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Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

Tigers catcher Bill Freehan was a central character in one of the most controversial plays in Cardinals history.

In the 1968 World Series, the defending champion Cardinals won three of the first four games against the Tigers. Freehan was the goat. He went hitless in the first four games, made two errors and was tormented by Cardinals baserunners, especially Lou Brock, who swiped seven bases.

Things changed in Game 5 at Tiger Stadium on Oct. 7, 1968.

In the third inning, Brock was at first when Freehan called for a pitchout and nailed the speedster at second. “That was the first lucky guess I’ve made all Series,” Freehan told columnist Milton Gross of the New York Post.

Still, the Cardinals led 3-2 in the fifth and were threatening to knock out starter Mickey Lolich. With Brock at second, Julian Javier lined a single to left. Willie Horton, a left fielder not known for his defense, unleashed a strong, accurate throw to the plate. (Lolich told the Associated Press, “As fast as Brock is, I didn’t even figure there would be a throw.”) The peg took one clean hop directly to Freehan, who stood, blocking the plate, “like the towering Washington monument,” wrote Milt Richman, columnist for United Press International.

Brock tried to score standing, collided with Freehan and was called out by umpire Doug Harvey, igniting an animated protest from the Cardinals.

The momentum _and the Series _ shifted to the Tigers with that play. “It was the biggest play of the game,” Brock said to the Associated Press. “It was the turning point. We had the makings of a big inning, and instead of one run, one man on and one out, there were two outs and no runs.”

Detroit rallied to win, 5-3, and send the Series back to St. Louis, but the debate raged about whether Brock was safe or out. Brock said his foot touched the plate before Freehan tagged him. Freehan said Brock came up short of the plate. Others thought Brock stepped on Freehan’s planted foot and bounced off and around the plate. Video

Columnist Milton Gross reported this exchange:

Freehan: “Harvey told me if Lou had slid, he would have been safe. He just never touched the plate.”

Brock: “I was safe. I touched the center of the plate right between Freehan’s legs. Freehan came up behind me as we were arguing after the play and tagged me.”

Freehan: “I was surprised he didn’t slide. There I was, set. With my left foot planted where it was, he’d have had to slide through it or touch the plate with his hand simply because I was between him and the plate. When he hit me on the left side, he just spun away from the plate. The reason I tagged him a second time was I saw him coming back _ like a reflex, you know?”

Brock: “If I slid, he would have had a good chance of blocking me out. He was standing wide-legged, his feet four or five feet apart, one up the third-base line, the other at the corner of the plate. If you slide, he gets down on one knee and you don’t get in.” Boxscore

The on-deck batter, Curt Flood, gestured for Brock to slide, but “I didn’t have time to look at anyone,” Brock said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The play was in front of me and I had to look at the catcher.”

Flood said Brock was safe because “half of Brock’s foot was on the plate.”

In his World Series column for the Post-Dispatch, Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson said he thought Brock was safe and did right by not sliding. “When the catcher is blocking the plate, you can slide and never get to it,” Gibson said.

Years later, in his book “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson saw the play differently. “In my heart, I wish Lou had slid,” Gibson said.

The Tigers won Game 6. Facing Gibson in Game 7, Detroit broke a scoreless tie in the seventh, with Freehan’s double driving in Jim Northrup after Northrup lined a two-run triple that was misjudged by Flood in center.

In the ninth, Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver fouled out to Freehan to end the game, won by Detroit, 4-1, giving the Tigers their first World Series championship in 23 years. Boxscore

Though the Cardinals had 11 stolen bases in 16 attempts against Freehan in the Series and he batted .083 (2-for-24), he is remembered most for his block of home plate in Game 5.

Brock, interviewed in 2012 by Mike Stone of CBS Detroit, still insisted he was safe on that play.

“I did not have a great jump, but I thought I could make it,” Brock told Stone. “But Willie Horton made the throw of his life. I never thought Horton could make that throw. The next thing I know I was going to collide with Bill Freehan _ and we know who would have won that. I was safe, but the umpire called me out, so I was out.”

Previously: Should Curt Flood have caught Jim Northrup’s drive?

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Benny Valenzuela, a pioneering Mexican-born ballplayer, emerged from a humble start in professional baseball and reached the majors, but the Cardinals were the wrong club for a rookie third baseman.

