Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Disheartened when the Cardinals benched him indefinitely, Stan Musial was willing to accept a trade to the Pirates.

Sixty years ago, in 1960, Cardinals manager Solly Hemus took Musial out of the starting lineup and relegated him to a pinch-hitting role. Hemus made the move, with the approval of the front office, because Musial wasn’t hitting for average and Hemus perceived Musial’s fielding as more a liability than an asset.

A seven-time National League batting champion, Musial, 39, was stunned and saddened by the Cardinals’ determination he was washed up.

If the Cardinals couldn’t use him, the first-place Pirates were willing to take him and play him at first base. Asked whether he’d agree to a trade to the Pirates and a chance to finish his playing career near his hometown of Donora, Pa., Musial replied, “Yes.”

In his autobiography, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “Few realize how close I came to finishing my career with Pittsburgh.”

Fading star

After batting .255 in 1959, the first season he didn’t top .300, Musial faithfully followed a physical fitness and diet program during the winter and reported to 1960 spring training camp in shape.

The Cardinals opened the 1960 season with Musial at first and with an outfield of Leon Wagner in left, Bill White in center and Joe Cunningham in right.

Musial hit .300 in 13 games in April, but slumped in May. As Musial’s batting average dipped, Hemus utilized him sporadically and erratically. “I know he had lost confidence in me,” Musial said in his autobiography.

The 1960 Cardinals lost 16 of their first 26 games and were a half-game out of last place after play on May 15. Hemus experimented with various lineups in an effort to jolt the Cardinals. “If ever a manager panicked, I’m afraid Hemus did,” Musial said in his book.

On May 22, 1960, Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and Bob Burnes of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat came out with columns criticizing the Cardinals for unfair treatment of Musial.

Broeg wrote, “If they’re trying to embarrass a man who never embarrassed them, either by word or deed, the Cardinals are succeeding.”

Burnes wrote, “What concerns us is the way an extraordinary performer and complete team man is being pushed around. Certainly his years of service to the Cardinals entitle him to more than that. What we are wondering is whether the Cardinals are trying to embarrass Musial into retiring.”

Reserve role

A few days later, Musial’s batting average for the season was at .250 when he was called to a meeting at the home of Cardinals owner Gussie Busch. Joining them were club executive Dick Meyer, general manager Bing Devine and Hemus. They informed Musial he was being benched because Hemus wanted a younger lineup.

Musial told them he would do what the club wanted. In his book, Musial said he was “hurt and disappointed” by the decision.

On May 27, 1960, Hemus started Curt Flood in center field in place of Bill White and moved White to first base in place of Musial.

Musial “has been benched indefinitely,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

“Solly and I agreed that Solly ought to play his best lineup,” Devine said. “We talked it over with Musial and he went along with the plan.”

Musial, who hit .204 in May, told the Associated Press, “We haven’t been winning and they want to try that new lineup for a while. Anything they want to do is OK with me. We’ll see what happens. I think I’ll be back in the lineup soon.”

Hemus had other ideas.

Pirates treasure

Musial was out of the starting lineup from May 27 through June 23. He appeared as a pinch-hitter nine times in that stretch and had one hit, a double versus Warren Spahn, and his batting average sank to .238.

In his autobiography, Musial said he was planning to quit during the all-star break in July if he wasn’t back in the starting lineup by then.

When the Pirates came to St. Louis for a series in June, their manager, Danny Murtaugh, asked Broeg what was wrong with Musial. Broeg told him all Musial needed was a chance to play and to “go out with a winner.” Murtaugh asked whether Musial would accept a trade to the Pirates. Broeg approached Musial, who responded, “Yes.” Broeg relayed the answer to Murtaugh, who said he would urge general manager Joe Brown to make a deal.

“Musial could mean the difference for us in the race,’ Murtaugh told Broeg.

In a June 14, 1960, column in the Post-Dispatch, Broeg wrote Musial had been “surprised and even a bit stunned” by the Cardinals’ decision to bench him and suggested Musial would be a good fit for the Pirates.

