Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

The Cardinals gave Dave Collins a chance to extend his playing days and to begin a coaching career in the major leagues.

Thirty years ago, on Feb. 16, 1990, Collins, 37, signed a minor-league contract with the Cardinals and was invited to audition for a spot with the big-league club at spring training.

A switch-hitter with speed, Collins was an outfielder, but the Cardinals envisioned him as a candidate for multiple roles, including pinch-hitter, pinch-runner and defensive replacement for Pedro Guerrero at first base.

Collins won a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster and spent the 1990 season with them. In 1991 and 1992, he was the Cardinals’ first-base coach and mentored players such as Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey and Felix Jose on base running and outfield play.

Career options

Born and raised in Rapid City, S.D., Collins was a top high school athlete in baseball, basketball, football and track. He ran the 100-yard dash in 9.6 seconds. A slender 5-foot-11, Collins was recruited by multiple colleges and opted to pursue a baseball career.

“I got a lot of offers and was seriously thinking about playing basketball, but I knew if I played it would just be in college and that would be it,” Collins told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I thought I would have a better chance of becoming a professional baseball player.”

After a year at Mesa Community College in Arizona, Collins was drafted by the Angels in June 1972 and signed with them. The Angels had Dick Williams as manager and Whitey Herzog as coach when Collins, 22, made his major-league debut with them in June 1975.

Collins played 16 seasons in the majors for the Angels, Mariners, Reds, Yankees, Blue Jays, Athletics, Tigers and Cardinals, producing 1,335 hits and 395 stolen bases.

His best seasons were 1980, when he hit .303, scored 94 runs and had 79 stolen bases for the Reds, and 1984, when he hit .308 with 15 triples and 60 steals for the Blue Jays.

Bench help

Fifteen years after he coached Collins with the Angels, Herzog was manager of the Cardinals in 1990 when they went looking for a pinch-hitter.

According to the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals pursued Keith Moreland, 35, a free agent who’d spent most of his career with the Phillies and Cubs. When Moreland informed the Cardinals he intended to retire, they turned to Collins.

“He gives us a little bit of experience and he’s better than what we had,” Herzog said.

Though Collins signed a minor-league deal, he said he’d quit if he didn’t earn a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster.

“I told them I didn’t want to end my career in triple-A,” Collins said. “Either I make the club or I go home. I feel comfortable I can still play.”

Chance to coach

Once the season started, Herzog was pleased with Collins’ fielding at first base, saying, “I really think he has played better there than I thought he could play,” but not with his hitting. Collins had two hits in his first 25 at-bats. When his wife gave birth to a son in June 1990, Collins told the Post-DIspatch, “If I make another out, my baby is going to weigh more than my batting average.”

In July 1990, Herzog resigned and was replaced by Joe Torre in August.

Collins worked to stay fit and make a good impression, running up and down the steps at Busch Memorial Stadium before home games. “I’ve been with eight organizations and this is the best one,” Collins said. “I’d like to stay here.”

Collins finished the 1990 season with a .366 on-base percentage, including .406 as a pinch-hitter. Torre asked him to join his coaching staff and Collins accepted.

“Collins has had some pretty good tutors along the way, like Joe Morgan,” Torre said. “Young players need constant surveillance, somebody to hook on to, to talk to.”

According to the Post-Dispatch, Collins would “instruct young outfielders such as Felix Jose and Ray Lankford” and “work on base stealing with those two and Bernard Gilkey, among others.”

Collins instructed veterans, too. At spring training in 1991, he helped utility player Rex Hudler improve his outfield play. Hudler said Collins taught “how to charge the ball, what foot to field it on, throwing over the top, and picking up a dead ball off the wall after you’ve chased it down. He’s given me a lot of tips and tricks.”

Resetting priorities

After the 1991 season, Collins took a job during the winter as head coach of a boys’ high school basketball team in Anna, Ohio, near Dayton.

“It’s something I always thought about doing,” Collins said. “Basketball was my first love. The only way I can still stay in touch with it is to coach it.”

