Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Feeling disrespected by management at the bargaining table and on the field, shortstop Garry Templeton lashed out at the Cardinals.

Forty years ago, on March 27, 1979, Templeton asked to be traded and threatened to play at less than his best if his request wasn’t granted.

Templeton, 23, was upset because general manager John Claiborne wanted him to take a pay cut and because manager Ken Boyer and coach Dal Maxvill wanted him to change the way he played shortstop.

A day after expressing his unhappiness, Templeton apologized and remained the St. Louis shortstop.

Hurt feelings

In 1978, his third season with St. Louis, Templeton hit .280 with 31 doubles, 13 triples and 34 stolen bases, but he committed 40 errors.

After the season, the Cardinals hired Maxvill, their former Gold Glove shortstop, as a coach and assigned him to work with Templeton in 1979.

When Claiborne made a contract offer to Templeton for 1979, it called for a 10 percent cut in the $100,000 salary he received in 1978, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Claiborne proposed the cut because of Templeton’s high number of errors. Templeton was insulted because he led the 1978 Cardinals in hits (181) as well as triples and stolen bases and he believed such production should be rewarded.

“There are guys in this league making more than I am who can’t even hold my shoestrings, or tie my shoestrings,” Templeton told The Sporting News in February 1979.

The sides resolved the matter, with Templeton getting a 1979 salary of $130,000, but the increase didn’t erase the sting of his bruised feelings.

“That really hurt him,” Templeton’s friend and teammate, outfielder Jerry Mumphrey, said. “He hasn’t gotten over it.”

At spring training, Maxvill worked with Templeton on fielding fundamentals, but Templeton resisted the instruction because he believed he was being constrained.

Playing chicken

When Templeton’s frustration reached a breaking point, he went to the media to express his views.

“I’m not going to play hard,” Templeton said to Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch. “I’m not going to do my best here. Hopefully I’ll be traded if the Cardinals aren’t too chicken to trade me.

“Either get me traded or get me more money. They can take the Cardinals uniform and shove it.”

Templeton said he twice asked the Cardinals to trade him. “They’d rather mess with you instead of sending you to someplace where you’ll be happy,” Templeton said.

In an interview with Mike Shannon of KMOX, Templeton said, “I don’t want to play with the Cardinals. I think they’re giving me too much trouble and I’m not happy here. I don’t want to play here and I’m not trying to play hard.”

After the outburst, Templeton met with his agent, Richie Bry, the Post-Dispatch reported. Bry met with Claiborne. After that, Templeton and Bry met with Claiborne and Boyer.

On second thought

The next day, Templeton attempted to control the damage he caused. He apologized for his words, claimed he no longer wanted to be traded and said “my contract is not and has never been the problem.”

In a prepared statement, Templeton said, “I regret the statements I made yesterday in the heat of anger for they do not accurately reflect my feelings for the Cardinals team, the city of St. Louis or the fans.

“The crux of my problem with management has always been my style of playing shortstop. Since I was 7 years old, I have developed certain habits and routines which have now become second nature to me. I believe that they give me more mobility, speed and range.”

Templeton contended his error total was high because he covered more ground than most shortstops. “Cardinals management and I disagreed on this and thus my anger and frustration,” he said.

Hummel noted, “Templeton’s style has on occasion been one of seeming nonchalance. He emphasizes catching balls with one hand, something Boyer and infield coach Dal Maxvill have suggested he alter.”

Said Boyer: “We haven’t tried to drive anything down his throat.”

To err is human

Reaction from Cardinals players and media generally was supportive of Templeton.

“All I know is that before long this guy is going to be the greatest shortstop I ever saw,” said Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons. “I just wish that when that happens he’ll be in St. Louis.”

Said first baseman Keith Hernandez: “I hope they can resolve the problem because we need him.”

Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg declared no Cardinals shortstop “has had anywhere near the basic all-round talent” of Templeton. “If Templeton is miffed most because Boyer had Maxvill trying to tell the kid how to do it at shortstop … tell Maxie to learn a few jokes to keep the kid loose and let him alone,” Broeg wrote.

