Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

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

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

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

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

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

Uppercut punch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Big boom

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Oklahoma Sooner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Right stuff

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

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

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

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

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

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

Hot stretch

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

New direction

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Don Pavletich achieved two special personal milestones versus the Cardinals, but one of his worst moments also occurred in a game against them.

A catcher and first baseman who played 12 years in the major leagues for the Reds, White Sox and Red Sox, Pavletich died March 5, 2020, at 81. The 1965 Topps card pictured here incorrectly listed him as a pitcher.

In 1962, while with the Reds, Pavletich got his first major-league hit. A few weeks later, he got his first major-league RBI. Both feats came in games against the Cardinals.

Two years later, Pavletich had a prominent, but unwanted, role versus the Cardinals when his error led to a Reds loss in the thick of the 1964 National League pennant race.

Hot prospect

Born in Milwaukee and raised in nearby West Allis, Wisconsin, Pavletich was Croatian-American. All four of his grandparents immigrated to the United States from Croatia, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

In high school and summer leagues, Pavletich was coached by Steve Belich, who had prepared another West Allis standout, Harvey Kuenn, for the majors.

A powerful right-handed batter, Pavletich, 18, signed with the Reds in August 1956 and made his major-league debut for them in his hometown of Milwaukee on April 20, 1957. A month later, Pavletich began a two-year hitch in the Army.

After hitting .295 with 22 home runs as a catcher and first baseman for manager Cot Deal at minor-league Indianapolis in 1961, Pavletich opened the 1962 season with the defending National League champion Reds as a backup to catcher Johnny Edwards and first baseman Gordy Coleman.

On April 29, 1962, in the first game of a doubleheader at St. Louis, the Cardinals led, 9-1, in the fourth inning when Reds manager Fred Hutchinson replaced Edwards with Pavletich.

In the fifth, Pavletich got his first big-league hit, a single versus Larry Jackson. Pavletich went on to hit .400 (6-for-15) in his career against Jackson. Boxscore

The next time Pavletich faced the Cardinals, on June 5, 1962, at St. Louis, he started at first base and hit a two-run single versus Curt Simmons in the third inning for his first RBI in the big leagues. Boxscore

Pavletich did some of his best hitting against some prominent left-handers, including Dick Ellsworth (.409), Denny Lemaster (.389), Warren Spahn (.364), Johnny Podres (.364) and Simmons (.318).

Costly miscue

On Sept. 19, 1964, the Cardinals and Reds, trying to catch the first-place Phillies in the final two weeks of the season, played a doubleheader at Cincinnati. The Cardinals were jolted in the opener when Frank Robinson hit a three-run walkoff home run against Bob Gibson in the ninth. Boxscore

In the second game, with the pressure on the Cardinals to avoid being swept, the pitchers were left-handers Billy McCool, making his first career start for the Reds, and Ray Sadecki for St. Louis. The catchers were a pair of Milwaukee natives, Pavletich and the Cardinals’ Bob Uecker.

In the second inning, with one out and the game scoreless, the Cardinals’ Bill White and Julian Javier each singled, putting runners on second and first.

As the next batter, Mike Shannon, struck out, White and Javier attempted a double steal. Pavletich’s throw sailed over the head of third baseman Chico Ruiz and into left field. White and Javier both scored on the error and those were the game’s only runs. Boxscore

The 2-0 victory kept the Cardinals in second place, 5.5 games behind the Phillies, and proved to be a difference-maker. The Cardinals clinched the pennant on the last day of the season, finishing a game ahead of both the Reds and Phillies.

Power hitter

At spring training in 1966, Pavletich made a bid to unseat Edwards, a three-time National League all-star, as the Reds’ starting catcher. When Edwards suffered ligament damage to the middle finger of his right hand when struck by a foul ball in an exhibition game on April 9, Pavletich was ready to take over.

After watching Pavletich hit his fifth home run of the spring training season, Edwards told the Dayton Daily News, “Every time I see him swing that bat, my finger feels better.”

With Edwards sidelined, Pavletich opened the 1966 season as the Reds’ catcher. On April 17, in his third consecutive game as starting catcher, Pavletich injured his left foot while rounding first base after hitting a double. He stayed in the game, but awoke the next morning with pain in his foot so intense “he nearly collapsed when he got out of bed,” the Dayton Journal-Herald reported.

