At a time when Major League Baseball was embarking on globalization, Mark McGwire was insisting on isolation for the Cardinals.

Twenty years ago, in March 2000, the Cardinals could have faced the Mets in the first major-league regular-season game played outside North America, but they rejected the opportunity after their star attraction, McGwire, opposed the plan.

When the Cardinals dropped out, the Cubs stepped in. Featuring their own slugger, Sammy Sosa, the Cubs opened the 2000 regular season against the Mets with a pair of games in Tokyo.

Small world

Major League Baseball officials approached the Cardinals in July 1999 with the invitation to begin the 2000 regular season in Japan.

McGwire was the reason the Cardinals were chosen. He and Sosa delighted audiences with their unprecedented home run totals before it later became known the two were cheating by using banned performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire was the home run champion in 1998 (70) and 1999 (65), edging Sosa both years, and baseball officials wanted to showcase him in Japan.

When McGwire learned of the proposal to play in Tokyo, he told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “You can’t give me a good reason why we should go to Japan. We have our own problems in major-league baseball without worrying about spreading it global. It’s a total waste of time. I can’t believe the Cardinals are agreeing to it. I can’t believe the Cardinals would even consider doing it.”

According to the New York Times, Major League Baseball was pursuing a global strategy to “export the game and its merchandise to more parts of the world in order to generate new revenue.”

The Cardinals visited Cuba in 1936, 1937 and 1940, playing exhibition games, and played in goodwill tours of Japan in 1958 and 1968, but never in the regular season.

Regular-season games in the majors were played exclusively in the United States until 1969 when the Expos joined the National League. The Cardinals and Expos played the first regular-season game outside the U.S. on April, 14, 1969, at Montreal. Boxscore

Thirty years later, in April 1999, a regular-season big-league game was played outside the U.S. or Canada for the first time when the Rockies and Padres held their opener in Monterrey, Mexico. Boxscore

The players’ union supported the staging of big-league games at international sites and approved the plan for the opener in Japan.

Opposing views

On July 21, 1999, Cardinals players had their first meeting to officially discuss the chance to open in Japan. Pitcher Kent Bottenfield, the Cardinals’ union representative, informed his teammates of the proposal. Each player would get a $15,000 bonus for going, the Post-Dispatch reported.

No vote was taken, but the meeting revealed a rift between McGwire and pitcher Rich Croushore.

According to Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, “Croushore said it would be fun to take his wife on a trip to Japan. McGwire reminded Croushore the purpose of the trip was baseball, a job, not a family vacation.”

The discussion got heated when Croushore accused McGwire of refusing his request to autograph a baseball for a disabled child, Miklasz revealed.

McGwire told his teammates he opposed the proposed trip because: (1) the traveling would cause fatigue and hamper play; (2) he wasn’t interested in being the main attraction, Miklasz reported.

“Nothing good can come from this trip,” McGwire said.

On July 25, 1999, a team vote was held and Cardinals players vetoed the Japan proposal, the Post-Dispatch reported. The next day, general manager Walt Jocketty told the commissioner’s office of the decision and Bottenfield informed the union.

“We didn’t have enough information,” Bottenfield said. “There were too many variables, too many unanswered questions. Guys didn’t want to leave themselves open to a bad situation.”

Shortsighted slugger

Major League Baseball scheduled the Cubs and Mets to open the 2000 regular season with games on March 29 and March 30 in Tokyo.

About two weeks before the games began, McGwire criticized the decision in an interview with Murray Chass of the New York Times. McGwire said baseball was “too international” and “this game belongs here” in the U.S.

“The Japanese have their own brand of baseball over there,” McGwire said. “Our game is too international as it is. It comes down to how much money can they make. It’s not, ‘What can we do for the good of the players?’ That’s what upsets me about it.

“This game belongs here,” McGwire said. “People come to America, they come here to watch our game.”

Cubs first baseman Mark Grace had a different outlook. “If we want to take the best game in the world all over the world, that’s fine with me,” Grace told the Chicago Tribune.

Said McGwire: “If the Mets or the Cubs miss the playoffs by one game because they couldn’t open their eyes up in Japan and play a game because they’re so tired, you think Major League Baseball is going to care?”

Holy cow!

The Mets-Cubs season opener in Tokyo started at 4:07 a.m. Chicago time. Video

Chicago Tribune columnist Skip Bayless was among about 700 customers “packed like a Tokyo subway train” into Harry Caray’s restaurant in downtown Chicago at that hour to watch the game on television.