Post-Dispatch columnist Doug Grow offered, “There is no greater insult to any working person than a reduction in pay. My guess is that management never will recover from that offer. An effort to save a few thousand a few months ago eventually could cost the Cardinals a shortstop worth millions.”

Templeton hit .314 with 32 doubles, 19 triples and 26 stolen bases for the Cardinals in 1979. He produced 211 hits and made 34 errors.

Two years later, in August 1981, Templeton created another controversy when he made obscene gestures to fans who booed him for lack of hustle in a game at St. Louis. He was traded after the season to the Padres for shortstop Ozzie Smith.

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To acquire Bill White, the Cardinals had to give up their best pitcher.

Sixty years ago, on March 25, 1959, the Cardinals traded pitchers Sam Jones and Don Choate to the Giants for White and utility player Ray Jablonski.

Jones led National League pitchers in strikeouts in 1958, with 225, and shattered the Cardinals’ single-season record of 199 set by Dizzy Dean in 1933. Jones also led the 1958 Cardinals in wins (14) and ERA (2.88).

White, a first baseman and outfielder, was highly regarded, but he couldn’t get a spot in the Giants’ lineup and wasn’t the Cardinals’ first choice. Giants outfielder Leon Wagner was the hitter the Cardinals wanted before they settled on White, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals took heat for making the deal, but it turned out to be the right move.

Who’s on first?

White made his major-league debut with the Giants in 1956 and hit 22 home runs as their first baseman. He served in the Army in 1957 and the first six months of 1958. Orlando Cepeda became the Giants’ first baseman in 1958 and the rookie excelled.

When White returned to the Giants in July 1958, he was relegated to a reserve role. White hit .241 in 26 games for the 1958 Giants. Cepeda hit .312 with 25 home runs and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

At spring training in 1959, Cepeda was back and a power-hitting prospect, Willie McCovey, whose best position was first base, was close to joining the team. White, seeing his path blocked, asked the Giants to trade him.

Help wanted

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine was determined to acquire a hitter to boost the 1959 lineup. In 1958, Ken Boyer was the only Cardinal to hit as many as 20 home runs.

According to Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg, the Cardinals set their sights on Wagner, who hit 13 home runs in half a season as a Giants rookie in 1958 after producing impressive power numbers in the minor leagues.

Wagner’s ability to hit home runs was appealing, but Cardinals talent evaluators concluded White was a better player.

While scouting winter baseball in the Dominican Republic, Cardinals manager Solly Hemus and farm director Walter Shannon saw White and were impressed. Cardinals minor-league manager Joe Schultz, who managed a team in the Dominican Republic, also raved about White.

After Cardinals scout Ollie Vanek filed glowing reports about White from Arizona spring training in 1959, Devine sent his special assistant, Eddie Stanky, to take a look. Stanky managed the Cardinals from 1952-55 and managed White in the minor leagues.

Stanky scouted White for a week. In his 2004 autobiography, “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said he called Stanky in Arizona from a phone booth on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., to get his opinion on whether to acquire White.

“How well do you like him?” Devine asked Stanky.

Stanky replied, “Let’s not debate it. You sent me out here to see him. I like him. I’m telling you right now I’d make the deal. I suggest you do, too.”

Worth a risk

The trade was unpopular in St. Louis because Jones was so well-regarded. “He was, and we do not mind saying it out loud, one of our special favorites,” the Post-Dispatch declared in an editorial.

Broeg noted the deal “took nerve” because “the Cardinals gambled front-line pitching for potential batting power.”

The Cardinals were heartened by the reaction of former Giants manager Leo Durocher, who told the Associated Press, “I’ll bet you that in one or two years White will be one of the great players in the National League.”

Cardinals reliever Marv Grissom, a former Giant, said the Cardinals made the right choice. “Wagner has more power, all right, as much as anybody in the game,” Grissom said. “White is a smarter player, faster, better defensively and good and strong enough at the plate.”

White told The Sporting News, “I’m happy with the trade. With the Cardinals, I’ll get to play regularly. Naturally, I’m in baseball for the money, and when you play regularly you have a better argument for salary terms.”

In his autobiography, “Uppity,” White said he was pleased to be traded, but “at the time, St. Louis was the worst city in the league for black players” because of segregationist attitudes. In 2011, when I interviewed White about the deal, he said, “St. Louis wasn’t my first choice, but it ended up that it was a great trade for me.”

