Archive for the ‘Games’ Category

Bob Lee, who threw hard pitches and hard punches, capped his career in the majors with wins in consecutive games against the Cardinals.

A 6-foot-3, 250-pound right-hander whom The Sporting News described as a “hurling Hercules,” Lee had the most intimidating fastball in the American League when he was a closer for the Angels in the 1960s.

In 1968, his final big-league season, Lee was with the Reds in the National League and no longer overpowered batters, but he was durable and figured out a way to beat the defending World Series champion Cardinals.

A late bloomer who pitched eight years in the minors before getting his chance in the big leagues, Lee died March 25, 2020, at 82.

Escaping the mines

Lee was 18 when he signed with the Pirates in 1956. His career stalled in the minors and in 1963 it went backward. Lee, 25, began the year with Asheville, N.C., posted a 6.75 ERA and was demoted to Batavia, N.Y., the farm club in the lowest rung of the Pirates’ system. “Batavia is the salt mines of professional baseball,” the Los Angeles Times declared.

Lee decided to give baseball one last try. “I figured, I’m 25, in a lousy league with bad lights. If I can’t win here, I ought to quit,” he said.

The demotion “was supposed to teach Lee a lesson,” the Los Angeles Times observed. “It did. Taught him how to throw bullets.”

Using his fastball to overpower the overmatched prospects in the New York-Pennsylvania League, Lee became nearly unbeatable. He was 15-2 and won 14 decisions in a row for Batavia when the Pirates decided to start him in their exhibition game against the Indians in Cleveland on Aug. 1, 1963.

On the day of the game, Lee drove the 225 miles from Batavia to Cleveland, took the mound before a crowd of 34,487 and proceeded to show he could dominate big-league batters the way he did those in the minors. Lee struck out 16 and held the Indians to six hits in a 7-1 Pirates triumph. Only two of Lee’s 16 strikeouts were called, The Sporting News reported.

Except for catcher Jim Lawrence, the Indians played their starters: left fielder Tito Francona, shortstop Larry Brown, center fielder Willie Kirkland, first baseman Joe Adcock, third baseman Woodie Held, right fielder Al Luplow and second baseman Jerry Kindall. Francona’s home run accounted for the Indians’ run.

“I had a good fastball and depended on it a great deal,” Lee told The Sporting News.

Lee drove back to Batavia after the game. He finished the season with a 20-2 record and 1.70 ERA, striking out 240 in 185 innings.

Sheer speed

The Pirates traded Lee to the Angels in September 1963 for $25,000.

Lee made the Angels’ 1964 Opening Day roster and, after a couple of relief appearances, the 26-year-old rookie was put into the rotation.

“I knew this was my big opportunity,” Lee told The Sporting News. “If I was going to make it in the big leagues, it had to be now.”

In his first start, on April 25, 1964, Lee held the Indians to one run in 10 innings but didn’t get a decision. Boxscore

Four days later, Lee got his first win in the majors, yielding one hit in seven innings versus the Senators. Boxscore

On an Angels staff featuring Dean Chance and Bo Belinsky, nobody threw as hard as Lee, catcher Buck Rodgers told The Sporting News.

Chance told the Los Angeles Times, “On certain nights, I can throw as hard as anyone, including Sandy Koufax, but for sheer speed, Bob Lee gets my vote.”

Said Lee: “I was lucky. I just got off to a big start. Nobody knew me. I was just a big, sloppy buffalo out there.”

After three more starts, Angels manager Bill Rigney and pitching coach Marv Grissom noticed Lee lost command the longer he pitched in a game, so they moved him to the bullpen and Grissom told him to “fire the ball over the plate.”

Encouraged to throw to the strike zone as hard as he could rather than try to hit spots, Lee thrived, blowing his fastball past hitters.

“The bullpen is my cup of tea,” Lee said. “I really enjoy it. I can get myself up for it. I can go like hell for one or two innings. If I throw 25 to 30 pitches, I’m real good. If I have to throw 40 to 45 pitches, I start running out of gas.”

Lee soon got compared with Red Sox closer Dick Radatz, who was nicknamed “The Monster,” but Radatz told The Sporting News, “Lee is faster than I am.”

“Radatz appears to throw effortlessly. Lee looks like a roaring train every time he throws,” The Sporting News reported.

Naval attack

Heading into a September series at Boston, Lee was 6-5 with a 1.51 ERA in 64 games for the 1964 Angels and set an American League record for most appearances by a rookie pitcher. He was 1-1 with a 2.36 ERA in five starts and 5-4 with 19 saves and a 1.31 ERA in 59 relief stints.

His season ended on Sept. 11, 1964, when he broke his right hand in an altercation with a heckler at Fenway Park. Lee threw three punches and the last one hit a metal railing, fracturing two bones in his right hand.