Pavletich strained ligaments in the foot and couldn’t play. Edwards, wearing a metal splint on his injured finger, replaced him and remained the starting catcher.

Veteran vs. phenom

In August 1967, Johnny Bench made his major-league debut with the Reds and was their starting catcher the last month of the season.

Six months later, the Reds traded Edwards to the defending World Series champion Cardinals to clear the way for Bench to be their catcher in 1968.

“Bench was conceded the starting position at the start of spring training,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

Pavletich, 29, wasn’t ready to give in to Bench, 20. Rising to the challenge, Pavletich hit seven home runs with 19 RBI in Reds spring training games in 1968 and was named the Opening Day starting catcher.

“I must say I’m most pleased by Pavletich’s home run hitting,” Reds manager Dave Bristol said.

Convinced the Reds were a contender, Pavletich said, “I know the Cardinals are a great club and definitely are the club to beat, but I feel we have it on them in two important departments _ pitching and bench strength.”

Pavletich started at catcher in the first five games of the 1968 season before he hurt his right arm swinging at a pitch in Chicago. With Pavletich sidelined for a month, Bench took over as starting catcher and never looked back, building a Hall of Fame career.

Pavletich batted .254 in his big-league career, including .264 in 50 games versus the Cardinals.

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Convinced center fielder Jim Edmonds would depart for free agency, the Angels were willing to deal him for the right offer.

Twenty years ago, on March 23, 2000, the Cardinals capitalized on the opportunity, trading pitcher Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy to the Angels for Edmonds.

Bottenfield and Kennedy filled two holes in the Angels’ lineup, but Edmonds provided much more to the Cardinals.

With Edmonds producing Gold Glove-caliber defense in center and a power bat from the left side, the Cardinals became perennial contenders. They qualified for the postseason in six of the eight years Edmonds played for them, won two National League pennants (2004 and 2006) and earned a World Series championship (2006) for the first time in 24 seasons.

Angels fan

Edmonds grew up in the California town of Diamond Bar, 27 miles from where the Angels played in Anaheim. He was an Angels fan and admired Rod Carew.

Edmonds was about to turn 18 when he was chosen by the Angels in the seventh round of the 1988 amateur draft. An eye test revealed he had 20-15 vision, meaning he could see things at 20 feet that people with normal vision could see only at 15 feet, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Five years later, in September 1993, Edmonds made his major-league debut with the Angels.

Carew, a Hall of Famer and seven-time American League batting champion, was the Angels’ hitting coach and he and Edmonds bonded. In 1995, Edmonds had a breakout year, hitting .290 with 33 home runs and 107 RBI for the Angels. He twice won an American League Gold Glove Award (1997-98).

In 1999, Edmonds missed most of the season after tearing the labrum in his right shoulder while weightlifting. He had surgery in April and didn’t play until August.

Edmonds hit .250 with five home runs in 55 games for the 1999 Angels. He also was criticized for having a care-free attitude and lacking dedication. “Let’s just say he never would have been voted the most popular player on the team,” the Orange County Register reported.

Desire to deal

At spring training in 2000, Edmonds was heard telling Angels teammates about the clubs he expected to get offers from when he planned to enter free agency after the season.

Angels general manager Bill Stoneman was willing to trade Edmonds, but found his market value limited. The Yankees wanted Edmonds but wouldn’t part with the two players Stoneman sought, pitcher Ramiro Mendoza and second baseman Alfonso Soriano, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Talks between the Cardinals and Angels about a deal involving Edmonds stalled, the Los Angeles Times reported. According to the Post-Dispatch, the Angels wanted a pitching prospect, Rick Ankiel or Chad Hutchinson, but the Cardinals were unwilling.

Later, Bob Gebhard, an assistant to Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty, was scouting Edmonds in Arizona and told Stoneman the Cardinals might be willing to include Kennedy with Bottenfield for Edmonds.

Stoneman called Jocketty and the deal was made.

“It became apparent we might be able to fill two needs,” Stoneman said. “It made so much sense that we had to do it.”

