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Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

Two years after his professional baseball debut at the Class C level of the minor leagues, Tom Alston was the Opening Day first baseman for the Cardinals. Making that leap in such a short time would be a challenge for any prospect. Alston had the additional pressure of being the first black person to play for the Cardinals.

tom_alstonSixty years ago, on April 13, 1954, Thomas Edison Alston broke the Cardinals’ color barrier, batting sixth and playing first base against the Cubs at St. Louis.

Seven seasons after Jackie Robinson joined the Dodgers, the Cardinals became the 10th of the 16 major-league teams to integrate.

Alston, 28, was the 14th black player in the Cardinals’ organization, but the only one on the big-league roster. (Among the other blacks in the Cardinals’ system in 1954 were pitchers Bill Greason, Brooks Lawrence and John Wyatt. All eventually would pitch in the big leagues.)

Rapid rise

Alston’s rise from baseball novice to Cardinals pioneer was fast and unexpected. After serving in the Navy from 1945-47, Alston enrolled at North Carolina A&T in his native Greensboro and earned a bachelor of science degree in physical education and social sciences. It was while in college that Alston, 6-foot-5 and 210 pounds, first played organized baseball.

In 1952, he broke into professional baseball with Porterville, Calif., of the Class C Southwest International League, and hit .353 in 54 games. That caught the attention of the San Diego club of the Class AAA Pacific Coast League.

Alston joined San Diego midway through the 1952 season and hit .244 in 78 games.

In 1953, Alston put together a stellar season for San Diego. He had 207 hits in 180 games, with 101 runs scored, 23 home runs, 101 RBI and a .297 batting average. Cardinals scouts gave Alston rave reviews.

On Jan. 26, 1954, the Cardinals sent first baseman Dick Sisler, pitcher Eddie Erautt and $100,000 to San Diego for Alston. San Diego manager Lefty O’Doul called Alston “a great prospect who can field as good as any first baseman in the big leagues.”

“Alston looks like he’s going to be a great hitter, too,” O’Doul told The Sporting News.

Said Cardinals owner August Busch Jr.: “When we purchased the Cardinals, I promised there would be no racial discrimination. However, Alston was not purchased because of his race. Our scouts and manager Eddie Stanky believe he is a great prospect. While he may need more experience, we didn’t want him to slip away from us.”

Bill Starr, president of the San Diego club, offered to cut the cash portion of the deal to $75,000 if the Cardinals would wait until 1955 to take Alston, according to the Los Angeles Daily Mirror. But the Cardinals wanted Alston for 1954. The incumbent at first base was Steve Bilko, who hit 21 home runs for the 1953 Cardinals but also led the National League in striking out (125 times). The Cardinals used spring training in 1954 as a competition between Alston and Bilko for the first base job.

“I think we have a real ballplayer in this colored boy,” Stanky said to The Sporting News in March 1954.

Said Alston: “They treat me here just the same as any other ballplayer and that’s how I want to be treated.”

Major leaguer

Stanky declared he’d platoon Alston (a left-handed batter) and Bilko (a right-handed batter). But Alston got the Opening Day start against Cubs left-hander Paul Minner.

“I guess I’ve come a long way in a short time,” Alston said to The Sporting News. “I guess I came up like a real rocket.”

Alston went 0-for-4 with a strikeout and committed an error in his debut game. Boxscore

In his next game, April 17, 1954, at Chicago, Alston went hitless in his first four at-bats. In the eighth, he led off with a home run, his first big-league hit, against Cubs reliever Jim Brosnan. Boxscore

The next day, April 18, Alston got his second hit, a pinch-hit, three-run homer off left-hander Jim Davis that lifted the Cardinals to a 6-4 triumph. Boxscore

On April 30, the Cardinals sent Bilko to the Cubs. Alston was the everyday first baseman.

In a doubleheader against the Giants on May 2, Alston was 5-for-6 with 5 RBI, an inside-the-park home run and 3 walks. His performance was overshadowed that day, however, by teammate Stan Musial, who hit 5 home runs with 9 RBI. Game 1 boxscore Game 2 boxscore

In The Sporting News, Bob Broeg wrote of Alston’s inside-the-park home run: “His speed enabled him to circle the bases easily after Willie Mays misjudged his long wind-blown drive to left-center.”

