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Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

The Cardinals took a chance on Carlos Baerga, hoping the second baseman could revive his career, but the experiment didn’t last long because they couldn’t wait for him to lose weight.

Twenty years ago, on Jan. 27, 1999, Baerga, a free agent, signed a one-year contract for $1.25 million with the Cardinals, who needed a second baseman to replace departed free agent Delino DeShields.

Before choosing Baerga, the Cardinals also considered Pat Meares, a Twins shortstop who played second base early in his professional career, but the free agent wanted more than the club was willing to provide, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

With the Mets in 1998, Baerga, 30, had gotten out of shape, limiting his fielding range, but he assured Cardinals manager Tony La Russa he’d come to spring training camp at Jupiter, Fla., ready to play.

The Cardinals, who were grooming prospect Adam Kennedy in the minors, hoped Baerga would be a short-term solution at second base in 1999 until Kennedy was prepared to take over, most likely in 2000.

Ready or not

Baerga, a switch-hitter, made his major league debut with the Indians in 1990 and developed into an elite player.

He batted .312 with 205 hits and 105 RBI for the Indians in 1992 and followed up by batting .321 with 200 hits and 114 RBI in 1993. Baerga also did well in 1994 and 1995, batting .314 each season, but on July 29, 1996, the Indians traded him and utility player Alvaro Espinoza to the Mets for infielders Jeff Kent and Jose Vizcaino.

Baerga didn’t have the kind of success with the Mets he had with the Indians. He batted .266 with 53 RBI for the 1998 Mets before becoming a free agent.

The Reds and Angels wanted Baerga but he chose the Cardinals after La Russa called him multiple times during the winter and encouraged him to sign.

“He’s a premier guy who went in the opposite direction and he’s determined to get back the respect he had,” La Russa said to the Post-Dispatch.

La Russa conceded Baerga “gave the appearance of being a little listless mentally and physically” with the Mets, but “we’ve had it confirmed that he’s really working hard. I think he’s anxious to reassert himself.”

Said Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty: “We understand he still makes the double play very well. He always has. It’s just a question of whether he has enough range to make the plays.”

Post-Dispatch columnist Jeff Gordon was skeptical, asking, “Has there been any thought given to sending Baerga out to play second base on skates?” and colleague Bernie Miklasz concluded, “This is the end of the line for Baerga. If he doesn’t turn his career around in St. Louis, it’s over. So he should be motivated.”

Weight watchers

When Baerga reported to Cardinals training camp, he was listed as carrying 215 pounds on a 5-foot-11 frame.

In exhibition games, Baerga produced two hits in 15 at-bats, twisted an ankle and, according to the Post-Dispatch, “impressed no one.”

On March 17, 1999, Baerga was released by the Cardinals because “he was too heavy and too slow,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

“He just wasn’t in shape,” said Jocketty. “He was overweight. I was disappointed with that weight. He just wasn’t able to move as well as you need to (as) a middle infielder.”

Said Baerga: “This has been my body all of my life, but when spring training is over I’m always down to where I want to be. I don’t think I hurt my defense. I didn’t miss any balls. I still make all the plays.”

La Russa met with Baerga and told him “if he could just pick up that step or two, he could have plenty of career ahead of him, but at this point, it’s not there.”

Six days later, on March 23, 1999, Baerga signed a minor-league contract with the Reds.

Baseball journeyman

Placido Polanco was the 1999 Opening Day second baseman for the Cardinals. Joe McEwing eventually got most of the starts before Kennedy was called up in late August and given a look.

Baerga played in 52 games for the Reds’ farm club at Indianapolis before he requested his release. He signed with the Padres, played 21 games for their Las Vegas farm club and was called up to the big leagues in late June 1999.

On Aug. 2, 1999, Baerga started at second base for the Padres against the Cardinals at St. Louis, produced a single in four at-bats and fielded cleanly. It was his only start in the four-game series. Boxscore.

Baerga batted .250 in 33 games for the Padres before his contract was sold to the Indians on Aug. 16, 1999.