Valenzuela, who died Oct. 24, 2018, at 85, played briefly for the Cardinals in two stints with them in 1958. The Cardinals, though, were set at third base with a premier player, Ken Boyer, and that meant Valenzuela had little opportunity to play.

The Cardinals traded Valenzuela after the 1958 season and he never got back to the big leagues. He did, however, continue his playing career in the minors and he went on to have success as a manager for many years in the Mexican League.

Big break

Benjamin Beltran Valenzuela was born in Los Mochis, a city founded by Americans near the Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico. His nickname was Papelero because as a boy he sold newspapers to help his widowed mother.

Benny Valenzuela, no relation to fellow Mexican and former Cardinals pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, became a bat boy for a Los Mochis team managed by former Washington Senators pitcher Syd Cohen. In 1949, when Valenzuela was 16, Cohen became exasperated by a Los Mochis outfielder who couldn’t track fly balls in the sun. Cohen lifted the outfielder during a game and replaced him with the bat boy, Valenzuela, who’d showed an ability to play.

Three years later, in 1952, Cohen was manager of the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings of the Arizona-Texas League and he gave his former bat boy a spot on the team. Bisbee-Douglas was in the low levels of the minors, a remote Class C league with no affiliation to any franchise in the majors, but it was professional baseball in the United States and Valenzuela was grateful to Cohen to get the opportunity.

Valenzuela spent three seasons with Bisbee-Douglas, learning the craft, and produced batting averages of .352 in 1952, .347 in 1953 and .388 in 1954.

The Cardinals took notice and on Nov. 30, 1954, they selected Valenzuela, 21, in the minor-league draft.

Rising above

Valenzuela continued his strong hitting in the Cardinals’ system. He batted .354 for Fresno in 1955, .305 with 107 RBI for Omaha and Houston in 1956 and .286 with 24 home runs and 90 RBI for Houston in 1957.

At spring training with the Cardinals in 1958, Valenzuela impressed general manager Bing Devine and moved “to the front row among candidates for pinch-hitting jobs,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Valenzuela also had a strong arm and the Post-Dispatch reported he “gets a ball away more quickly than any infielder we can remember. He frequently gets the ball to the first baseman before the batter has reached the halfway mark to first base.”

Valenzuela was listed as being 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, but often was described in unflattering terms. The Sporting News called him “thick-legged” and “stubby.” The Post-Dispatch resorted to “chunky.”

“He resembles Yogi Berra,” The Sporting News decided.

Stereotyping was common. The Sporting News, for instance, labeled him “the peppery Mexican” and cited his “chili con carne English.”

Trailblazer

Valenzuela, 24, made the Opening Day roster of the 1958 Cardinals and became the 10th Mexican-born player to reach the major leagues, according to Frontera.info. He was the second Mexican-born player to join the Cardinals. The first was pitcher Memo Luna, whose big-league career with the Cardinals consisted of two-thirds of an inning in 1954.

Mel Almada, an outfielder with the 1933 Red Sox, was the first Mexican-born player in the big leagues.

Valenzuela made his Cardinals debut on April 27, 1958, when he batted for pitcher Larry Jackson and singled to right against Johnny Podres of the Dodgers. Boxscore

“He’s hitting 1.000, a heck of an average in any man’s language,” the Post-Dispatch declared.

On May 6, 1958, Valenzuela doubled against Bob Buhl of the Braves, but the Cardinals demoted him to Omaha on May 14 after he appeared in five games.

Moving on

On June 29, 1958, another Mexican-born player, shortstop Ruben Amaro, who’d been Valenzuela’s teammate for two seasons at Houston, made his major-league debut with the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, Valenzuela hit. 284 with 72 RBI for Omaha and was named the third baseman on the Parade Magazine Class AAA all-star team.

On Sept. 2, 1958, the Cardinals recalled Valenzuela to the big leagues and he appeared in five more games, producing a single against Bob Rush of the Braves on Sept. 18.

For the season, Valenzuela hit .214 (3-for-14) in 10 games for the Cardinals. Boyer, 27 and entrenched at third base, hit .307 and led the Cardinals in runs (101), hits (175), home runs (23) and RBI (90).

On Oct. 7, 1958, the Cardinals traded Valenzuela, pitcher Billy Muffett and catcher Hobie Landrith to the Giants for pitchers Ernie Broglio and Marv Grissom.

