Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

The Cardinals weren’t looking to trade for outfielder Lonnie Smith. The deal fell into their laps.

Forty years ago, on Nov. 19, 1981, the Cardinals got Smith in a three-way trade with the Indians and Phillies. The Indians sent catcher Bo Diaz to the Phillies for Smith and a player to be named (pitcher Scott Munninghoff). The Indians then swapped Smith to the Cardinals for pitchers Lary Sorensen and Silvio Martinez.

Smith and another outfield newcomer, Willie McGee, became the catalysts of the Cardinals’ offense, igniting the team’s run to the 1982 National League pennant and World Series championship.

Mix and match

Whitey Herzog, who had the dual role of Cardinals manager and general manager, sought to swap two unhappy players, shortstop Garry Templeton and outfielder Sixto Lezcano, after the 1981 season. Herzog wanted a shortstop and starting pitcher in return.

Neither the Indians nor the Phillies seemed a likely trade partner for the Cardinals. The Indians wanted pitching and the Phillies needed a catcher. Neither was looking for Templeton or Lezcano.

Bo Diaz of the Indians was the catcher the Phillies coveted. Phillies scout Hugh Alexander rated Diaz “the best-throwing catcher in the major leagues,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Phillies manager Pat Corrales, a former catcher, managed Diaz during winter baseball in Venezuela and viewed him as a successor to Bob Boone.

The Indians, who had catchers Ron Hassey and Chris Bando, were willing to trade Diaz, but the Phillies didn’t have the pitching needed to get him.

An offer you can’t refuse

A pitcher the Indians wanted was Lary Sorensen, who was 7-7 with a 3.27 ERA for the 1981 Cardinals. Sorensen had seasons of 12, 15 and 18 wins for the Brewers before being traded to the Cardinals in December 1980.

Indians general manager Phil Seghi “has long been a fan of” Sorensen, The Sporting News reported, “and continually pestered the Cardinals” about dealing him.

The Indians didn’t have what it took to get Sorensen from the Cardinals, but the Phillies suggested a creative solution. They thought the Cardinals would like Lonnie Smith.

The Cardinals were solid in right field with George Hendrick, but planned to try rookie David Green in center in 1982 and go with a platoon of Dane Iorg and Tito Landrum in left.

The Phillies, figuring Smith would be an upgrade for the Cardinals in either center or left, suggested sending Smith to the Indians for Diaz, and, in turn, the Indians would swap Smith to the Cardinals for Sorensen.

In his book, “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog said Phil Seghi called Cardinals assistant general manager Joe McDonald and asked whether the club would be interested in Lonnie Smith.

McDonald relayed the message to Herzog: “(Seghi) says he needs pitching more than he needs Lonnie Smith, and you can have him for Silvio Martinez and Lary Sorensen.”

Herzog replied, “Get (Seghi) on the phone and make that deal right now.”

“All we gave up was two guys who didn’t figure to pitch much for us anyway,” Herzog said. “It’s deals like that which make you look like a genius.”

As good as advertised

In Philadelphia, the trade “provoked a firestorm of fan outrage that lit the Phillies’ switchboard like the White House Christmas tree,” the Philadelphia Daily News reported. Smith was “the club’s most explosive young offensive player.”

Smith finished the 1981 season with a 23-game hitting streak. The year before, he batted .339 with 33 stolen bases for the World Series champions. The Phillies planned to replace him with rookie Bob Dernier.

Though “shocked and disappointed” to be traded, Smith said to the Philadelphia Daily News, “I’m glad to go to a team that can beat the Phillies.”

After acquiring Lonnie Smith, the Cardinals traded Templeton and Lezcano to the Padres and got another important player, shortstop Ozzie Smith, and starting pitcher Steve Mura.

Lonnie Smith settled into left field for the Cardinals and Willie McGee, called up from the minors in May to replace injured David Green, became the center fielder.

The 1982 Cardinals won the National League East Division title, finishing three games ahead of the runner-up Phillies, and Smith had a lot to do with it. He led the league in runs scored (120). He also led the Cardinals in hits (182), doubles (35), stolen bases (68), batting average (.307) and total bases (257).

