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In their quest for an elusive World Series title, the Cardinals created a pipeline to the 2002 champion Angels. The first player they tapped was Orlando Palmeiro.

Twenty years ago, in February 2003, the Cardinals signed Palmeiro, a free agent, to fill the same role he’d performed so well for the Angels. A left-handed contact hitter, Palmeiro was a reliable reserve outfielder whose team-oriented approach contributed to the Angels in 2002 becoming World Series champions for the first and only time since the franchise started in 1961.

The Cardinals, who hadn’t won a World Series title since 1982, liked the style of winning baseball played by the 2002 Angels. Eventually, the Cardinals would acquire the entire starting infield from those champion Angels _ first baseman Scott Spiezio, second baseman Adam Kennedy, shortstop David Eckstein and third baseman Troy Glaus _ as well as their closer (Troy Percival) and a starting pitcher (John Lackey). The Angels’ catcher, Bengie Molina, became a Cardinals coach.

Eckstein and Spiezio helped the Cardinals become World Series winners in 2006, and Molina was a hitting coach for the 2013 National League champion Cardinals.

Palmeiro didn’t experience a championship with the 2003 Cardinals, but they were pleased with the job he did for them.

Fully charged

Born in Hoboken, N.J. (also the birthplace of Alfred Kinsey and Frank Sinatra, and site of the first organized baseball game played in June 1846 between the Knickerbocker Club and New York Nine), Palmeiro grew up in Miami.

Although the 2003 Cardinals media guide and several other baseball sources list him as a cousin to another big-league player, Cuban-born Rafael Palmeiro, the two aren’t related, Orlando Palmeiro told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t have any relation to him that I know of,” Orlando Palmeiro said to the Associated Press.

(Rafael and Orlando Palmeiro share a last name, but were dissimilar as ballplayers. Rafael hit 569 home runs in the majors. Orlando hit 12.)

Playing for University of Miami in 1990, Orlando Palmeiro hit .365 and was “the embodiment of Hurricanes baseball with his slap-and-scrap style,” Dan Le Batard reported in the Miami Herald.

Described as “Miami’s ultra-hyper center fielder,” Palmeiro “has more energy than any of us,” Hurricanes teammate Jorge Fabregas (who also teamed with Palmeiro on the Angels) told the Herald. “He’s like a rechargeable battery.”

Or, as Miami coach Ron Fraser said to the newspaper, “Orlando is our catalyst.”

Though he wasn’t chosen by the Angels until the 33rd round of the 1991 baseball draft, Palmeiro became a prominent prospect, hitting better than .300 in five consecutive seasons in the minors. His hitting coach with the Vancouver Canadians, former Cardinals outfielder John Morris, said to the Vancouver Sun, “The thing that impresses me about Orlando is he’s not afraid to go deep into the count. He’s not afraid to take a strike or two waiting for his pitch. He’s extremely disciplined at the plate.”

Promoted to the Angels in July 1995, Palmeiro made his debut at Oakland against manager Tony La Russa’s Athletics. Batting in the ninth for third baseman Carlos Martinez (father of future Cardinals player Jose Martinez), Palmeiro singled to center in his first big-league plate appearance. Boxscore

Angel in the outfield

Palmeiro wasn’t going to displace any of the Angels’ starting outfielders (Garret Anderson, Jim Edmonds, Tim Salmon, or later, Darin Erstad), so he worked to become the best role player he could be. 

Los Angeles Times columnist Diane Pucin observed, “You notice the weaknesses first with Palmeiro. The speed of his bat just doesn’t seem big league. Looks like a batter with too much Judy, not enough Punch, (but) Palmeiro grows on you … He is what good baseball teams need. A man who will do what is asked and not complain when not much is asked.”

Angels pitcher Jarrod Washburn told the Los Angeles Times, “He’s really underrated. I bet he averages more pitches per at-bat than anybody in the big leagues. He gets two strikes and fouls off about five pitches. I would never be able to throw enough strikes to him.”

In 2002, when he filled in for Erstad and Salmon when they were injured, Palmeiro hit .300 overall and .329 with runners in scoring position, helping the Angels stay in the title chase.

After the Angels became World Series champions, Palmeiro became a free agent. In eight seasons with them, he hit .281 and had an on-base percentage of .361.

Man in motion

After right fielder J.D. Drew had knee surgery in October 2002, the Cardinals went into 2003 looking for experienced role players who could fill in for Drew and back up Albert Pujols in left and Jim Edmonds in center.

In February 2003, the Cardinals signed two outfield free agents who played for the 2002 Angels _ Palmeiro and Alex Ochoa. (Two weeks later, Ochoa was released so that he could accept a more lucrative deal with Japan’s Chunichi Dragons.)

Paid $1 million by the 2002 Angels, Palmeiro, 34, got a one-year contract from the Cardinals for a guaranteed $700,000, with another $200,000 possible if he achieved incentives, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Columnist Bernie Miklasz hailed Palmeiro’s arrival as a “terrific signing,” and Cardinals assistant general manager John Mozeliak told the Post-Dispatch that Palmeiro was a player “we didn’t really think we’d have a shot at landing a couple months ago.”

Describing Palmeiro as “master of a short, quick swing,” the Post-Dispatch’s Joe Strauss noted, “Palmeiro’s appeal is his bat control, his ability to play all outfield positions despite an underwhelming arm and willingness to accept a support role.”

