base. “It was a deal that general manager Pete Peterson needed to convince Pittsburgh fans that there is a desire to improve the club,” wrote The Sporting News.

Said Peterson: “I think Hendrick can hit 20 home runs and drive in 80 runs … I rate him as one of the best clutch hitters in the game.”

Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock said Hendrick “will take pressure off our hitters.”

Eight days later, on Dec. 20, the Pirates acquired another run-producing outfielder, Steve Kemp, from the Yankees.

The deals, however, were busts for the Pirates and a boon for the Cardinals.

Terrific Tudor

Tudor was both the winner and the workhorse McDonald and Herzog had hoped he would be for the 1985 Cardinals. After losing seven of his first eight decisions, Tudor won 20 of his last 21. He and Andujar each had 21 wins for the 1985 Cardinals. In 36 starts, Tudor pitched 275 innings and recorded 10 shutouts. His ERA was 1.93.

In his book, Herzog said Tudor “never threw a ball over 85 mph in his life.” Herzog credited a “now-you-see-it changeup” for Tudor’s turnaround.

“John Tudor was the most amazing pitcher I ever saw,” Herzog wrote.

Van Slyke, 24, adequately replaced Hendrick in right field. Van Slyke had 25 doubles and his 13 home runs ranked second on the club.

Coleman, 23, was promoted from the minors in mid-April and became the everyday left fielder, igniting the offense with 170 hits and 110 steals.

First baseman Jack Clark, acquired from the Giants two months after Hendrick was traded, delivered 22 home runs and 87 RBI.

Herzog deftly handled a closer committee of Jeff Lahti, Ken Dayley, Bill Campbell and Neil Allen until rookie Todd Worrell became the stopper in September.

Danny Cox (18 wins) joined Andujar and Tudor in creating a formidable rotation that also included Kurt Kepshire (10 wins) and Bob Forsch (nine wins).

Meanwhile, the Pirates regressed. They were 57-104, finishing 43.5 games behind the 1985 Cardinals. Hendrick hit .230 with two home runs and 25 RBI in 69 games. Kemp hit .250 with two home runs and 21 RBI in 92 games.

Previously: Down to last strike, George Hendrick spoiled Reds no-hit bid

Previously: George Hendrick influenced hitting style of John Mabry

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(Updated Dec. 8, 2014)

Jim Kaat is a candidate for election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame because of his pitching and fielding achievements. He also accomplished base running and hitting feats for the Cardinals that enhance his status as a special baseball player.

jim_kaat4Kaat, one of 10 finalists on the Golden Era ballot for election to the Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y., was 41 when he stole a base and hit a home run in separate games for the 1980 Cardinals.

At an age when most players are retired, Kaat still pitched effectively and remained a complete ballplayer.

Speed demon

On June 23, 1980, two months after he had been acquired from the Yankees, Kaat earned the win and pitched a complete game for the Cardinals in their 6-1 victory over the Pirates at St. Louis. Kaat didn’t allow a walk or an extra-base hit. He held the Pirates scoreless over the last seven innings and earned his 266th career win, tying Hall of Famer Bob Feller.

In the seventh, he stole a base.

Bobby Bonds was at the plate when Kaat dashed for second. Bonds took a pitch from Enrique Romo. Catcher Steve Nicosia gunned a throw to Phil Garner, covering second. Kaat beat the peg.

The fans at Busch Stadium rewarded him with a standing ovation.

In its account of the game, the Associated Press wrote, “It was the aging hurler’s speed that brought the customers to their feet … The accomplishment nearly overshadowed his hurling.”

Said Kaat: “It was the element of surprise. I had a good lead. It was worth it.” Boxscore

The steal was Kaat’s first in nine years. He was 32 when he swiped a base for the Twins against Yankees pitcher Stan Bahnsen and catcher Thurman Munson on July 30, 1971.

His stolen base for the Cardinals was Kaat’s fifth and last in a 25-year career (1959-83) in the majors.

Sultan of swat

Two months after his steal for the Cardinals, Kaat hit a home run for them.

