Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

Fully charged

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Angel in the outfield

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

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

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

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

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

Man in motion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Job well done

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Different uniform

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

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

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

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

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

Shopping list

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Too many chiefs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just say no

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Breaks of the game

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy at home

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Major leap

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pride of the Padres

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

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

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

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

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

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

Launching pad

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Stan the Man

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trials and tribulations

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wounded knees

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opportunity knocks

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I’ll get over that,” he promised.

Great expectations

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

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

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

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

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

Feelin’ all right

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big bopper

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One and done

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

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

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

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

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Denny Doyle was a baseball pixie, a Punch-and-Judy hitter who got to the big leagues because of his fielding at second base.

Standing 5 feet 9, he swung a 32-ounce stick _ “Dick Allen cleans his teeth with bats like that,” Doyle told Stan Hochman of the Philadelphia Daily News _ but he clobbered the Cardinals and, most improbably, their ace, Bob Gibson.

A .240 hitter in the National League, Doyle hit .309 versus the Cardinals and .464 against Gibson for his career.

Batting from the left side, Doyle turned into Tony Gwynn at the sight of a Cardinals pitcher. He had more career hits (58), home runs (three) and runs scored (26) versus the Cardinals than he did against any other foe. He was 78 when he died on Dec. 20, 2022.

Caveman cometh

After attending high school in Horse Cave, Ky., near Mammoth Cave National Park, Doyle accepted a basketball scholarship to Morehead State. He averaged 2.7 points in 11 varsity games and switched his focus to baseball.

In the summer of 1965, Doyle got a tryout with the Phillies, who offered him a contract. He signed only after the Phillies agreed to let him earn his college degree before reporting to the minors. “I had nine hours to go to get my diploma,” Doyle told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “The Phillies didn’t like it too much, but I had to graduate first.”

At Spartanburg, S.C., in 1966, Doyle, the second baseman, made an immediate connection with the shortstop, Larry Bowa. They formed both a friendship and a dandy keystone combination. Doyle and Bowa played together for three seasons in the minors and became rookie starters with the Phillies in 1970.

Noting that Bowa was loud and Doyle was quiet, Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson wrote, “Bowa and Doyle complement each other beautifully … Two Larry Bowas might be too explosive. Two Denny Doyles might be too bland. Together they are perfect.”

Phillies coach Doc Edwards told the newspaper, “Anybody breaks up this combination ought to have his head chopped off.”

Getting to Gibson

The second base job with the Phillies opened for Doyle after they traded Cookie Rojas to the Cardinals. The consensus was Doyle, 26, had the fielding skills but the rookie’s ability to hit was in question. “I have to be an artist at the bunting game and the hit-and-run,” Doyle said to the Philadelphia Daily News. “I’ve got to make contact with the bat.”

He was batting .204 for the season when he stung the Cardinals with a four-hit game against them on May 24, 1970, at Philadelphia. Boxscore

Doyle hit .208 for the 1970 season but .298 versus the Cardinals in 14 games.

The next year, he did even better against St. Louis _ .333 in 13 games. The most impressive performance came on July 30, 1971, at Philadelphia. Doyle, batting .226 for the season, reached base safely in five plate appearances against Gibson. He had three singles, a home run and was hit by a pitch. Doyle was plunked leading off the first inning and slugged his home run on the first pitch he saw from Gibson in his next trip to the plate.

Doyle’s home run into the bullpen in right broke a streak of 23 consecutive scoreless innings for Gibson, who, nonetheless, achieved the win, pitching a complete game and driving in the winning run with a home run versus Chris Short in the seventh. Boxscore

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, asked after the game what pitches he threw to Doyle, Gibson growled, “Ask some intelligent questions. I threw him a fastball, slider, fastball and a curve. And I won the ballgame, which is the important thing.”

Gibson had much success when facing the Phillies _ his 30 career wins against them were his most versus any foe _ but it was a different story with Doyle. In 32 career plate appearances against Gibson, Doyle had a .516 on-base percentage, including 13 hits. Gibson struck him out just twice.

Pennant push

Doyle only once achieved four RBI in a game. Naturally, it came against the Cardinals. On Sept. 20, 1973, he had a three-run home run and a sacrifice fly versus Cardinals starter Alan Foster at Philadelphia. Boxscore

For the season, Doyle hit .386 in 14 games against the 1973 Cardinals.

Afterward, at the urging of manager Danny Ozark, the Phillies acquired second baseman Dave Cash from the Pirates, making Doyle expendable. He was shipped to the Angels in December 1973 and then to the Red Sox in June 1975.

Doyle thrived with the Red Sox, putting together a 22-game hitting streak, batting .310 for the season, solidifying the defense and helping them become 1975 American League champions. He started at second base in all seven games of the 1975 World Series and had eight hits.

Bob Ryan of the Boston Globe noted, “Denny Doyle makes the double play. He stops balls from going through when there are men on base. He keeps rallies going. He doesn’t strike out. He wants to win and he usually manages to find a way to do it.”

Doyle’s last season in the majors was 1977. Two brothers also made it to the big leagues _ Brian Doyle, an infielder with the Yankees (1978-80) and Athletics (1981), and Blake Doyle, a coach with the Rockies (2014-16).

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Looking to cut costs during the Great Depression and open a spot at first base for the aptly named Rip Collins, the Cardinals decided the time was right to peddle a player who was popular and productive.

On Dec. 17, 1932, the Cardinals traded their future Hall of Fame first baseman, Jim Bottomley, to the Reds for pitcher Ownie Carroll and outfielder Estel Crabtree.

