Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Jody Davis was with the Cardinals when he experienced a life-threatening health crisis, recovered and got on a fast track to the major leagues.

Forty years ago, on Dec. 10, 1979, the Cardinals traded pitcher Ray Searage to the Mets for Davis, a catcher.

Three months later, in March 1980, Davis was in the Cardinals’ spring training clubhouse when he began coughing up blood. Bleeding internally, he was rushed to a hospital, lost large amounts of blood and underwent two surgeries.

By June 1980, Davis was playing for a Cardinals farm club. The next year, he made his big-league debut against the Cardinals.

Peach state product

Davis was born in Gainesville, Ga., and started playing organized baseball when he was 9. He excelled at baseball and basketball in high school. Davis continued playing baseball at Middle Georgia Junior College and was a freshman when the Mets drafted him in 1976.

Davis played four seasons (1976-79) in the Mets’ farm system. In 1979, he hit .296 with 21 home runs and 91 RBI for Jackson of the Class AA Texas League.

The Cardinals, planning to keep their best catching prospect, Terry Kennedy, in the big leagues in 1980, were seeking a catcher for the top level of their farm system. The Mets agreed to trade them Davis for Searage, a left-hander who was 10-4 with a 2.22 ERA for Arkansas of the Texas League in 1979.

Searage eventually played seven seasons in the majors and was Pirates pitching coach for 10 years (2010-19).

Intestinal issues

Davis attended 1980 spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., with the Cardinals and was glad to be in their organization. “I didn’t think too highly of the Mets,” he told the St. Petersburg Times. “The Cardinals are so much nicer. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the difference between night and day.”

On March 20, 1980, Davis played in a “B” squad game in St. Petersburg and was hit in the shoulder by a foul tip. He went to the hospital for X-rays, was released and went to Al Lang Stadium, the Cardinals’ spring training home.

Inside the clubhouse, Davis, 23, became ill and vomited blood. When paramedics arrived, Cardinals third baseman Ken Reitz helped them lift Davis’ stretcher up the steps.

At the hospital, doctors determined he had a stomach ulcer and decided to operate.

“I guess I must have had one at one time because they found some scar tissue there,” Davis told the Chicago Tribune. “At any rate, they removed one-fourth of my stomach.”

The next morning, in his hospital room, Davis vomited blood again. A second surgery was performed the next day.

“Just beneath my stomach, they found an artery that was leaking, that never had developed properly,” Davis said. “So they cut away about six inches of it, attached the loose ends and sewed me up again.”

Throughout the three-day ordeal, doctors gave him transfusions totaling four gallons of blood, Davis said.

“I guess I’m lucky to be around,” he said.

Almost everyone on the Cardinals’ roster either donated blood or committed to do so to a St. Petersburg blood bank that provided about 30 pints to Davis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Back in action

Davis spent three weeks in the hospital before returning home to Georgia to continue his recuperation.

On June 22, 1980, Davis played in his first game since his surgeries. Catching and batting fifth for the Cardinals’ Class A St. Petersburg farm club, he had a hit and a RBI against Winter Haven.

“I’ve had to start all over,” Davis said to the St. Petersburg Times. “I lost 40 pounds in the hospital. When I was recovering, I could only walk a short distance.”

Davis played in 45 games for St. Petersburg and hit .277 with six home runs. On Aug. 6, 1980, he advanced to the Cardinals’ Class AAA team in Springfield, Ill., and played in 13 games.

When the Cardinals failed to protect Davis on their 40-man winter roster, the Cubs claimed him for $25,000 in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 8, 1980.

Rapid rise

The Cubs had to include Davis on their 1981 Opening Day roster or offer the Cardinals the chance to take him back for $12,500. Cubs general manager Bob Kennedy, father of catcher Terry Kennedy, liked what he saw of Davis in spring training and decided to keep him.

“As a catcher, his style reminds me a lot of Sherm Lollar,” Kennedy said, referring to the White Sox all-star of the 1950s and 1960s.

Davis was the Cubs’ third-string catcher behind Barry Foote and Tim Blackwell. Among his Cubs teammates was Ken Reitz, who had helped him while he lay bleeding in the Cardinals’ clubhouse a year earlier.

On April 21, 1981, 13 months after his surgeries, Davis made his major-league debut as the starting catcher for the Cubs against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

A week later, the Cubs traded Foote to the Yankees. In June, Davis became the Cubs’ starting catcher.

“Everyone on the club is surprised by this unbridled rookie’s raw talent, potential and aggressiveness,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist John Husar.