“What could be more hilariously surreal than Harry’s widow Dutchie greeting customers in the middle of the night wearing a kimono?” Bayless wrote.

After the final out, a patron turned to Bayless and said, “Kabusu katsu.”

“Huh?” replied Bayless.

“That’s ‘Cubs win’ in Japanese,” the guy said.

The Cubs and Mets split the two games. Boxscore 1. Boxscore 2.

The trip “was not without its inconveniences, but it did not present a series of headaches,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

“It hasn’t been the monster everybody would think,” said Cubs manager Don Baylor.

Said Sosa: “I had a lot of fun here. There were great people and great fans.”

G’day, mate

After the series in Japan, the Cubs returned to Chicago, rested and went to St. Louis for their third game, the Cardinals’ season opener, on April 3, 2000. The Cardinals won, 7-1, but McGwire, his steroids-riddled body breaking down, sat out because of an injury. Boxscore

The 2000 Cubs were a bad team, finishing 65-97, but the Mets, like the Cardinals, were the opposite. The Mets and Cardinals qualified for the postseason. In the National League Championship Series, the Mets prevailed over the Cardinals, winning the pennant and advancing to the World Series. McGwire, hobbled, was limited to three plate appearances and no hits in the series versus the Mets.

Fourteen years later, in March 2014, the Dodgers opened the regular season with a two-game series against the Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia. In the Dodgers’ dugout for both games was their hitting coach, Mark McGwire.

The Cardinals couldn’t figure out Ramon Hernandez when he pitched for them any better than they could when he pitched against them.

Fifty years ago, on March 31, 1970, the Cardinals released Hernandez, a left-handed reliever who went to spring training as a member of their major-league roster.

The Cardinals would come to regret the move.

Hernandez and another ex-Cardinal, Dave Giusti, anchored a dependable bullpen for the Pirates and helped them become the dominant club in the National League East.

The Cardinals, who finished runner-up to the Pirates in 1971 and 1974, consistently were baffled by the effective relief work of Hernandez.

Traveling man

Hernandez was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the same hometown as future teammate Roberto Clemente, who was six years older.

Hernandez was 18 when the Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent. In 1960, his second season in their farm system, the Pirates sent Hernandez from the Class C level to Class D. Miffed by the demotion, Hernandez sat out the 1961 season, according to the Pittsburgh Press.

In December 1961, the Pirates sold Hernandez’s contract to the Angels. He played five seasons (1962-66) in the Angels’ farm system and had his best year in 1966 when he posted a 2.16 ERA for an El Paso team managed by Chuck Tanner.

The Braves selected Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft in November 1966 and he made their Opening Day roster in 1967. Hernandez “might turn out to be the surprise hurler of the year,” The Sporting News predicted.

Hernandez made 46 appearances for the 1967 Braves and was 0-2 with five saves and a 4.18 ERA. One of his losses came against the Cardinals on July 23, 1967, at St. Louis. The winning rally began when Mike Shannon hit a smash toward the mound “which caromed off Hernandez’s glove, a play which didn’t exactly establish the Braves’ reliever as a Golden Glove candidate,” the Atlanta Constitution reported. Boxscore

Left off the Braves’ winter roster, Hernandez was chosen by the Cubs in the November 1967 Rule 5 draft at the request of manager Leo Durocher, who planned to pair Hernandez with right-hander Phil Regan as the club’s top relievers in 1968. “I didn’t draft Hernandez to send him to Siberia,” Durocher told the Chicago Tribune.

Said Cubs pitching coach Joe Becker: “I just hope he’s as good as they say he is because we need a consistent lefty for emergency calls. The day in baseball is gone when you expect a starter to finish.”

The Cubs’ faith in Hernandez went unrewarded. He appeared in eight games for them and had a 9.00 ERA.

Wrong fit

On June 14, 1968, the Cubs sold the contract of Hernandez to the Cardinals, who assigned him to their Class AAA Tulsa farm team.

Warren Spahn, who as a pitcher was baseball’s career leader in wins (363) by a left-hander, was Tulsa’s manager, but he and Hernandez clashed.

“Hernandez admitted he had differences with Warren Spahn,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

According to the Pittsburgh Press, Hernandez said Spahn “impeded his return to the majors by sending unfavorable reports back to St. Louis.”

