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Archive for the ‘Hitters’ Category

The Cardinals tried for a year to acquire second baseman Fernando Vina and when they finally succeeded they were rewarded for their effort.

Twenty years ago, on Dec. 20, 1999, the Cardinals got Vina from the Brewers for pitchers Juan Acevedo and Matt Parker, plus catcher Eliezer Alfonzo.

Vina gave the Cardinals the consistent leadoff batter they’d been lacking and solidified the infield defense.

AL all-star

Vina was born and raised in Sacramento, Calif., where his parents settled after immigrating to the United States from Cuba. His father took a maintenance job with a local college. In 1989, when Vina attended Arizona State, he toured Cuba with Team USA.

A left-handed batter with speed, Vina played for the Mariners (1993) and Mets (1994) before being traded to the Brewers. In five seasons with the Brewers (1995-99), Vina batted .286 and produced 559 hits in 528 games. His best season was 1998 when he was named a National League all-star and batted .311 with 198 hits and 101 runs scored.

After the 1998 season, the Brewers shopped Vina because he had “the highest trade value” on their roster, The Sporting News reported, and rookie Ronnie Belliard was available to replace him.

The Cardinals, seeking a replacement for departed free agent Delino DeShields at second base, became serious suitors for Vina in December 1998, according to The Sporting News, but couldn’t come up with a pitcher the Brewers wanted.

On May 9, 1999, Vina collided with Brewers teammate Jeromy Burnitz while pursuing a pop fly and injured his left knee. He returned to the lineup three weeks later, developed tendinitis in the knee and was shut down for the season after June 3.

High praise

Joe McEwing was the Cardinals’ second baseman in 1999 and batted .275, but the the club wanted a leadoff batter with a high on-base percentage and speed.

The Cardinals pursued a deal with the Dodgers for second baseman Eric Young, offering reliever Ricky Bottalico, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, but when talks stalled they turned their attention to Vina, who had 22 stolen bases and a .386 on-base percentage for the Brewers in 1998, his last full season before the knee injury.

The Cardinals offered pitcher Garrett Stephenson, but the Brewers insisted on Acevedo and the deal was made.

“He’s a legitimate top of the lineup guy,” said Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.

Vina said, “My plan is to get on base any way I can. This lineup is incredible … If I get on base, good things are going to happen.”

At spring training in 2000, Vina impressed coach Jose Oquendo, a former Cardinals second baseman.

“He’s the best I’ve seen turning the double play, ever,” Oquendo said.

Vina said, “Defense is a big part of my game. I don’t underestimate the momentum that can turn our way when you come up with a good defensive play or turn a double play.”

Key contributor

On April 3, 2000, in the season opener against the Cubs at St. Louis, Vina had a successful Cardinals debut, producing two singles, a triple, scoring a run, driving in a run and turning a double play. Boxscore

Vina, who turned 31 two weeks into the season, batted .300 for the 2000 Cardinals, scored 81 runs, had an on-base percentage of .380 and led National League second basemen in fielding percentage.

He also was hit by pitches a league-leading 28 times in 2000. He achieved the total even though he was on the disabled list for two weeks in June because of a hamstring injury and sat out 14 September games because of a rib injury.

The Cardinals’ single-season record for most times hit by pitches is 31 by right fielder Steve Evans in 1910.

Vina had three more seasons of double-figure hit-by-pitch totals for the Cardinals _ 22 in 2001, 18 in 2002 and 11 in 2003.

According to The Sporting News, “Vina is the key to jump-starting the team’s offense … When Vina gets on, it makes it easier for No. 2 hitter (J.D.) Drew to hit the ball in the hole.”

Vina had his best Cardinals season in 2001 when he batted .303 with 191 hits and 95 runs scored.

He won Gold Glove awards for his defense in 2001 and 2002.

Vina played four seasons (2000-2003) with the Cardinals, generated 570 hits in 488 games and sparked them to three postseason appearances.

Ill-advised decision

After an injury-marred 2003 season, Vina became a free agent and signed with the Tigers. In December 2007, he admitted using Human Growth Hormone, a performance-enhancing drug banned by Major League Baseball, in 2003 with the Cardinals in an attempt to heal more quickly from hamstring and knee ailments.