On Aug. 26, 1980, Kaat homered off the Astros’ Joe Niekro at St. Louis.

“He hit a knuckleball up,” Niekro said to the Associated Press. “He’s a pretty good hitter. I’ve got a brother (Phil) who is 41 and he hits home runs. It’s not the first time I gave up one to a pitcher and it probably won’t be the last.” Boxscore

The home run was the last of 16 hit by Kaat. He slugged his first 18 years earlier on June 19, 1962, off Dom Zanni of the White Sox.

(The oldest player to hit a big-league home run was Mets first baseman Julio Franco, 48, against Randy Johnson of the Diamondbacks on May 4, 2007. Franco was three months shy of his 49th birthday.)

Going strong

Exactly one year after his home run, Kaat, 42, got his last big-league hit, a single for the Cardinals against 25-year-old Giants rookie Bob Tufts on Aug. 26, 1981. Boxscore

The next year, Kaat, 43, appeared in 62 regular-season games for the Cardinals (earning five wins and two saves) and pitched in four games of the 1982 World Series against the Brewers.

He pitched his last game at 44, tossing 1.1 scoreless innings in relief of Joaquin Andujar for the Cardinals against the Pirates on July 1, 1983, at Pittsburgh. Boxscore

Kaat was 19-16 with 10 saves in four seasons (1980-83) with the Cardinals.

He’s a Hall of Fame candidate primarily because his 283 career wins rank eighth all-time among left-handers and because he won 16 Gold Glove awards for fielding. He has more career wins than several Hall of Famers, including Jim Palmer (268), Carl Hubbell (253), Bob Gibson (251) and Juan Marichal (243).

Kaat and three other former Cardinals players _ Dick Allen, Ken Boyer and Minnie Minoso _ and former Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam are being reviewed by a 16-person Golden Era committee for Hall of Fame consideration. The other five on the ballot are former players Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

The Golden Era covers the period of 1947 to 1972. A Golden Era candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes (12 of 16) to earn election. Kaat received 10 votes when Golden Era candidates were considered in 2011.

Results will be announced Dec. 8, 2014. (Update: None of the 10 finalists was elected. Allen and Oliva each received 11 votes. Kaat got 10. Wills got nine. Minoso got eight. Receiving three or fewer votes were Boyer, Hodges, Howsam, Pierce and Tiant.)

Committee members are Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

Kaat was a teammate of Carew (Twins), Smith (Cardinals) and Watson (Yankees). Pepe co-wrote a book with Kaat.

Previously: Jim Kaat revived both his career and the Cardinals

Previously: Jim Kaat interview: 1982 Cardinals were most close-knit club

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(Updated Dec. 8, 2014)

In 1964, Ken Boyer showed the qualities one would expect in a Hall of Fame player. The Cardinals third baseman consistently excelled with the glove and with the bat. He was a champion and a leader. He achieved feats that ranked him among the elite at his position all-time.

ken_boyer8Fifty years later, in 2014, Boyer still hasn’t been elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y. The only other third basemen of the 1958-64 era who fielded and hit at the same level as Boyer were Brooks Robinson of the Orioles, Eddie Mathews of the Braves and Ron Santo of the Cubs. All three have been elected to the Hall of Fame.

Boyer is one of 10 finalists on the Golden Era ballot under consideration for Hall of Fame election. He and three other former Cardinals players _ Dick Allen, Jim Kaat and Minnie Minoso _ and former Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam are being reviewed by a 16-person Golden Era committee. The other five on the ballot are former players Gil Hodges, Tony Oliva, Billy Pierce, Luis Tiant and Maury Wills.

A Golden Era candidate must receive 75 percent of the votes (12 of 16) to earn election. Results will be announced Dec. 8, 2014.

(Update: None of the 10 finalists was elected. Allen and Oliva each received 11 votes. Kaat got 10. Wills got nine. Minoso got eight. Receiving three or fewer votes were Boyer, Hodges, Howsam, Pierce and Tiant.)