Miserable at Tulsa, Hernandez was 2-5 with a 6.19 ERA. The Cardinals demoted him to Class AA Arkansas for 1969. At 28, his career appeared to be in decline.

On the outs

Playing for Arkansas manager Ray Hathaway, a former pitcher known for his instructional skills, Hernandez improved.

Used primarily as a starter, he was 10-10 with a 2.40 ERA. Among the wins was a no-hitter against El Paso on Aug. 17, 1969. “What else could you call it but a masterpiece?” Hathaway said. “The guy works fast, has great control and, when he really has it, like he did today, he makes this a simple business.”

Hernandez had 133 strikeouts and 38 walks in 184 innings for Arkansas. Impressed, the Cardinals put him on their winter roster and planned to give him a long look in spring training.

Cardinals director of player procurement George Silvey said, “Hernandez throws a screwball and has great control. He’s the kind of guy who maybe has to work every other day (to be effective).”

The good vibes the Cardinals had for Hernandez quickly faded at spring training in 1970 when “there were such problems as reporting late for practice sessions and not going all out in workouts,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

According to the Pittsburgh Press, the Cardinals “didn’t think he was putting out enough in the team running drills.”

Roberto Clemente later said, “Every place he went, they said he had a problem. I guess they didn’t understand him. The first tendency is to say that he is lazy.”

Hernandez allowed two earned runs in three exhibition game innings for the Cardinals before he was released.

Regarding the decision by Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, Hernandez, 29, told The Sporting News, “He thought I was too old.”

Finding a home

Hernandez signed with the Mexico City Reds of the Mexican League and pitched for them in 1970 before going home to Puerto Rico to play winter baseball. Pirates infielder Jose Pagan saw Hernandez pitch in Puerto Rico and was impressed.

“I can’t understand why some big-league club doesn’t give him a chance,” Pagan said.

At Pagan’s urging, the Pirates sent a career minor-league pitcher, Danny Rivas, 35, to Mexico City in exchange for Hernandez on Feb. 10, 1971.

The Pirates assigned Hernandez to the minors, but in June 1971, facing a shortage of pitchers because of injuries and military commitments, he was called up for a weekend series versus the Cardinals at St. Louis.

On June 12, 1971, in his first Pirates appearance, Hernandez gave up a scratch single to the first batter he faced, Lou Brock. Boxscore

The Cardinals wouldn’t get another hit against Hernandez the rest of the season.

The next day, Hernandez earned a save against the Cardinals. Boxscore

As planned, he was returned to the minors but got called up again in September. With the Pirates and Cardinals battling for the division title, Hernandez faced the Cardinals twice and got saves both times.

For the season, Hernandez had three saves in four appearances versus the Cardinals and yielded no runs. He faced 19 batters and retired 18.

The Pirates finished seven games ahead of the second-place Cardinals in the East Division, won the pennant against the Giants in the National League Championship Series and prevailed in the World Series versus the Orioles.

Hernandez had seven saves and an 0.73 ERA in 10 appearances for the 1971 Pirates.

Working the angles

Hernandez became one of the National League’s top relievers, helping the Pirates win four division titles in a five-year span, and was especially effective against the Cardinals.

In 1972, he was 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 14 saves, including four versus the Cardinals. In 1974, he was 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA against them.

Regarding his success with the Pirates, Hernandez told the Pittsburgh Press, “I do it with a bunch of garbage.”

Said Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi: “His motion has a lot to do with it. It’s very deceptive.”

Hernandez threw a variety of pitches from three different angles _ overhand, three-quarters and sidearm _ and at varying speeds.

Dave Giusti, his bullpen mate, said of Hernandez, “The best I’ve ever seen at getting out left-handers _ and I mean ever.”

Left-handed batters hit .224 versus Hernandez in the majors. In six seasons (1971-76) with the Pirates, Hernandez was 23-12 with 39 saves and a 2.51 ERA.

Some of the fiercest individual matchups in the NFL in the 1960s were the ones between New York Giants wide receiver Del Shofner and St. Louis Cardinals defensive backs Larry Wilson, Jimmy Hill and Pat Fischer.

A pass-catcher with speed who gave the Giants their first deep threat, Shofner died on March 11, 2020, at 85.

Pale, razor-thin and susceptible to ulcers, Shofner sometimes didn’t look strong enough to play football, let alone excel at it, but he was a gifted receiver who posted impressive numbers.

The date September 17 was significant in Shofner’s career.