Baerga sat out the 2000 season, played in Korea and with the Long Island Ducks in 2001, and returned to the big leagues with the Red Sox in 2002. He went on to play for the Diamondbacks in 2003 and 2004 and with the Nationals in 2005.

In 14 major-league seasons, Baerga batted .291 with 1,583 hits.

After the 1999 season, the Cardinals acquired Fernando Vina from the Brewers to play second base in 2000.

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At Florida State, James Ramsey was compared with Tim Tebow, but, like his University of Florida counterpart, the Cardinals prospect learned success in professional baseball requires more than faith.

On Jan. 7, 2019, Ramsey was hired to be the hitting coach for the Georgia Tech baseball team.

Seven years earlier, on June 4, 2012, Ramsey was selected by the Cardinals in the first round of the amateur draft.

The Cardinals in 2012 had two first-round picks followed by three supplemental selections before the start of the second round. Pitcher Michael Wacha, outfielder Stephen Piscotty and third baseman Patrick Wisdom made it to the major leagues. Ramsey and catcher Steve Bean did not.

Moving up

Ramsey, an outfielder who batted left-handed, was a standout high school athlete in suburban Atlanta. His father Craig and mother Mary were Florida State alumni and both played sports in college. Craig was a baseball player and Mary played tennis.

James followed his parents to Florida State and excelled at baseball. After his junior season, Ramsey was selected in the 22nd round of the 2011 amateur draft by the Twins, who wanted to convert him into a second baseman, but he rejected their offer of $500,000.

Ramsey spent the summer of 2011 playing in the Cape Cod League on the same team with Piscotty and batted .314.

In 2012, his senior season at Florida State, Ramsey hit .378 with an on-base percentage of .513 and was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. He also earned a degree in finance.

Based on his Cape Cod League performance in 2011 and his Florida State success in 2012, Ramsey raised his ranking as a pro prospect in the 2012 draft.

“He was considered the top senior hitter in the draft,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Skills test

The Cardinals had the 19th pick in the first round as compensation for the Angels’ signing of free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols and also had the 23rd selection. Wacha was their first choice and Ramsey their second.

After 30 total picks were made in the first round, a supplemental round of 30 more picks was held to provide further compensation to clubs losing free agents.

The Cardinals chose Piscotty 36th overall for the loss of Pujols, Wisdom 52nd overall for the loss of Octavio Dotel to the Tigers and Bean 59th overall for the loss of Edwin Jackson to the Nationals.

Scouts were split on whether Ramsey, 6 feet, 190 pounds, should remain an outfielder or move to second base.

Ramsey “doesn’t appear to possess any off-the-chart skills,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “He is considered to have above-average speed, but with an average arm and average power.”

After the Cardinals chose him, Ramsey told the Orlando Sentinel, “I am not going to be the sexiest prospect that comes along. I am not going to be the 6-foot-5, 220-pound guy, but I am a winner and that’s the kind of guy they want in their organization.”

Ramsey was captain of his college team and, according to the Post-Dispatch, “Scouts have called Ramsey the Tim Tebow of Florida State baseball for his leadership and strong Christian faith.”

Tebow, the former Florida quarterback, tried professional baseball after his NFL career and batted .244 in the minor leagues. Tebow, 31, entered 2019 still seeking a call to the majors.

Stiff competition

The Cardinals gave Ramsey a $1.6 million signing bonus in June 2012 and assigned him to Class A Palm Beach, where he hit .229 in 56 games as a center fielder.

In 2013, Ramsey played for three teams in the Cardinals’ system, but he primarily was with Class AA Springfield, Mo., whose manager was Mike Schildt. Ramsey’s overall statistics for 2013 included a .256 batting mark, 16 home runs and a .373 on-base percentage.

Ramsey was back with Springfield in 2014 and played again for Schildt, who, four years later, would become manager of the Cardinals.

“I can improve in a lot of facets in my game, but one thing I’ve been trying to focus on is the mental side,” Ramsey said to MiLB.com in May 2014. “If I can be the most relentless competitor everyday when I show up to the field, I’m going to give myself a good chance to succeed.”

Ramsey hit .300 with 13 home runs and a .389 on-base percentage in 67 games for Springfield in 2014, but he was unable to break through to Class AAA because the Cardinals had higher-rated outfield prospects such as Piscotty, Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk and Charlie Tilson.