Slowed by slump

Alston hit .301 (37-for-123) in May and was at .285 overall on May 30, but he slumped in June, enduring a 2-for-27 stretch and batting .181 (15-for-83) for the month. He had just 7 RBI in his last 42 games.

On June 30, the Cardinals sent Alston to Class AAA Rochester and called up another rookie, Joe Cunningham, to replace him at first base.

Alston hit .210 in Cardinals home games; .280 on the road. He batted .268 against right-handers; .197 versus left-handers. His overall numbers for the 1954 Cardinals: 60 hits in 66 games, 14 doubles, 4 home runs, 34 RBI and a .246 batting average. He made 62 starts at first base.

Said Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer: “Alston wasn’t ready … Eddie (Stanky) and I still have a very high regard for Alston as a prospect.”

After replacing Alston, Cunningham hit .284 with 11 home runs in 85 games for the 1954 Cardinals. The next season, the Cardinals moved Musial from the outfield to first base.

Alston made brief appearances with the Cardinals in 1955, 1956 and 1957. In 91 big-league games, all with St. Louis, Alston had 66 hits and a .244 batting average.

Ten years after Alston’s big-league debut, the Cardinals would become World Series champions, building a reputation as a franchise that embraced diversity with players such as Bob Gibson, Bill White, Curt Flood, Lou Brock and Julian Javier.

Underappreciated, Tom Alston took the first steps toward making that possible.

Previously: The debut of Bill Greason, first black Cardinals pitcher

Greensboro newspaper: Illness curtailed Tom Alston’s career with Cardinals

St. Louis newspaper: In remembering Jackie Robinson, remember Tom Alston, too

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Their given names were John and George.

Their baseball names were Sonny and Sparky.

sonny_rubertoTogether, they contributed to a standard of teaching that has become a hallmark of the Cardinals.

Sonny Ruberto, mentored by Sparky Anderson in the Cardinals organization, influenced St. Louis players and prospects from 1977-81 as a big-league coach and minor-league manager.

Ruberto, 68, died March 24, 2014, near Naples, Fla.

Two of his pupils in the Cardinals system, Jim Riggleman and John Stuper, carry on with reputations as first-rate instructors. Riggleman, who managed four big-league teams, is manager of the Reds’ Class AAA Louisville club. Stuper, who started and won Game 6 of the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals, is head coach of the Yale University baseball team.

George “Sparky” Anderson, who built a Hall of Fame career as manager of the Reds and Tigers, was 30 when he began his managerial career with Class AAA Toronto in 1964. A year later, he became a manager in the Cardinals system.

John “Sonny” Ruberto was 24 when he began his managerial career with the Padres’ Class A Lodi club in 1970. At 31, he became the youngest coach in the major leagues when he joined the staff of first-year Cardinals manager Vern Rapp in 1977.

Cardinals prospect

A standout catcher at Curtis High School in Staten Island, N.Y., where he played with other future major leaguers such as Terry Crowley and Frank Fernandez, Ruberto signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in 1964. Two years later, he was on a Class A St. Petersburg team managed by Anderson.

In a 1966 game that began on June 14 and ended at 2:30 a.m. on June 15, the visiting Miami Marlins beat St. Petersburg, 4-3, in 29 innings. “It was the darndest thing I’ve ever seen,” Anderson told The Sporting News.

Ruberto played all 29 innings _ the first nine as catcher and the last 20 at shortstop. He had two hits in 10 at-bats and scored a run.

Ruberto hit .283 in 88 games for St. Petersburg. The next year, he played for the Cardinals’ Class A Modesto club, managed by Anderson.

On May 22, 1969, the Cardinals traded Ruberto and second baseman John Sipin to the Padres for infielder Jerry DaVanon and first baseman Bill Davis. Ruberto made his big-league debut as a player with the Padres that month.

