An overachiever with a team-oriented attitude, Joe McEwing was Tony La Russa’s kind of Cardinals player.
Speculation is McEwing, the former Cardinals second baseman, might be approached by La Russa to become manager of the Diamondbacks.
McEwing has been a coach with the White Sox since 2012. Before that, he was a manager for three seasons in the White Sox minor-league system. White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf is a close friend of La Russa, whose first big-league managing job was with the White Sox.
La Russa, chief baseball officer for the Diamondbacks, hasn’t said whether he’ll retain Kirk Gibson as manager. That’s fueled speculation about who else La Russa might consider.
Sub to starter
McEwing played for the Cardinals in 1998 and 1999 when La Russa was their manager. Called up from the minors in September 1998, McEwing, 25, made his big-league debut with the Cardinals and played in 10 games that month, batting .200 (4-for-20).
Ticketed for a utility role with the 1999 Cardinals, McEwing earned the second base job over Placido Polanco.
McEwing endeared himself to La Russa and Cardinals fans by putting together a 25-game hitting streak from June 8-July 4. He broke the Cardinals rookie record held by Johnny Mize (22-game streak in 1936). McEwing’s streak was the longest by a Cardinals player since Lou Brock (26 consecutive games) in 1971.
“I appreciate Cardinal history,” McEwing said to columnist Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch during the streak. “I’m a big fan of the game and to be mentioned in the same sentence with Johnny Mize, Lou Brock, Hall of Famers. You couldn’t ask for anything more.”
Asked whether he thought of the streak when he awoke each morning, McEwing replied to Miklasz, “When I get up, I worry about getting my coffee and doughnuts.”
The streak began with a pair of singles against Royals starter Chris Fussell on June 8 at Kansas City. Boxscore
It reached 25 games in a row on July 4 with a home run off Diamondbacks starter Andy Benes, a former Cardinal. Boxscore
“He plays each game like it’s the seventh game of the World Series,” La Russa said of McEwing during the streak. “He is never different.”
Willie McGee, who had a 22-game streak for the 1990 Cardinals, said McEwing “deserves it. He works hard … He’s an outstanding person and an outstanding player.”
Beaten by the best
McEwing’s streak was snapped by Diamondbacks left-hander Randy Johnson on July 5. McEwing was 0-for-4 that day against Johnson, who won the National League ERA title and the second of his five Cy Young awards in 1999. In his last at-bat, McEwing lined out to left in the seventh with the bases loaded and two outs. Boxscore
“I told him he just got beat by a Hall of Famer,” La Russa said.
Added McEwing: “It was a good run and I enjoyed it.”
McEwing hit .318 during the streak, with 13 runs scored.
Fifteen years later, his hitting streak remains the longest by a Cardinals rookie.
McEwing would finish the 1999 season with a .275 batting average and 141 hits, including 28 doubles, in 152 games. He paced the Cardinals with 16 infield hits and grounded into only three double plays in 513 at-bats. McEwing made 85 starts at second base, 18 in center field, 16 in left and eight in right.
After the season, the Cardinals acquired second baseman Fernando Vina from the Brewers. During spring training in March 2000, the Cardinals traded McEwing to the Mets for reliever Jesse Orosco. McEwing helped the Mets win their first pennant in 14 years, eliminating the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.
In eight big-league season with the Cardinals, Mets, Royals and Astros, McEwing batted .251 with 443 hits. That’s better than La Russa, who batted .199 with 35 hits in six seasons with the Athletics, Braves and Cubs before going on to a Hall of Fame managerial career.