Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

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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Unable to supplant either Lou Brock, Bake McBride or Reggie Smith as an outfield starter, Jose Cruz left the Cardinals in 1974 and fulfilled his potential with the Astros. Forty years later, there appears to be parallels between Cruz and a highly touted 2014 Cardinals outfield prospect, Oscar Taveras.

jose_cruzThe Cardinals should learn a lesson from their mistake with Cruz and show patience with Taveras.

Though he had been a sensation in the minor leagues and in the Dominican winter league, Taveras, a left-handed batter and right fielder, struggled with the 2014 Cardinals and failed to earn a spot as a regular.

Though he had been a sensation in the minor leagues and in the Puerto Rican winter league, Cruz, a left-handed batter and right fielder, struggled with the Cardinals after debuting with them in 1970. His stock dropped so low that the Cardinals didn’t even get a player in return for him.

Instant upgrade

On Oct. 24, 1974, the Cardinals sent Cruz, 27, to the Astros in a cash transaction for $25,000.

A grateful Preston Gomez, the Astros’ manager, told The Sporting News, “This boy Cruz is better than anybody we had on the ball club last year. He can hit with power, has better than average speed and he has a good arm.”

(Gomez had his eye on Cruz for several years. In 1971, as manager of the Padres, Gomez told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was impressed by Cruz and teammate Luis Melendez. “I like Cruz the best of the lot,” Gomez said of the Cardinals outfield prospects in April 1971. “But Melendez is quite a ballplayer, too … I’d take either him or Cruz right now. I wish we had something to offer the Cardinals.”)

Cruz spent 13 seasons with the Astros, batting .292 with 1,937 hits in 1,870 games. He twice was named a National League all-star (1980 and 1985), won two Silver Sluggers awards (1983-84), led the league in hits (with 189 in 1983) and helped the Astros to the first three postseason appearances in franchise history.

Struggles in St. Louis

Though impressed by his range and arm, the Cardinals had found Cruz to be an undisciplined hitter, who regularly swung at bad pitches.

Cruz made 89 outfield starts for the 1972 Cardinals and batted .235 overall. In 1973, he made 110 outfield starts for St. Louis and hit .227 overall.

By 1974, Cruz was relegated primarily to being a pinch-hitter and late-inning defensive replacement. He made only 25 outfield starts for the 1974 Cardinals and batted .261 overall. He hit .217 as a pinch-hitter that season.

Forgotten man

“The Redbirds had been losing patience with Cruz, who seemed to be leaving too many hits in the winter leagues, which he burned up,” The Sporting News reported.

With Jerry Mumphrey, Jim Dwyer and Larry Herndon also vying for outfield playing time, the Cardinals deemed Cruz expendable. The Sporting News described Cruz as “a forgotten man” most of the 1974 season.

In five seasons with the Cardinals, Cruz batted .247 with just 298 hits in 445 games, 26 home runs and 128 RBI.

With Bob Watson moving from the outfield to first base, Cruz was handed the Astros’ starting right field job in 1975. Gomez was fired that season _ he became a Cardinals coach for manager Red Schoendienst in 1976 _  but Cruz remained a starting outfielder for Houston every season through 1987.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals ended up with a void in right field. Reggie Smith was traded to the Dodgers in 1976. The Cardinals tried Hector Cruz, Jose’s brother, as the right fielder in 1977 and then Jerry Morales in 1978. It wasn’t until 1979, when George Hendrick took over, that the position finally stabilized.

Previously: Ron Plaza was mentor to Steve Carlton, Jose Cruz

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Teetering on the brink of another letdown in their bid to end a pennant drought, the Cardinals got the matchup they sought against the Astros in Game 6 of the 2004 National League Championship Series. Jim Edmonds provided the desired result.

jim_edmonds4Ten years ago, on Oct. 20, 2004, Edmonds launched a two-run, walkoff home run in the 12th inning, ending a tense drama and carrying the Cardinals to a 6-4 victory at St. Louis.

At the time, Edmonds joined Ozzie Smith (Game 5 of the 1985 National League Championship Series) as the only Cardinals to end postseason games with walkoff home runs. Edmonds was the first Cardinals hitter to do so in an elimination game. Since then, two others _ David Freese (Game 6 of 2011 World Series) and Kolten Wong (Game 2 of 2014 National League Championship Series) _ have produced walkoff home runs in Cardinals postseason victories.

Kept alive by Edmonds’ home run, the Cardinals won Game 7 _ helped, in part, by a diving catch by Edmonds that prevented two runs from scoring in the second inning _  and earned their first National League pennant in 17 years.

Under manager Tony La Russa, the Cardinals had gotten to the National League Championship Series three previous times (1996, 2000 and 2002) but couldn’t clinch a pennant.