“I tried everything rehabbing,” Vina said. “I came to a point that I was desperate.

“Was it right? No. Obviously, it was wrong. I’m embarrassed by it. Bottom line, it was stupid. I’m embarrassed now and it didn’t help, either.”

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The Cardinals wanted Joe Girardi to be their backup catcher but settled for Mike Matheny.

Twenty years ago, on Dec. 15, 1999, the Cardinals signed Matheny, a free agent, after failing in their bid to get Girardi, who went to the Cubs.

The Cardinals’ No. 2 choice turned out to be a No. 1 catcher.

Matheny became the Cardinals’ starter in 2000, helped them become division champions and won a Gold Glove Award for his defensive excellence. Matheny played five seasons for the Cardinals, who got to the postseason in four of those years, and won the Gold Glove Award three times.

In a nifty twist, Girardi became a free agent after the 2002 season and signed with the Cardinals to be Matheny’s backup in 2003.

Prayers answered

After five years (1994-98) with the Brewers, Matheny was a backup to Blue Jays catcher Darrin Fletcher in 1999 and hit .215 in 57 games.

“Matheny is an intelligent, studious catcher with a quiet motion behind the plate and an easy rapport with the pitchers,” The Sporting News noted, but his weak hitting was keeping him from being a starter.

“It’s a simple matter of the requisite bat speed being absent,” The Sporting News concluded in September 1999. “Barring a miraculous transformation at the plate, his destiny is to be a backup catcher.”

When Matheny, 29, became a free agent after the 1999 season, the Brewers showed interest, but not the Cardinals.

St. Louis general manager Walt Jocketty “thought he had a good chance to sign Joe Girardi,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Girardi was with the Yankees from 1996-99 and played in three World Series for them before becoming a free agent. Though the Cardinals offered more money than the Cubs did, he signed with Chicago to be near his home.

Pitcher Pat Hentgen, whom the Cardinals acquired from the Blue Jays in November 1999, urged them to sign Matheny.

The Cardinals gave Matheny a one-year deal for $750,000 and planned to have him back up incumbent starter Eli Marrero.

“I like to think I’m an unselfish player and will be helpful whether I’m playing or not,” Matheny said. “That doesn’t mean I’m not interested in playing, because I am.”

An Ohio native who attended the University of Michigan, Matheny was residing with his wife, Kristin, and four children in Weldon Spring, Mo., about 25 miles from St. Louis. Kristin grew up in the St. Louis suburb of Chesterfield and she and her husband had decided to raise their family in the area.

“She must have some powerful prayers because we really didn’t think about the Cardinals being interested in us,” Matheny told the Post-Dispatch.

Fighting for a job

A couple of weeks before spring training began in 2000, the Cardinals signed another free-agent catcher, Rick Wilkins, creating competition for Matheny. Wilkins had been in the big leagues for nine seasons (1991-99) and hit .303 with 30 home runs for the 1993 Cubs.

If Matheny didn’t hit, Wilkins gave the Cardinals an option.

“I wish I could take a little of the enthusiasm I feel when I’m behind the plate and have it when I get into the batter’s box,” Matheny told the Post-Dispatch. “I just love being behind the plate, all the strategy that goes unseen there, but I’m working on revamping my swing and improving on the things that have held my statistics back.”

The Cardinals entered spring training committed to Marrero, 26, as their starting catcher. Marrero, diagnosed with thyroid cancer in 1998, hit .192 in 114 games for the Cardinals in 1999, but management expected him to be stronger and better in 2000.

Initially, all three catchers struggled to hit in spring training. Two weeks before the season opener, their batting averages were .091 for Matheny, .100 for Marrero and .217 for Wilkins.

“I put a lot more pressure on myself early on than I should,” Matheny said. “I was trying to do too much and open eyes … Then I started to panic, trying to make up for lost ground.”

A hot streak near the end of spring training earned Matheny the backup job over Wilkins, who was sent to the minor leagues. Wilkins “was very much in the picture until Matheny had a stronger last week offensively,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

On March 29, 2000, manager Tony La Russa informed Matheny he was on the Opening Day roster. “It was like making the big leagues for the first time,” Matheny said.