In the 1982 World Series, when the Cardinals prevailed in seven games versus the Brewers, Lonnie Smith batted .321 with nine hits, including four doubles and a triple, and six runs scored. Video

When left fielder and speedster Vince Coleman emerged as a force for the Cardinals, Lonnie Smith was traded to the Royals in May 1985.

Though he battled cocaine addiction, Lonnie Smith went on to play 17 seasons in the majors and appeared in a total of five World Series _ one each for the Phillies, Cardinals and Royals, and two with the Braves.

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In a game that brought together the three best National League hit producers _ Hank Aaron, Pete Rose and Stan Musial _ the most prominent catcher of the era started in center field.

On May 17, 1970, Johnny Bench was the Reds’ center fielder in the second game of a doubleheader against the Braves at Cincinnati. For Bench, the National League’s Gold Glove-winning catcher, it was the first time he played the outfield in a major-league game.

Bench fielded flawlessly and hit a home run, helping the Reds complete a doubleheader sweep, but the spotlight was on Aaron, who got his 3,000th career hit in the game. 

Musial, the retired Cardinals’ standout and the last player before Aaron to achieve 3,000 hits, was in the stands to witness the feat, and Rose, who would become baseball’s all-time hits leader, was in right field that day for the Reds.

Hot ticket

With Sparky Anderson in his first season as their manager, the Reds won 13 of their first 17 games in 1970. Entering the Sunday doubleheader on May 17, the Reds were 25-10 and five games ahead of the second-place Braves.

A combination of the Reds’ hot start and the chance to possibly see Aaron get his 3,000th hit generated a big turnout at Crosley Field. Swelled by 4,000 standing room-only tickets sold, the doubleheader drew 33,217 spectators, the Reds’ largest home crowd since 36,961 came out for a Sunday doubleheader versus the Pirates on April 27, 1947.

The Braves were playing at Crosley Field for the last time. When they next returned to Cincinnati to open a series on June 30, the Braves were the Reds’ first opponent in the new Riverfront Stadium.

Special support

Aaron got his 2,999th career hit on Saturday afternoon, May 16, at Crosley Field. Musial wanted to be present when Aaron got No. 3,000. Wearing a blue suit, Musial, 49, arrived at the Cincinnati airport at 10:48 on Sunday morning, May 17, stopped to get his shoes shined and headed to Crosley Field.

At 11:55 a.m., Aaron and Musial posed for pictures inside the clubhouse. “They laughed and swapped stories about baseball,” the Atlanta Constitution reported.

As Aaron headed to the field for batting practice, Musial took a front-row box seat next to Braves owner Bill Bartholomay.

In Game 1, Aaron went hitless in four at-bats against Jim Merritt. Bench caught all nine innings and had a RBI in the 5-1 Reds victory. Boxscore

Bold move

Bench, 22, entered Game 2 of the doubleheader with 10 home runs and 30 RBI for the young season. Wanting to keep Bench’s bat in the lineup but not wanting him to catch two games in one day, Sparky Anderson looked to shift Bench to another position in Game 2.

Bench had started three games at first base in place of an ailing Lee May in April, but the Braves were starting a left-hander, George Stone in Game 2, and Anderson wanted all of his right-handed sluggers, Bench, May and third baseman Tony Perez, in the lineup. The Reds’ regular center field, ex-Cardinal Bobby Tolan, batted left.

Bench’s favorite player as a youth was Yankees center fielder and fellow Oklahoman Mickey Mantle, so when Anderson suggested Bench play center field in Game 2, he got an enthusiastic response.

“This sort of fulfills a boyhood dream,” Bench told the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Anderson said, “I believe Bench can play anywhere and do a major-league job. I was going to play him in right field, but he said he has trouble with balls curving away from him. In center, everything is hit straight at you, so he shouldn’t have any trouble.”