It appeared for a while during Game 6 in 2004 that the Cardinals would fall short again.

Sense of dread

After scoring four runs in the first 2.1 innings off starter Peter Munro, the Cardinals were held scoreless by four Astros relievers _ Chad Harville, Chad Qualls, Dan Wheeler and Brad Lidge _ over the next 8.2 innings.

Lidge, the Astros’ closer, had been especially dominating. Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, described Lidge as “bulletproof.”

Lidge, who entered in the ninth, retired all nine batters he faced. He struck out five, including Edmonds. Only one batter, pinch-hitter Marlon Anderson, who flied to left in the 11th, hit a ball out of the infield against Lidge.

Miklasz wrote that “a growing sense of dread spread through Busch Stadium” as Lidge mowed down the Cardinals.

Lidge, though, had been stretched to the limit with his three innings of relief. He had appeared in 80 games during the regular season and never had worked more than a two-inning stint.

In the 12th, manager Phil Garner lifted Lidge and, in so doing, lifted the spirits of the Cardinals and their fans.

High pitch, high drive

Dan Miceli, 34, a right-hander pitching for his 10th big-league team, replaced Lidge.

Miceli walked the leadoff batter, Albert Pujols. Scott Rolen then popped out to the catcher.

Edmonds stepped to the plate. This was the matchup La Russa wanted.

In the 2004 regular season, left-handed batters hit .307 versus Miceli, with seven home runs.

Edmonds, with his upper-cut swing, had hit 37 of his 42 home runs against right-handers in 2004. More than half of Edmonds’ hits (83 of 150) that season were for extra bases.

“I was yelling at him, ‘Hit a line drive. Let’s get first and third.’ That’s all I wanted,” La Russa said to the Associated Press.

On an 0-and-1 pitch, Edmonds got a high, tight fastball. He whipped the bat around and connected, sending the ball on a majestic arch over the right-field fence before it crashed against the wall behind the Cardinals’ bullpen. Check out the You Tube video.

“I got the pitch up again and they hit it out again,” said Miceli, who had yielded home runs to Pujols and Rolen in the eighth inning of Game 2.

Said Edmonds: “I wasn’t trying to go deep. I was just trying to hit the ball hard.”

La Russa, delighted Edmonds hadn’t settled for the single his manager had been urging him to hit, said, “I didn’t feel too smart. Just happy. Happy and stupid.” Boxscore

Previously: Slugging, fielding give Jim Edmonds hope for Hall of Fame

Previously: How Jim Edmonds got Tony La Russa an April champagne toast

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Having achieved unprecedented personal success while falling short of the ultimate team goal, Joe Torre’s six-year stay with the Cardinals came to an unsatisfying, though not unexpected, end.

joe_torre5Forty years ago, on Oct. 13, 1974, the Cardinals traded Torre to the Mets for pitchers Ray Sadecki and Tommy Moore.

Popular and productive, Torre hit .308 with 1,062 hits in 918 games for the Cardinals from 1969-74. His on-base percentage during that time was .382, nearly 20 points better than his career mark.

Though a multi-time all-star who regularly ranked among baseball’s top hitters, Torre exceeded all expectations in 1971 when he led the National League in hits (230), RBI (137) and batting average (.363) and was awarded the NL Most Valuable Player honor over Willie Stargell of the World Series champion Pirates.

Time for change

After the 1974 season, however, the Cardinals were ready to make Keith Hernandez, 21, their everyday first baseman. In an interview with United Press International, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said of Hernandez: “He looks like a tremendous prospect. We had to make room for him.”

Though Torre also played third base and catcher, the Cardinals were set at those positions with Ken Reitz and Ted Simmons.

At 34 and with a yearly salary of $150,000, Torre was deemed expendable.

Wrote the Associated Press: “His ample salary and his age may have been factors in arranging the deal. He was one of a half dozen Cardinals players earning more than $100,000.”

Torre, too, was expecting a departure. In his book “Chasing the Dream” (1997, Bantam), Torre wrote, “I knew I wasn’t going to be back with the Cardinals. They had brought up a young first baseman from the minor leagues named Keith Hernandez and made him eligible for the playoffs if we won the East.”

Falling short

The Cardinals, though, finished in second place in the National League East Division in 1974 for the second consecutive year and for the third time in four seasons. They never qualified for the postseason during Torre’s time with the club.

Torre in 1974 hit .312 for the Cardinals in July and .320 in August. Then he slumped to a .200 batting mark with 22 strikeouts in September. It wasn’t until after the season that The Sporting News reported Torre had played the last month of the season with a cracked thumb.

“He’ll play anywhere,” Schoendienst said of Torre. “And he’ll play hurt.”

