Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

A helicopter ride late on a winter night gave Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver a closer look at a mountain than he would have cared to experience.

The helicopter carrying McCarver in January 1968 veered in time to avoid a collision with Big Savage Mountain, about 20 miles west of Cumberland, Maryland, near the Pennsylvania border.

Four years earlier, the mountain was the site of a deadly crash involving a massive military aircraft carrying two nuclear bombs.

Air disaster

On Jan. 13, 1964, a U.S. Strategic Air Command B-52 left an Air Force base in Massachusetts and headed to its home station near Albany, Ga. The eight-engine plane had a five-person crew and carried two 24-megaton nuclear bombs.

At about 2 a.m., the B-52 flew into a snowstorm near Big Savage Mountain and experienced severe turbulence. The violent shaking caused the plane’s vertical stabilizer to break off and the aircraft became uncontrollable. The pilot, Major Thomas McCormick, ordered the crew to bail out into the blizzard.

The B-52, the biggest plane in the Strategic Air Command, crashed near the base of Big Savage Mountain on its western slope.

The two nuclear bombs onboard were unarmed, meaning safety mechanisms prevented the weapons from exploding. An unarmed nuclear bomb is designed not to explode until a crew member activates it, an Air Force spokesman told the Associated Press. The bombs were found intact in the wreckage, the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Two of the crewmen survived. Three didn’t. Snow drifts were waist high, the Associated Press reported, and the temperature was at or below zero.

Major McCormick parachuted safely to the ground. “It was real rugged where I came down and the snow was several feet deep,” he told the Cumberland News.

After daybreak, Major McCormick trekked several miles, found his way to a farmhouse near Grantsville, Maryland, and called authorities to report the crash.

Rescuers found the co-pilot, Captain Parker Peeden, who survived by using his parachute to provide a shelter, the Cumberland Evening Times reported.

Two other crewmen, Major Robert Payne, the navigator, and Sergeant Melvin Wooten, the tail gunner, parachuted to the ground but died of exposure. Major Robert Townley, the radar bombardier, didn’t eject and was killed in the crash.

Catcher in the wry

Four years later, Tim McCarver was in Cumberland, Maryland, to speak at its Dapper Dan Club dinner. The Dapper Dan Club, founded and operated by Pittsburgh Post-Gazette sports editor Al Abrams, raised funds for charities in Pittsburgh and other towns. Proceeds from the Cumberland dinner benefited the Allegany County League for Crippled Children.

McCarver was a prize catch for the dinner at St. Mary’s Church hall on Sunday night, Jan. 21, 1968. Glib and personable, he was the catcher for the Cardinals, who three months earlier had won the World Series championship. His appearance helped draw a sellout crowd of 700 to the Dapper Dan banquet.

After McCarver agreed to be the guest speaker, he learned he needed to be in St. Louis by noon on Monday Jan. 22, the day after the dinner, for Army reserve duty. Abrams arranged for a private helicopter to take McCarver from Cumberland to Pittsburgh immediately after the banquet to catch a flight to St. Louis.

Tight schedule

Others on the dais included Orioles pitcher Pete Richert, retired big-league players Dick Groat and Jerry Lynch, University of Maryland head football coach Bob Ward and West Virginia University head football coach Jim Carlen. Pirates broadcaster Bob Prince was toastmaster.

The dinner started at 6 p.m. and McCarver was a hit with the audience. In his remarks, McCarver made special mention of Groat, the shortstop who was his Cardinals teammate from 1963-65. “Dick taught me how to conduct myself both on and off the field,” McCarver said. “I learned a lot of baseball from him.”

When the dinner ended at 9:40 p.m., McCarver, Abrams and Prince left immediately for the helicopter ride to Pittsburgh.

“That wasn’t soon enough,” the Cumberland Evening Times reported. “The weather won the race.”

Sharp turn

The helicopter had been airborne for about five minutes when “a huge mountain, completely shrouded by dark clouds, loomed ahead,” Abrams reported in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Big Savage Mountain, 2,986 feet at its peak, barely was visible in the icy fog.