Lee and other Angels, on the field early for warmups, “were the targets of jibes and insults” by three sailors attending the game, The Sporting News reported. When the hecklers directed their barbs at the Angels’ bat boy, Lee “suggested the sailors take a boat ride.”

When Lee moved out to the bullpen in right field, the sailors followed, “giving me hell all the time,” Lee told the Los Angeles Times.

“They were on me like a new suit,” Lee said. “One of them came down to the rail, just a few feet away, and began to get real abusive. Something snapped and I grabbed him. He swung. I grabbed him by the collar. I hit him once, twice, three times. The third time, they say, I hit the rail with my hand.”

Lee came back in 1965 as good as new, earned a spot on the American League all-star team and was 9-7 with 23 saves and a 1.92 ERA for the Angels.

Though effective in 1966 (5-4, 16 saves, 2.74 ERA), the Los Angeles Times noted, “There is at least some suspicion his fastball may be a zing of the past.”

Cardinals challenges

On Dec. 15, 1966, the Angels traded Lee to the Dodgers for pitcher Nick Willhite. Lee, who described himself as “a blazing 250” pounds, said he was delighted by the deal because “Dodger Stadium is a pitching paradise. The air is heavy and it’s a $3.80 cab drive to the center field fence.”

Lee pitched in four games for the Dodgers, who sold his contract to the Reds in May 1967.

Two months later, on July 3, 1967, Lee was ejected for his role in a brawl between the Reds and Cardinals at St. Louis involving future Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez.

In 1968, Lee, 30, was a Reds workhorse. He pitched in six consecutive games from April 11 to April 18. The final two games in that stretch were against the Cardinals and Lee won both, his last wins in the majors.

On April 17, 1968, at Cincinnati, the Cardinals had Lou Brock on third base, Curt Flood on first, with none out in the 12th inning, when Lee relieved Ted Davidson. Lee got Bobby Tolan to lift a pop fly into foul territory along the line in right. Reds right fielder Pete Rose “barely caught up with the ball after a long run,” the Dayton Daily News reported.

“I was expecting Brock to try and score on that one, even though there was only one out,” Lee said. “Pete had to go a long way and he was way off-balance, but he threw a strike to the plate.”

Brock held third and Lee’s adversary, Cepeda, stepped to the plate.

“I got two strikes on him and threw him a bad pitch, right up in his power,” Lee said.

Cepeda grounded sharply to shortstop Leo Cardenas, who turned a 6-4-3 double play. The Reds scored in the bottom half of the inning, earning the win for Lee. Boxscore

The next night, Lee pitched three scoreless innings and got another win versus the Cardinals. In the 10th, when he worked out of a bases-loaded jam by getting Julian Javier to hit into a forceout, “the Cardinals were ready to surrender again to Robert D. Lee,” wrote Neal Russo of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boxscore

The 1968 season was Lee’s last in the majors. In five big-league seasons, he was 25-23 with 64 saves and a 2.71 ERA.

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The Cardinals tried to acquire Don Zimmer to be their second baseman but were outmaneuvered by the Cubs.

Sixty years ago, on April 8, 1960, the Dodgers told Zimmer he would be traded later in the day to either the Cardinals or the Cubs. Zimmer said he preferred to go to the Cubs because they would play him at third base, his favorite position.

The Cardinals offered the Dodgers a pair of minor-league players and cash. The Cubs offered three minor-leaguers and cash.

After weighing both offers, the Dodgers chose the Cubs, dealing Zimmer for pitcher Ron Perranoski, infielder John Goryl and outfielder Lee Handley. Only Goryl had big-league experience, but Perranoski was the prize. The left-hander became a prominent reliever for the Dodgers.

The Cardinals’ failure to land Zimmer turned out to be fortuitous. A month later, they made a trade with the Pirates for Julian Javier, who developed into an all-star and was their second baseman on three National League championship clubs.

Hard knocks

In December 1959, the Cardinals traded second baseman Don Blasingame to the Giants for shortstop Daryl Spencer and outfielder Leon Wagner. With the acquisition of Spencer, the Cardinals planned to shift Alex Grammas from shortstop to second base.

Near the end of spring training in 1960, when the Dodgers started shopping Zimmer, the Cardinals saw an opportunity to upgrade at second base. Zimmer (29) was five years younger than Grammas (34). The Cardinals thought it would be better to have Grammas in a utility role.

Zimmer was available because Maury Wills had taken over the Dodgers’ shortstop job and Bob Lillis was a capable backup.

In 1953, Zimmer was beaned in a minor-league game, suffered a skull fracture and needed a plate inserted in his head. He made his debut in the majors with the Dodgers in 1954 and two years later suffered a broken cheekbone when beaned again by a pitch from Hal Jeffcoat of the Reds.

