Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Chuck Essegian, a Renaissance man who played the violin, studied to be a doctor, became a lawyer, and excelled at baseball and football, began the 1959 major-league season as a Cardinals reserve and ended it as a World Series hero for the Dodgers.

Sixty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1958, the Cardinals acquired Essegian from the Phillies for shortstop Ruben Amaro.

Essegian was an outfielder with a weak throwing arm, but the Cardinals were intrigued by his power.

After a short stint with them, Essegian was demoted by the Cardinals to the minor leagues in June 1959 and nearly quit baseball to pursue a medical career, but reconsidered after the club offered to relocate him to a West Coast franchise.

Four months later, Essegian achieved an unprecedented feat in the World Series.

Stanford standout

Essegian (pronounced Uh-see-jee-un) was born in Boston and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was a boy. Essegian’s father was an Armenian immigrant who became a mail carrier.

Essegian was a standout baseball and football player at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles as well as a promising violinist. “If he could belt a tune the way he batters that baseball, the Philharmonic missed a hot bet,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

He enrolled at Stanford, played baseball and was a linebacker and fullback in football, appearing in the 1952 Rose Bowl game against Illinois. Essegian earned a degree in biology and considered pursuing a career as a doctor or dentist, but first tried professional baseball.

From 1953-55, Essegian played mostly for unaffiliated minor-league clubs. In 1956, he led the Northwest League in batting at .366 for Salem (Ore.).

Essegian asked the National Association, the organization overseeing minor-league baseball, to declare him a free agent because of irregularities in the handling of his 1956 contract. On Dec. 4, 1956, National Association president George Trautman ruled in favor of Essegian, granting him free agency and giving Salem 30 days to appeal, The Sporting News reported.

The next morning, Dec. 5, 1956, the minor-league draft was held and the Cardinals’ Rochester farm team, unaware Essegian was a free agent, selected him off Salem’s roster.

Rochester was allowed to cancel its selection and choose another player, but stuck with Essegian, hoping the free agency ruling was reversed on appeal.

While awaiting the results of the appeal, Essegian took graduate courses, “which may lead to a career in dentistry,” the Capital Journal in Salem reported.

On Feb. 15, 1957, an executive committee of the minor leagues rejected Salem’s appeal.

Free to make his own deal, Essegian signed with the Phillies.

Cards come calling

Essegian spent 1957 in the Phillies’ farm system and led the Eastern League in batting at .355 for Schenectady.

In 1958, Essegian reached the major leagues, batted .246 for the Phillies and hit his first big-league home run on May 6 against Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers. Essegian became a friend of Phillies second baseman Solly Hemus, who after the season was named manager of the Cardinals. Hemus suggested the club acquire Essegian.

Essegian, 27, displayed impressive power for the 1959 Cardinals in spring training. On March 15, he hit two home runs against Dick Donovan of the White Sox in an exhibition game at Tampa and the next day he hit another home run off the Yankees’ Don Larsen at St. Petersburg.

Essegian “doesn’t have a good throwing arm, a result of a football injury,” but “is eager to give baseball a good try before returning to medical school at his alma mater,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Essegian made the Opening Day roster and in his second regular-season game for the Cardinals he drove in three runs against the Dodgers. Boxscore

Highlights were few, however. Essegian hit .179 and on June 3, 1959, the Cardinals assigned him to Rochester.

Essegian balked at reporting and “talked of quitting baseball unless he could spend more time on the West Coast,” according to The Sporting News.

After the Cardinals assured him they’d try to accommodate him, Essegian went to Rochester and hit four home runs in 10 games. Good to their word, the Cardinals traded Essegian and pitcher Lloyd Merritt to the Dodgers on June 15, 1959, for infielder Dick Gray.

Series slugger

Essegian was sent to Spokane and hit nine home runs before being called up to the Dodgers on Aug. 4, 1959. Batting .304 over the last two months of the season, Essegian earned a World Series roster spot against the White Sox.