Listening to a warning from air traffic control crackle into his earphones, pilot Dick Jarrard “suddenly made a 180-degree turn” and headed back to the Cumberland airport, Abrams reported.

“Don’t worry, men” Jarrard told his passengers. “I received orders to turn back. It’s too soupy here. That big, black blotch you saw ahead of us was Big Savage Mountain. I didn’t want to put a dent in it.”

Jarrard later told them, “The weather ahead was socking in fast.”

Abrams recalled, “By the time the helicopter touched the cold, cold ground, Tim McCarver’s face had turned ashen white.”

According to Abrams, McCarver said to no one in particular, “Let me out of here. You guys can ride this thing, not me.”

Four days earlier, McCarver and his wife Ann had become parents for the second time when Ann gave birth to a girl, Kelly.

A private plane was chartered to take McCarver from Cumberland to Washington, D.C., where he got a flight to St. Louis in time to report for military reserve duty the next day.

Abrams, Prince and the pilot stayed overnight in Cumberland and flew in the helicopter to Pittsburgh the next morning.

Years later, recalling the helicopter adventure, McCarver told Abrams, “I’ll never forget that ride.”

Read Full Post »

As a baseball innovator, Cardinals outfielder Charlie James was about 60 years ahead of his time.

In 1961, while pursuing a degree in electrical engineering at Washington University in St. Louis during the Cardinals’ off-season, James devised an electronic system for calling balls and strikes.

James presented his plan for an electronic umpire in a 21-page special projects paper he submitted as part of his studies.

Though James said he was certain his plan was doable and would be accurate, Major League Baseball hardly was ready for such an innovation in the 1960s.

More than half a century later, a modernized version of the system James envisioned was on the verge of being accepted.

Major League Baseball began experimenting with a computerized strike zone in 2019 in the Atlantic League, an independent minor league, ESPN.com reported. Plate umpires wore earpieces connected to a phone that relayed ball-and-strike calls from a camera system. It also was used in the 2019 Arizona Fall League.

After more testing, it was expected a computerized strike zone eventually would be implemented in major-league games.

Multiple talents

A St. Louis native, James was a football and baseball standout at Webster Groves High School. The University of Missouri recruited him to play both sports and he enrolled as an electrical engineering major.

As a sophomore, his first varsity season at Missouri, James was a halfback in football and an outfielder in baseball. He led the 1956 football team, coached by Don Faurot, in receptions (30) and receiving yards (362), and also rushed for 283 yards on 62 carries. In baseball, he batted better than .300 and drew the attention of big-league scouts.

In a practice session before his junior football season, James suffered a leg injury and spent a week in a hospital. Though he recovered in time to play for the 1957 team, coached by Frank Broyles, James was limited. He led the 1957 team in receptions (12) and receiving yards (132), and rushed for 58 yards on 18 carries, but the preseason injury was a wake-up call.

Concerned he could suffer more football injuries, James decided to pursue the money being offered in baseball. Besides, if he stayed at Missouri, he’d be playing for his third head football coach in three years. Broyles had departed for Arkansas and Dan Devine was hired to replace him.

On Jan. 6, 1958, James, 20, signed with the Cardinals, accepting a $15,000 bonus, and gave up his last two seasons of college baseball as well as a final season of football.

“I’m glad I played football because it helps toughen you, mentally even more than physically, for disappointments and setbacks,” James told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I owe a lot to it and to Missouri.”

Advanced technology

The Cardinals assigned James to their farm system in 1958. Determined to earn a college degree, James enrolled at Washington University in St. Louis and planned to attend classes in the fall and winter.

In August 1960, James made his major-league debut with the Cardinals. He was back at school after the season and zeroed in on completing work for his bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering.

Before reporting to Cardinals spring training in 1961, James finished his paper in which he outlined how an automated baseball strike zone would work.

“It’s based on electric circuits and I can assure you it’s trigonometrically possible,” James told the New York Times.

James said his idea was based on “placing three lines flush on the ground between home plate and the pitcher’s mound.”

He drew for New York Times columnist Arthur Daley three parallel lines with circles at either end. “They radiate upward and a mathematical formula can predict anything that moves in a parabolic path,” James explained.