Taking charge

When the Cardinals opened the season on April 3, 2000, at home against the Cubs, the starting catchers were Matheny and Girardi. With his father and brothers attending from Ohio, Matheny contributed a single and a double and scored a run in the Cardinals’ 7-1 triumph. Boxscore

Experiencing an Opening Day in St. Louis for the first time, Matheny said, “I can honestly say it was about the most fun I’ve ever had playing in the game.”

Hitting and fielding well and displaying a quick release on throws, Matheny supplanted Marrero as the No. 1 catcher. In May 2000, The Sporting News declared, “Matheny continues to exceed expectations.”

On July 1, 2000, Marrero tore a ligament in his left thumb. A couple of weeks later, Matheny cracked a rib but continued to play. He wore a flak jacket and had his chest taped before every game. Carlos Hernandez, acquired from the Padres at the trade deadline, gave the Cardinals insurance at the catcher position.

Matheny hit .261 with 47 RBI in 128 games for the 2000 Cardinals and led National League catchers in number of runners caught attempting to steal (49). He sat out the postseason after he severed two tendons and a nerve in his right ring finger while using a hunting knife he received as a 30th birthday gift.

After their playing careers, Girardi and Matheny became big-league managers. Girardi won a World Series championship with the 2009 Yankees and Matheny won a National League pennant with the 2013 Cardinals.

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Jody Davis was with the Cardinals when he experienced a life-threatening health crisis, recovered and got on a fast track to the major leagues.

On Dec. 10, 1979, the Cardinals traded pitcher Ray Searage to the Mets for Davis, a catcher.

Three months later, in March 1980, Davis was in the Cardinals’ spring training clubhouse when he began coughing up blood. Bleeding internally, he was rushed to a hospital, lost large amounts of blood and underwent two surgeries.

By June 1980, Davis was playing for a Cardinals farm club. The next year, he made his big-league debut against the Cardinals.

Peach state product

Davis was born in Gainesville, Ga., and started playing organized baseball when he was 9. He excelled at baseball and basketball in high school. Davis continued playing baseball at Middle Georgia Junior College and was a freshman when the Mets drafted him in 1976.

Davis played four seasons (1976-79) in the Mets’ farm system. In 1979, he hit .296 with 21 home runs and 91 RBI for Jackson of the Class AA Texas League.

The Cardinals, planning to keep their best catching prospect, Terry Kennedy, in the big leagues in 1980, were seeking a catcher for the top level of their farm system. The Mets agreed to trade them Davis for Searage, a left-hander who was 10-4 with a 2.22 ERA for Arkansas of the Texas League in 1979.

Searage eventually played seven seasons in the majors and was Pirates pitching coach for 10 years (2010-19).

Intestinal issues

Davis attended 1980 spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., with the Cardinals and was glad to be in their organization. “I didn’t think too highly of the Mets,” he told the St. Petersburg Times. “The Cardinals are so much nicer. As far as I’m concerned, it’s the difference between night and day.”

On March 20, 1980, Davis played in a “B” squad game in St. Petersburg and was hit in the shoulder by a foul tip. He went to the hospital for X-rays, was released and went to Al Lang Stadium, the Cardinals’ spring training home.

Inside the clubhouse, Davis, 23, became ill and vomited blood. When paramedics arrived, Cardinals third baseman Ken Reitz helped them lift Davis’ stretcher up the steps.

At the hospital, doctors determined he had a stomach ulcer and decided to operate.

“I guess I must have had one at one time because they found some scar tissue there,” Davis told the Chicago Tribune. “At any rate, they removed one-fourth of my stomach.”

The next morning, in his hospital room, Davis vomited blood again. A second surgery was performed the next day.

“Just beneath my stomach, they found an artery that was leaking, that never had developed properly,” Davis said. “So they cut away about six inches of it, attached the loose ends and sewed me up again.”

Throughout the three-day ordeal, doctors gave him transfusions totaling four gallons of blood, Davis said.

“I guess I’m lucky to be around,” he said.

Almost everyone on the Cardinals’ roster either donated blood or committed to do so to a St. Petersburg blood bank that provided about 30 pints to Davis, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Back in action

Davis spent three weeks in the hospital before returning home to Georgia to continue his recuperation.