On Opening Day against the Brewers in 2003, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa started an outfield of Pujols, Edmonds and converted catcher Eli Marrero. In the eighth inning, with the Brewers ahead, 7-5, Marrero on first and one out, Palmeiro made his Cardinals debut. Batting for reliever Russ Springer, Palmeiro tripled against Luis Vizcaino, driving in Marrero, and scored the tying run on Fernando Vina’s double. The Cardinals prevailed, 11-9. Boxscore

Later that week, Palmeiro made his first Cardinals start. La Russa batted him third in the order, just ahead of Pujols and Scott Rolen. “He’s proven to me that he does a lot of things you want a No. 3 hitter to do,” La Russa said to the Post-Dispatch. “He’s got a good eye. He uses the whole field.”

Palmeiro responded with two hits, a walk and scored a run in the Cardinals’ 6-4 triumph over the Brewers. Boxscore

“The Cardinals are built on power,” Joe Strauss wrote in the Post-Dispatch, “but Palmeiro allows them to put the game in motion.”

Job well done

Another highlight for Palmeiro came on July 27, 2003, when he entered in the seventh inning, drove in three runs and scored the game-winner, igniting a Cardinals comeback from a 3-0 deficit against the Pirates. Boxscore

Asked about his role, Palmeiro told the Associated Press in 2003, “I understand there are guys like Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds, and I don’t have that type of talent. I’m aware those guys are horses and I might be a little pony. The asset I bring is I can help the team in a lot of situations without being noticed. To me, that’s the best way.”

Palmeiro was involved in two noteworthy plays late in the 2003 season. In August, he was one of the base runners when Braves shortstop Rafael Furcal turned an unassisted triple play. In September, at Wrigley Field in Chicago, he leaped into the ivy at the wall in left to rob Ramon Martinez of a bases-loaded hit with two outs in the ninth. Boxscore

With the 2003 Cardinals, Palmeiro established single-season career highs in games played (141), RBI (33) and total bases (110). He even hit three home runs, matching in one year with the Cardinals what he totaled in eight seasons with the Angels.

Palmeiro played in 112 games in the outfield for the Cardinals, including 36 starts in right field, 19 starts in left and 10 starts in center. He fielded flawlessly, making no errors in 171 chances.

The 2003 Cardinals (85-77) failed to qualify for the playoffs. Palmeiro became a free agent after the season and signed with the Astros, helping them to a National League pennant in 2005.

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Frank Thomas, a slugging outfielder for the 1950s Pirates, came close to being acquired by the Cardinals, but it would have come at a hefty price.

In 1957, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane was ready to deal Ken Boyer to the Pirates for Thomas and third baseman Gene Freese. When the deal got put on hold by Cardinals hierarchy, Lane quit and became general manager of the Cleveland Indians.

A right-handed batter, Thomas played for seven teams during 16 seasons in the majors, belting 286 home runs. He hit 30 or more home runs in a season three times, twice topped 100 RBI and never struck out as many as 100 times. Thomas was 93 when he died Jan. 16, 2023.

Different uniform

Born and raised in Pittsburgh, Thomas developed a passion for baseball at an early age. In the book “We Played the Game,” Thomas recalled, “My mother said I never went to bed without a bat or ball in my hand. I first used my dad’s pick hammer for a bat.”

Thomas said he attended the games of the Pirates and the Negro League Homestead Grays at Pittsburgh’s Forbes Field. “I got my first baseball from (Negro League catcher) Josh Gibson. He gave me two,” Thomas told author Danny Peary.

When Thomas was 12, he was sent by his parents to a Catholic seminary in Niagara Falls, Ontario, to study for the priesthood. He quit the seminary when he was 17, returned to Pittsburgh and played sandlot baseball. Six months later, after he turned 18, the Pirates signed him in July 1947. “It was like a miracle,” Thomas said in “We Played the Game.”

In his first professional season, playing for a 1948 minor-league Tallahassee team managed by former Cardinals outfielder Jack Rothrock, Thomas produced 132 RBI. Three years later, he made his debut in the majors with the 1951 Pirates.

Possessing power and a strong throwing arm, Thomas was a good player on mostly bad Pirates teams. In 1954, when he earned the first of three all-star honors, Thomas batted .298 with 32 doubles, 23 homers and 94 RBI.

Shopping list

During the 1957 season, the Cardinals shifted Ken Boyer from third base to center field. Boyer led National League center fielders in fielding percentage but his hitting declined. He batted .265 with 19 home runs and 62 RBI in 1957 after putting up better numbers (.290, 23 homers and 89 RBI) the year before.

At the 1957 World Series between the Braves and Yankees, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane met in New York with his Pirates counterpart, Joe Brown, and discussed a trade of Ken Boyer for Frank Thomas, The Pittsburgh Press reported. A pull hitter who stood close to the plate, Thomas hit .290 with 23 home runs and 89 RBI for the Pirates in 1957.

Lane said he and Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson had two four-hour talks with Brown and Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh about the proposed trade, according to The Sporting News. The talks continued into the fall.

In the book “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain,” biographer Kevin D. McCann noted, “Lane had been Boyer’s biggest supporter and harshest critic. He expected much from him and felt he should be as good as _ or even better than _ Yankees slugger Mickey Mantle. He wasn’t timid about publicly chastising what he perceived to be Ken’s lack of competitive hustle and aggressiveness.”

On Oct. 23, 1957, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette reported that Lane was willing to trade Ken Boyer and pitcher Willard Schmidt to the Pirates for Frank Thomas and Gene Freese.