James told the Post-Dispatch the three detectors in the ground registered “both the horizontal and the vertical path of the ball.”

He said a metering device would adjust the strike zone for the height of each batter.

Human element

James’ plan existed only on paper, the Post-Dispatch noted, but “is proved by calculus and theorems to be a practical device, scientifically.”

The electronic umpire had “an infallible eye, but, alas, no heart,” the Post-Dispatch concluded.

James said his device wasn’t intended to replace umpires. He envisioned a plate umpire would remain crouched behind the catcher and would be needed for “calling plays at the plate, determining foul balls, determining check swings and keeping order.”

The goal, James said, is not to eliminate the plate umpire “but rather to improve on his judgment in calling pitches.”

The New York Times concluded, “It can’t automate umpires out of existence, but it will be accurate.”

Others had tried automated strike zones, James told the Post-Dispatch, but had failed.

“An Ohio outfit manufactured a robot that was placed behind the pitcher and didn’t have the good sense to get out of the way on a hit back to the mound,” James said.

At Dodgers training camp in 1950, General Electric introduced an electric eye, “but it sat right on top of the plate and a batter could trigger it, making a ball out of a strike with a wide swing of his bat,” James said.

Career growth

James was a reserve outfielder for the Cardinals from 1961-63, though he played a lot in 1962 after Minnie Minoso was injured. James hit a grand slam versus Sandy Koufax in 1962.

After he earned his bachelor’s degree, James pursued a master’s in electrical engineering at Washington University. While working on the master’s, which he obtained, James also was an instructor in electrical engineering at the school in the baseball off-seasons.

“Being an instructor forces you to keep up with things,” James said. “I handle four lab sections, with 15 to 20 students in each section. It takes a lot of preparation for each session, and so does the grading. It becomes a 40-hour week, easily.”

After Stan Musial retired, the Cardinals chose James to replace him. James was the Opening Day left fielder for the 1964 Cardinals, but hit .238 in April and .254 in May. In June, the Cardinals acquired Lou Brock from the Cubs and he took over in left for James.

James remained as a backup outfielder for the 1964 Cardinals, who became World Series champions. Afterward, James was traded to the Reds. In April 1966, James, 28, quit baseball because he said he needed to secure his family’s financial future. He became a successful business executive and eventually president of Central Electric, a Missouri company that manufactured electrical power equipment for industries.

Read Full Post »

Tony Taylor played his first and last games in the major leagues at St. Louis against the Cardinals. In between, he had two splendid series against them, one in 1960 and the other in 1970.

An infielder who had 2,007 hits in 19 seasons in the big leagues, Taylor died July 16, 2020, at 84. He primarily played for the Phillies, but entered the majors with the Cubs and was mentored by the former Cardinals standout, Rogers Hornsby.

Late in Taylor’s career, the Cardinals tried to acquire him, but he opted to return to the Phillies.

Deep in Dixie

Born and raised in Cuba, Taylor liked to study chemistry in school. “If I didn’t go into baseball, I would have become a chemist for a sugar company,” he told The Sporting News.

A friend, Felix Gomez, had played for Texas City, an independent club in the minor leagues, and persuaded Taylor to start a pro baseball career there. Taylor was 18 when he signed with Texas City in 1954. During the season, the franchise was shifted to Thibodaux, La.

On the field, Taylor thrived, playing third base and batting .314, but “off the field, he was confused, anxious and lonely,” The Sporting News reported.

“I was so homesick,” Taylor said.

Taylor said he would have quit during the season, but lacked the money for a plane ticket to Cuba.

The Giants bought his contract after the 1954 season and he spent the next three years (1955-57) in their farm system.

Success at St. Louis

In December 1957, the Cubs chose Taylor in the minor-league draft and he went to spring training in 1958 as a candidate for the third base job. At training camp, Cubs manager Bob Scheffing was impressed with Taylor’s fielding range and moved him to second base, even though Taylor never had played the position. “He’ll get a lot of balls nobody else would reach,” Scheffing said.

Two of the Cubs’ coaches, Hall of Famer Rogers Hornsby and George Myatt, were former big-league second basemen and they helped Taylor make the transition from third base, The Sporting News reported.

