Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Eddie Waitkus fought in combat in World War II, returned home to resume a major-league baseball career and found himself in another life-and-death struggle against a determined foe.

Seventy years ago, on June 14, 1949, Waitkus, 29, was shot in the chest by a deranged admirer, 19-year-old Ruth Steinhagen, in a Chicago hotel room.

Waitkus, a Phillies first baseman, was seriously wounded, underwent six operations, survived and came back the following season to be a key contributor for the National League champions.

His story inspired the Bernard Malamud novel, “The Natural,” in 1952, a fictionalized account featuring a protagonist, Roy Hobbs, who is shot by a mysterious woman. The 1984 film, “The Natural,” starring Robert Redford as Hobbs, was based on the novel, but, unlike the book, featured a happy ending.

Real life wasn’t so kind to Waitkus.

Athlete and soldier

Eddie Waitkus was the son of Lithuanian immigrants who settled in Cambridge, Mass. He was an honor student and standout athlete who excelled at baseball.

Waitkus was mentored by Jack Burns, a Cambridge native who played first base in the American League for the Browns and Tigers. Like Burns, Waitkus was a left-handed batter who developed into a consistent hitter and sure-handed fielder.

In 1938, while playing semipro baseball, Waitkus was named to an all-America team, prompting a Boston sports writer to hail him as a “natural,” according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

The Cubs signed Waitkus after giving him a tryout in September 1938. After two years in the minors, Waitkus, 21, made his big-league debut as the starting first baseman for the Cubs on Opening Day in 1941.

After returning to the minors in 1942, Waitkus began a three-year hitch in the Army in 1943. An amphibious engineer, he experienced extensive combat in the Pacific, including New Guinea and the Philippines, narrowly escaped being taken prisoner by the Japanese and earned four bronze stars.

Waitkus returned to the Cubs after the war and was their first baseman from 1946-48. He hit .304 in 1946, .292 in 1947 and .295 in 1948, when he was selected to the National League all-star team.

Dangerous obsession

Ruth Ann Steinhagen was born in Cicero, Ill., and grew up in a Chicago household with her parents, who were German immigrants, and a sister. As a teen-ager, Steinhagen became infatuated with actor Alan Ladd and Cubs outfielder Peanuts Lowrey. In 1947, when she was 17, she turned her attention to Waitkus.

Steinhagen built a shrine to Waitkus in her bedroom, talked about him constantly and regularly bought tickets for seats near first base at Wrigley Field. “I used to go to all the ballgames just to watch him,” Steinhagen informed a court-appointed psychiatrist.

Steinhagen would wait outside the Cubs’ clubhouse after games to get a glimpse of Waitkus, but they never met and never had any contact.

“She has been crazy about Eddie for about three years and she had hundreds of pictures of him,” Steinhagen’s mother, Edith, told the Associated Press. “She used to spread them out on the table and even on the floor and look at them for hours.”

Steinhagen told International News Service, “I liked Eddie because he was clean-cut and I liked the way he played baseball. I was in love with him.”

Steinhagen’s mother urged her “to seek the help of a psychiatrist,” the Chicago Tribune reported. Steinhagen consulted with two, but her behavior didn’t change. Her father, Walter, a die setter, “tried to persuade her to forget Waitkus,” according to the Tribune, but his suggestions upset her.

Steinhagen received a jolt on Dec. 14, 1948, when the Cubs traded Waitkus to the Phillies. A month later, in January 1949, she left her parents’ house, moved into an apartment, which she filled with mementoes of Waitkus, and worked as a typist for an insurance company.

In early May 1949, Steinhagen said, she decided to kill Waitkus. She told her mother and a friend of her intentions, according to United Press, but they didn’t believe her.

“I guess I got the idea to shoot him because he reminded me of my father,” Steinhagen said.

According to the New York Times, Steinhagen also said, “I was building in my mind the idea of killing him. As time went on, I just became nuttier and nuttier about the guy. I knew I would never get to know him in a normal way, so I kept thinking, I will never get him, and if I can’t have him, nobody else can. Then I decided I would kill him.”

Intent to kill

Aware the Phillies were headed to Chicago to play the Cubs, Steinhagen went to a pawn shop and paid $21 for a .22-caliber rifle. She told the pawnbroker she needed the gun for protection. He showed her how to disassemble the weapon and put it back together.