“Boyer is reported to have told friends in St. Louis that he had been alerted by the Cardinals not to be surprised if he were traded,” The Sporting News reported. “He was expecting to come to Pittsburgh.”

Boyer told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, “After the season I had, I had made up my mind that I was going to be traded by Lane.”

Too many chiefs

Lane said he and Joe Brown talked trade until the first week of November 1957 “and, for his part, was ready to make the deal,” The Sporting News reported, but there was a hang-up.

In 1956, after swapping Red Schoendienst to the Giants and trying to deal Stan Musial to the Phillies for pitcher Robin Roberts, Lane was told any trades he wanted to make must be approved by club owner Gussie Busch and team executive vice president Dick Meyer. “Lane was unhappy with the handcuffs on him,” The Sporting News reported.

Lane told The Pittsburgh Press that Busch “has too many advisers to suit me. If I’m the general manager, I want to stand or fall on my own decisions. Before I’d make a deal, I’d always tell Busch. Then his vice-presidents would call a meeting and in three or four days I’d get an answer.”

According to the Sporting News, when Lane sought permission to make the trade of Boyer and another player (possibly Schmidt) for Thomas and Freese, “the okay wasn’t forthcoming.”

“The Cardinals’ brass shuddered every time I’d mention Boyer in a trade,” Lane told The Pittsburgh Press, “but they should have known if I traded him I’d get somebody good in return.”

Lane told The Sporting News, “I had a tough time selling the Cardinals officials on the prospect of trading Boyer, but I believe I finally won them over,” but Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that “high command turned down the deal.”

Though he had a year remaining on his Cardinals contract, a frustrated Lane quit in November 1957 and accepted an offer to be general manager of the Cleveland Indians, who agreed not to restrict his ability to make trades. Lane’s assistant, Bing Devine, replaced him as Cardinals general manager.

Just say no

Devine had no interest in pursuing the trade Lane had put together with the Pirates. “Stan Musial is the only player not tradeable, but Boyer comes close to it,” Devine said to The Sporting News.

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson had other ideas. Asked by the Post-Dispatch whether he would have made the deal with the Pirates that Lane had proposed, Hutchinson said, “I’d still be inclined to give it a considerable amount of attention. Boyer has potential, all right, but I don’t know whether he’s determined enough to achieve that potential.”

In December 1957, the Phillies offered outfielder Richie Ashburn and pitcher Harvey Haddix (a former Cardinal traded by Lane) for Boyer, but Devine declined, the Globe-Democrat reported.

Boyer said to the Post-Dispatch, “I told my wife that if I’d have been the Cardinals, I’d have made that trade.”

(In his autobiography, “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said Lane had initiated talks with the Phillies about Ashburn for Boyer before departing St. Louis.)

Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch also revealed that the Pirates approached Devine with an offer of outfielder Bill Virdon (another former Cardinal traded by Lane) and Freese for Boyer, but that was rejected, too.

Returned to third base in 1958, Boyer hit .307 with 23 home runs and 90 RBI, and won the first of five Gold Glove awards. He remained a force for the Cardinals, powering them to a World Series title in 1964 and winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award.

Thomas had a big year in 1958 for the Pirates, batting .281 with 35 home runs and 109 RBI, but was traded to the Reds after the season.

Breaks of the game

After stints with the Cubs and Braves, Thomas was a Met when he hit a walkoff home run to beat the Cardinals’ Curt Simmons on July 9, 1964. Pinch-hitting with one on, two outs and the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, in the bottom of the ninth, Thomas pulled a changeup over the wall at Shea Stadium in his first at-bat since developing a glandular infection May 31. Boxscore

A month later, Thomas was traded to the first-place Phillies, who wanted him as their first baseman for the pennant stretch. Thomas provided a spark, hitting .294 with seven home runs and 26 RBI in 143 at-bats before fracturing his right thumb on Sept. 8.

The Phillies, who held a six-game lead at the time Thomas was injured, went into a slide soon after, allowing the Cardinals to overtake them and win the pennant.

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In their first venture into free agency, the Cardinals pursued a closer, Bill Campbell, but were unprepared for what it would cost to get him.

Campbell signed with the Red Sox instead of the Cardinals in November 1976.

Nine years later, when the Cardinals acquired Campbell in a trade with the Phillies, he became part of a bullpen by committee constructed to replace closer Bruce Sutter.

Campbell helped the Cardinals win a National League pennant in his only season with the club. He was 74 when he died on Jan. 6, 2023.

From battlefield to diamond

After serving with the Army in the Vietnam War, Campbell was playing semipro baseball in California when the Twins signed him in September 1970.

Two years later, when he was a starting pitcher in the Twins’ system, Campbell told Bob Padecky of the Charlotte News, “Vietnam is still something that lives with me. The Charlies had this rocket over there you could hear coming for miles. Even now, I still flinch occasionally from a loud noise.”

A right-hander who featured a screwball, Campbell, 24, reached the majors in July 1973 with the Twins, who converted him into a reliever. After the 1975 season, when he played for $22,000, Campbell sought an $8,000 raise, but Twins owner Calvin Griffith said no, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.

Until then, Campbell would have had to accept Griffith’s terms or quit, but in December 1975 arbitrator Peter Seitz had overturned baseball’s reserve system, opening the way for eligible players to become free agents in November 1976.

Campbell could become a free agent if he didn’t sign and played out his contract at the $22,000 salary offered by the Twins in 1976. That’s what he decided to do. 