As Opening Day neared, the Chicago Tribune reported Taylor “has done slick work at second, ” but added he “has become a controversial figure in camp. There are those who believe he can’t miss but others rate him lacking in big-league ability.”

Scheffing’s confidence in Taylor never wavered. On April 15, 1958, when the Cubs opened the season at St. Louis, Taylor was the second baseman and batted in the leadoff spot. In his first at-bat in the majors, Taylor opened the game with a double against Vinegar Bend Mizell and went on to score, giving the Cubs a 1-0 lead in a game they won, 4-0. Boxscore

In 1960, Taylor was 8-for-14 for the Cubs in a three-game series at St. Louis. Taylor capped the weekend by going 4-for-5 with three RBI in the series finale in what the Chicago Tribune called “a Taylor-made victory” for the Cubs. Boxscore

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Taylor as “the quiet man with the loud bat.”

A right-handed batter, Taylor had a powerful build on a 5-foot-9 frame. Rogers Hornsby, who had become a Cubs batting instructor, told The Sporting News he believed Taylor would be a .300 hitter. “If he ever learns to stride into the the ball and pull it,” Hornsby added, “he’ll be a home run slugger.”

Two weeks after his big St, Louis series, Taylor was traded to the Phillies.

Popular with Phillies

Taylor became a Phillies favorite. In 1963, he led National League second basemen in fielding percentage, produced 180 hits and scored 102 runs. Taylor six times had 20 or more stolen bases in a season.

Taylor was the Phillies’ second baseman from 1960-65, moved to a utility role in 1966-67 when Cookie Rojas became the starter, and took over at third base in 1968-69.

In 1970, the Phillies moved Don Money from shortstop to third base and went with rookies Denny Doyle at second and Larry Bowa at shortstop. Taylor, 34, opened the season in left field, but returned to second base when Doyle slumped.

Taylor time

On May 21, 1970, Philadelphia was abuzz with anticipation when the Cardinals opened a four-game series with the Phillies at Connie Mack Stadium. Slugger Richie Allen was playing in Philadelphia for the first time since being traded by the Phillies to the Cardinals.

In the Thursday night series opener, the focus was on Allen, but Taylor, his former road roommate, stole the show.

Cardinals starter Steve Carlton struck out 16 batters in eight innings, but the Phillies led, 3-0, entering the ninth. The Cardinals came back with three runs in the top of the ninth, including two on a home run by Allen, tying the score.

In the bottom of the ninth, the Phillies had runners on first and second, two outs, when Taylor came to the plate. “He was the right guy in the right spot,” Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Facing reliever Sal Campisi, Taylor told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I try to hit the ball up the middle in a spot like that. I was looking for a strike, a ball I could handle.”

Taylor grounded a single into center field, scoring John Briggs from second and giving the Phillies a 4-3 walkoff victory. Boxscore

Cardinals catcher Bart Zeller, making his big-league debut, told the Post-Dispatch, “Taylor hit a slider up, and we were trying to keep it away, but it got the middle of the plate.”

Tribute for Taylor

The next night, Taylor moved to third base to replace Don Money, who was injured in the series opener when a ball he was about to field struck him in the right eye. Taylor had two hits, scored a run and swiped a base, but the Cardinals won, 6-3. Boxscore

Game 3 of the series was Tony Taylor Night in Philadelphia and he was honored in ceremonies before the game. Standing at home plate with family, including his mother, who arrived from Cuba in March, Taylor was presented with gifts, including a trip to Spain for he and his wife.

Unfazed by the show of affection for Taylor, Bob Gibson struck him out three times in the game and finished with 16 in a 3-1 victory. Taylor did get one of the four hits Gibson allowed. Richie Allen drove in all the Cardinals’ runs with a pair of home runs versus Jim Bunning. Boxscore

The series finale on Sunday afternoon gave Taylor the chance to produce another game-winning hit, and he delivered.

In the 10th inning, with the score tied at 5-5, the Phillies loaded the bases with none out before Taylor lined a single to right on a fastball from Chuck Taylor, scoring Grant Jackson from third and giving the Phillies a 6-5 walkoff triumph. Richie Allen struck out five times in the game. Boxscore

Taylor finished the season with a .301 batting mark. He hit .411 with runners in scoring position.