In Game 2 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the White Sox led, 2-1, in the seventh when Essegian, batting for pitcher Johnny Podres, got a high slider from Bob Shaw and drove it deep into the upper deck in left for a home run, tying the score. “It had to be the best ball I ever hit,” Essegian said. The Dodgers won, 4-3, and Essegian was credited with sparking the comeback. Boxscore

The Dodgers led the decisive Game 6, 8-3, in the ninth at Chicago when manager Walter Alston, playing a hunch, had Essegian bat for Duke Snider. Essegian lined the first pitch from Ray Moore into the lower left-field stands, capping a 9-3 championship-clinching triumph.

“He broke his bat on that homer, you know,” said Dodgers coach Pee Wee Reese. “How about that for power?” Boxscore

Essegian became the first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in a World Series. Another former Cardinal, Bernie Carbo, matched the feat in 1975 for the Red Sox against the Reds.

Essegian also became the second athlete to play in a Rose Bowl and a World Series. The other, Jackie Jensen, appeared in the 1949 Rose Bowl for Cal and the 1950 World Series for the Yankees.

Law and order

Even with his World Series heroics, Essegian barely survived the last roster cut at spring training in 1960 and his name was omitted from the Opening Day game program.

A crowd of 67,550 filled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to see the defending World Series champions open the 1960 season against the Cubs. With the score tied 2-2 in the 11th, Essegian batted for pitcher Don Drysdale and hit a slider from Don Elston high into the left-field seats for a walkoff home run. Boxscore

The 1960 season was Essegian’s last with the Dodgers. In 1961, he played for three American League teams _ Orioles, Athletics and Indians. He became an everyday player for the first time in the big leagues in 1962 and hit 21 home runs for the Indians. “Because of his medical school aspirations, (teammates) are calling him Dr. Essegian and Ben Casey,” The Sporting News reported. “He’s handsome and has the scowl. All he needs is the stethoscope.”

Traded back to the Athletics, Essegian played his last year in the big leagues in 1963. He spent 1964 with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League and hit 15 home runs.

Essegian never did become a doctor or dentist. Instead, he earned a law degree and became a prosecutor in Pasadena before entering private practice.

Though often asked about the World Series home runs, Essegian downplayed the feat.

“I didn’t think that was so spectacular,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “I was just doing a job. Luck has a great deal to do with something like that. You have to have the right situation, the right pitch and be lucky enough to hit it.”

In a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Essegian said, “I’m not sure, but I think those home runs probably hurt my career. You kind of get labeled as a certain kind of player. If you’re a pinch-hitter, you’re a pinch-hitter because you’re not good enough to play everyday.”

In 161 regular-season plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in the major leagues, Essegian hit three home runs. In four World Series plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in the 1959 World Series, he hit two.

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As a big-league shortstop, Khalil Greene had special physical skills, but a mental health condition rendered him unable to continue his playing career.

Ten years ago, on Dec. 4, 2008, the Cardinals acquired Greene from the Padres for pitchers Mark Worrell and Luke Gregerson unaware Greene suffered from social anxiety disorder.

The Cardinals were seeking a replacement at shortstop for Cesar Izturis, who became a free agent, and Greene appealed because he hit for power and, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was “an above-average defender.”

Greene also was shy, or introverted, but those personality traits, the Cardinals found out, carried deeper meaning.

Early success

Khalil Thabit Greene was born in Butler, Pa., and went to high school in Key West, Fla. His father was a jeweler and his mother was a teacher.

Greene was brought up in the Baha’i Faith, whose followers “believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life,” the organization’s website explains.

According to the Post-Dispatch, Khalil translates to “friend of God” and Thabit means “steadfast.”

Greene enrolled at Clemson University and earned a degree in sociology. He also excelled at baseball, completing a four-year career as Clemson’s all-time leader in hits, doubles, RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.

The Padres chose Greene in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft and he made his big-league debut with them on Sept. 3, 2003.

From 2004 through 2007, Greene averaged 18 home runs and 72 RBI per year and had his best season in 2007 when he produced 27 home runs and 97 RBI.

Greene was limited to 105 games in 2008 because of a season-ending injury on July 30 when he fractured his left hand after punching a storage chest in frustration. “I would say that was very out of character,” Greene told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.

Though Greene batted .213 in 2008, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was unhesitant in dealing for him. “It’s our strong belief that last year (2008) was an aberration,” Mozeliak said.

