Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Keith Hernandez of the Cardinals and Willie Stargell of the Pirates were first basemen who batted left-handed and played for teams in the National League East Division.

The link became even stronger 40 years ago, on Nov. 13, 1979, when it was announced they would share the National League Most Valuable Player Award, finishing in a tie for first place in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America (BBWAA).

Hernandez and Stargell are the only players to be co-MVPs in the National League. The closest the American League came to having co-MVPs was in 1947 when Joe DiMaggio of the Yankees won the award with 202 points in the balloting and Ted Williams of the Red Sox was runner-up with 201 points.

Counting the votes

Hernandez had better overall season statistics than Stargell did in 1979, but Stargell provided leadership and power for the Pirates, who won the National League pennant and World Series title. The Cardinals finished in third place in the East, 12 games behind the Pirates.

Hernandez, 25, batted .344 with 210 hits, 116 runs, 11 home runs, 105 RBI and a .417 on-base percentage in 161 games.

Stargell, 39, batted .281 with 119 hits, 60 runs, 32 home runs, 82 RBI and a .352 on-base percentage in 112 games, including 16 as a pinch-hitter.

In voting by 24 members of the baseball writers association, two from each National League franchise city, Hernandez and Stargell each received 216 points.

Stargell got 10 first-place votes and Hernandez got four, but Hernandez was the only player chosen on all 24 ballots. Stargell was left off four ballots.

Each of the 24 writers was required to submit 10 names on his ballot. A first-place vote was worth 14 points, with a second-place vote worth nine points, a third-place vote worth eight points and so on down to one point for a 10th-place vote. Voting was done before the start of the postseason.

In addition to the 10 first-place votes for Stargell and the four for Hernandez, others getting first-place votes were Padres outfielder Dave Winfield (four), Reds third baseman Ray Knight (two), Astros pitcher Joe Niekro (one), Pirates reliever Kent Tekulve (one), Expos catcher Gary Carter (one) and Pirates third baseman Bill Madlock (one).

Winfield was runner-up to Hernandez and Stargell in the voting, with 155 points. He batted .308 with 184 hits, 97 runs, 34 home runs, 118 RBI and a .395 on-base percentage. Neither Charley Feeney of the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette nor Dan Donovan of the Pittsburgh Press had Winfield on his ballot, according to The Sporting News.

Great debate

The four writers who omitted Stargell from their ballots were Kenny Hand of the Houston Post, Harry Shattuck of the Houston Chronicle, Mike Littwin of the Los Angeles Times and Tim Tucker of the Atlanta Journal.

Pittsburgh Press sports editor Pat Livingston noted, “Had any one of those four cast even a 10th-place vote for Willie, he would have won the MVP Award by himself.”

Pirates general manager Harding Peterson told the Pittsburgh Press the omission of Stargell from the four ballots was “most disturbing.”

“How can anybody leave Stargell off their ballot?” Peterson said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He was the driving force for our club all season.”

Jack Lang, secretary-treasurer of the baseball writers association, said to the Pittsburgh Press, “I don’t know what some of these guys think about when they make out their ballots.”

Littwin told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette his first-place vote went to Winfield. Asked why he omitted Stargell, Littwin said, “I have as high a regard for Stargell as anyone. I decided to put two Pirates on my ballot and I decided on Kent Tekulve and Dave Parker.”

Hand also said Parker was a more deserving candidate than Stargell. “Parker batted higher (.310) and drove in more runs (94) than Stargell,” Hand said.

Shattuck said he was limited to seeing Stargell play only against the Astros. Though Stargell hit .302 with five home runs and 13 RBI in 10 games versus the Astros in 1979, it wasn’t enough to earn a vote from Shattuck.

Tucker, who gave Knight his first-place vote, said he thought center fielder and leadoff batter Omar Moreno was the most valuable player on the Pirates. “I felt Moreno’s ability to get on base and his defense were more important than Stargell’s role,” Tucker said.

Pittsburgh Post-Gazette columnist Phil Musick said the requirements for determining a MVP were not clear and criticized the voting as “a flawed process which the BBWAA members have not corrected because arguing is more fun.”

Good sports

Hernandez and Stargell both were professional in their reactions to sharing the MVP Award.

“A taste of honey is better than none,” Stargell said to the Pittsburgh Press.