Committee members are Hall of Famers Jim Bunning, Rod Carew, Pat Gillick, Ferguson Jenkins, Al Kaline, Joe Morgan, Ozzie Smith and Don Sutton; baseball executives Jim Frey, David Glass, Roland Hemond and Bob Watson; and media members Steve Hirdt, Dick Kaegel, Phil Pepe and Tracy Ringolsby.

Boyer also received three or fewer votes when Golden Era candidates were first considered in 2011.

Special player

Though one outstanding year doesn’t qualify anyone for the Hall of Fame, Boyer’s 1964 season is important because it caps a seven-year stretch of consistently high quality and puts into context how Boyer elevated himself into a special category of third basemen.

Boyer, 33, played in all 162 Cardinals regular-season games in 1964. He led the major leagues in RBI with 119. Boyer also ranked in the top five in the National League in triples (10) and walks (70). He hit .295 with 185 hits, 30 doubles and 24 home runs. He scored 100 runs. His on-base percentage was .365.

Among NL third basemen in 1964, Boyer ranked second in both assists and double plays turned.

Calm and steady

His immense value to the Cardinals was proven with these statistics: Boyer hit .335 with 91 RBI in the Cardinals’ 93 wins in 1964; .238 with 28 RBI in the Cardinals’ 69 losses.

Remarkably consistent, Boyer in 1964 hit .296 against right-handed pitching; .291 versus left-handers.

Boyer was at his best against the Cardinals’ closest competitors, the Phillies and the Reds. Each finished a game behind the pennant-winning Cardinals. Boyer hit .351 with 17 RBI in 18 games against the 1964 Phillies; .309 with 13 RBI in 18 games versus the 1964 Reds.

In a profile of the Cardinals team captain in the Nov. 14, 1964, edition of The Sporting News, Ed Wilks wrote that Boyer “does everything well, but in the calm, steady, unspectacular fashion of a professional.”

Said Boyer: “The (1964) season couldn’t have been more satisfying. I think I did just about everything I had hoped to do.”

Rewarding year

Among the feats Boyer achieved in 1964:

_ He won the NL Most Valuable Player Award. Boyer became only the second NL third baseman and just the fourth in the big leagues to win a MVP Award. The others were Bob Elliott of the 1947 Braves in the NL and Al Rosen of the 1953 Indians and Brooks Robinson of the 1964 Orioles in the American League.

The top five in balloting for 1964 NL MVP were Boyer, Johnny Callison of the Phillies, Bill White of the Cardinals, Frank Robinson of the Reds and Joe Torre of the Braves. Boyer received 14 of 20 first-place votes.

“That’s a lot when there are only 20 votes altogether and you have all that strong competition,” Boyer said. “Fourteen must be my lucky number. That’s my uniform number.”

_ The Sporting News named Boyer its Major League Player of the Year. He became the third Cardinals player to earn the honor, joining Marty Marion (1944) and Stan Musial (1946 and 1951).

_ For exemplifying the qualities of Lou Gehrig on and off the field, Boyer was presented the Lou Gehrig Memorial Award by the late Yankees first baseman’s Phi Delta Theta fraternity at Columbia University. He joined Musial (1957) as the second Cardinals player to receive the honor.

Run producer supreme

_ He became the first third baseman to lead the NL in RBI since Heinie Zimmerman (102) of the 1917 Giants. Boyer also was the first Cardinals player to lead the major leagues in RBI since Enos Slaughter (130) in 1946 and the first Cardinals player to lead the NL in RBI since Musial (109) in 1956.

_ Named to the all-star team for the seventh and last time, Boyer started at third base in the 1964 Midsummer Classic at Shea Stadium in New York and went 2-for-4, with a home run off Athletics reliever John Wyatt, in a 7-4 NL victory. Boxscore

_ Despite a hamstring injury, Boyer played in all seven games of the 1964 World Series against the Yankees. He hit a grand slam off Al Downing for all the Cardinals’ runs in a 4-3 Game 4 triumph Boxscore and produced three hits, including a solo home run against Steve Hamilton, in the Cardinals’ championship-clinching 7-5 victory in Game 7. Boxscore

_ The 1964 season was the last of seven in a row in which Boyer hit 23 or more home runs and produced 90 or more RBI.