Seventy percent of respondents to a stltoday.com poll gave the trade a thumbs up.

Under pressure

At spring training with the Cardinals in 2009, Greene, 29, impressed, hitting .408 with 17 RBI in exhibition games.

Regarding his quiet demeanor, Greene told the Post-Dispatch, “I internalize more and that leads people to assume different things about me.”

The Cardinals’ high expectations for Greene were evident in the season opener on April 6, 2009, when manager Tony La Russa batted him in the cleanup spot between Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick. Boxscore

Greene struggled, batting .219 in April and .171 in May. Teammates noticed Greene punishing himself during the season’s first road trip, the Post-Dispatch reported.

On May 29, 2009, the Cardinals placed Greene on the disabled list because of social anxiety disorder.

“We’re trying to take some things off him for a while,” La Russa said.

Greene’s condition “is brought on by fatigue caused by incessant stress,” Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch reported. “Any failure, such as a strikeout or an error, reinforces a sense of frustration that finds release only through verbal or physical outbursts, followed by embarrassment and regret.”

Said Greene: “It’s about trying to find balance, about not being too hard on myself and being able to let it go sometimes.”

Tough tests

The Cardinals reinstated Greene on June 18, 2009, and he hit home runs against the Royals in each of his first three games back. After that, he went into a slump, the anxiety resurfaced and the Cardinals returned him to the disabled list on June 29, 2009.

“When he had success in Kansas City, that wasn’t really the test,” La Russa said to the Associated Press. “The test is when you struggle and how you handle it.”

Greene went home to South Carolina to spend time with his wife and parents and receive treatment.

Brendan Ryan had taken over as Cardinals shortstop and was playing well, so when Greene returned to the club for the last two months of the season he primarily was used as a pinch-hitter and reserve infielder.

“I need to get a sense of gratification when things are going well while being able to see any shortcomings in a way that’s not such a debilitating thing,” Greene said.

On Aug. 28, 2009, Greene hit the first pinch-hit home run of his big-league career, tying the score at 2-2 in the eighth inning against the Nationals. The Busch Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation and his teammates pushed him toward the top step of the dugout to make a curtain call and tip his cap, telling him, “Get out there. You earned it.” Boxscore

Greene finished the 2009 season with a .200 batting average, six home runs and 24 RBI in 77 games. He did hit .353 (12-for-34) with runners in scoring position.

In November 2009, Greene entered free agency and two months later signed a $750,000, one-year deal with the Rangers, who projected him for a utility role.

“This is a situation that will be good for me in a lot of ways,” Greene said. “It’s an exciting team to play for and it looks like a neat place to play.”

On Feb. 25, 2010, the Rangers voided the contract, saying a private matter would keep Greene from reporting to spring training. At age 30, he was finished as a professional ballplayer.

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Ray Jablonski was an infielder who couldn’t field or throw well, but he excelled at stroking line drives for extra-base hits and generating large numbers of runs.

Seventy years ago, on Nov. 24, 1948, the Cardinals selected Jablonski from the Red Sox in the minor-league draft.

The minor move turned into a big deal for the Cardinals, who sought a right-handed batter with power to balance a lineup with left-handers Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. Jablonski produced more than 100 RBI in each of his two seasons with St. Louis.

As a third baseman, though, Jablonski had the skills of a designated hitter. When prospect Ken Boyer proved ready to move from the minor leagues and play third base for the Cardinals, Jablonski became expendable.

Climbing the ladder

Ray Jablonski was born and raised in Chicago. As a youth, he was “an accomplished singer and piano player,” according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

A coach encouraged him to play high school baseball and he showed an ability to hit the ball hard and often. Jablonski enlisted in the Army in July 1945, spent most of his military service in France and was discharged in January 1947.

When he returned to Chicago, he attended a Red Sox tryout camp in Elgin, Ill., and was the only one of the 300 participants to get a contract offer, according to The Sporting News. The Red Sox assigned Jablonski to their Class D affiliate in Milford, Del., and he hit .326 in 1947 and .354 in 1948, primarily as a shortstop.

