Three days after making his major-league debut with his hometown team, infielder Bob Sadowski was traded by the Cardinals for a player they thought could challenge Curt Flood for the center field job.
The deal sent Sadowski on an odyssey during which he played for three big-league clubs in the next three years before returning to the minors, including a second stint in the Cardinals system.
Sadowski, 79, died Jan. 6, 2017 _ a week before his 80th birthday.
Born and raised in St. Louis, Sadowski played baseball at Webster Groves High School and with the Maplewood American Legion team. A teammate on both clubs was future Cardinals outfielder Charlie James.
In 1955, when Sadowski was 18, he impressed the Cardinals at a tryout camp and they signed him to a contract.
A left-handed batter who could play multiple positions, especially third base and second base, Sadowski established himself as a prime prospect with a strong season for the Billings Mustangs of the Class C Pioneer League in 1957. Sadowski batted .302 and produced 20 doubles, 13 triples and 15 home runs for Billings.
Sadowski caught the attention of the Cardinals again in 1959 when he batted .290 with 24 doubles and 12 triples for Omaha of the Class AAA American Association.
Omaha manager Joe Schultz tabbed Sadowski as a player with a bright future. The Sporting News declared him “a talented infielder.” After the 1959 season, the Cardinals put Sadowski on their big-league roster.
At Cardinals spring training camp in 1960, Sadowski developed astigmatism, making objects at a distance appear blurry or wavy, and eyeglasses were prescribed for him, The Sporting News reported.
He opened the 1960 season with the Cardinals’ affiliate at Rochester in the Class AAA International League. Batting .223 after 51 games, Sadowski was loaned to the White Sox Class AAA farm club in San Diego. He revived his career with the Pacific Coast League team, batting .340 in 64 games.
Impressed, the Cardinals promoted Sadowski to the big leagues in September 1960.
Debut at home
On Sept. 16, 1960, a Friday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Sadowski, 23, lived a dream by making his major-league debut for the Cardinals.
After five innings, in a game delayed an hour and 32 minutes by rain, the Giants led, 6-0. Cardinals manager Solly Hemus made several substitutions, including putting in Sadowski at second base to replace Julian Javier.
Sadowski led off the St. Louis half of the sixth against reliever Stu Miller, formerly of the Cardinals, and grounded out to third baseman Jim Davenport.
In the eighth, Orlando Cepeda reached on an error by Sadowski. In the Cardinals’ half of the inning, Sadowski reached on a walk. He was stranded when Miller struck out Bill White and got Stan Musial and Ken Boyer on pop-outs. Boxscore
That one game would be Sadowski’s lone appearance with the Cardinals.
With Javier at second and Boyer at third, the Cardinals were strong in the two positions Sadowski played best. What the Cardinals thought they needed was to bolster the center field position. Flood, the everyday center fielder, hit .237 for the 1960 Cardinals. Hemus was seeking better production from that position.
On Sept. 19, 1960, the Cardinals acquired center fielder Don Landrum from the Phillies for Sadowski and three players on their Rochester roster _ outfielder Jim Frey, second baseman Wally Shannon and pitcher Dick Ricketts.
Landrum, 24, had spent the 1960 season with the Phillies’ Class AAA farm club at Buffalo, where he batted .292 and led the International League in hits (178), doubles (35) and runs scored (112).
The Sporting News praised Landrum as being “a capable fly chaser who can also swing the bat.”
On the day of the trade, Landrum joined the Cardinals in time for their game that night against the Dodgers at St. Louis. He produced three singles and a stolen base. Two nights later, Landrum hit a home run and a triple off the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale.
Like the Cardinals, the Phillies had an established starter at second base in Tony Taylor. Sadowski was acquired to be a backup.
Under the headline “Phils Bolster Infield, Land Keystone Kid,” The Sporting News reported: “Because of his versatility, it is possible Sadowski might land a utility infield spot” with the 1961 Phillies.
Sadowski batted .130 in 16 games for the 1961 Phillies. He was traded to the White Sox after the season and hit .231 with six home runs for them in 79 games in 1962. Selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft, Sadowski hit .250 in 88 games for them in 1963.
Back where he began
Sadowski spent the rest of his playing days in the minor leagues. After starting the 1968 season with the Syracuse Chiefs, Sadowski rejoined the Cardinals’ organization and was assigned to the Class AAA Tulsa Oilers of the Pacific Coast League.
Playing for manager Warren Spahn, Sadowski, 31, filled a utility role and helped Tulsa to the league championship. “Sadowski’s hitting perked up the Oilers, especially over short stretches,” The Sporting News noted.
In 1969, his last season in organized baseball, Sadowski returned to the Angels’ organization as an infielder for the Class AA El Paso Sun Kings, who were managed by former Cardinals catcher Del Rice.
The Cardinals reacquired Sadowski in June 1969 and he finished the season with Class AA Arkansas and Class A Cedar Rapids.