Hernandez told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Willie was the sentimental favorite. He was the inspirational man for the pennant winners with a lot of intangibles going for him. He was deserving.”

(Almost 40 years later, in his 2018 memoir “I’m Keith Hernandez,” Hernandez said, “Part of me felt that Willie Stargell, superstar that he was, didn’t deserve the MVP that year.” Hernandez also said he was puzzled why Lang, when he called with the news of the vote results, said, “You wouldn’t mind sharing the National League MVP with Willie Stargell, would you?”)

Hernandez said teammates such as Lou Brock and Willie Crawford helped him develop into a MVP.

“Lou is very unselfish,” Hernandez said to the Post-Dispatch. “He’s done more for me than just about anybody. He always had a pat on the back at the right time and he was there with encouragement in my moments of self-doubt.”

Crawford was Hernandez’s teammate for one season, 1976, and Hernandez credited him as the player who pushed him to take extra batting practice and “work on the inside pitch, which was giving me trouble then.”

The 1979 American League MVP voting created no controversy. The Angels’ Don Baylor won in a landslide, receiving 347 points and 20 first-place votes. The Orioles’ Ken Singleton was runner-up, with 241 points and three votes for first.

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Ron Fairly tormented Bob Gibson as an opponent and helped him as a teammate.

A first baseman and outfielder, Fairly played 21 years (1958-78) in the major leagues, primarily with the Dodgers (1958-69) and Expos (1969-74), and spent two seasons (1975-76) with the Cardinals. He played in four World Series for the Dodgers, including 1965 when he batted . 379 against the Twins.

A left-handed batter with a line drive stroke, Fairly did some of his best work against Gibson, the Cardinals’ ace.

During his Hall of Fame career, Gibson yielded more hits (48) and more doubles (10) to Fairly than he did to any other batter.

In addition to having his career highs in hits and doubles against Gibson, Fairly produced a career-best 24 RBI versus him.

In his 1968 book, “From Ghetto to Glory,” Gibson said, “I don’t have to make a mistake against Fairly. Whatever I throw, he just hits it _ I don’t care what it is _ and always when somebody is on base. The guy is just a pretty good hitter.”

Four decades later, in his book, “Sixty Feet, Six Inches,” Gibson described Fairly as a batter who “would punch the ball over the shortstop’s head and you couldn’t strike him out. I tried to pitch him in, like I did a lot of left-handed hitters, and I didn’t have any luck with that. I’d pitch him away, make a good pitch, and he’d dump it over the shortstop’s head.”

In 1975, Fairly’s first season with the Cardinals and Gibson’s last, Gibson benefitted from Fairly’s formidable hitting.

On July 27, 1975, Fairly had two hits, two walks, one RBI and scored a run in the Cardinals’ 9-6 victory over the Phillies at St. Louis. Gibson got the win, the 251st and last of his career, with four scoreless innings of relief. Boxscore

Fairly talented

Fairly attended the University of Southern California, signed with the Dodgers in June 1958 and made his major-league debut with them three months later at age 20.

He established himself as a smooth fielder at first base and a consistent hitter.

Chicago columnist Jerome Holtzman rated Fairly “the best first baseman I’ve ever seen coming in on a bunt.”

Dodgers manager Walter Alston, in a 1965 interview with Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said he regarded Fairly the best hitter with runners on base of any of the players he’d managed.

For his career, Fairly had 17 home runs and 100 RBI versus the Cardinals. He batted .302 against Gibson, with 48 hits, including four home runs, in 159 at-bats. Fairly’s on-base percentage versus Gibson was .369.

In Gibson’s autobiography, “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson’s friend and teammate Joe Torre said, “Ron Fairly hit Gibby about as well as anybody did.”

On July 15, 1964, Fairly hit two home runs, one against Gibson and the other versus Ray Washburn, in a 13-3 Dodgers victory over the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

Regarding the Gibson fastball he hit for the home run, Fairly said, “I just got around in front of the pitch and laid the bat on the ball. Gibson supplied the power.”

The next day, Fairly hit a homer against Ray Sadecki. For the three-game series, Fairly had 10 RBI and six hits in 13 at-bats.