Collins arranged for Cardinals and Reds players to compete in a charity basketball game at the high school. Players included Lee Smith, Rich Gedman, Milt Thompson and Tim Jones of the Cardinals and the Reds’ Barry Larkin, Paul O’Neill, Hal Morris and Rob Dibble, one of the relievers known as the Nasty Boys.

“If we’d have been charting fouls, Dibble would have fouled out before the game even started,” Collins said. “He was out of control.”

Asked about Lee Smith, the Cardinals’ 6-foot-5 closer, Collins said, “He can really play. He hit about 10 three-pointers.”

After a second season as Cardinals coach in 1992, Collins went back to Ohio and coached high school basketball again.

When Collins reported to 1993 spring training to begin his third year as Cardinals coach, his heart was tugging him back to Ohio, where his two toddlers lived, and where the prep basketball team he coached still was playing its season.

Collins asked the Cardinals to be reassigned so he could spend more time in Ohio. The club granted the request, making him an advance scout.

Collins’ departure from the coaching staff saddened Lankford, who credited him with being a mentor.

“You felt comfortable going to him if you had a problem, or if you weren’t sure about certain things,” Lankford said. “He made the outfield what it was _ Felix, Gilkey, myself. I’m speaking for everybody. We’re going to miss him.”

In January 2020, Collins joined the baseball coaching staff of Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, Ind.

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Roger Kahn, who gained prominence for his work about the Dodgers, wrote extensively about the Cardinals as well.

Kahn, 92, died on Feb. 6, 2020. A newspaper and magazine journalist, Kahn wrote 20 or so books, including the 1972 classic “The Boys of Summer” about his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers.

After covering sports for the New York Herald Tribune, Kahn wrote for magazines such as Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated.

Kahn was respected by colleagues and the baseball people he covered. In February 1954, he called former Cardinals and Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, who had moved to the front office of the Pirates, at his spring training base in Fort Pierce, Fla., and was “offered a job,” The Sporting News reported.

When Kahn asked Rickey how long it would take him to do for the Pirates what he did for the Cardinals and Dodgers, Rickey replied, “I need help. If you know how to help a tail end ballclub, come down here. I’ll pay you more than you’re making. I don’t care what it is.”

Lane explains

In May 1956, Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider was the subject of a controversial Kahn article in Collier’s titled, “I Play Baseball For Money, Not Fun.”

A month later, in The Saturday Evening Post, Kahn wrote about Cardinals general manager Frank Lane in a piece titled, “I’m Here To Win A Pennant.” Lane was in his first season with the Cardinals and created a ruckus by trading players such as Red Schoendienst, Harvey Haddix and Bill Virdon.

“I didn’t come to St. Louis to raise red roses or tell after-dinner stories or take the tenor lead in ‘Hearts and Flowers,’ ” Lane told Kahn. “I came here to win a pennant and that’s exactly what I intend to do any way I can.

“I’ve got a program here to keep the club growing and improving,” Lane said. “I want to tell the other general managers around the National League that, with our fine farm clubs, and with the tough core we’ve welded, I’m not going to have to jump at every little offer for a trade. If I see something good, though, they’d better be ready.”

Lane lasted two seasons with the Cardinals and didn’t win a pennant.

Prideful struggle

Four years later, in September 1960, Kahn wrote a story on Stan Musial for Sports Illustrated titled, “Benching of a Legend.”

Musial, 39, was hitting .250 when he was benched by Cardinals manager Solly Hemus. Musial was kept out of the starting lineup from May 27 through June 23. His season batting average fell to .229 on June 25, but Musial recovered by hitting .352 in July and finished the year at .275 with 17 home runs.

Musial “intends to end his career with dignity and with base hits,” Kahn wrote. “Neither comes easily to a ballplayer several years past his peak, and so to Musial, a man accustomed to ease and to humility, this has been a summer of agony and pride.”