Magic moment

The Reds’ starting outfield in Game 2 was Hal McRae in left, Bench in center and Pete Rose in right. Ex-Cardinal Pat Corrales was their catcher. The Reds’ starting pitcher, rookie Wayne Simpson, was 5-1 with a 2.05 ERA.

Aaron, 36, got his 3,000th hit when he faced Simpson, 21, in the first inning. Aaron’s grounder was scooped on the shortstop side of second by second baseman Woody Woodward, who couldn’t make a throw. Felix Millan scored from second on the play. Video

As the crowd gave Aaron a standing ovation, Musial vaulted over the railing in front of his seat and joined him at first base. Photographers snapped pictures of the only living 3,000-hit players.

According to the Dayton Daily News, Musial said to Aaron, “It’s a thrill for me to be here and see this.”

Aaron replied, “I really appreciate your taking the time to come from St. Louis to Cincinnati for this.”

Musial was playing left field the night Aaron got his first hit in the majors. It came against the Cardinals’ Vic Raschi on April 15, 1954, at Milwaukee.

After witnessing Aaron get his 3,000th hit, Musial told the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Right after I got my 3,000 hits (the milestone came in May 1958), I was playing against the Braves. I was standing around the batting cage and I told Henry he’d be the next man to reach 3,000. It wasn’t too hard to predict. He looked like a great hitter, he could run, and you could see he wasn’t the kind of player who would be injured often.”

Elite group

Hit No. 3,000 for Aaron came in the 2,460th game of his career.

Aaron was the ninth player with 3,000 hits. The others: Cap Anson, Ty Cobb, Tris Speaker, Honus Wagner, Eddie Collins, Nap Lajoie, Paul Waner and Musial.

Aaron was the first to get 3,000 hits and 500 home runs.

Two innings after his 3,000th hit, Aaron hit his 570th home run, a two-run shot against Simpson.

“If he hits like this now,” Simpson said to the Dayton Daily News, “how did he hit 10 years ago? I’m glad I wasn’t pitching then.”

After the game, Aaron told the Atlanta Constitution that Willie Mays and Pete Rose were the most likely to next reach 3,000 hits.

Rose, who played his entire career in the National League, went on to become baseball’s all-time leader in hits (4,256). Cobb, an American Leaguer, is second at 4,189. Aaron ranks third (3,771) and Musial is fourth (3,630).

Aaron had 3,600 hits as a National League player with the Braves and 171 as an American Leaguer with the Brewers. Thus, the top three in career hits in the National League are Rose (a switch-hitter), Musial (who batted left) and Aaron (who batted right).

Versatile and durable

Almost overlooked in the drama surrounding Aaron was the play of Bench in center. He had no problems fielding the position, but in the ninth inning, with the score tied at 3-3, Bench went back to catching and Tolan took over in center.

After the Braves scored three times in the top of the 10th, the Reds rallied against Ron Kline, an ex-Cardinal. Tony Perez stroked his fifth hit of the game, and Bench and Lee May followed with home runs, tying the score at 6-6.

The game reached the 15th inning before 19-year-old rookie Don Gullet, who pitched two scoreless innings, drove in the winning run for the Reds with a single. Boxscore

Nine days later, against the Padres at San Diego, Bench started in center field for the second and last time. Boxscore

In 15 total innings as a center fielder, Bench made three putouts and no errors.

Bench made 17 outfield starts _ eight in left, seven in right and two in center _ in 1970, plus five starts at first base.

In 17 seasons in the majors, Bench made 1,627 starts at catcher, 182 at third base, 98 at first base and 96 in the outfield.

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In a decision that impacted the course of baseball broadcasting, the Braves rejected a chance to acquire Mike Shannon from the Cardinals for Bob Uecker.

During spring training in 1964, the Cardinals were in the market for a backup catcher and the Braves were seeking a reserve outfielder.

The Cardinals targeted Uecker because of his strong arm, quick release and defensive skills. To get him, they offered the Braves their choice of an outfielder _ Shannon or Gary Kolb. The Braves picked Kolb.