“Although he has been uncomplaining, it’s apparent he was hurt,” Broeg told readers. “Hurt enough, you ask, to go to Pittsburgh if he had a chance to play rather than sit on the bench, a chance perhaps to achieve the thrill of one more World Series? Yes.”

The Pirates wanted Musial, but couldn’t afford to offer much, Brown said to Broeg. Another option would be for Musial to ask the Cardinals for his release, leaving him free to sign with the Pirates. Either way, Brown said, it would put Bing Devine in a bind, and he didn’t want to do that to his colleague.

“As much as we’d like to have Musial,” Brown told Broeg, “I just can’t do it to Bing Devine. Sure, if Musial were released, we would grab him in a minute … and to offer too little would be taking advantage of the public sentiment, which is sure to be strongly behind Musial, not the ball club. Devine would be on a spot where i don’t care to put him.”

Still The Man

When Bob Nieman got injured and newly acquired Walt Moryn struggled to hit, Hemus put Musial back into the lineup as the left fielder on June 24, 1960.

Musial was 1-for-8 in his first two games back and his batting average fell to .229, but then he went on a tear. Musial produced 11 hits in 19 at-bats over his next five games, raising his batting mark to .281. He continued his blistering pace and got his batting average to .300 at the all-star break.

“He’s been amazing,” Cardinals third baseman Ken Boyer told the Globe-Democrat. “He’s delivering the big hits.”

Said Hemus: “Stan is popping the ball again.”

National League all-star manager Walter Alston of the Dodgers chose Musial as an all-star reserve.

On the field at Kansas City before the All-Star Game, Musial was approached by Red Sox counterpart Ted Williams, 41, who was in his last season as a player and batting .341. According to Bob Burnes, the conversation went like this:

Williams roared: “Hey, man, get on the train.”

Musial: “What train is it?”

Williams: “The one back to the minors. Us old guys are through. We’ve had it.”

The two laughed and Williams said, “What in the world got into you?”

Musial: “Just pecking away, just pecking away. I lucked a few, thumbed a few and then I got a couple of good ones.”

Williams: “Oh, hell, I wasn’t talking about your hitting. I wasn’t worried about that. What I’m talking about is that base you stole the other day.”

Musial: “Say, that was something, wasn’t it?”

The stolen base on July 8 was Musial’s first since 1957.

Musial hit .352 with 21 RBI in 21 games for the Cardinals in July. He hit .253 in August and .226 in September, finishing the season at .275 with 17 home runs and 63 RBI. He hit .338 with runners in scoring position and was 5-for-8 with the bases loaded.

“I look back on 1960 as a season of frustration and vindication, of sadness and success,” Musial said in his book. “It was the most emotional season I ever experienced.”

The Pirates went on to win the National League pennant, their first since 1927, and prevailed against the Yankees in the World Series. The Cardinals challenged the Pirates for a while and placed third at 86-69.

“I missed a chance to play in another World Series,” Musial said, “but I’m glad now I didn’t ask for my release.”

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Cookie Rojas was supposed to be a 1970s version of Jose Oquendo for the Cardinals, but it didn’t work out.

Fifty years ago, on June 13, 1970, the Cardinals traded Rojas to the Royals for a minor-league outfielder, Fred Rico. The deal brought an unsatisfactory end to an unexpectedly short stint with the Cardinals for Rojas.

After acquiring Rojas from the Phillies in the October 1969 trade involving Richie Allen, Curt Flood and Tim McCarver, the Cardinals envisioned him as a valuable role player in 1970.

Like Oquendo did with the Cardinals in the 1980s and 1990s, Rojas played all nine positions for the Phillies in the 1960s. The Cardinals projected Rojas to back up second baseman Julian Javier and shortstop Dal Maxvill, and to help out at third base after Mike Shannon was sidelined because of a kidney ailment.

Instead of being a Secret Weapon, as Oquendo was nicknamed, Rojas was more like a lost secret, who didn’t play much for the Cardinals and who rarely reached base when he did.

Cuban cutie

Octavio Victor Rojas was born in Havana, Cuba. His father was a pharmacist at the University of Havana hospital, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When Octavio was a boy, his mother called him Cuqui, which means cute, and the nickname morphed into Cookie when he came to the United States at 17 to begin his baseball career with a Reds farm club, the West Palm Beach Sun Chiefs.