Big Red Machine

After a season managing Lodi, Ruberto in 1971 joined the Reds organization, where he was reunited with two key figures from his Cardinals days: Anderson (the Reds’ manager) and Bob Howsam, the former Cardinals general manager who took over the same role with Cincinnati.

Ruberto resumed his playing career and was sent to Class AAA Indianapolis. His manager there for the next five years, 1971 through 1975, was Rapp. As catcher, Ruberto was credited with helping the progress of several Reds pitching prospects, including Joaquin Andujar, Ross Grimsley, Tom Hume, Milt Wilcox and Pat Zachry.

“I feel I had something to do with their development,” Ruberto told The Sporting News.

When Rapp was named Cardinals manager, replacing Red Schoendienst, for the 1977 season, he selected Ruberto to be the first-base coach.

Wrote The Sporting News: “Like Rapp, Ruberto had been a career Triple-A catcher highly regarded for his ability to handle pitchers. Ruberto even has some ideas on helping Ted Simmons improve his backstopping duties.”

Rapp was brought to the Cardinals to instill discipline. At spring training in 1977, The Sporting News reported, “Rapp sized up his charges to make sure that the regulation baseball uniforms were worn properly. He had coach Sonny Ruberto demonstrate how he wanted the uniforms worn.”

At the helm

Rapp was fired in April 1978 and replaced by Ken Boyer. After the season, two of the coaches Boyer had inherited, Ruberto and Mo Mazzali, were replaced by Schoendienst and Dal Maxvill.

The Cardinals, though, kept Ruberto in the organization, naming him manager of the 1979 St. Petersburg club, succeeding Hal Lanier, who was promoted to Class AAA Springfield.

“What kind of manager will I be?” Ruberto said in response to a question from the St. Petersburg Times. “Well, a little of Vern Rapp, a little of Sparky Anderson, a little of Billy Martin and a lot of Sonny Ruberto.”

St. Petersburg finished 64-71, but the Cardinals were pleased with how their prospects, such as Stuper and fellow starting pitcher Andy Rincon, developed under Ruberto.

In 1980, Ruberto managed the Cardinals’ Class AA Arkansas team to an 81-55 record and a Texas League championship. Stuper had a 7-2 record for Arkansas. Riggleman, a third baseman, hit .295 with 21 home runs and 90 RBI in 127 games.

Ruberto managed the Cardinals’ Class A Erie team to a 44-30 record in 1981.

He operated a photography business in St. Louis and resided there with his family for 26 years.

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(Updated March 23, 2014: The Orioles have signed Brett Wallace to a minor-league contract.)

In dealing Brett Wallace, the Cardinals acquired one of the cornerstones of their batting order, left fielder Matt Holliday, and cleared the way for David Freese to become their third baseman.

brett_wallaceHolliday and Freese became key players for a Cardinals team that won a World Series championship and two National League pennants while qualifying for the postseason each year from 2011-13.

When the Astros released Wallace, 27, on March 12, 2014, it was a reminder that the Cardinals made an important and smart move when they traded Wallace to the Athletics in 2009.

Heavy hitter

Wallace, a first baseman and left-handed batter, was chosen by the Cardinals with the 13th pick in the first round of the June 2008 amateur draft. At Arizona State University, he twice led the Pacific-10 Conference in batting average, home runs and RBI.

Though the Cardinals hoped Wallace could handle third base, scout Chuck Fick said, “His position is hitting.”

“It’s too difficult to walk away from a guy who has this kind of chance to hit … He’s a dangerous hitter,” Fick said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Said Jeff Luhnow, the Cardinals’ vice-president of player development: “He knows, as do we, his value is what he does at the plate.”

Wallace was listed at 6 feet 1 and between 230 and 245 pounds. The Cardinals’ other 2008 first-round pick, awarded for the loss of free-agent reliever Troy Percival, was pitcher Lance Lynn. Wrote Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch: “Lynn, like Wallace, has a bulky frame and the Cardinals acknowledge both players will have to watch their weight to reach the potential that got them drafted.”