On June 22, 1980, Davis played in his first game since his surgeries. Catching and batting fifth for the Cardinals’ Class A St. Petersburg farm club, he had a hit and a RBI against Winter Haven.

“I’ve had to start all over,” Davis said to the St. Petersburg Times. “I lost 40 pounds in the hospital. When I was recovering, I could only walk a short distance.”

Davis played in 45 games for St. Petersburg and hit .277 with six home runs. On Aug. 6, 1980, he advanced to the Cardinals’ Class AAA team in Springfield, Ill., and played in 13 games.

When the Cardinals failed to protect Davis on their 40-man winter roster, the Cubs claimed him for $25,000 in the Rule 5 draft on Dec. 8, 1980.

Rapid rise

The Cubs had to include Davis on their 1981 Opening Day roster or offer the Cardinals the chance to take him back for $12,500. Cubs general manager Bob Kennedy, father of catcher Terry Kennedy, liked what he saw of Davis in spring training and decided to keep him.

“As a catcher, his style reminds me a lot of Sherm Lollar,” Kennedy said, referring to the White Sox all-star of the 1950s and 1960s.

Davis was the Cubs’ third-string catcher behind Barry Foote and Tim Blackwell. Among his Cubs teammates was Ken Reitz, who had helped him while he lay bleeding in the Cardinals’ clubhouse a year earlier.

On April 21, 1981, 13 months after his surgeries, Davis made his major-league debut as the starting catcher for the Cubs against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

A week later, the Cubs traded Foote to the Yankees. In June, Davis became the Cubs’ starting catcher.

“Everyone on the club is surprised by this unbridled rookie’s raw talent, potential and aggressiveness,” wrote Chicago Tribune columnist John Husar.

Davis had a powerful throwing arm and was adept at working with pitchers.

“I’m just amazed at his maturity,” said Cubs pitcher Doug Bird. “He seems to know more about the other batters than you expect from a rookie.”

Pitcher Doug Capilla said, “I have confidence in him any time, any situation, any pitch. He’s not afraid to call a breaking pitch with two strikes and the bases loaded. He gives pitchers a personal assurance that what he calls will be good.”

Davis played for the Cubs from 1981-88 and for the Braves from 1988-90. In 1984, when the Cubs won a division title, Davis contributed 19 home runs and 94 RBI.

Davis twice was a National League all-star (1984 and 1986) and he won a Gold Glove Award (1986).

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Bobby Bonds, expected to bring power and balance to the lineup, symbolized the dysfunction of the 1980 Cardinals.

Forty years ago, on Dec. 7, 1979, the Cardinals acquired Bonds from the Indians for pitcher John Denny and outfielder Jerry Mumphrey.

An outfielder, Bonds figured to join George Hendrick to give the Cardinals two right-handed sluggers to balance a lineup with switch-hitters Ted Simmons and Garry Templeton and batting champion Keith Hernandez, who hit left-handed.

Bonds, who had 25 home runs and 34 stolen bases for the 1979 Indians, was projected to play left field and replace Lou Brock, who retired.

The deal was a dud. Bonds, 34, injured his right wrist early in the season and couldn’t hit for average or power. The 1980 Cardinals, who fired their manager and general manager during the season, finished 74-88.

All in the family

Bobby Lee Bonds was born in Riverside, Calif. His father was a plasterer. Bonds had three siblings. An older brother, Robert Vernon Bonds Jr., was a receiver and defensive back at San Jose State, got selected by the St. Louis football Cardinals in the fifth round of the 1965 NFL draft and played in Canada. A sister, Rosie, was a hurdler for the U.S. in the 1964 Olympics.

Bonds excelled in baseball, football and track in high school and became a state long jump champion. He married at 17 and became a father at 18 when his son, future home run champion Barry Bonds, was born in July 1964. A month later, with a wife and child to support, Bonds signed an $8,000 contract with the Giants.

The Giants sent Bonds to their farm club in Lexington, N.C., in 1965. Disheartened by the racism he encountered, Bonds wanted to quit, but Lexington manager Max Lanier, the former Cardinals pitcher, became his trusted mentor and advisor. Bonds stayed and began his rise through the Giants’ system.