Steinhagen reserved a room at the Edgewater Beach Hotel, where the Phillies stayed, and registered as Ruth Anne Burns of Boston.

Steinhagen told police she got the rifle into the hotel by separating it into two parts. “I wrapped the parts in newspaper and put them in my traveling bag and brought it into the hotel,” she said.

She also brought with her a paring knife featuring a 3.5-inch blade.

“I was planning to stab him,” Steinhagen said. She intended to use the gun to commit suicide.

In her hotel room, Steinhagen reassembled the rifle, loaded it with one cartridge and placed it in a closet.

Fateful day

On June 14, 1949, the Phillies played the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Waitkus had a single, a walk and scored twice in the Phillies’ 9-2 triumph. The Tuesday afternoon game drew 7,815 spectators, including Steinhagen. Boxscore

After the game, she went to the hotel room. Waitkus went to a restaurant to have dinner with friends. While he was out, Steinhagen tipped a bellhop $5 and asked him to deliver a note to Waitkus.

Her plotting completed, Steinhagen ordered two whiskey sours and a daiquiri from room service, settled in with her drinks and waited for Waitkus to respond.

When Waitkus returned to the hotel, the bellhop informed him a woman left a note for him at the front desk. The unsigned note asked Waitkus to come to Room 1297-A. “It’s extremely important that I see you as soon as possible … I have something of importance to speak to you about,” Steinhagen wrote. “I think it would be to your advantage to let me explain it to you.”

“It was cleverly written to attract interest without arousing suspicion,” Dr. O. Spurgeon English, head of the Department of Psychiatry at Temple University, told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

Waitkus asked a desk clerk to tell him who was registered in Room 1297-A. When informed it was Ruth Anne Burns of Boston, Waitkus wondered whether it might be a relative of his hometown baseball mentor, Jack Burns.

Waitkus joined teammates Bill Nicholson and Russ Meyer for a drink at the hotel bar, showed them the note and decided to act “out of curiosity.”

Violent meeting

Waitkus called Steinhagen’s room at about 11 p.m.

“I had started to fall asleep when the phone rang and a voice said, ‘What’s this all about?’ It was Eddie,” Steinhagen said to International News Service. “I told him it was important I see him but could I see him tomorrow. He said he couldn’t make it and I said, ‘How about tonight?’ ”

Waitkus agreed to come to the room in 30 minutes. When he arrived about 11:30, he knocked on the door. Steinhagen opened and asked him to enter. She was holding a purse containing the knife.

Waitkus entered the room briskly, startling Steinhagen and giving her no time to reach for the knife. He walked toward a far corner and sat down in an armchair.

“I might not have shot him if he had come in differently without so much confidence,” Steinhagen said to United Press. “He swaggered in.”

As Waitkus settled into the chair, Steinhagen reached into the closet for the rifle, pointed it at him and told him to stand near the window, the Chicago Tribune reported.

“I thought at first it was a practical joke,” Waitkus said. “I thought the players had planned it.”

Steinhagen wasn’t fooling.

“She had the coldest-looking face I ever saw,” Waitkus said. “Absolutely no expression.”

“I have a surprise for you,” Steinhagen told Waitkus. “You are not going to bother me anymore.”

“What have I done?” he pleaded.

Steinhagen shot him in the right side of the chest at a range of 5 feet. The bullet pierced a lung, ripped into thick muscles in his back and lodged near his spine.

Waitkus slumped to the floor and rolled onto his back. “Oh, baby, why did you do that?” he said.

Steinhagen told police she lacked the courage to commit suicide as planned. She called the hotel operator and said she shot a man, then knelt next to Waitkus and held his hand, the New York Times reported.

A hotel house detective arrived and found Steinhagen sitting on a bench near an elevator on the 12th floor, The Sporting News reported. Waitkus was rushed to a hospital and Steinhagen was arrested.

Mentally ill

Steinhagen told police she “just had to shoot somebody.”

“Only in that way could I relieve the nervous tension I’ve been under the last two years,” she said. “The shooting has relieved that tension.”

In subsequent interviews, she said, “Since I shot Eddie, I have felt that I have a little control of myself for the first time.