Nicknamed Sunny Jim for “his friendly disposition,” as the Associated Press described it, Bottomley had been a consistent run producer in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, and though there had been indications he was being shopped, it was thought he’d bring more than what St. Louis got for him.

Style and substance

Bottomley was born in Oglesby, Ill., and settled with his family in Nokomis, Ill., a farming and mining town. Bottomley’s father and brother worked in the mines. Bottomley’s brother was killed in a cave-in, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

When Bottomley was 16, he quit high school and clerked in a grocery store, the Associated Press reported. According to the Post-Dispatch, he also worked on a farm and as a blacksmith’s helper.

In his spare time, Bottomley played semipro baseball for $5 a game, walking eight miles each way to the home ballpark, the Associated Press reported. A St. Louis policeman saw him hit two home runs and three triples in a game and told Cardinals executive Branch Rickey he should give Bottomley a look. Invited to a Cardinals tryout camp in 1920, Bottomley excelled and was awarded a contract.

During 1922, his third season in their farm system, Bottomley got called up to the Cardinals and became their first baseman. He made an immediate impression with the fans because of his strut and the way he wore his cap.

“He was the only man I ever knew who could strut while he was crouched in the batter’s box,” Rickey told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

As for the cap, it “was never pulled down to shade the eyes like most ballplayers wore it,” the Globe-Democrat observed. “Sunny Jim’s was always cocked at a rakish angle.”

Before long, nearly everyone who followed the Cardinals knew Bottomley simply as Sunny Jim. He “smiled and swaggered his way into the hearts of baseball fans,” J. Roy Stockton noted in the Post-Dispatch.

According to the Associated Press, “Sunny Jim was one of those rare ballplayers who combined genuine color with honest-to-goodness ability.”

Playing to win

A left-handed batter, Bottomley hit for power, using a choked grip on a heavy bat.

On Sept. 16, 1924, Bottomley drove in 12 runs in a game against the Dodgers. Boxscore Since then, the only player to match that feat has been another Cardinal, Mark Whiten, versus the Reds on Sept. 7, 1993. Boxscore

Bottomley helped the Cardinals to four National League pennants (1926, 1928, 1930 and 1931) and two World Series titles (1926 and 1931). He won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1928 when he led the league in triples (20), home runs (31), RBI (136) and total bases (362).

Bottomley hit better than .300 in nine of his 11 seasons with the Cardinals. (In the other two years, he hit .299 and .296.) He ranks fourth in career RBI as a Cardinal (1,105). Only Stan Musial (1,951), Albert Pujols (1,397) and Enos Slaughter (1,148) produced more RBI for the franchise.

As for his fielding, “It doesn’t make any difference how wide or how high they are thrown to Sunny Jim. He always manages to get them,” the Dayton Daily News reported.

Time to go

Bottomley’s best friend on the Cardinals, another future Hall of Famer, left fielder Chick Hafey, was traded to the Reds on the eve of the 1932 season opener. Rip Collins, a natural first baseman, replaced Hafey in left field on Opening Day.

After Bottomley started slowly, hitting .158 with no home runs in April, manager Gabby Street benched him and moved Collins to first base.

Collins, 28, went on to lead the 1932 Cardinals in hits (153), home runs (21), RBI (91), runs scored (82) and total bases (260). Bottomley, 32, hit .296 with 11 homers.

With Collins making a convincing claim for the first base job, the Cardinals began making plans to move Bottomley. In September 1932, the last-place Reds revealed that manager Dan Howley would depart after the season. Reds owner Sidney Weil was an admirer of Bottomley and sought permission from the Cardinals to interview him for the job.

At the urging of Branch Rickey and Cardinals owner Sam Breadon, Bottomley went to Cincinnati on Sept. 23, 1932, while the season still was being played, and interviewed with Weil for the role of player-manager, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported. Donie Bush, a veteran manager, eventually got the job, but Weil was determined to acquire Bottomley to play for the Reds.

After Cardinals shortstop Charlie Gelbert was shot in a hunting accident in November 1932, the Cardinals offered Bottomley to the Reds for shortstop Leo Durocher and starting pitcher Si Johnson, a 13-game winner, the Enquirer reported.

When the Reds deemed the price too high, the Cardinals settled for Ownie Carroll (10-19 in 1932) and Estel Crabtree (.274, two home runs, in 1932). It was suspected the Reds sent the Cardinals a stack of cash as well.

Asked whether the Cardinals got cash in the deal, Breadon told Red Smith of the St. Louis Star-Times, “I wouldn’t want to say anything on that.”

According to The Sporting News, the trade garnered the Cardinals “a sizeable sum of money.” The Post-Dispatch informed its readers, “Close followers of baseball did not have to be told that it was a cash transaction.”

In addition to reaping the cash, the Cardinals also rid themselves of Bottomley’s $13,000 salary, about double what most players were making in 1932.

Worth the price

The Reds proposed to Bottomley a salary of $8,000, a $5,000 cut, for 1933, The Sporting News reported. After a negotiation, Bottomley, who wed St. Louis beauty shop owner Betty Brawner in February 1933, eventually signed for $10,000.

In May 1933, the Cardinals got the Reds to trade them Leo Durocher. (Three years later, the Cardinals also got Si Johnson from the Reds.)

Bottomley delivered what the Reds hoped from him. He led the 1933 Reds in triples (nine), home runs (13) and RBI (83). He had 16 RBI in 22 games versus the Cardinals. The following year, with the 1934 Reds, Bottomley was their leader in doubles (31), triples (11) and RBI (78). He hit .313 versus the Cardinals.

After a third season with Cincinnati, Bottomley was traded to the St. Louis Browns, finishing his career with them, including a stint as manager in 1937.

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