With Campbell piling up wins and saves for the 1976 Twins, Griffith approached him during the season and offered him what he had asked, the Star Tribune reported, but now it was Campbell’s turn to say no.

Campbell posted a 17-5 record with 20 saves in a league-leading 78 relief appearances for the 1976 Twins.

“It’s all in his delivery,” Twins manager Gene Mauch said to the Star Tribune. “Take all the pitchers in the league and time their fastball on a speed machine and there won’t be much difference. It’s where the ball comes from that counts. Good delivery equals consistency and endurance and deception.”

Top dollar

Campbell was the free agent who interested the Cardinals the most in November 1976. They envisioned him joining Al Hrabosky in giving them a dominant pair of late-inning stoppers _ Campbell from the right side and Hrabosky from the left.

“Campbell is an impressive individual, physically and personally,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Cardinals officials, including owner Gussie Busch, met with Campbell and his agent, LaRue Harcourt. “They asked me if I would give them the first shot,” Campbell told Peter Gammons of Sports Illustrated.

Campbell said to the Post-Dispatch, “Money will be the most important factor in my decision. You consider location and you want to play with a contender, but money comes first.”

Because the Cardinals “seemed more interested” than any other club, Campbell told Gammons he was “resigned to playing with the Cardinals.”

Then the Red Sox entered the bidding. Assistant general manager John Claiborne led the negotiations for Boston. (Claiborne had been mentored by Devine in St. Louis and would replace him there in 1978.) Once Campbell and his agent heard the Red Sox’s proposal, they quickly accepted it.

The reliever who played for $22,000 in 1976 got from the Red Sox a five-year contract worth $1.075 million. Campbell received a $250,000 signing bonus and yearly salaries of $165,000, Gammons reported.

Asked why Campbell didn’t sign with the Cardinals, agent LaRue Harcourt said to the Boston Globe, “Not enough money. That was St. Louis. Not enough money.”

As Bob Broeg noted in the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals “weren’t in the ballpark financially in the bidding.”

Big in Boston

Campbell’s bonanza was stunning in a day when the average salary for a big-league ballplayer was $51,500. “No player is really worth what they’re paying me,” Campbell told Sports Illustrated, “but if they want to, then fine.”

Red Sox followers had high hopes for a $1 million reliever. Or, as columnist Leigh Montville put it, “He was expected to deliver instant pitching salvation.”

His first appearance for the 1977 Red Sox, on Opening Day at Fenway Park, drew boos. Tasked with protecting a 4-2 lead, Campbell gave up a two-run home run to Buddy Bell in the ninth. The Indians went on to win, 5-4, in 11 and Campbell was the losing pitcher. Boxscore

He was the losing pitcher again in the second game of the season. Boxscore

Campbell was 0-3 with a 6.94 ERA in eight appearances in April 1977. “His public image fell somewhere between that of an auto repairman and a politician under indictment,” Montville wrote.

A month later, he was a darling of the Red Sox faithful, posting a 4-0 record and five saves in May. “He comes in, and it’s like Christmas morn,” Red Sox pitching coach and former Cardinal Al Jackson told the Globe.

Campbell finished the 1977 season with 13 wins and a league-leading 31 saves.

Wiley veteran

After fulfilling his contract with the Red Sox (1977-81), Campbell pitched for the Cubs (1982-83) and Phillies (1984).

That’s when the Cardinals came back into the picture. Bruce Sutter, who had 45 saves for the 1984 Cardinals, became a free agent and went to the Braves. The Cardinals wanted a veteran reliever to join holdovers Jeff Lahti and Ken Dayley in forming a bullpen corps that manager Whitey Herzog could use to fill the closer vacancy created by Sutter’s departure.

On April 6, 1985, the Cardinals traded pitcher Dave Rucker to the Phillies for Campbell and shortstop Ivan DeJesus.

Campbell, 36, used a herky-jerky motion to deliver an assortment of pitches, primarily the screwball. “It’s tough for hitters to decipher because they’re seeing a lot of arms and legs,” Campbell told the Post-Dispatch. “My leg hits the ground and then my arm comes through … It looks like I’m jumping out there.”

In his first two saves for the Cardinals, Campbell pitched three scoreless innings against the Giants Boxscore and four scoreless innings versus the Braves. Boxscore

“He throws all the pitches _ screwball, slider, curveball, fastball,” Cardinals pitching coach Mike Roarke said to the Post-Dispatch. “He uses his pitch selection well. When he’s going good, it can be very confusing for a hitter.”

Campbell was at his best during the Cardinals’ drive for a division title. On Sept. 14, 1985, he was the winning pitcher with three scoreless innings against the Cubs, a victory that vaulted the Cardinals ahead of the Mets and into first place in the National League East. The Cardinals remained on top the rest of the season. Boxscore

For the month of September, Campbell pitched in nine games for the Cardinals and had an 0.93 ERA.

During the season, he allowed just six of 39 inherited runners to score. From Aug. 18 to Sept. 28, he pitched 13.1 innings without yielding a run.

Campbell finished the season with a 5-3 record and four saves in 50 appearances. Seven Cardinals relievers _ Jeff Lahti (19), Ken Dayley (11), Todd Worrell (five), Campbell (four), Bob Forsch (two), Neil Allen (two) and Ricky Horton (one) _ combined for 44 saves, basically matching the total of 45 Sutter had for them the year before.

Campbell pitched in the 1985 National League Championship Series (no runs allowed in three games) and in the 1985 World Series (one run in three games). Those were his only postseason appearances in 15 years in the majors.