“I know just why I did it. First, for revenge for everything that ever happened to me. Second, I liked him so much, I didn’t want anybody else to have him. Third, I know I couldn’t have him forever, so I wanted him for those few minutes.”

Steinhagen “is suffering from schizophrenia,” or split personality, Dr. William Haines of the Cook County Behavior Clinic in Chicago said. Dr. Edward Kelleher, director of the Municipal Court Psychiatric Institute, agreed, saying Steinhagen “is either schizophrenic or deep in the influence of a major hysteria.”

On June 30, 1949, two weeks after the shooting, Steinhagen was arraigned on a charge of assault with intent to commit murder, indicted on the charge by a grand jury and found insane by the jury. Chief Justice James McDermott of Criminal Court in Chicago committed Steinhagen to a state mental health hospital.

Dr. Haines spoke at the hearing and said Steinhagen was insane the night of the shooting and “for some years heretofore.”

At the mental health hospital, Steinhagen “underwent electroconvulsive therapy to alter the chemical balance in her brain, as well as hydrotherapy and occupational therapy,” the Chicago Tribune reported.

Remarkable recovery

Waitkus spent a month in a Chicago hospital before returning to Philadelphia on July 17, 1949.

Living alone in a Philadelphia apartment, unsure of his baseball future, and physically weak and emotionally scarred, Waitkus told J.G. Taylor Spink of The Sporting News, “If I thought I had to go through the same thing again, the many operations, the fears, the uncertainty, the mental torture, I think I would rather die. It was really rugged.”

In November 1949, Waitkus went with Phillies trainer Frank Wiechec to Clearwater Beach, Fla., and underwent a grueling three-month program to get physically fit to play baseball.

“There were many times when I wondered and feared whether I would get back that confidence, that coordination of muscle and eye that baseball demands,” Waitkus told The Sporting News.

By the time the Phillies reported for spring training in Florida in February 1950, Waitkus was ready to join them.

“If it had not been for Frank Wiechec, our trainer, I don’t think I could have done it,” Waitkus said. “He was a combination of a father confessor and a Simon Legree. It was he who felt the wrath of all my worries, my pent up fears, who listened sympathetically when my nerves were jagged.”

While at Clearwater Beach, Waitkus met 20-year-old Carol Webel, who was vacationing there with her family from Albany, N.Y. The couple were married a year later on Nov. 17, 1951.

Waitkus earned back his job at spring training in 1950. Dick Sisler, the former Cardinal who replaced Waitkus at first base after the shooting, went to left field.

Waitkus batted .284, had 182 hits and scored 102 runs for the 1950 Phillies, who won the National League pennant. Though the Phillies were swept by the Yankees in the World Series, Waitkus had four hits and two walks in the four games.

Rough times

Soon after the start of the 1952 baseball season, Steinhagen was released from the psychiatric hospital where she had spent three years. She moved back into the Chicago house with her parents and sister and “disappeared into near obscurity,” according to the Chicago Tribune.

Waitkus continued to hit for average _ .289 in 1952 and .291 in 1953 _ but the Phillies sold his contract to the Orioles in March 1954. At 34, he no longer was considered an everyday player. The Orioles released Waitkus in July 1955, the Phillies signed him and released him again after the season. He finished his playing career with a .285 batting average and 1,214 hits.

According to the Society for American Baseball Research, Waitkus began drinking heavily. He went to work for a trucking company but battled alcoholism and depression. His marriage suffered and he and Carol, the parents of two children, separated in 1960.

In 1961, Waitkus, suffering from anxiety, was admitted to a hospital for treatment.

His son, Eddie Waitkus Jr., known as Ted, told the Denver Post the shooting was “an emotional part” of his father’s life.

“His nerves were shattered for a while,” the son said to the New York Times.

Regarding the shooting, the son said, “He survived three years in the jungles of the Philippines with barely a scratch and he comes back here and this crazy honey with a gun, as he used to say, takes him out.”

In 1963, Waitkus moved back to his hometown of Cambridge and rented a room in a house. He lived alone and spent summers as a coach at the Ted Williams baseball camp in Lakeville, Mass.

A longtime smoker, Waitkus, 53, died at a Veterans Administration Hospital in Boston on Sept. 16, 1972, a victim of esophageal cancer.