A year later, on June 3, 1965, at St. Louis, Fairly hit a two-run home run off Barney Schultz with two outs in the eighth, erasing a 10-9 deficit and lifting the Dodgers to an 11-10 victory. Boxscore

Fairly hit the first walkoff home run of his major-league career on Sept. 25, 1970, for the Expos against the Cardinals in Montreal. With the Cardinals ahead, 5-4, the Expos had two on and two outs in the ninth when Fairly hit an 0-and-2 fastball from rookie Al Hrabosky for a game-winning homer. Boxscore

“I can’t hit a ball any better than that,” Fairly said to the Montreal Gazette.

Proud pro

On Dec. 6, 1974, the Cardinals acquired Fairly from the Expos for a pair of prospects, first baseman Ed Kurpiel and infielder Rudy Kinard. Cardinals general manager Bing Devine projected Fairly to be a pinch-hitter and backup to rookie first baseman Keith Hernandez.

Fairly, 36, told the Sporting News, “I expect to play a lot. I’d like to play every day.”

Hernandez, 21, opened the 1975 season as the starter, struggled and was sent to the minors in June.

Fairly, getting starts at first base and in the corner outfield spots, became a valuable player for the 1975 Cardinals. He hit .301 and had an on-base percentage of .421. He also hit .343 as a pinch-hitter. On July 8, 1975, at St. Louis, Fairly hit a grand slam against Pete Falcone of the Giants. Boxscore

“I don’t fool around in batting practice,” Fairly said. “I try to hit with game situations in mind. Too many players fool around too much in batting practice and that gets them in bad habits.”

Fairly shared his knowledge with Cardinals teammates. According to The Sporting News, catcher Ted Simmons, “regarded by many as the purest hitter now active in the game,” listened to the advice Fairly gave him on hitting.

Hernandez returned to the Cardinals in September 1975 and regained his starting job. In his memoir, “I’m Keith Hernandez,” Hernandez said Fairly “took the time to show me how to better break in a first baseman’s mitt and how to cheat a little bit on a close putout at first.”

“You’re moving forward to get the ball with the glove, extending your body, and your foot comes off the bag just before the ball arrives,” Fairly told Hernandez. “Don’t rush it, or the ump will catch you pulling your foot.”

In his book, Hernandez said, “I worked on it every day during infield until I had it, and took Ron’s sly little move with me for the rest of my career.”

Watching Fairly’s impact on the Cardinals, Expos owner Charles Bronfman admitted, “That Fairly deal was very unfortunate. I think Ron fooled a lot of us by playing a lot better than we expected.”

The next season, Fairly hit .264 and had an on-base percentage of .385 for the Cardinals before they sold his contract to the Athletics on Sept. 14, 1976. He batted .364 with runners in scoring position for the 1976 Cardinals.

Overall, in his two St. Louis seasons, Fairly batted .289 with a .409 on-base percentage.

He went on to play for the Athletics, Blue Jays and Angels, finishing his career with 1,913 hits.

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Bobby Tolan, who played on championship clubs with the Cardinals and Reds, was a champion as a manager in the Senior Professional Baseball Association.

Thirty years ago, on Nov. 1, 1989, the Senior Professional Baseball Association launched its inaugural season. Each of the eight teams played a 72-game schedule from November to February in Florida.

Seeking to match the success of the Senior PGA Tour, the baseball league, founded by real estate developer Jim Morley, focused on nostalgia by bringing back former major-league players 35 and older. An exception was made for catchers, who could be as young as 32.

Former Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood was league commissioner. Several other ex-Cardinals, including Joaquin Andujar, Jose Cruz, George Hendrick, Al Hrabosky, Tito Landrum, Bake McBride and Ken Reitz, signed as players.

For Tolan, hoping to manage in the majors, the senior league provided a chance to prove he could succeed with players who had big-league experience.

Learning to manage

Tolan was 19 when he made his debut as a major-league player with the Cardinals in September 1965. He played in four seasons (1965-68) with the Cardinals and was a reserve outfielder on their National League championship clubs in 1967 and 1968.

In October 1968, the Cardinals traded Tolan and pitcher Wayne Granger to the Reds for outfielder Vada Pinson. The deal was a steal for the Reds. Granger became an effective closer and Tolan developed into a top talent for manager Sparky Anderson, helping the Reds win National League pennants in 1970 and 1972 with his hitting and base stealing.

After his playing career, Tolan was a Padres coach for four seasons (1980-83), the last two with manager Dick Williams.