Tony the Tiger

The Phillies traded Taylor to the Tigers in June 1971. He made the only postseason appearance of his career with them in 1972.

Released by the Tigers in December 1973, Taylor, 38, was pursued by the Cardinals, who wanted him for a utility role, United Press International reported, but he returned to the Phillies and played three more seasons for them.

On Sept. 29, 1976, Taylor ended his major-league playing career where it began, at St. Louis. Batting for pitcher Tug McGraw, Taylor grounded out to second versus John Curtis. Boxscore

Taylor went on to manage in the Phillies’ farm system for five seasons, coached for the Phillies and Marlins and was an instructor for the Giants.

Read Full Post »

Mike Ryan connected with Steve Carlton behind the plate, not at the plate.

A catcher of superior defensive skills who played in the 1967 World Series for the Red Sox against the Cardinals, Ryan died July 7, 2020, at 78.

Ryan played in 11 seasons in the big leagues because of his glove work and strong throwing arm. His career batting average with the Red Sox (1964-67), Phillies (1968-73) and Pirates (1974) was .193.

Ryan’s strength and weakness were illustrated by his interactions with Carlton. With the Phillies from 1968-71, Ryan was hitless in 26 at-bats against the Cardinals’ left-hander. When Carlton got traded to the Phillies in 1972, Ryan became one of his catchers in an award-winning season.

New England tough

Ryan was born in Haverhill, Massachusetts, about 35 miles north of Boston and near the border of New Hampshire. He grew up a Red Sox fan and took up catching when he was 9. “A catcher’s mitt wasn’t the first glove I owned, but it was my favorite,” Ryan told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “I guess I liked the idea of being in on every play.”

A prominent sandlot player, Ryan signed with the Red Sox when he was 18 and played in their farm system from 1961-64.

On the last weekend of the 1964 season, injuries left the Red Sox short of catchers and they called up Ryan. Manager Billy Herman put him in the starting lineup in a Saturday game against the Senators at Boston’s Fenway Park. Bill Monbouquette pitched a shutout for the Red Sox. Ryan caught seven innings and drove in two runs in his major-league debut. Boxscore

With a Massachusetts accent described by the Philadelphia Inquirer as “thick as chowder,” Ryan was a natural for the Red Sox. He spent part of 1965 with them and was their Opening Day catcher in 1966 and 1967. In August 1967, the Red Sox acquired catcher Elston Howard from the Yankees and he supplanted Ryan as the starter for the pennant stretch.

Howard, 38, appealed to Red Sox manager Dick Williams more than Ryan, 25, did because Howard had played in nine World Series for the Yankees. Ryan objected to being displaced and spoke out about it. He considered himself a better defensive catcher than Howard, and Howard (.147) did even less at the plate for the Red Sox than Ryan did (.199).

“They put the screws to me around here,” Ryan told the Boston Globe.

The Red Sox clinched the American League pennant on the last day of the 1967 season. In the World Series versus the Cardinals, Howard did most of the catching. Ryan’s only appearance came in Game 4 at St. Louis when he replaced Howard in the fifth inning and went hitless in two at-bats against Bob Gibson. Boxscore

During the regular season, Red Sox ace Jim Lonborg, who won the 1967 American League Cy Young Award, started more games with Ryan as his catcher than he did with Elston Howard, or backups Russ Gibson and Bob Tillman.

In a tribute to Ryan in the Eagle-Tribune of North Andover, Massachusetts, Lonborg said, “He taught me what New England toughness was all about. Broken fingers, cracked ribs. The game must go on.”

Two months after the Cardinals prevailed in the 1967 World Series, Ryan was traded to the Phillies. “I’m glad to get away, to get a chance,” Ryan told the Boston Globe.

Good field, no hit

Ryan “has a strong arm, a sure glove and handled Boston’s young pitchers intelligently,” the Philadelphia Daily News noted.

He was the Phillies’ Opening Day catcher in 1968 and 1969. In the off-seasons, Ryan and his wife collected antiques. “The catcher has a poet’s soul,” wrote the Philadelphia Inquirer’s Bill Lyon.