Zimmer “just doesn’t get out of the way,” pitcher Sal Maglie said to the Associated Press.

After being used primarily as a backup at second, third and short, Zimmer became the Dodgers’ starting shortstop in 1958 and hit .262 with 17 home runs.

“A colorful fielder, Zimmer looks like a chubby Nellie Fox, always yelling encouragement about the infield with a wad of chewing tobacco bulging in his jaw,” the Associated Press observed.

Zimmer returned as Dodgers shortstop in 1959, but struggled to hit for average. “Likable little Zimmer never has ceased stubbornly to swing for the fences,” Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted.

In June 1959, the Dodgers called up Wills from the minors and the speedster supplanted Zimmer, who never got untracked and finished the season with a .165 batting mark for the National League champions.

Time to go

At spring training in 1960, Zimmer choked up on the bat and shortened his swing. “I’ve never seen Zimmer look better,” Dodgers manager Walter Alston told The Sporting News.

Alston may have been trying to prop up Zimmer’s trade value. He and Zimmer weren’t getting along.

“I wanted to get away, especially from Alston,” Zimmer told the Associated Press. “I know he doesn’t care for me. That’s because I’m always after him to play me or trade me.”

The Cardinals and Cubs were the most ardent suitors for Zimmer. The Cubs wanted him as the third baseman to replace Al Dark, who they traded to the Phillies in January 1960.

According to the Chicago Tribune, Zimmer “stated frankly he was not interested in going to the Cardinals when he learned they planned to play him at second base. He prefers third.”

The Dodgers “were understood to be seeking a suitable place for Zimmer in the major leagues,” the Tribune reported, “and his preference for the Cubs undoubtedly was taken into consideration.”

The Cardinals offered two minor-league players and cash to the Dodgers for Zimmer, the Post-Dispatch reported, adding the identities of the players were unknown. It’s possible pitcher Jim Donohue and outfielder Duke Carmel were the minor-leaguers offered because two months later the Cardinals dealt them to the Dodgers for outfielder John Glenn.

According to the Associated Press, Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi told Zimmer, “You’re going to either the Cubs or the St. Louis Cardinals. I can’t tell you yet. I’ll be able to tell you later on.”

A few hours later, Zimmer learned he was a Cub.

“I would have liked to have had Zim because he can play three infield positions well and I like his fire,” Cardinals manager Solly Hemus told the Post-Dispatch.

Foiled in their attempt to acquire Zimmer, the Cardinals turned their attention to a Pirates prospect, Julian Javier, whose path to the majors was blocked by Bill Mazeroski, a future Hall of Famer. On May 28, 1960, the Cardinals dealt pitcher Vinegar Bend Mizell and infielder Dick Gray to the Pirates for reliever Ed Bauta and Javier, who became their mainstay at second base for more than a decade.

Crowd pleaser

Zimmer was the third baseman when the Cubs opened the season on April 12, 1960, against the Dodgers at Los Angeles. In his first at-bat as a Cub, Zimmer hit a home run against his former teammate, Don Drysdale.

“The crowd of 67,550 stood and cheered Don as he rounded the bases,” The Sporting News reported.

Zimmer told the Los Angeles Times, “I can’t think of anything that has happened to me in baseball that gave me a bigger thrill, and I hit it off one of my best buddies.” Boxscore

The next day, Zimmer was chatting with Drysdale at the ballpark when Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider approached and informed them his wife stood and applauded for Zimmer when he hit the home run.

Zimmer replied, “I can top that one. I saw Ginger Drysdale outside the dressing room after the game and she gave me a kiss and a hug.”

In June 1960, the Cubs called up prospect Ron Santo from the minors, put him at third base and moved Zimmer to second. Zimmer eventually played for the Mets, Reds, Dodgers again, and Senators before ending his playing career in 1965.

From 1971 through 2006, Zimmer was in the major leagues as either a coach or manager. He had a 906-873 record as manager of the Padres, Red Sox, Rangers, Cubs and Yankees.

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The Cardinals had Willie Montanez in their organization, lost him, got him back, lost him again and made another attempt to reacquire him.

Fifty years ago, on April 8, 1970, the Cardinals sent Montanez to the Phillies as partial compensation for Curt Flood’s failure to report after being traded.

A first baseman and outfielder in the Cardinals’ farm system, Montanez became a prominent player for the Phillies.

He spent 14 seasons in the majors with nine teams, but not the Cardinals.