Hoping to lead a major-league team someday, Tolan agreed to go back to the minors to get experience. He managed the Padres’ farm club at Beaumont, Texas, for two years (1984-85) and one of his top players was 20-year-old catcher Benito Santiago.

In 1987, Tolan became a coach for the Mariners, reuniting with Williams, their manager. Tolan returned to managing in 1988 with Erie, a club in the Orioles’ farm system.

Law and order

In August 1989, after two seasons at Erie, Tolan was named manager of the senior league’s St. Petersburg Pelicans.

“This is almost like a dream come true,” Tolan said to the St. Petersburg Times. “For me, this is the closest thing to the major leagues.”

Determined to produce a winner, Tolan vowed the Pelicans would be physically fit and fundamentally sound. He banned beer from the clubhouse and imposed a curfew. He said he expected the level of play to be comparable to a good Class AAA club.

“I’m managing major-league ballplayers,” Tolan said. “Some are just a little past their prime, some just a little further.”

According to the St. Petersburg Times, Tolan “was criticized by opposing teams and former players for running a tough camp with strict rules.” Winter Haven manager Bill Lee, the former Red Sox pitcher known as “Spaceman,” likened Tolan’s approach to “a militaristic regime.”

Familiar names

The senior league teams for the 1989-90 season were:

_ Bradenton Explorers. Manager: Clete Boyer. Key players: Bruce Kison, Hal McRae, Al Oliver.

_ Fort Myers Sun Sox. Manager: Pat Dobson. Key players: Amos Otis, Dan Driessen.

_ Gold Coast Suns: Manager: Earl Weaver. Key players: Joaquin Andujar, George Hendrick, Cesar Cedeno, Bert Campaneris. Asked why he would come out of retirement to manage in the senior league, Weaver said, “After golfing 20 days in a row, then what?”

_ Orlando Juice: Manager: Gates Brown. Key players: Pete Falcone, Jose Cruz, Bill Madlock, Ken Reitz.

_ St. Lucie Legends: Manager: Graig Nettles. Key players: Vida Blue, Bobby Bonds, George Foster, Clint Hurdle.

_ St. Petersburg Pelicans. Manager: Bobby Tolan. Key players: Jon Matlack, Milt Wilcox, Steve Kemp, Steve Henderson, Ivan DeJesus.

_ West Palm Beach Tropics. Manager: Dick Williams. Key players: Rollie Fingers, Al Hrabosky Dave Kingman, Mickey Rivers, Tito Landrum.

_ Winter Haven Super Sox. Manager: Bill Lee. Key players: Ferguson Jenkins, Jim Bibby, Bill Campbell, Tony Scott.

Some thought the senior league would receive a needed publicity boost if it allowed Pete Rose to play. Rose was banished from the big leagues because of his involvement in a gambling scandal. Flood ruled Rose ineligible for senior baseball unless the major leagues reinstated him.

Alive and well

Even without Rose, the senior league began its first season with optimism and sense of purpose.

“These aren’t cadavers waiting to be buried,” Flood said to the St. Petersburg Times. “These men are serious about playing baseball. I think a lot of people are going to be surprised at the caliber of play.”

Dick Williams told the Palm Beach Post, “We’re dead serious about this. Very much so. We may be a step slower because they’re all older, but there are no pot bellies out there.”

Weaver noted the San Francisco Giants used hulking 40-year-old pitcher Rick Reuschel in the 1989 World Series and said, “He’s older and fatter than most of our guys.”

Media reviews of the Opening Day games generally were favorable.

The St. Petersburg Times noted, “It’s like a baseball card collection come to life.”

Palm Beach Post columnist Tim Rosaforte rated it “good, fundamental baseball. Certainly better, and more exciting, than spring training.”

Best of the bunch

Though a ticket to most senior league games cost about $5, attendance was poor. The West Palm Beach Tropics drew best, averaging 1,600 spectators per game, “but many of those fans received free or discounted tickets,” the Palm Beach Post reported.

Most teams averaged fewer than 1,000 spectators per game. The Orlando Juice did worst, with an average attendance of 400.

Some of the former Cardinals who performed well were Andujar (5-0, 1.31 ERA), Falcone (10-3), Driessen (.333 batting average, 49 RBI), Landrum (.346, 55 RBI) and Cruz (.306, 10 home runs, 49 RBI).

The West Palm Beach Tropics finished first in the Southern Division at 52-20 and the St. Petersburg Pelicans topped the Northern Division at 42-30.

In a winner-take-all championship game on Feb. 4, 1990, the Pelicans prevailed, 12-4, validating Tolan’s managing skill and style.

“I guess this shuts everybody up,” Tolan said. ” Maybe if I weren’t looking for a big-league job I would have run an easy team, but I want a big-league job and I wanted to prove I could run a successful team. I took this seriously and it all paid off by this championship.”

Struggling financially, the senior league reorganized for the 1990-91 season. Flood departed and the number of teams was reduced from eight to six. Four teams remained in Florida and two went to Arizona.

Tolan returned to manage St. Petersburg and he had the Pelicans in first place at 15-8 when the league disbanded on Dec. 26, 1990.

Tolan never did get to manage in the majors. After the senior league folded, his next chance to manage in professional baseball came at age 60 in 2006 with the White Sox rookie league club in Great Falls, Montana.

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Bobby Del Greco was a graceful center fielder with a strong arm, but he was no Bill Virdon.

Del Greco died Oct. 13, 2019, at 86. He was a principal figure in one of the Cardinals’ most lopsided trades.

On May 17, 1956, the Cardinals dealt center fielder Bill Virdon to the Pirates for Del Greco and pitcher Dick Littlefield.

Virdon, 24, was the winner of the 1955 National League Rookie of the Year Award. Del Greco, 23, was seeking a chance to play regularly in the major leagues.

The deal was a dud for the Cardinals. Virdon played 11 years with the Pirates, producing 1,431 hits, earning a Gold Glove Award and helping them win a World Series championship. Del Greco played part of one season for the Cardinals, couldn’t hit consistently and was sent to the Cubs.

Great glove

A Pittsburgh native, Del Greco was signed to a Pirates contract by Hall of Famer Pie Traynor. In 1952, Del Greco was 19 when he made his major-league debut with the Pirates against the Cardinals and produced three hits and a walk in five plate appearances. Boxscore

After hitting .217 in 99 games for the 1952 Pirates, Del Greco spent the next three seasons in the minor leagues. He played for the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League in 1955 and hit .287 with 26 doubles and 21 stolen bases for manager Bobby Bragan. Del Greco also caught the attention of Fred Hutchinson, manager of the rival Seattle Rainiers.

In 1956, Bragan became manager of the Pirates and Hutchinson became manager of the Cardinals. Bragan chose Del Greco to be the Opening Day center fielder for the 1956 Pirates. Bragan ranked Del Greco behind only Willie Mays of the Giants and Duke Snider of the Dodgers among National League center fielders.

Del Greco has “a strong, accurate arm and the instinct of throwing to the right base,” The Sporting News noted. He “gets a tremendous jump on any fly ball and can outrun some of them.”

Seeing is believing

The Cardinals opened the 1956 season with Wally Moon as the first baseman and an outfield of Hank Sauer in left, Virdon in center and Stan Musial in right.

After batting .281 as a Cardinals rookie in 1955, Virdon got off to a slow start in 1956. Cardinals general manager Frank Lane began to suspect Virdon might have deteriorating vision. Also, Virdon, like Musial and Moon, batted left-handed and Lane wanted to balance the lineup with an outfielder who batted from the right side.

Hutchinson recommended Del Greco as a replacement for Virdon and Lane began trade talks with the Pirates. He also shopped Virdon to the Cubs, who offered pitcher Bob Rush, and to the Phillies, who declined to deal outfielder Richie Ashburn.

On May 13, 1956, Del Greco hit two home runs in a game at Pittsburgh against the Phillies’ Harvey Haddix, a former Cardinal. Lane was at the game to scout Del Greco and, naturally, was impressed. Boxscore

Del Greco’s two-homer game “was the biggest boost for the trade,” Pirates general manager Joe Brown told The Sporting News.

Pirates plunder

Though Virdon was batting .211 in 24 games for the 1956 Cardinals, the trade was viewed as a major risk for them. Del Greco was batting .200 for the 1956 Pirates and they primarily were playing him only against left-handers.

Hutchinson called Del Greco “a terrific outfielder” with “a real good arm and speed.” He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “Yes, I’d have to say (he’s) better than Virdon.”