Finding the groove

The Cardinals opened the 1959 season with an outfield of Stan Musial in left, Gino Cimoli in center and Joe Cunningham in right, with White at first base.

Pressing to fulfill expectations of being a power hitter, White struggled and had one hit, a single, in his first 19 at-bats. Cardinals coach Harry Walker urged him to relax and make contact rather than try for home runs. “White was lunging too much, was ahead of the pitch, wasn’t getting a good look,” Walker said.

After starting three games at first base and another in left field, Hemus had White make six starts in center field, even though Curt Flood was available.

In his autobiography, White said, “I was a terrible outfielder. I couldn’t judge fly balls. I couldn’t throw and I couldn’t cover the ground.”

On April 29, 1959, Hemus moved Musial to first base and shifted White to left. White was the left fielder from late April until early June. After that, he alternated between first base and left field.

After batting .195 in April, White hit .393 in May and .382 in June. He finished the season at .302, with 33 doubles and 12 home runs.

Jones, meanwhile, was 21-15 for the 1959 Giants and led the league in ERA at 2.83.

After the season, the Cardinals acquired Wagner from the Giants, hoping he’d fill an outfield spot, but he played one season for them as a reserve before going to the American League and becoming an all-star for the Angels.

In eight seasons with the Cardinals, White batted .298, topped 100 RBI three times and hit 20 or more home runs five years in a row. He won the Gold Glove Award six times as a Cardinals first baseman. He also was a National League all-star with the Cardinals in 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1964 and helped them become 1964 World Series champions.


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For such a straightforward deal, the trade of Joe Torre to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda took some twists and turns involving pitcher Nolan Ryan and center fielder Curt Flood.

Fifty years ago, on March 17, 1969, the Cardinals sent Cepeda to the Braves for Torre in a swap of first basemen.

The Braves were shopping Torre because he was feuding with general manager Paul Richards and hadn’t signed a contract. Most thought Torre would go to the Mets, who’d been in trade talks with the Braves for several weeks.

The Mets offered pitcher Nolan Ryan, first baseman Ed Kranepool, infielder Bob Heise and a choice of catchers, J.C. Martin or Duffy Dyer, for Torre and third baseman Bob Aspromonte, The Sporting News reported. Torre and Aspromonte were Brooklyn natives.

Ryan, who would become baseball’s all-time leader in strikeouts, impressed the Braves but was a raw talent. Richards rejected the four-for-two proposal because he wanted catcher Jerry Grote or outfielder Amos Otis, but the Mets “labeled them untouchables,” according to Atlanta Constitution sports editor Jesse Outlar.

“We aren’t making a deal with the Mets unless they change their minds,” Richards said.

When the Mets wouldn’t budge, the Braves offered Torre to the Dodgers for catcher Tom Haller, but the Dodgers weren’t interested, the Constitution reported.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine offered Cepeda and Flood for Torre and outfielder Felipe Alou, according to the Constitution, but Richards wouldn’t trade Alou, so the clubs settled on Cepeda for Torre. Seven months later, when the Cardinals traded Flood to the Phillies, he refused to report, prompting his legal challenge of the reserve clause and opening a path to the creation of free agency.

Cepeda feels chill

The Cardinals were willing to trade Cepeda because his performance declined in 1968 and he miffed management by reporting late to spring training in 1969.

After batting .325 with 111 RBI and winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award with the Cardinals in 1967, Cepeda hit .248 with 73 RBI in 1968.

Cepeda “found himself taken advantage of by well-wishing friends who helped him pile up debts and other problems that didn’t endear him to the Redbirds management … especially when at times he’d duck out of the dugout between innings to conduct personal matters,” Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals hoped Cepeda would be more focused in 1969, but he informed Devine by telegram he would report late to spring training.

When Cepeda arrived at camp on March 5, he said he’d been sick, but Devine fined him $250 for reporting 48 hours later than he said he would.

Cepeda said he detected “a coolness” from Devine, and Broeg reported “Cepeda realized there had been a change in attitude toward him.”

“Bing was not terribly friendly and he was all business,” Cepeda said in his 1998 book “Baby Bull.”

In his 2004 book “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said, “I thought Cepeda might be on the way down.”

Mother knows best

Torre, meanwhile, was having issues with Braves management because Richards wanted him to take a salary cut. Torre hit .294 in nine seasons (1960-68) as Braves catcher, but he tore ligaments in his ankle in 1967 and suffered a broken cheek and broken nose when hit by a pitch from Chuck Hartenstein of the Cubs in 1968. Limited to 115 games in 1968, Torre batted .271 with 55 RBI.

The Braves were planning to move Torre to first base in 1969, but when he refused to report to spring training because of the salary squabble, Richards told him he could “hold out until Thanksgiving” because the club would be OK without him.

The Cardinals were interested because Torre (28) was three years younger than Cepeda (31), had a less expensive salary ($65,000) than Cepeda ($80,000) and could play multiple positions.

“This is all part of our belief that we can’t just sit and ride along with a winner, but must look for changes that make sense,” Devine said.

Devine projected Torre to play first base and back up Tim McCarver at catcher.

When Torre told his mother he’d been traded to the two-time defending National League champions, she replied, “Now go to church and thank God.”

“Mom recognized what going with a championship ballclub like the Cardinals meant,” Torre said.

Cepeda, described by pitcher Bob Gibson as the team’s “spiritual leader,” said he was “shocked” by the trade, “but I’m not mad at the Cardinals. They treated me very well.”

Said Richards: “Now we have someone to hit behind Hank Aaron. The opposition can no longer pitch around Aaron.”

Good fit

When Torre joined the Cardinals at training camp, he was greeted by Warren Spahn, a manager in their farm system and a former battery mate. “You’ll love it here,” Spahn told Torre.

Torre wore uniform No. 15 with the Braves, but McCarver had that number with the Cardinals. “I think I’ll ask for No. 6,” Torre said with a smile, knowing it was the retired number of Stan Musial.

Torre was given No. 9, last worn by recently retired Roger Maris.

In his 1997 book, “Chasing the Dream,” Torre said, “I felt a lot of pressure trying to replace Cepeda, but found myself surrounded by a great bunch of teammates.”

With Cepeda, the Braves won a division title in 1969 and played in the National League Championship Series against the Mets, who’d acquired Donn Clendenon to play first after they failed to get Torre. The Cardinals placed fourth in their division and Gibson good-naturedly chided Torre, saying, “You know, we used to win before you got here.”

Individually, Torre had a better 1969 season than Cepeda. Torre hit .289 with 101 RBI. Cepeda hit .257 with 88 RBI.

Cepeda played four seasons with the Braves and hit .281. Torre played six seasons with the Cardinals and hit .308. In 1971, Torre was named winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award when he batted .363 with 137 RBI as Cardinals third baseman.

Years later, Devine said acquiring Torre “was one of my favorite deals on the basis of his long-term success.”

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Don Newcombe was as tough on the Cardinals with his bat as he was with his pitches.

Newcombe, who died Feb. 19, 2019, at 92, was a hard-throwing, hard-hitting pitcher who spent his prime years with the Dodgers.

At 6 feet 4, 220 pounds, Newcombe was an imposing figure on the mound, where he threw right-handed, and at the plate, where he batted left-handed.

In 10 years in the major leagues, Newcombe had a 149-90 record and hit .271 with 15 home runs. Against the Cardinals, Newcombe was 23-11 and hit .299 with six home runs.

In 1955, when he was 20-5 for the World Series champion Dodgers, Newcombe “toyed with the Cardinals as though they were a sandlot team,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Newcombe was 4-0 with a 1.75 ERA and batted .524 with seven RBI versus the 1955 Cardinals.

Newcombe “is downright unbelievable these days,” marveled the Post-Dispatch. “The way he’s going, the only question is whether he can throw as hard as he can hit, or hit as hard as he can throw.”

Rookie vs. Redbirds

Newcombe, 22, made his major-league debut for the Dodgers against the Cardinals on May 20, 1949, at St. Louis and it was a hard-luck initiation.

With the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, Newcombe relieved Rex Barney to open the bottom of the seventh inning. The St. Louis Star-Times, getting its first glimpse of the rookie, described him as “bull-shouldered” and a “massive mountain man.”

Newcombe struck out the first batter, Chuck Diering, on three pitches _ two fastballs and a curve _ and Red Schoendienst followed with a lined single to right.

Next up was Stan Musial. Newcombe fooled him with a low, outside pitch, causing Musial to check his swing, but the ball met his bat and was blooped into shallow left for a single, moving Schoendienst to second.

Newcombe overpowered the next batter, Eddie Kazak, who topped the ball to short so weakly Pee Wee Reese had no play.

The infield single loaded the bases for Enos Slaughter, who drove Newcombe’s first pitch deep down the left-field line for a bases-clearing double. Newcombe was relieved by Erv Palica and the Cardinals won, 6-2. Boxscore

“I had good stuff,” Newcombe said to The Brooklyn Daily Eagle. “My arm felt good and loose, too.”

Three months later, on Aug. 24, 1949, in what The Brooklyn Daily Eagle called “quite possibly the most important single game the Dodgers will have this season,” Newcombe pitched a shutout and drove in three runs in a 6-0 victory over the Cardinals at Brooklyn. The win moved the Dodgers within a game of the first-place Cardinals. Boxscore

Newcombe is “the closest thing to a real blow-’em-down pitcher the National League has seen since Mort Cooper was at his best,” declared the Post-Dispatch.

Solved by Stan

The Dodgers won the 1949 pennant, finishing a game ahead of the Cardinals. Newcombe posted a 17-8 record, pitched 244.1 innings and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

In the 1994 book “We Played the Game,” Newcombe said as a rookie, “I had the talent and desire _ and I was cocky. I knew I was good, as good or better than the white guys who were trying to keep me from being there.”

Newcombe led the National League in winning percentage in 1955 (20-5, .800) and 1956 (27-7, .794), and was 4-0 versus the Cardinals in each season.

The Cardinal who hit Newcombe the hardest was Musial. Newcombe gave up more home runs (11) to Musial than to any other batter. Musial hit .349 against him.

In “We Played the Game,” Newcombe said, “I pitched toward batters’ weaknesses. Except for Stan Musial and Hank Aaron, they all had weaknesses, even Willie Mays.”

On June 21, 1956, during a season when Newcombe won both the Cy Young Award and the National League Most Valuable Player trophy, Musial hit a pair of two-run home runs and a single against him, but the Dodgers won, 9-8, with a four-run rally in the bottom of the ninth. Boxscore

Newcombe and Carl Erskine were the pitchers when Musial hit for the cycle against the Dodgers on July 24, 1949, at Brooklyn. Musial tripled against Newcombe and had a single, double and home run off Erskine. Boxscore

In his 1964 autobiography, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “Newk had as great control for a hard thrower as any pitcher I ever faced. I hit him good, but he had a good fastball and curve.”

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The return of Bernie Carbo to the Cardinals after a six-year absence was a minor free-agent signing with major consequences.

Forty years ago, in March 1979, the Cardinals signed Carbo to a two-year contract for a guaranteed $115,000 per season.

Carbo was projected to be a backup outfielder and pinch-hitter for the Cardinals in 1979 and 1980.

Years later, Keith Hernandez, the Cardinals first baseman who in 1979 won a National League batting title and was named co-winner of the Most Valuable Player Award, testified in federal court he began using cocaine with Carbo when they were Cardinals teammates.

In retaliation for testifying against him, Carbo said he offered to pay someone to have Hernandez’s arms broken.

From Reds to Redbirds to Red Sox

Carbo had a troubled childhood in Detroit, but he possessed baseball talent and was chosen by the Reds in the first round of the 1965 amateur draft.

He made his major-league debut with the Reds in 1969, became their left fielder in 1970 and helped them win the National League pennant. Carbo batted .310 with 21 home runs and a .454 on-base percentage for the 1970 Reds, but was hitless in the World Series versus the Orioles.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the relationship between Carbo and Reds manager Sparky Anderson deteriorated, and on May 19, 1972, Carbo was dealt to the Cardinals for first baseman Joe Hague.

As the Cardinals’ right fielder, Carbo batted .258 with a .381 on-base percentage in 1972 and .286 with a .397 on-base percentage in 1973.