Big leap

Cardinals scout Chase Riddle, who signed Steve Carlton and who also opened the talent pipeline for the club in Latin America, discovered Montanez in Puerto Rico. Montanez signed with the Cardinals on March 1, 1965, a month before he turned 17. He spent the 1965 season with a Cardinals club managed by George Kissell in the Florida Rookie League.

Years later, Montanez admitted he too often flashed a temper in those development years. “I was really bad then,” Montanez said to the Philadelphia Daily News. He also told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I wouldn’t take anything from anybody and I’m sure that’s what held me down in the minor leagues.”

Left off the Cardinals’ 40-man major-league roster, Montanez was selected by the Angels in the November 1965 Rule 5 draft. The move was a surprise because Montanez had little professional experience and, under the rules, would have to remain with the Angels throughout the 1966 major-league season or be offered back to the Cardinals.

Montanez, 18, was on the Angels’ Opening Day roster and made his debut in the majors on April 12, 1966, as a pinch-runner for Norm Siebern. Boxscore

He appeared in eight games for the Angels, had two at-bats and struck out both times. On May 5, 1966, the Angels returned Montanez to the Cardinals, who sent him to their farm club at Rock Hill, S.C. A month later, in June 1966, Rock Hill placed Montanez on a 10-day inactive list so he could return to Puerto Rico and graduate with his high school class, The Sporting News reported.

From 1966-69, Montanez made a steady rise through the Cardinals’ system. In 1969, he hit .375 in 14 games for Class AAA Tulsa before he fractured his right knee sliding into second base, ending his season.

Compromise solution

In October 1969, the Cardinals traded Flood, Tim McCarver, Joe Hoerner and Byron Browne to the Phillies for Richie Allen, Cookie Rojas and Jerry Johnson. Flood refused to report and filed an antitrust lawsuit, challenging baseball’s reserve clause.

At spring training in 1970, when it became obvious Flood wouldn’t reconsider, the Cardinals and Phillies opened talks regarding a player to replace him in the trade. The Phillies were interested in third baseman Mike Shannon, the Post-Dispatch reported, until medical tests revealed he had a kidney ailment.

With Shannon unavailable, the Cardinals submitted a list of players for consideration, but the Phillies rejected it because “we felt the players listed were no better than the players we already had,” Phillies general manager John Quinn told the Post-Dispatch. “In some cases, we felt they weren’t even quite as good as the players we had.”

The Phillies suggested to the Cardinals some alternative names, including Montanez. Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi had seen Montanez while managing winter baseball in Puerto Rico and urged the Phillies to take him, the Sporting News reported.

“Montanez was more or less a compromise name,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told the Post-Dispatch.

The Phillies got Montanez and the right to choose another Cardinals prospect. On Aug. 30, 1970, the Phillies took pitcher Jim Browning.

Fantastic Phillie

Montanez spent the 1970 season in the minors before being called up to the Phillies in September. He went to spring training in 1971 “with only an outside chance of winning a job as a utility man,” The Sporting News reported.

Instead, Montanez was the surprise of training camp and opened the 1971 season as the Phillies’ center fielder.

On April 25, 1971, when the Phillies were in St. Louis to play the Cardinals, Montanez made an over-the-shoulder catch of a Jose Cardenal liner and “collapsed to the warning track, the breath knocked out of him by the head-on collision with an unyielding wall,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Boxscore

Five months later, on Sept. 13, 1971, Montanez had five hits and a walk in six plate appearances against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Besides two singles and a double, Montanez hit two home runs. The first, against Reggie Cleveland, tied the score in the seventh and the second, against Don Shaw in the 10th, gave the Phillies a 6-5 victory. Boxscore

Montanez finished the 1971 season with 30 home runs and 99 RBI for the Phillies. The next year, he tied for the National League lead in doubles (39).

Near deal

In May 1975, the Phillies traded Montanez to the Giants for Garry Maddox.

Montanez didn’t like San Francisco’s weather or its stadium, Candlestick Park. He chose to play the 1976 season without a contract. The Giants, concerned Montanez intended to play out his option and become a free agent, decided to trade him. Montanez’s agent, Dennis O’Brien, told the Giants his client would play in St. Louis, Pittsbugh, Philadelphia or New York, the Post-Dispatch reported.

On June 12, 1976, the Cardinals and Giants made a deal “on the condition that Montanez would sign with the Cardinals,” the San Francisco Examiner reported, but the Cardinals backed out when Montanez indicated he would stay unsigned.

“Montanez’s agent called and said we appreciate the opportunity but we’ve decided to play out our option,” Devine told the Post-Dispatch.

Montanez said to the Examiner, “I never did say I’d sign with the Cardinals … I might have signed with St. Louis if the price had been right.”

According to the Examiner, the Cardinals intended to send Reggie Smith to the Giants for Montanez. The Post-Dispatch reported the Cardinals would have sent Smith or Keith Hernandez.

A year earlier, the Cardinals traded Ken Reitz, a San Francisco native, to the Giants. Hernandez, also a San Francisco native, told the Post-Dispatch he wouldn’t have been surprised if he had been dealt to the Giants for Montanez. “They’re looking for Bay Area products,” Hernandez said. “That’s why they got Reitzie. They’re looking for people who’ll bring fans into the park.”

The next day, June 13, 1976, the Giants traded Montanez to the Braves for Darrell Evans. Two days after that, the Cardinals swapped Smith to the Dodgers for Joe Ferguson.

Extra mustard

Montanez batted .275 with 1,604 career hits for the Angels, Phillies, Giants, Braves, Mets, Rangers, Padres, Expos and Pirates. He developed a reputation for flamboyant catches and bat flips.

Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News concluded Montanez “has all the subtlety of a peacock.”

“He walks toward the plate twirling his bat, almost like a baton,” The Sporting News noted.

Padres second baseman Tito Fuentes said, “He’s headed for the hot dog hall of fame. Nobody else is close to him.”

Said Montanez: “Some players do those things, they call them colorful. I do them, they say I am a hot dog.”

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In the ballpark on Grand Boulevard and Dodier Street and at the stadium downtown, Jim Wynn hit home runs to spots few others could reach in St. Louis.

Beginning with the Houston Colt .45s and continuing with their renamed version, the Astros, Wynn launched long balls wherever he played.

At Busch Stadium, formerly known as Sportsman’s Park, on the north side of St. Louis, Wynn twice hit home runs high off the left-field scoreboard, a structure situated behind and above the bleachers. A right-handed batter, Wynn also showed astonishing opposite-field power when he hit a home run onto the pavilion roof beyond the right-field wall.

A year after Busch Memorial Stadium opened in downtown St. Louis, Wynn hit a home run off the scoreboard in left-center. The rectangular scoreboard hung from underneath the upper deck and above the back end of the bleachers.

An outfielder who played 15 years (1963-77) in the big leagues and eight times hit 20 or more home runs in a season, Wynn died on March 26, 2020, at 78.

Uppercut punch

At 5 feet 9 and about 160 pounds, Wynn possessed the power of a giant.

“Wynn has developed one of the most lethal home run swings in baseball,” wrote Mark Mulvoy of Sports Illustrated. “He does not have the strong wrists of a Henry Aaron or a Frank Robinson (Wynn’s idol as he grew up in Cincinnati) or a Roberto Clemente, so he does not swing down on the ball. Instead, Wynn cocks his bat with a full extension of his left arm (much like the perfect golfer) and tries to uppercut the pitch. He works his muscular shoulders, arms and legs, all developed through extensive weight-lifting sessions, under and then up into the ball.”

Mark Whicker of Southern California News Group explained, “A home run hitter in Houston’s Astrodome, at least its old configuration, was like a fisherman in the Mojave. Wynn had a cannon-like arm, too, but his swing was the real fascination. He cocked and struck, unleashing all his musculature. He was a launch angle generator before anybody else claimed to be.”

Wynn was in his second season in the majors when he faced Cardinals left-hander Curt Simmons on April 26, 1964, at St. Louis. Batting in the first inning with two outs and a runner on first, Wynn got a fastball away and drove it onto the pavilion roof in right. Wynn’s ability to power a pitch the opposite way “shocked me,” Simmons told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“It wasn’t that bad a pitch, about belt high,” Simmons said, “but he went with it, even though the wind was blowing in from right. He has a quick bat.” Boxscore

A year later, on June 6, 1965, at St. Louis, Wynn, though hobbling because of a chipped bone in his knee, hit a pitch from rookie right-hander Nelson Briles over the “U” on the Budweiser sign on the scoreboard in left for a solo home run.

“Think where he might have put it if he hadn’t been hurt,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the Post-Dispatch. Boxscore

When Wynn and the Astros came back to St. Louis on Aug. 3, 1965, he hit another tape-measure home run. His three-run homer in the seventh against rookie right-hander Don Dennis struck the scoreboard above the word “American,” where the American League scores were posted, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Noting the scoreboard was topped by an image of an eagle in the Anheuser-Busch logo, Wynn chirped, “Now, I’m going for the bird.” Boxscore

Big boom

The Cardinals moved into Busch Memorial Stadium in May 1966 and, a year later, on June 6, 1967, Wynn hit a home run there for the first time. Leading off the fourth against right-hander Ray Washburn, Wynn got his bird, hitting a home run off the Anheuser-Busch eagle on the left side of the left-field scoreboard.