Lane said, “We liked Del Greco because he seemed to have more drive than Bill Virdon.”

Citing the eyesight issue, Lane said, “Maybe, as has been suggested, we decided it would be better to let Pittsburgh or another club worry about whether he still has major-league vision.”

Lane added, “It wasn’t only Virdon’s failure to get base hits. Bill wasn’t even hitting the ball hard.”

Brown said the Pirates “wanted Virdon badly,” and when Lane readily agreed to the deal, “I began to wonder if there might be something wrong with Virdon.”

Turns out, Virdon was fine. He rewarded the Pirates, batting .334 with 170 hits in 133 games for them in 1956 and playing a splendid center field. Virdon “is certainly on a par even with the fabulous Willie Mays,” The Sporting News remarked. “Pittsburgh fans compare him with the gifted Vince DiMaggio and Lloyd Waner.”

Del Greco batted .215 in 102 games for the 1956 Cardinals. He hit .176 in home games and overall his batting average with runners in scoring position was .098 (5-for-51).

“What a terrible deal,” Sauer said in the book “We Played the Game.” Virdon “was a great fielder, much better than Del Greco.”

A defiant Lane told the Sporting News, “I make no pretensions of perfection in trading. I merely hope to make more good deals than bad ones.”

Moving on

After the 1956 season, Del Greco played winter ball in Havana for former Cardinals coach and manager Mike Gonzalez. Cardinals scout Al Hollingsworth went to Cuba to see Del Greco and said, “One thing he’s got to learn is to forget the long ball.”

At spring training in 1957, rookie Bobby Gene Smith won the Cardinals’ center field job when Del Greco batted .101 in Grapefruit League exhibition games.

On April 20, 1957, the Cardinals traded Del Greco and pitcher Ed Mayer to the Cubs for outfielder Jim King.

Del Greco played for the Cubs (1957), Yankees (1957-58), Phillies (1960-61 and 1965) and Athletics (1961-63), and batted .229 in his career in the majors.

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Jackie Hernandez experienced one of his most joyful moments in baseball after one of his most frustrating performances.

Hernandez died Oct. 12, 2019, at 79. Born in Cuba, he was a shortstop in the major leagues for nine seasons with the Angels (1965-66), Twins (1967-68), Royals (1969-70) and Pirates (1971-73).

Hernandez had his most memorable season in 1971 when the Pirates won the World Series championship. He opened the season as the starting shortstop because incumbent Gene Alley was sidelined with a broken hand. Late in the season, Alley had a bad knee and Hernandez was the primary shortstop in the pennant stretch and in the postseason.

PIrates manager Danny Murtaugh “isn’t looking for base hits from Hernandez,” The Sporting News reported. “The manager wants steady shortstop play.”

On Sept. 22, 1971, at St. Louis, Hernandez struck out four times against Bob Gibson, but the Pirates beat the Cardinals, 5-1, and clinched the National League East Division title.

Hernandez contributed with his fielding, helping the Pirates turn three double plays.

As the Pirates celebrated inside the clubhouse at Busch Memorial Stadium, Hernandez smiled as he wiped champagne off his spikes. He never had been on a club that qualified for the postseason.

“For the first time in my life, I struck out four times and it didn’t bother me,” Hernandez said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I don’t care if I get a hit, or if I get on base. Just so we win the game. That’s all I cared about.” Boxscore

Hernandez started six of the seven games in the 1971 World Series against the Orioles and committed no errors in 53.2 innings at shortstop.

In the ninth inning of Game 7, with the Pirates clinging to a 2-1 lead at Baltimore, Hernandez cleanly handled the last two outs.

After Frank Robinson popped out to Hernandez for the second out in the ninth, Merv Rettenmund hit one on the ground. “The ball skipped up the middle and a foot or so to the right of second base,” The Sporting News reported. “Base hit? No chance. Hernandez was playing almost behind second. It wasn’t a routine play, but he was there in plenty of time to grab the ball and fire to first baseman Bob Robertson for the clinching out.” Boxscore

Hernandez hit .208 in his major-league career, including .205 versus the Cardinals.

One of his most productive games with the bat occurred against the Cardinals on May 17, 1972, at Three Rivers Stadium in Pittsburgh. Hernandez, batting eighth in the order, was 3-for-4 with three RBI in a 12-0 Pirates victory.