Released by the Cardinals in November 1985, Campbell pitched for the Tigers (1986) and Expos (1987). He ended up with 83 wins and 126 saves in 700 games in the majors.

 

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If the career of Nate Colbert had gone according to script, he would have been the power-hitting first baseman the Cardinals needed in the early 1970s.

Unfortunately for the Cardinals, the Astros fouled up the plan and the Padres benefitted.

A right-handed slugger with power to all fields, Colbert played 10 years in the big leagues and clubbed 22 or more home runs in five consecutive seasons. He remains the Padres’ career leader in home runs with 163, two more than Adrian Gonzalez hit for San Diego. Colbert was 76 when he died on Jan. 5, 2023.

Happy at home

Born and raised in St. Louis, Colbert was a Cardinals fan who attended games at Busch Stadium, formerly Sportsman’s Park.

“I lived close to old Busch Stadium,” Colbert said years later to the Los Angeles Times, “and I sat in the bleachers with a glove, trying to catch batting practice home runs.”

On May 2, 1954, Colbert, 8, was supposed to play in a youth baseball game, but skipped it to attend a Sunday doubleheader between the Giants and Cardinals. “I almost never missed a Sunday doubleheader when the Cardinals were at home,” Colbert recalled to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

That day, Colbert got to see Stan Musial become the first big-league player to slug five home runs in a doubleheader.

“Stan was my idol after that day,” Colbert said to the Los Angeles Times.

According to the Los Angeles newspaper, Colbert had a congenital defect in his spine that created a constant muscle spasm, but he developed into a standout baseball player, first with the Mathews-Dickey Boys Club team in the Khoury League and then at Sumner High School in St. Louis.

Also, while in high school, Colbert helped out in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, “and sometimes they let me take batting practice,” Colbert told Bob Wolf of the Los Angeles Times. “Before games, I would sit in Stan’s locker, and he was great to me. He was always so kind.”

Cardinals scout Joe Monahan said to the Post-Dispatch, “He was a good-looking hitter. He had fine wrists and was already capable of overpowering the ball.”

As a high school senior, Colbert got a formal tryout with the Cardinals at their ballpark. With manager Johnny Keane watching, Colbert hit two balls against the scoreboard in left and another into the screen in right. The Cardinals signed him three days after he graduated in June 1964.

Major leap

After a summer with a Cardinals rookie league team in Florida, a broken hand limited Colbert to 81 games with Class A Cedar Rapids in 1965 and he was left off the Cardinals’ winter roster. “I guess they figured no one would take a risk on a 19-year-old kid with a broken hand in Class A ball,” Colbert told the Post-Dispatch.

The Astros, though, were in a mood to gamble, and they selected Colbert in the November 1965 draft of unprotected players.

Baseball rules required the Astros to keep Colbert in the majors all of the 1966 season or offer him back to the Cardinals. 

“The Astros knew Colbert wasn’t ready for the major leagues,” The Sporting News noted, “but they liked his potential and decided to make the sacrifice of keeping a youngster on the bench who wouldn’t be able to help them much.”

Though he was in the big leagues with the likes of 1966 Astros teammates Joe Morgan, Rusty Staub and Jim Wynn, “I hated to leave St. Louis,” Colbert later told the Los Angeles Times. “It took me until my mid-20s not to root for the Cardinals. Whenever I saw their uniform, I wished I was in it.”

Colbert appeared in 19 games, 12 as a pinch-runner, with the 1966 Astros and was hitless in seven at-bats. After spending most of the next two seasons in the minors, he was picked by the Padres in the National League expansion draft.

Pride of the Padres

Bill Davis was the Opening Day first baseman for the 1969 Padres, but he struggled to hit early in the season. Colbert got a chance and made the most of it, hitting home runs in three consecutive games for the Padres from April 24-26 and earning the first base job.

When the Padres went to St. Louis for the first time in May 1969, Colbert had six hits in 12 at-bats during the three-game series. One of those hits was a two-run home run versus former Astros teammate Dave Giusti. Padres manager Preston Gomez credited hitting coach and ex-Cardinal Wally Moon with helping Colbert develop a more compact swing without losing power, the Post-Dispatch reported. Boxscore

For the 1969 season, his first as a big-league regular, Colbert hit .293 in 12 games against the Cardinals with an on-base percentage of .370.

Colbert went on to have seasons of 38 home runs in 1970, 27 in 1971 and 38 again in 1972. Contrast that with the home run totals of the primary Cardinals first basemen of that time: Joe Hague (14 in 1970 and 16 in 1971) and Matty Alou (three in 1972).

Before acquiring slugger Dick Allen from the Cardinals in October 1970, the Dodgers asked the Padres whether Colbert was available, Ross Newhan of the Los Angeles Times reported. “If we traded him now,” Preston Gomez responded, “we’d have to leave town.”

Colbert “may be baseball’s best young slugger,” the Times declared in April 1971.

Launching pad

Colbert did some of his best slugging against pitchers such as Don Sutton (seven home runs), Tom Seaver (five) and Phil Niekro (four). “He hits all of us good, but me he wears out,” Seaver told United Press International in July 1972.

A month later, on Aug. 1, 1972, Colbert had his biggest day, hitting five home runs in a doubleheader against the Braves in Atlanta and joining his boyhood hero, Stan Musial, as the only big-leaguers to achieve the feat.