After the 1948 season, the Red Sox fired their farm director, former Cardinals shortstop Specs Toporcer, and in the reshuffling that followed the Red Sox left Jablonski exposed to the minor-league draft. He was selected by the Cardinals and assigned to their Class A Columbus (Ga.) club.

The leap from Class D Milford to Class A Columbus was a steep one and after Jablonski hit .275 for Columbus in 1949 he was sent down to Class B Lynchburg, Va., in 1950. Lynchburg was a turning point in Jablonski’s career because the manager there was Whitey Kurowski, the former third baseman who played in four World Series for the Cardinals. Kurowski put Jablonski at third base and mentored him.

After hitting .289 for Lynchburg, Jablonski played for Class B Winston-Salem in 1951 and led the Carolina League in batting at .363.

The Cardinals promoted Jablonski to Class AAA Rochester in 1952 and he played all four infield positions, committing 33 errors and batting .299 with 103 RBI.

Jablonski “has strong wrists and can get the bat through at the last split-second,” The Sporting News reported.

Competition at third

Billy Johnson was the incumbent at third base for the Cardinals. Johnson played in four World Series for the Yankees and was an American League all-star in 1947 before being traded to the Cardinals on May 14, 1951. A smooth fielder with a strong arm, Johnson gave the Cardinals “the best defensive play they’ve had at the hot corner in years,” according to writer Bob Broeg.

In 1952, Johnson hurt his elbow and the injury affected his throwing. Depriving Johnson “of his shotgun arm would be like taking a paint brush away from Rembrandt,” Broeg observed.

At spring training in 1953, the three contenders for the Cardinals’ third base job were Johnson, Jablonski, and Vern Benson, who’d spent parts of the 1951 and 1952 seasons with St. Louis.

Broeg concluded Jablonski’s “defensive play might be the drawback that could cost him the job.”

After observing Jablonski, former Cardinals infielder Frank “Creepy” Crespi said, “He’s got a lot to learn defensively and needs plenty of work, but he’s got a big thing in his favor and that’s willingness to listen and practice.”

In preseason exhibition games, Jablonski batted .302 with six home runs.

On April 14, when the Cardinals opened the 1953 regular season at Milwaukee in the Braves’ first game since relocating from Boston, Jablonski made his major-league debut as the starting third baseman.

He and two other newcomers to the starting lineup, first baseman Steve Bilko and center fielder Rip Repulski, became known as the Polish Falcons.

Jablonski finished his rookie season with 21 home runs and 112 RBI. He made 27 errors, the second-most among National League third basemen.

Too many errors

In 1954, Jablonski hit .296 with 104 RBI for the Cardinals and he was the starting third baseman for the National League all-star team, but his 34 errors were the most by any third baseman in the league.

Post-Dispatch sports editor J. Roy Stockton, citing Jablonski’s fielding problems, described him as “a defective player who broke the hearts of the pitchers.”

Cardinals pitcher Gerry Staley “was openly critical of the slow defensive reactions and uncertain throwing of Jablonski,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

In his two seasons with St. Louis, Jablonski had many of his best games against the Reds. He had five hits versus the Reds on July 8, 1953 (Boxscore), and he twice produced five RBI against them _ on May 28, 1953 (Boxscore) and on May 23, 1954 (Boxscore). Jablonski hit .315 with 20 RBI against the Reds in 1953 and .359 with 22 RBI versus them in 1954.

In December 1954, the Cardinals offered to trade Staley to the Reds for reliever Frank Smith. The Reds wanted second base prospect Don Blasingame as well but the Cardinals “flatly refused,” according to the Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals, desperate to improve their relief pitching, countered by giving the Reds their choice of Jablonski or infielder Solly Hemus. On Dec. 8, 1954, the Cardinals dealt Jablonski and Staley to the Reds for Smith.

Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer admitted “we might have given too much,” but added, “We felt the need for relief pitching was that great.”

The Cardinals were influenced by the emergence of Boyer, a highly regarded prospect who was ready to take over at third base in 1955. Cardinals scout Joe Mathes predicted Boyer “could become the greatest third baseman in Cardinals history” and former Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer said Boyer “will hit the ball as far as any third baseman in the National League and he’ll outrun any third baseman I know of in the league.”