He entered the game with a season batting average of .167 and no RBI.

Hernandez broke the game open in the fourth inning. The Pirates led, 3-0, when Hernandez batted against Cardinals starter Reggie Cleveland with one out and the bases loaded. Hernandez hit a single to left, driving in two and giving the Pirates a 5-0 lead.

In the fifth, the Pirates scored three times against Joe Grzenda, extending their lead to 9-0. Hernandez scored Richie Hebner from third with a two-out single.

Hernandez also had a double to left in the seventh against Lance Clemons. Boxscore


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Pepper Martin interrupted a successful stint as a manager to return to the Cardinals as a player and help them get to another World Series.

In 1943, Martin managed in the Cardinals’ farm system for the third consecutive year. After the season, while in St. Louis to interview for a radio sports announcer job, Martin met with Cardinals owner Sam Breadon, who was looking for players to replace those called to serve in the military during World War II.

Accepting Breadon’s offer to come back to the Cardinals, Martin, 40, was a utility player for them in 1944 and contributed to a successful run to a third consecutive National League pennant.

With mission accomplished, Martin sought to resume his managing career and the Cardinals obliged by giving him his unconditional release 75 years ago in October 1944.

Spice to the lineup

Martin debuted with the Cardinals in 1928. With his aggressive, fun-loving style of play, he was a prominent part of the Cardinals clubs of the 1930s. Martin and his pal, pitcher Dizzy Dean, symbolized the spirit of the group known as the Gas House Gang.

Dean “was just a big-hearted old country boy, from a cotton patch, like myself,” Martin said to The Sporting News. “So I guess that’s why I liked old Diz.”

An outfielder and third baseman nicknamed “Wild Horse of the Osage,” Martin led the National League in stolen bases three times and scored more than 120 runs in a season three times.

As a third baseman, Martin “introduced a style of play all his own,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Martin described his approach to fielding groundballs as “stop it with your chest, then throw them out.”

In the 1931 World Series against the Athletics, Martin had an on-base percentage of .538, producing 12 hits and two walks in 26 plate appearances, and swiped five bases. He batted .355 and scored eight runs in the 1934 World Series versus the Tigers.

“Pepper always was fighting to win, trying for that extra base or an impossible chance, no matter whether his team was miles ahead or furlongs behind,” The Sporting News noted in an editorial.

After the 1940 season, Martin became a player-manager in the Cardinals’ farm system. His Sacramento teams finished 102-75 in 1941 and 105-73 in 1942.

In 1943, Martin took over a Rochester team which finished 59-93 the year before and helped it improve to 74-78. One of his best Rochester players was shortstop Red Schoendienst.

Martin batted .280 for Rochester and “was the best outfielder on the club,” Breadon said. “He could outrun any man on the club on the bases.”

Slow to age

Martin told the Associated Press he was offered a radio sports broadcasting job for 1944 but after talking with Breadon decided to play instead.

Breadon told the Post-Dispatch, “I asked him how he would like to play with the Cardinals and he shot back, ‘I sure would.’ ”

Though he was 40, Martin insisted his age was 10 because his birthday was Feb. 29, a date which appears on the calendar only in a leap year, or once every four years.

“He still has his old-time sparkle and speed,” said Cardinals manager Billy Southworth. “I think he will help a lot.”

Said Martin:  “I’ll play any time and place they need me.”

Teaching by example

Martin played in 40 games, 29 as an outfielder, for the 1944 Cardinals, batted .279 and had an on-base percentage of .386. He finished with a flourish, producing five hits, including two doubles and a home run, in the last eight at-bats of his big-league career.

He also was a mentor who “sold the Cardinals’ rookies on his undying spirit,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

After the Cardinals won the 1944 Word Series championship against the Browns, Martin asked for his release so he could “negotiate for any coaching or managerial post he wants,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

Breadon mailed him the release on Oct. 13, 1944, and Martin received it on Oct. 16. “We hate to let him go, but he wants it that way,” Breadon said.

San Diego, an unaffiliated minor-league team in the Pacific Coast League, needed a manager and narrowed its field of candidates to two finalists, Martin and Casey Stengel. Martin got the job and Stengel went to manage the Yankees’ farm club at Kansas City.

Martin managed 14 seasons in the minors and had an overall record of 1,083-910.

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