In the first game that Tuesday night, Colbert hit a three-run homer versus Ron Schueler in the first inning and a solo shot against Mike McQueen in the seventh. He also had two singles, including one that drove in a run, and totaled five RBI. Boxscore

In the second game, Colbert slammed home runs against Pat Jarvis (grand slam in second), Jim Hardin (two-run shot in seventh) and Cecil Upshaw (two-run shot in ninth) and totaled eight RBI. For the doubleheader, Colbert produced 13 RBI and 22 total bases. Boxscore

Not only did he hit each home run against a different pitcher, he took just six swings to accomplish the feat. Colbert hit the grand slam on a 1-and-0 offering; the other four homers came on first-pitch swings, the Los Angeles Times reported. “Every pitch was either high in the strike zone or right down the middle,” Colbert told the newspaper.

Hank Aaron played first base for the Braves in both games that evening and after Colbert’s fifth home run, “He stopped me as I went out to first base,” Colbert told the Los Angeles Times. “He said, ‘That’s the greatest thing I’ve ever seen.’ “

According to the Times, Colbert came within inches of hitting two more home runs that evening. Both of his singles came after fly balls that barely curved foul. 

“Nate is just starting to mature as a hitter,” Hank Aaron said to the Post-Dispatch. “The five home runs he hit against us went to all fields and none of them was cheap. He didn’t even swing hard. That’s how strong he is.”

Reds manager Sparky Anderson told the St. Louis newspaper, “I used to think Lee May was the strongest hitter in the league, but now I think Colbert is.”

Stan the Man

Two weeks later, on Aug. 16, 1972, when the Cardinals were in San Diego, Colbert was honored for his five-homer feat in a ceremony before the game. Stan Musial was on hand to congratulate him.

According to the Associated Press, in presenting a plaque to Colbert, Musial said to him, “Baseball is a game of records and they’re meant to be tied or broken. I’m happy one of mine was tied by a St. Louis boy and a former Cardinal.”

Musial then added, “We made a mistake when we let you go.”

In the game that followed, Colbert hit a home run against Bob Gibson, but the Cardinals won. (For his career, Colbert batted .239 with two home runs, 11 hits and 11 walks versus Gibson). Boxscore

Years later, the Los Angeles Times reported, “Musial and Colbert have a common bond that has made them good friends.”

Colbert said to the newspaper in 1989, “Now when I see him, he says, ‘We’re the only ones to do it.’ “

Trials and tribulations

Chronic back pain shortened Colbert’s playing career. “My back got worse and worse,” he told the Los Angeles Times. “It was deterioration of the vertebrae.”

In a three-way trade involving the Cardinals, Colbert was sent to the Tigers in November 1974. The next year he was shipped to the Expos and he ended his playing career with the 1976 Athletics.

Colbert hit 173 career home runs and had more strikeouts (902) than hits (833). “Considering my medical history, I probably shouldn’t even have played major league baseball,” he told the Los Angeles Times.

After his playing days, Colbert worked for the Padres as a minor-league coach and instructor, and in community relations, until October 1990 when he was indicted on 12 felony counts involving fraudulent loan applications.

Colbert was sentenced to a year in federal custody after he pleaded guilty to a federal bank fraud charge as part of a plea bargain arrangement, said assistant U.S. attorney William Hayes.

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In the days before civil rights progress, the overt racism of the Cardinals took many forms, including during Ladies Day games at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

The Cardinals’ advertisements for Ladies Day games promised free general admission tickets at the gate to women 16 and older. Left unsaid was that the tickets were for whites only. Women of color who came to Ladies Day games were told they’d have to pay for tickets to sit in a segregated section of the ballpark.

The bigotry was the policy of the American League St. Louis Browns, who owned Sportsman’s Park, and agreed to by their tenant, the National League Cardinals.

Customer relations

Chris von der Ahe, who owned the St. Louis franchise that became the Cardinals, initiated Ladies Day ballpark promotions as early as 1883, according to MLB.com. He allowed women to attend games for free if they came with a male escort. The man had to buy a ticket.

That was the practice until 1909, when the National League banned Ladies Day promotions because team owners wanted all women to buy tickets instead of being admitted for free, MLB.com reported.

Two years later, in 1911, Helene Britton became the Cardinals’ owner. Defying the Ladies Day ban, she reinstated the promotion in 1912. Women were allowed to attend Ladies Day Cardinals games for free and didn’t need a male escort to do so, according to MLB.com.

Britton owned the Cardinals for six years before selling to a group of investors led by former team president James C. Jones. In July 1920, car dealer Sam Breadon became principal owner and moved the Cardinals from rundown Robison Field to Sportsman’s Park.

Until May 4, 1944, blacks, or anyone defined as Negroes, attending a Cardinals home game could purchase tickets only in segregated seating areas in the Sportsman’s Park outfield bleachers or behind a screen in the outfield pavilion. Blacks weren’t allowed to sit in the double-decked grandstand, meaning any seats behind home plate and along the lines. The Cardinals and Browns were the last franchises in the majors to end segregated seating.

Send in the crowds

During the Great Depression, the Cardinals regularly designated select weekday afternoon games as Ladies Day events, not for humanitarian reasons but because it was good for business.

“The concession proceeds are almost equal to the gate receipts on Ladies Day, for what the women save on admissions they appear to spend on refreshments,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported in July 1931. “They may attend for the bargain, but they buy plenty to eat and drink.”