Boyer fulfilled those expectations and Jablonski, unable to overcome his fielding deficiencies, went on to have a journeyman career. After two seasons (1955-56) with the Reds and two seasons with the Giants (1957-58), Jablonski and Bill White were traded by San Francisco to the Cardinals on March 25, 1959, for pitchers Sam Jones and Don Choate.

Used in a reserve role, Jablonski hit .253 with the 1959 Cardinals and on Aug. 20 he was claimed on waivers by the Athletics. He ended his major-league career with the Athletics in 1960 and played another four years in the minors.

Jablonski was 58 when he died of kidney failure on Nov. 25, 1985.

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In a life tragically cut short, Mel Ott established the standard for power hitting in the National League and was an endearing role model to legions of baseball fans, including a young Stan Musial, for his humble, considerate manner.

Sixty years ago, on Nov. 21, 1958, Ott, 49, died in a New Orleans hospital from injuries suffered in a car accident a week earlier.

The sudden death of a popular baseball icon who represented vitality and decency stunned the nation.

Ott was the top slugger in the National League with the Giants from 1926-47. When his playing days ended, he was the National League career leader in home runs (511), RBI (1,860), extra-base hits (1,071), walks (1,708) and runs scored (1,859). Only Babe Ruth (714) and Jimmie Foxx (534) had hit more home runs. Ott had a career batting average of .304, with 2,876 hits, and was elected to the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1951.

His journey to the major leagues began in storybook fashion.

Bayou to Broadway

In 1925, Ott was a catcher for a New Orleans semi-pro team owned by lumber tycoon Harry Williams, a friend of Giants manager John McGraw. Williams recommended Ott to McGraw, who agreed to take a look at the prospect. Ott, 16, traveled alone to New York, arrived at the Polo Grounds carrying a straw suitcase after getting lost in the subway system and met McGraw, who took a liking to the well-mannered teen. After watching Ott crush the ball in batting practice, McGraw knew he had a special talent.

Ott debuted with the Giants in April 1926 and became a regular after the Giants traded right fielder George Harper to the Cardinals in May 1928.

Primarily an outfielder, Ott had a strong arm and “learned to play rebounds from the right field wall at the Polo Grounds with the precision of a billiard player,” The Sporting News observed.

A left-handed batter, he had a peculiar approach to hitting. As described by the New York Daily News, Ott “lifted his right leg from the ground completely, accentuating a bend in the knee, and swung as the leg came down again.”

At 5 feet 9, 170 pounds, Ott was not large, but he was, according to The Sporting News, “as solid as a piece of Louisiana cypress.” Ott led the National League in home runs six times, produced 100 RBI or more in eight consecutive seasons (1929-36), was a 12-time all-star, and helped the Giants win three pennants and a World Series title.

“One of the things that made him a great hitter was hard practice,” said teammate Lefty O’Doul. “We used to spend hours, just the two of us, practicing hitting the ball down the right field foul line. We got so we could keep it fair by a few inches.”

Gentle giant

On Oct. 3, 1930, Ott married Mildred Rosina Wattigny. Both were 21 and friends since childhood.

Ott and his road roommate, pitching ace Carl Hubbell, were the most popular Giants players. Ott was admired as much for his demeanor as for his skill.

“Even Brooklyn (Dodgers) fans used to applaud Mel Ott,” Sports Illustrated noted.

In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” the Cardinals standout recalled Ott as “one of my early idols” during his boyhood in Donora, Pa.

“I liked his mannerisms and his manners,” Musial said.

In an editorial, The Sporting News cited Ott as “a quiet, modest hero” and declared his “gentleness, kindness and good sportsmanship always set a fine example.”

Ott could be hard-driving and irate, “but had something in his personality beyond all this that endeared him to people,” Sports Illustrated surmised. “He was boyish, mannerly square. He looked like the beau ideal of American youth: the rugged kid who could win ballgames but who would stand up when a woman came into the room.”

Not nice

Ott was player-manager of the Giants from 1942-47 and remained the manager in 1948 when he no longer was playing. However, his teams never won a pennant and in July 1948 the Giants fired Ott and replaced him with Leo Durocher, longtime manager of the archrival Dodgers and a man whose brash, confrontational style was the opposite of Ott’s.