After six years (1956-61) in the minors, Rojas debuted in the majors with the Reds in 1962 as the backup to second baseman Don Blasingame, the former Cardinal. Rojas’ first big-league RBI came against the Cardinals’ Curt Simmons. Boxscore

To make room for their rookie second baseman, Pete Rose, in 1963, the Reds traded Rojas to the Phillies.

Rojas spent seven seasons (1963-69) with the Phillies. His first two years were as a utility player before he became their second baseman in 1965.

“Cookie Rojas is a remarkable individual, indefatigable, willing and able to play any position on the field,” syndicated columnist Red Smith wrote.

Rojas told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I’m not a great ballplayer. I don’t have the ability some players have, but I can help my team win ballgames. Give me a chance, I’ll do it.”

Multiple skills

On June 30, 1967, Rojas pitched an inning against the Giants. With two on and two outs, Willie Mays came to the plate. “The only thing I could think of was I didn’t care how far Willie hit the ball as long as it didn’t come back through the middle,” Rojas said to the Philadelphia Daily News.

After Mays was retired on a soft fly to right, Rojas said, “I think Willie was more afraid of me than I was of Willie. He was probably worried I’d throw one wild and bean him.”

Said Mays: “He pitches good for a second baseman.”

Rojas was a good second baseman. He was a National League all-star in 1965, when he led the Phillies in hitting (.303), and he was tops among the league’s second basemen in fielding percentage in 1968. When the Phillies had a keystone combination of Rojas at second and Bobby Wine at shortstop, the plays of Wine and Rojas became a fan favorite.

Regarding his relationship with Philies fans, Rojas said, “They only boo if you’re not giving 100 percent. If you do give 100 percent, the Philadelphia fans will repay you with great ovations and admiration.”

Tough times

With rookie Denny Doyle projected to take over at second base in 1970, the Phillies deemed Rojas expendable. The Padres, managed by Rojas’ friend and winter-league manager, Preston Gomez, made offers for Rojas, The Sporting News reported, but the Phillies sent him to the Cardinals.

Though Rojas preferred to be a starter, he welcomed the trade to the Cardinals. “This club can win and, even more than playing regularly, I want to play on a championship team,” Rojas told the Post-Dispatch.

The union got off to an awkward start. On Feb. 23, Rojas phoned manager Red Schoendienst at the club’s spring training site in St. Petersburg, Fla., and said, “I think I’ve got chicken pox. What should I do?” Schoendienst replied, “Stay home until you’re sure you’re not contagious.”

Rojas didn’t report to camp until the day before the first exhibition game.

When the regular season began, Rojas, 31, struggled to hit. One of his few Cardinals highlights came on April 14, 1970, when he drove in the winning run with a scratch hit against the Expos. Batting for pitcher Sal Campisi in the bottom of the 10th with the bases loaded, one out and the score tied at 5-5. Rojas hit a squibber off the end of his bat down the third-base line.

“The ball was foul, but hit something and bounced over third baseman Angel Hermoso’s glove and over the bag,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Said Cardinals third-base coach George Kissell: “It looked like the ball hit a cleat mark.”

Julian Javier scored from third on the single for a 6-5 Cardinals victory. Boxscore

Rojas played in 23 games for the Cardinals and hit .106. He made eight starts at second base and three in left field.

Reflecting on his short St. Louis stay, Rojas told the Philadelphia Inquirer, “I sat and I sat. I gained 10 pounds. Everybody said, ‘Rojas is done. Rojas is too slow.’ ”

Revival with Royals

When the Cardinals informed Rojas he was traded to the Royals, an American League team in its second season of existence, “I was going to quit,” Rojas said. “I thought, ‘I’m 31. What does an expansion ball club want with me?’ ”

Before declaring his intentions, Rojas consulted with Preston Gomez, whose Padres, like the Royals, were in their second season as a big-league franchise. Gomez told Rojas, “I think you’re wrong,” and urged him to play for the Royals.

When Rojas reported to the Royals, manager Bob Lemon put him in the starting lineup at second base, replacing Luis Alcaraz.