After receiving an estimated bonus of $1.8 million from the Cardinals, Wallace reported to the minor leagues in July 2008. In 54 games combined for Class A Quad Cities and Class AA Springfield, Wallace had 68 hits and a .337 batting average.

Big deal

Wallace was playing third base and batting .293 (65 hits in 62 games) for Class AAA Memphis in 2009 when he was traded on July 24 to the Athletics with two other prospects, pitcher Clayton Mortensen and outfielder Shane Peterson, for Holliday.

Wallace was the “keystone of the deal,” said Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak, who added that his counterpart, Billy Beane of the Athletics, insisted on Wallace being involved in any trade talks.

“He’s a guy we’ve always sort of longed for,” Beane told the San Francisco Chronicle.

The Cardinals were bullish on Wallace’s offense _ Mozeliak said Wallace “is not the type of hitter you’re going to replace easily” _ but didn’t see him fitting a position. With Albert Pujols at first base, the Cardinals saw third base as the best option for Wallace.

Wrote Goold: “There was debate within the Cardinals’ front office whether he could be an everyday third baseman in the majors. Uncertainty about that made him available in the right trade.”

Bernie Miklasz, Post-Dispatch columnist, endorsed the trade: “Wallace represents tomorrow, but you don’t worry about tomorrow when Albert Pujols is batting third in your lineup today. Make the most of it.”

Steal for St. Louis

Freese, who was at Springfield, replaced Wallace as Memphis’ third baseman. He became the Cardinals’ starter the next year and was a World Series hero in 2011.

Holliday immediately boosted the 2009 Cardinals’ production. He batted .353 (83 hits in 63 games) with 55 RBI, helping St. Louis win the Central Division title. In his five years with St. Louis, Holliday has been a consistent force, batting .306 and producing a .389 on-base percentage.

Wallace never played in a big-league game for the Athletics. He was traded to the Blue Jays and was stuck in their minor-league system until he joined the Astros, where he eventually was reunited with Luhnow, who became their general manager in December 2011.

In four years (2010-13) with the Astros, Wallace batted .242 with 29 home runs. He had more strikeouts (318) than hits (235). He played 263 games at first base, 17 at third base and eight at designated hitter.

Previously: Fernando Salas: Cool Hand Luke of 2011 Cardinals

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With comparisons already being made to a young Derek Jeter, shortstop Aledmys Diaz will face pressure to develop into the best Cuban player to perform for the Cardinals.

minnie_minoso2Diaz, 23, signed a four-year contract with St. Louis on March 9, 2014. A native of Santa Clara, Cuba, Diaz is expected to some day replace Jhonny Peralta as the starting shortstop for St. Louis.

Several Cubans have been Cardinals. Few have been standouts in St. Louis.

Taking into account their full big-league careers, not just their time with St. Louis, here are the top 5 Cubans who have played for the Cardinals:

1. MINNIE MINOSO

A seven-time all-star with the White Sox and Indians, Minoso led the American League in stolen bases three times and in triples three times. He finished in the top 5 in voting for the American League Most Valuable Player Award four times. In 17 major-league seasons, the outfielder hit .298 with 1,963 hits, 1,023 RBI, 205 stolen bases and an on-base percentage of .389.

Injuries prevented him from achieving success in his lone season with the Cardinals.

Minoso, a native of La Habana, Cuba, was at least 36 (and perhaps 3 to 5 years older) when the Cardinals acquired him from the White Sox in a trade for outfielder-first baseman Joe Cunningham in November 1961. Minoso opened the 1962 season as the Cardinals’ starting left fielder. He started two games, then pulled a rib muscle while taking a swing in batting practice. It was nearly two weeks before he recovered.

On May 11, 1962, at St. Louis, Minoso, pursuing a line drive by the Dodgers’ Duke Snider, crashed headfirst into a concrete wall. He fractured his skull and right wrist. Boxscore

Limited to 39 games, Minoso hit .196 for the 1962 Cardinals. After spending most of the 1963 spring training with St. Louis, his contract was sold to the Senators just before the season began.