Regarding Musial’s struggles in the first part of the season, Kahn concluded, “Athletes, like chorus girls, are usually the last to admit that age has affected them, and Musial appeared to be following the familiar unhappy pattern.”

In an interview with Kahn, Hemus said, “What’s my obligation as manager? It’s not to a friendship, no matter how much I like a guy. My obligation is to the organization that hired me and to 25 ballplayers. I have to win. Stan was hurting the club. He wasn’t hitting and balls were getting by him at first base.”

Kahn reported, “Musial hated the bench. He confided to a few friends that he wouldn’t mind being traded to a club that would play him every day.”

After returning to the starting lineup, Musial told Kahn, “Maybe my wheels are gone, but I’ll be able to hit like hell for a long time.”

Musial went on to play three more seasons for the Cardinals, including 1962 when he hit .330, before retiring at 42.

High praise

When “The Boys of Summer” came out in February 1972, it received a glowing review from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which called Kahn’s work “a magnificent sports volume” and “a book which is redolent of dream and magic and which finds a common ground between one boyhood in a big city and lots of boyhoods in many other places.”

In September 1972, when Kahn was in St. Louis for a Cubs-Cardinals series, columnist Jerome Holtzman wrote in The Sporting News, “A half-dozen ballplayers got into line to meet and shake hands with Roger Kahn, who was in town promoting his bestselling ‘Boys of Summer.’ I had never seen players line up to meet a writer, and Kahn said it was a big thrill for him.”

Pitching lessons

In 2000, Kahn’s book, “The Head Game,” was published. It focused on pitchers, including two who were prominent with the Cardinals, Bob Gibson and Bruce Sutter.

Gibson told Kahn, “Pitching is inexact. It begins as a craft, working with your hands, but the longer you go, if you know how to think, the more it becomes an art.”

To illustrate, Gibson cited how he threw fewer knockdown pitches as he gained experience.

“As the art, the thinking, takes over, I’ve come to realize not everyone is bothered by knockdowns and some of them are afraid of my fastball, whether I throw at them or not,” Gibson said.

Like Gibson, Sutter won head games with batters. A Cardinals closer, Sutter did it with an innovative pitch, the split-fingered fastball.

“It was some time before I could control the splitter the way I had to,” Sutter told Kahn. “After a while, I found out I did best throwing for the top of the catcher’s mask. That became my target. If I used a wide finger split, the ball would end up in the dirt. If I split the fingers a little less, it would be a strike at the knees.

“Once in a while,” said Sutter, “maybe one pitch in 10, to cross them up, I’d play real dirty. I’d throw a straight fastball that didn’t drop at all.”

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The election of outfielder Larry Walker to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020 qualifies him as the top Canadian to play for the Cardinals.

Here’s a look at the five best Canadian Cardinals:


Acquired from the Rockies on Aug. 6, 2004, Walker, 37, hit .280 in 44 games for the 2004 Cardinals. With a .393 on-base percentage, the right fielder helped the Cardinals win a division title.

In the 2004 postseason, Walker hit six home runs: two in the National League Division Series versus the Dodgers, two in the NL Championship Series against the Astros and two in the World Series versus the Red Sox.

In Game 1 at Fenway Park in Boston, Walker, appearing in a World Series for the first time, was 4-for-5, including two doubles and a home run, and two RBI. Boxscore

The Associated Press noted, “He hasn’t allowed the atmosphere to overwhelm him. He said he was most excited about seeing Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, who sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ standing a few feet away from him.”

Born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Walker became the second Canadian to hit a home run in a World Series game. The first was George Selkirk for the 1936 Yankees against the Giants.

In 2005, his final season, Walker hit .289 for the Cardinals. His .384 on-base percentage helped them qualify for the postseason again.


A right-handed pitcher who could start and relieve, Taylor was 19-12 with 20 saves in three seasons (1963-65) with the Cardinals. His best pitches were a sinking fastball and slider.

Acquired from the Indians on Dec. 15, 1962, the Toronto native was a prominent member of the Cardinals’ staff in 1964 when they won a World Series title.

“As long as we have him in the bullpen, we’ll be well-fortified,” Cardinals consultant Branch Rickey told The Sporting News.

In the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, Taylor allowed no hits in 4.2 scoreless innings of relief.

Five years later, in the 1969 World Series for the Mets versus the Orioles, Taylor allowed no hits in 2.1 scoreless innings of relief.

His career statistics in the World Series: seven innings pitched, no hits, no runs and two saves.

Taylor, who earned a degree in engineering from the University of Toronto in 1961, enrolled in medical school after his playing career, graduated in 1977 and became the team physician of the Blue Jays in 1979.


Born in Swift Current, Canada, the pitcher was 17 when he signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in August 1965.

He made his Cardinals debut with a start against the Phillies on Oct. 1, 1969.

Cleveland lost his first six big-league decisions before outdueling Juan Marichal and beating the Giants at San Francisco on April 20, 1971.

Cleveland’s best season with the Cardinals was 1973 when he was 14-10 with a 3.01 ERA in 32 starts.

Though he threw right-handed, Cleveland used his left hand to eat, write and play other sports such as bowling and billiards.

“If somebody gave me a million dollars, I still couldn’t pitch left-handed,” Cleveland told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In five seasons with the Cardinals, Cleveland was 40-41 with eight shutouts and 27 complete games.


A left-handed pitcher, Cormier was chosen by the Cardinals in the sixth round of the amateur draft in 1988 when he was a member of the Canadian Olympic team.

A native of Moncton, Canada, he spent college summers working as a lumberjack.

Cormier played for the Cardinals for four seasons (1991-94). Appearing in 87 games, including 68 as a starter, he was 24-23.

His best Cardinals season was 1992 when he won his last seven decisions in a row and finished 10-10 in 30 starts. The winning streak was a relief for Cormier after he lost 10 of his first 13 decisions. He told the Post-Dispatch, “My wife and I were talking. She said we could be back in Canada chopping wood.”


A native of Burnaby, Canada, O’Neill went to high school in Larry Walker’s hometown of Maple Ridge. In 1975, O’Neill’s father was named Mr. Canada for winning the nation’s bodybuilding championship.

O’Neill, who played the piano as a youth, is a power-hitting outfielder who bats right-handed.

Selected by the Mariners in the third round of the 2013 amateur draft, O’Neill was acquired by the Cardinals for pitcher Marco Gonzales on July 21, 2017.

In two seasons (2018-19) with the Cardinals, O’Neill batted .258 and had far more strikeouts (110) than hits (70), but the club remained intrigued by his slugging potential.

In 2018, O’Neill hit 26 home runs in 238 at-bats for the Memphis farm club and nine home runs in 130 at-bats for the Cardinals.

“I get overanxious and I swing at stuff I shouldn’t swing at,” O’Neill told the Post-Dispatch in January 2020. “When I’m in my groove, I’m not chasing nearly as much and I have the ability to play in this league and excel in this league.”


_ Tip O’Neill: A native of Springfield, Canada, the outfielder never played for the Cardinals but he did play for their predecessors.

O’Neill spent seven seasons (1884-89 and 1891) with the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, a major league at the time. The American Association Browns were unrelated to the St. Louis Browns of the American League. In 1892, the American Association Browns joined the National League and eventually were renamed the Cardinals.

O’Neill, a right-handed batter, hit .344 during his St. Louis years, with an on-base percentage of .406.

_ Dave McKay: The Vancouver native was a Cardinals coach for 16 seasons (1996-2011) and helped them win three pennants and two World Series titles. His son, Cody McKay, also a Canadian, was a Cardinals utility player in 2004.

_ Stubby Clapp: A native of Windsor, Canada, Clapp became a Cardinals coach in 2019 after a successful stint as a manager in their farm system. Clapp managed Memphis to consecutive Pacific Coast League titles in 2017 and 2018.

His big-league playing career consisted of 23 games as a utility player for the Cardinals in 2001.

