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In a classic clash of individual free will versus organizational authority, Al Hrabosky challenged the rules of manager Vern Rapp, creating a controversy that threatened to divide the Cardinals during spring training in 1977.

al_hrabosky3Forty years ago, Rapp, the Cardinals’ first-year manager, had declared no Cardinals player could have a beard, moustache, long sideburns or long hair. Hrabosky, the Cardinals’ top relief pitcher, had earned the nickname “Mad Hungarian,” in part, because of an intimidating look that featured a Fu Manchu moustache.

Bristling at what he considered unnecessarily rigid rules and convinced a clean-shaven look hampered his effectiveness as a pitcher, Hrabosky ripped Rapp in comments to media.

For Rapp, who never had been in the big leagues until replacing the popular Red Schoendienst as manager, Hrabosky’s outburst was a critical test of his ability to command the respect of the team.

Spirit of St. Louis

A St. Louis native, Rapp was a catcher in the Cardinals’ system from 1946-50 and from 1953-54. He was a Cardinals minor-league manager from 1965-68 before moving to the Reds organization.

After the Cardinals fired Schoendienst, they hired Rapp because of a no-nonsense reputation.

Before leaving for 1977 spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., Rapp, 48, revealed his edict on hair.

“Rapp’s tonsorial order took priority over a lot more important matters among St. Louis fans,” The Sporting News reported. “The two daily newspapers were swamped with letters, most of them in favor of the manager.”

In explaining why he implemented the ban, Rapp told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “I’ve had those codes on teams I’ve managed since 1965. It’s to give the players a feeling of being responsible to the profession they’re in. The dress and hair codes reflect their character and personality to the public. It’s a big way they can start developing pride.”

Rapp’s rules

Most Cardinals players reported to spring training clean-shaven and with haircuts. Third baseman Ken Reitz “was asked by the manager to get his hair trimmed and did, but not enough to suit Rapp,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

“There are a couple of others who still didn’t get their hair trimmed enough at the sides, but they will,” Rapp said.

The first player to challenge the rule was outfielder Bake McBride, who attempted to keep a goatee.

When Rapp ordered McBride to shave, McBride responded, “You’re going to make enemies.”

Said Rapp: “I didn’t come down here to win friends.”

Hrabosky, ever the showman, invited the media to film and photograph him as he shaved his Fu Manchu and beard.

The hair code wasn’t the only change introduced by Rapp. He issued daily step-by-step mimeographed instructions to the players, gave them identical team exercise suits to wear, required them to attend a demonstration by coach Sonny Ruberto on how uniforms should be worn and scheduled workouts before and after lunch.

After the Cardinals were beaten, 10-0, by the Mets in their spring training opener, “Rapp sent his players on a 15-lap tour from first to home,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Hate mood

Hrabosky initially tried to use his unhappiness with the hair code as motivation to pitch well.

“I want to prove to Rapp that I’m his No. 1 relief pitcher,” Hrabosky said. “I want to be his No. 1 stopper. I wanted to be in a hate mood and Rapp put me there by taking away my beard and moustache. But, look, I super-like Vern. I want to help him, help the ballclub and help myself. He has aroused something in me to fight back.”

A few days later, though, Hrabosky directed his frustration at Rapp.

Al apologizes

On March 20, Hrabosky told the Associated Press: “My mental outlook is atrocious. There’s more dissension on this club than I’ve ever seen.”

That same day, Hrabosky told United Press International his teammates were being stifled by Rapp. “The guys are just standing still,” Hrabosky said. “The reason is they’re afraid to move.”

Informed of Hrabosky’s comments, Rapp told the Post-Dispatch, “I just don’t understand it.”

Before the Cardinals left for their March 21 exhibition game against the Red Sox at Winter Haven, Fla., Rapp called a team meeting.

“I wanted to get everything out in the open,” Rapp said. “I wanted the players to know that I am the manager of this team. They fully realize this and they are willing to accept it.”

Hrabosky stood up at the meeting and apologized.