Giants fans “hated the sight of me, hated my guts,” Durocher said in his autobiography.

As Dodgers manager, Durocher was talking to reporters in the dugout before a game against the Giants when he motioned toward Ott and said, “Take a look at No. 4 there. A nicer guy never drew breath than that man there.” After Durocher called off the names of the Giants players, he famously said, “All nice guys. They’ll finish last. Nice guys. Finish last.”

Over time, the last two sentences got melded into one, and the term “Nice guys finish last” came to define Durocher and highlighted what he viewed as the difference between antagonists like him and gentlemen such as Ott.

Ott remained with the Giants, assisting his friend Hubbell, who was the club’s farm director. Ott managed the minor-league Oakland Oaks in 1951 and 1952. In 1956, he became a Tigers broadcaster.

The Tigers consulted with Ott on player personnel matters. After the 1958 season, Ott returned to his home in Metairie, La., and was in contact with Tigers general manager John McHale, who sought his advice on trade proposals. “In Mel’s three years in Detroit as radio and television announcer, we always regarded him as an extra coach,” McHale said.

Fatal accident

On Nov. 14, 1958, Mel and Mildred Ott went to the coastal town of Bay St. Louis, Miss., to check on a cottage they had purchased. After dinner at a restaurant, Mel drove their station wagon onto a fog-shrouded highway. Their vehicle collided head-on with a car driven by Leslie S. Curry Sr., 50, a carpenter, who was killed instantly. Curry, a married father of seven, was alone in the car.

Mel suffered fractures of both legs, a broken arm, six broken ribs and injuries to his head and kidneys, according to United Press International. Mildred suffered a severe concussion and also broke both legs, an arm and ribs. The Otts were taken to a hospital in Gulfport, Miss.

On Nov. 20, Mel was transferred to a New Orleans hospital because of kidney failure and underwent surgery that night. He died the next day, “a tragic end to an around-the-clock attempt by doctors to save his life,” United Press International reported. Cause of death was uremia, a kidney poisoning resulting from a damaged kidney.

Mildred Ott recovered and lived until 1999 when she was 90, according to the Web site MyHeritage.

Althea Curry sued Mel Ott’s estate for the wrongful death of her husband Leslie. A district court judge dismissed the complaint when evidence showed the left wheels of Curry’s car were across the center line on Ott’s side of the road. An appeals court upheld the ruling, saying the plaintiff failed to prove negligence on the part of Ott.

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Eric Davis, who conquered cancer, convinced the Cardinals he could help them as an inspirational and productive player.

Twenty years ago, on Nov. 19, 1998, Davis, a free-agent outfielder, signed a contract with the Cardinals for two years at $8 million.

Davis, 36, was acquired to provide run production, defense and clubhouse leadership for an underachieving Cardinals club. Even with Mark McGwire clouting 70 home runs, the Cardinals finished 83-79, 19 wins fewer than the division champion Astros, in 1998.

A year earlier, in May 1997, Davis was diagnosed with colon cancer, had a portion of his colon removed and underwent months of chemotherapy treatment. Remarkably, Davis returned to the Orioles in September 1997 and played well in the last weeks of the season. In 1998, Davis performed like a player in his prime, producing a 30-game hitting streak and batting .327 with 28 home runs and 89 RBI for the Orioles.

A star is born

Davis made his major-league debut with the Reds on May 19, 1984, against the Cardinals and soon displayed a special combination of power and speed. His first big-league hit was a triple off Dave LaPoint.

In 1986, Davis had 27 home runs and 80 stolen bases for the Reds. Over the next three seasons, 1987-89, Davis won three Gold Glove awards and excelled on offense, too. He produced 37 home runs, 100 RBI and 50 steals in 1987, 26 home runs, 93 RBI and 35 steals in 1988, and 34 home runs, 101 RBI and 21 steals in 1989.

The Reds won the National League pennant in 1990 and advanced to the World Series against manager Tony La Russa’s American League champion Athletics. In Game 4, with the Reds on the verge of a sweep, Davis suffered a lacerated kidney when he dived for a drive by Willie McGee.