If the Braves had taken Shannon, he likely wouldn’t have contributed as he did to Cardinals clubs that won two World Series championships and three National League pennants in the 1960s.

If Shannon hadn’t had a prominent role as a Cardinals player, he likely wouldn’t have gotten the opportunity to become a team broadcaster.

As it turned out, Uecker, with the Brewers, and Shannon, with the Cardinals, built successful careers as broadcasters and continued in those roles into their 80s.

Outfield glut

After being called up from the minors to the Cardinals during the 1962 and 1963 seasons, Shannon was looking to be on their Opening Day roster in 1964.

Shannon had lots of competition for one of the six outfielder spots. The favorites to open the season as outfield starters were Charlie James in left, Curt Flood in center and Carl Warwick in right, The Sporting News reported.

Competing with Shannon for backup jobs were Doug Clemens, Ron Cox, Gary Kolb, Johnny Lewis, Bobby Tolan, Corky Withrow and Don Young.

As spring training neared its end, the Cardinals settled on Clemens and Lewis for two of the three reserve outfield spots. Clemens and Lewis batted left-handed, giving the Cardinals the chance to platoon them with James and Warwick.

The last outfield spot came down to Kolb and Shannon.

What the Cardinals needed was a backup to catcher Tim McCarver. The Cardinals had Jim Coker and Dave Ricketts as candidates, but were looking for an upgrade.

Uecker, who had spent parts of the 1962 and 1963 seasons with the Braves, was available because he was third on the depth chart behind Joe Torre and Ed Bailey.

Easy choice

The Cardinals offered Coker and an outfielder for Uecker.

“We had a choice of Gary Kolb or Mike Shannon,” Braves general manager John McHale told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Kolb produced a .403 on-base percentage (26 hits, 22 walks) with the 1963 Cardinals. He also batted .500 (9-for-18) against the Braves that year. Shannon batted .308 (eight hits) for the 1963 Cardinals.

“We asked 15 people, some with the Braves and others who were friends of mine in baseball, which one they preferred,” McHale said. “It was 14-to-1 in favor of Kolb.”

McHale said Walter Shannon, a former Cardinals farm director who had joined the Indians’ scouting staff, cast the lone vote for Mike Shannon. A couple of St. Louis natives, Walter and Mike were not related, but those Shannons stuck together.

Taking advantage

The trade of Uecker to the Cardinals for Kolb and Coker was made on April 9, five days before the Cardinals opened the season.

Cardinals consultant Branch Rickey rated Kolb a top prospect and opposed the deal made by general manager Bing Devine. According to the book, “October 1964,” when Uecker introduced himself to Rickey in the Cardinals’ clubhouse, Rickey replied, “I didn’t want you. I wouldn’t trade a hundred Bob Ueckers for one Gary Kolb.”

Uecker, though, gave the 1964 Cardinals the defense they desired. He threw out 38 percent of runners attempting to steal. By comparison, McCarver’s rate was 29 percent. Uecker also contributed a game-winning hit against the Braves in the pennant stretch.

Shannon hardly played early in the 1964 season. He had three at-bats and struck out each time. The Cardinals sent him to their Jacksonville farm club in early May. Called back to the majors in July, Shannon took over in right field and drove in 43 runs in 88 games. He also hit a home run against Yankees ace Whitey Ford in Game 1 of the World Series.

Kolb hit .188 with no home runs in 64 at-bats for the 1964 Braves and was traded to the Mets in July 1965.

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Sparky Anderson had a hand in convincing the Cardinals to stick with Julian Javier as their second baseman.

In March 1965, the Cardinals were considering trading Javier, their second baseman since 1960. Anderson, three weeks into his job as a manager in the Cardinals’ farm system, spoke up at an organizational staff meeting and advocated for keeping Javier.

Anderson’s assessment wasn’t the sole reason Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam didn’t trade Javier, but it was a contributing factor.

Until he joined the Cardinals that month, Anderson hadn’t worked with Howsam. The discussion about Javier gave Howsam the chance to see how Anderson evaluated talent and how he expressed himself when offering opinions that were contrary to others in the organization.

It was the start of a strong working relationship. Five years later, when Howsam was general manager of the Reds, he hired Anderson to be the Cincinnati manager, launching him on a path to a Hall of Fame career.

Performance review

Julian Javier was part of the all-Cardinals National League starting infield in the 1963 All-Star Game, and he helped the Cardinals become World Series champions in 1964.

Bing Devine, the Cardinals’ general manager when Javier was acquired from the Pirates in 1960, was replaced by Howsam in August 1964. Naturally, Howsam began making his own evaluations of the roster.

Javier produced a career-high 65 RBI in 1964 and reached double figures in home runs (12) for the first time, but he batted .241 and his on-base percentage of .282 was awful. Javier also made a career-high 27 errors. After the season, while playing winter baseball in the Dominican Republic, Javier lost control of his emotions and punched umpire Emmett Ashford.

Some within the Cardinals’ organization concluded Javier might be more of a liability than an asset. Internal options to play second base included a couple of local candidates, Jerry Buchek and Dal Maxvill. When a hip injury prevented Javier from being able to play in the 1964 World Series, Maxvill started all seven games at second base and didn’t commit an error.

Dinner conversation

Sparky Anderson got fired after managing minor-league Toronto in 1964 and was selling cars at a dealership in Los Angeles. Anderson wanted to get back into baseball, and when the manager of the Cardinals’ farm club at Rock Hill, S.C., suddenly resigned on the eve of spring training in 1965, Anderson got the job.

In his third week with the Cardinals at spring training, Anderson went to dinner with farm director Sheldon “Chief” Bender, minor-league manager George Kissell and scout Mo Mozzali.

In his book, “The Main Spark,” Anderson said, “There was a lot of conversation about Julian Javier. They were talking about the possibility of dealing Hooley to another club before the start of the season.”

Anderson asked his dinner companions, “Does he have good range?” Probably the best in the league among second basemen, he was told.

“Does he throw well?,” Anderson asked. The best of the second basemen in the league, came the response.

“Does he make the double play?” Anderson wanted to know. Again, the answer was he was the best at it in the National League.

“Then why the hell are you talking about trading him?,” Anderson said.

According to Anderson, his colleagues said Javier was inclined to be lazy and loafed a bit.

In his book, Anderson said he told the group if Javier did so many things well, “but was a little on the lazy side, the organization should be able to find someone who can handle him and get the most out of him. A club should have a better reason for trading a good player than the fact he dogs it a little.”

No to yes men

The next day, Howsam led an organizational staff meeting in the Cardinals’ spring training clubhouse. Joining Howsam were Bender, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst, his coaches, Mozzali and all of the club’s minor-league managers.

After Schoendienst talked about the big-league roster, Howsam called on Mozzali, who raised the topic of trading Javier. In the middle of his remarks, Mozzali said, “Mr. Howsam, at dinner last night, Sparky here had some opinions that I think you might want brought out to all of us.”

As a newcomer to the organization, Anderson was surprised to be called out to express an opinion about a prominent player. In his book, Anderson said, “I was petrified.”

“Yes, I’d like to hear his opinion,” Howsam replied.

Anderson said he “sort of apologized” and explained his comments were intended as casual dinner conversation, but Howsam repeated that he’d like for Anderson to share his views.

“So I told him what I’d told the others, emphasizing that it didn’t seem logical to want to trade the No. 1 man at a position for that reason,” Anderson said. “Why not try to find somebody who could motivate him?”

Howsam thanked Anderson for his perspective.

Javier remained the Cardinals’ second baseman.

“Not that I believe I had that much influence at that stage,” Anderson said in his book, “but the point is Howsam is a listener. He’ll hear any man’s opinion. He doesn’t always go with your recommendation, but he’ll hear you out, then make up his own mind.”

Javier helped the Cardinals win two more pennants and another World Series title. In the 1967 World Series, when the Cardinals prevailed against the Red Sox, Javier batted .360, hit a three-run home run in Game 7 and fielded splendidly, making 12 putouts and contributing 20 assists.