The Cardinals traded Carbo and pitcher Rick Wise to the Red Sox for outfielder Reggie Smith and pitcher Ken Tatum on Oct. 26, 1973.

Two years later, in the 1975 World Series against the Reds, Carbo joined former Cardinal Chuck Essegian of the 1959 Dodgers as the only players to hit two pinch-hit home runs in one World Series.

Limited options

After batting .287 for the 1978 Indians, Carbo, 31, became a free agent and “was shocked to find there was hardly any demand for his services,” according to The Sporting News.

The Cardinals were the only club to make him an offer. Carbo said, “I was depressed very, very much” by the lack of interest. “It hurts that nobody wants you.”

The reason the Cardinals took a chance was because of Carbo’s history with general manager John Claiborne, who’d been a Red Sox administrator.

With Lou Brock in left, Tony Scott in center and George Hendrick in right, Carbo was a backup for the 1979 Cardinals. He seldom played and hit .281 in 64 at-bats. In July, he showed up late for a game and got into an argument with manager Ken Boyer. Fined and told to stay out of uniform, Carbo apologized the next day and was reinstated.

In 1980, Carbo again opened the season as a Cardinals reserve, but he hit .182 in 11 at-bats and got released in May.

Demons and drugs

In September 1985, Hernandez was called to testify in U.S. District Court in Pittsburgh in the trial of a man accused of dealing drugs. Under oath, Hernandez said Carbo introduced him to cocaine in 1980.

Hernandez testified he used cocaine from 1980 to 1983 and played in one game for the Cardinals while under the influence of the drug. “It was a demon in me, an insatiable urge,” Hernandez said. Hernandez said other cocaine users on the Cardinals were Carbo, Joaquin Andujar, Lary Sorensen and Lonnie Smith, the New York Times reported.

Asked about Hernandez’s testimony, Carbo told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He’s saying this to save his own career. He wants to put the blame on somebody else … He’s the one with the problem, spending big bucks on stuff like that.”

Twenty-five years later, in a 2010 interview with ESPN’s “Outside the Lines” program, Carbo said he sought to hire someone in 1985 to break the arms of Hernandez.

“I knew some people, and I had $2,000, and I asked them to break his arms,” Carbo said to ESPN.

According to the New York Post, Carbo changed his mind when told he likely would be implicated in any attack on Hernandez.

Carbo told ESPN, “When I went to an individual to have it done, he said, ‘We’ll do it in two or three years if you want it done, but we’re not going to do it today, Bernie. If we went and broke his legs today, or broke his arms, you don’t think they would understand that you are the one that had it done?’ ”

Carbo told ESPN he wanted to apologize to Hernandez for getting him started on cocaine. “I would tell Keith Hernandez I’m sorry that I introduced you to the drug and I’m sorry that I was your problem,” Carbo said.

Hernandez told Newsday, “He doesn’t owe me an apology.”

Getting clean

In a 2001 interview with The Sporting News, Carbo said, “I was a drug addict and alcoholic for 28 years.” He said he “did cocaine when I was 22 or 23, and got into crystal meth, Dekedrines, Benzedrines, Darvons, codeine. There wasn’t much that I didn’t do.”

Carbo said to ESPN, “I was addicted to the point where I couldn’t play without the drugs.”

After Carbo was implicated in the drug trial, his mother committed suicide and his father died two months later. Carbo told ESPN, “I felt at that time I was responsible for my mother’s death.”

In 1992, Carbo wanted to take his own life. “I really didn’t have any hope or any reason to live any longer, so I was really contemplating suicide,” he said.

Carbo later wrote a book, “Saving Bernie Carbo,” and said he overcame his addiction to drugs and alcohol with the help of the Baseball Assistance Team (BAT) and with the encouragement of former players Ferguson Jenkins, Bill Lee and Sam McDowell.

In an April 2018 interview with The Detroit News, Carbo speculated clubs knew of his substance abuse problems during his playing days. “I think that’s why I got traded so many times,” he said. “I got traded every two or three years. They were probably aware of my wrongdoings.”

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Early in spring training 1989, Mets teammates Keith Hernandez and Darryl Strawberry provided a snapshot of the season ahead and it wasn’t pretty.

Thirty years ago, on March 2, 1989, Hernandez and Strawberry got into a scuffle while the Mets gathered for a team photo at training camp in Port St. Lucie, Fla.

Hernandez, the former Cardinal, and Strawberry were two of the Mets’ most prominent players and their fight was visible evidence all was not right with team chemistry.

“It is not without reason the Mets have a psychiatrist on the premises,” New York Daily News columnist Mike Lupica observed.

Sticks and stones

In a four-year stretch from 1985-88, the Cardinals and Mets ruled the National League East. The Cardinals won the division title in 1985 and 1987; the Mets did it in 1986 and 1988. Hernandez, the smooth-fielding first baseman acquired from the Cardinals in 1983, and Strawberry, the slugging right fielder, were instrumental in the Mets’ success.

When Strawberry showed up at training camp in 1989, he informed the Mets he wanted to renegotiate a contract which had two years remaining. “I feel I’m not being appreciated for what I’ve done,” Strawberry said to the New York Times.

Mets management was uninterested in reworking the agreement and Hernandez sided with the front office, telling a newspaper Strawberry was “getting bad advice” and “a deal’s a deal.”

At the photo session on a Thursday morning before workouts began, Strawberry said to Hernandez, “Why did you say those things about me?’

Hernandez replied, “I’m tired of your baby stuff.”

Strawberry said, “I’ve been tired of you for years,” and took a swing at Hernandez.

The backhand punch grazed Hernandez on the cheek, according to the Daily News.

Pitchers Dwight Gooden and Bob Ojeda restrained Strawberry, and pitcher Randy Myers grabbed Hernandez and lifted him off the ground to keep him from going after Strawberry, the Daily News reported. Video

“Another day in fantasy land,” said Mets pitcher Ron Darling. “Like Barnum and Bailey and the great traveling show.”

The photo session continued, with Gary Carter and Howard Johnson sitting between Hernandez and Strawberry, the SunSentinel of Fort Lauderdale reported. Strawberry and Hernandez took batting practice on separate fields. Later, they met together with team psychiatrist Dr. Alan Lans and shook hands, the New York Times reported.

“Do not believe anything was resolved beyond a truce,” Lupica wrote in the Daily News. “The two men still do not like each other.”

With management refusing to budge on his demand for a new contract, Strawberry capped the day by skipping an intrasquad game and walking out of camp, saying he wouldn’t return unless the Mets agreed to renegotiate.

“Someday, a Met will go on the disabled list with hurt feelings,” Lupica predicted.

Strawberry smooch

The next day, March 3, Strawberry didn’t show at training camp and was fined by the club.

With the Mets playing the Dodgers in an exhibition game at Port St. Lucie on March 4, the soap opera took a twist when Strawberry returned with a grand entrance.

As a public address announcer called their names in pre-game introductions, Mets players emerged one by one from the dugout and formed a line on the field. After Hernandez came out, Strawberry’s name was called and the prodigal player appeared to a chorus of boos from the home crowd. Strawberry acknowledged the fans by gesturing for more boos, the Daily News reported.

As Strawberry lined up next to Hernandez, they hugged and Strawberry kissed him on the right cheek.

“It took all of three seconds for Darryl Strawberry to offer Keith Hernandez the ultimate olive branch,” the Daily News reported.

Strawberry, claiming the kiss was spontaneous, declared the fight “should have never happened” and said, “We’re friends now.”

“Me and Keith have had a special relationship and I don’t want it to be destroyed by what happened in the past,” Strawberry said.

Hernandez told Gannett News Service, “It should be water under the bridge. We’ll just go forward from here. We’re here to play ball.”

Sad season

Both Hernandez and Strawberry had subpar seasons for the 1989 Mets and their performances were factors in why the team failed to reach the postseason.

Hernandez hit .233 with a paltry 19 RBI. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Indians.

Strawberry hit .225 with 29 home runs. He played another year for the Mets, fulfilling the contract, became a free agent and joined the Dodgers in 1991.

The 1989 Mets finished at 87-75, six games behind the first-place Cubs and a game ahead of the third-place Cardinals.

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