Forty years later, Steinhagen, 83, died on Dec. 29, 2012, after an accidental fall in her house. There were no survivors. A recluse who never spoke of the shooting, her death went unnoticed until the Chicago Tribune reported it three months later, on March 15, 2013, while reviewing public records for another story.

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In his major-league debut for the Cardinals, a batter named Paris faced a pitcher from Paris and sparked a winning rally.

On Sept. 1, 1982, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog sent Kelly Paris to bat for pitcher Doug Bair to lead off the 13th inning of a game against the Dodgers at Los Angeles.

Paris, appearing in the big leagues for the first time after eight seasons in the minors, stepped into the right side of the batter’s box, peered out to the mound and prepared to face Dodgers reliever Ricky Wright, a rookie left-hander who was born and raised in Paris, Texas.

Not exactly a French connection, but a neat bit of serendipity nonetheless.

Paris, 61, died on May 27, 2019. He played four seasons in the big leagues as an infielder with the Cardinals, Reds, Orioles and White Sox.

His debut game, when he got a hit in his first at-bat and scored the winning run for the Cardinals, stands out as an enduring highlight.

Traveling man

Paris was a high school baseball teammate of future Hall of Famer Robin Yount in Woodland Hills, Calif. In 1975, Paris, 17, was chosen by the Cardinals in the second round of the June amateur draft.

Projected to play shortstop, Paris developed a circulatory problem in his right arm and it slowed his development.

He found his stride in 1979 when he hit .284 with 53 RBI for Class A St. Petersburg. He followed up by batting .301 in 1980 for Class AA Arkansas and, after breaking an ankle in 1981, rebounded to hit .328 with 83 RBI for Class AAA Louisville in 1982.

“I definitely have seen a lot of small towns,” Paris said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “A lot of them more than once.”

Paris was rewarded when the Cardinals brought him to the big leagues for the final month of the 1982 regular season.

Rally starter

The Cardinals were in first place in the National League East Division, 2.5 games ahead of the Phillies, entering September.

In the finale of a three-game series at Dodger Stadium, the Cardinals rallied with a run in the ninth inning, tying the score at 5-5.

When Paris led off the 13th in his major-league debut, he bounced a grounder up the middle and beat the throw from shortstop Alex Taveras for an infield single.

“I’ll take them any way I can,” Paris said to the Post-Dispatch.

After Paris advanced to second on Tommy Herr’s sacrifice bunt, Mike Ramsey struck out and George Hendrick was walked intentionally, bringing Ozzie Smith to the plate.

When the count got to 3-and-2, Smith looked for a fastball from Wright, got it and drove a hard grounder up the middle. Second baseman Steve Sax attempted a backhand play, got his glove on the ball but couldn’t secure it.

“The only play was to backhand the ball and get rid of it as quickly as he could,” Smith said. “It was going to be a tough play for him and I think he rushed it.”

Paris, running hard, rounded third and headed for the plate. Taveras yelled for Sax to throw home, but Sax held onto the ball and Paris scored, giving the Cardinals a 6-5 lead.

The Dodgers got a single and a double in the bottom half of the inning but failed to score and the Cardinals had a valuable win on their way to their first postseason berth in 14 years. Boxscore

Parting ways

The Cardinals won the 1982 National League pennant and World Series championship. Paris wasn’t on the postseason roster but he did receive a World Series ring for his help in September.

At spring training in 1983, Paris and Rafael Santana competed for a reserve infielder spot on the Opening Day roster and Paris felt the stress to impress.

“I feel as if I’m on stage all the time,” Paris said. “I find myself trying to do too much. This is the first chance I’ve had at making the major leagues. I guess I’m trying too hard at-bat. It’s stupid and I’m not a dumb person.”

Said Herzog: “I thought he’d be a pretty good right-handed pinch-hitter … but he hasn’t shown it.”

Santana won the job and Paris no longer was in the Cardinals’ plans.

On March 31, 1983, the Cardinals traded Paris to the Reds for pitcher Jim Strichek and the rights to retain pitcher Kurt Kepshire, whom they’d drafted from the Cincinnati system three months earlier.