When Torre was acquired by the Cardinals from the Braves for slugger Orlando Cepeda in March 1969, the Cardinals were a premier team, the two-time defending National League champions. “Torre did a heck of a job for us,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told The Sporting News. “I’m sincere when I say he took me off the spot by doing so well for us after we traded Cepeda for him.”

Meet the Mets

The Braves almost had dealt Torre to the Mets instead of to the Cardinals. United Press International reported, “The Mets thought they had him before the 1969 season and Gil Hodges, who was then their manager, went so far as to tell Torre during spring training that, ‘You’ll be with us in a couple of days.’ But that deal fell through because the Mets refused to part with Amos Otis, then a red-hot prospect to play center field for New York.”

Six years later, the Mets finally got their man. It was the first trade for Mets general manager Joe McDonald, who would become general manager of the Cardinals from 1982-84.

“We’ve needed another right-handed hitter in our lineup and Torre gives us that,” Mets manager Yogi Berra said.

Said Torre, a Brooklyn native: “If I had to be traded anywhere, I’m glad I’m going to New York.”

Devine said Torre didn’t want to be a Cardinals reserve and that his first choice among teams to be dealt to was the Mets.

But, in his book, Torre revealed, “I was going to a team whose season had just ended with 91 losses. That was a very fragile time for me. On top of being unhappy with my marriage, I hit rock bottom in the big leagues with a losing team. And to make matters worse, I became a part-time player. I hated it _ and it showed.”

Aftermath of the deal

Though Torre was the Mets’ starting third baseman on Opening Day in 1975, he eventually was platooned that season at first base with Ed Kranepool and at third base with Wayne Garrett. Torre hit .247 in 114 games for the 1975 Mets.

“In 1975, for the first time in my life, I dreaded going to the ballpark,” Torre wrote. “Baseball felt like work. I thought maybe it was time to quit.”

Two years later, Torre became Mets player-manager. He would manage the Mets, Braves, Cardinals, Yankees and Dodgers _ winning four World Series titles with the Yankees _ and earning induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 2014.

Meanwhile, the pitchers the Cardinals got from the Mets for Torre, had short stays with St. Louis.

Moore, 26, was 0-0 with a 3.86 ERA in 10 relief appearances for the Cardinals before he was traded in June with shortstop Ed Brinkman to the Rangers for outfielder Willie Davis.

Sadecki, 34, was in his second stint with St. Louis. He had been a 20-game winner for the 1964 Cardinals and got the win in Game 1 of the World Series that year, beating Whitey Ford and the Yankees. In 1975, Sadecki was 1-0 with a 3.27 ERA in eight relief appearances for the Cardinals before being traded in May with pitcher Elias Sosa to the Braves for pitcher Ron Reed and outfielder Wayne Nordhagen.

Nine years earlier, in May 1966, the Cardinals had traded Sadecki to the Giants for Cepeda.

In proving the adage that “what goes around, comes around,” the Cardinals dealt Sadecki for Cepeda, who later was traded to the Braves for Torre, who eventually was traded to the Mets for Sadecki.

Previously: Joe Torre, Nolan Ryan and the April streak

Previously: Joe Torre erased Felix Millan with 4 double plays

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Cardinals third baseman Scott Rolen followed the most consistently excellent regular-season performance of his career with a postseason effort that was extraordinarily erratic.

scott_rolen2Rolen is scheduled to throw the ceremonial first pitch before Game 4 of the 2014 National League Division Series between the Dodgers and Cardinals at St. Louis.

Ten years ago, the Cardinals won three of four games against the Dodgers in the 2004 Division Series, even though Rolen went hitless.

Super season

In the 2004 regular season, Rolen achieved career highs in home runs (34), RBI (124), batting average (.314), on-base percentage (.409) and slugging percentage (.598). His RBI total was second only to the 131 of the Rockies’ Vinny Castilla in the National League.

Rolen also was named a National League all-star in 2004, won a Gold Glove Award and finished fourth in the league’s Most Valuable Player balloting, behind Barry Bonds of the Giants, Adrian Beltre of the Dodgers and teammate Albert Pujols.

However, Rolen missed 16 games from Sept. 11 through Sept. 27 because of a calf strain. He still was experiencing soreness in the calf when the Cardinals opened the Division Series versus the Dodgers on Oct. 5, but he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he was “close to being close” to 100 percent.

Like 0-for-a-zillion

What happened next was unexpected. Rolen played in all four game of the Division Series and was hitless in 12 at-bats. He did walk six times, so along with a .000 batting average for the series Rolen had a .333 on-base percentage.

Batting in the cleanup spot, Rolen drew three walks in Game 4, a 6-2 Cardinals victory that eliminated the Dodgers and advanced St. Louis to the National League Championship Series versus the Astros. Boxscore

Said Rolen, who had sat out most of the 2002 postseason because of a shoulder injury: “I’m standing here after going 0-for-a-zillion and this feels so much better (than 2002). We’ve put ourselves in a position to do something special and I’m just glad to be part of it.”