“I’m man enough to admit I was wrong … I’m going to keep my mouth shut and do what I have to do,” Hrabosky told the Post-Dispatch. “I offended Vern. I feel I threatened his helm. As a team member, I felt I had no right to say what I did.”

Catcher Ted Simmons, the only other player to speak at the meeting, urged his teammates to conduct themselves professionally. Said Simmons of Rapp: “He is the manager and that’s that. If he wants you to stand on your head, then you should do it.”

Family feud

The Cardinals opened the regular season on April 7 and beat the Pirates, 12-6, at Pittsburgh. Hrabosky pitched 2.1 innings and helped protect the win for starter John Denny.

Afterward, a jubilant Hrabosky was asked by The Sporting News to reflect on his spring training criticism of Rapp. “Maybe I was a little selfish and a little childish about the matter,” Hrabosky said. “I accept it now.”

Peace, though, wasn’t long-lasting.

In May, Rapp suspended Hrabosky for insubordination after the pitcher refused the manager’s request to meet.

In June, McBride, who remained unhappy with Rapp, was traded to the Phillies.

In July, with Hrabosky beginning to grow facial hair and threatening to file a grievance with the players’ union, Cardinals owner Gussie Busch ordered Rapp to discontinue the hair code.

Hrabosky led the 1977 Cardinals in saves (10) and games pitched (65) but his ERA was 4.38. After the season, he was traded to the Royals.

Rapp was fired in April 1978 and replaced by Ken Boyer.

Previously: The pitfalls of Cardinals rookie manager Vern Rapp

Benefiting from the wisdom and experience of master instructors, Mike Shannon was a willing pupil in a grand experiment that was integral to the Cardinals becoming World Series champions in 1967.

mike_shannon6Seeking a starting third baseman, the Cardinals decided to give Shannon first crack at earning the job during spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., 50 years ago.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst and instructor George Kissell developed a series of drills to convert Shannon from right fielder to third baseman.

The Cardinals needed to replace third baseman Charlie Smith, who had been traded to the Yankees for right fielder Roger Maris in December 1966.

Shannon had batted .288 with 16 home runs and 64 RBI as St. Louis’ right fielder in 1966. Schoendienst wanted to keep Shannon’s bat in the lineup in 1967, joining first baseman Orlando Cepeda and Maris in forming a potentially potent trio of RBI producers.

Moving Shannon to third would enable the Cardinals to have both Maris and Shannon in the lineup.

The conversion, though, wouldn’t be easy.

Head start

Shannon’s main competitors within the Cardinals for the starting third base job were Ed Spiezio, Phil Gagliano, Jerry Buchek and Ted Savage. None, though, were considered Shannon’s equal in hitting with power and driving in runs.

Before pitchers and catchers reported for spring training, the Cardinals held a special instructional camp starting Feb. 17 at St. Petersburg, with Schoendienst, Kissell and coach Joe Schultz as teachers.

The Cardinals invited eight players _ Shannon, Gagliano, Buchek, Savage, infielder Jimy Williams, outfielders Bobby Tolan and Alex Johnson, and catcher Pat Corrales _ to the camp. Spiezio would have been invited but was excused because he had played winter ball in the Caribbean.

“The Shannon-at-third experiment is rated a longshot by most observers,” The Sporting News reported.

Schoendienst and his assistants devised infield workouts to determine whether Shannon could be effective at third base.

In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, journalist J. Roy Stockton observed: “Schoendienst is giving Shannon and other infielders the toughest defensive drills they probably have ever seen. … Instead of fielding friendly grounders off a fungo stick, the athletes had to handle the most difficult chances.”

With Kissell pitching to Schoendienst, the manager hit the ball to the infielders.

“Red still can swing a vicious bat with unusual place-hitting skill,” Stockton wrote. “The infielders never knew who was going to have to tackle the next shot off the manager’s bat.”

Bat man

Shannon did well enough at the instructional camp _ “So far, so good,” Schoendienst told The Sporting News _ to enter spring training as No. 1 on the depth chart at third base.