The Sporting News described it as “a tremendous shot” and added, “The size of the home run didn’t surprise anyone familiar with Wynn’s strength. Despite his compact 160-pound dimensions, Wynn generates tremendous power. When he hits a homer, it is as likely to be an awesome one as not.” Boxscore

Wynn’s home run in St. Louis was among multiple tape-measure shots he hit in 1967. Houston Chronicle sports reporter John Wilson began referring to Wynn as “Toy Cannon,” a nickname that stuck.

After leaving St. Louis, the Astros went to Cincinnati and Wynn hit a couple of mighty home runs. Both were against right-handers. The first was on June 10, 1967, against Mel Queen and the other the next day was off Sammy Ellis.

According to The Sporting News, Wynn hit the first home run “over the 40-foot scoreboard that sits directly in the power alley at Crosley Field. The next day, he hit one just to the left of the scoreboard _ and even farther than the one the day before. The ball crossed the edge of the parking lot, landed in the freeway feeder street, bounced up an embankment and came to rest some 600 feet from where it first changed direction in flight.”

The ball, The Sporting News added, was found “just short of a freeway 100 yards behind the stadium. It would have made the freeway except that it spent itself going up an embankment the last 40 or 50 feet.” Video

A month later, in July 1967 at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, Wynn hit a home run against Pirates right-hander Pete Mikkelsen “that left the park almost directly over the 457-foot marker,” The Sporting News reported, “a corner of the stadium so far from home plate that the batting cage is rolled out there during games.”

According to a ballpark security guard, the ball landed “on a playground diamond 50 or 60 feet behind the fence,” The Sporting News reported. Video

Wynn had 291 home runs and 225 stolen bases in the majors with the Colt .45s (1963-64), Astros (1965-73), Dodgers (1974-75), Braves (1976), Yankees (1977) and Brewers (1977). He posted a career on-base percentage of .366.

His career numbers versus the Cardinals: 24 home runs, 20 stolen bases and a .360 on-base percentage.

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For a two-week stretch in 1955, the starting infield for the Cardinals was first baseman Stan Musial, second baseman Red Schoendienst, third baseman Ken Boyer and a rookie shortstop, Bob Stephenson.

Rising to the challenge, Stephenson hit and fielded consistently well in his short stint as a starter flanked by star-studded teammates.

A smooth fielder with a strong arm and speed, Stephenson showed his skills at the highest level of the sport, but 1955 was his lone year in the major leagues.

A successful businessman in petroleum exploration, Stephenson died March 20, 2020, at 91.

Oklahoma Sooner

Stephenson was born in Blair, Okla., a town with a population of fewer than 1,000 in the southwest corner of the state. In 1928, the year of Stephenson’s birth, a tornado tore through Blair and left hundreds homeless, according to the Oklahoma Historical Society. Stephenson’s parents grew cotton and wheat.

Stephenson enrolled at the University of Oklahoma, played varsity baseball for his mentor, head coach Jack Baer, and majored in geology.

“Jack Baer gave me the best training you can get in college in the fundamentals (of baseball),” Stephenson told the Associated Press.

In an interview with the Norman (Okla.) Transcript, Stephenson recalled making two errors in his first college game. After the second, he slammed down his glove. Baer confronted Stephenson in the dugout and said, “I don’t ever want to see you do that again. You’ve got to control your emotions when you play sports. I think you could possibly be a pretty good ballplayer, but if you’re going to continue to play like that I don’t want any part of you.”

“I never forgot that,” a grateful Stephenson said.

A shortstop for Oklahoma, Stephenson got offers from multiple major-league teams. In June 1950, he chose the Cardinals, he said, because their scout, Fred Hawn, encouraged him to stay in school and not sign until he was ready. Stephenson said he also figured the Cardinals would need a shortstop to replace Marty Marion, who was nearing the end of his playing career.

Stephenson also got married in 1950 to Norma, his childhood sweetheart. The marriage lasted 70 years until his death.

Right stuff

In 1951, as shortstop for the Cardinals’ Omaha farm club, Stephenson was flanked by Ken Boyer at third base and Earl Weaver, the future Hall of Fame manager, at second. Omaha’s manager was respected instructor George Kissell, who took a liking to Stephenson and another former Oklahoma player, pitcher Jack Shirley.

“George called me over as we were packing up one day,” Stephenson recalled. “He said, ‘Whenever you get back to Norman, you go see Jack Baer and tell him you and Jack Shirley were the best-prepared kids I ever coached.”

After two years (1952-53) in the Army, Stephenson played for manager Johnny Keane at Columbus (Ohio) in 1954.

At spring training in 1955, Stephenson impressed Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky and opened the season as backup to shortstop Alex Grammas.

