Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

In a game of role reversals, Gene Stechschulte was up to the challenge.

Twenty years ago, on April 17, 2001, Stechschulte, a Cardinals relief pitcher, made his first plate appearance in the majors. Pinch-hitting against Diamondbacks starter Armando Reynoso, Stechschulte hit a two-run home run at Busch Memorial Stadium.

A reliever pinch-hitting in his first plate appearance wasn’t the only unusual occurrence in the game. Bobby Bonilla, a Cardinals first baseman and outfielder, made his first pitching appearance since high school, working the last inning in the 17-4 rout by the Diamondbacks.

College clouter

Stechschulte was a hitter before he became a pitcher. As a shortstop for Ashland University in Ohio, he set school records for total bases, home runs and RBI, leading the club to a NCAA Division II World Series appearance in 1995.

After Stechschulte graduated first in his class from Ashland’s school of business and economics with summa cum laude honors, he signed with the Cardinals in June 1996 and became a relief pitcher in their farm system.

A 6-foot-5 right-hander, Stechschulte had 33 saves for Peoria in 1998 and 26 for Memphis in 2000.

He only got to bat one time in the minors and when he did he cracked a double for Memphis.

Surprise swat

Stechschulte made his Cardinals debut in 2000 and was 1-0 in 20 relief appearances, shuttling back and forth between St. Louis and Memphis.

In 2001, he opened the season with the Cardinals and allowed only one run in his first five relief appearances.

On April 17, a Tuesday night at St. Louis, the Diamondbacks scored eight runs in three innings against Cardinals starter Dustin Hermanson and seven more versus reliever Chad Hutchinson.

In the sixth inning, with the Diamondbacks ahead, 15-1, the Cardinals had Albert Pujols on first, two outs, and reliever Mike James due to bat.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa, who had substituted liberally after the Diamondbacks built their lead, wanted a pinch-hitter, but his options were limited. He chose Stechschulte, even though he’d never batted in the big leagues.

Stechschulte swung at the first pitch and hit it over the wall in left-center for a two-run home run.

“One pitch, and whack!” broadcaster Jack Buck said on the air. “What a surprise that was.” Video

Stechschulte said it was his first home run since he was Ashland’s cleanup hitter in 1996.

“Most of the guys back home still think of me as a hitter and not a pitcher,” Stechschulte told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “They’re probably more surprised that I’m pitching.”

In the ninth, La Russa had Bonilla pitch in a big-league game for the first time and he gave up two runs, including a home run to the first batter he faced. Boxscore

Special fraternity

Stechschulte was the fifth Cardinals player to hit a home run in his first big-league plate appearance. Since then, others have done it. The complete list:

_ Eddie Morgan, pinch-hitter, April 14, 1936, vs. Cubs.

_ Wally Moon, center fielder, April 13, 1954, vs. Cubs.

_ Keith McDonald, pinch-hitter, July 4, 2000, vs. Reds.

_ Chris Richard, left fielder, July 17, 2000, vs. Twins.

_ Gene Stechschulte, pinch-hitter, April 17, 2001, vs. Diamondbacks.

_ Hector Luna, second baseman, April 8, 2004, vs. Brewers.

_ Adam Wainwright, pitcher, May 24, 2006, vs. Giants.

_ Mark Worrell, pitcher, June 5, 2008, vs. Nationals.

_ Paul DeJong, pinch-hitter, May 28, 2017, vs. Rockies.

_ Lane Thomas, pinch-hitter, April 19, 2019, vs. Mets.

Stechschulte became the 16th major-league player to hit a home run on the first pitch in his first plate appearance. He also was the 13th big-league player to hit a pinch-hit home run in his first plate appearance.

Paid to pitch

A week later, on April 25, 2001, Stechschulte got his first big-league save, with 2.1 innings of scoreless relief against the Expos at St. Louis. Boxscore

“Getting this save was definitely more exciting than the home run because we won this game,” Stechschulte told the Post-Dispatch. “It feels better to contribute to a victory. Pitching like that is my role on this team. My role is not to hit.”