An example was the Ladies Day game between the Braves and Cardinals on a Friday afternoon, June 12, 1931, at Sportsman’s Park. The paid attendance was 4,445, but the total attendance, swelled by the free Ladies Day admissions, was 17,927, according to the Post-Dispatch. Boxscore

The Cardinals experienced a boon in concession sales that afternoon because of all the women customers in the ballpark. As the Post-Dispatch noted, league rules required the home team to share with the visiting club 25 percent of each cash ticket sold, but the Cardinals kept all concession revenue.

“The reason for Ladies Day is that baseball clubs today have other things to sell other than baseball,” the Post-Dispatch reported in 1931.

Nowhere in its advertising of the many Ladies Day games did the Cardinals indicate that free admissions were for white women only. Apparently it was assumed that no one would expect black women to be allowed to sit in general admission areas rather than in the segregated outfield seats.

(According to the Cardinals yearbook, the club offered five ticket options. From cheapest to most expensive, those were: right-field pavilion, bleachers, general admission, reserved and box seat. After men complained about not getting the same free tickets as women, Sam Breadon declared on July 9, 1931, that any [white] man buying a general admission ticket to that Thursday’s Cardinals home doubleheader against the Reds would be given an upgrade to a reserved seat, the Post-Dispatch reported.)

Tears, not cheers

The Cardinals, who, like all big-league clubs, refused to sign black players, won the 1931 World Series championship. The St. Louis Argus, a newspaper serving the black community, used the opportunity to call them out for their racist Ladies Day policy.

In an October 1931 editorial that also was published in the Baltimore Afro American, the editors of the Argus wrote, “Following the Cardinals’ victory over the Athletics in the seventh game of the World Series, there was much rejoicing … We found no pleasure in the Cardinals’ victory. Not that we have anything against the members of the team … It is their home surroundings and environment which are so insulting to us. We make particular reference to the so-called Ladies Day.

“Colored ladies who venture to attend these games are insulted by being told at the gate, ‘This is Ladies Day, but …’ This statement is followed by a discourteous demand for 75 cents as a premium on her color if she desires to enter Sportsman’s Park to see a game of ball.

“This is an insult of the rankest sort, and we don’t see how any person of color could possibly, under any circumstances, find any pleasure in going to, or milling around, Sportsman’s Park.”

Noting that quality seats were denied to men and women of color for all Cardinals home games, the Argus editorial made clear, “This we have always regarded as an insult to the entire colored race. Therefore, games and other athletic sports at this park have no appeal to us. Hence, even the great victory of the Cardinals over the Athletics brought no pleasure to our heart.”

The editorial concluded with, “It is rather unfortunate that such a big team as the Cardinals has to claim as its home a park which is controlled by such little men as the owners of Sportsman’s Park. If the owners were real sportsmen, there would be no discrimination as to seats.”

In a sidebar, Bill Gibson of the Baltimore Afro American noted that discrimination at the World Series took place in other ways, too. He wrote, “When police officers were asked to help handle the crowd at the 1930 World Series in Philadelphia, some of the officers who arrived were black. (The Philadelphia police force was integrated in the 1880s.) White officers were allowed inside, but black officers were told their place was outside. In the 1931 World Series, when the same request was made for police help, it was put in writing, ‘White officers only,’ and the order was filled in that manner.”

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Given the chance to revive a playing career that appeared finished, Orlando Cepeda took advantage of a gimmick adopted by the American League and added to his Hall of Fame credentials with a productive season for the Red Sox.

Fifty years ago, on Jan. 18, 1973, Cepeda, 35, became the first big-league player acquired to be a designated hitter. The Red Sox signed him one week after club owners voted to allow the American League to use a designated hitter on an experimental basis for the next three seasons.

A free agent released a month earlier by the Athletics, Cepeda had bad knees that prevented him from playing first base regularly, but did not restrict his hitting.

Wounded knees

The right knee was the first to give Cepeda trouble. He had surgery on the knee in December 1964 and missed most of the 1965 season with the Giants. In May 1966, he was traded to the Cardinals for Ray Sadecki.

Before the knee damage, Cepeda had been a dominant run producer with the Giants. He won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1958, led the league in home runs (46) and RBI (142) in 1961, and contributed 35 home runs and 114 RBI for the pennant-winning Giants in 1962. 

Rejuvenated with the Cardinals, Cepeda powered them to a World Series title in 1967 and was named the recipient of the National League Most Valuable Player Award. He helped them repeat as league champions in 1968 before he was traded to the Braves for Joe Torre.

Cepeda delivered for the Braves, too, including 34 home runs and 111 RBI in 1970, until the good knee, the left one, gave out in 1971. He had left knee surgery in September 1971, got traded to the Athletics for Denny McLain in June 1972 and had another operation on the left knee soon after.

Athletics owner Charlie Finley said the surgeon, Dr. Henry Walker, told him that all of the cartilage in Cepeda’s left knee was gone, that it was almost bone on top of bone, The Sporting News reported.

In his autobiography, “Baby Bull,” Cepeda said when the Athletics released him, “I was finished as a major-league player. My legs were shot.”

Opportunity knocks

At home in Puerto Rico in January 1973, Cepeda said he wasn’t aware the American League had gotten approval that month for its teams to substitute a designated hitter for a pitcher in the batting order. He could hardly believe his good fortunate when teams began to inquire about playing in 1973.

The Red Sox were the first to make him an offer ($90,000 and a new car, according to the Boston Globe), and he accepted. Cepeda, who said he’d been a Ted Williams fan as a kid, was joining a Red Sox lineup with three other future Hall of Famers _ Luis Aparicio, Carlton Fisk and Carl Yastrzemski _ plus the likes of Tommy Harper, Rico Petrocelli and Reggie Smith.