Of those, Tilson was the most like Ramsey. “There’s no question Tilson’s emergence made Ramsey more expendable,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz observed. “Ramsey’s path to Busch Stadium was clogged.”

Down on the farm

On July 30, 2014, the Cardinals traded Ramsey to the Indians for pitcher Justin Masterson.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak called it “dealing from an area of depth,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said Ramsey “has a good approach at the plate with a little bit of power and he’s a guy we think will contribute at the major-league level,” according to the Akron Beacon-Journal.

The Indians gave Ramsey a chance at Class AAA and he hit .243 with 12 home runs for their Columbus club in 2015.

In April 2016, the Indians sold Ramsey’s contract to the Dodgers, who assigned him to a farm team. Four months later, the Dodgers dealt Ramsey to the Mariners, who also kept him in the minors.

On April 9, 2017, Ramsey was released by the Mariners and sat out the season. The Twins signed him in December 2017 and he played for two of their farm teams in 2018 before getting released on June 27, 2018.

At 28, Ramsey’s professional playing career was done without getting a chance to play a big-league game.

Florida State hired Ramsey as an assistant baseball coach in August 2018 and he worked there until getting the Georgia Tech offer.

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The Cardinals considered hometown shortstop Jerry Buchek the finest baseball prospect in the St. Louis area in 1959 and thought he could be another Marty Marion.

Buchek, who died Jan. 2, 2019, at 76, was a standout athlete at McKinley High School and excelled in amateur baseball leagues in St. Louis.

On Sept. 10, 1959, Buchek, 17, signed with the Cardinals for $65,000.

Cardinals scouts Joe Monahan and George Hasser recommended Buchek, who was pursued by several other major-league organizations.

“In our opinion, he is the best prospect in the area,” Cardinals minor-league director Walter Shannon said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“He has one of the really outstanding throwing arms in all baseball, an arm like Marty Marion’s was,” Shannon said.

Marion was the shortstop on four pennant-winning Cardinals clubs in the 1940s and was the first National League shortstop to win a Most Valuable Player Award. Marion didn’t hit for power, though, and Buchek did.

“The combination of his ability to field well with ability to hit the ball out of the park makes him desirable,” Monahan said.

Rushed to Wrigley

Buchek spent the 1960 season with Cardinals farm clubs at the Class AA and Class AAA levels and had as many strikeouts (104) as hits (104). The Cardinals assigned him to the Portland Beavers, their Class AAA team in the Pacific Coast League, in 1961.

Soon after he hit home runs in three consecutive games for Portland at Salt Lake City, Buchek, 19, was called up to the Cardinals. He joined them on June 30, 1961, in Chicago, 30 minutes before their afternoon game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and was put in the starting lineup by manager Solly Hemus.

In the eighth inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Buchek got his first big-league RBI when he was hit by a pitch from Don Elston. When Bob Lillis followed with a double, clearing the bases, Buchek scored his first run in the majors, helping the Cardinals to an 11-4 triumph. Boxscore

“We shouldn’t expect too much from Jerry Buchek right now,” Hemus cautioned, “but I do believe he’ll lend a little power.”

Plans change

The Cardinals were a mess when Buchek joined them. The win they got in Buchek’s debut gave them a 31-38 record.

Daryl Spencer opened the 1961 season as the Cardinals’ shortstop, but he was traded to the Dodgers on May 30 for Lillis and outfielder Carl Warwick. Lillis took over at shortstop, but was shifted to second base in mid-June. Hemus tried rookie Julio Gotay and veteran Alex Grammas before the Cardinals decided to give Buchek a shot as the shortstop.

On July 5, 1961, five days after Buchek’s debut, the Cardinals fired Hemus and promoted coach Johnny Keane to replace him. Keane continued to play Buchek as the starting shortstop, but the rookie struggled to hit.