“I prefer Shannon because he has the best bat of anybody we might consider for third base,” Schoendienst said. “Another reason is that Mike will tackle anything and give it a real try. He’s that kind of guy.”

Bob Broeg, Post-Dispatch sport editor, opined: “If Shannon … can be in the lineup with his aggressive bat, the Redbirds’ attack will be considerably stronger than if the club is forced to give up and return him to compete in an outfield overcrowded with talent.”

Shannon, however, struggled with his fielding during spring exhibition games.

“Mike isn’t reacting quite as well … because he’s got his hands on his knees and his weight back on his heels,” Schoendienst said. “He doesn’t come up on the balls of his feet, hands loose in front of him, ready to go in any direction with the pitch. He’s got to concentrate better, too.”

Hot pepper

With the season opener about two weeks away, Schoendienst intensified his work with Shannon.

“Schoendienst took him to the private infield beyond the left-field fence at Al Lang Field and brought along virtually the entire pitching staff,” Broeg reported.

Schoendienst wanted Shannon and the pitchers to work together at calling plays and handling bunts.

Afterward, “Schoendienst slashed and lashed hot grounders and line drives at Shannon in a torrid one-man pepper game,” Broeg observed. “Shannon’s cap was off, his black hair matted with perspiration as he lunged left, then right and threw his hands up in self-defense as Schoendienst smashed the ball at him … from a distance of no more than 40 feet.”

Said Cardinals shortstop Dal Maxvill: “I feel sorry for Mike. He’s really giving it the old try. Red has been hitting balls at him like that every day. Mike really wants to make it.”

Making the grade

Shannon produced 19 RBI in Florida Grapefruit League spring training games, validating the Cardinals’ view that his bat was needed.

Named the starter at third base, Shannon pulled a muscle in his left side in the April 11 season opener and didn’t return to the lineup until April 23.

As the Cardinals hoped, Shannon played well enough at third base and delivered run production. He had 12 home runs and 77 RBI. Only Cepeda, with 111, drove in more runs for the 1967 Cardinals.

Batting primarily in the fifth and sixth spots in the order, Shannon hit .293 with runners in scoring position.

Shannon played in 123 regular-season games at third base and made 29 errors. He also committed two errors in seven World Series games.

Still, with Shannon providing punch and Maris delivering timely hitting and solid defense in right field, the 1967 Cardinals finished at 101-60, 10.5 games ahead of the second-place Giants, and won four of seven from the Red Sox in the World Series.

Previously: Ted Savage had long, fruitful 2nd career with Cardinals

In his bid to join the Cardinals, Red Schoendienst had no trouble with the baseball skills part of the challenge. It was the hassle of everyday life that proved to be his biggest obstacle to becoming a professional player.

red_schoendienst12Seventy-five years ago, in 1942, Schoendienst impressed the Cardinals at a tryout camp and earned a contract, launching him on a career that would lead to election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and special status as a beloved franchise icon.

Displaying the tenacity that enabled him to spend eight decades in the big leagues as a player, manager, coach and advisor, Schoendienst overcame a series of roadblocks _ from serious to annoying _ to give himself a chance to receive an offer from the Cardinals.

Damaging accident

Schoendienst was born and raised in Germantown, Ill., about 40 miles from St. Louis. In 1939, at 16, Schoendienst quit high school and got a job in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He played amateur baseball after work and on weekends.

While on the job, Schoendienst and a friend, Joe Linneman, were building fences.

In the 1998 book “Red: A Baseball Life,” Linneman recalled: “We would stretch the wire as tight as we could get it and then use a hammer to drive a staple into a dry hedge post, which was almost as hard as a piece of steel.”

As Linneman slammed the hammer into a post, a staple caromed off the hardwood and into Schoendienst’s left eye.

“It was,” said Schoendienst, “the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”

Doctors wanted to remove the eye, but Schoendienst objected. Under treatment, Schoendienst’s sight gradually improved.