Bottenfield, an 18-game winner for the 1999 Cardinals, gave the Angels a potential staff ace. Stoneman was in the Expos’ front office when Bottenfield began his pro career with them.

“He could throw to a dime and hit it,” Stoneman said. “He understands pitching and has great control.”

The Orange County Regster concluded, “He might never win 18 games again but he is still so far above anything else in the Angels’ rotation at the moment that it doesn’t matter.”

Kennedy, a first-round selection by the Cardinals in the 1997 amateur draft, made his major-league debut with them in August 1999. The Angels projected him as their second baseman in 2000.

High marks

While the Angels viewed Bottenfield and Kennedy as solutions, the Cardinals saw them as players who didn’t fit their plans. Bottenfield was expendable because the Cardinals wanted to open a spot in the starting rotation for Garrett Stephenson, who allowed one earned run in 15 spring training innings. Concerned about Kennedy’s defense, the Cardinals had acquired Fernando Vina from the Brewers during the winter to play second base.

According to the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals “didn’t think Kennedy would ever be their everyday second baseman” and “they doubted whether Bottenfield was more than a one-year wonder.”

Acquiring Edmonds enabled the Cardinals to move J.D. Drew from center to right and use Eric Davis as a role player.

“We added a player who is a major-league plus as a defensive outfielder with a major-league plus throwing arm, a guy who has been a productive major-league hitter,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa. “It seems to me we really helped our club.”

Said Jocketty: “He plays hard every day and he’ll sacrifice his body to play hard. That’s something St. Louis fans will enjoy. He’s as close to a five-tool outfielder as you will find.”

Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz praised the Cardinals for making a deal “to stabilize the outfield and upgrade the offense.”

Return on investment

In May 2000, Edmonds agreed to a $57 million, six-year contract extension with the Cardinals, keeping him from becoming a free agent after the season.

Though he set a franchise record by striking out 167 times, Edmonds led the 2000 Cardinals in home runs (42), RBI (108), runs (129) and walks (103). He hit .295 with an on-base percentage of .411 and a slugging percentage of .583. The center fielder also won the first of six consecutive Gold Glove awards with the Cardinals.

Bottenfield, 31, went 7-8 with a 5.71 ERA for the Angels before they dealt him to the Phillies in July 2000 for another ex-Cardinal, outfielder Ron Gant.

Kennedy, 24, became the Angels’ second baseman in 2000 and was with them for seven seasons. In 2002, he hit three home runs in the pennant-clinching Game 5 of the American League Championship Series versus the Twins and helped the Angels prevail against the Giants for their only World Series crown. He returned to play for the Cardinals in 2007 and 2008.

Edmonds hit 241 home runs as a Cardinal. Only Stan Musial (475), Albert Pujols (445) and Ken Boyer (255) hit more as Cardinals.

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In assessing Joe McEwing’s value to the club as a utility player, the Cardinals placed a premium on productivity instead of popularity.

Twenty years ago, on March 18, 2000, the Cardinals traded McEwing to the Mets for reliever Jesse Orosco.

The deal was disliked by Cardinals fans who rooted for McEwing when he unexpectedly emerged as an overachieving underdog to become the team’s second baseman in 1999.

Nicknamed “Super Joe” for his all-out hustle, McEwing established a Cardinals rookie record with a 25-game hitting streak in 1999. The feat earned him another tag, “Little Mac,” in relation to his slugging teammate, Mark McGwire, who was “Big Mac.”

Though McEwing endeared himself to the Cardinals, sentiment was shoved aside the following spring when he struggled in a bid to earn a role as a utility player.

Job search

McEwing, chosen by the Cardinals in the 28th round of the 1992 amateur draft, was in his seventh season in their farm system when he earned a call to the big leagues in September 1998.

Placido Polanco was the Cardinals’ Opening Day second baseman in 1999, but McEwing eventually emerged from the bench to replace him. A right-handed batter, McEwing hit .275 with 28 doubles for the 1999 Cardinals, splitting time between second base and the outfield.

After the 1999 season, the Cardinals acquired second baseman Fernando Vina from the Brewers and made him their leadoff batter in 2000. McEwing, 27, went to spring training as a candidate for a utility role.