The next day, though, La Russa again sent Stechschulte to pinch-hit for Mike James. Stechschulte coaxed a walk from Expos pitcher Masato Yoshii. Boxscore

On May 10, Stechschulte pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Pirates and produced a RBI-single versus Scott Sauerbeck. Boxscore

For the season, Stechschulte was 1-5 with six saves. He had two hits and a walk in four plate appearances.

The next year, 2002, was Stechschulte’s last in the majors. He had a 6-2 record for the Cardinals and was hitless in two at-bats.

Stechschulte became head baseball coach at Ohio Northern University in 2012. His teams set a school record with 79 victories from 2014-2016.

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In September 1972, the Cardinals gave Ken Reitz a look in the majors for the first time and liked what they saw.

Playing with confidence and aggressiveness, Reitz, 21, fielded smoothly and hit for average, convincing the Cardinals he was ready to be their third baseman.

In two stints with the Cardinals, Reitz led National League third basemen in fielding percentage five times (1973, 1974, 1977, 1978 and 1980) and won a Gold Glove Award (1975).

His surehanded glovework earned Reitz the nickname “Zamboni” because, like the machine, he cleaned everything in his path on the artificial turf at Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

A right-handed batter who played in the majors for 11 seasons, including eight with the Cardinals, Reitz died on March 31, 2021, at 69.

Giants fan

A son of a beer distributor, Reitz grew up in Daly City near Candlestick Park in San Francisco. “When I was a kid, I used to sneak into Candlestick over the fence,” Reitz told the San Francisco Examiner. “That’s before they enclosed the park.”

His favorite player was Giants slugger Willie McCovey.

The Cardinals chose Reitz in the 31st round of the 1969 amateur draft. Signed as a shortstop for $3,000, Reitz, 18, played first, second and third for Cardinals farm clubs in 1969. At the Florida Instructional League in the fall, he played 10 games at catcher and also was tried in the outfield.

Reitz settled in at third base in 1970 and began a steady rise through the Cardinals’ farm system. With Class AAA Tulsa in 1972, he led the club in doubles (26) and RBI (66) and dazzled with his defense, even though he twice dislocated his left shoulder.

“Ken is an aggressive hitter,” Tulsa manager Jack Krol told The Sporting News. “He’s not going to be cheated. You might say he’s a lot like Joe Medwick. If the ball is quite a bit outside, he’ll still swing.”

Regarding Reitz’s fielding, Krol said, “Ken makes the play coming in as well as any third baseman I’ve seen.”

Born for baseball

In late August 1972, the Cardinals sent first baseman Matty Alou to the Athletics, clearing the way for Joe Torre to move from third to first and for Reitz to get a chance at third.

Reitz was a refreshing addition to a Cardinals club that was out of contention. Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Reitz as a “throwback to an era when ballplayers came to play nothing but baseball.”

When asked on a National League questionnaire about his ambition outside of baseball, Reitz answered, “Baseball is my life. I have always wanted to be a professional baseball player. I was born with a baseball glove in one hand and a bat in the other.”

Asked about his hobbies, Reitz replied, “Hitting line drives.”

Wearing uniform No. 47, Reitz made his Cardinals debut against the Expos at St. Louis on Sept. 5, 1972, and had two hits, two runs and a RBI. Boxscore

In a doubleheader versus the Mets on Sept. 8 at New York, Reitz had four hits in the first game and three in the second. Boxscore and Boxscore

After five games in the majors, Reitz was batting .571 (12-for-21). On Sept. 19, he drove in the winning run against the Phillies in the 10th inning at St. Louis. Boxscore

In 21 games for the 1972 Cardinals, Reitz hit .359 and had 10 RBI.

The Cardinals liked his hitting and fielding, but not his lack of speed. They hired UCLA track coach Jim Bush to put Reitz on a running and conditioning program during the off-season in California. Bush had success with several athletes, including Lakers guard Jerry West, Rams receiver Lance Rentzel and UCLA quarterback Mark Harmon, the future actor.

“Harmon’s dad, Tom, asked me to work with him,” Bush told The Sporting News. “Mark’s legs were as good when the football season ended as they were at the start. My running program really paid off for him.”