Three years later, he felt confident enough in his vision to pursue a career with the Cardinals.

Big city

In 1942, Schoendienst and Linneman noticed a newspaper item about a Cardinals tryout camp to be held at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Anyone attending the camp would be admitted for free to a Cardinals game against the Dodgers that week.

Neither Schoendienst nor Linneman had been to a big-league game, so they decided to take part in the camp. “I don’t think either one of us went to that tryout camp thinking we had it made,” Schoendienst said in his book.

Lacking a car or the money for bus fare, Schoendienst, 19, and Linneman hitched a ride on a dairy truck and were dropped off about a mile and a half from the ballpark. They walked the rest of the way.

Schoendienst and Linneman were among the players who performed well enough at the daylong camp to get an invitation to return for more workouts the next day.

Linneman planned to spend the night at the home of an aunt in suburban St. Louis. He invited his friend to come along, but Schoendienst didn’t want to impose.

Possessing 25 cents, Schoendienst went to a diner and spent 10 cents on a hot dog. A sympathetic waitress brought the freckle-faced teenager a glass of milk on the house.

Afterward, Schoendienst went to the train terminal at Union Station and planned to spend the night on a bench. When he was ushered out by security, he found a bench in a nearby park.

Then it rained.

With his remaining 15 cents, a tired, soaked Schoendienst rented a room at a flophouse. He awoke the next morning covered in insect bites.

“When I got to the ballpark, they gave me some lotion to put on the bites, but I think that was part of the reason I moved so fast that day,” Schoendienst said. “I made up my mind I was going to swallow my pride and stay with Joe’s aunt the next night _ and I did.”

Impressive prospects

Schoendienst’s tryout lasted a week. Near the end, Cardinals executive Branch Rickey drove Schoendienst and two other standouts from the camp _ Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola _ to Forest Park for a workout because there wasn’t enough room at the ballpark.

“He was a terrible driver,” Schoendienst said of Rickey. “That car ride was scary. He was talking and driving like there was nobody else on the road.”

During the workout, Schoendienst, Berra and Garagiola took turns hitting against one another. (Garagiola would sign with the Cardinals but Berra went with the Yankees.)

When the training camp ended, Schoendienst hitchhiked back to Germantown. Soon after, Cardinals scout Joe Mathes asked Schoendienst to return to St. Louis _ again he hitched a ride on a dairy truck _ and signed him to a contract for $75 per month.

Rise through ranks

The Cardinals assigned Schoendienst to their Union City, Tenn., team in the Class D Kitty League. After Schoendienst played six games at shortstop for Union City, batting .407 (11-for-27), the Kitty League folded and he was sent to Albany, Ga., of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. His teammate there was his friend, Linneman, who had been signed by the Cardinals as a pitcher.

With his weak left eye causing him problems against right-handed pitchers, Schoendienst became a switch hitter. He batted .269 in 68 games for Albany in 1942, but also committed 27 errors at shortstop.

From there, Schoendienst made a meteoric rise through the organization.

In 1943, a year after his tryout with the Cardinals, Schoendienst, a shortstop for manager Pepper Martin’s Class AA Rochester, N.Y., team, was named Most Valuable Player of the International League. Though he committed 48 errors at shortstop, Schoendienst batted .337 with 187 hits and 20 stolen bases in 136 games.

Schoendienst “showed poise and an instinct for doing the right thing,” The Sporting News reported, and added he “gets a good jump on a ball, owns a good pair of hands and strong arm.”

In October 1943, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Schoendienst “is a great prospect, but needs experience.”

Two years later, in 1945, Schoendienst, 22, debuted with the Cardinals and primarily played left field. He shifted to second base in 1946 and was named an all-star that season.

Previously: How Bill Bergesch got Bob Gibson to Cardinals

When Hoyt Wilhelm joined the Cardinals, he was an accomplished relief pitcher who was headed on a path toward election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame. His stint with the Cardinals, however, turned out to be a detour rather than an avenue toward success.

hoyt_wilhelmSixty years ago, on Feb. 26, 1957, the Cardinals acquired Wilhelm from the Giants for Whitey Lockman, a first baseman and outfielder.