Keane’s support of Buchek drew criticism on July 16, 1961, in a game against the Braves at St. Louis. In the fourth inning, with the Braves ahead 3-0, the Cardinals loaded the bases with one out before Buchek bounced into a double play. Two innings later, with two on and two outs, Buchek struck out, ending another Cardinals threat. He also committed an error and the Braves won, 9-1. Boxscore

After the game, Keane defended Buchek and said he’d remain the everyday shortstop.

Four days later, on July 20, 1961, the Cardinals changed their plan. Buchek, batting .128 after 16 starts at shortstop, was sent back to Portland.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said he and Keane and the coaches agreed to demote Buchek and call up pitcher Ed Bauta, who had a 9-1 record and 1.95 ERA as a Portland reliever.

“We are confident Buchek will become a great shortstop for us,” Devine said, “but we feel he can benefit just as much by playing daily for Portland.”

Years later, in an interview with Mark Simon for the Society for American Baseball Research, Buchek said, “I got a little nervous playing in my hometown.”

Ups and downs

Buchek played well in his return to Portland and when the Pacific Coast League season ended on Sept. 10 he was brought back to the Cardinals and reinserted into the starting lineup.

On Sept. 11, 1961, in his first game back as the starting shortstop, Buchek made three good plays against the Braves, the Post-Dispatch reported. He ranged to his left to snare a shot by Hank Aaron and made a strong throw to get him at first. He went behind the bag at second to start a double play and he made a “brilliant grab” of a smash by Joe Torre. Boxscore

Eight days later, on Sept. 19, 1961, Buchek made a play Keane said he’d never seen before. In the eighth, with a runner on first and two outs, Charlie Smith of the Phillies hit a fly to shallow center. Outfielder Curt Flood and second baseman Julian Javier collided attempting a catch. The ball bounced off Flood and caromed off Javier’s glove, but Buchek, racing over from the shortstop spot, dived and snared the ball before it reached the ground.

“Buchek deserves a lot of credit for being out there,” said Keane. “He didn’t just stand around.”

Buchek made 14 starts in September and October, but continued to struggle at the plate. He batted .133 for the 1961 Cardinals and made 10 errors in 30 starts at shortstop.

“It would be extremely unwise to expect him to play shortstop regularly next season,” wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg.

Buchek spent all of 1962 and most of 1963 in the minors. He played for the Cardinals from 1964-66, singled against Jim Bouton of the Yankees in his lone World Series at-bat in 1964 and was the Opening Day shortstop in 1966 before being replaced as the starter by Dal Maxvill two months later.

On April 1, 1967, in the first trade made by Cardinals general manager Stan Musial, Buchek was dealt to the Mets as part of a package for infielder Eddie Bressoud, outfielder Danny Napoleon and cash.

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Three months after Babe Ruth powered the Yankees to a World Series sweep of the Cardinals, he experienced a shocking personal loss and became enmeshed in scandal with the death of his wife.

Ninety years ago, on Jan. 11, 1929, Babe’s wife, Helen Ruth, was killed in a house fire in Watertown, Massachusetts, near Boston.

Helen resided in the house with a dentist, Edward H. Kinder. Helen and Babe were separated, but not divorced. Neighbors knew Helen as Mrs. Kinder, and had no idea she was Babe’s wife. Edward’s family thought Helen was Edward’s wife, but Helen and Edward weren’t married.

Helen was alone in the house when the fire started, and though authorities determined the fire and Helen’s death were accidental, the tragedy created suspicion and revealed stunning secrets about Babe and his wife.

Young love

Babe made his major-league debut as a pitcher for the Red Sox in July 1914. He rented a hotel room in Boston and frequently took his meals at a luncheonette around the corner. Helen Woodford was a waitress there and she and Babe connected.

Three months later, on Oct. 17, 1914, Babe, 19, and Helen, 16, were married by Rev. Thomas S. Dolan in St. Paul’s Catholic Church in Ellicott City, Maryland, near where Babe had attended boarding school.

Babe and Helen got an apartment in Boston’s Back Bay neighborhood and lived there until 1919 when they bought a 16-room house in Sudbury, Massachusetts, according to the Boston Globe.

In December 1919, the Red Sox sold Babe’s contract to the Yankees. Babe and Helen lived in an eight-room hotel suite in Manhattan during the baseball seasons and returned to their Sudbury estate in the winters.