Defense matters

The Cardinals opened the 1973 season with rookies on the left side of the infield, Reitz at third and Ray Busse at shortstop. Reitz switched from No. 47 to No. 44, the same worn by his boyhood hero, Willie McCovey.

April was a tough month for the club. The Cardinals lost 15 of 18 games. For the month, Reitz hit .177 and Busse hit .114, drawing boos from home fans.

Busse never recovered and was traded to the Astros. Reitz rebounded and hit .256 with 12 RBI in May. He also established himself with his glove.

On May 4, 1973, at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, the Dodgers had runners on first and third, one out, in the ninth inning when Joe Ferguson drilled a grounder down the third-base line. Reitz dived, made a backhanded grab, spun and threw a strike to catcher Tim McCarver, who tagged out Bill Buckner.

“The greatest play I’ve ever seen any third baseman make,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the Post-Dispatch.

According to the newspaper, Reitz “had to make an arching throw to keep from possibly hitting the runner. He was falling away when he made the throw.”

First baseman Joe Torre said, “I think he threw the ball without looking.” Boxscore

Bob Broeg noted, “It’s nice to have the kind of brilliant plays Ken Reitz has been making at third base, but it’s even nicer to see the routine plays made, the kind that the center fielder and a medley relay of shortstops have been unable to execute.”

Storybook stuff

Another highlight occurred on May 9, 1973, when Reitz hit his first major-league home run. It came against the Giants’ Ron Bryant at Candlestick Park. Reitz’s parents were in the stands, along with some of the boyhood buddies who used to sneak into games with him at Candlestick Park. Boxscore

A month later, Cardinals broadcaster Mike Shannon, the third baseman for the pennant-winning 1967 and 1968 teams, told The Sporting News that Reitz “probably will become the best defensive third baseman the Cardinals ever had.”

“The plays Reitz makes are unbelievable,” Shannon said in June 1973. “For a guy slow afoot, he has the best lateral movement I’ve ever seen. He has great range, a sure and true arm, great confidence, and can come in well on a ball. I think he can become better than, or as good as, Ron Santo, and he’s the best I’ve seen.”

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Batting for the Reds against the Cardinals, Wally Post boldly launched a baseball where none had gone before at the original Busch Stadium in St. Louis.

Sixty years ago, on April 14, 1961, Post hit a home run that struck an Anheuser-Busch sign high atop the scoreboard in left.

If not for the obstruction, the ball would have carried nearly 600 feet, according to estimates.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch called it the “most impressive, most powerful home run hit in Busch Stadium.”

Big bopper

A right-handed batter, Wally Post reached the majors with the Reds in September 1949 when he was 20.

At 6 feet 1 and 190 pounds, he wasn’t exceptionally large but he was exceptionally powerful. Post hit 40 home runs for the Reds in 1955 and 36 in 1956. In 21 games against the 1956 Cardinals, managed by Fred Hutchinson, Post produced nine home runs and 17 RBI.

In 1959, Post beat Hank Aaron in TV’s Home Run Derby. Video

“He was a fun guy who could hit the ball a ton and was a good fielder with a strong, accurate arm,” catcher Andy Seminick recalled in the book “We Played the Game.”

For 20 years, the folks at Siebler Clothing Store in Cincinnati offered a free suit to any player whose home run hit their advertising sign behind the left field wall at Crosley Field. The store gave away 176 suits. Post won the most, with 11.

The Reds traded Post to the Phillies for pitcher Harvey Haddix in December 1957 but reacquired him in June 1960 when Hutchinson was the Reds’ manager.

Having gotten thick around the middle, Post dropped weight and showed up at spring training in 1961 focused on beating out Gus Bell for a starting outfield spot. Getting trim enabled Post to swing the bat more freely and the results were impressive. He hit seven home runs in spring training games.

“It just shows what a fellow can do when he gets himself in shape and comes down here determined to win a job,” Hutchinson told The Sporting News. “Post’s power has been tremendous.”

We have liftoff

In the Reds’ season opener at home against the Cubs, Post started in right field and hit a three-run home run.

Three days later, the Reds were in St. Louis to play in the Cardinals’ Friday night home opener at Busch Stadium. Batting in the cleanup spot, Post had a triple and a walk in his first two plate appearances against starter Curt Simmons.

In the sixth, the Cardinals led, 3-0, when Post came up with one on and two outs. The first pitch from Simmons was to Post’s liking. As soon as he swung, the players knew it was something special.

Left fielder Stan Musial turned his head and watched the ball soar. “It was like a man in orbit,” Musial said to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

Simmons told The Sporting News, “Usually I don’t watch homers, but this one I had to see.”

Applied science

The ball cleared the wall and rocketed over the bleachers. Behind the bleachers was the massive scoreboard. Attached to the top of the scoreboard was a rectangular Budweiser sign. Atop the Budweiser sign was a square sign showing a neon Anheuser-Busch eagle. The animated eagle flapped its wings when a Cardinal hit a home run.

Post’s projectile pounded high off the Anheuser-Busch sign near the eagle’s beak. “The ball almost made the eagle scream,” the Post-Dispatch noted.

In his book “Pennant Race,” Reds reliever Jim Brosnan wrote, “That’s about as high and hard as a ball can be batted by a human being.”

The Anheuser-Busch sign was about 90 feet from the ground. “That ball still had juice left in it when it hit the sign,” Hutchinson said.

Reds pitcher Jay Hook, pursuing a master’s degree in mechanical engineering at Northwestern University, estimated the ball would have carried 569 feet if its path hadn’t been impeded.

“The ball carried about 150 feet a second,” Hook told the Post-Dispatch.

Cardinals outfielder Charlie James, who had an electrical engineering degree from the University of Missouri, agreed the ball would have gone nearly 600 feet.

Nothing like it

Musial, who two innings earlier hit a pitch from Hook over the pavilion roof in right and onto Grand Boulevard, told the Post-Dispatch, “Post’s shot made mine look like a bunt.”

In comments to The Sporting News, Musial said Post’s home run was “the most powerful I’ve ever seen.”

“I’ve seen some balls go halfway up on that scoreboard but never up there,” Musial told the Dayton Daily News.

Hutchinson said, “That’s the longest homer I ever saw.”

Cardinals manager Solly Hemus and broadcaster Harry Caray echoed Hutchinson’s comment.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said, “Post’s ball has got to be the longest here” at Busch Stadium, formerly known as Sportsman’s Park.

Bill DeWitt Sr., who worked in the front offices of the Cardinals and Browns before becoming Reds general manager, said there was no doubt Post’s home run was a record for the ballpark.

“Paul Easterling of the Tigers hit one out of here at the top of the pavilion roof in center,” DeWitt told the Post-Dispatch. “Babe Ruth hit some long ones here, but they were into the center field seats.”

Scoreboard engineer Lou Adamie recalled Luke Easter of the Indians hitting a ball over the pavilion extremity in center, but agreed Post’s was the mightiest.

Cardinals outfielder Bob Nieman said Post’s home run would have gone at least as far as Mickey Mantle’s epic shot against Chuck Stobbs of the Senators at Washington’s Griffith Stadium in 1953. Mantle’s homer cleared the left field bleachers and was estimated to go more than 500 feet.

Cardinals crusher

Post, 31, told the Dayton Daily News that “everything was perfect” with his swing on the tape-measure home run.

“I only wish a sequence camera had recorded the swing so I could study what I did right,” Post said to the Cincinnati Enquirer. Boxscore

Post hit 20 home runs in 99 games for the 1961 Reds, who won the National League pennant. In 13 games versus the 1961 Cardinals, Post hit five home runs and batted .342. Ten of his 13 hits against the Cardinals were for extra bases.

In the World Series against the Yankees, Post hit a home run and batted .333.

Four years later, Jim Wynn of the Astros hit a home run that struck the Budweiser sign on the Busch Stadium scoreboard, a mammoth shot, but still short of where Post’s ball landed.

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In 12 years in the big leagues, Joe Cunningham hit two walkoff home runs. Both came within a span of three days for the Cardinals. One was his lone grand slam in the majors.

A first baseman and outfielder, Cunningham was a left-handed hitter with a knack for reaching base often. In seven years with the Cardinals, he hit .304 and had an on-base percentage of .413.

Cunningham died March 25, 2021, at 89.

Though he hit for average rather than power, Cunningham packed a wallop at times. His first major-league hit for the Cardinals was a three-run home run against the Reds’ Art Fowler in June 1954. The next day, he hit two more home runs versus Warren Spahn of the Braves.

Three years later, Cunningham capped a summer surge with his game-winning home runs.

Versatility matters

Cunningham was born in Paterson, N.J. At 17, he impressed Cardinals scout Benny Borgmann with his hitting, but lacked speed. “That’s when Joe began to take up dancing to improve his agility,” The Sporting News reported.

Cunningham played three seasons (1949-51) in the Cardinals’ farm system before serving a two-year hitch in the Army. With Rochester in 1954, Cunningham impressed with a .471 on-base percentage and was called up to the Cardinals at the end of June to replace Tom Alston at first base.

After hitting .284 for the 1954 Cardinals, Cunningham went to spring training in 1955 as the incumbent first baseman. When he slumped, the Cardinals assigned him to Rochester and moved Stan Musial from the outfield to first base.

Cunningham “was stunned by the unexpected departure,” The Sporting News reported. Being demoted was “the darkest hour of my life,” he told broadcaster Harry Caray.

With Musial anchored at first base, Cunningham spent all of 1955 and most of 1956 in the minors. He worked as a steamfitter in New Jersey during the winters.

At spring training in 1957, Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson suggested the way for a backup first baseman to make the Opening Day roster would be to show an ability to play the outfield as well.

“Joe grabbed a glove and plunged right into it,” Cardinals coach Terry Moore told The Sporting News. “The guy really wants to play.”

Though the Cardinals hadn’t considered Cunningham as an outfield candidate, “they had to change their minds early” after seeing him quickly learn, The Sporting News noted.

“He’s quite a character because he’s so intense, tries so hard that, gritting his teeth, glowering and bearing down so much, he looks like the meanest man in town,” Hutchinson said. “Yet he’s a real nice kid.”

Hot hitter

Cunningham, 25, stuck with the 1957 Cardinals and excelled in a platoon with Del Ennis in right field, and as a pinch-hitter and backup to Musial at first base.

“It’s great to be playing,” Cunningham said. “I’ve come to like the outfield better than first base.”

In a Sunday doubleheader against the Pirates on July 28, 1957, at St. Louis, the Cardinals won the first game, 4-0, on a one-hitter by 18-year-old Von McDaniel. Boxscore

With the score tied at 8-8 in the second game, Cunningham was in the dugout, getting ready to lead off the bottom of the 11th, when Hutchinson told Hal Smith to prepare to execute a hit-and-run play if Cunningham reached base.

“You won’t need a hit-and-run sign, Smitty,” Cunningham said. “I’ll hit one out of here.”

Good to his word, Cunningham hit the first pitch from Nellie King onto the roof in right for a walkoff home run. Boxscore

Cunningham “swings a 36-ounce bat and on occasions he loads it with dynamite,” the Pittsburgh Press noted.

Two nights later, on July 30, in a game against the Giants at St. Louis, the Cardinals had a runner on third, one out, in the bottom of the ninth with the score tied at 3-3.

Hoping to set up a double play or a force at home, Giants pitcher Ruben Gomez gave intentional walks to Musial and Wally Moon, loading the bases. Eddie Miksis, a defensive substitute, was due to bat, but Hutchinson sent Cunningham instead.

After throwing two screwballs outside the strike zone, Gomez grooved one to Cunningham, who crushed it. The ball hit a girder near the face of the Longines clock on the right-center field pavilion roof at the original Busch Stadium for a walkoff grand slam. Boxscore

Cunningham “makes Frank Merriwell look like a pale imitation of the boy wonder,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat marveled.

Filling the bases

The game-winners highlighted an amazing July for Cunningham. He hit .411 for the month and his on-base percentage in 24 July games was .507.

Cunningham finished the season with a .318 batting average and .439 on-base percentage. He made 42 starts in right field and 22 at first base. In 38 plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in 1957, Cunningham hit .400 and his on-base percentage was .500.

Two years later, as the 1959 Cardinals’ right fielder, Cunningham led the National League in on-base percentage (.453) and was second in batting average (.345).

