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Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

At 19, Ray Sadecki replaced Bob Gibson on the 1960 Cardinals staff. As if that wasn’t enough pressure, Sadecki also was given a spot in the starting rotation.

ray_sadecki3Initially, it appeared the Cardinals had made a mistake. Sadecki was 0-2 with a 7.50 ERA after his first five starts for the Cardinals.

So, what happened in his sixth start on June 15, 1960, at Cincinnati couldn’t have been predicted.

Sadecki pitched a three-hit shutout, earning his first big-league win in the Cardinals’ 6-0 victory over the Reds. It was the first shutout by a Cardinals pitcher in 1960.

All three Reds hits _ by Billy Martin, Gus Bell and Frank Robinson _ were doubles.

Sadecki walked eight and struck out nine. The Reds stranded 11 base runners. The eight walks were one shy of Vinegar Bend Mizell’s National League record for a nine-inning shutout win.

“I don’t know whether the pitching is that good, or our batters are that bad,” Reds general manager Gabe Paul said to The Sporting News.

This post is a tribute to Sadecki, who died Nov. 17, 2014, at age 73. Sadecki had a 68-64 record in eight seasons (1960-66 and 1975) with the Cardinals. He was 20-11 for the 1964 Cardinals and won Game 1 of the World Series that year versus Whitey Ford and the Yankees.

Bonus baby

Signed by Cardinals scout Runt Marr for $50,000 after graduating from high school in Kansas City, Kan., at age 17 in 1958, Sadecki opened the 1960 season at Class AAA Rochester. He was 2-1 with a 1.76 ERA in six games for Rochester when the Cardinals promoted him in May. Sadecki replaced Gibson, who was sent to Rochester after posting a 9.72 ERA in five appearances for the Cardinals.

Sadecki failed to go beyond six innings in any of his first five starts for St. Louis.

Still, manager Solly Hemus stuck with the teenager as part of a rebuilt rotation that also included Larry Jackson, Ernie Broglio and Curt Simmons.

Change and speed

Against the Reds on June 15 at Crosley Field, Sadecki displayed “a brilliant changeup to go with a hopping fastball,” The Sporting News reported.

The Reds had a runner on base in every inning except the seventh and ninth, but Sadecki consistently worked out of trouble. In the fourth, the Reds had the bases loaded and two outs when Sadecki got Martin on a fly out to left, ending Cincinnati’s biggest threat.

Sadecki got support from center fielder Curt Flood, who hit a pair of home runs off starter Joe Nuxhall. Flood, batting seventh, hit a three-run home run in the second and a solo shot in the fourth. It was the first time he hit two homers in a big-league game. Boxscore

Enjoying a midnight snack after his triumph, Sadecki said, “It was a big one, that first major-league victory.”

Sadecki stayed in the Cardinals’ rotation for the remainder of the 1960 season, finishing 9-9 with a 3.78 ERA in 26 starts.

Said Hemus: “Sadecki came along real good for us … His last few games were his strongest.”

Previously: Cardinals swept series in initial visit to Dodger Stadium

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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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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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Grant Dunlap possessed a variety skills. He was a winning coach in multiple sports, an accomplished author and a pinch-hitter deluxe for the Cardinals.

grant_dunlapDunlap, whose lone big-league season was with the 1953 Cardinals, died Sept. 11, 2014, at his home in Vista, Calif. He was 90.

A Stockton, Calif., native, Dunlap, 17, was signed by the Reds in 1941. He was given an $870 bonus and used the money to pay for surgery for his mother. A year later, he joined the Marines and served in the South Pacific and China during World War II.

In 1952, Dunlap was the Texas League batting champion, hitting .333 for Shreveport. The first baseman, a right-handed hitter, was purchased by the Cardinals in December 1952 and placed on the big-league roster. The Cardinals said Dunlap would compete with Steve Bilko and Dick Sisler for the everyday first base role.

Ready to hit

A 29-year-old rookie, Dunlap made a favorable impression when he joined the Cardinals at their spring training camp at St. Petersburg, Fla., in February 1953.

In its March 11 edition, The Sporting News reported, “Perhaps the outstanding ‘sleeper’ in camp is Grant Dunlap … In the early batting drills, he attracted attention and in the first squad game he swung at the first pitch and whacked the ball far over the left field wall into Tampa Bay. Dunlap looks like a hitter. He poises his bat and is ready for every pitch.”

Said Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky: “Dunlap looks pretty shifty around first base, too.”

Two weeks later, The Sporting News wrote, “Grant Dunlap is another substantial hitter on the Cardinals squad and may remain because of his prowess with the war club.”

Wounded warrior

Late in spring training, during an exhibition game against the Braves, Dunlap suffered an injury that derailed his chances of winning the first base job. After stroking a single, Dunlap was on first when Hal Rice hit a grounder to second baseman Jack Dittmer. Dunlap braked to avoid a tag and Dittmer threw out Rice at first.

First baseman Joe Adcock then pursued Dunlap, who got trapped in a rundown. In the frenzy, Adcock accidently stepped on Dunlap’s left foot. Dunlap suffered “a five-suture spike wound” near the instep and was “carried off the field on a stretcher to minimize bleeding,” The Sporting News reported.

Bilko opened the season as the Cardinals’ starting first baseman. Stanky kept Dunlap on the roster as a pinch-hitter.

St. Louis slugger

Dunlap’s first two big-league hits were significant.

In his third big-league at-bat, Dunlap got his first hit _ a pinch-hit home run off Ken Raffensberger in a 5-2 Reds victory at Cincinnati on May 10. Boxscore

A month later, Dunlap got his second hit. This one produced a Cardinals victory.