Previously: If Ron Santo goes into Hall, Ken Boyer should, too

Previously: Ken and Clete Boyer: 1st brothers to each hit 25 HRs

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As an 11-year-old Cardinals fan, Bill Mueller attended Game 7 of the 1982 World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and witnessed his hometown team clinch the championship against the Brewers.

bill_muellerTwenty-two years later, Mueller returned to a World Series for the first time.

As a 33-year-old big-league veteran, Mueller was the third baseman for the Red Sox in Game 4 of the 2004 World Series at Busch Stadium in St. Louis and witnessed Boston break the hearts of his hometown team by clinching the championship against the Cardinals.

Ten years after that, Mueller has come full circle.

On Nov. 17, 2014, Mueller was named assistant hitting coach of the Cardinals, replacing David Bell, who was promoted to bench coach after Mike Aldrete departed for a coaching job with the Athletics. Mueller had been hitting coach of the Cubs during the 2014 season. He will serve under Cardinals hitting coach John Mabry in 2015.

McGee a favorite

A native of the St. Louis suburb of Maryland Heights, Mo., Mueller grew up a Cardinals fan. Center fielder Willie McGee was his favorite player, Mueller told Jeff Horrigan of the Boston Herald in October 2004.

As a rookie in 1982, McGee sparked the Cardinals to their first National League pennant in 14 years. After splitting the first six games of the 1982 World Series with the Brewers, the Cardinals faced a Game 7 showdown at Busch Stadium.

Mueller attended the game with his father. Their seats were in the upper deck of the outfield. “The nosebleed section,” Mueller told The Patriot Ledger of Quincy, Mass., in 2004.

The Brewers’ Ben Oglive smacked a home run off Joaquin Andujar near the section where the Muellers sat. That’s one of Bill Mueller’s enduring memories of the game. What’s most memorable, of course, is that the Cardinals won, 6-3, earning their first World Series title since 1967. “Pretty cool,” Mueller said of the experience. Boxscore

Turning pro

Mueller became a baseball standout at De Smet Jesuit High School in Creve Coeur, Mo., and at Missouri State University in Springfield. He was drafted by the Giants and made his big-league debut with them in 1996.

In his first appearance at Busch Stadium with the Giants in August 1996, Mueller got five hits in 10 at-bats during a four-game series. Three years later, on May 25, 1999, Mueller hit a grand slam off Kent Mercker at Busch Stadium before more than 30 family and friends in a 17-1 Giants victory over the Cardinals. Boxscore

After the 2000 season, the Giants traded Mueller to the Cubs. He spent two years in Chicago, became a free agent and signed with the Red Sox. In his first season with Boston, Mueller was the 2003 American League batting champion, hitting .326 in 146 games.

Mueller vs. Rolen

The next season, Mueller helped Boston win the American League pennant, their first since 1986. He would be going to the World Series for the first time as a player and for the only time since he attended as a fan in 1982.

“That (1982) was my last experience with a World Series and now I’m going back for a World Series in St. Louis and I’m part of it,” Mueller said to Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on the eve of the 2004 World Series. “It’s really a pretty amazing thing when you think about it.”

In most media previews of the 2004 World Series, the Cardinals, with Scott Rolen, were rated as having the advantage at third base over Mueller and the Red Sox. Rolen had hit 34 home runs with 124 RBI during the regular season and would win his fifth consecutive Gold Glove Award in 2004.

Mueller, though, proved the experts wrong.

The Red Sox swept the Cardinals, winning the first two games at Boston and the next two at Busch Stadium, and earned their first World Series championship since 1918, ending what some considered to be a curse placed on the franchise after it had traded Babe Ruth to the Yankees.

Mueller played an integral role in Boston’s dominance of the Cardinals. He batted .429 (6-for-14) with four walks in the World Series. His on-base percentage was .556. He scored three runs and drove in two.

His counterpart, Rolen, was hitless in 15 at-bats.

Previously: Paul Molitor vs. Cardinals: Sensational, strange 1982 World Series

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