On Sept. 17, 1961, Shofner played his first regular-season game as a Giant and it came against the Cardinals.

Six years later, on Sept. 17, 1967, Shofner caught the last touchdown pass of his career and it, too, came against the Cardinals.

Special flair

Born in Center, Texas, near the Louisiana border, Shofner went to Baylor, where he majored in math, played baseball, basketball, football and was a sprinter on the track team.

When the skinny sophomore showed up for his first varsity football practice, “he looked like a poor man’s Abe Lincoln,” the Waco News-Tribune reported. “His bones didn’t exactly rattle when he walked. They just shifted silently.”

According to the newspaper, Baylor head coach George Sauer Sr. was “afraid his prize backfielder might be grabbed up by some pre-med student as a lab skeleton.”

Though Shofner was anemic and suffered from agonizing ulcers, he became a standout at three positions _ halfback, defensive back and punter _ for Baylor.

Blackie Sherrod of the Fort Worth Press wrote, “He’s blessed with terrific speed, with good hands and a glorious flair for the spectacular … The young speedster is an opportunist who can seize a tiny bit of daylight and squeeze it into a touchdown.”

Shofner capped his senior season by being named outstanding player of the Sugar Bowl in Baylor’s upset of Tennessee.

L.A. story

The Los Angeles Rams selected Shofner in the first round of the 1957 NFL draft. He played defensive back as a rookie, but was shifted to wide receiver in 1958 and led the NFL in receiving yards (1,097).

“His speed and his ability to maneuver in an open field excited fans in every league city,” the Los Angeles Times noted.

Shofner had another strong season for the Rams (936 receiving yards) in 1959, but it was a different story the next year. Shofner’s ulcers flared, he suffered leg and ankle injuries, and was limited to 12 receptions in 1960.

At training camp in 1961, Shofner no longer was the fastest receiver in wind sprints and the Rams were concerned.

The Giants, who acquired quarterback Y.A. Tittle from the San Francisco 49ers, were looking to add a receiver and Shofner, 26, appealed to them as an end to pair with flanker Kyle Rote.

On Aug. 28, 1961, the Giants traded a first-round pick to the Rams for Shofner.

Asked whether his speed had diminished, Shofner said, “I don’t think you have to prove yourself in wind sprints. You prove it running pass patterns in practice and in a game. I feel I have a great opportunity in New York and I’ll finally be able to catch Tittle.”

Linked in

Shofner admired Tittle, a fellow Texan, but Tittle was finding it hard to be accepted at Giants training camp. Charlie Conerly, 40, was the incumbent quarterback and wasn’t ready to concede the job to Tittle, who was five years younger.

“For weeks, Tittle was without a roomie, a lonely figure who almost was resented by the intensely loyal Giants players, a clannish group whose pep was the aging Conerly,” New York Times columnist Arthur Daley observed.

After Shofner traveled all night from California to New York to join his new team, he took a train from Manhattan to the Giants’ training camp in Fairfield, Connecticut. When he arrived in the morning, looking haggard, several Giants couldn’t believe he was the answer to their receiving needs.

Shofner “became Tittle’s roommate almost by default,” Daley wrote.

The two Texans formed a bond.

Giants debut

First-year Giants head coach Allie Sherman started Conerly in the season opener versus the Cardinals at Yankee Stadium. Cornerback Jimmy Hill was given the “special assignment” of covering Shofner, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

In the fourth quarter, with the Cardinals ahead, 14-10, and the Giants in possession at their 27-yard line, Shofner went deep. Hill stayed close and appeared to bump Shofner as Conerly’s pass arrived. The ball was intercepted by safety Larry Wilson, but interference was called on Hill “despite loud protests from the Big Red bench,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

“I don’t think I interfered,” Hill told the Post-Dispatch.

The penalty on Hill gave the Giants possession at the Cardinals’ 37. Two plays later, Conerly threw to Shofner, but Hill intercepted and returned the ball to the St. Louis 46.

“I was waiting for it,” Hill said. “You have to give that Shofner a little room and this was one time I guessed right. I may be getting old and slow, but I don’t think he’s going to outrun me.”

The Cardinals won, 21-10. Shofner made six catches for 77 yards, but Conerly completed only nine passes and was intercepted twice. The Globe-Democrat credited the Cardinals for rattling Conerly “with Larry Wilson red-dogging from his defensive halfback post and Ted Bates, Bill Koman and Dale Meinert ripping through from their linebacker positions.” Game stats

Rise and fall

Tittle soon replaced Conerly and the offense clicked.