On June 12 at New York’s Polo Grounds, the Giants led the Cardinals, 1-0. In the seventh, with Cardinals runners on first and second, one out, Dunlap drove a pinch-hit triple off the right field wall against Dave Koslo. Ray Jablonski and Rip Repulski scored, giving the Cardinals a 2-1 lead. Pitcher Harvey Haddix ran for Dunlap and scored on Solly Hemus’ sacrifice fly. The Cardinals won, 3-1. Boxscore

Used primarily as a pinch-hitter, Dunlap batted .353 (6-for-17) for the Cardinals. But he couldn’t displace Bilko at first base and he wasn’t getting at-bats. In August, the Cardinals sent Dunlap to their minor-league affiliate at Houston. Stanky predicted Dunlap would be “a terrific man” for Houston given the chance to play regularly.

On Aug. 11, Dunlap went 5-for-5 for Houston in a game against Dallas. He hit .277 in 35 games for Houston.

Life after baseball

After the season, the Cardinals sold Dunlap’s contract to their Rochester affiliate. In December 1953, Rochester traded Dunlap to another Class AAA club, Minneapolis, for pitcher Bill Connelly.

Dunlap spent the 1954 and ’55 seasons in the minor leagues. Then he began a successful second career.

An all-conference baseball and basketball player at Occidental College, Dunlap returned to the Los Angeles school in 1955 to coach both sports teams.

In 30 years as Occidental baseball coach, Dunlap had a 510-316 record and won nine conference titles. He was 205-156 with five league championships in 16 years as Occidental basketball coach. Dunlap also was the Occidental athletic director from 1971-76. He retired in 1984.

Dunlap wrote an acclaimed mystery novel “Kill the Umpire” that was published in 1998. Dunlap was praised for his vivid, lively prose, drawing on his minor-league experience to recreate the feel of the Texas League towns of the 1940s and what it was like to be a ballplayer in that time. The book is available on Amazon.

Previously: Like Polish Falcons, 2013 Cardinals soar with doubles

Previously: The story of how Tom Alston integrated Cardinals

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Nearly 70 years after his brief stint with the Cardinals, Eddie Morgan still was being linked with events related to the 2014 team.

eddie_morganOn May 31, 2014, Oscar Taveras became the youngest Cardinals player to hit a home run in his debut game since Morgan did so on April 14, 1936. Each achieved the feat at age 21.

Taveras hit his home run in his second big-league at-bat. Boxscore

Morgan hit his on the first pitch he saw in the majors.

While the 2014 Cardinals see Taveras as having a long-term future with the franchise, the 1936 Cardinals saw Morgan as trade bait.

Even before Morgan began his big-league career with a home run, Dodgers manager Casey Stengel had interest in acquiring the rookie after seeing him in spring training games.

Good outfield group

The 1936 Cardinals opened the season with a stellar starting outfield of Joe Medwick in left, Terry Moore in center and Pepper Martin in right. They also had three rookie outfielders _ Lynn King, Lou Scoffic and Morgan _ on the Opening Day roster.

“One thing I don’t have to worry about is my outfield,” Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch said to The Sporting News. “I’ve really got three fine-looking kids in Lou Scoffic, Lynn King and Ed Morgan. The only difficult thing about the outfield situation will be to decide which one of the three we’ll send back to the minors. That’s how good they all are.”

Dizzy Dean, the Cardinals’ ace, got raked for nine runs in six innings in the season opener against the defending National League champion Cubs at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. With the Cubs ahead, 12-3, in the seventh, Frisch tabbed Morgan to make his big-league debut as a pinch-hitter for reliever Bill McGee.

A left-handed batter, Morgan swung at the first pitch he saw from starter Lon Warneke and yanked it over the right-field wall for a two-run home run. Boxscore

Soon after, Stengel and the Dodgers approached Cardinals general manager Branch Rickey about a proposed trade. The Cardinals wanted third baseman Joe Stripp. When Stengel asked for Morgan, Rickey declined and the talks ended without a deal.

Morgan, 5 feet 10, 160 pounds, appeared in eight games for the Cardinals, hitting .278 (5-for-18, with four singles and the home run). Unlikely to get much playing time with St. Louis, Morgan was sent to Class AA Columbus (Ohio) on May 9.

In his first at-bat for Columbus on May 10, Morgan hit a home run off Milwaukee’s Joe Heving.

Let’s make a deal

By July, the Cardinals were seeking pitching. The Dodgers still wanted Morgan. When the Dodgers offered George Earnshaw, 36, a right-hander in his last big-league season, the Cardinals accepted, with both clubs agreeing that Morgan would report to the Dodgers after the conclusion of the Columbus season.

In reporting the trade, The Sporting News called Morgan a “hard-hitting farmhand” and “a left-handed pull hitter of the type the Dodgers need to caress that short right-field wall at Ebbets Field.”

Throughout the summer, Stengel spoke enthusiastically about his plans to play Morgan in September games with the Dodgers, who were out of contention and heading for a seventh-place finish.

Morgan hit .299 in 118 games for Columbus. But, just before the minor-league season ended, he fractured a bone in his lower leg, preventing him from joining the Dodgers in September.

After the 1936 season, Stengel was replaced as manager by Burleigh Grimes, the former Cardinals spitball pitcher. Grimes had managed Morgan with the 1935 Bloomington (Ill.) Bloomers. Morgan had batted .347 in 112 games for that Cardinals Class B minor-league club.

Expectations were for Morgan to compete for a starting outfield job with the 1937 Dodgers. But he hit .188 in 39 games for them and was returned to the minors in July. He never played in the big leagues again. His lone major-league home run was the one he hit in his first at-bat.

Morgan played in the minor leagues until 1950. In 17 minor-league seasons, he had a .313 batting average and hit 172 home runs.

Previously: How Matt Adams links with Frenchy Bordagaray

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