Howsam was gone from the Cardinals by then. He left in January 1967 to become general manager of the Reds. Anderson, still managing at the Class A level in the Cardinals’ system, departed after the 1967 season to manage a Class AA club with the Reds.

After coaching for the Padres in 1969, Anderson was hired by Howsam to manage the Reds.

In March 1972, Howsam acquired Javier from the Cardinals. Used as a utility player by Anderson, Javier completed his playing career by helping the Reds win the 1972 National League pennant.

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Hal Smith, a Cardinals catcher in the 1950s, had a significant role in the club’s success in the 1980s.

Forty years ago, on Oct. 21, 1981, the Cardinals acquired minor-league outfielder Willie McGee from the Yankees for pitcher Bob Sykes. The Cardinals made the trade on the recommendation of Smith, a Cardinals scout, who watched McGee play for the Yankees’ Nashville farm club and liked what he saw.

McGee went on to become one of the Cardinals’ best and most popular players, using his hitting, fielding and speed to help them win three National League pennants and a World Series title.

Pining for pinstripes

McGee was 17 and recently graduated from high school in 1976 when the White Sox selected him in the June amateur baseball draft. McGee was chosen in the seventh round, just after the Tigers took Ozzie Smith and just before the Red Sox selected Wade Boggs.

If McGee had signed with the White Sox, he eventually might have made his debut in the majors for Tony La Russa, who became White Sox manager in August 1979. Instead, McGee decided to attend community college.

The decision appeared to be shrewd when the Yankees took him in the first round of the secondary phase of the draft in January 1977, “but, unwise to the ways of negotiating contracts, he wound up signing for less than the White Sox had offered him,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

“I probably could have got more if I knew what I was doing,” McGee said.

In 1978, his second season in the Yankees’ system, McGee, a natural right-handed batter, started switch-hitting.

He was considered a promising prospect when he got to Class AA Nashville in 1980, but in July he suffered a broken jaw and was limited to 78 games for the season. McGee hit .283. Designated hitter Buck Showalter, the future big-league manager, led Nashville in batting average (.324) and hits (178) in 1980.

Odd man out

The Yankees put McGee on their 40-man big-league winter roster after the 1980 season, but in December they signed free-agent outfielder Dave Winfield and needed to open a spot for him.

McGee was one of two players the Yankees considered dropping from their roster. The other was his best friend on the Nashville team, Ted Wilborn, a switch-hitting outfielder who played briefly with the Blue Jays and Yankees.

Yankees vice president for baseball operations Bill Bergesch, a former Cardinals minor-league executive who signed Bob Gibson to his first pro contract, told the New York Daily News, “We liked Willie. We considered him a fine prospect, but our minor-league people liked the other player (Wilborn) better.”

McGee said to The Tennessean newspaper, “Somebody had to go and I was the least experienced.”

By being reassigned outright to Nashville, McGee was frozen on the minor-league roster and couldn’t be recalled by the Yankees.

Good report card

McGee, Wilborn and Don Mattingly formed the Nashville outfield in 1981. McGee led Nashville in batting (.322) and had 24 stolen bases. Mattingly batted .316 and led the club in hits (173). Wilborn hit .295 and had 43 steals.

Hal Smith, the Cardinals’ starting catcher from 1956-60, was scouting the Nashville team extensively because the Yankees were looking to make a deal for Cardinals pitcher Bob Sykes.

During the 1981 season, “a proposed trade with the Yankees that would have involved Sykes fell through,” the Post-Dispatch reported, but the clubs were hopeful of reviving the deal after the season.

Cardinals executive Joe McDonald said the trade evolved when he received a report from Smith about McGee.

“Smith scouted Willie and turned in a good report,” McDonald said to the Post-Dispatch. “We liked his speed and we liked his bat.”

The Yankees looked to trade McGee to get something in return rather than lose him in the Rule 5 draft of players left unprotected on minor-league rosters.

In exploring potential deals, Bergesch told the New York Daily News, “There wasn’t a whole lot of interest in him” except from the Cardinals.

The trade of Sykes for McGee was made the same day the Yankees played the Dodgers in Game 2 of the 1981 World Series and drew little attention.

As good as advertised

McGee was placed on the Cardinals’ 40-man big-league winter roster.

Though he never had played above the Class AA level, he impressed the Cardinals at spring training in 1982.

“He speaks only when spoken to and goes largely unnoticed in the clubhouse,” the Post-Dispatch noted, “but he has skills that have marked him as a soon-to-be major leaguer.”

“Got a quick bat,” said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. “It’s unusual to see a young hitter with a quick bat from both sides of the plate.”

Batting from the right side, McGee dazzled by dashing from the plate to first base in 3.9 seconds.

At Yankees training camp, Sykes, weakened by shoulder ailments, was sent to the minors. He’d never pitch in a big-league game for the Yankees.

Upset about receiving what they considered damaged goods, the Yankees wanted the trade voided. “They think they’re going to get McGee back,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch, “and they’re not.”

Making an impact

McGee began the 1982 season at Louisville. “I thought I was going to play the full year in triple-A to get some experience because I hadn’t played there before,” he told The Sporting News.

The plan changed when Cardinals outfielder David Green tore his right hamstring and was placed on the disabled list on May 8. The Cardinals called up McGee, who had hit .291 in 13 games with Louisville.

From the start, the rookie played like he belonged. He hit .378 for the Cardinals in May and .349 in June.

“I certainly didn’t think he’d be able to come up here and handle the pitching like he has,” Herzog told The Sporting News.

For the season, McGee hit .296 and swiped 24 bases for the Cardinals. He hit .308 in the National League Championship Series versus the Braves, and was the standout of World Series Game 3, with two home runs and two spectacular catches against the Brewers. Boxscore and Video.

On Jan. 24, 1983, the Cardinals traded outfielder Stan Javier and infielder Bobby Meacham to the Yankees for outfielder Bob Helson and pitchers Steve Fincher and Marty Mason. The Post-Dispatch reported the deal was to appease Yankees owner George Steinbrenner, who held hard feelings toward the Cardinals for sending Sykes in exchange for McGee 15 months earlier.

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A St. Louis homecoming was neither sentimental nor successful for Art Shamsky.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 18, 1971, Shamsky was the best-known name among the four players the Cardinals acquired in a trade with the Mets. The Cardinals sent pitchers Harry Parker and Chuck Taylor, first baseman-outfielder Jim Beauchamp and infielder Chip Coulter to the Mets for Shamsky and pitchers Jim Bibby, Rich Folkers and Charlie Hudson.

Bibby would develop into a successful starting pitcher for the Rangers, Indians and Pirates, and Folkers became a reliable reliever for the Cardinals, but at the time of the deal neither was a prominent player. Bibby had no big-league experience and Folkers had spent part of one season in the majors.

Shamsky, born in St. Louis and raised in suburban University City, was an outfielder and first baseman who hit with power from the left side. He helped the Mets become World Series champions in 1969. The Cardinals projected him to be a pinch-hitter and role player for them in 1972, but it didn’t work out.

Cardinals fan

In his book, “The Magnificent Seasons,” Shamsky said of his boyhood in the St. Louis area, “My life was basically two things: Following the St. Louis Cardinals, or playing baseball with my friends.”

Shamsky’s favorite Cardinals player was Stan Musial and he’d ride a streetcar to the original Busch Stadium to see him play.

Starting at age 8, Shamsky played Khoury League youth baseball for the John C. Roberts Shoe Co. team managed by Milton Mandel. “Art was so small when we first got him,” Mandel told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “that we used him as leadoff man in hopes he’d be walked. I never thought he’d sprout the way he did.”

According to the Dayton Daily News, Shamsky “paid his own expenses to the Cardinals’ rookie camp in St. Petersburg when he was still in high school, but he was turned back as a kid who was too skinny and lacked power.”

What the Cardinals didn’t count on, the Dayton newspaper noted, was “the development of his wrists and fast hands.”

Regarding those quick wrists, Shamsky told the Post-Dispatch, “I strengthened them by working out a lot, playing handball and squeezing rubber balls.”

After graduating from University City High School at age 16 in 1958, Shamsky attended the University of Missouri for one year. Though the Cardinals made an offer, the Reds signed him in September 1959. The next season, his first in the minors, Shamsky was a roommate of Pete Rose, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

Power source

On April 17, 1965, Shamsky, 23, made his big-league debut for the Reds in his hometown. Pinch-hitting at Busch Stadium, he struck out against Cardinals ace Bob Gibson. Boxscore

Two months later, Shamsky beat the Cardinals with a home run to the Busch Stadium pavilion roof versus Gibson. Boxscore

“Shamsky has a smooth, easy stroke,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “He ties into the ball well because of his quick, strong wrists.”

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, Shamsky was a hitter “who many say can whip the bat as quick as the great Ted Williams.”

In 1966, Shamsky hit 21 home runs, including four in consecutive plate appearances. The first three came on Aug. 12 at Cincinnati when the lanky slugger entered a game against the Pirates in the eighth inning. Each time Shamsky batted, the Reds were behind. One of his home runs put them ahead and the other two tied the score. Boxscore

“That was the greatest clutch-hitting performance I ever saw,” Pete Rose said to the Dayton Daily News.

The next time Shamsky batted, on Aug. 14 against the Pirates, he hit another home run, giving him four in a row. Boxscore

“His power comes from his wrists rather than his arms or body,” Dayton columnist Si Burick observed. “If he depended on his biceps or any other part of his body, he would be working in an office.”

Aching back

In November 1967, Mets president Bing Devine acquired Shamsky from the Reds. A month later, Devine replaced Stan Musial as Cardinals general manager.

After platooning with Cleon Jones in left field for the Mets in 1968, Shamsky experienced back problems in 1969 and opened the season on the disabled list.

In his book, “After the Miracle,” Shamsky said, “The pain was so bad that I honestly wondered if I was ever going to play again.

“To make matters worse, I would get hooked on Percocet, an opioid analgesic, relying on the pills when I started playing again and taking sleeping pills at night.”

Shamsky batted .300 with 14 home runs in 100 games for the 1969 Mets, who won the World Series championship. He also hit .538 (with seven hits) in the National League Championship Series against the Braves. Video

After hitting .293 in 1970, Shamsky’s back woes intensified and he had a .185 batting mark in 1971.

“I’ve been to so many different doctors, chiropractors and osteopaths for my back pain,” Shamsky said in his book. “I once saw a doctor who stuck cotton swabs of cocaine up my nose to deaden my nerves.

“I desperately wanted to keep playing ball.”

City slicker

Though Devine made the trade to acquire Shamsky for a second time and bring him to the Cardinals, he told the Post-Dispatch, “It’s a major deal only from the standpoint of numbers.” Or, as the New York Daily News noted, it was a trade “more distinguished for the quantity than the quality.”

Shamsky, a New York City resident who partnered with former Yankees infielder Phil Linz in owning two nightclubs there, was described by the New York Times News Service as “thoroughly modern Manhattan.”

Shamsky didn’t attempt to cloak his feelings about the trade. “To be honest,” he said to the Post-Dispatch, “my home is now in New York and I have two businesses there, so I’d rather have stayed in New York.”

The back problems followed Shamsky from New York to Cardinals spring training camp. After hitting .190 in Grapefruit League games, Shamsky was released by the Cardinals before the 1972 season began.

He played briefly in 1972 for the Cubs and Athletics, failed to hit with either, and was finished as a player at age 30.

Shamsky’s career batting average in the majors was the same as his career batting average versus the Cardinals: .253.

He was at his best against right-handers, hitting .417 (10 hits) against Don Drysdale and .350 (14 hits) versus Jim Bunning. Shamsky also hit four home runs, including a grand slam, against the Cardinals’ Nelson Briles.

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