_ April 14, 1969: The Cardinals faced the Expos at Montreal in the first regular-season big-league game played outside the United States.

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Herman Franks was a player, coach and manager in the major leagues for five decades and it all began with the Cardinals.

A catcher who batted left-handed, Franks made his major-league debut with the Cardinals in 1939 as a backup to Mickey Owen.

With Owen as the starter and prospect Walker Cooper waiting in the minors, Franks was unlikely to get much playing time.

Eighty years ago, on Feb. 6, 1940, the Cardinals sold Franks’ contract to the Dodgers, who were managed by Leo Durocher, the former Cardinals shortstop. Durocher would play a pivotal role in Franks’ career.

Divine intervention

Franks was born in Price, Utah, where his father, an Italian immigrant, and mother settled.

In high school, Franks excelled at multiple sports. He opted to pursue a baseball career. At 18, Franks signed with the Hollywood Stars of the Pacific Coast League and played a few games for them in 1932 and 1933. Overmatched, Franks was advised by manager Ossie Vitt to go home.

“He didn’t think I’d ever be a good ballplayer,” Franks told The Sporting News.

Franks enrolled at the University of Utah and played amateur baseball for a Catholic Youth Organization team. The Catholic bishop of Salt Lake City recommended Franks to Cardinals scout Charley Barrett.

In the spring of 1935, Barrett invited Franks to a Cardinals tryout camp in Houston. Franks impressed Barrett and was signed. The Cardinals sent him to a farm team in Jacksonville, Texas, tomato capital of the world, in the West Dixie League and paid him $100 a month.

“I was just glad to make the club and be back in baseball,” Franks said.

Looking the part

Franks worked his way up the Cardinals’ system. At Sacramento in 1937 and 1938, Franks played for manager Bill Killefer, a former big-league catcher who managed the Cubs from 1921-25 and was a coach for the 1926 World Series champion Cardinals.

“Men in the Cardinals organization have a high regard for Killefer’s judgment,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted.

At spring training in 1939, Franks, 25, fulfilled expectations.

“Franks is built for catching, looks like he has been behind the plate all his life, throws accurately and easily and has the reputation of being a smart receiver,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals opened the 1939 season with Franks and Don Padgett as backups to Owen.

“Pitchers like to throw to Herman Franks.” the Post-Dispatch reported. “He chatters incessantly behind the plate, makes a fine target, isn’t afraid to assume responsibility and is said to be a good thrower.”

Twist of fate

Franks started for the first time in the majors on May 2, 1939, against the Braves at Boston. It was a bittersweet experience.

In the second inning, Franks drove in Johnny Mize from second base with his first big-league hit, a looping single to left against Danny MacFayden.

Moments later, Franks wrenched his left leg when he caught his spikes in the bag sliding back to first while eluding a pickoff throw, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported. Franks departed and was replaced by Owen. Boxscore

Sidelined for three weeks, Franks seldom played when he returned.

Sad times

On July 4, 1939, Franks was saddened to learn Charley Barrett, the scout who gave him his big break, died of heart disease at 68.

After the Cardinals played a night game at Cincinnati on July 6, manager Ray Blades and four players, Franks, Owen, Don Gutteridge and Pepper Martin, returned to St. Louis for Barrett’s funeral service the next morning while the rest of the team went to Pittsburgh for a series against the Pirates.

Among the pallbearers were Cardinals owner Sam Breadon, executive Branch Rickey and Martin. According to the Globe-Democrat, “Martin was always considered by Barrett as the greatest player he ever discovered.”

The day after Barrett’s funeral, Franks was sent to a farm club in Columbus, Ohio, after the Cardinals tried to trade him.

“Wonder how much truth there is to the report that the Cardinals offered catcher Herman Franks and $30,000 to Kansas City (a Yankees farm club) for Joe DiMaggio’s brother, Vince,” the Globe-Democrat reported.

Franks batted .297 for Columbus and was called up to the Cardinals in September. For the season, Franks had one hit in 17 at-bats for the Cardinals.