Ryan led National League catchers in percentage of runners caught attempting to steal (57.6) in 1968 and in assists (79) in 1969, but his batting marks for those seasons were .179 and .204.

“Mike Ryan can’t hit a lick and that’s the pity of it,” Bill Conlin of the Philadelphia Daily News wrote. “He’s tried a dozen stances and a jillion bats, but nothing has helped.”

Ryan told Sandy Padwe of the Philadelphia Inquirer, “There have been times I was so confused that I didn’t even know my name when I went up to bat. The whole thing is so frustrating. It takes so much out of you. Maybe I’m just not a hitter, but I can’t believe that.”

Collecting Cardinals

In October 1969, looking to get more production from the catcher position, the Phillies acquired Tim McCarver from the Cardinals and Ryan became a backup.

McCarver and Ryan were involved in a freak occurrence on May 2, 1970, in a game at San Francisco. In the sixth inning, a foul tip by Willie Mays fractured McCarver’s right hand. Ryan replaced him. After Mays singled and Willie McCovey doubled, Ken Henderson singled to right. Ron Stone’s throw to Ryan nailed McCovey at the plate, but Ryan fractured his left hand when spiked by McCovey. Boxscore

McCarver hit .287 in 1970 and .278 in 1971, but his defensive skills were slipping.

The Phillies acquired Steve Carlton from the Cardinals in February 1972. The deal reunited Carlton with McCarver, who was Carlton’s catcher with the Cardinals from 1965-69, but Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi was becoming disenchanted with McCarver’s weak throwing.

“If Mike Ryan had McCarver’s .280 bat, he would be a six-figure everyday player, a great star,” declared the Philadelphia Daily News. “If McCarver had Ryan’s sure, soft hands and lightning release, he’d be an all-star.”

Neither Carlton nor McCarver got off to a strong start with the 1972 Phillies. At the end of May, Carlton was 5-6 and McCarver was batting .208. “The Phillies watched McCarver three-hop balls to second and handle pitches as if they were live grenades while waiting for a bat which never came around,” according to the Philadelphia Daily News.

On June 14, 1972, the Phillies dealt McCarver to the Expos for catcher John Bateman.

Teaching and helping

With Bateman starting and Ryan backing up, Carlton put together a big season (27-10, 1.97 ERA) for a bad team (59-97) and won the 1972 National League Cy Young Award. “I could have told the hitters what was coming and they still wouldn’t have touched Steve,” Ryan told The Sporting News. “He dominated hitters.”

In 1973, rookie Bob Boone became the Phillies’ catcher, Bateman departed and Ryan remained the backup. In two seasons (1972-73) together, Carlton and Ryan formed the Phillies’ battery in 10 games. Ryan also was reunited in 1973 with Lonborg, who was acquired by the Phillies.

Ryan finished his playing career in 1974 with the Pirates. He was a manager in the Pirates’ farm system for two years (1975-76) and mentored a teen catching prospect, Tony Pena. Ryan also managed Phillies minor-league teams for two seasons (1977-78) and helped advance the career of outfielder Lonnie Smith.

For 16 years (1980-95), Ryan was a Phillies coach. The Phillies got to the World Series three times in that stretch, including 1993, when their catcher was Darren Daulton, who bonded with Ryan. “He’s as solid as they come,” Daulton told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “How much do I think of him? I named my son for him: Zachary Ryan Daulton.”

Read Full Post »

After six seasons in the minors, Chris Richard got called up to the Cardinals and, on the first pitch he saw, showed he belonged in the major leagues.

Twenty years ago, on July 17, 2000, at Minneapolis, Richard hit a home run in his first plate appearance in the big leagues. It came on the first pitch of the second inning from Twins starter Mike Lincoln.

A left-handed batter who played first base and the outfield, Richard, 26, lasted two weeks with the Cardinals, but went on to play in the majors for five seasons.

Prospect with power

Richard was at Oklahoma State University when he was chosen by the Cardinals in the 19th round of the June 1995 amateur baseball draft. Multiple injuries, including a left shoulder tear requiring rotator cuff surgery, slowed his progress in the Cardinals’ system.

