Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

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.

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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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As a teen-ager, Bobby Tolan was given a chance to displace Mike Shannon as the Cardinals’ everyday right fielder.

Like Oscar Taveras in 2014, Tolan was seen as an elite outfield prospect for the 1965 Cardinals.

bob_tolanOn May 31, 2014, Taveras, 21, became the youngest player to debut in right field for the Cardinals since Tolan, 19, did so on Sept. 3, 1965.

Taveras, batting sixth, was 1-for-3 with a home run off the Giants’ Yusmeiro Petit in his Cardinals debut. Boxscore

Tolan, batting leadoff, was 1-for-4 against the Mets in his Cardinals debut. Tolan singled to center in his first at-bat, then was picked off by pitcher Dick Selma and tagged out in a rundown. Boxscore

Sprinter speed

A left-handed batter, Tolan, 17, was signed by the Pirates in 1963 as an amateur free agent out of Fremont High School in Los Angeles. His cousin, Eddie Tolan, had been called the world’s fastest human after winning gold medals in the 100-meter and 200-meter sprints for the United States in the 1932 Olympic Games at Los Angeles.

After a season in the Pirates’ system, Tolan was left off the big-league roster and selected by the Cardinals in the December 1963 minor-league draft.

Converted from first baseman to outfielder by the Cardinals, Tolan made an immediate impact, hitting .297 with 34 stolen bases for Class AA Tulsa and being named to the Texas League all-star team.

In 1965, Tolan continued to impress. He hit .290 with 45 stolen bases for Class AAA Jacksonville.

A 1965 profile of Tolan in The Sporting News was headlined, “Teen-ager Tolan A Blur On Bases, Whiz With Stick.”

After Jacksonville beat the Dodgers in an exhibition game that year, Dodgers shortstop Maury Wills said, “He could challenge my base-stealing record.”

Said Dodgers catcher John Roseboro: “The kid looks too good to be true.”

Grover Resinger, who managed Tolan in consecutive seasons at Tulsa and Jacksonville, filed glowing reports to the Cardinals.

Another Billy Williams

“He’s improving all the time,” Resinger said. “… He’s going to be one of the better hitters in the game. He’s a line-drive hitter, with good power to all fields. Bobby is a Billy Williams type of hitter. He’s going to get stronger and I think he has a good chance to become a 25- to 30-homer hitter.”

Late in the 1965 season, Bob Howsam, Cardinals general manager, decided to give Tolan a chance to be St. Louis’ everyday right fielder for the final month of the season.

Shannon, who had become the Cardinals’ regular right fielder in the second half of 1964, struggled in 1965. He hit .221 and had almost as many strikeouts (46) as hits (54). The Cardinals’  backup right fielders _ Tito Francona (.259) and Phil Gagliano (.240) _ weren’t long-term solutions.

Howsam also was thinking ahead to 1966 when the Cardinals would move into their spacious new home, Busch Stadium II. He envisioned Tolan joining Lou Brock and Curt Flood in an outfield of speedsters who could chase down fly balls in the big stadium. Howsam also liked the thought of Tolan running the bases.

“His base-stealing ability is unlimited,” Resinger said of Tolan. “I think he’ll eventualy steal 50 bases in the big leagues. He’s not as fast as Brock, but he is above average.”

Too much, too soon

Tolan made 17 September starts in right field for the 1965 Cardinals, but he was overmatched at the plate. He hit .188 (13 hits in 17 games).

That performance prompted Howsam to alter his plans. After the 1965 season, the Cardinals acquired outfielder Alex Johnson from the Phillies. The Cardinals opened the 1966 season with Johnson in left, Flood in center and Brock shifting from left to right.

Johnson started poorly, though, and by mid-May was sent to the minors. The Cardinals moved Brock back to left and reinserted Shannon in right.

Tolan hit .172 in 43 games for the 1966 Cardinals. He was a backup to Roger Maris in right for the 1967-68 Cardinals clubs that won consecutive National League pennants and a World Series title.

After the 1968 season, the Cardinals traded Tolan to the Reds for right fielder Vada Pinson. Tolan was reunited with Howsam, who had become the Reds’ general manager.

Given a starting outfield spot, Tolan thrived with Cincinnati. He fulfilled Resinger’s prediction, producing a league-high 57 steals for the 1970 Reds. In four seasons with Cincinnati, Tolan hit .282 with 140 steals and helped the Reds win pennants in 1970 and 1972.

In a 13-year major league career with the Cardinals, Reds, Padres, Phillies and Pirates, Tolan hit .265 with 193 steals.

Previously: Here’s how Mike Shannon became a Cardinals catcher

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Desperate to end a string of unproductive first-round draft selections and determined to find a shortstop with the potential to quickly reach the majors as a starter, the Cardinals got it right 40 years ago when they chose Garry Templeton.

garry_templeton2Two years after he was drafted and taught how to switch-hit, Templeton made his Cardinals debut and became a fixture at shortstop for six seasons in St. Louis.

The major-league amateur draft began in 1965 and the Cardinals struck gold with their 1967 No. 1 selection, catcher Ted Simmons. That was followed by six consecutive years of first-round flops.

Each of the Cardinals’ first-round picks from 1968 through 1971 _ outfielder Butch Hairston, pitchers Charles Minott and Jim Browning and first baseman Ed Kurpiel  _ failed to reach the big leagues.

The Cardinals’ first-round choices in 1972 and 1973 _ pitchers Dan Larson and Joe Edelen _ did become major leaguers but produced little for St. Louis. Larson never pitched for the Cardinals and was 10-25 in seven big-league seasons. Edelen was 1-0 in 13 games with St. Louis before playing two seasons with the Reds.

Prep phenom

In 1974, the Cardinals wanted a shortstop. Mike Tyson was their starter, but he was better suited to play second base. No one else in the farm system appeared likely to replace him.

Templeton, 18, a senior at Santa Ana Valley High School in California, was the prospect who most excited the Cardinals. A right-handed batter, Templeton had hit .437 as a senior and .402 for his high school career.

On June 4, the night before the 1974 draft, Cardinals scout Bob Harrison called Templeton’s high school coach, Hersh Musick, and said, “We’re going to take Garry on the first round if he isn’t grabbed up before we get a chance,” the Santa Ana Register reported.

The Cardinals had reason to be concerned about Templeton’s availability by the time they got to select with the 13th pick in the first round. Shortstops were in high demand. Three of the 12 teams selecting ahead of the Cardinals took shortstops. None, it turned out, developed into as good a player as Templeton.

Shortstops chosen ahead of Templeton: Bill Almon (No. 1 pick), Padres; Mike Miley (No. 10 pick), Angels; and Dennis Sherrill (No. 12 pick), Yankees.

(Lonnie Smith, an outfielder who would play for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals, was the No. 3 pick of the 1974 first round by the Phillies. Smith, a senior at Centennial High School in Compton, Calif., and Templeton had committed to attend Arizona State University together but scrapped those plans after they were drafted in the first round.)

Asked his reaction to being selected, Templeton told the Santa Ana newspaper, “It is what I have been working for since I was 8 years old. It didn’t make any difference to me what club took me, just as long as I get a chance … I just hope I can make it into Busch Stadium quickly.”

Said Musick: “Garry is a fantastic hitter, has tremendous speed, possesses a strong arm, can field with the best and is dedicated. What more could any ballclub ask for?”

Lot to learn

The Cardinals signed Templeton for about $40,000, The Sporting News reported. Seven years earlier, Simmons had received $50,000 from the Cardinals after being drafted in the first round.

Templeton was assigned to the Cardinals’ Gulf Coast League rookie club in Florida. One of his teammates was another Cardinals infield prospect, Scott Boras, now an agent who represents several professional athletes.

In a May 2014 interview with Washingtonian magazine, Boras said one reason he became an agent was because of the Cardinals’ handling of the Templeton signing. “The thing that really got me into this was the unfairness of the draft,” Boras said. “I thought it was wrong for the game. I go back to Garry Templeton. He’s an African-American kid _ no representation _ he walks in and they have all the techniques to sign you. It’s a one-way situation. He did not get his value.”

Because of his speed, the Cardinals immediately worked on teaching Templeton how to hit from both sides of the plate.

“I watched Templeton learn to switch-hit in three weeks,” said Boras. “Three weeks! He was a remarkable athlete.”

Templeton hit .268 for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and then advanced to Class A St. Petersburg, where he struggled, batting .211.

Stick with it

Templeton, 19, opened the 1975 season at St. Petersburg and continued to perform below expectations. Discouraged by his lack of progress, Templeton approached manager Jack Krol. According to Ron Martz, columnist for the St. Petersburg Tmes, the ensuing conversation went like this:

Templeton: “I want to hit just right-handed.”

Krol: “Stick with it (switch-hitting). It’s not like you’re 24 or 25 years old. You’ve got plenty of time to learn.”

The Sporting News wrote, “The Redbirds are thirsting for a shortstop who can switch-hit, run well and dazzle in the field. That’s why they had Garry Templeton try switch-hitting shortly after landing him out of high school.”

With Krol’s patient prodding, Templeton got his batting average to .264 and was sent to Class AA Arkansas, where he hit .401 in 42 games.

Assured and comfortable, Templeton began the 1976 season at Class AAA Tulsa and produced 142 hits in 106 games (.321 batting average with 25 steals), earning a promotion to the Cardinals.

The 20-year-old made his big-league debut on Aug. 9, 1976.

Templeton had 911 hits in 713 games over six seasons for St. Louis, batting .305 with 138 steals. He twice was named an all-star and he led the National League in triples for three consecutive seasons: 1977 (18), 1978 (13) and 1979 (19). In 1979, Templeton produced a National League-best 211 hits.

He also committed the most errors among National League shortstops for three seasons in a row: 1978 (40), 1979 (34) and 1980 (29).

After a run-in with manager Whitey Herzog for failing to hustle and for making obscene gestures to Cardinals fans who booed him, Templeton was traded to the Padres after the 1981 season. The deal brought shortstop Ozzie Smith to St. Louis, launching him onto a Hall of Fame career.

Previously: The story of how Ted Simmons became a Cardinal

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Previously: How Garry Templeton made 40 errors in 1978

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Nearly 60 years ago, the Cardinals had a rookie second baseman who sprayed singles to all fields, ignited the offense with stolen bases and was superb at bunting for base hits.

don_blasingameIn 2014, the Cardinals’ rookie second baseman, Kolten Wong, is showing a lot of the same skills displayed by Don Blasingame in 1956.

The similarities between the two are striking.

Wong is 5 feet 9, bats left-handed and throws right-handed. He turns 24 in 2014, his first full season with the Cardinals.

Blasingame was 5 feet 9, batted left-handed and threw right-handed. He turned 24 in 1956, his first full season with the Cardinals.

Wong sparked the Cardinals during a three-game series versus the Braves in May 2014. He and teammate Peter Bourjos each had two bunts for base hits in the Cardinals’ 4-1 victory over the Braves on May 17. Boxscore Overall for the series, Wong had five hits in 11 at-bats (.455 average), scored three runs, drove in three runs, swiped two bases, walked and was hit by a pitch.

Blasingame also used his bunting skill to get base hits. With the bases empty, Blasingame bunted for 66 hits in 77 attempts _ an 86 percent success rate _ during his 12-year big-league career, according to research conducted by James Gentile of SB Nation.

Of Wong’s first 30 big-league hits, 26 (87 percent) were singles. Blasingame had 1,366 big-league hits; 1,105 (81 percent) were singles. In five years (1955-59) with the Cardinals, Blasingame produced 663 hits, with 528 (80 percent) being singles.

Both Wong and Blasingame got opportunities to become everyday second basemen for the Cardinals because of trades involving fan favorites. In June 1956, the Cardinals dealt second baseman Red Schoendienst to the Giants, opening the position for Blasingame. In November 2013, the Cardinals dealt third baseman David Freese to the Angels, enabling Matt Carpenter to move from second to third and opening a spot for Wong.

Gashouse Gang connection

In five games for the 1955 Cardinals after his promotion from the minor leagues in late September, Blasingame gave an indication of his electrifying potential. He had six hits and six walks in 23 plate appearances (a .545 on-base percentage).

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson opened the 1956 season with Schoendienst at second base and Alex Grammas at shortstop. After three games, though, Blasingame replaced Grammas as the starting shortstop.

Bob Broeg, longtime St. Louis sports writer, noted that Blasingame wore uniform No. 3, the same worn from 1932-37 by Frankie Frisch, the Cardinals’ fiery Gashouse Gang second baseman who was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

In The Sporting News, Broeg wrote, “Blasingame’s skill at winning fans and followers _ as well as his share of games _ is no accident. For one thing, he’s extremely fast, probably the fleetest man on a St. Louis club that has its greatest collective speed since the famed Swifties of 1942.”

Blasingame said his playing style was inspired by Hall of Famer Ty Cobb. “I never saw him, of course, but I’ve read a lot about him, the way he could put the pressure on the other club and keep it there,” Blasingame told Broeg.

Firebrand like Fox

Because of his throwing arm, the Cardinals projected Blasingame as a better fit for second base than for shortstop. One of the players general manager Frank Lane acquired from the Giants for Schoendienst was Al Dark. Blasingame replaced Schoendienst at second, with Dark taking over at shortstop.

According to The Sporting News, Lane saw Blasingame “as a firebrand,” much like Nellie Fox, all-star second baseman of the White Sox.

“It was evident he had a chance for future greatness if he could be placed at second,” Lane said of Blasingame.

Wrote Broeg, “Blasingame, taking advantage of his speed and his small stature, has developed into an able leadoff man, a spray hitter and able drag bunter.”

Nicknamed the “Corinth Comet” (he hailed from Corinth, Miss.) and the “Blazer,” Blasingame finished his rookie season with 153 hits in 150 games, with 72 walks and 94 runs scored. (Frank Robinson of the Reds was the unanimous choice for the 1956 National League Rookie of the Year Award.)

In his four full seasons (1956-59) with the Cardinals, Blasingame ranked in the top 10 in the National League in singles each year. In 1959, Blasingame led the league in singles, with 144, seven ahead of the runner-up, Reds second baseman Johnny Temple.

Blasingame also ranked among the top 10 in the league in stolen bases for three consecutive Cardinals seasons (1957-59).

The Cardinals, however, were last in the league in home runs in 1958 and sixth among eight teams in 1959. Desperate for power, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine traded Blasingame to the Giants for shortstop Daryl Spencer and outfielder Leon Wagner in December 1959.

Previously: Matt Carpenter: Modern-day Taylor Douthit of Cardinals

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Thirty-five years ago, Kirk Gibson rejected a chance to play for the St. Louis Cardinals.

kirk_gibsonThat’s because he was committed to playing baseball, not football.

On May 4, 1979, the St. Louis football Cardinals selected Gibson, a wide receiver at Michigan State, in the seventh round of the NFL draft.

A year earlier, June 1978, Gibson had been chosen by the Tigers in the first round of baseball’s amateur draft and signed a $200,000 contract with Detroit. The outfielder spent the summer of 1978 playing for the Tigers’ Class A Lakeland (Fla.) team managed by Jim Leyland. Then Gibson returned to Michigan State for his senior football season.

Gibson established school single-season records for receptions (42) and receiving yards (806) in 1978. He finished his Michigan State football career with four-year totals of 112 receptions, 2,347 yards receiving and 24 touchdown catches, all school records.

Gibson would have been “a certain first-round pick” in the 1979 NFL draft if he hadn’t already signed with the Tigers, United Press International reported. The Tigers assigned Gibson to start the 1979 baseball season with their Class AAA Evansville (Ind.) team, again managed by Leyland.

Calculated risk

Bing Devine, longtime general manager of the St. Louis baseball Cardinals, had become vice president for administration of the St. Louis football Cardinals just a week before the 1979 NFL draft. Cardinals football scouts approached Devine before selecting Gibson to find out what baseball teams had thought of Gibson.

Devine offered a positive report. Gibson hadn’t played baseball at Michigan State until his junior year. He still was relatively inexperienced at the game and some thought Gibson might change his mind and return to football.

“It was a calculated risk,” Devine said to the Associated Press of the football Cardinals’ decision to draft Gibson. “At this level of the draft, everyone’s a calculated risk. With his amount of football talent, I guess the people over in the drafting office figured he was worth taking a chance on.

“Besides,” Devine continued, “in baseball, just as in football, there’s no such thing as a sure bet.”

Tigers general manager Jim Campbell told the Associated Press, “We’re not surprised that any major (football) team would want Kirk, but we are convinced that he will honor his contract with us.”

Said Gibson regarding the football Cardinals: “I imagine they will call me and I’ll probably say, ‘Hi,’ but I’m a baseball player … as of now.”

The Cardinals, though, gave Gibson plenty to think about. When reporter Jim Hawkins, a baseball correspondent for The Sporting News, visited Gibson at Evansville a month after the NFL draft, Gibson showed him four one-year contracts totaling $200,000 sent by the football Cardinals. The contracts, Hawkins reported, were for $35,000, $45,000, $55,000 and $65,000 for each of the next four NFL seasons.

If Gibson wanted to quit baseball for football, he wouldn’t lose any contract money.

“Right now, I’m not thinking about football at all,” Gibson said to Hawkins. “I made up my mind last year to play baseball and I don’t want to be second-guessing myself. I want to keep my mind on baseball.”

Baseball lifer

In his first game for Evansville, against an Iowa Oaks club managed by Tony La Russa, Gibson had a two-run home run, a RBI-double, two walks and a sacrifice bunt. Gibson went on to bat .245 with 42 RBI in 89 games for Evansville.

The Tigers promoted Gibson to the big leagues in September 1979. Gibson made his major-league debut on Sept. 8. Tigers manager Sparky Anderson sent the rookie to pinch-hit against Yankees closer Goose Gossage. The future Hall of Fame closer struck him out.

Gibson never was tempted again to try football. He built a 17-year big-league playing career, helping the Tigers (1984) and Dodgers (1988) to World Series championships with memorable home runs (off Gossage in 1984 and off Dennis Eckersley in 1988) and earning the 1988 National League Most Valuable Player Award. As manager of the Diamondbacks, Gibson won the 2011 NL Manager of the Year Award.

Even without Gibson, the football Cardinals had a spectacular draft in 1979. Their selections in the first through fourth rounds all became starters:

_ Halfback Ottis Anderson (7,999 yards rushing and 46 rushing touchdowns in eight years with St. Louis).

_ Fullback Theotis Brown (10 rushing touchdowns in three years with St. Louis).

_ Offensive guard Joe Bostic (122 games, 114 as a starter, in nine years with St. Louis).

_ Wide receiver Roy Green (522 receptions, 8,496 yards receiving and 66 touchdown catches in 12 years with the Cardinals in St. Louis and Arizona).

Previously: Football Cardinals finally got it right with Don Coryell

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