After that, Davis experienced a series of injuries and setbacks. The Reds traded him to the Dodgers after the 1991 season. Two years later, on July 24, 1993, Davis was with Vince Coleman when the former Cardinal tossed a powerful explosive device into a parking lot and injured three people. A month later, the Dodgers dealt Davis to the Tigers.

In 1994, Davis underwent surgery for a herniated disc in his neck and voluntarily sat out the 1995 season. In 1996, he made a successful comeback with the Reds, hitting 26 home runs, and became a free agent after the season, signing with the Orioles.

Profile in courage

On June 13, 1997, Davis had surgery for colon cancer. He returned to the Orioles on Sept. 15, 1997, while still undergoing weekly chemotherapy treatments and hit .310 in eight games that month, helping the club secure a berth in the postseason.

Davis’ courageous return in 1997 positioned him for more achievements in 1998. The 1998 Orioles were loaded with big hitters such as Cal Ripken Jr., Roberto Alomar, Rafael Palmeiro, Harold Baines and Brady Anderson. Davis led the club in batting average (.327), on-base percentage (.388) and slugging percentage (.582).

Baltimore Sun columnist John Eisenberg called Davis “a positive and inspirational leader in a sour clubhouse.”

Davis expressed interest in staying with the Orioles, but wanted $8 million for two years. The Orioles offered him two years at $5.6 million, the Sun reported.

“They were either forcing me to leave, or to come in at a lower salary than I deserved,” Davis said. “I wasn’t looking forward to leaving Baltimore, but it became clear I wasn’t part of their thinking.”

Meet me in St. Louis

Davis told his agent the Cardinals would be one of his top choices if they showed interest. The Cardinals, looking to restructure their outfield, gave Davis what he wanted.

The Cardinals “are getting one of baseball’s best guys,” declared the Sun.

Davis said he was glad he’d be playing for La Russa, who left the Athletics after the 1995 season to manage the Cardinals, and joining a lineup with players such as McGwire and Ray Lankford.

“Their interest is winning now,” Davis explained to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I’m 36 years old. I can’t be part of rebuilding.”

On the day the Cardinals signed Davis, they also traded outfielder Ron Gant and pitchers Jeff Brantley and Cliff Politte to the Phillies for pitchers Ricky Bottalico and Garrett Stephenson. With Gant gone and outfielder Brian Jordan soon to depart as a free agent, the Cardinals projected a 1999 outfield of Davis in right, J.D. Drew in center and Lankford in left.

“Anybody that knows about hard work, dedication, sacrifice and adversity, who better than I?” Davis said. “I’ve proven my leadership qualities over the years.”

Finishing strong

Davis made his regular-season Cardinals debut on April 5, 1999, in the opener against the Brewers at St. Louis. Batting cleanup behind McGwire and ahead of Fernando Tatis, Davis went 0-for-5 and struck out twice. Boxscore

On June 25, 1999, Davis made two diving catches to help Jose Jimenez preserve a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks, but damaged his left shoulder. Boxscore The injury caused Davis to sit out the last three months of the season and he underwent surgery to repair a torn left rotator cuff. In 58 games for the 1999 Cardinals, Davis hit .257 with 30 RBI and the club finished 75-86.

From the start, Davis’ second season with the Cardinals was more successful than the first. On April 3, 2000, in the Cardinals’ season opener against the Cubs at St. Louis, Davis, batting seventh behind Craig Paquette and ahead of Mike Matheny, hit a home run off Andrew Lorraine. Boxscore

A month later, on May 7, 2000, Davis hit a grand slam off Denny Neagle of the Reds at Cincinnati. Boxscore

As the designated hitter against the White Sox at Chicago, Davis produced the only five-hit game of his major-league career on July 15, 2000. Boxscore

With Lankford in left, Jim Edmonds in center and Davis platooning with Drew in right, the Cardinals finished 95-67 and won a division title. Davis hit .303 with 40 RBI in 92 games for the 2000 Cardinals. He batted .390 against left-handers and .321 with runners in scoring position.

After the Cardinals were eliminated in the National League Championship Series versus the Mets, Davis became a free agent, signed with the Giants and played his final big-league season for them in 2001.

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Willie McCovey made the Cardinals pay for disrespecting an elder.