Out of shape from his limited playing time with the Cardinals, Rojas said, “I couldn’t run. My range was terrible. I got by on experience.”

Rojas played in 98 games for the 1970 Royals and hit .260. He had two four-hit games and a pair of four-RBI games, and stabilized the Royals’ infield. “I knew Rojas would help us defensively,” Lemon told the Kansas City Star. “He makes the right moves all the time.”

Rojas went on to play eight seasons (1970-77) with the Royals and was named to the American League all-star team four times. In the 1972 All-Star Game in Atlanta, Rojas batted for Rod Carew and hit a two-run home run versus Bill Stoneman. Boxscore

In 16 big-league seasons, Rojas produced 1,660 hits. He was especially tough versus quality pitchers such as Ray Sadecki (25 hits against), Gaylord Perry (23 hits), Juan Marichal (21 hits) and Ferguson Jenkins (20 hits).

Besides Red Schoendienst in 1970, Rojas’ first (Fred Hutchinson) and last (Whtey Herzog) managers in the big leagues had Cardinals connections.

Rojas went on to manage the Angels in 1988. He also was a coach for the Cubs (1978-81), Marlins (1993-96), Mets (1997-2000) and Blue Jays (2001-2002) before becoming a broadcaster on Marlins Spanish radio broadcasts.

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With two swings in one game, Biff Pocoroba created quite a bit of damage against the Cardinals.

A switch-hitting catcher who played 10 years in the major leagues, all with the Braves, Pocoroba died May 24, 2020, at 66.

Born in Burbank, Calif., “Biff” was Pocoroba’s given name, not a nickname.

Selected by the Braves in the 17th round of the 1971 amateur baseball draft, Pocoroba reached the majors in 1975. He became the Braves’ starting catcher in 1977 and hit .290 with 24 doubles and an on-base percentage of .394. The Braves rewarded him with a six-year, $1 million contract.

In 1978, Ted Simmons of the Cardinals was voted starting catcher for the National League all-star team and his backups were the Reds’ Johnny Bench and the Phillies’ Bob Boone. When an injury made Bench unavailable for the All-Star-Game in San Diego, Pocoroba was chosen to replace him and caught an inning. Boxscore

A month later, Pocoroba injured his right shoulder and was out for the rest of the season. During rotator cuff surgery in September 1978, Dr. Frank Jobe transferred muscle from Pocoroba’s lower bicep to his shoulder, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

When Pocoroba returned to the Braves in June 1979, Bruce Benedict had taken over as the starting catcher.

Danger zone

On May 14, 1982, Pocoroba was in the lineup against the Cardinals in Atlanta. The Cardinals were in first place in the East Division and the Braves led the West. The pitching matchup was Joaquin Andujar for the Cardinals and Phil Niekro for the Braves. During Niekro’s Hall of Fame career, Benedict and Pocoroba caught more of his games than any other catchers.

While batting in the second inning, Pocoroba’s foul tip broke the right index finger of Cardinals catcher Darrell Porter. After the inning, Porter was replaced by Orlando Sanchez. The injury sidelined Porter for three weeks.

Pocoroba helped Niekro hold the Cardinals scoreless for eight innings. He threw out two base runners, Keith Hernandez and Mike Ramsey, attempting to steal.

Trailing 1-0, the Cardinals rallied for a run in the top of ninth versus Braves closer Gene Garber. Lonnie Smith singled, swiped second, moved to third on Ozzie Smith’s bunt hit and scored on Hernandez’s sacrifice fly.

Biff bops

In the bottom half of the ninth, Cardinals reliever Doug Bair retired the first two batters before Pocoroba came to the plate.

“I was looking for a fastball because Bair had been getting ahead of batters with the pitch,” Pocoroba told the Atlanta Constitution.

Bair told the Post-Dispatch, “I tried to throw the ball low and away. He’s a first-ball, fastball hitter. I threw it right in his wheelhouse.”

Pocoroba hit Bair’s first pitch over the fence in right for a walkoff home run and a 2-1 Braves victory. Boxscore

It was Pocoroba’s first home run since August 1980 versus the Cardinals’ Bob Forsch. It also was the first home run Bair allowed in 22 innings in 1982.