2. MIKE CUELLAR

Winner of the 1969 American League Cy Young Award for the pennant-winning Orioles, Cuellar had a 185-130 record in 15 big-league seasons. He won 20 or more four times and was a four-time all-star with the Astros and Orioles.

After making his major-league debut with the 1959 Reds, Cuellar, a native of Las Villas, Cuba, spent the next four seasons in the minors. The Cardinals acquired the left-handed pitcher from the Indians organization before the 1964 season and assigned him to Class AAA Jacksonville.

Cuellar was 6-1 with a 1.78 ERA in 10 starts for Jacksonville. That earned him a promotion to the Cardinals in June 1964. In 32 appearances (seven starts) for St. Louis, Cuellar was 5-5 with 4 saves and a 4.50 ERA.

On Aug. 26, 1964, Cuellar pitched a six-hitter, earning a complete-game win in a 4-2 Cardinals triumph over the Pirates. Boxscore

Cuellar was 3-1 with a 1.75 ERA in 11 August appearances for the Cardinals, playing a significant role in keeping them afloat in the National League pennant chase. But he had a poor September (0-1, 9.00 ERA in 6 games) and didn’t appear in the 1964 World Series against the Yankees.

After opening the next season in the minors, Cuellar and reliever Ron Taylor were traded by the Cardinals to the Astros for pitchers Hal Woodeschick and Chuck Taylor in June 1965.

3. JOSE CARDENAL

In 18 big-league seasons, Cardenal had 1,913 hits, 329 stolen bases and a .275 batting average.

A native of Matanzas, Cuba, Cardenal replaced Curt Flood as the starting center fielder for the 1970 Cardinals after he was acquired during the winter from the Indians for outfielder Vada Pinson.

Cardenal had some of the best games of his career with the 1970 Cardinals. On June 17, he hit three doubles against the Padres at San Diego. Boxscore Two months later, on Aug. 23, he had 5 RBI versus the Padres. Boxscore

The Cardinals shifted Cardenal to right field in 1971. With the emergence of outfield prospects Jose Cruz and Luis Melendez during the season, competition developed for playing time. Choosing to go with the youngsters, St. Louis dealt Cardenal, pitcher Bob Reynolds and infielder Dick Schofield to the Brewers for infielder Ted Kubiak and minor-league pitcher Chuck Loseth on July 29, 1971.

In two seasons with St. Louis, Cardenal hit .275 with 122 RBI and 38 steals.

In 1994-95, Cardenal was a Cardinals coach on the staff of manager Joe Torre. They had been teammates on the 1970-71 Cardinals.

4. DIEGO SEGUI

Segui, a native of Holguin, Cuba, led the American League in ERA (2.56) with the 1970 Athletics. In 15 major-league seasons, the right-handed pitcher was 92-111 with 71 saves.

Looking to bolster a beleaguered bullpen, the Cardinals acquired Segui from the Athletics for future considerations in June 1972. He led the Cardinals in saves in both 1972 (9) and 1973 (17).

With his value at a premium, the Cardinals packaged Segui, pitcher Reggie Cleveland and third baseman Terry Hughes in a deal with the Red Sox for pitchers Lynn McGlothen, John Curtis and Mike Garman after the 1973 season.

In two years with St. Louis, Segui was 10-7 with 26 saves and a 2.88 ERA in 98 appearances.

5. COOKIE ROJAS

A five-time all-star with the Phillies and Royals, Rojas was the fielding percentage leader among second basemen twice in the American League and once in the National League. He also compiled 1,660 hits in 16 seasons in the majors.

A native of La Habana, Cuba, Rojas had a short, uneventful stint with the Cardinals.

He was acquired by St. Louis from the Phillies, along with third baseman Richie Allen and pitcher Jerry Johnson, in the controversial October 1969 trade that sent Flood, catcher Tim McCarver, pitcher Joe Hoerner and outfielder Byron Browne to Philadelphia.

Rojas hit .106 (5-for-47) in 23 games for the 1970 Cardinals before he was dealt to the Royals in June for outfielder Fred Rico.

Honorable mention: pitcher Rene Arocha, catcher-coach Mike Gonzalez, catcher-outfielder Eli Marrero and pitcher Orlando Pena.

Previously: Baseball and romance: Cardinals’ Cuban adventures

Previously: How Rene Arocha turned Marlins fans into Cardinals fans

Previously: Minnie Minoso: Hall of Fame candidate, Cardinals flop

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In 33 years as a major-league manager, Tony La Russa was fired once. The man who replaced him was Jim Fregosi. A key factor why the White Sox chose Fregosi to succeed La Russa was because of the work Fregosi did in mentoring Cardinals prospects. One of those prospects, Jose Oquendo, became a Cardinals coach for La Russa on his staff in St. Louis and together they won three National League pennants and two World Series titles.

jim_fregosiHow’s that for connecting the dots?

Fregosi, who died Feb. 14, 2014, managed the Cardinals’ Class AAA Louisville club from 1983 until he replaced La Russa as White Sox manager in June 1986. Among the prospects managed by Fregosi at Louisville were Vince Coleman, Danny Cox, Ken Dayley, Ricky Horton, Tito Landrum, Greg Mathews, Oquendo, Terry Pendleton, Andy Van Slyke and Todd Worrell. Seventeen of the players on the 1985 National League championship Cardinals club played for Fregosi at Louisville.

Path to the majors

A six-time all-star shortstop for the Angels in the 1960s, Fregosi managed the Angels from 1978-81, leading them to their first division title in 1979, before he was fired and replaced by Gene Mauch. After sitting out the 1982 season while running a food brokerage business, Fregosi became Louisville manager in 1983. (Lee Thomas, the Cardinals’ director of player development, had been an Angels teammate of Fregosi and was instrumental in bringing him into the St. Louis organization.)

Louisville won back-to-back American Association championships (1984-85) under Fregosi. But, with Whitey Herzog entrenched as Cardinals manager, Fregosi’s best hope of managing again in the major leagues was with another organization. The Mariners had contacted him, but Fregosi was seeking an opportunity with a franchise that gave him a chance to win.

In June 1986, White Sox general manager Ken “Hawk” Harrelson fired La Russa and pitching coach Dave Duncan. The White Sox were 26-38 and Harrelson had been clashing often with La Russa and Duncan. “The record is not indicative of the talent involved,” Harrelson told the Chicago Sun-Times.

Fregosi was Harrelson’s first choice. Harrelson had sent scouts to Louisville and their reports on Fregosi were glowing, the Sun-Times reported.

Tireless teacher

Here is what others said about Fregosi’s work in the Cardinals system:

_ Rick Bozich, columnist, Louisville Courier-Journal: “When you roll the highlights films of what Fregosi has accomplished in Louisville, the two American Association championships won’t even make the top 10. No, the lingering images will be of the consistently long hours he worked developing the young players who carried the St. Louis Cardinals to the 1985 National League pennant and the wonderfully tranquil clubhouses he presided over. There was never a reason to check Fregosi’s time card. He reported to Cardinal Stadium at 2 every afternoon. One day he’d be in the cage convincing Vince Coleman he could make millions chopping down on the ball; the next day you could find him in the bullpen tinkering with Todd Worrell’s fastball grip.”

_ Mo Mozzali, Cardinals scout: “As fantastic as Jimmy has been for baseball in Louisville, he’s done even more for the players in the Cardinals organization. I’ve never seen anybody better working with young players.”

_ Dyar Miller, Louisville pitching coach: “Jim is a great teacher. He works on the field for three or four hours before every game, on theories of hitting, turning the double play, getting ready to pitch in the bullpen, whatever.”

_ Tony La Russa to the Sun-Times after learning Fregosi had replaced him: “When Jim Fregosi was in this league (as Angels manager), I thought he did an outstanding job. He’s been ready to manage in the big leagues for several years.”

Tales from Tony

White Sox owner Jerry Reinsdorf said La Russa told him, “If you have to fire me, hire Jim (Fregosi) or Jim Leyland … Fregosi is a good manager. I like him.”