Dodgers days

Killefer, a coach on Durocher’s staff with the 1939 Dodgers, recommended the club acquire Franks.

The Dodgers opened the 1940 season with Babe Phelps as their starting catcher and a pair of former Cardinals, Franks and Gus Mancuso, as backups. In 1941, Owen, acquired from the Cardinals, was the Dodgers’ starting catcher, with Franks and Phelps in reserve.

The Dodgers won the 1941 National League pennant.

In Game 1 of the 1941 World Series at Yankee Stadium, Durocher lifted Owen for a pinch-hitter in the seventh inning. In the ninth, with the Yankees ahead, 3-2, the Dodgers had Joe Medwick on second, Pee Wee Reese on first and one out, with Franks due up. Durocher would have preferred to send a pinch-hitter, Augie Galan, but he couldn’t because Franks was their only available catcher.

On the first pitch from Red Ruffing, Franks grounded to second baseman Joe Gordon, who fielded the ball and flipped to shortstop Phil Rizzuto.

Rizzuto tagged the bag just before Reese arrived. Reese slid hard into Rizzuto, hurling him into the air, but not before Rizzuto made a throw to first to nab Franks and complete a game-ending double play. Boxscore

Career choices

Franks enlisted in the Navy in 1942 and served for four years. After his discharge in 1946, Franks, 32, played for the Dodgers’ Montreal farm club.

Rickey, who left the Cardinals for the Dodgers, made Franks the manager of the St. Paul farm team in 1947. In August, the Athletics, desperate for catching help, inquired about Franks.

“Mr. Rickey gave me my choice of staying on as a manager in St. Paul or going back to the big leagues again as a catcher,” Franks said.

Franks joined the Athletics for the last month of the 1947 season and was with them in 1948, too.

In 1949, Durocher, who became Giants manager, hired Franks to be a coach. Franks was a Giants coach for Durocher from 1949-55.

In his book, “The Echoing Green,” author Joshua Prager revealed Durocher’s Giants stole signs of opposing catchers. Franks used a telescope from a perch above the center field wall at the Polo Grounds to view the signs and relay them via a buzzer system, according to the book.

When the Giants fired manager Al Dark after the 1964 season, Franks replaced him. He managed the Giants for four seasons (1965-68) and finished in second place each year, including 1967 and 1968 when the Cardinals prevailed.

Franks also managed the Cubs from 1977-79.

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In the first major-league game he played, Dusty Baker was teammates with the fathers of two of the managers he will compete against in 2020.

Baker, who will turn 71 in June 2020 during his first season as Astros manager, was 19 when he debuted in the majors with the Braves against the Astros in 1968.

Two of the teammates who appeared with Baker in the game were Felipe Alou and Tito Francona.

Alou’s son, Luis Rojas, will manage the Mets in 2020 and will face Baker when the Astros play them in April and June this regular season.

Francona’s son, Terry Francona, will manage the Indians in 2020 and will face Baker when the Astros play them in June and July this regular season.

Music man

Johnnie B. Baker was born in Riverside, Calif. When he was a boy, his mother called him Dusty because he often got dust all over himself while playing, according to The New Yorker magazine.

Baker was a gifted athlete with a passion for music. He played the piano as a youth.

“Deep down inside, I don’t think of myself so much as a baseball man as I see myself as a music man, a blues man and much more than that,” Baker said in his 2015 book “Kiss The Sky.”

When he was 10, Baker wanted to stop playing baseball. “I couldn’t figure out what the big deal was playing ball,” Baker recalled to The Sporting News, “but, thankfully, my father wouldn’t let me quit. He kept me going, kept up my interest in playing.”

After he moved with his parents to the Sacramento area, Baker was the lead singer and only black member of a garage band. “I was going to be Hootie and the Blowfish before Hootie,” Baker said.