On the surface, it appeared to be a steal for St. Louis.

Wilhelm, 34, had produced a 42-25 record with 41 saves and a 2.98 ERA in five seasons (1952-56) with the Giants.

Lockman, 30, had batted .249 with no home runs in 70 games for the 1956 Cardinals. He didn’t fit into the Cardinals’ plans for 1957.

Help wanted

Wilhelm, a knuckleball specialist, had been a rookie sensation for the Giants in 1952 when he produced a 15-3 record, 11 saves and a 2.43 ERA. For the pennant-winning 1954 Giants, Wilhelm was 12-4 with seven saves and a 2.10 ERA.

Though his ERA increased to 3.93 in 1955 and 3.83 in 1956, Wilhelm still was regarded as a likely boon to the Cardinals’ bullpen. Larry Jackson, a converted starter, had been their top reliever in 1956.

Wilhelm became available because of the Giants’ need for help at first base and left field. Lockman could play both positions.

The Giants’ 1956 starters at those positions _ first baseman Bill White and left fielder Jackie Brandt _ were in military service in 1957. Initially, the Giants attempted to replace White with Jackie Robinson, who was acquired from the Dodgers in December 1956, but Robinson retired and the deal was voided.

Frank Lane, Cardinals general manager, told The Sporting News he doubted St. Louis could have obtained Wilhelm if Robinson had reported to the Giants.

Insider tips

Before making the trade, Lane asked Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson whether St. Louis had a catcher who could handle Wilhelm’s knuckleball. Hutchinson “assured Lane that Hal Smith could master the assignment,” The Sporting News reported.

Smith was the Cardinals’ starting catcher and Hobie Landrith was his backup. Lane and Hutchinson arranged for their catchers to have a dinner meeting with Tigers scout Rick Ferrell, who had caught five knuckleball pitchers while with the Senators, to get insights into how to deal with the elusive pitch.

Asked about the session with Ferrell, Landrith told Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch: “He advised us not to crouch or squat as low when catching knuckleball pitchers as we would for others. He told us that from a half standing position … we could move laterally better and also drop on a knuckler falling off the table.”

Wilhelm was one of three pitchers with the 1957 Cardinals who threw a knuckleball. The others were Murry Dickson and Jim Davis.

“The thing about a good knuckler is that it’s tough to hit whether you’re hitting .300 or .200,” said the Cardinals’ best hitter, Stan Musial. “It jumps around like mercury in a bottle.”

Said Wilhelm: “The biggest factor in your knuckler is the wind condition. It’s a non-rotating pitch and therefore does better the more resistance it meets, meaning against the wind. When the wind is blowing in _ from behind the pitcher _ the knuckler seldom will do anything. Then it’s only a mediocre pitch and you’re a batting practice target.”

Disappointing results

After a good spring training _ “Wilhelm, working almost every other day, has looked like money in the bank,” The Sporting News opined _ Wilhelm had a poor start to the 1957 season. He didn’t earn his first save until May 24 when he lowered his ERA from 6.11 to 5.89.

Wilhelm had one stellar month _ six saves and a 1.88 ERA in June _ but he otherwise was unimpressive.

Though the Cardinals contended with the Braves for the 1957 National League pennant, Hutchinson lost confidence in Wilhelm, who made just two appearances for St. Louis in September.

Wilhelm said he needed to pitch regularly in order to regain effectiveness with his knuckleball. When Hutchinson stopped using him, Wilhelm had trouble controlling the knuckleball.

On Sept. 21, the Cardinals sent Wilhelm to the Indians for the waiver price. He had a 1-4 record, a team-leading 11 saves and a 4.25 ERA in 40 appearances for the Cardinals.

When Hutchinson informed Wilhelm that the Cardinals had dealt him, the pitcher shook hands with the manager and said, “It’s good to have been with you. I’m sorry I couldn’t help you more.”

Wilhelm went on to pitch in 1,070 big-league games. The only right-handers who have pitched in more big-league games are fellow Hall of Famers Mariano Rivera (1,115) and Dennis Eckersley (1,071). Wilhelm was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1985 and was the first reliever to earn the honor.

Previously: Enduring record: Stan Musial and his 5 homers in a day

The relationship formed by Ozzie Canseco and the Cardinals was based on mutual need rather than mutual affection. Neither expected it to last long.

ozzie_cansecoCanseco, after flopping during a stint in Japan, was looking to revive his career in the United States in order to make himself appealing in the National League expansion draft.

The Cardinals were seeking a slugger to generate fan interest at their top farm club in Louisville.

Twenty-five years ago, in January 1992, the Cardinals signed Canseco, a free agent, to a minor-league contract. It was the start of a relationship that would take several twists and turns.

Changing roles

Ozzie and his twin brother Jose were born in Cuba on July 2, 1964. Jose became a standout on three pennant-winning Athletics teams managed by Tony La Russa. Ozzie entered the Yankees organization in 1983 as a pitcher.

“He had a good breaking ball and he could throw hard,” Bucky Dent, Ozzie’s manager with the Class A Fort Lauderdale Yankees, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We liked him a lot as a pitcher, but he was always wanting to switch over (to outfield).”

Said Ozzie: “I asked them every year, ‘Please let me make the transition from pitching to hitting.’ ”

In 1986, Ozzie got his wish. Released by the Yankees, he signed with the Athletics and became an outfielder. In 1990, Ozzie made his major-league debut with the Athletics as a teammate of Jose. Appearing in nine games, Ozzie batted .105.

Oh, brother

Jose was one of baseball’s top players. In 1988, when he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Jose became the first big-league player to have 40 home runs and 40 steals in a season.

“Jose cast a tremendous shadow over me because of who he is, because we’re identical twins,” Ozzie told Scripps Howard News Service. “… When I was trying to make the transition from pitcher to hitter, people expected me to hit like Jose did and I had a problem with that.”

Released by the Athletics after the 1990 season, Ozzie signed with the Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japanese Pacific League.

“I basically went over there to learn how to hit the breaking ball,” Ozzie told the Post-Dispatch. “The forkball, the slider _ that’s all you see over there if you’re a power hitter.”

However, Ozzie never made it to the majors in Japan. Instead, the Buffaloes assigned him to their minor-league club at Osaka. Ozzie left after 38 games and returned home to Miami.

Louisville lumber

When the NL announced plans to expand in 1993 to Miami and Denver, Ozzie saw opportunity. If he could have a strong season in 1992, he believed the Marlins, with a large fan base of Cuban-Americans, would select him in the expansion draft. First, though, he needed to find a team to play for in 1992.

Ted Simmons, Cardinals player development director, was seeking veterans to stock the Louisville roster. He offered Ozzie a contract.

“This is purely a ‘Come to spring training and show me what you got’ type of deal,” Simmons said.

Ozzie showed enough to make Louisville’s Opening Day roster. He started belting home runs, many prodigious.

In July 1992, the Post-Dispatch reported Ozzie “is drawing fans and drawing respect as one of the most feared power hitters in the American Association.”

Cardinals management took notice. Though Ozzie struck out 96 times in 98 games with Louisville, he slugged 22 home runs. When big-league rosters expanded on Sept. 1, Ozzie, 28, was one of the players the Cardinals promoted.

Ozzie got into nine games with the 1992 Cardinals. He hit .276 with no home runs and made several fielding mistakes before he injured his right shoulder.

Still, the Cardinals saw enough to view him as a potential contributor in 1993.

“He has raw power,” said Cardinals hitting coach Don Baylor.

In November 1992, Ozzie was one of 15 players the Cardinals protected from the expansion draft.

Spring disappointment

Ozzie’s hopes of sticking with the Cardinals got a boost in February 1993 when St. Louis traded starting right fielder Felix Jose to the Royals for first baseman Gregg Jefferies. The Cardinals declared Brian Jordan and Ozzie the candidates to compete in spring training for the starting right fielder job.

“I want to see them both play and see who wins it,” said manager Joe Torre. “I don’t think it’s Jordan’s job to lose.”

Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said of Ozzie: “What we saw at the Triple-A level was that he could hit the ball out of any ballpark … We don’t have anybody with that kind of power and really haven’t had in the organization for a long time.”

Asked about Ozzie’s outfield skills, Maxvill replied, “He’s no Willie McGee or Willie Mays … but he did a very adequate job.”

“Mainly,” Maxvill concluded, “he needs to whack the ball for us.”

After hitting .192 in his first 10 spring training games, Ozzie finished as the 1993 Cardinals’ Grapefruit League leader in home runs (4) and RBI (14).

Neither he nor Jordan, though, won the job.

On March 31, the Cardinals traded pitcher Mark Clark to the Indians for Mark Whiten and named him their starter in right field.

Ozzie was demoted to Louisville.

“I thought I did well enough to make the team,” Ozzie said. “I’m disappointed.”

Farewell, St. Louis

Ozzie went on a tear at Louisville, hitting nine home runs. On May 5, he was brought back to the Cardinals.

He floundered in the field, however, and hit .176 with no home runs in six games. The Cardinals returned him to Louisville.

Ozzie continued to slug home runs for Louisville _ 13 in 44 games _ but he also struck out 59 times. On June 11, Ozzie informed the Cardinals he was quitting.

“It got to a point where I was miserable and it seemed like I was constantly fighting an uphill battle,” Ozzie said.

Said Maxvill: “He definitely had gone backwards in all aspects and complained the whole way. So I guess he needs a career change and, quite frankly, it’s probably a good idea.”

Ozzie sat out the rest of the season. On Dec. 14, 1993, the Cardinals traded him to the Brewers for minor-league outfielder Tony Diggs.

Ozzie played professional baseball for several more seasons, including a stint in the Mexican League, but he never returned to the majors after his trials with the 1992-93 Cardinals.

Previously: How a tragic accident brought Mark Whiten to Cards

Looking to rebuild his reputation, Dave LaPoint returned to the organization where he felt the most comfortable and had enjoyed his greatest success.

dave_lapointThirty years ago, on Jan. 19, 1987, LaPoint, a free agent, signed with the Cardinals, who expected him to compete for a spot in their starting rotation.

At 27, his career was at a crossroads.

Five years earlier, LaPoint, a left-hander, had helped the Cardinals win the 1982 National League pennant and World Series championship.

After the Cardinals traded him in February 1985, LaPoint’s career spiraled. He pitched for three teams in two years, posting losing records at each stop, got traded twice and released once.

Out of shape and labeled a clubhouse jester, LaPoint said he was committed to rededicating himself to becoming a winner and was seeking a nurturing environment in which to attempt that comeback.

The 1987 Cardinals and manager Whitey Herzog provided the setting LaPoint sought.

Cards contributor

LaPoint’s tenure with the Cardinals began in December 1980 when he was acquired from the Brewers in a deal engineered by Herzog. The Cardinals traded Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons and Pete Vuckovich for Sixto Lezcano, David Green, Lary Sorensen and LaPoint.

LaPoint’s breakthrough year was 1982. He began the season as a reliever and joined the starting rotation in May. LaPoint appeared in 42 games, including 21 as a starter, for the 1982 Cardinals and had a 9-3 record and 3.42 ERA. He started Game 4 of the 1982 World Series against the Brewers, yielded one earned run in 6.1 innings and got no decision in a 7-5 Milwaukee victory.

LaPoint earned 12 wins for the Cardinals in both 1983 and 1984.

When the Cardinals, seeking a run producer to replace George Hendrick, had a chance to get Jack Clark before the start of the 1985 season, they sent LaPoint, Green, Jose Uribe and Gary Rajsich to the Giants.

Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch later reported the Cardinals parted with LaPoint because they “thought he might be influencing young players unduly.”