In September 1922, Babe and Helen surprised the Yankees when they brought a 15-month-old girl named Dorothy to the Polo Grounds and introduced her as their daughter. “Not even his closest friend on the team had suspected Ruth was a father,” the Boston Globe reported.

Dorothy was raised to believe Helen was her biological mother. Years later, it was learned Babe and Helen adopted Dorothy in 1921. In a book she wrote, Dorothy revealed she discovered at age 59 in 1980 her biological mother was Juanita Jennings, a woman who had an affair with Babe in 1920. As a youth, Dorothy knew Juanita as “Aunt Nita,” a family friend.

Keeping up appearances

In 1923, Babe met Claire Hodgson, daughter of a Georgia attorney who did legal work for Ty Cobb. Claire and her baby daughter moved to New York after Claire’s husband died in 1921 and she launched a career as a model and Broadway chorus line performer. Babe became a frequent visitor to Claire’s Manhattan apartment, the New York Daily News reported.

By August 1925, Helen and Dorothy went to live fulltime at the house in Sudbury and Babe remained in New York year-round.

In 1927, Helen moved into the Watertown house of dentist Edward Kinder. Helen and Edward had known one another since childhood and their families lived in the same South Boston neighborhood, according to the New York Daily News. Edward was a World War I veteran, graduated from Tufts dental school in 1924 and established a practice in Boston.

Neighbors said Helen was known to them as Mrs. Kinder and Dorothy went by the name of Dorothy Kinder. Edward’s brother William said the Kinder family was under the impression Edward and Helen were married in Montreal in 1927, the Boston Globe reported. The 1928 Watertown city directory listed: “Kinder, Edward H. (Helen M.), dentist.”

Tragic night

During the separation from his wife, Babe hit a record 60 home runs for the Yankees in 1927 and batted .625 versus the Cardinals in the 1928 World Series.

On Friday night, Jan. 11, 1929, Edward Kinder went to the boxing matches at Boston Garden. Seven-year-old Dorothy was at a Catholic boarding school in nearby Wellesley, Massachusetts. Helen settled in for the night at the Watertown house. She turned on the radio, took sleeping pills and fell asleep in a second-floor bedroom.

About 10 p.m., a passerby saw smoke seeping from windows. When firefighters arrived, flames had reached the second story. Helen was found dead on the bedroom floor. Because of the sleeping pills, she wasn’t awakened by the smoke and flames until it was too late, the New York Daily News reported.

Helen’s body was taken to a hospital and then to undertakers. Edward was paged at Boston Garden and told by telephone a woman died in a fire in his house, detectives said. “She is my wife. Her name is Helen Kinder,” Edward told medical examiner George West, the Boston Globe reported.

West did an autopsy, but his examination was limited because the corpse had been embalmed by undertakers. In his report to district attorney Robert Bushnell, West determined “there was no indication of violence and the condition of the body was consistent with a theory of death from suffocation in a fire,” the Boston Globe reported.

The state fire inspector filed a report, saying the fire was caused by overloaded electrical wires and there were traces of amateur repair work where wires had been fixed but not soldered, leaving the chance for a short-circuit and fire, according to the Boston Globe.

Bushnell concluded there was no evidence of anything criminal in the case and Helen’s body was released to Edward for burial. Based on Edward’s remarks, West prepared a death certificate identifying the deceased as Helen Kinder.

Edward, who spent the weekend in seclusion at the home of his parents in South Boston, arranged to have Helen buried on Sunday, Jan. 13, in the Kinder family plot at St. Joseph’s Cemetery in West Roxbury, Massachusetts.

Mistaken identity

In reading newspaper accounts of the fire, Helen’s relatives recognized published pictures of the victim as Helen Ruth and notified police, who put a halt to the burial plans, according to the New York Daily News.

Babe was contacted in New York and arrived in Boston by train on Jan. 13. “My wife and I have not lived together for the last three years,” Babe told reporters. “During that time, I have seldom met her. I have done all that I can to comply with her wishes. Her death is a great shock to me.”

