Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

After the Cardinals acquired Jim Brosnan from the Cubs in 1958, they thought they had a premier reliever. What they didn’t know was they had a premier author.

jim_brosnanBrosnan, who pitched for the Cardinals from 1958-59 and wrote baseball books such as “The Long Season,” “Pennant Race” and “The Ted Simmons Story,” died on June 28, 2014. He was 84.

“The Long Season” (1960, Harper & Brothers) chronicled Brosnan’s 1959 season with the Cardinals and Reds. “Pennant Race” (1962, Harper & Brothers) was a diary about Brosnan’s season with the 1961 National League champion Reds. Both books rank among the best and most influential written about baseball. Brosnan, nicknamed “Professor” during his playing days, wrote with sly wit and intelligence.

I discovered “Pennant Race” at a public library while in grade school in the 1960s. The book was so compelling that I spent the better part of the day with it there in a library chair.

“The Ted Simmons Story,” written while the all-star catcher was at the height of his Cardinals career, is a gem, a perfect pairing of author and subject. Brosnan and Simmons are two of the smartest, original thinkers to play the game.

Scholar joins St. Louis

Traded by the Cubs for shortstop Al Dark on May 20, 1958, Brosnan, 28, was put into the Cardinals starting rotation. He earned wins in his first three Cardinals starts, including a complete game in an 8-1 St. Louis victory over the Giants on May 30. Boxscore

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson discovered, though, that Brosnan was more effective as a reliever. In 21 relief appearances for the 1958 Cardinals, Brosnan was 4-1 with 7 saves and a 1.67 ERA.

Oscar Kahan of The Sporting News wrote, “The scholarly, bespectacled right-hander … developed into one of the sharpest bullpen men in the National League.”

In 12 starts for the 1958 Cardinals, Brosnan was 4-3 with a 4.50 ERA. His overall numbers for the 1958 Cardinals: 8-4, 3.44 ERA, in 33 games.

Japanese journal

The Cardinals embarked on an exhibition tour of Japan after the 1958 season. Brosnan filed articles about the trip for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In describing their arrival during a stopover in Hawaii, Brosnan wrote that the team was greeted “by girls with leis who did their celebrated walk forward, placed the garlands around each blushing player’s neck and whispered ‘Aloha’ while nuzzling the right cheek.”

Aloha, Brosnan informed his St. Louis readers, “is used to say hello, to say goodbye and even just to be friendly when having nothing else to say.”

In “The Long Season,” Brosnan wrote how his Cardinals teammates, Don Blasingame and Joe Cunningham, were out to “see everything and do everything” during the Japan trip.

Wrote Brosnan, “The Japanese bath is an unusual custom for an Occidental to enjoy, but it is an easy habit to get into. If it’s not the first thing to do after you land in Japan, it may well be the last before you leave … Cunningham and Blasingame, in their anxiety to do the right thing by the Japanese as well as themselves, absorbed a maximum of Oriental culture on the last day and night of our stay in Tokyo. The rising sun found them padding quietly and contentedly through the lobby of the Imperial Hotel. Sleepless, perhaps, but loose as a goose, like they say.”

St. Louis stumble

Solly Hemus replaced Hutchinson as manager, but Brosnan remained firmly in the Cardinals’ bullpen plans for 1959.

He experienced a disastrous Opening Day against the Giants at St. Louis.

With the Cardinals ahead 4-3, Hemus lifted starter Larry Jackson after seven innings and brought in Brosnan. The Giants scored twice against him in the eighth (Willie Kirkland homered and Andre Rodgers hit a RBI-triple) for a 5-4 lead.

In the bottom half of the inning, Alex Grammas had a RBI-single, tying the score at 5-5. Hemus could have removed Brosnan for a pinch-hitter, but allowed him to remain in the game to pitch the ninth.

Brosnan walked the leadoff batter and, one out later, Jackie Brandt hit a RBI-double. The Giants won, 6-5. Brosnan got the loss and was booed. Boxscore

In “The Long Season,” Brosnan wrote, “It doesn’t take very long, really, to lose your confidence. To embarrass yourself, jeopardize your position, maybe lose your job. Hemus went a long way with me. He could have taken me out. He should have taken me out.”

Heading to hometown

Brosnan allowed eight runs in six relief appearances from May 1 to May 10. In The Sporting News, Ralph Ray wrote, “From one of the best relief men in the NL a year ago … Brosnan turned into a dud as a fireman.”

Hoping a change in routine would help, Hemus gave Brosnan a start against the Phillies on June 7 at Philadelphia. It was a bust. Brosnan gave up four runs before he was yanked with one out in the first. The Phillies won, 11-9. Boxscore

The next day, back in St. Louis, Brosnan and his wife dined at Stan Musial’s restaurant. When they returned to the George Washington Hotel, where Brosnan resided during the season, a desk clerk called to Brosnan as he crossed the lobby.

“Solly Hemus was here just a while ago, Mr. Brosnan,” the clerk said. “He left this letter.”

Brosnan wrote that he waited to open the envelope until he got to his room. The letter, from general manager Bing Devine, informed Brosnan he had been traded to the Reds for pitcher Hal Jeffcoat.

“I sat back on the couch, half-breathing as I waited for the indignation to flush good red blood to my head,” Brosnan wrote. “Nothing happened. I took a deep breath, then exhaled slowly. It’s true. The second time you’re sold you don’t feel a thing.”

Brosnan was 1-3 with 2 saves and a 4.91 ERA in 20 games for the 1959 Cardinals.

Born and raised in Cincinnati, he regained his form with the Reds and was a prominent member of their pennant-winning staff in 1961. Brosnan was 10-4 with 16 saves and a 3.04 ERA in 53 appearances for the National League champions, who were managed by Hutchinson.

In a nine-year major-league career with the Cubs, Cardinals, Reds and White Sox, Brosnan was 55-47 with 67 saves and a 3.54 ERA.

Previously: How Stan Musial helped Cardinal rookie Howie Nunn

Read Full Post »

His name, perfect for a young, hard thrower, seemed the kind a novelist or screenwriter would conjure. Yet, Billy McCool was real, a left-hander who broke into the majors with the Reds as a teenager and for two years was among the top relievers in the National League.

bill_mccoolThe Cardinals found McCool nearly untouchable in 1966, when he was a National League all-star.

McCool battled the Cardinals for six seasons, 1964-69. He pitched more innings and had more strikeouts versus the Cardinals than he did against any other big-league opponent.

In 1970, the Cardinals acquired McCool from the Padres. By then, McCool, 26, was struggling. He made 18 appearances for the 1970 Cardinals and was 0-3 with a 6.23 ERA and a save.

This post is dedicated to McCool, 69, who died June 8, 2014, in Summerfield, Fla.

Reds rookie

A standout athlete at Lawrenceburg, Ind., McCool was signed by the Reds as an amateur free agent in 1963. McCool, 19, made his big-league debut with the 1964 Reds. He was a prominent pitcher for a club that fought the Cardinals and Phillies for the pennant through the final day of the season.

McCool posted 6 wins and 7 saves with a 2.42 ERA for the 1964 Reds. The Sporting News named him its National League Rookie Pitcher of the Year.

Against the Cardinals that season, McCool was 0-2 with a save in 6 appearances. On Sept. 19, the Reds beat Bob Gibson and the Cardinals in the first game of a doubleheader at Cincinnati. McCool got his first big-league start (after 34 relief appearances) in the second game.

Matched against Ray Sadecki, McCool was good, yielding two runs, striking out seven and issuing no walks in eight innings. Sadecki was better. He pitched eight scoreless innings and combined with closer Barney Schultz for the shutout in a 2-0 triumph for the Cardinals. Boxscore

After the season, McCool and his brother-in-law, a pharmacist, bought a drug store in Lawrenceburg. Wrote The Sporting News: “Billy McCool not only throws aspirin tablets, he sells them.”

Billy the Kid

McCool sought a pay raise from the Reds for 1965. According to The Sporting News, contract talks between McCool and assistant general manager Phil Seghi included this exchange:

Seghi: “Billy, you’re just a kid yet. You’re asking for too much money.”

McCool: “If I’m only a kid, why do they give me a man’s job to do?”

Appearing in 62 games, including 2 starts, in 1965, McCool compiled 9 wins and 21 saves for the Reds. He ranked second in the league in saves, behind the Cubs’ Ted Abernathy. McCool was 1-1 with 4 saves versus the Cardinals that season.

Used exclusively in relief in 1966, McCool had 8 wins, 18 saves and a 2.48 ERA. He again ranked second in the league in saves, behind the Dodgers’ Phil Regan. In 7 games against the 1966 Cardinals, McCool was 2-1 with 3 saves and a 1.04 ERA. He struck out 23 Cardinals in 17.1 innings and yielded 2 earned runs.

In the July 2, 1966, edition of The Sporting News, Mets second baseman Chuck Hiller said of McCool’s fastball, “It looks about the size of a Ping-Pong ball when it comes up to the plate.”

Said Mets third baseman and former Cardinals standout Ken Boyer: “That slider he’s throwing now is the best I’ve ever seen a left-hander have.”

McCool made 11 starts in 31 appearances in 1967 and 4 starts in 30 appearances in 1968.

Battles with Brock

He had two significant games against the 1968 Cardinals.

On April 23, 1968, the Reds led the Cardinals, 2-0, through eight innings at St. Louis. In the ninth, the Cardinals scored twice off starter George Culver, tying the score. In the 10th, Lou Brock hit a two-run walkoff home run against McCool, giving the Cardinals a 4-2 victory. Boxscore

Two months later, on June 14, McCool got a start at St. Louis. He held the Cardinals scoreless in six innings and limited them to two hits _ singles by Julian Javier and Tim McCarver _ and got the win in a 7-0 Reds triumph. Boxscore It was McCool’s last major-league win as a starter.

(Brock hit .147, 5-for-34, with 12 strikeouts against McCool in his career. Another Cardinals hitter who struggled versus McCool was Mike Shannon. He hit .100, 2-for-20, with 7 strikeouts. The Cardinals who hit McCool best: Javier at .400, 8-for-20, and Curt Flood at .292, 7-for-24.)

The Reds made McCool, 24, available in the expansion draft after the 1968 season and he was selected by the Padres. “McCool could help San Diego,” Reds manager Dave Bristol said. “There’s nothing wrong with his arm.”

In 4 appearances for the Padres against the 1969 Cardinals, McCool was 2-1 with a 4.15 ERA.

On Aug. 6, 1969, at San Diego, McCool relieved Clay Kirby in the ninth with the score tied at 2-2 and retired the Cardinals in order. When ex-Cardinal Ed Spiezio opened the Padres’ ninth with a home run off Steve Carlton, lifting San Diego to a 3-2 victory, McCool got the win, his last in the big leagues. Boxscore

Save for St. Louis

In April 1970, the Cardinals acquired McCool from the Padres for infielder Steve Huntz. After a stint at Class AAA Tulsa, McCool was promoted to the Cardinals in May.

In his third appearance, May 15, 1970, McCool earned a save with two scoreless innings in relief of Mike Torrez in a 1-0 victory over the Cubs at St. Louis. McCool retired Don Kessinger, Glenn Beckert and Billy Williams on ground balls in the eighth. In the ninth, after getting ground outs from Jim Hickman and Johnny Callison, McCool walked Ron Santo before retiring Cleo James on a fly ball. Boxscore

That was McCool’s highlight as a Cardinal. In July, he was demoted to Tulsa. After the season, the Cardinals traded him to the Red Sox for pitcher Bill Landis. McCool never returned to the major leagues.

In 7 big-league seasons, he posted a 32-42 record with 58 saves and a 3.59 ERA. In 33 games against the Cardinals, McCool was 6-6 with 8 saves, a 3.26 ERA and 68 strikeouts in 66.1 innings.

Previously: Cardinals vs. Reds: rich tradition of July 4 showdowns

Read Full Post »

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

Read Full Post »

In one of their worst deals, the Cardinals paid $75,000 and gave up a trio of players for a pitcher who netted them two outs.

memo_lunaIgnoring the Cardinals’ directive to stop pitching during the winter, left-hander Memo Luna, the ERA leader of the Pacific Coast League in 1953, injured his arm, appeared in one game for St. Louis, failed to complete an inning and never played in the big leagues again.

Sixty years ago, on April 20, 1954, Guillermo Romero “Memo” Luna made his big-league debut as the Cardinals’ starter against the Reds at St. Louis. In the first inning, Luna yielded two runs on two doubles, two walks and a sacrifice fly. He was lifted with two outs and dispatched to the Cardinals’ Class AAA Rochester club. Boxscore

Though he continued to pitch in the minor leagues until 1961, Memo Luna never returned to the majors.

His big-league career totals: 0-1 record, 27.00 ERA, 0.2 innings, 2 hits, 2 runs, 2 walks, 6 batters faced.

Super southpaw

Seven months earlier, on Sept. 23, 1953, the Cardinals acquired Luna from San Diego for $75,000 and players to be named. They eventually sent pitchers Cliff Chambers and John Romonosky and outfielder Harry Elliott to San Diego, completing the deal.

At the time, Luna, 23, seemed worth the price. He had a 17-12 record and a league-best 2.67 ERA with 16 complete games for San Diego in 1953. Jack Bliss, a catcher for the 1908-1912 Cardinals, had watched Luna at San Diego and told Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky, “He’s got exceptional control and a good curve.”

Cardinals scouts also checked him out and were impressed by Luna’s knuckleball and slider.

That fall, Luna pitched in the Cuban League for Almendares and manager Bobby Bragan. The Cardinals had granted permission with the understanding Luna would quit around Dec. 1, The Sporting News reported.

Luna posted a 4-1 record in his first five decisions for Almendares. The Sporting News wrote that Luna “has shown remarkable poise and control, plus a fine knuckler.”

After Luna lost his next two decisions as the Dec. 1 deadline loomed, the Cardinals suggested he leave the Cuban League and rest his arm before reporting to spring training in February. Luna obliged, went from Cuba to St. Louis, passed a physical examination and went home to his native Mexico.

Worn down

Instead of resting, though, Luna pitched in the Veracruz League in Mexico without the Cardinals’ knowledge. On Feb. 19, 1954, pitching for the Mexico City Reds against Aztecas, Luna struck out a batter in the third inning and grabbed his left elbow in pain.

According to The Sporting News, Luna stayed in the game until its completion, yielding five runs and nine hits, and “was throwing with only half speed after the injury.” He earned the win in an 8-5 Mexico City victory.

Luna reported to Cardinals spring training camp in Florida, complaining of a sore arm.

“We asked Luna to quit pitching Dec. 1, but we have no way of controlling what a man does back in his home country,” said Stanky.

In spring training, Luna failed to impress. He gave up three runs in two innings to the Phillies and surrendered a two-run, game-winning home run to the Reds’ Gus Bell.

Still, having paid a high price for him, the Cardinals put Luna on the Opening Day roster.

He got the start in the Cardinals’ sixth game of the season _ and never got another chance with them again.

Previously: Why Cardinals thought they had an ace in Vic Raschi

Read Full Post »

Uncertain whether outfielder Enos Slaughter could adjust to being a role player for them after 13 seasons as a standout, the Cardinals decided it was better to trade him.

enos_slaughter3In hindsight, the deal benefitted both Slaughter and the Cardinals. At the time, though, the trade was considered stunning and controversial. Caught off-guard, Slaughter and teammate Stan Musial broke into tears.

Sixty years ago, on April 11, 1954, the Cardinals sent Slaughter to the Yankees for three prospects who hadn’t played in the major leagues: outfielders Bill Virdon and Emil Tellinger and pitcher Mel Wright.

The trade occurred two weeks before Slaughter turned 38. He was the Cardinals team captain, a 10-time all-star who, at the time, held the team record for games played (1,820) and RBI (1,148). Slaughter had joined the Cardinals in 1938 and helped them to a World Series championship in 1942. After three years in the service, he returned to the Cardinals in 1946 and led them to another World Series title.

In 13 seasons with the Cardinals, Slaughter batted .305 with 2,064 hits and an on-base percentage of .384. Known for his all-out hustle, he twice led the National League in triples (17 in 1942 and 13 in 1949). In 1942, he was the league leader in hits (188) and total bases (292). He also had led the league in RBI (130 in 1946) and doubles (52 in 1939).

At 37, he still was a force. In 143 games for the 1953 Cardinals, Slaughter produced 143 hits, 34 doubles, 89 RBI, a .291 batting average and .395 on-base percentage as the everyday right fielder.

Youth movement

Slaughter went to spring training camp in St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1954 expecting to be a regular again in an outfield with Musial and Rip Repulski. Late in spring training, though, Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky told The Sporting News, “I’ll be satisfied if we can get 75 to 90 games out of the captain.”

Reports surfaced that Slaughter was grousing about the possibility of becoming a role player. Whether that was the normal grumbling of a proud veteran who didn’t want to concede playing time, or whether it was a tone of dark dissent that threatened to divide the team isn’t certain.

The Cardinals, though, weren’t taking any chances that Slaughter’s part-time playing status could create rifts. They wanted rookie Wally Moon to be the starting center fielder, moving Musial from left to right and Repulski from center to left.

After an exhibition game, general manager Dick Meyer and Stanky informed Slaughter of the trade. Slaughter stunned Meyer and Stanky when he began to sob.

“It’s the greatest shock I ever had in my life,” Slaughter told The Sporting News of the trade.

Crying game

In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964, Doubleday), Musial wrote, “In the clubhouse, when the rest of us got the word, we were stunned. Dressing even more slowly than usual, I was the last one out. At the lot where I parked my car … I found Slaughter, still wiping his eyes. We looked at each other _ and both burst into tears.”

In justifying the trade, Stanky said to The Sporting News: “A player like Slaughter just can’t stand sitting on a bench.”

According to newspaper reports, the trade was the most unpopular with Cardinals fans since St. Louis traded Rogers Hornsby to the Giants after winning the 1926 World Series championship.

St. Louis writers reflected the mood of their readers. Among the tributes to Slaughter:

_ Bob Broeg in The Sporting News: “There never was a more determined competitor or hustler than the last of the old Gashouse Gang _ a hard runner, brilliant outfielder, clutch hitter.”

_ Bob Burnes in the St. Louis Globe-Democrat: “Slaughter was more than a ballplayer, as any Cardinals fan could tell you. He was an institution _ not only among the fans but among the players as well.”

_ J. Roy Stockton in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “Enos was the best competitor the club had. He still was a standout for batting skill and hustle.”

Desperate move?

The Yankees, who had an outfield of Gene Woodling in left, Mickey Mantle in center and Hank Bauer in right in 1954, were delighted with the deal for Slaughter. “We gave up practically nothing for him, so why not take him?” Yankees co-owner Del Webb told The Sporting News.

But other baseball executives saw Slaughter as a fading talent. The Sporting News polled the seven National League general managers besides Meyer and each said he wasn’t interested in pursuing a deal with the Cardinals for Slaughter.

Buzzy Bavasi of the Dodgers, who were planning to break in rookie Sandy Amoros into an outfield with Duke Snider and Carl Furillo, said, “Personally, I wouldn’t take Slaughter over Amoros, would you?”

In response to the Yankees, Frank Lane, general manager of the American League White Sox, scoffed, “You can’t pack Old Man Time on your back and still be a great ballplayer … It was a desperate move by them.”

Actually, it was a good move for the Cardinals and Yankees.

Moon hit a home run in his first at-bat for the Cardinals on Opening Day and went on to win the 1954 National League Rookie of the Year Award. Primarily the Cardinals’ starting center fielder that year, he had 193 hits in 151 games, with 106 runs scored, 18 steals, a .304 batting average and a .371 on-base percentage.

The next year, Virdon came up to the Cardinals and won the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year Award.

Slaughter, meanwhile, adjusted well to being a role player with the Yankees. He hit .355 (11-for-31) with 12 walks as a pinch-hitter for the 1954 Yankees. He played in the major leagues until 1959 and appeared in three World Series (1956, 1957 and 1958) for the Yankees, earning election into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Previously: Cardinals rookie Enos Slaughter set torrid extra-hit pace

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »


Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 42 other followers