“Tittle threw precision passes and Shofner ran precision patterns,” Arthur Daley wrote.

The combination helped the Giants win three consecutive division championships from 1961-63. Nicknamed “Blade” because of his physique and the way he sliced through secondaries, Shofner topped 1,100 yards receiving each of the three years. He was the first NFL player to have two seasons of 1,000 yards receiving and the first Giant with 1,000 yards in receptions in one season.

The New York Times described him as an “octopus-armed swiftie” who “terrorized all the pass defenders in the league.”

Though listed at 185 pounds, Shofner “looks more like an underfed altar boy than a professional gridder … a blonde, soft-spoken string bean with facial features so delicate few could guess what he does to put beans on the table,” the Danville (Pa.) News declared.

In 1964, Shofner’s ulcers returned, his weight dropped to 165 pounds and he was limited to six games. After the season, Tittle retired and Shofner’s performance declined. He made three catches in 1966.

Final glory

The Giants acquired quarterback Fran Tarkenton from the Vikings in 1967 and Shofner, 32, was energized by the scrambler’s arrival.

“We hit it off from the start,” Shofner said. “I liked to run square-outs and he likes to throw them. Nothing gives a receiver more satisfaction than to have a passer who continually looks in his direction.”

The Giants opened the 1967 season against the Cardinals at St. Louis. In the fourth quarter, Tarkenton threw a 33-yard pass in the end zone to Shofner, who “made an over-the-head grab” behind defensive back Pat Fischer for a touchdown, giving the Giants a 34-13 lead in a game they won, 37-20. Game stats

It was the last touchdown catch for Shofner, who retired after the season.

Shofner had 51 career touchdown receptions, including 25 from Tittle.

In the book, “Giants In Their Own Words,” Tittle said, “Del Shofner was my favorite receiver. He had blazing speed and great hands. Most receivers don’t have both, but Del did. He just never dropped the football. If it was there and he could get his hands on it, he caught it.”

Click to see video of Tittle career highlights, including passes to No. 85, Shofner.

Don Pavletich achieved two special personal milestones versus the Cardinals, but one of his worst moments also occurred in a game against them.

A catcher and first baseman who played 12 years in the major leagues for the Reds, White Sox and Red Sox, Pavletich died March 5, 2020, at 81. The 1965 Topps card pictured here incorrectly listed him as a pitcher.

In 1962, while with the Reds, Pavletich got his first major-league hit. A few weeks later, he got his first major-league RBI. Both feats came in games against the Cardinals.

Two years later, Pavletich had a prominent, but unwanted, role versus the Cardinals when his error led to a Reds loss in the thick of the 1964 National League pennant race.

Hot prospect

Born in Milwaukee and raised in nearby West Allis, Wisconsin, Pavletich was Croatian-American. All four of his grandparents immigrated to the United States from Croatia, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

In high school and summer leagues, Pavletich was coached by Steve Belich, who had prepared another West Allis standout, Harvey Kuenn, for the majors.

A powerful right-handed batter, Pavletich, 18, signed with the Reds in August 1956 and made his major-league debut for them in his hometown of Milwaukee on April 20, 1957. A month later, Pavletich began a two-year hitch in the Army.

After hitting .295 with 22 home runs as a catcher and first baseman for manager Cot Deal at minor-league Indianapolis in 1961, Pavletich opened the 1962 season with the defending National League champion Reds as a backup to catcher Johnny Edwards and first baseman Gordy Coleman.

On April 29, 1962, in the first game of a doubleheader at St. Louis, the Cardinals led, 9-1, in the fourth inning when Reds manager Fred Hutchinson replaced Edwards with Pavletich.

In the fifth, Pavletich got his first big-league hit, a single versus Larry Jackson. Pavletich went on to hit .400 (6-for-15) in his career against Jackson. Boxscore

The next time Pavletich faced the Cardinals, on June 5, 1962, at St. Louis, he started at first base and hit a two-run single versus Curt Simmons in the third inning for his first RBI in the big leagues. Boxscore

Pavletich did some of his best hitting against some prominent left-handers, including Dick Ellsworth (.409), Denny Lemaster (.389), Warren Spahn (.364), Johnny Podres (.364) and Simmons (.318).

Costly miscue

On Sept. 19, 1964, the Cardinals and Reds, trying to catch the first-place Phillies in the final two weeks of the season, played a doubleheader at Cincinnati. The Cardinals were jolted in the opener when Frank Robinson hit a three-run walkoff home run against Bob Gibson in the ninth. Boxscore

In the second game, with the pressure on the Cardinals to avoid being swept, the pitchers were left-handers Billy McCool, making his first career start for the Reds, and Ray Sadecki for St. Louis. The catchers were a pair of Milwaukee natives, Pavletich and the Cardinals’ Bob Uecker.

In the second inning, with one out and the game scoreless, the Cardinals’ Bill White and Julian Javier each singled, putting runners on second and first.

As the next batter, Mike Shannon, struck out, White and Javier attempted a double steal. Pavletich’s throw sailed over the head of third baseman Chico Ruiz and into left field. White and Javier both scored on the error and those were the game’s only runs. Boxscore

The 2-0 victory kept the Cardinals in second place, 5.5 games behind the Phillies, and proved to be a difference-maker. The Cardinals clinched the pennant on the last day of the season, finishing a game ahead of both the Reds and Phillies.

Power hitter

At spring training in 1966, Pavletich made a bid to unseat Edwards, a three-time National League all-star, as the Reds’ starting catcher. When Edwards suffered ligament damage to the middle finger of his right hand when struck by a foul ball in an exhibition game on April 9, Pavletich was ready to take over.

After watching Pavletich hit his fifth home run of the spring training season, Edwards told the Dayton Daily News, “Every time I see him swing that bat, my finger feels better.”

With Edwards sidelined, Pavletich opened the 1966 season as the Reds’ catcher. On April 17, in his third consecutive game as starting catcher, Pavletich injured his left foot while rounding first base after hitting a double. He stayed in the game, but awoke the next morning with pain in his foot so intense “he nearly collapsed when he got out of bed,” the Dayton Journal-Herald reported.

Pavletich strained ligaments in the foot and couldn’t play. Edwards, wearing a metal splint on his injured finger, replaced him and remained the starting catcher.

Veteran vs. phenom

In August 1967, Johnny Bench made his major-league debut with the Reds and was their starting catcher the last month of the season.

Six months later, the Reds traded Edwards to the defending World Series champion Cardinals to clear the way for Bench to be their catcher in 1968.

“Bench was conceded the starting position at the start of spring training,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Pavletich, 29, wasn’t ready to give in to Bench, 20. Rising to the challenge, Pavletich hit seven home runs with 19 RBI in Reds spring training games in 1968 and was named the Opening Day starting catcher.

“I must say I’m most pleased by Pavletich’s home run hitting,” Reds manager Dave Bristol said.

Convinced the Reds were a contender, Pavletich said, “I know the Cardinals are a great club and definitely are the club to beat, but I feel we have it on them in two important departments _ pitching and bench strength.”

Pavletich started at catcher in the first five games of the 1968 season before he hurt his right arm swinging at a pitch in Chicago. With Pavletich sidelined for a month, Bench took over as starting catcher and never looked back, building a Hall of Fame career.

Pavletich batted .254 in his big-league career, including .264 in 50 games versus the Cardinals.

Convinced center fielder Jim Edmonds would depart for free agency, the Angels were willing to deal him for the right offer.

Twenty years ago, on March 23, 2000, the Cardinals capitalized on the opportunity, trading pitcher Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy to the Angels for Edmonds.

Bottenfield and Kennedy filled two holes in the Angels’ lineup, but Edmonds provided much more to the Cardinals.

With Edmonds producing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center and a power bat from the left side, the Cardinals became perennial contenders. They qualified for the postseason in six of the eight years Edmonds played for them, won two National League pennants (2004 and 2006) and earned a World Series championship (2006) for the first time in 24 seasons.

Angels fan

Edmonds grew up in the California town of Diamond Bar, 27 miles from where the Angels played in Anaheim. He was an Angels fan and admired Rod Carew.

Edmonds was about to turn 18 when he was chosen by the Angels in the seventh round of the 1988 amateur draft. An eye test revealed he had 20-15 vision, meaning he could see things at 20 feet that people with normal vision could see only at 15 feet, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Five years later, in September 1993, Edmonds made his major-league debut with the Angels.

Carew, a Hall of Famer and seven-time American League batting champion, was the Angels’ hitting coach and he and Edmonds bonded. In 1995, Edmonds had a breakout year, hitting .290 with 33 home runs and 107 RBI for the Angels. He twice won an American League Gold Glove Award (1997-98).

In 1999, Edmonds missed most of the season after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder while weightlifting. He had surgery in April and didn’t play until August.

Edmonds hit .250 with five home runs in 55 games for the 1999 Angels. He also was criticized for having a care-free attitude and lacking dedication. “Let’s just say he never would have been voted the most popular player on the team,” the Orange County Register reported.

Desire to deal

At spring training in 2000, Edmonds was heard telling Angels teammates about the clubs he expected to get offers from when he planned to enter free agency after the season.

Angels general manager Bill Stoneman was willing to trade Edmonds, but found his market value limited. The Yankees wanted Edmonds but wouldn’t part with the two players Stoneman sought, pitcher Ramiro Mendoza and second baseman Alfonso Soriano, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Talks between the Cardinals and Angels about a deal involving Edmonds stalled, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to the Post-Dispatch, the Angels wanted a pitching prospect, Rick Ankiel or Chad Hutchinson, but the Cardinals were unwilling.

Later, Bob Gebhard, an assistant to Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, was scouting Edmonds in Arizona and told Stoneman the Cardinals might be willing to include Kennedy with Bottenfield for Edmonds.

Stoneman called Jocketty and the deal was made.

“It became apparent we might be able to fill two needs,” Stoneman said. “It made so much sense that we had to do it.”

Bottenfield, an 18-game winner for the 1999 Cardinals, gave the Angels a potential staff ace. Stoneman was in the Expos’ front office when Bottenfield began his pro career with them.

“He could throw to a dime and hit it,” Stoneman said. “He understands pitching and has great control.”

The Orange County Regster concluded, “He might never win 18 games again but he is still so far above anything else in the Angels’ rotation at the moment that it doesn’t matter.”

Kennedy, a first-round selection by the Cardinals in the 1997 amateur draft, made his major-league debut with them in August 1999. The Angels projected him as their second baseman in 2000.

High marks

While the Angels viewed Bottenfield and Kennedy as solutions, the Cardinals saw them as players who didn’t fit their plans. Bottenfield was expendable because the Cardinals wanted to open a spot in the starting rotation for Garrett Stephenson, who allowed one earned run in 15 spring training innings. Concerned about Kennedy’s defense, the Cardinals had acquired Fernando Vina from the Brewers during the winter to play second base.

According to the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals “didn’t think Kennedy would ever be their everyday second baseman” and “they doubted whether Bottenfield was more than a one-year wonder.”

Acquiring Edmonds enabled the Cardinals to move J.D. Drew from center to right and use Eric Davis as a role player.

“We added a player who is a major-league plus as a defensive outfielder with a major-league plus throwing arm, a guy who has been a productive major-league hitter,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. “It seems to me we really helped our club.”

Said Jocketty: “He plays hard every day and he’ll sacrifice his body to play hard. That’s something St. Louis fans will enjoy. He’s as close to a five-tool outfielder as you will find.”

Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz praised the Cardinals for making a deal “to stabilize the outfield and upgrade the offense.”

Return on investment

In May 2000, Edmonds agreed to a $57 million, six-year contract extension with the Cardinals, keeping him from becoming a free agent after the season.

Though he set a franchise record by striking out 167 times, Edmonds led the 2000 Cardinals in home runs (42), RBI (108), runs (129) and walks (103). He hit .295 with an on-base percentage of .411 and a slugging percentage of .583. The center fielder also won the first of six consecutive Gold Glove awards with the Cardinals.

Bottenfield, 31, went 7-8 with a 5.71 ERA for the Angels before they dealt him to the Phillies in July 2000 for another ex-Cardinal, outfielder Ron Gant.

Kennedy, 24, became the Angels’ second baseman in 2000 and was with them for seven seasons. In 2002, he hit three home runs in the pennant-clinching Game 5 of the American League Championship Series versus the Twins and helped the Angels prevail against the Giants for their only World Series crown. He returned to play for the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008.

Edmonds hit 241 home runs as a Cardinal. Only Stan Musial (475), Albert Pujols (445) and Ken Boyer (255) hit more as Cardinals.

In assessing Joe McEwing’s value to the club as a utility player, the Cardinals placed a premium on productivity instead of popularity.

Twenty years ago, on March 18, 2000, the Cardinals traded McEwing to the Mets for reliever Jesse Orosco.