The next day, Monday, Jan. 14, Edward Kinder, accompanied by an attorney, arrived at the Watertown police station and was questioned by a group led by police chief John Millmore. Edward told the police he and Helen weren’t married and claimed he never tried to convey to anyone Helen was his wife. When asked about telling the medical examiner the victim was Helen Kinder, Edward denied making the statement and later said he didn’t remember, the Boston Globe reported.

Police said they were satisfied with Edward’s explanations.

Helen’s mother, sisters and brothers, however, demanded a more thorough investigation. The family was suspicious of both Babe and Edward _ and for different reasons.

Motive for murder?

Helen’s sister, Norma Woodford, revealed she accompanied Helen to a meeting with Babe on Dec. 10, 1928, at Yankees headquarters, the New York Daily News reported. Norma said Babe asked Helen for a divorce so he could marry Claire Hodgson. When Helen demanded $100,000, Babe said no and stormed out of the meeting.

A month later, Helen was dead.

Meanwhile, federal narcotics agents were looking into reports Edward supplied Helen with opium, according to the New York Daily News. Helen’s family, including a brother, Thomas Woodford, a former Boston policeman, suggested Helen was drugged with opium and the house deliberately was set on fire.

In an effort to resolve the matter, district attorney Bushnell ordered a second autopsy and brought in an expert pathologist, George Magrath, and a team from Harvard.

Meanwhile, Babe met reporters in his suite at the Hotel Brunswick in Boston. With “red-rimmed eyes” and “quivering chin,” Babe spoke in “trembling tones” about the grief he felt, the Boston Globe reported.

“His great chest rose and fell, he gulped audibly and his eyes filled as he dabbed at them with his big hands,” according to the Boston Globe. “For fully five minutes, he struggled for control of his feelings and emotions.”

Rest in peace

On Jan. 16, the results of the second autopsy confirmed Helen’s death was by suffocation from a fire and there were no signs of foul play.

Also, narcotics agents came up empty in their search for opium at Edward’s office and found no evidence Helen was prescribed opiates. In addition, Ellis Dennis, a state electrical examiner, confirmed the fire started in a partition on the first floor near a wall receptacle. Dennis said original wiring in the house was excellent, but additional wiring installed later was of “a faulty and amateurish sort,” placing too great a load on the circuit wires and receptacle, the Boston Globe reported.

The district attorney declared the investigations closed and released Helen’s remains to the family.

A seven-minute funeral service was held at the home of Helen’s mother on Jan. 17, followed by burial at Old Calvary Catholic Cemetery in Dorchester, Massachusetts. Babe was present at the service and the burial; Edward did not attend either.

At the cemetery, “tears streamed down the Babe’s tanned cheeks as he saw the body of his wife lowered to its grave,” the New York Daily News reported. “Unmindful of the snow which fell from a gray sky, the Babe, hat clutched in his huge hand, stood among his wife’s relatives, sobbing.”

After the funeral, Babe returned to New York with his daughter Dorothy.

Three months later, on April 17, 1929, Babe and Claire married. The next day, the Yankees opened the season at home against the Red Sox. In his first at-bat, Babe hit a home run. Boxscore

Babe and Claire remained married until he died in 1948.

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Six months after he damaged his personal reputation, Vince Coleman got a chance to extend his baseball career because he maintained a valued professional reputation.

Twenty-five years ago, on Jan. 5, 1994, the Royals traded one problem player, Kevin McReynolds, to the Mets for another, Coleman.

McReynolds was a bust in two seasons with the Royals, who got him from the Mets after the 1991 season, and they were glad to send him back. McReynolds was an underachiever, but, unlike Coleman, he didn’t get in trouble with the law for injuring people.

Coleman disgraced himself when, as a prank, he tossed an explosive device similar to a grenade toward a group of baseball fans, injuring three. He was charged with a felony and the Mets wanted no part of him.

The Royals took a public relations risk in acquiring Coleman, but justified the move because of their need for a premier leadoff batter.

Big trouble

Coleman made his major-league debut with the Cardinals in 1985, established a rookie record with 110 stolen bases, sparked the club to a pennant and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He led the league in stolen bases in each of his six seasons with St. Louis (1985-90).