In 1999, Richard was injury-free for the first time in nearly two years and produced a successful season. At Arkansas, he led the club in home runs (29) and RBI (94) and batted .294.

With Memphis in 2000, Richard had 16 home runs and 75 RBI before he was called up to the Cardinals in July to fill in for outfielder J.D. Drew, who went on the disabled list because of a severely sprained left ankle.

Sweet swing

On the day Richard joined the Cardinals at the Hubert H. Humphrey Metrodome in Minneapolis, manager Tony La Russa put him in the starting lineup as the left fielder, batting seventh.

After the Cardinals sent six batters to the plate in the first inning, Richard got his first chance to bat as the leadoff man in the second.

The first pitch to him was a fastball in the middle of the strike zone and Richard drove it to right-center. Twins center fielder Jacque Jones raced back in pursuit and reached over the short fence.

“I thought he was going to get it,” Richard told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Instead, the ball cleared the fence just before Jones tried to grab it with his glove. As the umpires signaled a home run, “I think I was just floating,” Richard said. “It was just unreal.” Video

Retired Twins outfielder Kirby Puckett later approached Richard and needled him. “If I had been playing center field, you’d have been 0-for-1,” Puckett said. Boxscore

Dream come true

Richard became the fourth Cardinals player, and the second in two weeks, to hit a home run in his first plate appearance in the majors. Catcher Keith McDonald achieved the feat on July, 4, 2000.

Since then, several others have done it for the Cardinals. The complete list:

_ Eddie Morgan, pinch-hitter, April 14, 1936, vs. Cubs.

_ Wally Moon, center fielder, April 13, 1954, vs. Cubs.

_ Keith McDonald, pinch-hitter, July 4, 2000, vs. Reds.

_ Chris Richard, left fielder, July 17, 2000, vs. Twins.

_ Gene Stechschulte, pinch-hitter, April 17, 2001, vs. Diamondbacks.

_ Hector Luna, second baseman, April 8, 2004, vs. Brewers.

_ Adam Wainwright, pitcher, May 24, 2006, vs. Giants.

_ Mark Worrell, pitcher, June 5, 2008, vs. Nationals.

_ Paul DeJong, pinch-hitter, May 28, 2017, vs. Rockies.

_ Lane Thomas, pinch-hitter, April 19, 2019, vs. Mets.

“You dream about that kind of stuff, but for it to happen, it’s unbelievable,” Richard said.

Name game

Richard had two hits and two walks in 18 plate appearances for the Cardinals before Drew came off the disabled list. Richard was assigned to Memphis when on July 29, 2000, the Cardinals traded him and pitcher Mark Nussbeck to the Orioles for reliever Mike Timlin.

The Orioles projected Richard as a player to help them rebuild. “We really hate to give him up,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the Post-Dispatch.

Viewing the trade as an opportunity to stick in the majors, Richard said to the Baltimore Sun, “I’ll have the chance to get some at-bats and get into some games. This team is going through a transition and it’s an atmosphere where we can kind of grow as a team.”

Orioles manager Mike Hargrove welcomed Richard, but told the Sun he was struggling to remember the newcomer’s name: “I told him, ‘I’m going to keep calling you Keith Richards for a while. Don’t get upset when it happens. I’m not even a fan of the Rolling Stones.”

Richard soon made a name for himself with the Orioles, hitting 13 home runs and batting .276 in 56 games in 2000. The next year, he led the Orioles in doubles (31) and tied for the club lead in home runs (15).

Besides the Cardinals and Orioles, Richard also played for the Rockies and Rays.

Read Full Post »

Cardinals second baseman Red Schoendienst showed a slugger’s swagger when brought together with baseball’s best.

Seventy years ago, on July 11, 1950, Schoendienst hit a towering home run in the 14th inning to lift the National League to victory in the All-Star Game at Comiskey Park in Chicago. The feat captured the attention of a nation watching the first televised All-Star Game.

A switch-hitter, Schoendienst’s style was to spray doubles to the gaps rather than bash balls over walls, but he had a feeling he could muscle up that day. According to multiple published reports, Schoendienst, in an uncharacteristic burst of Babe Ruthian bravado, called his game-winning home run before he went to the plate.

Powerful premonition

Schoendienst, 27, was a reserve on the 1950 National League all-star roster. Fans voted Jackie Robinson of the Dodgers to be the starting second baseman. Also selected as starters were three of Schoendienst’s Cardinals teammates: shortstop Marty Marion, first baseman Stan Musial and outfielder Enos Slaughter.

In his autobiography, “Red: A Baseball Life,” Schoendienst said he was shagging fly balls in the outfield before the game when he turned to his teammates and said if he got to play, “I’m going to hit one right up there, in the upper deck.”

The comment drew laughter from the other players, Schoendienst said. He’d hit a mere three home runs in the first half of the regular season and his long balls usually were line drives rather than majestic clouts.

From his seat on the bench, Schoendienst watched as the National League’s reigning home run king, Ralph Kiner of the Pirates, hit a ball deep to left field in the first inning. Ted Williams of the Red Sox crashed into the wall as he made the catch. Williams felt intense pain in his left arm, but stayed in the game, played eight innings and produced a hit and a RBI. The next day, X-rays revealed Williams fractured his left elbow in colliding with the wall and needed surgery to remove several bone fragments.

During the game, Schoendienst reiterated his home run prediction. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, he pointed to the upper deck and told teammates in the dugout, “I wish they’d give me a chance. I’d put one up there.”

The Sporting News reported Schoendienst said, “I’m going to surprise all you by hitting a homer if I ever get into this fight.”

Late entry

With the American League ahead, 3-2, Kiner led off the top of the ninth and hit a fastball from Art Houtteman of the Tigers into the upper deck in left for a home run, tying the score.

After the American League batters went down in order in the bottom half of the ninth, extra innings were played in an All-Star Game for the first time.

In the 11th, National League manager Burt Shotton of the Dodgers made a controversial decision. With one out, and runners on first and second, Shotton sent Johnny Wyrostek of the Reds to bat for Jackie Robinson against Yankees right-hander Allie Reynolds. Shotton made the move because Wyrostek batted from the left side, but he removed the reigning National League batting champion.

Wyrostek flied out to center and the National League failed to score. With Robinson out of the game, Schoendienst went in to play second base in the bottom half of the 11th.

Getting his pitch

Schoendienst got his first chance to bat leading off the top of the 14th against left-hander Ted Gray of the Tigers. Schoendienst hit most of his home runs from the left side, but against Gray he batted right-handed.

He fouled off the first pitch from Gray and took the second for a ball, evening the count. Plate umpire Babe Pinelli called the next one a strike, but Schoendienst thought it was outside the zone and beefed a little. “A little beefing is a lot from mild-mannered Schoendienst,” the Post-Dispatch reported. The next pitch was wide, making the count 2-and-2.

Schoendienst said he looked for Gray to throw a fastball over the plate rather than risk running the count full. Gray grooved one and Schoendienst hit a mighty blow. The ball was 50 feet high at the 360-foot marker when it went into the upper deck seats in left for a home run, the Detroit Free Press reported. Video

Gray told the Associated Press the pitch was a “low, fast one.” The Free Press described it as a sidearm curve.

When Schoendienst was asked about the pitch, he jokingly called it a “double knuckleball.” According to the Chicago Tribune, when it was suggested the pitch may have been a fastball, Schoendienst replied, “A fastball? It couldn’t have been very fast. I pulled it.”

The home run put the National League ahead, 4-3. In the bottom half of the 14th, the American League had one out and Ferris Fain of the Athletics on first when the Yankees’ Joe DiMaggio came to the plate against Ewell Blackwell of the Reds.

Making his final appearance as an all-star, DiMaggio got a curve to his liking. “I was swinging for distance,” he told the Tribune. Instead, he bounced the ball to third baseman Willie “Puddin’ Head” Jones, who threw to Schoendienst for the force on Fain. Schoendienst whipped a throw to Musial at first to nip DiMaggio and complete the game-ending double play. Boxscore

Schoendienst played in the All-Star Game nine times and hit .190. The home run in the 1950 game was his only career RBI as an all-star.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »