Desperate to end a string of unproductive first-round draft selections and determined to find a shortstop with the potential to quickly reach the majors as a starter, the Cardinals got it right when they chose Garry Templeton.
The major-league amateur draft began in 1965 and the Cardinals struck gold with their 1967 No. 1 selection, catcher Ted Simmons. That was followed by six consecutive years of first-round flops.
Each of the Cardinals’ first-round picks from 1968 through 1971 _ outfielder Butch Hairston, pitchers Charles Minott and Jim Browning and first baseman Ed Kurpiel _ failed to reach the big leagues.
The Cardinals’ first-round choices in 1972 and 1973 _ pitchers Dan Larson and Joe Edelen _ did become major leaguers but produced little for St. Louis. Larson never pitched for the Cardinals and was 10-25 in seven big-league seasons. Edelen was 1-0 in 13 games with St. Louis before playing two seasons with the Reds.
In 1974, the Cardinals wanted a shortstop. Mike Tyson was their starter, but he was better suited to play second base. No one else in the farm system appeared likely to replace him.
Templeton, 18, a senior at Santa Ana Valley High School in California, was the prospect who most excited the Cardinals. A right-handed batter, Templeton had hit .437 as a senior and .402 for his high school career.
On June 4, the night before the 1974 draft, Cardinals scout Bob Harrison called Templeton’s high school coach, Hersh Musick, and said, “We’re going to take Garry on the first round if he isn’t grabbed up before we get a chance,” the Santa Ana Register reported.
The Cardinals had reason to be concerned about Templeton’s availability by the time they got to select with the 13th pick in the first round. Shortstops were in high demand. Three of the 12 teams selecting ahead of the Cardinals took shortstops. None, it turned out, developed into as good a player as Templeton.
Shortstops chosen ahead of Templeton: Bill Almon (No. 1 pick), Padres; Mike Miley (No. 10 pick), Angels; and Dennis Sherrill (No. 12 pick), Yankees.
(Lonnie Smith, an outfielder who would play for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals, was the No. 3 pick of the 1974 first round by the Phillies. Smith, a senior at Centennial High School in Compton, Calif., and Templeton had committed to attend Arizona State University together but scrapped those plans after they were drafted in the first round.)
Asked his reaction to being selected, Templeton told the Santa Ana newspaper, “It is what I have been working for since I was 8 years old. It didn’t make any difference to me what club took me, just as long as I get a chance … I just hope I can make it into Busch Stadium quickly.”
Said Musick: “Garry is a fantastic hitter, has tremendous speed, possesses a strong arm, can field with the best and is dedicated. What more could any ballclub ask for?”
Lot to learn
The Cardinals signed Templeton for about $40,000, The Sporting News reported. Seven years earlier, Simmons had received $50,000 from the Cardinals after being drafted in the first round.
Templeton was assigned to the Cardinals’ Gulf Coast League rookie club in Florida. One of his teammates was another Cardinals infield prospect, Scott Boras, who would become an agent for several professional athletes.
In a May 2014 interview with Washingtonian magazine, Boras said one reason he became an agent was because of the Cardinals’ handling of the Templeton signing. “The thing that really got me into this was the unfairness of the draft,” Boras said. “I thought it was wrong for the game. I go back to Garry Templeton. He’s an African-American kid _ no representation _ he walks in and they have all the techniques to sign you. It’s a one-way situation. He did not get his value.”
Because of his speed, the Cardinals immediately worked on teaching Templeton how to hit from both sides of the plate.
“I watched Templeton learn to switch-hit in three weeks,” said Boras. “Three weeks! He was a remarkable athlete.”
Templeton hit .268 for the Gulf Coast League Cardinals and then advanced to Class A St. Petersburg, where he struggled, batting .211.
Stick with it
Templeton, 19, opened the 1975 season at St. Petersburg and continued to perform below expectations. Discouraged by his lack of progress, Templeton approached manager Jack Krol. According to Ron Martz, columnist for the St. Petersburg Tmes, the ensuing conversation went like this:
Templeton: “I want to hit just right-handed.”
Krol: “Stick with it (switch-hitting). It’s not like you’re 24 or 25 years old. You’ve got plenty of time to learn.”
The Sporting News wrote, “The Redbirds are thirsting for a shortstop who can switch-hit, run well and dazzle in the field. That’s why they had Garry Templeton try switch-hitting shortly after landing him out of high school.”
With Krol’s patient prodding, Templeton got his batting average to .264 and was sent to Class AA Arkansas, where he hit .401 in 42 games.
Assured and comfortable, Templeton began the 1976 season at Class AAA Tulsa and produced 142 hits in 106 games (.321 batting average with 25 steals), earning a promotion to the Cardinals.
The 20-year-old made his big-league debut on Aug. 9, 1976.
Templeton had 911 hits in 713 games over six seasons for St. Louis, batting .305 with 138 steals. He twice was named an all-star as a Cardinal and he led the National League in triples for three consecutive seasons: 1977 (18), 1978 (13) and 1979 (19). In 1979, Templeton produced a National League-best 211 hits.
He also committed the most errors among NL shortstops for three seasons in a row: 1978 (40), 1979 (34) and 1980 (29).
After a run-in with manager Whitey Herzog for failing to hustle and for making obscene gestures to Cardinals fans who booed him, Templeton was traded to the Padres after the 1981 season. The deal brought shortstop Ozzie Smith to St. Louis, launching him onto a Hall of Fame career.
Previously: The story of how Ted Simmons became a Cardinal
Previously: How Garry Templeton made 40 errors in 1978