After the 1990 season, Coleman became a free agent and signed with the Mets.

On July 24, 1993, Coleman tossed a M-100, described by authorities as a military device used to simulate grenades, into a Dodger Stadium parking lot where people gathered to seek autographs from players. The M-100, which packed the equivalent power of a quarter-stick of dynamite, exploded and injured a 2-year-old girl, an 11-year-old boy and a 33-year-old woman, according to the Los Angeles Fire Department.

A month later, on Aug. 26, 1993, the Mets cut their connection to Coleman. Club co-owner Fred Wilpon said Coleman “will not play here again as a Met” regardless of the legal outcome of the case.

On Nov. 5, 1993, Coleman pleaded guilty to a reduced charge of possession of an explosive device, a misdemeanor. A one-year jail term was suspended. He was given three years of probation and assigned 200 hours of community service. He also agreed to make restitution to the people he injured.

Limited market

After the plea bargain was reached, the Royals contacted the Mets about a trade, the New York Daily News reported. Felix Jose and Brian McRae were the Royals’ primary leadoff batters in 1993 but both were better suited for other spots in the order. The Royals saw Coleman, 32, as being similar to Willie Wilson, the leadoff man for their pennant-winning clubs in 1980 and 1985.

Until the Royals got interested in Coleman, “I didn’t think we would be able to trade him,” Mets general manager Joe McIvaine said to the Los Angeles Times.

Coleman’s former Cardinals manager, Whitey Herzog, who was in charge of baseball operations with the Angels, explored the possibility of acquiring him, but the Royals were more aggressive.

The Royals wanted the Mets take McReynolds, who was described by Kansas City Star columnist Jonathan Rand as a “sluggish underachiever” and “a player who didn’t seem to care how he looked on the field.”

When he played for the Mets from 1987-91, McReynolds was booed by fans and criticized by media. Before he was dealt to the Royals as part of a package for pitcher Bret Saberhagen, McReynolds, an Arkansas native, said New Yorkers “like to kick someone when they’re down.”

Eager to rid themselves of Coleman, the Mets agreed to take back McReynolds.

Opinions and explanations

Media mocked the trade. A headline in the New York Daily News called it, “Slop Swap,” and the New York Post countered with, “Tradin’ Fools.”

Daily News columnist Vic Ziegel declared the Mets got the best of the deal “because McReynolds will not have to spend the coming season splitting his time between the playing field and visits to his probation officer.”

“The Royals are the last organization in baseball you should have expected to obtain Coleman,” Jonathan Rand observed in the Kansas City Star. “Ever since their drug scandal of 1983, they have bent over backward to avoid problem players, and Coleman has the worst reputation of any player in the major leagues.”

Royals general manager Herk Robinson and vice president of baseball operations George Brett met with Coleman and talked with people who knew him before making the deal.

“We cannot condone Vince’s past conduct off the field, but George and I have spent a lot of time with Vince,” Robinson said. “We’re convinced Vince can be a solid citizen on the field and make a contribution in the community. We strongly believe he deserves an opportunity.”

Coleman “recognizes what he did was stupid and is genuinely sorry about it and highly motivated to resume his career,” Robinson said.

“We were convinced Vince Coleman is not a bad person,” Robinson said. “I think there’s a difference between somebody who’s a bad person and someone who made a mistake.”

Brett told The Sporting News, “If the reports had come back negative, I don’t think we would have made the trade.”

Coleman said, “What I did was wrong and I’m very sorry.”

At home in KC

Cardinals fans saw irony in Coleman landing with the Royals. During the 1985 National League Championship Series, an automatic tarpaulin at Busch Stadium in St. Louis accidently rolled over Coleman’s left leg and chipped a bone. The injury prevented Coleman from playing in the 1985 World Series against the Royals, who won four of seven from the Cardinals.

“I think if he’d have been healthy in the ’85 Series, we would have lost,” Brett said to the Kansas City Star on the day the Royals acquired Coleman.

The Royals opened the 1994 season with two games at Baltimore before playing their home opener on April 8 versus the Indians. Coleman “received a hearty welcome” from the 38,496 in attendance, according to the Kansas City Star.