The deal was disliked by Cardinals fans who rooted for McEwing when he unexpectedly emerged as an overachieving underdog to become the team’s second baseman in 1999.

Nicknamed “Super Joe” for his all-out hustle, McEwing established a Cardinals rookie record with a 25-game hitting streak in 1999. The feat earned him another tag, “Little Mac,” in relation to his slugging teammate, Mark McGwire, who was “Big Mac.”

Though McEwing endeared himself to the Cardinals, sentiment was shoved aside the following spring when he struggled in a bid to earn a role as a utility player.

Job search

McEwing, chosen by the Cardinals in the 28th round of the 1992 amateur draft, was in his seventh season in their farm system when he earned a call to the big leagues in September 1998.

Placido Polanco was the Cardinals’ Opening Day second baseman in 1999, but McEwing eventually emerged from the bench to replace him. A right-handed batter, McEwing hit .275 with 28 doubles for the 1999 Cardinals, splitting time between second base and the outfield.

After the 1999 season, the Cardinals acquired second baseman Fernando Vina from the Brewers and made him their leadoff batter in 2000. McEwing, 27, went to spring training as a candidate for a utility role.

The competition for bench spots was intense. McEwing hit .143 in spring training and was outperformed by fellow utility players Shawon Dunston, Craig Paquette and Polanco.

When left-handed reliever Scott Radinsky developed elbow trouble, the Cardinals went searching for a replacement and made the swap of McEwing for Orosco.

“It would have been tough for Joe to make the club based on what we’ve seen this spring and the other candidates,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When McEwing left the Cardinals’ clubhouse in Jupiter, Fla., he wrote on a message board, “I love you guys, Joe Mac.”

Fond farewell

Most were sorry to see McEwing depart.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he planned to keep a pair of McEwing’s cleats in his office “to remind me of what a professional ballplayer is supposed to be.”

Jocketty said when he got home after making the trade he found a McEwing baseball card belonging to his son, Joey, on a table. “I’m not popular with my son,” Jocketty told the Post-Dispatch.

Columnist Bernie Miklasz called McEwing “one of my favorite St. Louis athletes ever” and wrote, “Trading Joe McEwing is like being mean to a kitten.”

Miklasz concluded, “I didn’t want to admit it at first, but this trade makes sense.”

Warranty expires

Orosco, who turned 43 a month after joining the Cardinals, was a standout with the Mets in 1986 when they were World Series champions. In 1999, he pitched in 65 games for the Orioles.

He told the Post-Dispatch he was glad to be with the Cardinals. “Hopefully, I’m the piece to that puzzle that they needed in the bullpen,” Orosco said.

Before becoming a Cardinal, Orosco pitched in 1,090 major-league games and never was on the disabled list.

“Maybe he’s just got elastic bands for rotator cuffs,” said Cardinals pitcher Paul Spoljaric.

Turns out, the elastic was ready to snap.

Orosco pitched in three April games for the Cardinals, hurt his elbow and went on the disabled list. He returned in June, pitched in three more games, went back on the disabled list, had surgery to repair a torn elbow tendon and was done for the season.

Orosco faced a total of 16 batters for the Cardinals. He became a free agent after the season, signed with the Dodgers and continued to pitch in the majors until 2003 with the Twins at age 46. His 1,252 games pitched, including six with the Cardinals, are a major-league record

Switching sides

With Melvin Mora and Kurt Abbott in utility roles for the Mets, McEwing began the 2000 season in the minors. In mid-May, he got called up to the Mets and was in their lineup as an outfielder for all three games of a series May 26-28 against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

“I’m excited to come back,” McEwing told the Post-Dispatch before adding, “I’m a Met now. I’m happy to be a Met.”

Helped by McEwing and another ex-Cardinal, Todd Zeile, the Mets swept the three-game series. McEwing was 4-for-12 with one RBI and was warmly greeted by Cardinals fans. Zeile was 5-for-13 with three home runs and seven RBI and was booed.

After teasing McEwing about the fan reactions, Zeile told the New York Daily News, “I get excited to play back here. With every at-bat, the fans booed me a little louder and it motivated me a little more. I don’t think there’s any animosity though.”

McEwing hit .222 for the 2000 Mets, who won the pennant by prevailing against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

McEwing played five season (2000-2004) with the Mets before finishing his career in the majors with the Royals (2005) and Astros (2006). He played every position in the majors except pitcher and catcher.