Wakeup call

On Dec. 26, 1986, Paris nearly was killed when he “lost control of his sports car, driving it over the side of the road and into a ravine near his home in Gastonia, N.C.,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

According to the newspaper, Paris suffered a broken back, broken sternum and broken ribs. He needed extensive plastic surgery to repair cuts around his left eye. “Only his spirit remained intact,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Paris admitted he was driving under the influence of alcohol and vowed to quit.

“I thank God for it, really,” Paris said of the accident. “It was a valuable lesson to learn.

“After the accident, I quit drinking … Your priorities change immensely when you’re that close to death.”

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On a sultry Sunday in St. Louis, Bill Buckner handled the high heat of Al Hrabosky.

Buckner, 69, died May 27, 2019. He played 22 seasons in the major leagues, primarily as a first baseman, and was a premier hitter, winning a National League batting title in 1980 and generating a career total of 2,715 hits. A left-handed batter with a .289 career average, Buckner never struck out more than 39 times in a season.

Though widely known for an error at first base in the 10th inning of Game 6 of the 1986 World Series that enabled the Mets to score the winning run against the Red Sox, Buckner played his first 16 seasons in the National League, with the Dodgers and Cubs, and produced 172 hits in 173 career games against the Cardinals.

Perhaps his most prominent at-bat versus the Cardinals came on July 3, 1977, against Hrabosky, the left-handed reliever known as the “Mad Hungarian.”

Pitchers prevail

The game between the Cubs and Cardinals was played on what the Chicago Tribune described as a “hot, humid Mississippi River afternoon” on the steamy artifical turf surface at Busch Memorial Stadium.

Starting pitchers Rick Reuschel of the Cubs and Eric Rasmussen of the Cardinals were in top form.

The game was scoreless when Reuschel was forced to depart with two outs in the seventh inning because of a blister on his pitching hand. Bruce Sutter relieved, walked the first batter he faced, Ken Reitz, loading the bases, and struck out Jerry Mumphrey to end the threat.

In the eighth, Sutter, batting with one out and the bases empty, singled against Rasmussen for his first major-league hit.

“Now that I’ve got my hitting stroke down, anything can happen,” Sutter said.

After Ivan De Jesus popped out to first baseman Keith Hernandez for the second out, Greg Gross singled to right, advancing Sutter to third. According to the Chicago Tribune, Sutter barely beat Reitz’s tag at third and was jolted so hard “the spikes were knocked out of his shoes.”

With Buckner up next, Cardinals manager Vern Rapp called for Hrabosky to relieve Rasmussen.

Fastball hitter

Before delivering a pitch to Buckner, Hrabosky went into his “Mad Hungarian” routine, turning his back on the batter and doing a self-psyching meditation before pounding the ball into his mitt and whirling around to face his foe.

Herman Franks, in his first season as Cubs manager, said to the Associated Press, “I’d never seen that ‘Mad Russian’ act before. That’s got to be embarrasing when it doesn’t work.”

After Hrabosky got ahead on the count, 1-and-2, catcher Ted Simmons went to the mound and urged him to throw a pitch down and away to Buckner, hoping he’d chase it and strike out, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Instead, the ball bounced to the plate and Simmons blocked it to keep Sutter from scoring from third.

Buckner looked for a fastball on the next pitch, got it and lined it into the right-field seats for a three-run home run. The Cubs added a run in the ninth against Rawly Eastwick and won, 4-0. Boxscore

The home run was Buckner’s second of the season.

“Most of my homers this season have gone foul,” he said, “but I was ready for this fastball and got it just right.”

Buckner’s two best seasons against the Cardinals were in 1980 and 1983 with the Cubs. In 1980, he batted .313 versus the Cardinals, with 21 hits in 17 games, and in 1983 his batting average against them was .359, with 28 hits in 18 games.

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After saying adios to the Cardinals, pitchers Max Lanier and Fred Martin and infielder Lou Klein returned from exile three years later and helped the club challenge the Dodgers in a down-to-the-wire National League pennant race.

Seventy years ago, on June 5, 1949, baseball commissioner Happy Chandler granted amnesty to 18 major-league players and six minor-leaguers who defected to the Mexican League, lifting their five-year bans and allowing them to apply for reinstatement to professional baseball in the United States.

The trio of Cardinals who defected _ Lanier, Martin and Klein _ all asked to come back and the Cardinals agreed.