The Cardinals and Braves went on to win division titles and met in the 1982 National League Championship Series. The Cardinals won the pennant, sweeping the Braves in three games. Pocoroba had one at-bat in the postseason. Porter was named most valuable player in both the NL Championship Series and in the World Series versus the Brewers.

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Walt Moryn was a big blonde slugger who hailed from Paul Bunyan country and was nicknamed Moose.

Sixty years ago, on June 15, 1960, the Cardinals acquired Moryn from the Cubs for utility player Jim McKnight and $25,000.

An outfielder and left-handed pull hitter, Moryn’s swing seemed tailored for the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis, where the shortest distance for a home run was to right.

Though no longer in his prime when he joined the Cardinals, Moryn, 34, had enough pop remaining in his bat to elicit calls of “M-o-o-o-s-e” from the fans in St. Louis when he got hold of a pitch.

Cubs clouter

Moryn was born and raised in St. Paul, Minn. His paternal grandparents immigrated to the U.S. from Russia and his maternal grandparents came from Poland. Moryn entered the Navy when he was 18 and served on an ammunition ship in the Pacific for two years during World War II.

When he returned home, Moryn played baseball in an industrial league. In August 1947, the Dodgers held a tryout camp in St. Paul. Moryn attended and was signed on the recommendation of scout Andy High, a former Cardinals infielder.

Moryn was 28 when he debuted in the majors with the Dodgers in June 1954. He also spent part of 1955 with them and was traded to the Cubs after the season.

For a stretch of three seasons, 1956-58, Moryn hit with consistent power and became a favorite of Cubs fans. He had 23 home runs in 1956, 33 doubles in 1957 and 26 home runs in 1958.

After his production declined to 14 home runs in 1959, Moryn was platooned in left field with Frank Thomas in 1960.

The signature play of Moryn’s career occurred on May 15, 1960, when he made a shoestring catch of a line drive by the Cardinals’ Joe Cunningham with two outs in the ninth to preserve a no-hitter by Don Cardwell. Video

Though Moryn was batting .294 and had an on-base percentage of .366 in 38 games for the 1960 Cubs, his home run total was a mere two when the Cubs shipped him to the Cardinals. Moryn told the Chicago Tribune he was on the outs with Cubs general manager John Holland. “He’s been trying to get rid of me for three years,” Moryn said.

Popular player

To make room for Moryn on their roster, the Cardinals sent Leon Wagner, their Opening Day left fielder, to the minors. The Cardinals were loaded with outfielders. Cunningham, Moryn and Stan Musial batted from the left side, and Curt Flood, Bob Nieman and John Glenn batted from the right. Moryn figured to platoon with Nieman in left.

“At Busch Stadium, I think Moryn still will be dangerous,” Cardinals coach Johnny Keane told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

Though listed at 6 feet 2 and 205 pounds, Moryn told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he weighed 225. St. Louis writers had fun with his alliterative name and his size, referring to him as “Mighty Moose Moryn” and “a mass of muscle from Minnesota.”

Moryn was popular with teammates and helped rookies.

Second baseman Jerry Kindall, another St. Paul native who entered the majors with the Cubs in 1956, told the Chicago Tribune, “He gave the appearance of a very gruff guy, but if you were a teammate, you saw through that in a hurry. He was really a tender-hearted guy.”

In the book “We Played the Game,” Tim McCarver said when he was with the Cardinals as an 18-year-old in 1960, “Guys like Walt ‘Moose’ Moryn and Kenny Boyer couldn’t have been friendlier.”

Hot in August

In his Cardinals debut, on June 17, 1960, against the Braves, Moryn was 0-for-5 and struck out four times. Boxscore

Moryn hit .100 for the Cardinals in June and .194 in July, but sizzled in August, hitting .433 with 19 RBI in 23 games for the month.

“Cardinals crowds raise the “M-o-o-o-s-e’ call whenever the big blonde comes to the plate,” The Sporting News noted.