Valenzuela played three seasons (1959-61) in the Giants’ farm system before continuing his career as a player and manager in the Mexican League. Among the former major leaguers he managed in Mexico were ex-Cardinals pitchers Diego Segui and Pedro Borbon.

Valenzuela, Vinny Castilla and Aurelio Rodriguez are among the most prominent Mexican-born third basemen to reach the major leagues.

In 1986, Valenzuela and Amaro were inducted together into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in Monterrey.

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Jake Powell was an outfielder who spent 11 years in the major leagues and played in three World Series for the Yankees, but after his baseball career was over he got involved in unlawful behavior and it led to a stunning and tragic conclusion.

Seventy years ago, on Nov. 4, 1948, Powell was at police headquarters in Washington, D.C., being questioned on charges of writing bogus checks, when he pulled a gun from his pocket and shot himself to death.

Powell’s suicide was a grisly close to a life filled with athletic achievement but marred by personal irresponsibility.

Reaching the top

Alvin Jacob Powell was born in Silver Spring, Md., in 1908, played sandlot baseball in Washington, D.C., and was signed by the hometown Senators.

Powell made his major-league debut with the Senators in 1930, spent the next three seasons in the minors and got back to the big leagues in 1934.

United Press described Powell as “a player of outstanding ability who used rough-and-ready tactics on the field and frequently did not observe training rules to the letter.”

In a game against the Tigers, Powell hit a groundball, sprinted toward the bag and crashed into Hank Greenberg, breaking the first baseman’s wrist.

On June 14, 1936, the Senators traded Powell to the Yankees for outfielder Ben Chapman. Powell hit .302 for the 1936 Yankees and achieved his greatest success in the World Series that year against the Giants.

In Game 6, with the Giants ahead, 2-0, Powell hit a two-run home run against Freddie Fitzsimmons, tying the score. Powell was 3-for-5 with four RBI and three runs scored in the game, pacing the Yankees to a 13-5 championship-clinching victory. Boxscore

Playing in a World Series lineup with Bill Dickey, Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig and Tony Lazzeri, Powell batted .455 with eight runs scored in six games. He produced a .538 on-base percentage with 10 hits and four walks in 26 plate appearances.

Powell also appeared in the 1937 and 1938 World Series for the Yankees.

In 1938, Powell was suspended 10 days by commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis for making a racist comment during a radio interview in Chicago.

Head case

On April 10, 1940, the Yankees were working their way north after spring training in Florida and stopped in Ashland, Ky., to play an exhibition game. Powell was pursuing a fly ball when he crashed into an iron light pole and suffered a head injury, most likely a concussion and possibly a fractured skull.

Powell was sidelined until July 15 and was limited to playing in 12 games for the 1940 Yankees.

Powell spent the next two seasons (1941-42) in the minors before he returned to the big leagues with the Senators in 1943.

In July 1945, the Senators sent Powell to the Phillies. He had a hit and a RBI in each game of a doubleheader against the Cardinals on Sept. 16, 1945, at St. Louis.

Comeback try

Powell was out of baseball in 1946 and 1947. He and his wife and daughter resided in Dayton, Ohio, and Powell worked as a factory guard. He wasted most of his baseball earnings “betting horses and on wine and song,” the Dayton Daily News reported, and “gambled away” his first World Series check.

“He became bitter and was subject to fits of brooding which led him to drink,” Los Angeles Examiner columnist Vincent X. Flaherty reported. “He faded rapidly after that and the downward path became increasingly tragic.”

In 1948, Powell, 40, attempted a baseball comeback in the Florida State League with the Gainesville G-Men, who were managed by his former Yankees teammate, Myril Hoag. Powell hit .220 in 31 games and met Josephine Amber, 34, co-owner of a nightclub in Deland, Fla.

In late October 1948, Powell and Amber traveled to Washington, D.C., and checked into the Ambassador Hotel, registering as Mr. and Mrs. Powell. They stayed at the hotel for three days and Powell cashed about $300 in personal checks drawn on a bank in Dayton, according to the New York Daily News.