He excelled in multiple prep sports, including baseball, and was selected by the Braves in the 26th round of the amateur draft in June 1967, a week before he turned 18. The scout who recommended him to the Braves was Bob Zuk, who signed Willie Stargell for the Pirates and Reggie Jackson for the Athletics.

As an 18th birthday present, Baker’s mother bought tickets for him and a friend to the three-day June 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, featuring performances by Jimi Hendrix, the Who, Buffalo Springfield, Jefferson Airplane and Otis Redding, among others.

Turning pro

After signing with the Braves in August 1967, Baker reported to their Austin, Texas, farm club. Austin was managed by Hub Kittle, who would become the pitching coach for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals.

Two of Austin’s most prominent players were Cito Gaston and Walt Hriniak. Like Baker, Gaston would become a Braves outfielder and a big-league manager, leading the Blue Jays to World Series titles in 1992 and 1993. Hriniak would become an influential hitting coach who mentored Hall of Famers Wade Boggs and Frank Thomas, among others.

Baker joined Austin too late in the season to do much, but it was a different story the next year. He hit .342 for the farm club at Greenwood, S.C., in 1968 and was called up to the Braves in September.

Big time

On Sept. 7, 1968, the Astros led the Braves, 2-0, at Atlanta when Baker appeared in a big-league game for the first time, batting for a future Hall of Famer, pitcher Phil Niekro, with one out and the bases empty. Facing Denny Lemaster, Baker grounded out to short.

In addition to Felipe Alou and Tito Francona, Baker’s teammates in the game included four future Hall of Famers: players Hank Aaron, Joe Torre and Niekro, plus coach Satchel Paige.

The game had four players who would become big-league managers: Alou, Baker, Torre and the Astros’ Doug Rader. Boxscore

Baker made the most of his stint with the 1968 Braves. “You see the way he’s hitting the ball in batting practice?” Braves manager Lum Harris said to the Atlanta Constitution.

Baker’s first big-league hit was a single against the Astros’ Mike Cuellar, a former Cardinal. Boxscore His second hit was a single versus future Hall of Famer Juan Marichal of the Giants. Boxscore

“Baker will be a big-league star,” Lum Harris said. “I’d bet on that.”

After the season, Baker returned to California. In his book, he said he was on a street in San Francisco when he had a chance encounter with Jimi Hendrix and smoked a joint with him.

Distinguished career

In 1972, Baker’s first full season with the Braves, Hank Aaron said, “He does everything now but hit with consistent power. He’ll do that. I think he’ll hit between 25 and 30 homers a year in the future.”

Baker hit 20 or more home runs in a season six times, including a career high of 30 with the 1977 Dodgers.

In 19 seasons as a big-league player with the Braves, Dodgers, Giants and Athletics, Baker had 1,981 hits and 1,013 RBI.

The 2020 season will be his 23rd in the majors as a manager. Before accepting the Astros job in January 2020, Baker managed the Giants, Cubs, Reds and Nationals.

Baker played for 11 managers in the big leagues: Lum Harris, Eddie Mathews, Clyde King and Connie Ryan with the Braves; Walter Alston and Tommy Lasorda with the Dodgers; Frank Robinson and Danny Ozark with the Giants; and Jackie Moore, Jeff Newman and Tony La Russa with the Athletics.

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(Updated March 17, 2020)

Larry Walker, who completed his career with the Cardinals, had one of his greatest games as their opponent.

On April 28, 1999, Walker hit three home runs for the Rockies in their 9-7 victory over the Cardinals at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

Walker was the first opposing player to hit three homers in a game at St. Louis since the Expos’ Larry Parrish did it 22 years earlier in 1977.

It was the second of three times Walker hit three home runs in a game for the Rockies. He also did it against his former club, the Expos, at Montreal in April 1997 and against the Indians at Cleveland in June 2004, two months before he was traded to the Cardinals.

On Jan. 21, 2020, Walker was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America.

An outfielder who batted left-handed, Walker began his career with the Expos and spent his prime seasons with the Rockies before finishing with the Cardinals.