Moryn’s August performances at home included:

_ Aug. 6 vs. the Reds: 3-for-4, including a triple and a home run, and two RBI. Boxscore

_ Aug. 7 vs. the Reds: 2-for-2, including a home run and a walk, and two RBI. Boxscore

_ Aug. 17 vs. the Giants: 3-for-5, including a home run, and three RBI. Boxscore

_ Aug, 26 vs. the Pirates: 4-for-4, all singles, against Bob Friend. Boxscore

Moryn ended August with a .314 batting average since he joined the Cardinals.

Role player

Though he hit a three-run home run off Robin Roberts to carry the Cardinals to a 4-1 triumph at Philadelphia on Sept. 9, Moryn fell back into a slump and hit .154 for September.

In 75 games for the 1960 Cardinals, Moryn hit .245 with 11 home runs. He batted .301 at Busch Stadium and .196 on the road. Moryn also hit .266 versus right-handers and .111 against left-handers. He was a terror against the Reds, hitting .440 with five home runs and 11 RBI in 11 games for the 1960 Cardinals.

Moryn made 49 starts in the outfield _ 30 in right and 19 in left _ for the 1960 Cardinals.

At spring training in 1961, Moryn surprised the Cardinals by reporting at 198 pounds. “I’ve never been this light before,” he told the Globe-Democrat.

Regarding his playing weight in 1960, Moryn told the Post-Dispatch, “I realized I had let myself get too heavy.”

Cardinals trainer Bob Bauman predicted a slender Moose would slug more home runs at Busch Stadium. “I can see Moryn hitting a lot out on Grand Avenue this year,” Bauman said.

Used exclusively against right-handers and mostly as a pinch-hitter, Moryn, 35, never got untracked with the 1961 Cardinals. He hit .125 in 17 games and was traded to the defending World Series champion Pirates on June 15, 1961, for minor-league catcher Roberto Herrera and cash.

Three days later, on June 18, 1961, in his third game with the Pirates, Moryn, naturally, hit a three-run home run versus the Cardinals’ Larry Jackson. Boxscore

It was one of the last highlights for Moryn in the majors. He hit .200 in 40 games for the Pirates in 1961, his last season in the big leagues.

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The Cardinals intended for Chris Sabo to replace Todd Zeile as their first baseman, but the plan fizzled when Sabo’s back gave out.

Twenty-five years ago, on June 8, 1995, the Cardinals signed Sabo after he was released by the White Sox. A third baseman, Sabo was sent to the Cardinals’ Louisville farm club to learn to play first base so he could be brought back to the majors and fill multiple roles.

About a week later, on June 16, 1995, Sabo was called up to the Cardinals amid a massive shakeup. On the day he arrived, manager Joe Torre was fired and Zeile was traded to the Cubs.

Interim manager Mike Jorgensen put Sabo into the lineup at first base, but his time with the Cardinals lasted only a few games.

Cincinnati kid

Sabo won the National League Rookie of the Year Award in 1988 when he produced 40 doubles and 46 stolen bases as third baseman for the Reds.

A son of a plumber from Detroit, Sabo became a Cincinnati favorite. Nicknamed “Spuds” for a resemblance to the dog Spuds McKenzie in beer commercials, Sabo wore goggles, a buzz cut and a K-mart wardrobe, and drove a well-used 1982 Ford Escort.

In 1990, Sabo had 38 doubles, 25 home runs and 25 steals for the champion Reds. In the Reds’ World Series sweep of manager Tony La Russa’s favored Athletics, Sabo hit .563 with two home runs and fielded flawlessly at third.

After the 1993 season, Sabo became a free agent, rejected an offer from the Mets and signed a one-year contract for $2 million with the Orioles because he viewed them as a contender.

The Orioles opened the 1994 season with a left side of the infield featuring Cal Ripken Jr. at shortstop and Sabo at third, but it didn’t last. Sabo hit .228 in April and went on the disabled list in May because of a bad back. His replacement, Leo Gomez, hit .325 in May and held the job.

Used primarily in the outfield and as designated hitter, Sabo played in 68 games for the Orioles, hit .256 and departed for free agency after the season.