The Sporting News described Stephenson as “one of the best-fielding infielders the Cardinals have called up in years. He’s slender, fast, has a good arm and is a big-league fielder.” The St. Louis Post-Dispatch added, “If he could handle a bat as well as he fields, he could make almost any ball club.”

Stephenson’s first major-league hit contributed to a winning rally against the Reds on April 19, 1955, at St. Louis. In the 11th inning, with runners on second and first, none out, and the score tied at 5-5, Stephenson was ordered to bunt and “pushed the ball skillfully along the third-base stripe,” the Post-Dispatch reported. Before a play could be made, Stephenson streaked to first with a single, loading the bases. The next batter, Bill Sarni, poked a hit through a draw-in infield, driving in the winning run. Boxscore

Hot stretch

On May 28, 1955, the Cardinals fired Stanky and replaced him with Harry Walker, who was managing their Rochester farm club.

A couple of weeks later, after Grammas broke his right thumb, Walker moved Boyer to shortstop and put Solly Hemus at third base. A few days later, Stephenson took over at shortstop.

Stephenson made his first start on June 21, 1955, against the Phillies at St. Louis, joining an infield with Musial, Schoendienst and Boyer. Batting leadoff, Stephenson had three hits and a stolen base. Boxscore

Stephenson batted .341 in 12 games from June 21 through July 3. He produced 15 hits in those games and made one error.

Stephenson “has bunted and slashed with surprising results” and “run with daring speed,” The Sporting News reported. He also displayed “ground-covering, sure-handed defensive play.”

Walker told the Associated Press, “He has a wonderful arm, a little stronger than Grammas. His range is a little better than Grammas, too.”

Said Stephenson: “Harry changed me from a pull hitter to a punch hitter.”

New direction

A groin injury knocked Stephenson from the lineup on July 4, 1955, and Grammas replaced him. Stephenson got some starts after the all-star break but slumped. After batting .341 in July, he hit .080 in August and finished at .243 in 67 games.

After the season, the Cardinals brought in Frank Lane as general manager and Fred Hutchinson replaced Walker. Stephenson was playing winter ball in Havana when he learned the Cardinals dropped him from their 40-man roster.

“I wanted to quit,” Stephenson told The Daily Ardmore (Okla.) newspaper, “but decided to give it another try.”

Stephenson went to Cardinals spring training in 1956 and was assigned to start the season at Omaha.

Determined to reshape the Cardinals, Lane made a stunning trade on June 14, 1956, sending Schoendienst to the Giants. The key player the Cardinals got in return was shortstop Al Dark.

Three days later, Stephenson was sent to the Giants as a player to be named in the Schoendienst deal. In effect, Stephenson was loaned to the Giants, who needed a shortstop at their Minneapolis farm club to replace Eddie Bressoud, who got promoted to the big leagues after Dark was dealt. The transaction reunited Stephenson with Stanky, who was the Minneapolis manager.

After the season, Stephenson was returned to the Cardinals, who sold his contract to Toronto, an unaffiliated minor-league team.

Stephenson, 28, decided to quit baseball and use his degree in geology to take a job in the oil business.

“I felt like I had reached a standstill in baseball,” Stephenson said. “There isn’t any room in the big leagues for a .240 sticker and I knew I would never be a good hitter.”

After working as a geologist with the Pure Oil Company, Stephenson co-founded Potts-Stephenson Exploration Company. He and business partner Ray Potts became leaders in the field of petroleum exploration. In the 1980s, Stephenson expanded his business interests, buying multiple radio stations in Oklahoma.

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At a time when Major League Baseball was embarking on globalization, Mark McGwire was insisting on isolation for the Cardinals.

Twenty years ago, in March 2000, the Cardinals could have faced the Mets in the first major-league regular-season game played outside North America, but they rejected the opportunity after their star attraction, McGwire, opposed the plan.

When the Cardinals dropped out, the Cubs stepped in. Featuring their own slugger, Sammy Sosa, the Cubs opened the 2000 regular season against the Mets with a pair of games in Tokyo.

Small world

Major League Baseball officials approached the Cardinals in July 1999 with the invitation to begin the 2000 regular season in Japan.

McGwire was the reason the Cardinals were chosen. He and Sosa delighted audiences with their unprecedented home run totals before it later became known the two were cheating by using banned performance-enhancing drugs. McGwire was the home run champion in 1998 (70) and 1999 (65), edging Sosa both years, and baseball officials wanted to showcase him in Japan.

When McGwire learned of the proposal to play in Tokyo, he told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “You can’t give me a good reason why we should go to Japan. We have our own problems in major-league baseball without worrying about spreading it global. It’s a total waste of time. I can’t believe the Cardinals are agreeing to it. I can’t believe the Cardinals would even consider doing it.”

According to the New York Times, Major League Baseball was pursuing a global strategy to “export the game and its merchandise to more parts of the world in order to generate new revenue.”

The Cardinals visited Cuba in 1936, 1937 and 1940, playing exhibition games, and played in goodwill tours of Japan in 1958 and 1968, but never in the regular season.

Regular-season games in the majors were played exclusively in the United States until 1969 when the Expos joined the National League. The Cardinals and Expos played the first regular-season game outside the U.S. on April, 14, 1969, at Montreal. Boxscore

Thirty years later, in April 1999, a regular-season big-league game was played outside the U.S. or Canada for the first time when the Rockies and Padres held their opener in Monterrey, Mexico. Boxscore

The players’ union supported the staging of big-league games at international sites and approved the plan for the opener in Japan.

Opposing views

On July 21, 1999, Cardinals players had their first meeting to officially discuss the chance to open in Japan. Pitcher Kent Bottenfield, the Cardinals’ union representative, informed his teammates of the proposal. Each player would get a $15,000 bonus for going, the Post-Dispatch reported.

No vote was taken, but the meeting revealed a rift between McGwire and pitcher Rich Croushore.

According to Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz, “Croushore said it would be fun to take his wife on a trip to Japan. McGwire reminded Croushore the purpose of the trip was baseball, a job, not a family vacation.”

The discussion got heated when Croushore accused McGwire of refusing his request to autograph a baseball for a disabled child, Miklasz revealed.

McGwire told his teammates he opposed the proposed trip because: (1) the traveling would cause fatigue and hamper play; (2) he wasn’t interested in being the main attraction, Miklasz reported.

“Nothing good can come from this trip,” McGwire said.

On July 25, 1999, a team vote was held and Cardinals players vetoed the Japan proposal, the Post-Dispatch reported. The next day, general manager Walt Jocketty told the commissioner’s office of the decision and Bottenfield informed the union.

“We didn’t have enough information,” Bottenfield said. “There were too many variables, too many unanswered questions. Guys didn’t want to leave themselves open to a bad situation.”

Shortsighted slugger

Major League Baseball scheduled the Cubs and Mets to open the 2000 regular season with games on March 29 and March 30 in Tokyo.

About two weeks before the games began, McGwire criticized the decision in an interview with Murray Chass of the New York Times. McGwire said baseball was “too international” and “this game belongs here” in the U.S.

“The Japanese have their own brand of baseball over there,” McGwire said. “Our game is too international as it is. It comes down to how much money can they make. It’s not, ‘What can we do for the good of the players?’ That’s what upsets me about it.

“This game belongs here,” McGwire said. “People come to America, they come here to watch our game.”

Cubs first baseman Mark Grace had a different outlook. “If we want to take the best game in the world all over the world, that’s fine with me,” Grace told the Chicago Tribune.

Said McGwire: “If the Mets or the Cubs miss the playoffs by one game because they couldn’t open their eyes up in Japan and play a game because they’re so tired, you think Major League Baseball is going to care?”

Holy cow!

The Mets-Cubs season opener in Tokyo started at 4:07 a.m. Chicago time. Video

Chicago Tribune columnist Skip Bayless was among about 700 customers “packed like a Tokyo subway train” into Harry Caray’s restaurant in downtown Chicago at that hour to watch the game on television.

“What could be more hilariously surreal than Harry’s widow Dutchie greeting customers in the middle of the night wearing a kimono?” Bayless wrote.

After the final out, a patron turned to Bayless and said, “Kabusu katsu.”

“Huh?” replied Bayless.

“That’s ‘Cubs win’ in Japanese,” the guy said.

The Cubs and Mets split the two games. Boxscore 1. Boxscore 2.

The trip “was not without its inconveniences, but it did not present a series of headaches,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

“It hasn’t been the monster everybody would think,” said Cubs manager Don Baylor.

Said Sosa: “I had a lot of fun here. There were great people and great fans.”

G’day, mate

After the series in Japan, the Cubs returned to Chicago, rested and went to St. Louis for their third game, the Cardinals’ season opener, on April 3, 2000. The Cardinals won, 7-1, but McGwire, his steroids-riddled body breaking down, sat out because of an injury. Boxscore

The 2000 Cubs were a bad team, finishing 65-97, but the Mets, like the Cardinals, were the opposite. The Mets and Cardinals qualified for the postseason. In the National League Championship Series, the Mets prevailed over the Cardinals, winning the pennant and advancing to the World Series. McGwire, hobbled, was limited to three plate appearances and no hits in the series versus the Mets.

Fourteen years later, in March 2014, the Dodgers opened the regular season with a two-game series against the Diamondbacks in Sydney, Australia. In the Dodgers’ dugout for both games was their hitting coach, Mark McGwire.

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