The competition for bench spots was intense. McEwing hit .143 in spring training and was outperformed by fellow utility players Shawon Dunston, Craig Paquette and Polanco.

When left-handed reliever Scott Radinsky developed elbow trouble, the Cardinals went searching for a replacement and made the swap of McEwing for Orosco.

“It would have been tough for Joe to make the club based on what we’ve seen this spring and the other candidates,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When McEwing left the Cardinals’ clubhouse in Jupiter, Fla., he wrote on a message board, “I love you guys, Joe Mac.”

Fond farewell

Most were sorry to see McEwing depart.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he planned to keep a pair of McEwing’s cleats in his office “to remind me of what a professional ballplayer is supposed to be.”

Jocketty said when he got home after making the trade he found a McEwing baseball card belonging to his son, Joey, on a table. “I’m not popular with my son,” Jocketty told the Post-Dispatch.

Columnist Bernie Miklasz called McEwing “one of my favorite St. Louis athletes ever” and wrote, “Trading Joe McEwing is like being mean to a kitten.”

Miklasz concluded, “I didn’t want to admit it at first, but this trade makes sense.”

Warranty expires

Orosco, who turned 43 a month after joining the Cardinals, was a standout with the Mets in 1986 when they were World Series champions. In 1999, he pitched in 65 games for the Orioles.

He told the Post-Dispatch he was glad to be with the Cardinals. “Hopefully, I’m the piece to that puzzle that they needed in the bullpen,” Orosco said.

Before becoming a Cardinal, Orosco pitched in 1,090 major-league games and never was on the disabled list.

“Maybe he’s just got elastic bands for rotator cuffs,” said Cardinals pitcher Paul Spoljaric.

Turns out, the elastic was ready to snap.

Orosco pitched in three April games for the Cardinals, hurt his elbow and went on the disabled list. He returned in June, pitched in three more games, went back on the disabled list, had surgery to repair a torn elbow tendon and was done for the season.

Orosco faced a total of 16 batters for the Cardinals. He became a free agent after the season, signed with the Dodgers and continued to pitch in the majors until 2003 with the Twins at age 46. His 1,252 games pitched, including six with the Cardinals, are a major-league record

Switching sides

With Melvin Mora and Kurt Abbott in utility roles for the Mets, McEwing began the 2000 season in the minors. In mid-May, he got called up to the Mets and was in their lineup as an outfielder for all three games of a series May 26-28 against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

“I’m excited to come back,” McEwing told the Post-Dispatch before adding, “I’m a Met now. I’m happy to be a Met.”

Helped by McEwing and another ex-Cardinal, Todd Zeile, the Mets swept the three-game series. McEwing was 4-for-12 with one RBI and was warmly greeted by Cardinals fans. Zeile was 5-for-13 with three home runs and seven RBI and was booed.

After teasing McEwing about the fan reactions, Zeile told the New York Daily News, “I get excited to play back here. With every at-bat, the fans booed me a little louder and it motivated me a little more. I don’t think there’s any animosity though.”

McEwing hit .222 for the 2000 Mets, who won the pennant by prevailing against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

McEwing played five season (2000-2004) with the Mets before finishing his career in the majors with the Royals (2005) and Astros (2006). He played every position in the majors except pitcher and catcher.

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Joe Torre reported to Cardinals spring training prepared to be their catcher, got switched to third base two weeks before the season opened and ended up playing a similar number of games at both positions.

Fifty years ago, in March 1970, the Cardinals asked Torre to change positions after third baseman Mike Shannon was diagnosed with a kidney ailment. Torre, 29, hadn’t played third base since he was “a fat kid in high school back home in Brooklyn,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Torre, who got to camp weighing 228 pounds, went on a diet, lost 25 pounds and was able to perform with the agility needed at third base.

Torre as Twiggy

Torre’s weight loss wasn’t dictated by the club. He did it on his own and before he was asked to play third base.

The motivation for the weight loss was twofold:

_ He would turn 30 during the 1970 season and knew he had to work more diligently to stay in shape.

_ He also knew there was a chance he could be shifted to first base when catcher Ted Simmons, the Cardinals’ top prospect, completed a military commitment and joined the club in May.