Asked by Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch how he planned to end his slump before facing the Astros, Rolen replied, “I’m going to assess, approach, focus … Oh, that sounded pretty corny. A LaRussaism. He’s getting it in my head. That’s what Tony would say.”

Actually, what Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told Goold was: “Sometimes you have to go beyond the stats. (Rolen) was not a hitless hitter in the Dodgers series. You watch his at-bats, he had tough bases on balls.”

Timing is key

Cardinals hitting coach Mitchell Page said he told Rolen that six walks are as good as six singles.

“What six walks tells you is that they were pitching him careful,” Page said. “They weren’t just going to put something down the middle for him to hit.”

Rolen, though, acknowledged he had fouled off pitches he should have stroked for hits.

“My timing might have been here and there,” said Rolen. “I’m pulling some balls foul that I don’t normally pull foul.”

Rolen recovered, hitting .310 (9-for-29) with three home runs and six RBI in the League Championship Series. He produced the key hit, a two-run home run off Roger Clemens that snapped a 2-2 tie in the sixth inning of Game 7 and lifted St. Louis to a 5-2 pennant-clinching victory. Boxscore

Then, in the World Series versus the Red Sox, Rolen slumped again, going hitless in 15 at-bats.

Previously: From Les Bell to David Freese: Cardinals third base champions

Previously: Walt Jocketty’s July gems: Chuck Finley and Scott Rolen

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George “Shotgun” Shuba wasn’t an all-star, but he played like one against the Cardinals.

george_shubaThis post is in tribute to Shuba, 89, who died Sept. 30, 2014, at Youngstown, Ohio.

In seven seasons (1948-50, 1952-55) as a Dodgers outfielder, Shuba hit .259.

His career batting average against the Cardinals: .337 (33-for-98).

As a rookie in 1948, Shuba hit .267 in 63 games for the Dodgers.

Against the Cardinals that season, Shuba hit .385 (10-for-26), including .471 (8-for-17) at St. Louis’ Sportsman’s Park.

In his 1971 book “The Boys of Summer,” Roger Kahn wrote of Shuba, “His abiding love was hitting. All the rest was work. But touching a bat, blunt George became The Shotgun, spraying line drives with a swing so compact and so fluid that it appeared as natural as a smile.”

Two of the best performances of Shuba’s career came versus the Cardinals as a rookie.

Double trouble

On July 18, 1948, in the second game of a doubleheader at St. Louis, Shuba, a left-handed batter, was a prominent part of a Dodgers onslaught.

Brooklyn scored 13 runs in the first two innings. Each of the first 17 Dodgers batters reached base safely. Each of the three outs in the five-run Dodgers first was recorded on the base paths. The 17 reached base on four doubles, five singles, six walks and two force outs.

In the first, after Pee Wee Reese doubled and Jackie Robinson walked, Jim Hearn’s first two pitches to Gene Hermanski missed the plate.

Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer lifted Hearn and replaced him with Al Brazle. Hermanski drew a walk, loading the bases.

Shuba then ripped a two-run double.

In the second, with Gerry Staley pitching, Shuba doubled again, scoring Robinson, who had singled.

Shuba finished 3-for-5 with 3 RBI and 2 runs scored, sparking the Dodgers to a 13-4 triumph. Boxscore

Cardinals nemesis

The next month, Aug. 30, 1948, Shuba led the Dodgers to an improbable comeback victory versus the Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader at St. Louis.

Cardinals starter Murry Dickson carried a 5-2 lead into the ninth. Hermanski led off with a single and Shuba followed with a double, advancing Hermanski to third. Pete Reiser doubled, driving in Hermanski and Shuba and cutting the Cardinals’ lead to 5-4.

Ted Wilks relieved Dickson. After the Dodgers tied the score at 5-5, Shuba came to the plate with Arky Vaughan on third and Bruce Edwards on first, one out.

Shuba singled to right, scoring Vaughan with the run that completed a four-run ninth and brought the Dodgers a 6-5 victory. Boxscore

Of all the Cardinals pitchers Shuba raked during his career, Wilks was his favorite. Shuba hit . 833 (5-for-6) with 4 RBI vs. Wilks.

Shuba had two other noteworthy games against the Cardinals.

He drove in three runs, including a two-run, two-out home run off Joe Presko, in a 10-4 Dodgers victory over the Cardinals on Aug. 24, 1952, at St. Louis. Boxscore

A year later, Aug. 1, 1953, Shuba was 3-for-4 with two runs scored in the Dodgers’ 11-4 win against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

Previously: How Andy Pafko gave Cardinals inside-the-glove home run

Previously: Duke Snider, Stan Musial put on big show

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