Instead of working with established big-leaguers such as Donovan Osborne or Mark Petkovsek, Bob Gibson spent the spring training of 1995 teaching basic grips to pitchers who normally would have had no chance to be in a Cardinals camp.
Spring training in 1995 was an odd, depressing experience _ rather than a time of renewal and hope _ for the Cardinals and the other big-league teams because of the labor dispute between players and owners.
The players’ strike that began in August 1994 carried into spring training 1995. None of the players on the Cardinals’ big-league roster reported to camp at St. Petersburg, Fla. Instead, the Cardinals, like other clubs, brought in replacement players.
Hall of Fame helper
Manager Joe Torre and his staff were required to train the replacement players, with the intent of having them ready to open the regular season on April 3.
Gibson, the Hall of Fame pitcher who had carried the Cardinals to two World Series championships, had been hired by Torre to be a Cardinals coach for the first (and only) time in his career.
Replacement player Paul Anderson, 26, a right-hander who was a combined 4-6 with a 6.65 ERA for two Cardinals farm clubs in 1994, asked Gibson for assistance in learning the proper grip to throw a slider.
“I was doing it wrong, so I did it the way he taught me,” Anderson told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I like it a lot better. I’m learning from the best.”
Scribe and rejects
The 55-player Cardinals replacement team at training camp had no one who had appeared in a major-league game.
In the Cardinals’ exhibition opener against the Indians on March 4 at St. Petersburg, Mike Hinkle started and pitched three scoreless innings for St. Louis. Hinkle, 29, had last played professional baseball in Italy in 1993.
Outfielder Doug Radziewicz, 25, an aspiring journalist who was filing reports from camp for his hometown newspaper in Somerville, N.J., drove in the winning run with a pinch-hit single in the eighth, lifting the Cardinals to a 4-2 victory.
“You can’t judge baseball from one day, but it was well-played,” Torre said after the game. “The thing you’re concerned with is that playing for the first time they’re a little in awe.”
Walt Jocketty, hired in October 1994 to replace Dal Maxvill as general manager, was asked what it was like to watch replacement players instead of big-leaguers in his first Cardinals spring training game. “As long as I’ve got Joe (Torre) here, we can hold hands and go through this together,” Jocketty said.
Wrote Hummel: “There were no pickets, as the striking players earlier had advertised, which was good because the minor leaguers were nervous enough as it was. The clubhouse was very quiet before the game.”
Fans, though, missed seeing the big-league players. Hummel reported the Cardinals were averaging 1,470 tickets sold per exhibition game instead of the usual 5,000. In March, 54 percent of respondents to a Post-Dispatch poll said they probably or absolutely wouldn’t pay to see a game played by replacements.
Chasing a dream
Still, the Cardinals broke camp with a roster of 32 replacement players, intending to open the season with them.
Anderson, Hinkle and Radziewicz were on the Opening Day roster. In a late move, the Cardinals also had acquired Glenn Sutko, a catcher who had a hit in 10 at-bats for the 1991 Reds.
Among other replacement Cardinals on the Opening Day roster:
_ Ty Griffin, second baseman. A No. 1 pick of the Cubs in the 1988 amateur draft, Griffin also had played for the U.S. Olympic baseball team. He flopped in the Cubs system and spent the 1994 season with a pair of independent league teams.
_ Larry Shikles, starting pitcher. In eight seasons in the minor league systems of the Red Sox and Athletics, the right-hander compiled a 70-68 record.
_ Howard Prager, first baseman. He hit .239 for the Cardinals’ Class AAA Louisville club in 1994.
_ John “Skeets” Thomas, outfielder. He slugged 17 home runs for Louisville in 1994.
_ Tony Diggs, outfielder. A sixth-round draft choice of the Brewers in 1989, Diggs hit .215 for the Cardinals’ Class AA Arkansas team in 1994.
_ Anthony Lewis, outfielder. An eighth-round draft pick of the Cardinals in 1989, Lewis hit a combined .230 for two St. Louis farm clubs in 1994.
“We went with the players on the morning side of the mountain rather than the twilight side of the hill,” Torre said, explaining why the Cardinals (with the exception of Sutko) chose players without big-league experience.
On April 2, 1995, the day before the season was to open, the 234-day strike ended. The season opener was moved to April 26; spring training was re-opened for players on big-league rosters. The replacement players either were assigned to the minors or released.
Said Torre: “It feels weird starting all over again.”