“They’ve been punished enough and we’ll be glad to give them a chance to prove they’re still major leaguers,” Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Crossing the border

In 1946, Lanier, Martin and Klein broke their contracts with the Cardinals and jumped to the rival Mexican League in pursuit of more lucrative salaries. Chandler banned them all from returning to professional baseball in the U.S. for five years.

In addition to the three Cardinals, the most prominent defectors were Giants pitcher Sal Maglie and Dodgers catcher and former Cardinal Mickey Owen.

Lanier, Martin and another defector, Giants outfielder Danny Gardella, filed lawsuits against Major League Baseball, challenging the legality of the reserve clause that bound a player to the team holding his contract.

In explaining why he lifted the bans on the defectors, Chandler said he decided “to temper justice with mercy,” United Press reported.

Roster revamp

On the day Chandler granted amnesty, the Cardinals beat the Braves, improving their record to 23-19 and putting them 1.5 games behind the first-place Giants. The Cardinals figured to get a boost from the three Mexican League refugees.

Lanier, 33, was a left-handed pitcher who debuted with the Cardinals in 1938 and developed into a consistent winner. He posted records of 15-7 in 1943 and 17-12 in 1944 for pennant-winning Cardinals clubs. His ERA of 1.90 in 1943 was best in the National League. Lanier also was the winning pitcher for the Cardinals against the Browns in the Game 6 championship clincher of the 1944 World Series.

In 1946, Lanier was 6-0 with a 1.93 ERA for the Cardinals when he joined Martin and Klein in bolting to the Mexican League in May.

Martin, 33, was a right-handed pitcher who was 2-1 with a 4.08 ERA as a Cardinals rookie in 1946.

Klein, 30, was a second baseman who debuted with the Cardinals in 1943 and had a big rookie season, batting .287 with 180 hits. In 1946, he was the Cardinals’ Opening Day second baseman before he slumped and was replaced by Red Schoendienst.

Dyer envisioned Lanier as a starting pitcher for the 1949 Cardinals, with Martin in the bullpen and Klein backing up Schoendienst at second and Marty Marion at shortstop.

“I don’t know of any player on the club who holds anything against them and won’t be happy to see them come back,” Cardinals outfielder Stan Musial said to the St. Louis Star-Times.

Helping hands

All three prodigal Cardinals helped the club in 1949. Lanier won five consecutive decisions between Aug. 28 and Sept. 21. Martin, who moved into the starting rotation, was 3-0 in August and 2-0 in September. Klein batted .323 with runners in scoring position.

In August 1949, Lanier and Martin dropped their antitrust suit against Organized Baseball. Two months later, Gardella also discontinued his lawsuit and signed with the Cardinals as a free agent.

On Sept. 20, 1949, after Martin improved his record to 6-0 with a win against the Phillies, the Cardinals were in first place, 1.5 games ahead of the Dodgers. Boxscore

The next day, Sept. 21, 1949, the Dodgers and Cardinals played a doubleheader at St. Louis. Lanier pitched a five-hit shutout in the opener and the Cardinals won, 1-0. Boxscore

The Dodgers won the second game, 5-0, behind the pitching of Preacher Roe, a former Cardinal, and a two-run triple by Luis Olmo, one of the defectors to the Mexican League who was allowed back. Boxscore.

After losing five of their next seven, the Cardinals went into the last day of the regular season a game behind the first-place Dodgers.

The Cardinals won their finale, 13-5 versus the Cubs at Chicago, but the Dodgers also won, beating the Phillies, 9-7, at Philadelphia on 10th-inning RBI-singles by Olmo and Duke Snider, and clinched the pennant. Boxscore

As for the trio who came back to the Cardinals from Mexico:

_ Lanier had a son, Hal Lanier, who became a major-league infielder for the Giants and Yankees, a coach with the Cardinals from 1981-85 and manager of the Astros from 1986-88.

_ Martin became a Cubs pitching instructor and taught the split-fingered pitch to prospect Bruce Sutter, who went on to a Hall of Fame career highlighted by his stint with the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals.

_ Klein managed the Cubs for parts of 1961-62 and 1965.

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A different role in a different league revived the playing career of outfielder Vic Davalillo.

Fifty years ago, on May 30, 1969, Davalillo was traded by the Angels to the Cardinals for outfielder Jim Hicks.