In 144 regular-season games for the Cardinals, Walker batted .286 with 26 home runs and 79 RBI. He also hit six home runs in 15 postseason games for the 2004 Cardinals. In 150 regular-season games against the Cardinals, Walker hit .300 with 28 home runs and 110 RBI.

Canadian club

Born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Walker wanted to be a professional hockey player. When a junior-level hockey team coach told him he’d be their third-string goalie, Walker, 17, switched to baseball, according to the Associated Press.

Signed by the Expos in 1984, Walker became a prized prospect in their farm system when he hit 33 home runs in 1986 and 26 in 1987.

On Jan. 16, 1988, while playing winter baseball in Mexico, Walker tore ligaments in a knee when he slipped while crossing home plate. He sat out the 1988 season and “there were times I didn’t think I’d make it” to the majors, Walker told the Montreal Gazette.

“I wondered, ‘What am I going to do now? Be a garbageman?’ ” Walker said.

Walker was with Class AAA Indianapolis when he got called up to the Expos in August 1989. He became the fifth Canadian to play for the Expos, following Claude Raymond, Larry Landreth, Bill Atkinson and Doug Frobel.

Though he grew up 2,300 miles from Montreal, Walker said, “This is one big country. We’re one big family.”

In his debut game against the Giants at Montreal, Walker had a single and three walks in four plate appearances. Boxscore

“What I liked about him is he had an idea about what he wanted to do every time he went to the plate,” Expos manager Buck Rodgers said.

According to the Montreal Gazette, when Walker reached base for the fourth time in the game, Giants first baseman Will Clark turned to him and said, “Geez, three walks. Not bad. They’re pitching you like a 10-year veteran.”

At spring training in 1990, Walker impressed the Expos with his dedication. In a four-day stretch, he took 500 swings per day in the batting cage. “I can’t believe how hard he works,” said Expos hitting coach Hal McRae.

Walker won the Expos’ right field job and never looked back. He hit .281 in six seasons (1989-1994) with the Expos before becoming a free agent and signing with the Rockies.

Powering up

Walker won the first of his three National League batting titles in 1998, but a rib injury sidelined him for the Rockies’ first seven games of the 1999 season.

When he returned to the lineup, he went homerless in his first eight games before he busted out against the Cardinals on a Wednesday night in St. Louis.

Walker had four hits, including the three home runs, and a career-best eight RBI in the game. Boxscore

The performance drew comparisons to Mark McGwire, the Cardinals’ first baseman, who witnessed it, but Walker dismissed such talk.

“My name is Larry, not Mark,” Walker told the Associated Press. “I don’t have Popeye arms. I’ve just got little tiny ones.”

In the opening inning, after the first two Rockies batters singled, Walker hit a three-run homer on a 1-and-2 pitch from right-hander Jose Jimenez.

With the Rockies ahead, 4-3, in the second, Walker batted with runners on first and third, two outs, and hit the first pitch from Jimenez for another three-run home run.

Walker had three hits, all home runs, in four career at-bats versus Jimenez. The last also was in a three-homer game for Walker in 2004 when Jimenez was with the Indians. Walker and Jimenez were Rockies teammates from 2000-2003.

Walker’s third home run of the game at St. Louis came in the seventh. Facing Scott Radinsky with a runner on first and one out, Walker hit a 1-and-2 pitch from the left-hander for a two-run homer, giving the Rockies a 9-6 lead.

All three home runs were hit over the right-field wall.

In 17 seasons in the majors, Walker batted .313 with 2,160 hits, 383 home runs, 1,311 RBI and a .400 on-base percentage. He won the Gold Glove Award for his outfield play seven times.

In an interview with the Baseball Hall of Fame magazine, “Memories and Dreams,” Jim Leyland, who managed the Rockies in 1999, said, “Barry Bonds is the best player I ever managed, but Larry Walker was the best five-tool player I ever saw. There was nobody more impactful in a game than Larry Walker. He beat you all five ways _ defense, his throwing, his base running, his hitting and his power.”

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