On June 25, 1968, Bonds made his major-league debut against the Dodgers at Candlestick Park and hit a grand slam. Boxscore He formed a friendship with the Giants’ shortstop, Hal Lanier, Max’s son.

Mixed reviews

Bonds had special skills. He and Willie Mays were the first players to achieve 300 home runs and 300 stolen bases in their careers. Bonds won three Gold Glove awards and three times was an all-star.

He also struck out a lot and drank a lot. Bonds twice was arrested for drunk driving and had another arrest for an altercation with a police officer. Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote, “When the poor guy did drink too much, as one sympathetic soul put it, he must have gone looking for a policeman.” After his playing days, Bonds joined Alcoholics Anonymous, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

Bonds played for six teams (Giants, Yankees, Angels, White Sox, Rangers and Indians) in six years (1974-79). In July 1979, he told the Indians he wanted to be traded unless they increased his yearly salary from $440,000 to $672,000. Indians fans responded with a barrage of boos. In September 1979, Bonds made an obscene gesture to a fan and was fined.

Asked about Bonds’ controversies, Cardinals general manager John Claiborne told The Sporting News, “I don’t know about his history and I don’t care. He has produced and that’s all I’m concerned about.”

Cardinals manager Ken Boyer said Bonds will “make a big difference in our offense” and “with Bonds’ arm, you’re going to see things defensively you haven’t seen in a while.”

Indians outfielder Rick Manning viewed Bonds differently, saying, “Bobby wouldn’t hit the cutoff man if he were King Kong.”

Bonds predicted, “If I just do what’s average, it should be enough to win the pennant and get in the World Series.” He also cautioned, “If it doesn’t go the way they expect it to go with the Cardinals, I’ll be the first one gone.”

A season unravels

Bonds preferred uniform No. 25, but in St. Louis it belonged to Hendrick, so Bonds became the first Cardinal to wear No. 00.

Boyer began the 1980 season with Bonds batting fifth in the order between Simmons and Hendrick.

On April 17, 1980, in Bonds’ seventh game with the Cardinals, he was hit on the right wrist by a pitch from the Pirates’ Eddie Solomon. Boxscore

Bonds continued to play, but the damaged wrist hampered his swing and he was committing too soon on breaking balls. On May 18, 1980, after striking out three times in a game against the Giants, Bonds asked Boyer to send someone to bat for him when his turn came again in the ninth. Boxscore

“Bonds swung a bat that resembled a fly swatter,” wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Tom Barnidge.

With the Cardinals’ record at 18-33, Boyer was fired in June 1980 and replaced by Whitey Herzog, who benched Bonds against right-handed pitching.

Bonds said he was experiencing “the most frustrating season of my life. I want to contribute and I haven’t been. I have no criticism of Whitey.”

On July 21, 1980, Bonds went on the 15-day disabled list. When he returned, he cut a finger on his right hand trying to get an item off a room service tray.

Claiborne was fired in August 1980 and one reason cited was the trade for Bonds.

Bonds hit no home runs after July 13 and had no hits after Aug. 18. He finished his Cardinals season with a .203 batting average, five home runs and 15 stolen bases. He batted .145 against right-handers.

On Dec. 22, 1980, after failing to trade Bonds, the Cardinals released him.

He played for the Cubs in 1981, his final big-league season, and twice in a span of three days, Sept. 7 Boxscore and Sept. 9 Boxscore, hit two home runs in a game against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

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Outfielder Bob Nieman, who made an unprecedented debut with the Browns, returned to St. Louis as an accomplished hitter with the Cardinals.

Sixty years ago, on Dec. 2, 1959, the Cardinals acquired Nieman from the Orioles for outfielder-catcher Gene Green, plus minor-league catcher Chuck Staniland.

Eight years earlier, Nieman became the first player to hit home runs in his first two major-league at-bats. Since then, the only other player to do it is the Cardinals’ Keith McDonald.

A right-handed batter, Nieman appealed to the Cardinals because he hit left-handers well and “southpaws have been a constant plague” to them, The Sporting News reported.