New role

The Cardinals considered signing Sabo to be their third baseman, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, but traded for Scott Cooper of the Red Sox instead. When no other teams showed interest, Sabo, 33, thought about returning to the University of Michigan to finish the work he started on a degree 14 years earlier, the Chicago Tribune reported.

Sabo’s plans changed on April 10, 1995, when the White Sox gave him a one-year contract at $550,000 to be their designated hitter. John Kruk was the first choice of White Sox general manager Ron Schueler to be designated hitter, the Tribune reported, but when Kruk, a free agent, opted to retire, Schueler selected Sabo.

Sabo plays with “intensity and has fire in his eyes,” Schueler said.

Said Sabo: “I’ve never been very level-headed. I have quite a temper. It’s the only way I’ve been able to get where I have. I get fiery. I don’t have a world of talent. So I fire up to help myself.”

Sabo preferred to play third base, but the White Sox had a Gold Glove winner, Robin Ventura, there.

What a Kruk

The White Sox opened the 1995 season with Sabo batting in the cleanup spot between slugger Frank Thomas and Ventura. In May, Kruk changed his mind about retirement and signed with the White Sox, who intended to make him the designated hitter.

Miffed, Sabo told The Cincinnati Post he’d return to the Reds “for a song.”

“I plan on being with the Reds again before I’m done, one way or the other,” Sabo told The Post.

Kruk, 34, joined the White Sox on May 24, 1995. The Tribune’s Paul Sullivan described him as having “the physique of Babe Ruth, the batting eye of Tony Gwynn and the sarcastic wit of David Letterman. He chain-smoked cigarettes, didn’t watch his weight and proudly wore the same T-shirt day after day.”

The White Sox released Sabo on June 5. In 20 games for them, he hit .254 with one home run.

Team in turmoil

Three days later, on June 8, 1995, the Cardinals signed Sabo and indicated he would be used as a utility player for them after he went to Louisville and learned to play first base.

“We know he can play third and the outfield,” said Cardinals manager Joe Torre. “If he can play first, it will add to his versatility. If he’s healthy, he’s a threat with the bat. He can hit the homer and he pulls the ball. He plays well defensively.”

Sabo hit .393 in nine games as Louisville’s first baseman.

Promoted to the Cardinals, he never got to play for Torre. With the Cardinals’ record at 20-27, general manager Walt Jocketty fired Torre on the morning of June 16 before trading Zeile. Though Zeile hit .291 with 22 RBI in 34 games, he was dealt after accusing management of reneging on a contract agreement.

With Zeile gone, Sabo became the first baseman and was assigned uniform No. 18, the same previously worn by Mike Shannon and Andy Van Slyke. In his Cardinals debut on June 16 against the Giants at St. Louis, Sabo batted fifth in the order between Ray Lankford and Scott Cooper. He made a fielding error in the second inning, leading to a run, but had a run-scoring single in the fifth. Boxscore

Sabo played in four more games for the Cardinals, making another start at first, one at third and two pinch-hit appearances. He had a two-run double versus Dodgers rookie Hideo Nomo on June 19. Boxscore

During batting practice one day, Sabo developed back spasms. He went on the disabled list on June 29, 1995, and remained sidelined for six weeks. “I don’t think there’s a lot of fuel left in the tank,” Cardinals coach Gaylen Pitts told Larry Harnly of The State Journal-Register of Springfield, Ill.

In August 1995, the Cardinals sent Sabo to their St. Petersburg farm club in the Florida State League to get in condition for a possible return to the majors in September. Instead, after Sabo hit .231 in 14 games for St. Petersburg, the Cardinals released him because “he didn’t dominate that league like you’d think he would,” Jocketty said.

In 13 at-bats for St. Louis, Sabo had two hits and three RBI.

As he predicted, Sabo returned to the Reds and played his final major-league season with them in 1996.

In 2018, Sabo was named head baseball coach at the University of Akron.

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Richie Allen capped one of his best performances for the Cardinals by hitting a grand slam against the pitcher who got traded with him to St. Louis.

Fifty years ago, on June 2, 1970, Allen had seven RBI for the Cardinals in their 12-1 victory over the Giants at St. Louis.