La Russa went to the Athletics and won three American League pennants and a World Series title before joining the Cardinals and completing a managerial career that has earned him election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Fregosi managed the White Sox from 1986-88, then had stints as manager of the Phillies (1991-96) and Blue Jays (1999-2000). He won a National League pennant with the 1993 Phillies.

In 1996, La Russa’s first season as Cardinals manager, he was asked by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Fregosi during a series with the Phillies in St. Louis.

La Russa replied, “The old line had me asking, ‘What does Fregosi have that I don’t have?’ The answer was, ‘Your job.’ “

Previously: Dyar Miller gets justly rewarded for loyalty to Cardinals

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Thinking they had the next Bo Jackson, the Cardinals turned down the chance to draft Frank Thomas.

paul_colemanIn the first round of the June 1989 baseball draft, the Cardinals, with the sixth pick, selected outfielder Paul Coleman of Frankston (Texas) High School.

With the next pick, No. 7, the White Sox chose Thomas, a first baseman from Auburn University.

Thomas, a two-time winner of the American League Most Valuable Player Award, was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame on Jan. 8, 2014. Playing for the White Sox, Blue Jays and Athletics from 1990-2008, Thomas hit .301 with 521 home runs and 1,704 RBI in his big-league career.

Coleman never reached the major leagues.

The top seven selections in the first round of the 1989 draft:

1. Ben McDonald, pitcher, Orioles.

2. Tyler Houston, catcher, Braves.

3. Roger Salkeld, pitcher, Mariners.

4. Jeff Jackson, outfielder, Phillies.

5. Donald Harris, outfielder, Rangers.

6. Paul Coleman, outfielder, Cardinals.

7. Frank Thomas, first baseman, White Sox.

All except Jackson and Coleman played in the big leagues. Only Thomas made the Hall of Fame.

Sure bet

The Cardinals had rated Coleman the fifth-best player in the draft, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. So, when Coleman was available at No. 6, the Cardinals felt fortunate.

“We’ve been looking for a power hitter and we think Coleman is the type of guy who is going to come through,” Fred McAlister, Cardinals director of scouting, told Vahe Gregorian of the Post-Dispatch on draft day. “He’s built along the lines of a Bo Jackson.”

Coleman, 5 feet 11 and 215 pounds, hit .498 with 39 home runs in his high school career.

A right-handed batter, Coleman had 119 RBI in 93 high school games. As a senior, he was successful on all 25 of his stolen base attempts. He was 63-for-67 in steal attempts during his prep career.

“We’ve had five of our people look at him,” McAlister said. “I’ve seen him three times myself. He’s an outstanding individual. We’re very fortunate to have had the opportunity to select him.”

Cardinals scout Hal Smith, a former big-league catcher with St. Louis, saw Coleman hit a home run that soared more than 500 feet. “It just went on into the night and you never saw it again,” Smith said to Gregorian. “It left everything.”

Local hero

Coleman, the first outfielder chosen by the Cardinals in the first round since Andy Van Slyke in 1979, was delighted to be taken so early by St. Louis. “I lost my breath when I heard,” he said.

Said Sonny Perry, baseball coach at Frankston High School: “It’s the biggest thing that’s ever happened to this town. It’s the biggest thing that ever will happen to this town.”

Coleman spent five years in the Cardinals’ minor-league system, never advancing beyond Class AA.

His best professional season was in 1993 with the Cardinals’ Arkansas club in the Texas League. Playing for manager Joe Pettini as part of an outfield with John Mabry and Allen Battle, Coleman hit .244 with 24 doubles, seven home runs and 30 RBI in 123 games.

Big Hurt

Thomas, 6 feet 5 and 240 pounds, had hit .403 with 19 home runs and 83 RBI for Auburn in 1989.

“He’s strong with outstanding power and not that bad defensively,” Al Goldis, White Sox scouting director, said to the Chicago Sun-Times on draft day. “He does need to lose weight, though.”

A year later, Aug. 2, 1990, Thomas made his big-league debut with the White Sox.

Previously: Frank Thomas let his bat do talking vs. Cardinals

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