Skeptics wondered how much help Cepeda could provide on scarred knees.

“Cepeda may have to be wheeled up to the plate in a jinrikisha, helped out of it and pushed into the batter’s box,” Clif Keane wrote in the Boston Globe.

Noting that Cepeda’s left knee “looks like a road map of Colorado,” columnist Ray Fitzgerald declared, “Maybe the American League executives could meet once more and allow the designated hitters to go to first on a motorcycle.”

Others recalled that Cepeda batted .103 against the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series and was 1-for-17 with no RBI in the four games at Boston. A right-handed batter, Cepeda said the short distance from the plate to the Green Monster wall in left at Fenway Park made him “fence happy” during that World Series.

“Everybody told me how easy it would be to hit the ball over there, and that’s what I tried to do,” Cepeda recalled to the Globe. “I got all mixed up.”

“I’ll get over that,” he promised.

Great expectations

At spring training with the 1973 Red Sox, Cepeda “has been doing a lot of limping but he also has been doing a lot of hitting,” The Sporting News reported.

Trainer Buddy LeRoux told the Globe that Cepeda had “the knees of a 55-year-old man.”

In picking the Red Sox to finish first in the American League East, The Sporting News suggested that Cepeda, “who can’t run but still can hit,” could give Boston the edge.

The first American League game of the 1973 season was Yankees versus Red Sox on April 6 at Boston. In the top of the first, the Yankees’ Ron Blomberg became the first designated hitter to make a plate appearance in a big-league game, drawing a walk from Luis Tiant with the bases loaded. The Red Sox totaled 15 runs and 20 hits in the game, but Cepeda went hitless in six at-bats. Boxscore

The next day, the Red Sox had 13 hits, none by Cepeda. Though he contributed two sacrifice flies, there already were concerns that the player designated as a hitter had thus far failed to get a hit. Boxscore

Feelin’ all right

Those concerns turned into boos in the series finale when Cepeda went hitless in his first three at-bats.

When Cepeda led off the bottom of the ninth, with the score tied at 3-3, “there was a genuine doubt about whether he should be allowed to hit,” Leigh Montville wrote in the Globe.

Pitching for the Yankees was their closer, Sparky Lyle, making his first appearance at Fenway Park since being traded by the Red Sox the year before.

With the count 1-and-1, Lyle tried to throw an inside fastball, but it caught the middle of the plate. Connecting with his 41-ounce bat, the heaviest in the majors, Cepeda’s rising liner soared over the wall in left for a walkoff home run.

“He didn’t cheat himself with the swing he took,” Lyle said to the Globe. “The wind from the swing almost knocked me over flat on my back.”

Leigh Montville described the scene as the ball carried toward the Green Monster: “Cepeda watched it, helping it clear the 37-foot wall with his entire heart, and then he broke into a trot. He came around third base and he came down the line, and when he hit the plate, he gave it a gentle Arthur Murray tap.”

“I’m Cha-Cha,” Cepeda said. “That’s my name.” Boxscore

It was Cepeda’s first walkoff home run since Sept. 30, 1965, versus Joe Nuxhall of the Reds. Boxscore

Big bopper

“It is quite likely if Cepeda hadn’t drilled Sparky’s pitch, he might have lost his designated hitter’s job to Ben Oglivie,” Clif Keane reported in the Globe.

Red Sox manager Eddie Kasko admitted, “I was looking to see better signs” from Cepeda when he came to bat against Lyle.

From then on, Cepeda had a lock on the designated hitter job. Among his highlights:

_ Two home runs and four RBI against the Indians on April 21. “Who cares whether the man can run or not?” Kasko said to the Globe. “We got him to drive in runs. He is doing that better than anyone on the club.” Boxscore

_ A grand slam, the ninth of his career, against the Rangers’ Pete Broberg on May 2. “He’s the best (DH) in the league,” Rangers manager Whitey Herzog told the Globe. Boxscore

_ A two-run home run versus Nolan Ryan in a 2-1 win over the Angels on May 29. Boxscore

_ A tie-breaking homer and the game-winning RBI in a rematch against Ryan on June 12. Boxscore

_  Four doubles and six RBI against the Royals on Aug. 8. “It’s too bad Cepeda doesn’t have a bat to match his bad legs,” Royals manager Jack McKeon said to the Globe. Boxscore

_ Five hits and four runs scored against the Angels on Aug. 12. “The most satisfying year of my career,” Cepeda told the Globe. Boxscore

One and done

Used exclusively as a designated hitter, Cepeda batted .289 with 20 home runs and 89 RBI for the second-place Red Sox. He tied Yastrzemski for the team lead in doubles (25) and was second on the club in total bases (244). He was the first recipient of baseball’s Designated Hitter of the Year Award (renamed the Edgar Martinez Award).

“Considering where my career was and the high level of competition, the designated hitter award in 1973 remains among my most meaningful baseball achievements,” Cepeda said in his autobiography. “I was back on top.”

The good vibes didn’t last long. Darrell Johnson, who replaced Kasko as manager, preferred Tommy Harper and Cecil Cooper for the designated hitter role. Cepeda was released in March 1974.

He went to Mexico, played in 28 games for a Yucatan team managed by former Cardinals teammate Julian Javier and batted .213. Back in the majors with the Royals in August 1974, Cepeda hit .215 with one home run in 33 games, ending his playing career.

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