Cheers grew louder in the fifth inning when Coleman got a single, his first hit as a Royal, and stole second base. In the eighth, Coleman hit a home run against Derek Lilliquist. Boxscore

“It was very special to hear the response from the fans,” Coleman said. “The way they cheered, it was all very motivating. Even when I was in left field, they were shouting encouraging things.”

Coleman batted .240 for the 1994 Royals and ranked second in the American League in both triples (12) and stolen bases (50) in the strike-shortened season.

McReynolds batted .256 with four home runs for the Mets in 1994, his final season as a player.

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(Updated Jan. 22, 2019)

Todd Helton had a flawless game at the plate for the Rockies against the Cardinals, but Mike Matheny produced the most important at-bat.

On April 8, 2003, at Denver, Helton tied a major-league record by reaching base safely seven times. Helton was 4-for-4 with three walks, a double, a home run, three RBI and three runs scored against six Cardinals pitchers. His home run tied the score, 12-12, in the seventh inning, but the Cardinals won, 15-12, when Matheny countered with a three-run home run in the 13th.

Helton, a first baseman, produced 2,519 hits and 1,406 RBI in 17 seasons with the Rockies. A left-handed hitter, he had a .316 batting average and .414 on-base percentage in a big-league career from 1997 to 2013.

Against the Cardinals, Helton had a .281 batting average and .386 on-base percentage and was especially strong versus them in these five seasons:

_ 2000: Batted .400 with 12 RBI and a .543 on-base mark.

_ 2001: Batted .324 with 12 RBI. Six of his 11 hits were home runs.

_ 2003: Batted .500. With 11 hits and seven walks in 29 plate appearances, his on-base mark was .621.

_ 2004: Batted .400 and hit a home run in five of six games.

_ 2009: Batted .421. With eight hits and seven walks in 28 plate appearances, his on-base percentage was .536.

Helton’s most impressive single-game performance against the Cardinals was when he reached base safely in all seven plate appearances.

Lucky seven

Here is a look at each plate appearance:

_ First inning: RBI-single against Jason Simontacchi.

_ Second inning: Drew a walk from Simontacchi with two outs and a runner on third.

_ Fourth inning: RBI-double to left versus Lance Painter.

_ Sixth inning: Led off with a single against Jeff Fassero.

_ Seventh inning: Solo home run versus Dustin Hermanson.

_ Ninth inning: Drew a walk from Russ Springer with two outs and a runner on first.

_ Eleventh inning: Drew a walk from Jose Jimenez with one out and runners on first and third.

Video of all seven plate appearances

Helton became the first big-league player to reach base safely seven times in a game since Sean Casey of the Reds did it in a nine-inning game May 19, 1999, against the Rockies at Denver. Boxscore

“I don’t ever remember getting up seven times in a game, much less getting on seven times,” Helton said to the Denver Post.

Said Rockies hitting coach Duane Espy: “What he did I can’t explain. The guy has the unique ability to hit what is there and leave alone what’s not. He continues to amaze me. He’s the first guy who I have been around when the count is 0-and-2, I am comfortable.”

Mike’s magic

Helton was deprived of an eighth plate appearance because Cal Eldred retired the Rockies in order in the 12th and 13th innings.

Eldred earned the win, his first in the major leagues in three years, because his friend, Matheny, hit his first regular-season home run in 12 months in the top half of the 13th.

With Scott Rolen on second, Eduardo Perez on first and one out, Matheny hit a pitch from Dan Miceli deep to left. Gabe Kapler leaped and appeared to make a catch, but when he fell back against the fence the ball came out of his glove and landed in the seats. Kapler “walked away, looking puzzled at his empty glove,” the Denver Post reported. Boxscore

The home run was Matheny’s first in the regular season since April 26, 2002, at Montreal. For Eldred, who missed most of two seasons because of elbow problems, the win was his first in the major leagues since June 28, 2000.

Matheny and Eldred became friends as Brewers teammates. After Matheny joined the Cardinals, he recommended the club take a chance on Eldred.

“Those two have such a special friendship,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t think you could have scripted it better.”

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