On Nov. 4, 1948, Powell and Amber checked out of the hotel and paid with a check. A hotel manager became suspicious and told another employee to follow the pair, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported. The manager called the Dayton bank and learned Powell had no account there. The hotel employee followed Powell and Amber to Union Station and police met them there as the couple waited to board a train to New York.

Powell was arrested on suspicion of writing bogus checks and taken to police headquarters. Amber went with them.

Deadly decision

At headquarters, police learned a warrant was issued a few weeks earlier charging Powell with passing a bogus check at a drugstore in Washington, D.C. Police also discovered Powell was wanted in Florida on bad check charges and Dayton police said Powell “had been in trouble numerous times in recent years on charges of passing bad checks.”

While being questioned about the charges, Powell asked to speak to Amber, “a tall blonde in a red dress,” according to the Baltimore newspaper.

The request was granted and Powell stepped a few paces away and outside the door, though two detectives stood nearby and kept watch with the door open, the Associated Press reported.

Amber suddenly shouted, “You’d better frisk him.”

“To hell with it,” Powell said. “I’m going to end it all.”

Powell took a .25-caliber revolver from his pocket, fired a shot in his chest and another in his right temple. He was pronounced dead 10 minutes later.

Police didn’t customarily search suspects arrested on bad check charges, the Dayton Daily News reported.

Wedding plans

Amber told police she and Powell planned to get married that day, but canceled the plan and decided to go to New York and get married there, the Baltimore newspaper reported.

Powell’s wife, Elizabeth, told reporters she and Powell were not divorced and had been married since 1932.

Amber told police she’d known Powell for about four months and knew nothing about the charges against him.

In a column for the New York Herald Tribune after Powell’s death, Red Smith described him as “a guy who never knew fear and never knew what was good for him, a guy who always acted on impulse and was wrong more often than not.”

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For Wayne Krenchicki, who usually didn’t do well against Cardinals pitching, a game-winning hit, even a crummy one, was a special achievement.

Krenchicki, who died Oct. 16, 2018, at 64, played eight years in the major leagues as an infielder for the Orioles (1979-81), Reds (1982-83 and 1984-85), Tigers (1983) and Expos (1986).

A left-handed hitter, he had a career batting average of .266, though he hit .169 lifetime against the Cardinals.

Right spot

On May 23, 1983, the reigning World Series champion Cardinals looked to end a three-game losing streak when they faced the Reds at Cincinnati. Cardinals starter Joaquin Andujar was matched against Joe Price. Krenchicki played third base and batted seventh.

In the sixth inning, with the Cardinals ahead, 1-0, Johnny Bench drew a one-out walk from Andujar and Ron Oester doubled to right, moving Bench to third. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog ordered an intentional walk to Paul Householder, loading the bases for Krenchicki.

The Cardinals were hoping for an inning-ending double play from Krenchicki, who was batting .167 for the season. Krenchicki was seeking a sacrifice fly. “I wanted to hit in the air to the outfield,” Krenchicki said to the Cincinnati Enquirer. “All I wanted was the one run.”

Andujar got ahead in the count, 1-and-2, and threw a slider “right in on my fists,” Krenchicki told the Dayton Journal-Herald.

Krenchicki swung and looped a floater to the opposite field. The ball fell softly inside the left-field foul line, barely fair, for a bloop double, scoring Bench and Oester and giving the Reds the lead.

“It was just crummy enough that I knew nobody would catch it,” Krenchicki said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“Yeah, I’d agree with that,” Herzog said to United Press International. “It hit right in the middle of the chalk line.”

Andujar yelled at Krenchicki, “You throw the ball harder than you hit it.”

Bill Scherrer relieved Price, held the Cardinals hitless over the last three innings and the Reds won, 2-1. Boxscore

Cardinals connection

A month later, the Reds traded Krenchicki to the Tigers and reacquired him after the 1983 season. Krenchicki played two more years with the Reds before he was dealt to the Expos in March 1986 for pitcher Norm Charlton, who became one of the Nasty Boy relievers who helped give the Reds their swagger in their World Series championship season in 1990.

Krenchicki, a Trenton, N.J., native, was a standout shortstop at the University of Miami and played for the Hurricanes when they made their first appearance in the College World Series in 1974. Krenchicki, a first-round draft choice of the Orioles in January 1976, was inducted into the University of Miami Sports Hall of Fame in 1990.