Torre followed a diet developed by Dr. Irwin Stillman of Brooklyn. The Stillman Diet emphasized drinking large quantities of water, eating foods high in protein and avoiding carbohydrates and fats.

In his book, “Chasing the Dream,” Torre explained, “Every time you eat a hardboiled egg and then have two or three glasses of water, it’s like swallowing a sponge and filling it up. That’s the idea. You’re full.”

The Stillman Diet was controversial but it worked for Torre.

“I was the kind of guy who thought nothing of eating candy, soft drinks, banana cream pies and junk like that,” Torre said. “I really watched what I ate after the diet and learned to reduce my portions.”

Change in plans

On March 18, 1970, the Cardinals disclosed Shannon’s kidney ailment and said he’d be unavailable to play for a while.

Manager Red Schoendienst initially considered using one of his utility infielders, Cookie Rojas or Phil Gagliano, to play third, the Post-Dispatch reported, but neither was the run producer Shannon had been for the Cardinals.

Another utility player, Carl Taylor, was regarded a good hitter and, though he primarily played first base and outfield, he had caught in 29 games as a rookie for the 1968 Pirates.

According to the Post-Dispatch, the scouting report on Taylor as a catcher was “he has a strong arm,” but “he has problems getting the ball away properly.”

Schoendienst decided to test Taylor at catcher and Torre at third base.

“I’m going to give that combination every chance to make it in the last two weeks of exhibition games,” Schoendienst said. “If Carl can do it behind the plate, I believe Joe will do all right at third.”

Said Torre: “If I can get enough work there, I think I can do it.”

Hot corner lessons

Torre received a crash course on how to play third from coaches George Kissell and Vern Benson as well as Ken Boyer, a five-time Gold Glove Award winner who was in camp as manager of the Cardinals’ Arkansas farm club.

“I can use all the instruction I can get,” Torre said.

The Post-Dispatch reported, “For 15 minutes, Kissell had Torre fielding grounders hit to either side of him. Later, Phil Gagliano joined Kissell in hitting grounders and Torre began to wish he were an octopus.”

“I thought I used to hate catching batting practice most,” Torre told the Post-Dispatch, “but now I hate George Kissell.”

In his book, “Chasing the Dream,” Torre said, “George Kissell turned me into a third baseman.”

The experience also helped Torre become a Hall of Fame manager.

“I learned one of my many lessons from George,” Torre said. “As a manager, you have to find a way to communicate with people _ to correct and suggest things _ without having them resent you for it.”

Let’s try this

While the experiment with Torre at third base was succeeding, the experiment with Taylor at catcher wasn’t doing as well.

“I never was supposed to be a Bill Dickey,” Taylor told the Post-Dispatch. “They know my glove is not what brought me up here.”

On Easter Sunday, with a week remaining in spring training, Schoendienst returned Torre to catcher and put Taylor on the bench.

“You just have to have a good defensive catcher, someone who has been catching a lot,” Schoendienst said.

The manager’s next move was to shift Richie Allen from first base to third. Allen was the Phillies’ third baseman from 1964-67 before he hurt his hand and changed positions.

After watching Allen work out at third, Schoendienst said, “Allen has been throwing a lot better from third base than he has in the six years I’ve seen him.”

Said Allen: “I don’t care where I play. I’ll do whatever the manager wants me to do … I just hope I can throw well enough to suit everybody.”

Though the Cardinals opened the regular season with Torre at catcher, Allen at third and Joe Hague at first base, Schoendienst said the experiments of spring training were valuable because, “We know now that Torre can play third base good enough.”

Fine fit

Allen returned to first base when Shannon came back to the lineup in mid-May. When Shannon struggled to hit, Schoendienst benched him, played Torre at third and started Simmons at catcher.

Though Shannon eventually got back in the lineup, his kidney condition deteriorated and, when he stopped playing in August 1970, Torre became the third baseman.

Torre played 90 games at catcher (88 starts) and 73 games at third base (72 starts) for the 1970 Cardinals.

He was the Cardinals’ third baseman in 1971, when he won the National League Most Valuable Player Award, and 1972 before moving to first base in 1973 to make way for smooth-fielding Ken Reitz.

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