“Except for Stan Musial, Cunningham is the most popular Cardinals player,” Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote in May 1959.

He got the nicknames Jersey Joe and Smokey Joe, the latter because in his bachelor days in St. Louis he and teammate Don Blasingame had an apartment in Gaslight Square above a Greek restaurant called Smokey Joe’s Cafe, catcher Tim McCarver told author Danny Peary in “We Played the Game.”

Cunningham often was at his best against the Dodgers. In 102 games against them, he hit .356 with an on-base percentage of .475. He tormented tough Dodgers right-handers, hitting .434 against Don Drysdale and .500 versus Stan Williams.

“I grew up in New Jersey as a Yankees fan and hated the Brooklyn Dodgers,” Cunningham told the Post-Dispatch.

After his playing career, Cunningham was a manager in the Cardinals farm system for four years (1968-71). He was a coach on the staff of manager Whitey Herzog in 1982 when the Cardinals became World Series champions.

Cunningham also worked in ticket sales and community relations for the Cardinals.

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From the start of his big-league career with the Cardinals, Albert Pujols showed he was a special talent.

Twenty years ago, on April 2, 2001, Pujols made his debut in the majors in the Cardinals’ season opener against the Rockies at Denver.

Pujols, 21, earned a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster and in their starting lineup after arriving at spring training as a non-roster player with one year of experience in the minors.

Playing multiple positions, Pujols had an awesome April and gave notice he would be a force in the big leagues.

Big leap

Playing for Maple Woods Community College in Kansas City, Pujols was chosen by the Cardinals in the 13th round of the June 1999 amateur draft on the recommendation of scout Dave Karaff. Pujols signed with them in August.

His first professional season was in 2000 when he played for three Cardinals farm teams. Most of his games were with Class A Peoria. A right-handed batter, Pujols totaled 41 doubles and 96 RBI for the season.

At spring training with the Cardinals in 2001, Pujols hit .349, rarely struck out and played five positions: left field, right field, third base, first base and shortstop. Yes, shortstop.

For instance, in one exhibition game, Pujols started in right field before he shifted to shortstop and turned “a nifty double play as he fielded a grounder and stepped on the bag ahead of a charging runner,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, “I watched him take ground balls in Florida at short. I talked to him about it and he said he played it in college.”

Pujols impressed Cardinals talent evaluators, including La Russa, but most thought it would be unlikely for him to make the jump from Class A to the big leagues.

La Russa was “against keeping Pujols unless he could find some steady playing time for him,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

As the start of the season neared, Pujols told the newspaper, “If I had to go to the minor leagues tomorrow, it would be fine with me.”

When Bobby Bonilla went on the disabled list, it cleared a spot on the Opening Day roster for Pujols.

“The more we saw him, the more we felt he could definitely contribute,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said.

Starting lineup

With the Rockies starting left-hander Mike Hampton on Opening Day, La Russa wanted right-handed batters in the lineup. He chose Pujols to start in left field instead of Ray Lankford.

“He’s really got a maturity about him you don’t see very often in young players,” La Russa said. “You don’t see it in older players.”

Batting sixth, Pujols was 1-for-3 against Hampton. He nearly had a hit in his first at-bat when he pulled a pitch hard on the ground, but “was robbed” by third baseman Jeff Cirillo, who fielded the ball and threw him out, the Post-Dispatch noted.

After a flyout in the fourth, Pujols singled to left in the seventh, then was caught attempting to steal second. Video

Pujols downplayed the significance of his first hit. “I’ve been doing it the whole spring training,” he told the Post-Dispatch. Boxscore

Historic homers

Four days later at Phoenix, Pujols, batting fifth and playing right field, hit his first big-league home run, a two-run shot against the Diamondbacks’ Armando Reynoso. Video

“Pujols, who had been fed a steady diet of breaking pitches, jumped on a 1-and-2 hanger and sent it into the left field seats,” the Post-Dispatch reported. Boxscore

When the Cardinals played their 2001 home opener on April 9, Pujols started at third base and batted seventh. In the first inning, he made a barehand grab of Todd Walker’s swinging bunt and threw him out at first.

In the second, Pujols got a fastball from Denny Neagle on a 1-and-2 count and drove it over the wall in left for a two-run home run, his first at St. Louis. Pujols rewarded the applauding fans with a curtain call.

Pujols was the first Cardinals rookie to hit a home run in his first home game since Wally Moon did it in 1954, according to the Post-Dispatch.

The Rockies showed their respect for the rookie in the ninth when they walked him intentionally with two on and none out. Boxscore

Fitting right in

Pujols batted .370 in April, with 34 hits and 27 RBI in 24 games. His on-base percentage for the month was .431.

“I don’t think anybody has told him this is a pretty tough league,” Cardinals pitcher Andy Benes said.

The Sporting News noted, “Pujols has an air about him, as if he belongs in the major leagues, even though he has just one year of pro experience.”

Expos manager Felipe Alou, like Pujols, a native of the Dominican Republic, marveled that when the rookie stepped into the batter’s box, “He stands there like a man. They didn’t teach him fear where he grew up.”

Pujols remained consistently productive and versatile throughout the 2001 season. He made 52 starts at third base, 38 in left field, 33 in right field, 31 at first base and two as designated hitter.

Named the recipient of the National League Rookie of the Year Award, Pujols led the 2001 Cardinals in runs (112), hits (194), doubles (47), home runs (37), RBI (130), batting average (.329) and total bases (360). Video

According to the Cardinals’ media guide, Pujols was the first National League rookie to hit at least .300 with 30 home runs, 100 RBI and 100 runs scored.

Pujols also was the first player since Ken Boyer in 1961 to lead the Cardinals in batting average, home runs, RBI and runs scored in one season.

Cardinals coach Mike Easler said solid mechanics enabled Pujols to hit pitches of all speeds and locations.

In describing Pujols’ batting approach, Easler told The Sporting News, “He stays quiet, the less movement the better. He’s got a good, solid base, knees flexed, slightly in. He’s pre-loaded, meaning his hands are back. He’s got vision. The eyes are focused on the release point. He’s almost a no-strider. That quiets his head down, so he sees the ball better.”


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Norm Sherry, who helped Sandy Koufax and Gary Carter fulfill their Hall of Fame potential, came close to being acquired by the Cardinals.

A catcher who earned a reputation for leadership while playing for the Dodgers and Mets, Sherry became a coach and manager. He died March 8, 2021, at 89.

In 1963, the Cardinals were about to complete a multi-player deal with the Mets involving Sherry but it fell through.

Oh, brother

Sherry signed with the Dodgers in 1950 when he was 18. He spent seven years in the minors and two in the Army before he got to the big leagues for two games with the Dodgers in 1959 when he was 27.

His younger brother, Larry Sherry, made his debut in the majors with the Dodgers in 1958 and became their relief ace in 1959 when they won the pennant. In the 1959 World Series against the White Sox, Larry was 2-0 with two saves and an 0.71 ERA.

In 1960, Norm stuck with the Dodgers as a backup to Johnny Roseboro.

On May 7, Norm caught Larry for the first time in a big-league game. In the 11th inning, Larry got the win when Norm hit a walkoff home run against the Phillies’ Ruben Gomez. It was Norm’s first home run in the majors. Boxscore

“My biggest thrill,” Norm told the Los Angeles Times.

According to The Sporting News, Larry and Norm were the 10th brother battery in the big leagues since 1900. Others included two Cardinals combinations: pitcher Mike and catcher Jack O’Neill in 1902-03 and pitcher Mort and catcher Walker Cooper in 1940-45.

Big blow

A right-handed batter, Norm excelled at pulling pitches into and over the left-field screen at the Los Angeles Coliseum. He hit .302 with seven home runs at home for the 1960 Dodgers and .219 with one home run on the road.

On May 31, 1960, in a game against the Cardinals at Los Angeles, the score was tied at 3-3 when the Dodgers put runners on second and third with none out. Cardinals starter Ron Kline gave an intentional walk to Charlie Neal, loading the bases for Norm.

Norm swung at Kline’s first pitch, a high slider, and drove it over the screen for a grand slam, his first as a professional. “I felt good the minute I got hold of it,” Norm told the Los Angeles Times.

The Dodgers won, 8-3, and Larry got the save. Boxscore

In six games against the 1960 Cardinals, Norm hit .348 with three home runs.

Good tip

Norm developed a reputation as a good defensive catcher who worked well with pitchers.

In the book “We Played the Game,” Dodgers pitcher Stan Williams said, “Norm Sherry and I thought alike, so I liked having him as my catcher. It helped having a catcher who would go along with you if you didn’t want to throw a pitch. All I had to do was stare at him and he’d know what I wanted to throw instead.”

At spring training in 1961, Sandy Koufax was entering his seventh season with the Dodgers. His talent was obvious, but his performances were inconsistent. His record through six seasons was 36-41, including 8-13 in 1960.

During a spring training game, Norm urged Koufax to ease up on his fastball in order to get better command of the pitch.

In the book “Sandy Koufax: A Lefty’s Legacy,” Norm told author Jane Leavy, “What I actually said was, ‘Take something off the ball and let them hit it. Nobody’s going to swing the way you’re throwing now.’ He wound up like, ‘Here, hit it,’ and struck out the side.

“I said, ‘Sandy, I got to tell you something, you just now threw harder trying not to than you did when you were trying to.’ “

Koufax threw seven hitless innings.

“It took me six years to get it through my thick skull, but I’m not taking such a big windup,” Koufax told The Sporting News in April 1961. “I’m throwing easier and I have more confidence now.”

Koufax won 18 in 1961 and embarked on a stretch of dominant seasons that led to election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Costly collision

For Norm Sherry, the 1961 season took a painful turn on April 20 in a game against the Cardinals. In the third inning, Sherry was bowled over by the baserunner, pitcher Curt Simmons, as he awaited a throw from the outfield. Simmons’ knee struck Sherry on the left side and “he went down in a heap,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

Sherry spent a week in a hospital for treatment of kidney lacerations and internal bleeding. Boxscore

When he returned to the lineup a month later, Sherry hit a home run versus Warren Spahn. Boxscore

Trade talk

The Dodgers shipped Sherry to the Mets after the 1962 season.

In June 1963, the Cardinals, in contention, were looking to acquire a starting pitcher and targeted the Mets’ Roger Craig.

According to Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals and Mets “were believed near a 5-for-3 deal.” The Mets offered Craig, Sherry and reliever Ken MacKenzie for catcher Gene Oliver, outfielder Duke Carmel, and pitchers Bob Sadowski, Harry Fanok and Ron Taylor. Because of his defensive skills, Sherry appealed to the Cardinals as a backup for 21-year-old catcher Tim McCarver.

The Cardinals didn’t want to part with Taylor, but the Mets were insistent. “I felt the Mets would ask too much for me,” Craig told broadcaster Harry Caray, “and I’m afraid they did.”

When the two sides couldn’t agree, the Cardinals changed plans, dealing Oliver and Sadowski to the Braves for Lew Burdette on June 15, 1963. After the season, the Cardinals got Craig for outfielder George Altman and pitcher Bill Wakefield.

Craig and Taylor helped the 1964 Cardinals become World Series champions.

Sherry hit .136 overall, including .056 versus the Cardinals, in 1963, his last season as a big-league player.

Teaching skills

Sherry went on to manage for 12 years in the farms systems of the Dodgers, Angels and Giants.

In the big leagues, he managed the Angels for parts of the 1976 and 1977 seasons, and coached for 16 years with the Angels, Expos, Padres and Giants.

Expos manager Dick Williams hired Sherry to tutor catcher Gary Carter, beginning in 1978 at spring training. “He will spend a lot of time getting Carter’s catching mechanics going in the right direction,” Williams told the Montreal Gazette. 

Carter accepted Sherry’s suggestions and said, “Norm is showing me how to turn my glove instead of backhanding a ball, and how to get in front of the ball better. He’s also working with me on how to be quicker and more accurate with my throws.”

The improvements helped Carter become a Hall of Fame catcher.

“Carter’s big success is mainly because of Norm Sherry,” Williams told the Gazette in August 1979. “That’s why he’s so far advanced this quickly. Sherry has done an outstanding job with him.”

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