Marty Marion, the former Cardinals shortstop who was Nieman’s teammate with the Browns, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He’s only a mediocre outfielder and he’s a hypochondriac, but, man, he can whale that ball.”

Overcoming hurdles

Nieman was born in Cincinnati and began going to Reds games when he was 3 with his father, a semi-pro catcher.

Nieman developed into a baseball catcher and football fullback in high school. After graduation, he joined the Army, was stationed in France and got pneumonia. The drugs used to treat him damaged his kidneys and he developed nephritis. Given a medical discharge, Nieman returned home, recovered, married his high school sweetheart and tried out with the Reds.

After Nieman signed a minor-league contract with the Reds, a tumor was discovered in his right arm and he underwent surgery. When he healed, the Reds converted him from catcher to outfielder. In 1948, his first minor-league season, Nieman hit .367.

During his off-seasons in the minors, Nieman pursued a college education at Kent State. Nieman was studying journalism in the hope of being a sports reporter and his wife, Patricia, was majoring in advertising.

“Next to actual participation, I can think of no life more enjoyable than watching games and being paid to do so,” Nieman said.

In June 1951, the Reds determined they had a surplus of outfielders in the minors and placed Neiman on waivers. He was claimed by Oklahoma City, an unaffiliated team in the Texas League. Nieman led the league in hitting (.324) and his contract was purchased by the Browns.

Boston fireworks

Nieman, 24, joined the Browns in Boston. Manager Zack Taylor didn’t plan to play him, but changed his mind when the Red Sox started a left-hander, Mickey McDermott. Nieman played left field and batted fifth in the Friday afternoon game on Sept. 14, 1951, at Fenway Park.

When he came to bat for the first time as a big-leaguer in the second inning, Nieman hit a solo home run. In his second at-bat in the third, he hit a two-run home run. According to the Post-Dispatch, those were the only pitches he swung at in those at-bats.

“This is really the day of my life,” Nieman said.

He almost got upstaged in the eighth when Satchel Paige, 45, relieved for the Browns and faced Ted Williams. With the count 0-and-2, Williams moved up in the batter’s box, expecting an off-speed pitch. Paige fired a fastball and Williams swung and missed, striking out.

When Williams got to the dugout, he “smashed his bat into pieces,” the Boston Globe reported. “He first whacked it against the railing leading to the dressing room. When that didn’t suffice, Williams flung the bat toward the rack. He still wasn’t satisfied, so he smashed it on the floor of the dugout. That ended the bat’s worth for good.”

Watching from the mound, Paige “was laughing his head off,” the Globe noted.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in the big leagues,” Paige said. “He was sore because I crossed him up.”

Asked about Nieman’s performance, Paige said the burly rookie “is just a lot of boy. Leans into that ball pretty good and hits the pitch where it is.” Boxscore

Designated hitter

Nieman hit .372 in 12 games for the 1951 Browns. The next year, he led the 1952 Browns in batting average (.289), home runs (18) and RBI (74), but they traded him to the Tigers after the season. Nieman played for the Tigers (1953-54), White Sox (1955-56) and Orioles (1956-59). He batted .322 for the Orioles in 1956 and .325 in 1958.

In 1959, when Nieman hit .292 with 21 home runs for the Orioles, The Sporting News described him as “a terror at the bat but sometimes frightful in the field.” Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch suggested Nieman “thought defense was the time to rest.”

The Cardinals got Nieman for his hitting, not his fielding. He batted .287 in 81 games in 1960 and had an on-base percentage of .372.

Among his highlights:

_ A home run against Sandy Koufax in a 2-0 triumph over the Dodgers on Aug. 21. Boxscore

_ A double, triple and home run for four RBI against Dick Ellsworth in a 4-3 victory versus the Cubs on Sept. 4. Boxscore

_ A ninth-inning home run against Johnny Podres to force extra innings against the Dodgers on Sept. 21. Boxscore

In 1961, Nieman, 34, was hitting .471 (8-for-17) when the Cardinals traded him to the Indians on May 10. The Cardinals made the deal because they wanted to give more playing time to Charlie James, 23, who they were grooming to replace Stan Musial in left.

“At least Nieman has the consolation of being one of the few .471 hitters ever traded,” the Post-Dispatch concluded.