Krenchicki’s last season as a professional player was 1988 when he played for three minor-league teams, including the Cardinals’ Class AAA affiliate, the Louisville Redbirds. Playing for manager Mike Jorgensen, Krenchicki hit .195 in 18 games for Louisville before he was released on June 17, 1988.

After his playing career, Krenchicki spent 20 years (1991-2010) as a minor-league manager, primarily with independent teams not affiliated with major-league organizations. He managed the Newark Bears to the Atlantic League championship in 2007.

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The National League expansion draft enabled third baseman Coco Laboy to get out from under control of the Cardinals and earn a chance to play in the major leagues.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 14, 1968, Laboy was selected by the Expos in the sixth and final round of the draft.

Laboy, 28, had been in the Cardinals’ system for six seasons, including the last four at the Class AAA level. Though he hit for average and with power and fielded well, he never got the call to play for the Cardinals.

Given an opportunity by the Expos, Laboy delivered, becoming a popular and productive player in the franchise’s inaugural year.

Stay or go?

After the 1968 season, the National League expanded from 10 teams to 12 with the addition of the Expos in Montreal and the Padres in San Diego.

To help stock their rosters, the newcomers were permitted to draft a total of 60 players, 30 for each expansion club, from the existing National League franchises. The draft consisted of six rounds, and the Expos and Padres were allowed to each select five players per round from the major-league and minor-league rosters of the other clubs.

Each National League team could protect 15 players. A team could protect three more players each time one was taken from its list of unprotected.

The 15 players protected by the two-time defending National League champion Cardinals were pitchers Nelson Briles, Steve Carlton, Bob Gibson, Jerry Reuss and Ray Washburn; catchers Tim McCarver and Ted Simmons; infielders Orlando Cepeda, Joe Hague, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill and Mike Shannon; and outfielders Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson, according to Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals wavered until the last minute before protecting Washburn instead of newly acquired pitcher Dave Giusti, the Post-Dispatch reported.

When the Padres chose Giusti in the first round, the Cardinals added pitchers Joe Hoerner and Mike Torrez and infielder Steve Huntz to the protected list.

Joining Giusti and Laboy among the players drafted from the Cardinals were pitcher Clay Kirby (second round) and infielder Jerry DaVanon (third round) by the Padres and pitchers Jerry Robertson (fourth round) and Larry Jaster (fifth round) by the Expos.

Laboy batted .292 with 44 doubles and 100 RBI for the Tulsa Oilers in 1968. “He’s been a fine Triple-A hitter,” said Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, “but he’s been in our minor-league system a long time without having been brought up. Frankly, we were glad to see him get a chance in the big leagues.”

Going nowhere

Jose Laboy was born in Ponce, Puerto Rico, the same hometown of Orlando Cepeda. Laboy told the Montreal Gazette people called him Coco for as long as he could remember, but he didn’t know why.

At 18, he signed with the Giants and played for four seasons (1959-62) in their farm system. He batted .305 with 83 RBI for the Class C Fresno Giants in 1960, but in 1962 Laboy suffered a serious back injury on a slide into second base, was limited to 13 games and got released after the season. “The doctors told me I’d never play again,” Laboy said to The Sporting News.

Laboy played winter ball in Puerto Rico, proved he was healthy and signed with the Cardinals in February 1963. The Cardinals assigned him to the Class A Winnipeg Goldeyes and he batted .292 with 21 home runs that season.

In 1964, Laboy was sent to the Class A Raleigh Cardinals, who were managed by George Kissell. Laboy thrived, batting .340 with 24 home runs, but an incident late in the season tarnished him.

On Aug. 20, 1964, in a game at Rocky Mount, N.C., Laboy became convinced pitcher Carl Middledorf was throwing at him and others. In the fifth inning, Laboy bunted along the first-base line. As Middledorf fielded the ball, Laboy charged at him with a bat. Laboy hit Middledorf twice with the bat, striking him in the back and chest, and a brawl ensued, the Rocky Mount Telegram reported.

Middledorf was not badly hurt and continued pitching until the eighth inning, according to the Rocky Mount newspaper.

Police arrested Laboy, took him to headquarters and charged him with assault with a deadly weapon. Laboy was released on $150 bail, appeared in court the next morning and entered a guilty plea. Judge Tom Matthews sentenced Laboy to 30 days on a road crew, suspended the sentence and fined him $20.25. The Carolina League suspended Laboy for three days and fined him $25.

Oh, Canada

While playing winter ball in Puerto Rico, Laboy’s teammate for three years was Phillies second baseman Tony Taylor.

“I knew when I first saw him that he could make the major leagues,” Taylor said to Sports Illustrated.

Taylor shared his insights with Phillies manager Gene Mauch. When Mauch became Expos manager, he remembered Taylor’s recommendation of Laboy.

“Several times when I was managing the Phillies I talked to Tony Taylor about Laboy,” Mauch said. “Before we went to the draft meetings, I talked to Tony again.”

Taylor said Laboy “is a good ballplayer and a smart one. He is the kind of player Mauch likes.”

At Expos spring training camp in West Palm Beach, Fla., in 1969, Mauch and his staff showed unwavering confidence in Laboy, even though he struggled while trying to impress.

The Expos went into their inaugural season with Laboy as their third baseman. In the season opener on April 8, 1969, against the Mets at New York, the Expos led, 8-6, in the eighth when Laboy hit a three-run home run against Ron Taylor, the former Cardinal. Laboy’s home run proved the difference in an 11-10 Expos triumph. Boxscore

A week later, on April 14, 1969, the Expos played their first home game, facing the Cardinals at Parc Jarry. In the seventh, with the score tied at 7-7, Laboy hit a double against Gary Waslewski and scored on pitcher Dan McGinn’s single to left. “I never ran harder,” said Laboy, whose run provided the winning margin in an 8-7 Expos victory. Boxscore

Laboy acknowledged getting special pleasure from beating the Cardinals. “They never gave me a chance,” he said. “I wanted especially to beat them today.”

Fun while it lasted

Laboy’s magical beginning to his major-league career continued throughout the first month. He batted .377 with 14 RBI in 20 April games.

“Every day he does something that just tickles me,” Mauch said. “Sometimes I want to kiss him.”

Asked to explain why Laboy was performing so well, Mauch said, “Character. Coco’s got that. He just tries so damn hard to do what you want _ and he’s doing it.”

Laboy finished his rookie season with a .258 batting mark, 18 home runs and 83 RBI.

The next season was a different story. Laboy hit .199 in 1970, was replaced by Bob Bailey at third base in 1971, and spent three seasons as a reserve before the Expos released him in September 1973 at age 33.

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A deal designed to make the Cardinals a surefire bet to win a third consecutive pennant backfired on them and instead helped the Reds develop into the most dominant team in the National League.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 11, 1968, the Cardinals acquired outfielder Vada Pinson from the Reds for outfielder Bobby Tolan and relief pitcher Wayne Granger.

The trade was made the day after the Tigers beat the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series and it seemed to signal the two-time defending National League champions would be back in 1969 for a chance to reclaim the World Series crown they’d won in 1967.

Pinson, 30, was acquired to replace right fielder Roger Maris, who retired. Like Maris, Pinson batted left-handed and earned a reputation as a special talent.

The Cardinals were able to obtain him without giving up a frontline player. Tolan, 23, was a reserve and Granger, 24, was deemed expendable in a bullpen featuring Joe Hoerner and Ron Willis.

However, Reds general manager Bob Howsam was able to see what Cardinals general manager Bing Devine could not: Pinson’s skills were fading while Tolan and Granger were on the verge of becoming prominent players.

Prolific hitter

Pinson grew up in Oakland and went to McClymonds High School, which also produced athletes such as Frank Robinson and Curt Flood in baseball and Bill Russell in basketball.

Like Robinson and Flood, Pinson signed with the Reds. Robinson and Flood made their major-league debuts with Cincinnati in 1956 and Pinson was projected to be with the Reds in 1958.

The Reds could have had an outfield of Robinson, Flood and Pinson, but on Dec. 5, 1957, they traded Flood to the Cardinals in the first deal Devine made for St. Louis. In the book “October 1964,” author David Halberstam said Flood “always suspected they were not enamored of having an outfield of three black players” in Cincinnati.

Pinson became one of the game’s best players. He led the National League in hits in 1961 (208) and 1963 (204). Pinson also led the league in doubles in 1959 (47) and 1960 (37) and in triples in 1963 (14) and 1967 (13).

In 1968, Pinson, hampered by a groin injury, hit .271 with 29 doubles and 17 stolen bases, but was limited to five home runs and 48 RBI.

Judging talent

When Devine was fired by Cardinals owner Gussie Busch in August 1964, Howsam replaced him. After the 1966 season, Howsam left the Cardinals for a more lucrative deal with the Reds. Stan Musial replaced Howsam, resigned after the Cardinals won the 1967 World Series championship and was succeeded by Devine.

Several Cardinals staff members, including farm director Chief Bender and minor-league managers Sparky Anderson, Charlie Metro and Vern Rapp, eventually followed Howsam to the Reds’ organization and recommended Tolan and Granger.

As a backup outfielder and first baseman, Tolan hit .253 for the Cardinals in 1967 and .230 in 1968. Granger, a rookie, was 4-2 with four saves and a 2.25 ERA for the 1968 Cardinals.

The Cardinals “were disappointed” in Tolan’s hitting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, and “felt too many pitchers were able to handle him.”

“The front office and the field command had developed serious doubts Tolan would progress sufficiently as a hitter,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg reported.

Howsam, however, was sold on Tolan, telling the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I don’t care what others say. I go by what we think of him. He’s got the ability and he has the desire.”

As for Granger, he “didn’t impress manager Red Schoendienst sufficiently,” Broeg wrote, even though minor-league manager Warren Spahn advocated for him.

Outstanding outfield

On Oct. 7, 1968, the day the Cardinals and Tigers played Game 5 of the World Series, Devine and Howsam agreed to the trade, according to the Dayton Journal-Herald. Though the clubs waited until after the World Series to announce the deal on Oct. 11, word leaked and it was widely reported on Oct. 10.

“Unless Pinson has aged overnight or has a hidden physical handicap, he’s likely to help the Cardinals with more speed on the bases and with a supply of doubles and triples,” Broeg surmised.

In a column for the Post-Dispatch, Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson told readers, “With Vada, Lou Brock and Curt Flood, I think we have the best outfield in baseball. Certainly it is the fastest.”

“Can you imagine the three of us out there?” Pinson said to the Associated Press. “We’ll have some fun. I’ve known since early this season I would be traded … but I thought I’d go to San Francisco. There was talk of Ray Sadecki or Gaylord Perry for me. I never dreamed it would be St. Louis. I’m really thrilled.”

In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, Pinson said, “I don’t believe I could have made a better deal for myself. I’m going to the top. Now I’ve got to make sure we stay at the top.

“I see no problem in bouncing back with the Cardinals. I’m only 30 and I figure I’ve got at least four or five more good years. The Cards must think so, too. I talked to Red Schoendienst and Bing Devine. They said the Cards had been scouting me for a good while.”

According to Bill Ford of the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Contemporaries congratulated Howsam” for acquiring Tolan. “They say Tolan, if handled properly, can be better than Brock.”

Said Tolan: “All I want is a chance to play every day because that’s the only way you can make any money. I can’t count on a World Series check every year.”

Reds strike gold

Pinson started splendidly for St. Louis in 1969, batting .293 in his first 21 games, before he was sidelined the first two weeks of May because of a hairline fracture in his right leg after being hit by a pitch from the Pirates’ Bob Moose.

After he returned to the lineup on May 14, Pinson struggled and batted .136 for the month. He rebounded in June (.286) and July (.302, 20 RBI), but slumped in August (.174) and September (.241).

The Cardinals finished in fourth place in the East Division and Pinson received part of the blame. Though his 70 RBI ranked second on the team, Pinson batted .255, with a poor on-base percentage of .303, and had four stolen bases.

On Nov. 21, 1969, the Cardinals traded Pinson to the Indians for outfielder Jose Cardenal.

Tolan and Granger had breakout seasons for the 1969 Reds. Tolan batted .305 with 194 hits, 21 home runs, 93 RBI and 26 stolen bases. Granger pitched in 90 games and had nine wins, 27 saves and a 2.80 ERA.

In 1970, the Reds won the pennant and Tolan and Granger were key contributors. Tolan hit .316 with 34 doubles, 80 RBI and 57 steals. Granger had 35 saves and a 2.66 ERA.

Two years later, when the Reds won the pennant again, Tolan batted .283 with 82 RBI and 42 stolen bases.

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