Two years after he made his big-league debut against St. Louis as a winner in a game that ended Bob Gibson’s career, Buddy Schultz surprised the Cardinals by becoming one of their most effective relievers.
Forty years ago, on Feb. 28, 1977, Schultz was traded by the Cubs to the Cardinals for minor-league pitcher Mark Covert.
A left-hander, Schultz, 26, was acquired to pitch for the Cardinals’ top farm club.
When given a chance to fill in for an injured pitcher early in the Cardinals’ season, Schultz capitalized on the opportunity and gained the confidence of manager Vern Rapp.
On a staff with established talent such as Bob Forsch, John Denny and Al Hrabosky, it was Schultz who emerged as the Cardinals’ leader in earned run average that season.
Charles Budd Schultz was born Sept. 19, 1950, in Cleveland. “The middle name was for my Uncle Bud and they fancied it up by adding the extra ‘d,’ ” Schultz told Dick Kaegel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.
Schultz received a baseball scholarship from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial arts.
In a game for Miami against Wright State, Schultz struck out 26, establishing a NCAA record.
The Cubs selected Schultz in the sixth round of the June 1972 amateur free-agent draft.
Win vs. Gibson
Schultz made his big-league debut for Chicago on Sept. 3, 1975, at St. Louis. In the sixth inning, with the score tied at 6-6, Schultz relieved Tom Dettore and got Bake McBride to ground out to second, ending the inning.
In the seventh, the Cubs struck for five runs off Gibson, who had relieved Ron Reed. Pete LaCock, batting for Schultz, hit a grand slam off Gibson, giving the Cubs an 11-6 lead. Paul Reuschel shut out the Cardinals over the last three innings, preserving the win for Schultz. Boxscore
Gibson, 39, never pitched in a big-league game again, putting a sour ending to a Hall of Fame career as the Cardinals’ all-time best pitcher.
A week later, on Sept. 10, 1975, Schultz pitched 1.1 scoreless innings in relief of Steve Stone and got his second win in the Cubs’ 7-5 triumph over the Cardinals at Chicago. Boxscore
In two seasons (1975-76) with the Cubs, Schultz was 3-1 with a 6.14 ERA in 35 games.
Getting a break
On the eve of spring training in 1977, Schultz got into a contract squabble, prompting the Cubs to make him available. Cardinals general manager Bing Devine took a chance on Schultz, signed him to a minor-league contract and instructed him to report to the Class AAA New Orleans Pelicans.
“Devine asked me what I wanted and I told him and I signed in one minute,” Schultz said. “Maybe I should have asked for more.”
On March 31, 1977, Schultz worked a scoreless eighth inning in a 2-1 Cardinals spring training victory over the Mets. He caught Rapp’s attention by retiring all three batters he faced, striking out two. “You had to like what Schultz did,” said the Cardinals manager.
Still, when the 1977 big-league season opened, the Cardinals kept rookie relievers John Urrea and Johnny Sutton on the roster. Schultz stayed behind at the minor-league camp in Florida.
On April 9, two days after the Cardinals’ season opener, pitcher John D’Acquisto injured his right calf and was placed on the disabled list. Schultz was called up to replace him.
Mixing a slider with a fastball and palmball, Schultz pitched consistently well in long relief for the Cardinals.
On May 12, 1977, he combined with D’Acquisto and Hrabosky on a one-hitter against the Reds at St. Louis. Relieving D’Acquisto, who started and pitched four hitless innings, Schultz held the Reds hitless until Ken Griffey doubled with two outs in the eighth.
“The fastball Griffey hit was up in his eyes,” Schultz said.
Hrabosky pitched a hitless ninth, preserving the win for Schultz, who was 2-0 with a 1.23 ERA. Boxscore
A month later, the Cardinals made a series of moves that blindsided Schultz.
On June 15, 1977, the Cardinals acquired a starter, Tom Underwood, from the Phillies and a reliever, Rawly Eastwick, from the Reds.
Eastwick joined three other high-profile veterans _ Hrabosky, Clay Carroll and Butch Metzger _ in the St. Louis bullpen. Needing to open a roster spot for the newcomers, the Cardinals demoted Schultz (3-1, 1.41 ERA) to New Orleans, with instructions to use him as a starter.
Stunned, Schultz took out his frustration on American Association batters.
In his first start for New Orleans, on June 18, 1977, Schultz struck out 15 in a 9-3 victory over Denver. Schultz also contributed a double, single and RBI. “Maybe they sent me down here to work on my hitting,” he said to The Sporting News.
In his second start, Schultz struck out 10 before a blister developed on a left finger, causing him to depart in the sixth.
Over two starts for New Orleans, Schultz had struck out 25 in 14.2 innings.
When John Denny pulled a hamstring and was placed on the disabled list, the Cardinals recalled Schultz to replace him.
On June 28, 1977, the Cardinals gave Schultz his first big-league start in the opener of a doubleheader against the Pirates at St. Louis. Schultz, who held the Pirates to a run over 7.1 innings in a 6-1 Cardinals victory, departed to a standing ovation.
“With that, he suddenly produced a two-arm victory thrust and yelled, ‘I’m back,’ ” Neal Russo of the Post-Dispatch reported.
Before he could make a second start for St. Louis, Schultz pulled a leg muscle and was placed on the disabled list. When he returned, the Cardinals utilized him primarily as a reliever.
“He’s much too valuable to take out of the bullpen,” said Cardinals pitching coach Claude Osteen.
Schultz finished the 1977 season with a 6-1 record and a team-leading 2.32 ERA.
Previously: Bob Gibson and his final days with Cardinals