Nieman said, “I certainly hate to leave this club. I mean it when I say this is the finest outfit I’ve ever been associated with.”

As he departed, Nieman wrote a message on the blackboard in the Cardinals’ clubhouse: “Good luck, boys, see you in the World Series.”

The Cardinals didn’t reach the World Series in 1961, but Nieman did a year later. After hitting .354 in 39 games for the Indians in 1961, they traded him to the Giants the next year and Nieman appeared in the 1962 World Series.

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The Cardinals had visions of a lineup featuring Ken Griffey Jr. and Mark McGwire.

In November 1999, the Cardinals sought to acquire Griffey from the Mariners.

Though Griffey was swapped to the Reds instead, the Cardinals’ pursuit of him was sincere.

Deal me out

After the 1999 season, Griffey, nearing his 30th birthday, told the Mariners he wanted to be traded to a team closer to his home in Orlando, Fla.

Griffey, a center fielder who won 10 Gold Glove awards and four times led the American League in home runs with the Mariners, was eligible to become a free agent in another year.

The Mariners offered him an eight-year contract worth about $140 million, but Griffey rejected it. Unable to keep him beyond 2000, the Mariners opted to trade him rather than lose him to free agency.

Griffey, who debuted with the Mariners when he was 19, had the right to approve or reject any proposed trade. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Griffey’s first choice was to go to Atlanta, “but the Braves decided a deal wouldn’t fit their situation.”

If the National League champion Braves weren’t interested, the Associated Press speculated, the Reds and Mets were the leading contenders. Though Griffey was born in Donora, Pa., the same hometown as Cardinals icon Stan Musial, he grew up in Cincinnati, where his father played as an outfielder on the Big Red Machine teams of the 1970s. Ken Griffey Sr. was a Reds coach in 1999.

Twin towers

The Cardinals were intrigued with the idea of acquiring Griffey and putting him in a lineup with McGwire, who in his two full seasons with St. Louis hit 70 and 65 home runs. Griffey twice hit 56 home runs in a season (1997 and 1998) and slugged 48 in 1999.

“We’ve discussed it with the owners and we’re going to look into it,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the Post-Dispatch. “We’re going to at least take a look at it to see if we can do it realistically. It might be very tough to do, but people thought we were crazy when we traded for McGwire.”

A few days later, at the general managers meetings in California, Jocketty and manager Tony La Russa met McGwire for dinner and asked him whether he would like the Cardinals to obtain Griffey, who would get a more lucrative contract than the one McGwire had, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“He thought it was great,” Jocketty said.

No go

According to the Seattle Times, the Cardinals were one of four teams “having serious discussions” with the Mariners about Griffey. The others were the Reds, Mets and Astros.

“The Cardinals might be on the short list of teams entertaining serious dreams of obtaining superstar Ken Griffey Jr.,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Mariners “would be certain to ask” for pitcher Rick Ankiel, the Seattle Times reported, but the Post-Dispatch declared, “Jocketty isn’t likely to give him up in any trade.”

According to the Post-Dispatch, the Cardinals might consider dealing to the Mariners some combination of third baseman Fernando Tatis, outfielder J.D. Drew, second baseman Adam Kennedy and pitcher Chad Hutchinson.

Eventually, the Mariners’ asking price was too high and the Cardinals backed off.

“We’ve had a couple of discussions, but player-wise it was going to be too rich for us,” Jocketty said. “They were looking for a killing on this deal.”

At the baseball winter meetings in December 1999, the other suitors for Griffey also broke off talks with the Mariners. Refusing to include infielder Pokey Reese in a trade for Griffey, Reds general manager Jim Bowden said, “There’s no chance at all” for a deal.

A month later, the Reds and Mariners resumed trade talks. The Reds insisted a deal would be contingent on Griffey agreeing to a long-term contract and giving up his chance to become a free agent after the 2000 season.

On Feb. 10, 2000, after Griffey accepted a nine-year contract proposal worth $116.5 million, the Mariners traded him to the Reds for four players, including outfielder Mike Cameron and pitcher Brett Tomko.

A month later, on March 23, 2000, the Cardinals acquired Jim Edmonds from the Angels to be their center fielder.

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