Hummel described LaPoint as a “leader in clubhouse revelry” and “a top consumer of the owner’s (Anheuser-Busch’s) product.”

Prodigal son

LaPoint had a 7-17 record for the 1985 Giants, who traded him to the Tigers after the season.

LaPoint and Tigers manager Sparky Anderson were a bad match. “I couldn’t get along with Sparky,” LaPoint told Hummel. After posting a 3-6 record and 5.72 ERA for the Tigers, LaPoint was traded to the Padres in July 1986. He was 1-4 for the Padres, who released him after the season.

It was then LaPoint decided to make changes. Weighing between 230 and 240 pounds, he dropped to 220.

The Expos and Giants wanted to sign LaPoint, but he chose the Cardinals, whose offer of a base salary of $125,000 was a cut from his $550,000 contract in 1986.

“It feels finally that I’m back where I belong,” LaPoint said. “… In talking to Whitey, he said he would use me like he did in ’82. That’s fine with me. It got me a World Series ring.”

Asked his reaction to LaPoint rejoining the Cardinals, center fielder Willie McGee said, “I like him … He’s kind of a clown, but that’s Dave LaPoint.”

It’s a reputation LaPoint said he was determined to change.

“I used to mess around during drills and I don’t do that anymore,” LaPoint said after reporting to Cardinals camp. “… It was time to put a stop to it.”

Redbird reliever

LaPoint had a successful spring training. He was 2-0 with a 2.34 ERA in 15.1 innings pitched in Grapefruit League exhibition games.

The Cardinals opened the 1987 regular season with five left-handers: starters John Tudor and Greg Mathews and relievers Ricky Horton, Pat Perry and LaPoint. (Ken Dayley, another left-handed reliever, was on the disabled list.)

In his first appearance for the 1987 Cardinals, on April 10 against the Pirates at Pittsburgh, LaPoint took the loss when he yielded a two-out, RBI-double to Sid Bream in the bottom of the ninth. Boxscore

LaPoint was scheduled to make a start April 25 versus the Mets at New York, but that plan was scratched when the Cardinals called up Joe Magrane from the minors and put the rookie left-hander into the rotation.

LaPoint remained in the bullpen and largely was ineffective.

He got a win on April 18 against the Mets at St. Louis, but even then he didn’t perform well. In the 10th, LaPoint threw a wild pitch, enabling Al Pedrique to score from third with the go-ahead run. LaPoint was rescued when the Cardinals scored five times off Jesse Orosco in the bottom half of the inning. Tom Pagnozzi’s RBI-single tied the score at 8-8 and Tommy Herr’s grand slam made LaPoint the winner. Boxscore

On the road again

With his ERA at 6.75 after four relief appearances, LaPoint was demoted to Louisville on April 27. LaPoint had the option of declaring himself a free agent, but agreed to return to the minor leagues for the first time since 1981.

Placed in the starting rotation by Louisville manager Dave Bialas, LaPoint lost his first three decisions, but then found his groove. He completed four of his last five starts for Louisville and had a 5-5 record when he was recalled by the Cardinals on July 8.

“It was the best thing in the world for me,” LaPoint said of his stint in the minors. “… I’ve learned to pitch a little different style.”

LaPoint made two July starts for the Cardinals and got no decision in either.

On July 30, the Cardinals traded LaPoint to the White Sox for minor-league pitcher Bryce Hulstrom.

“LaPoint’s main problem has been control,” wrote John Sonderegger of the Post-Dispatch. “If he gets the ball up, he gets hammered. It usually takes him a couple of innings to find the strike zone and by then the game usually is out of control.”

After posting a 1-1 record and 6.75 ERA for the 1987 Cardinals, LaPoint was 6-3 with a 2.94 ERA for the 1987 White Sox.

The Cardinals, helped by a combined 30 wins from left-handed starters Mathews, Tudor and Magrane, finished 95-67 and won the NL pennant.

Previously: Trade for Jack Clark shook Cards from their slumber