Davis had a powerful throwing arm and was adept at working with pitchers.

“I’m just amazed at his maturity,” said Cubs pitcher Doug Bird. “He seems to know more about the other batters than you expect from a rookie.”

Pitcher Doug Capilla said, “I have confidence in him any time, any situation, any pitch. He’s not afraid to call a breaking pitch with two strikes and the bases loaded. He gives pitchers a personal assurance that what he calls will be good.”

Davis played for the Cubs from 1981-88 and for the Braves from 1988-90. In 1984, when the Cubs won a division title, Davis contributed 19 home runs and 94 RBI.

Davis twice was a National League all-star (1984 and 1986) and he won a Gold Glove Award (1986).

Read Full Post »

Bobby Bonds, expected to bring power and balance to the lineup, symbolized the dysfunction of the 1980 Cardinals.

Forty years ago, on Dec. 7, 1979, the Cardinals acquired Bonds from the Indians for pitcher John Denny and outfielder Jerry Mumphrey.

An outfielder, Bonds figured to join George Hendrick to give the Cardinals two right-handed sluggers to balance a lineup with switch-hitters Ted Simmons and Garry Templeton and batting champion Keith Hernandez, who hit left-handed.

Bonds, who had 25 home runs and 34 stolen bases for the 1979 Indians, was projected to play left field and replace Lou Brock, who retired.

The deal was a dud. Bonds, 34, injured his right wrist early in the season and couldn’t hit for average or power. The 1980 Cardinals, who fired their manager and general manager during the season, finished 74-88.

All in the family

Bobby Lee Bonds was born in Riverside, Calif. His father was a plasterer. Bonds had three siblings. An older brother, Robert Vernon Bonds Jr., was a receiver and defensive back at San Jose State, got selected by the St. Louis football Cardinals in the fifth round of the 1965 NFL draft and played in Canada. A sister, Rosie, was a hurdler for the U.S. in the 1964 Olympics.

Bonds excelled in baseball, football and track in high school and became a state long jump champion. He married at 17 and became a father at 18 when his son, future home run champion Barry Bonds, was born in July 1964. A month later, with a wife and child to support, Bonds signed an $8,000 contract with the Giants.

The Giants sent Bonds to their farm club in Lexington, N.C., in 1965. Disheartened by the racism he encountered, Bonds wanted to quit, but Lexington manager Max Lanier, the former Cardinals pitcher, became his trusted mentor and advisor. Bonds stayed and began his rise through the Giants’ system.

On June 25, 1968, Bonds made his major-league debut against the Dodgers at Candlestick Park and hit a grand slam. Boxscore He formed a friendship with the Giants’ shortstop, Hal Lanier, Max’s son.

Mixed reviews

Bonds had special skills. He and Willie Mays were the first players to achieve 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases in their careers. Bonds won three Gold Glove awards and three times was an all-star.

He also struck out a lot and drank a lot. Bonds twice was arrested for drunk driving and had another arrest for an altercation with a police officer. Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, “When the poor guy did drink too much, as one sympathetic soul put it, he must have gone looking for a policeman.” After his playing days, Bonds joined Alcoholics Anonymous, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

Bonds played for six teams (Giants, Yankees, Angels, White Sox, Rangers and Indians) in six years (1974-79). In July 1979, he told the Indians he wanted to be traded unless they increased his yearly salary from $440,000 to $672,000. Indians fans responded with a barrage of boos. In September 1979, Bonds made an obscene gesture to a fan and was fined.

Asked about Bonds’ controversies, Cardinals general manager John Claiborne told The Sporting News, “I don’t know about his history and I don’t care. He has produced and that’s all I’m concerned about.”

Cardinals manager Ken Boyer said Bonds will “make a big difference in our offense” and “with Bonds’ arm, you’re going to see things defensively you haven’t seen in a while.”

Indians outfielder Rick Manning viewed Bonds differently, saying, “Bobby wouldn’t hit the cutoff man if he were King Kong.”

Bonds predicted, “If I just do what’s average, it should be enough to win the pennant and get in the World Series.” He also cautioned, “If it doesn’t go the way they expect it to go with the Cardinals, I’ll be the first one gone.”

A season unravels

Bonds preferred uniform No. 25, but in St. Louis it belonged to Hendrick, so Bonds became the first Cardinal to wear No. 00.

Boyer began the 1980 season with Bonds batting fifth in the order between Simmons and Hendrick.

On April 17, 1980, in Bonds’ seventh game with the Cardinals, he was hit on the right wrist by a pitch from the Pirates’ Eddie Solomon. Boxscore

Bonds continued to play, but the damaged wrist hampered his swing and he was committing too soon on breaking balls. On May 18, 1980, after striking out three times in a game against the Giants, Bonds asked Boyer to send someone to bat for him when his turn came again in the ninth. Boxscore

“Bonds swung a bat that resembled a fly swatter,” wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Tom Barnidge.

With the Cardinals’ record at 18-33, Boyer was fired in June 1980 and replaced by Whitey Herzog, who benched Bonds against right-handed pitching.

Bonds said he was experiencing “the most frustrating season of my life. I want to contribute and I haven’t been. I have no criticism of Whitey.”

On July 21, 1980, Bonds went on the 15-day disabled list. When he returned, he cut a finger on his right hand trying to get an item off a room service tray.

Claiborne was fired in August 1980 and one reason cited was the trade for Bonds.

Bonds hit no home runs after July 13 and had no hits after Aug. 18. He finished his Cardinals season with a .203 batting average, five home runs and 15 stolen bases. He batted .145 against right-handers.

On Dec. 22, 1980, after failing to trade Bonds, the Cardinals released him.

He played for the Cubs in 1981, his final big-league season, and twice in a span of three days, Sept. 7 Boxscore and Sept. 9 Boxscore, hit two home runs in a game against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

Read Full Post »

Outfielder Bob Nieman, who made an unprecedented debut with the Browns, returned to St. Louis as an accomplished hitter with the Cardinals.

Sixty years ago, on Dec. 2, 1959, the Cardinals acquired Nieman from the Orioles for outfielder-catcher Gene Green, plus minor-league catcher Chuck Staniland.

Eight years earlier, Nieman became the first player to hit home runs in his first two major-league at-bats. Since then, the only other player to do it is the Cardinals’ Keith McDonald.

A right-handed batter, Nieman appealed to the Cardinals because he hit left-handers well and “southpaws have been a constant plague” to them, The Sporting News reported.

Marty Marion, the former Cardinals shortstop who was Nieman’s teammate with the Browns, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He’s only a mediocre outfielder and he’s a hypochondriac, but, man, he can whale that ball.”

Overcoming hurdles

Nieman was born in Cincinnati and began going to Reds games when he was 3 with his father, a semi-pro catcher.

Nieman developed into a baseball catcher and football fullback in high school. After graduation, he joined the Army, was stationed in France and got pneumonia. The drugs used to treat him damaged his kidneys and he developed nephritis. Given a medical discharge, Nieman returned home, recovered, married his high school sweetheart and tried out with the Reds.

After Nieman signed a minor-league contract with the Reds, a tumor was discovered in his right arm and he underwent surgery. When he healed, the Reds converted him from catcher to outfielder. In 1948, his first minor-league season, Nieman hit .367.

During his off-seasons in the minors, Nieman pursued a college education at Kent State. Nieman was studying journalism in the hope of being a sports reporter and his wife, Patricia, was majoring in advertising.

“Next to actual participation, I can think of no life more enjoyable than watching games and being paid to do so,” Nieman said.

In June 1951, the Reds determined they had a surplus of outfielders in the minors and placed Neiman on waivers. He was claimed by Oklahoma City, an unaffiliated team in the Texas League. Nieman led the league in hitting (.324) and his contract was purchased by the Browns.

Boston fireworks

Nieman, 24, joined the Browns in Boston. Manager Zack Taylor didn’t plan to play him, but changed his mind when the Red Sox started a left-hander, Mickey McDermott. Nieman played left field and batted fifth in the Friday afternoon game on Sept. 14, 1951, at Fenway Park.

When he came to bat for the first time as a big-leaguer in the second inning, Nieman hit a solo home run. In his second at-bat in the third, he hit a two-run home run. According to the Post-Dispatch, those were the only pitches he swung at in those at-bats.

“This is really the day of my life,” Nieman said.

He almost got upstaged in the eighth when Satchel Paige, 45, relieved for the Browns and faced Ted Williams. With the count 0-and-2, Williams moved up in the batter’s box, expecting an off-speed pitch. Paige fired a fastball and Williams swung and missed, striking out.

When Williams got to the dugout, he “smashed his bat into pieces,” the Boston Globe reported. “He first whacked it against the railing leading to the dressing room. When that didn’t suffice, Williams flung the bat toward the rack. He still wasn’t satisfied, so he smashed it on the floor of the dugout. That ended the bat’s worth for good.”