Allen had a run-scoring single and a two-run home run versus Giants starter Gaylord Perry. The grand slam came against Jerry Johnson, who was traded with Allen and Cookie Rojas by the Phillies to the Cardinals in October 1969 for Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Joe Hoerner and Byron Browne.

On May 19, 1970, the Cardinals dealt Johnson to the Giants for pitcher Frank Linzy. Johnson was making his fifth appearance for the Giants when he faced Allen for the first time.

New look

Looking to shake up the Cardinals, who lost six of their last seven, manager Red Schoendienst changed the batting order for the series opener versus the Giants at Busch Memorial Stadium.

Schoendienst had been featuring a top five of Jose Cardenal, Julian Javier, Lou Brock, Richie Allen and Joe Torre. Against Perry and the Giants, Schoendienst went back to the batting order he used to open the season, with Brock in the leadoff spot, followed by Cardenal, Allen and Torre. Joe Hague batted fifth, and Javier dropped to the seventh spot, behind Ted Simmons.

“The big reason for the change is getting Allen back up there to No. 3 where he can hurt people even more,” Schoendienst told the Associated Press.

To the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Schoendienst explained, “I like to bat Cardenal second, especially against right-handers, because he has good bat control and can hit that outside pitch to right. and I want to be sure Allen gets to bat in the first inning.”

Played on a damp Tuesday night, the game attracted a crowd of 11,111, a number the Post-Dispatch described as “a poker player’s dream.”

Seven future Hall of Famers were in the lineups: Willie Mays, Willie McCovey and Gaylord Perry for the Giants, and Lou Brock, Joe Torre, Ted Simmons and Steve Carlton for the Cardinals. On the bench were three more: Schoendienst and pitchers Juan Marichal of the Giants and Bob Gibson of the Cardinals.

Carlton pitched a four-hitter and would have had a shutout if not for McCovey’s home run, a 420-foot drive into the bleachers in right-center. “I told myself to throw him a really nasty slider, but I hung it,” Carlton told the Post-Dispatch.

Carlton also contributed three singles. “That was just a little cream topping,” Carlton said.

Power source

Though Allen wasn’t a future Hall of Famer, he played like one.

In the first inning, Allen’s single versus Perry scored Cardenal from second.

In the fifth, Allen, a right-handed batter, sliced a Perry slider over the wall in right for a two-run homer. The ball “landed in the runway behind the right-field fence,” according to the Post-Dispatch. Impressed by Allen’s ability to drive the ball the opposite way, Cardinals coach George Kissell told the Post-Dispatch, “He hits them to right like a left-handed golfer.”

Allen had astonishing power, even though his right hand was weakened three years earlier when pieces of glass from a broken headlight on a car he was pushing severed nerves in his palm.

“I worked hard to get that hand so that I could use it again,” Allen told Dick Young of the New York Daily News. “I got a job as a bricklayer’s helper. For nothing. A friend of mine gave me the job. He wanted to pay me. He kept throwing money at me and I kept throwing it back. I wanted to work for nothing. It made me keep thinking of why I was doing it. I asked him for a slow bricklayer, though.”

Run producer

Allen and Perry faced one another frequently. Allen would finish his career with 30 hits and 31 strikeouts versus the spitball specialist.

Jerry Johnson was a different story. He was Allen’s teammate with the Phillies in 1968 and 1969, and for a brief time with the 1970 Cardinals. Johnson began the 1970 season in the minors, got called up to the Cardinals on May 1 and was 2-0 with one save in seven relief appearances for them before he was traded.

In the seventh inning, Johnson relieved Perry and deprived Allen of another RBI, striking him out on a slider with a runner on third and none out.

An inning later, Allen came up against Johnson with the bases loaded and hit a fastball into the seats in left-center for his fifth grand slam in the big leagues. He’d hit three more grand slams before his career was done. Boxscore

The home run would be the only base hit Allen would get in 12 career at-bats versus Johnson.

Allen had one other game with seven RBI. It occurred Sept. 29, 1968, for the Phillies against the Mets at Shea Stadium in New York. Allen hit a two-run home run versus Tom Seaver, a solo shot off Cal Koonce and a grand slam against Ron Taylor, the former Cardinal.

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