On June 15, 1979, with the score tied at 6-6, a Giants runner on second and two outs in the bottom of the 13th inning, the Cardinals opted to give an intentional walk to Jack Clark and take their chances with McCovey, who was 41 years old and in the twilight of a Hall of Fame career.

McCovey foiled the strategy, hitting the first pitch from Darold Knowles over the fence at Candlestick Park in San Francisco and lifting the Giants to a 9-6 walkoff victory.

McCovey, who died Oct. 31, 2018, at 80, hit 521 home runs, including 41 against the Cardinals, in a 22-year career in the big leagues with the Giants, Padres and Athletics.

One of his most impressive feats came in June 1979 when he silenced skeptics by hitting three home runs in less than 24 hours in a pair of wins against the Cardinals.

Still in the game

At spring training in 1979, critics clamored for the Giants to start Mike Ivie at first base instead of McCovey. Ivie was 26 and batted .308 for the Giants in 1978. McCovey hit .228 for the 1978 Giants and appeared to some to be finished as a ballplayer.

Ivie opened the 1979 season as the Giants’ first baseman but after two months his batting average was .244 and manager Joe Altobelli began playing McCovey more.

When the Cardinals came to San Francisco for a three-game series on June 15, 1979, McCovey was in the lineup as the cleanup batter and first baseman for the Friday night opener.

McCovey led off the fourth inning and lined a 3-and-0 pitch from starter Pete Vuckovich over the wall in left-center for a home run, giving the Giants a 2-1 lead.

The Giants led, 6-5, until the Cardinals got a run in the eighth.

McCovey nearly delivered a game-winning hit in the 11th. With one out and runners on second and first, McCovey hit a line drive to right-center. Rob Andrews, the runner on second, took off, thinking the ball was a hit, but right fielder George Hendrick was positioned to make the catch and throw to second before Andrews could get back, completing a double play.

“They had no business playing me the way they did,” McCovey said to United Press International. “Since when doesn’t the right fielder play me on the line? They did the wrong thing and got lucky.”

Big Mac attack

In the 13th, the Giants had Larry Herndon on first base, one out, when Andrews hit a bouncer to third baseman Ken Oberkfell, who was thinking he could turn a double play, but the ball struck Oberkfell in the chest and he was only able to get the out at first.

“I got caught between hops,” Oberkfell said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch

With Herndon on second, two outs, Clark was at the plate and McCovey was on deck. Clark, the future Cardinal, was a right-handed batter facing Knowles, a left-hander. After the count went to 2-and-0, Knowles was instructed to walk Clark intentionally.

McCovey batted left-handed and the Cardinals figured Knowles had a better chance of retiring him than he did Clark. McCovey had produced two hits in 14 career at-bats versus Knowles.

The strategy backfired. Knowles’ first pitch to McCovey was a mistake, “a hanging slider,” he said, and McCovey uncoiled his 6-foot-4 frame and crushed a towering drive over the fence in right-center for the sixth walkoff home run of his career.

“I knew it was gone the second I hit it,” McCovey said.

Knowles, disgusted, flung his glove into the air as McCovey circled the bases. Boxscore

Experience matters

The long game required a quick turnaround for the players, who returned to Candlestick Park the next morning, June 16, 1979, for a Saturday afternoon start time.

McCovey was back in the cleanup spot and in the third inning he hit a two-run home run against starter Silvio Martinez, extending the Giants’ lead to 3-0 and propelling them to a 6-1 triumph. Boxscore

“Willie McCovey is one of the chosen people,” Altobelli said to the San Francisco Examiner. “He’s a living legend.”

The home run was the sixth in McCovey’s last eight games.

“You can’t judge a guy on age,” McCovey said. “Guys over 35 can still do it, but for some reason you have to keep proving it. Our society is geared to youth and people are brainwashed that you have to be young to do anything.”

McCovey finished with 15 home runs in 1979 and he returned for a final season in 1980, enabling him to play in four decades during a big-league career started in 1959.

McCovey hit 421 of his career home runs against right-handers and he had success against several Cardinals, including Bob Gibson (.290 batting average against, seven home runs), Nelson Briles (.353, seven home runs) and Ray Washburn (.366, three home runs).

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