Watching from the mound, Paige “was laughing his head off,” the Globe noted.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in the big leagues,” Paige said. “He was sore because I crossed him up.”

Asked about Nieman’s performance, Paige said the burly rookie “is just a lot of boy. Leans into that ball pretty good and hits the pitch where it is.” Boxscore

Designated hitter

Nieman hit .372 in 12 games for the 1951 Browns. The next year, he led the 1952 Browns in batting average (.289), home runs (18) and RBI (74), but they traded him to the Tigers after the season. Nieman played for the Tigers (1953-54), White Sox (1955-56) and Orioles (1956-59). He batted .322 for the Orioles in 1956 and .325 in 1958.

In 1959, when Nieman hit .292 with 21 home runs for the Orioles, The Sporting News described him as “a terror at the bat but sometimes frightful in the field.” Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch suggested Nieman “thought defense was the time to rest.”

The Cardinals got Nieman for his hitting, not his fielding. He batted .287 in 81 games in 1960 and had an on-base percentage of .372.

Among his highlights:

_ A home run against Sandy Koufax in a 2-0 triumph over the Dodgers on Aug. 21. Boxscore

_ A double, triple and home run for four RBI against Dick Ellsworth in a 4-3 victory versus the Cubs on Sept. 4. Boxscore

_ A ninth-inning home run against Johnny Podres to force extra innings against the Dodgers on Sept. 21. Boxscore

In 1961, Nieman, 34, was hitting .471 (8-for-17) when the Cardinals traded him to the Indians on May 10. The Cardinals made the deal because they wanted to give more playing time to Charlie James, 23, who they were grooming to replace Stan Musial in left.

“At least Nieman has the consolation of being one of the few .471 hitters ever traded,” the Post-Dispatch concluded.

Nieman said, “I certainly hate to leave this club. I mean it when I say this is the finest outfit I’ve ever been associated with.”

As he departed, Nieman wrote a message on the blackboard in the Cardinals’ clubhouse: “Good luck, boys, see you in the World Series.”

The Cardinals didn’t reach the World Series in 1961, but Nieman did a year later. After hitting .354 in 39 games for the Indians in 1961, they traded him to the Giants the next year and Nieman appeared in the 1962 World Series.

Read Full Post »

The Cardinals had visions of featuring a lineup of Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark McGwire.

Twenty years ago, in November 1999, the Cardinals sought to acquire Griffey from the Mariners.

Though Griffey was swapped to the Reds instead, the Cardinals’ pursuit of him was sincere.

Deal me out

After the 1999 season, Griffey, nearing his 30th birthday, told the Mariners he wanted to be traded to a team closer to his home in Orlando, Fla.

Griffey, a center fielder who won 10 Gold Glove awards and four times led the American League in home runs with the Mariners, was eligible to become a free agent in another year.

The Mariners offered him an eight-year contract worth about $140 million, but Griffey rejected it. Unable to keep him beyond 2000, the Mariners opted to trade him rather than lose him to free agency.

Griffey, who debuted with the Mariners when he was 19, had the right to approve or reject any proposed trade. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Griffey’s first choice was to go to Atlanta, “but the Braves decided a deal wouldn’t fit their situation.”

If the National League champion Braves weren’t interested, the Associated Press speculated, the Reds and Mets were the leading contenders. Though Griffey was born in Donora, Pa., the same hometown as Cardinals icon Stan Musial, he grew up in Cincinnati, where his father played as an outfielder on the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s. Ken Griffey Sr. was a Reds coach in 1999.

Twin towers

The Cardinals were intrigued with the idea of acquiring Griffey and putting him in a lineup with McGwire, who in his two full seasons with St. Louis hit 70 and 65 home runs. Griffey twice hit 56 home runs in a season (1997 and 1998) and slugged 48 in 1999.

“We’ve discussed it with the owners and we’re going to look into it,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re going to at least take a look at it to see if we can do it realistically. It might be very tough to do, but people thought we were crazy when we traded for McGwire.”

A few days later, at the general managers meetings in California, Jocketty and manager Tony La Russa met McGwire for dinner and asked him whether he would like the Cardinals to obtain Griffey, who would get a more lucrative contract than the one McGwire had, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“He thought it was great,” Jocketty said.

No go

According to the Seattle Times, the Cardinals were one of four teams “having serious discussions” with the Mariners about Griffey. The others were the Reds, Mets and Astros.

“The Cardinals might be on the short list of teams entertaining serious dreams of obtaining superstar Ken Griffey Jr.,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Mariners “would be certain to ask” for pitcher Rick Ankiel, the Seattle Times reported, but the Post-Dispatch declared, “Jocketty isn’t likely to give him up in any trade.”

According to the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals might consider dealing to the Mariners some combination of third baseman Fernando Tatis, outfielder J.D. Drew, second baseman Adam Kennedy and pitcher Chad Hutchinson.

Eventually, the Mariners’ asking price was too high and the Cardinals backed off.

“We’ve had a couple of discussions, but player-wise it was going to be too rich for us,” Jocketty said. “They were looking for a killing on this deal.”

At the baseball winter meetings in December 1999, the other suitors for Griffey also broke off talks with the Mariners. Refusing to include infielder Pokey Reese in a trade for Griffey, Reds general manager Jim Bowden said, “There’s no chance at all” for a deal.

A month later, the Reds and Mariners resumed trade talks. The Reds insisted a deal would be contingent on Griffey agreeing to a long-term contract and giving up his chance to become a free agent after the 2000 season.

On Feb. 10, 2000, after Griffey accepted a nine-year contract proposal worth $116.5 million, the Mariners traded him to the Reds for four players, including outfielder Mike Cameron and pitcher Brett Tomko.

A month later, on March 23, 2000, the Cardinals acquired Jim Edmonds from the Angels to be their center fielder.

Read Full Post »

With one swing of his exceptionally hot bat, Irv Noren struck back at the team that cast him aside and kept the Cardinals in the thick of the 1957 National League pennant race.

Noren died Nov. 15, 2019, at 94. He was an outfielder for 11 seasons in the major leagues, including five (1952-56) with the Yankees and three (1957-59) with the Cardinals.

A left-handed batter, Noren, 32, was claimed by the Cardinals on Aug. 31, 1957, when he was placed on waivers by the Athletics.

Thought by some to be washed up after undergoing surgeries on both knees and hitting .213 for the 1957 Athletics, Noren went on a tear with the Cardinals and helped them make a run at the first-place Braves in the final month of the season.

American Leaguer

After serving in the Army during World War II, Noren signed with the Dodgers in 1946 and excelled in their farm system for four years.

In 1949, playing for manager Fred Haney with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League, Noren batted .330 with 29 home runs and 130 RBI, but the Dodgers sold his contract to the Washington Senators after the season.

As a rookie with the 1950 Senators, Noren hit .295 with 98 RBI. The Yankees acquired him in May 1952 and Noren was valuable, playing all three outfield spots as well as first base. In 1954, he led the Yankees in batting (.319).

Noren played for the Yankees in three World Series, all against the team that rejected him, the Dodgers.

Hunger to win

The Cardinals were 7.5 games behind the front-running Braves when they acquired Noren. “As long as we’ve got an outside chance to win the pennant, or for that matter, increase our chances of finishing second, we are going to do all we can,” Cardinals general manager Frank Lane told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Braves were managed by Fred Haney, who eight years earlier had managed Noren with the Hollywood Stars.

After being swept by the Reds in a Labor Day doubleheader on Sept. 2, 1957, the Cardinals fell 8.5 games out of first. Then they won 11 of their next 13. Noren helped, getting seven hits in his first 15 at-bats as a Cardinal.

On Sept. 17, 1957, the Dodgers, who had made public their plans to abandon Brooklyn after the season and relocate to Los Angeles, came to St. Louis to open a two-game series against the Cardinals.

For Noren, it would be his first chance to face his original franchise in a regular-season game.

In the seventh inning, the Cardinals led, 6-5, and had the bases loaded with one out. Ken Boyer was due to bat against right-hander Ed Roebuck.

Seeking a hit to break open the game, Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson sent Noren to the plate for Boyer, preferring to have a batter from the left side face Roebuck.

Noren swung at Roebuck’s first pitch and lined it into left-center, clearing the bases with a three-run triple and giving the Cardinals a 9-5 lead.

The Cardinals went on to a 12-5 victory and were three games behind the Braves with 10 play. Boxscore

The triple gave Noren, the Dodgers’ castoff, a .529 batting average as a Cardinal.

“We are a hungry team,” Lane said to the Associated Press.

Helping hand

The Cardinals split their next four games, dropping five behind the Braves. The Braves then won two of three against them in Milwaukee and the deflated Cardinals lost their last three to the Cubs, finishing in second place.