Davalillo had been a starter in the American League since making his major-league debut with the Indians in 1963. He won a Gold Glove Award in 1964 and was an all-star in 1965.

The Cardinals acquired him to be a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder and it was a role Davalillo, 32, embraced. A left-handed batter, he developed into a premier pinch-hitter and played in the major leagues until September 1980 when he was 44 years old.

Power arm

Davalillo, a native of Venezuela, followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Pompeyo “Yo-Yo” Davalillo, who was a shortstop in the American League for the 1953 Senators.

The Reds signed Vic as a left-handed pitcher and he began his professional career in their minor-league system in 1958. He had a 16-7 record and 2.45 ERA for Palatka of the Florida State League in 1959. He also batted .291.

After the 1961 season, the Reds sold Davalillo’s contract to the Indians, who converted him into an outfielder. Though Davalillo was slight at 5 feet 7 and 150 pounds, he had a powerful throwing arm and made consistent contact at the plate.

After batting .346 with 200 hits as an outfielder for Jacksonville of the International League in 1962, Davalillo became the starting center fielder for the American League Indians in 1963. His best big-league season was 1965 when he hit .301 with 26 stolen bases for the Indians.

On June 15, 1968, the Indians traded Davalillo to the Angels for power hitter Jimmie Hall. Davalillo led the 1968 Angels in batting average (.298) and stolen bases (17).

Health problems

Davalillo returned to Venezuela after the 1968 big-league season and played winter ball there until he was stricken with what was described as “nervous exhaustion and a stomach disorder,” The Sporting News reported. He spent two weeks in a hospital.

“Everything seemed to make me ill,” Davalillo said. “Then I began to worry and soon I was very nervous.”

When Davalillo got to spring training with the Angels in 1969, he struggled to perform at the level he was accustomed.

In March 1969, the Angels offered to deal Davalillo and others to the Senators for slugger Frank Howard, according to The Sporting News, but when the Senators countered by asking for a different package of players the Angels refused.

Davalillo opened the regular season by going hitless in his first 13 at-bats for the Angels. On May 2, Royals rookie Dick Drago threw a brushback pitch at Davalillo, who responded by going toward the mound while carrying the bat at his side. Royals catcher Jim Campanis grabbed Davalillo from behind and prevented an incident.

Versatile player

Davalillo was batting .155 in 33 games when the Angels dealt him to the Cardinals. The Los Angeles Times described him as “a major disappointment, a man beset with personal problems.”

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine made the deal because he projected Davalillo as “a qualified backup man for Curt Flood in center field” who provided the club “something it was sadly lacking _ a fleet pinch-hitter,” The Sporting News reported.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St Louis Post-Dispatch, “You can do a lot of things with him because he can run well and play anywhere in the outfield and also do a good job of pinch-hitting.”

The Angels were happy to get Hicks, 28, in exchange for Davalillo because he gave them a potential power bat. Though Hicks batted .182 in 19 games for the 1969 Cardinals, he led the Pacific Coast League in hitting (.366) in 1968 when he played for Tulsa.

Both Davalillo and Hicks got off to storybook starts with their new teams.

On June 1, 1969, in his first at-bat as a Cardinal, Davalillo hit a three-run home run against Reds left-hander Gerry Arrigo at St. Louis. “I’ll say one thing about the little guy _ he takes a good cut and hits the ball hard,” said Schoendienst. Boxscore

Two days later, playing in his second game as an Angel, Hicks delivered his first hit for them _ a two-run home run against John Hiller of the Tigers at Anaheim. Boxscore

Hit man

The deal worked out much better for the Cardinals than it did the Angels.

Hicks batted .083 in 37 games for the 1969 Angels and ended his big-league career with four at-bats for the 1970 Angels.

Davalillo produced five hits in his first eight at-bats as a Cardinal. On July 2, 1969, pinch-hitting for Julian Javier, Davalillo hit a grand slam against Mets reliever Ron Taylor, a former Cardinal who was Davalillo’s teammate with Jacksonville in 1962. Boxscore

Davalillo batted .265 in 63 games for the 1969 Cardinals.

In 1970, Davalillo returned to the Cardinals and hit .311 in 111 games. He was amazing in the clutch, batting .393 with runners in scoring position and .727 (8-for-11) with the bases loaded. As a pinch-hitter in 1970, Davalillo batted .324, with 23 hits.

In his book, “Stranger to the Game,” Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson described Davalillo as “a skilled veteran, a popular teammate and in 1970 the best pinch-hitter in the National League.”

Gibson also told an anecdote about a day in Chicago when Davalillo’s friends “had to bring him directly to the ballpark after a long night of festivities.”

“When we saw the condition Davalillo was in, we dressed him, pulled him up the dugout steps and took him to the bullpen where we could cover him with warmup jackets,” Gibson said.

Davalillo quietly napped in the bullpen until late in the game when Schoendienst, unaware of Davalillo’s condition, told coach Dick Sisler he wanted Davalillo as a pinch-hitter. Sisler suggested Schoendienst try someone else, but the manager was insistent.

Davalillo “had a habit of picking up his right foot when he swung the bat,” Gibson recalled, “and when he picked up his foot to swing at the first pitch that day, a strong gust of wind came up and blew him right on his ass.”

As Davalillo lay sprawled across the batter’s box, Sisler said to Schoendienst, “I told you you didn’t want Davalillo.”

On Jan. 29, 1971, the Cardinals traded Davalillo and pitcher Nelson Briles to the Pirates for outfielder Matty Alou and pitcher George Brunet. Davalillo hit .285 for the 1971 Pirates and helped them win the World Series championship.

The 1971 World Series was the first of four in which Davalillo would play. He also played in the World Series in 1973 with the Athletics and in 1977 and 1978 with the Dodgers.

Davalillo finished his major-league career with a .279 batting average and 1,122 hits, including 95 as a pinch-hitter.

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On the night he pitched an immaculate inning, Bob Gibson also was perfect at the plate.

An immaculate inning is defined as using the minimum number of pitches, nine, to strike out the minimum number of batters, three.

Fifty years ago, on May 12, 1969, Gibson faced three Dodgers batters in the seventh inning and struck out each on three pitches. He also produced three singles and a walk in four plate appearances, scored a run and stole a base in the Cardinals’ 6-2 victory at St. Louis.

“Gibson did everything but put in AstroTurf,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch marveled.

Gibson is one of two Cardinals to pitch an immaculate inning. The other is Jason Isringhausen, who struck out Daryle Ward, Jose Vizcaino and Julio Lugo in order on nine pitches in the ninth inning of a 2-1 Cardinals triumph over the Astros on April 13, 2002, at St. Louis. Boxscore

9 perfect pitches

Gibson, 33, achieved his feat versus the trio of Len Gabrielson, Paul Popovich and John Miller. Gabrielson, a left-handed batter, and Popovich, a switch-hitter batting left, both struck out swinging. Miller, a right-handed batter substituting for starting pitcher Claude Osteen, struck out looking.

“I was throwing hard. All of them were good pitches,” Gibson said to the Post-Dispatch. “Good and low, most of them. Right on the corners. I don’t do that. Not nine straight pitches.”

Cardinals catcher Joe Torre said, “I’d just like to know what that Miller kid was thinking when Gibson shook me off twice on an 0-and-2 pitch. He shook me off a slider and then he shook off a curve. Then I called for a fastball and that’s what Gibson wanted. The kid took it.”

Gibson pitched a seven-hitter, struck out six and “proved he is just as good as ever _ and that’s almost as good as a pitcher can be,” the Los Angeles Times declared.

He told the Post-Dispatch he ached after throwing 123 pitches and the pain “starts here _ at the tip of my fingers _ and works up the arm and then into the shoulder and around down my side and all the way down to here _ my toes.”

Hit and run

Gibson made the Dodgers hurt for intentionally walking Steve Huntz, batting .083, to load the bases with two outs in the fourth. Gibson followed by drilling a two-run single, extending the Cardinals’ lead to 3-0.

“You have to drive in the runs yourself sometimes,” Gibson said.

In the seventh, Gibson scored on Julian Javier’s two-run single against Alan Foster.

With the Cardinals ahead, 6-2, in the eighth, Gibson worked a one-out walk from former teammate Pete Mikkelsen and swiped second. It was his second stolen base of the season and one of five steals for Gibson in 1969. He had 13 stolen bases in his Cardinals career. Boxscore

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