Noren batted .367 (11-for-30) for the 1957 Cardinals and had an on-base percentage of .429. He had 10 RBI in 17 games.

After the season, Noren opened a bowling alley in Pasadena, Calif. When the Cardinals played the Dodgers in their first season in Los Angeles in 1958, Noren had several of his teammates as his guests at the bowling lanes.

Noren hit .264 in 117 games for the 1958 Cardinals. He was traded to the Cubs in May 1959.

Noren was the third-base coach for the Athletics when they won three consecutive World Series championships (1972-74).

Read Full Post »

Jose Cardenal, looking for the right fit for a baseball home after being exiled from his native Cuba, embraced an opportunity to be the center fielder for the Cardinals.

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 21, 1969, the Cardinals acquired Cardenal from the Indians for right fielder Vada Pinson.

The Cardinals got Cardenal to replace Curt Flood, who was traded a month earlier to the Phillies.

“Cardenal won’t hit or field as did Curt Flood, but he’ll run even more rapidly and throw better,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg noted.

Formative years

Cardenal was born and raised in Cuba as the youngest of five children. His father was a carpenter. Cardenal’s brother, Pedro, was an outfielder in the Cardinals’ farm system from 1955-58 but didn’t reach the majors. Cardenal’s cousin, Bert Campaneris, was a big-league shortstop.

As a youth, Cardenal played baseball on fields covered with stones and broken glass. “Some day, I will show you the scar from a cut on my right foot from stepping on a broken bottle,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “I was 9 years old and we played barefoot then.”

The Giants recognized Cardenal’s talent, signed him for $250 and brought him to the United States to begin his career in their farm system. He started out playing second and third before being shifted to the outfield.

In 1961, when Cardenal was 17, he hit .355 with 35 home runs and 108 RBI for El Paso. After the season, he wanted to visit family in Cuba but couldn’t. Cuba and the United States had severed relations and there were no assurances Cardenal would be permitted to leave Cuba if he went there. “Those were lonely, confusing months” for Cardenal, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“When I came to this country from Cuba to play baseball, I couldn’t speak much English,” Cardenal said, “so I ordered ham and eggs or hamburgers all the time. I couldn’t say anything else to eat in English.”

While playing for El Paso in 1963, Cardenal, 19, met a college coed in Tulsa, where the Cardinals had a farm club, and she became his wife.

Multiple skills

When Cardenal made his major-league debut with the Giants in 1963, manager Al Dark thought the rookie bore a facial resemblance to slugger Orlando Cepeda and called him “Junior.” The nickname stuck, but Cardenal didn’t. The Giants traded him to the Angels. After the 1967 season, the Indians, who hired Dark to be their manager, obtained Cardenal.

In 1969, Cardenal produced 143 hits and 36 stolen bases for the Indians. After the Cardinals traded Flood, they considered moving Pinson, 31, from right to center, “but there was a question about whether he could handle the position adequately in a big park such as Busch Stadium,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals preferred Cardenal, 26, who had “a throwing arm that could really skip a ball as fast as he’ll run on the new synthetic surface,” Broeg observed.

At Cardinals spring training in 1970, Cardenal impressed with his baserunning and hitting. After watching Cardenal steal bases in Grapefruit League exhibition games, teammate Lou Brock said, “Jose has good form, good speed and he gets a very good jump.”

Hitting coach Dick Sisler said Cardenal “has good bat control.”

Cardenal’s hitting improved when he choked up on the bat. “That way, I get more wood on the ball,” he said. “I choke up a little more when I have two strikes on me.”

Said Sisler: “By choking extra, he protects the plate all the more. He’s attacking the ball and he’s hitting to all fields.”

Big year

The Cardinals issued uniform No. 1 to Cardenal. Before him, others to wear the number for the Cardinals included Pepper Martin and Whitey Kurowski. The Cardinals retired the number after Ozzie Smith wore it from 1982-96.

Cardenal had a torrid start to his first Cardinals season. In the home opener against the Mets, he had three hits, a RBI and a run scored. In 16 April games, Cardenal batted .353 with 24 hits and 15 runs scored.

He finished the 1970 season with a .293 batting average, 74 RBI and 26 stolen bases and led the club in doubles (32). Cardenal was especially good from the No. 2 spot in the order, batting .350 with a .412 on-base percentage in 44 games.

It was a different story the following year. Cardenal was moved from center to right, hit .243 for the 1971 Cardinals and was traded to the Brewers in July. He returned to the Cardinals in 1994 as a coach on the staff of manager Joe Torre.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »