Archive for the ‘Managers’ Category

On the day Ozzie Smith announced his plans to retire as a player, there was as much focus on his icy relationship with manager Tony La Russa as there was on his Hall of Fame Cardinals career.

ozzie_smith9Twenty years ago, on June 19, 1996, Smith tearfully said he would retire after the Cardinals’ final game of the season.

“I feel the time is here now,” Smith, 41, said to the Associated Press. “This is the best time. I’m ready for it.”

Impacting Smith’s decision, though, was his demotion to a reserve role at shortstop behind Royce Clayton, 26.

“I know that if I chose to do it I could play somewhere else,” Smith said to Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “But my thinking was to finish my career as a St. Louis Cardinal.”

Smith used the attention created by his retirement announcement to express his unhappiness with La Russa.

Wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz: “Unfortunately, Ozzie didn’t make it through (the day) without sniping at La Russa. Let’s hope that the sourness will clear.”

Communication breakdown

Smith, who won 13 consecutive Gold Glove awards from 1980-92, went to spring training in 1996 determined to compete with Clayton for the starting shortstop job. La Russa, in his first year as Cardinals manager, said the player who performed best in spring training would be the everyday shortstop during the season.

“I was told that the position would be earned in spring training,” Smith said at his retirement announcement. “I thought I did that.”

When La Russa declared Clayton the regular shortstop, Smith said he believed the manager hadn’t done what he said he would.

“This was the most disappointing thing in my career in St. Louis,” Smith told Hummel at the retirement announcement. “All I can go by is a person’s word. Going into spring training, I knew I had a job to do and I did that job.”

In response, La Russa said of Smith, “It’s fair to say he misunderstood how he compared to Royce in spring training. By what he was able to do defensively and on the bases, Royce deserved to play the majority of the games. Royce is capable of making more plays.”

Strain remains

Irked that Smith had brought up the controversy at the retirement announcement, La Russa complained to Hummel, “It doesn’t go away. It’s a constant irritation for him and for me _ his misunderstanding of that.”

Responding to a suggestion that the Cardinals owed a player of Smith’s caliber the chance to play regularly, La Russa said, “You can’t put a player ahead of any club … We don’t owe anybody. If Stan Musial comes back tomorrow and says, ‘I want to play’ _ that’s not what you do.”

Acknowledging that “there is a strain in the relationship” between he and Smith, La Russa added, “I’ll always feel like there’s a little edge in our relationship. I don’t think that ever will go away.”

Blame game

The next day, before the Cardinals faced the Expos at Montreal on June 20, 1996, Smith responded angrily to La Russa’s comments about Clayton performing the best in spring training.

“That’s cowardice as far as I’m concerned,” Smith told Hummel. “But should I expect anything different?”

Said La Russa of Smith: “All he’s got to do is look in the mirror and he can go out with honor and dignity rather than some kind of attempt at camouflage. I thought the purpose of his (retiring) was to be a positive influence on our ballclub. It doesn’t sound too positive to me.”

In a followup column, Miklasz reiterated that Smith is “a civic treasure” who “deserves a statue outside Busch Stadium,” but gave Smith an error for fueling the feud with La Russa.

Wrote Miklasz: “Ozzie is embarrassing himself … The only reputation that will be damaged is Ozzie’s.”

Previously: Ozzie Smith can learn from Willie McGee, Tom Pagnozzi

Previously: Why Cardinals wanted Royce Clayton as their shortstop

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In one of the most intriguing incidents in the long rivalry between the Cardinals and Dodgers, two of baseball’s most colorful characters, Leo Durocher and Casey Stengel, escalated a war of words into a post-game fight.

stengel_durocherThe animosity between the two combatants was so strong that Stengel brought a bat to the showdown.

Their tangle under the stands at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn on May 12, 1936, was witnessed solely by Cardinals manager Frankie Frisch.

Thus, the three principal figures in the drama all were future inductees to the National Baseball Hall of Fame at Cooperstown, N.Y.

Frisch was elected to the shrine because of his excellence as a second baseman for the Giants and Cardinals. Durocher and Stengel were inducted for their skills as managers. Both achieved their most prominent successes as managers of New York teams _ Durocher with the Dodgers and Giants; Stengel with the Yankees. In their lone World Series matchup, Stengel’s Yankees won four of six games against Durocher’s Giants in 1951.

Casey’s challenge

Eighty years ago, at the time of their tussle, Durocher was the Cardinals’ shortstop and Stengel was the Dodgers’ manager.

Before a gathering of 7,500 on a Tuesday afternoon, the Cardinals started their ace, Dizzy Dean. He was opposed by a left-hander, Ed Brandt, whom the Dodgers had acquired five months earlier from the Braves.

The Dodgers pummeled Dean with 13 hits in eight innings. Brandt limited the Cardinals to four hits in eight innings. Max Butcher, a rookie, pitched a scoreless ninth, earning his first major-league save in a 5-2 Dodgers victory. Boxscore

Throughout the game, Durocher, the Cardinals’ captain, and Stengel had hollered at one another across the field.

At some point during the bickering, Stengel told Durocher he’d see him after the game, The Sporting News reported.

Durocher replied, “You’d better have a bat with you.”

Batter up

Durocher later claimed he forgot about that remark.

After the game, Durocher and Frisch were in a runway that led from the dugout to the clubhouse under the stands when Stengel, holding a bat, confronted his nemesis.

In accounts to The Sporting News and Associated Press, Durocher and Stengel told different versions of what happened next.

Durocher said Stengel tried to hit him with the bat.

Stengel said he hit Durocher with his fist. “It was a right, just a plain right,” Stengel said.

Frisch broke up the scuffle “with little damage having been done,” according to the Associated Press.

The Sporting News dubbed the incident, “Casey and His Bat.”

Ford Frick, president of the National League, said he didn’t issue any fines because the fight occurred out of sight from the public, not on the field.

Hate to lose

After the season, the Dodgers fired Stengel. A year later, in October 1937, the Cardinals traded Durocher to the Dodgers. He became the Dodgers’ manager in 1939.

Stengel eventually landed with the Yankees and won seven World Series titles and 10 American League pennants from 1949-60. Durocher won NL pennants with the Dodgers in 1941 and with the Giants in 1951 and 1954. His 1954 Giants brought him his lone World Series title as a manager.

In his book “Nice Guys Finish Last,” Durocher wrote, “I would make the loser’s trip to the opposing dressing room to congratulate the other manager because that was the proper thing to do. But … I didn’t like it. You think I liked it when I had to go see Mr. Stengel and say, ‘Congratulations, Casey, you played great?’ I’d have liked to stick a knife in his chest and twist it inside him.”

Previously: Like Tony La Russa, ailing Casey Stengel left club

Previously: How Red Schoendienst became Cardinals manager

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Ken Boyer, the all-time best Cardinals third baseman, is deserving of a book that accurately and completely tells his story. Fortunately, “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain” by author Kevin D. McCann delivers.

ken_boyer_bookProduced by BrayBree Publishing and available for order online at http://www.kenboyerbook.com, this Boyer biography is a must-read for a Cardinals fan as well as for anyone who appreciates baseball, clean writing and superb research.

McCann covers every aspect of Boyer’s life and career in a compelling and richly detailed narrative. Though McCann clearly admires Boyer, this book isn’t a sugarcoated story. McCann takes readers behind the scenes of the 1950s and 1960s Cardinals in an honest and fact-based style.

Also, the book is filled with rare photos of Boyer and his teammates. The photos alone are worth buying the book.

I have a bookcase filled with Cardinals books. “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain” has a place on the top shelf with the best of my collection.

Here are some of the insights the book provides:

_ After the 1954 season, Cardinals general manager Dick Meyer wanted to acquire Yankees catching prospect Elston Howard, a St. Louis native. Meyer offered the Yankees their choice of one of several minor-league shortstops in the Cardinals’ system. The trade talks ended when the Yankees asked for Boyer, a third baseman with the Cardinals’ Texas League affiliate at Houston.

_ Boyer played winter baseball in Cuba after the 1954 season. Pirates executive Branch Rickey, formerly of the Cardinals, scouted Boyer in Havana and filed a glowing report.

“At third base, I saw the best ballplayer on first impression that I have seen in many a day,” Rickey wrote. “Boyer by name. He can run with very deceptive speed … Never loafs. He has big hands and knows what to do with them.”

_ Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson didn’t care for what he perceived as Boyer’s laid-back disposition. “Boyer has everything he needs to be a great player except one thing,” said Hutchinson. “He has to develop more drive, more aggressiveness. He doesn’t push enough.”

_ After the 1957 season, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane wanted to trade Boyer to the Pirates for outfielder Frank Thomas and third baseman Gene Freese. Cardinals owner Gussie Busch vetoed the deal. Miffed, Lane resigned and became general manager of the Indians.

_ Bing Devine, Lane’s replacement, was tempted by a Phillies trade offer of outfielder Richie Ashburn and pitcher Harvey Haddix for Boyer, but rejected the proposal. Said Boyer: “I told my wife that if I’d have been the Cardinals, I’d have made that trade.”

_ Tim McCarver, longtime St. Louis catcher, told the author that on the Cardinals “(Stan) Musial was the star, but Kenny was the leader. No doubt about it.”

_ The working relationship between Boyer and Musial was one of mutual respect. “Stan had probably as much influence on my career as anyone,” Boyer said.

_ The grand slam Boyer hit to win Game 4 of the 1964 World Series came on a changeup from Al Downing after the pitcher had shook off catcher Elston Howard’s call for a fastball. “He got the ball up in my eyes and that’s where any hitter likes to swing,” Boyer said.

_ After his playing career ended, Boyer was offered a chance to manage in the Dodgers’ minor-league system. He instead accepted an offer from Devine to manage the Cardinals’ Class AA club at Arkansas in 1970 because he preferred to return to the Cardinals’ organization.

_ The Cardinals fired manager Red Schoendienst after the 1976 season. Boyer was one of three finalists for the job. The others: Vern Rapp and Joe Altobelli. The Cardinals chose Rapp, in part, because they thought Boyer was too much like Schoendienst. Rejected, Boyer became a manager in the Orioles’ farm system.

_ After the 1977 season, Boyer was runner-up for big-league manager jobs that went to Bobby Cox with the Braves and George Bamberger with the Brewers.

_ The Cardinals fired Rapp in April 1978 and replaced him with Boyer. “It was difficult to imagine the same people who had made the decision a year ago changing their minds and giving me another opportunity,” Boyer said.

Previously: With Ron Santo in Hall, Ken Boyer should be there too

Previously: 1964 effort supports Ken Boyer Hall of Fame case

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In his approach to managing the Cardinals, Mike Matheny adheres to a philosophy practiced by Vince Lombardi, with roots in Jesuit doctrine.

vince_lombardiMeeting with media before the Cardinals began workouts on Feb. 27, 2016, at their Jupiter, Fla., training base, Matheny was asked by columnist Mike Bauman of MLB.com about how the Cardinals, after attaining 100 wins in 2015, could improve in 2016.

Matheny provided an answer that recalled one of the leadership principles of Lombardi, who transformed the Green Bay Packers into NFL champions in the 1960s.

Lombardi, educated by Jesuits at Fordham University, believed in pursuing perfection. Like the Jesuits, Lombardi understood that perfection is humanly impossible, but he relished the challenge of the journey, experiencing how close one could come to achieving it.

Matheny philosophy

Matheny expressed the same belief.

“The idea is, we’re shooting for perfection, shooting for it while also knowing that it is not attainable,” Matheny said. “But the pursuit of it is. The idea really makes limitless expectations for ourselves, because we’re always pushing.

“And I think as each individual takes that perspective, we get into the place where we as a group always have a higher ceiling.

“So we don’t put a number as far as wins out there … It’s ‘How can we be better, each of us in what we do, and what we bring to the table?’ And then, with that being the case, keep pushing the needle forward.”

Lombardi philosophy

In his 1999 biography of Lombardi, author David Maraniss reported that Lombardi called the pursuit of perfection “a man’s personal commitment to excellence and victory.”

“Perfection was to be considered on a more ethereal realm than mere competition,” Maraniss wrote. “Winning was part of it, but not all of it. His mother, Matilda, had instilled in Lombardi an anxious perfectionism.

“The Jesuits had taught him that human perfection was unattainable, but that all human beings should still work toward it by using their God-given capacities to the fullest.”

Said Lombardi: “Complete victory can never be won. It must be pursued. It must be wooed with all of one’s might … The spirit, the will to excel, the will to win _ they endure, they last forever. These are the qualities, I think, that are larger and more important than any of the events that occasion them.”

Jesuit philosophy

The Jesuits are a Roman Catholic order of priests and brothers founded in 1540 by Ignatius Loyola, a Spanish soldier and aristocrat who became a mystic, according to the Web site jesuits.org.

Pope Francis is the first Jesuit pope.

The Jesuits are known for their educational, missionary and charitable work.

According to the Jesuits Web site, “In the vision of our founder, we seek to find God in all things. We dedicate ourselves to the greater glory of God and the good of all humanity. And we do so gratefully in collaboration with others who share our values … the extended Jesuit family.”

Previously: Michigan mentor: Bill Freehan prepared Mike Matheny

Previously: Tony La Russa: Proud pupil of mentor Paul Richards

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Vern Rapp, rebel? Indeed. As a manger in the Cardinals’ system, Rapp challenged authority in a manner that would have made the hairs on Al Hrabosky’s Fu Manchu stand on end.

vern_rapp2Known as an unyielding disciplinarian for implementing a policy against facial hair while Cardinals manager in 1977, Rapp clashed with several Cardinals players, including Hrabosky, who grew a Fu Manchu moustache while developing a persona as “The Mad Hungarian.”

They may have been surprised to learn Rapp once caused such a fuss in an argument with an umpire that a police officer was called onto the field to intervene.

Sit down strike

In researching the baseball career of Rapp, a St. Louis native who played and managed in the Cardinals’ system and who died on Dec. 31, 2015, at 87, I came across news reports from a minor-league game played at Albuquerque, N.M., on Aug. 13, 1966.

Rapp, manager of the Cardinals’ Class AA Arkansas club, staged a protest by sitting on home plate after being ejected following a dispute with umpire Larry Barnett.

When Rapp refused to move, the umpire called police, who escorted Rapp from the field.

Photographs show police officer Fred Leyva standing over Rapp at home plate while Arkansas catcher Danny Breeden watches the drama unfold.

According to the Albuquerque Journal, “Rapp actually sat down on home plate and didn’t leave until a policeman talked him into leaving.” Rapp “had to be escorted off the field” by the officer, the newspaper reported.

Wrong word

The incident began when Rapp argued a close play at second base. Frank Godsoe, associate sports editor of the Amarillo Daily News, reported this exchange:

Barnett: “One more peep out of you and you’re out of the ballgame.”

Rapp: “Peep.”

That did it. Barnett ejected Rapp, who refused to leave because he felt the punishment didn’t fit the crime. Rapp said it was the first time he’d been ejected for saying the word “peep.”

Wrote Godsoe of Rapp: “Before a ballgame, he is as friendly as a collie dog. Once in a game, he’ll use anything up to poison gas to try to beat you. He is a tough loser and in the heat of battle he can erupt like a volcano.”

Godsoe asked Hugh Finnerty, president of the Texas League, which manager in the league was toughest on umpires. “Vern Rapp,” Finnerty replied.

Rapp likely was fined $25 for the ejection, Godsoe reported.

No harm, no foul

The theatrics didn’t damage the careers of Rapp or Barnett

Barnett became a big-league umpire in 1969 and stayed on the job through 1999.

Rapp managed Arkansas to an 81-59 record in 1966 and was named Texas League manager of the year.

He managed Arkansas again in 1967 and 1968, then left the Cardinals’ organization to join the Reds as manager of their Class AAA Indianapolis team.

Rapp managed Class AAA clubs through the 1976 season before getting his first big-league managing chance with the 1977 Cardinals, replacing Red Schoendienst.

Previously: The pitfalls of Cardinals rookie manager Vern Rapp

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As a longtime player, coach and manager in the Cardinals’ system, perhaps the most important contribution Bobby Dews made was helping Bob Forsch take a successful step in transforming from a third baseman into a pitcher.

bobby_dewsDews was manager of the Cardinals’ 1971 Class A club at Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Forsch, a 26th-round draft choice who had flopped as a third-base prospect, was in his first full season as a starting pitcher. At 21, his playing career was at a crossroads.

With Dews as his manager, Forsch had a successful year, posting an 11-7 record and 3.13 ERA in 23 starts for Cedar Rapids. He ranked second on the team in both innings pitched (158) and strikeouts (134). That performance convinced the Cardinals Forsch had potential as a pitcher.

Three years later, Forsch debuted with the Cardinals and went on to a productive career with them. He ranks third all-time among Cardinals pitchers in wins (163) and innings pitched (2,658.2). In 2015, Forsch was inducted into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.

Bobby Dews helped him get there.

Dews was in the Cardinals’ organization from 1960 to 1974 before joining the Braves as a minor-league manager. He remained with the Braves in various roles, including big-league coach, until he retired in 2012.

When Dews died at age 76 on Dec. 26, 2015, his obituaries naturally focused on his 37 years of service to the Braves. Often overlooked was his Cardinals connection.

Shortstop prospect

Dews was a varsity baseball and basketball player at Georgia Tech. He launched his professional baseball career when signed by the Cardinals in 1960.

Shortstop was Dews’ primary position, though he also played at second base and in the outfield.

His best season as a player in the Cardinals’ system was with Class AA Tulsa in 1964. Dews batted .277 that year and established single-season career highs in games played (134), hits (138), RBI (40) and stolen bases (30). He had 14 hits in 28 at-bats in a stretch from July 20-25.

Dews was promoted to Class AAA Jacksonville in 1965. His progress was slowed, however, when he underwent surgery for a ruptured spleen on May 18, 1965.

For Dews, who had little power, the highlight of his 1965 season occurred when he hit home runs on consecutive nights (July 22-23) against Rochester.

The first of those home runs was hit off Darold Knowles, a future Cardinals reliever. “That was strictly a shot in the dark,” Dews told The Sporting News. “I didn’t know what he threw or where it was.”

The next night, Dews hit a home run off Bill Short, who had pitched for the 1960 American League champion Yankees. Said Dews: “Bill threw me a fastball and I think he thought I was going to take it. Instead, I hit it. Isn’t that real crazy?”

In 1966 with Class AA Arkansas, Dews played all nine positions in the Sept. 5 regular-season finale against Austin. Vern Rapp, Arkansas manager, pitched two hitless innings in the game and Hub Kittle, Austin manager, pitched a scoreless inning.

Dews was a player-coach in the Cardinals’ system in 1967 and 1968.

Learning to manage

At 30, Dews was named manager of the Cardinals’ 1969 Class A club in Lewiston, Idaho. One his players was Forsch, who, at 19, was in his second professional season as a third baseman. Forsch hit .203 in 26 games for Lewiston.

Dews was a coach for Tulsa manager Warren Spahn in 1970. After that, Dews was assigned to manage Cardinals farm clubs in each of the next four seasons: Cedar Rapids in 1971, Sarasota in 1972, Modesto in 1973 and Sarasota again in 1974.

Besides Forsch, two of the future big-leaguers Dews managed in the Cardinals’ system were outfielders Hector Cruz (23 home runs in 111 games for Cedar Rapids) and Mike Vail (31 doubles, 80 RBI in 134 games for Modesto).

Life after Cardinals

In 1975, Dews was named manager of the Braves’ Class A Greenwood team in the Western Carolinas League.

His most prominent roles with the Braves were as a big-league coach under manager Bobby Cox from 1979-81 and from 1997-2006.

In an interview with MLB.com, Cox said of Dews: “He was a special guy. He helped so much in getting this organization going.”

Dews also wrote books, the best-known of which was “Legends, Demons and Dreams,” a collection of short stories.

“My grandfather wanted me to be a lawyer and a writer,” Dews told Jim Wallace of WALB.com. “Of course, everybody else in town wanted me to be a baseball player. So I guess I tried to blend the two.”

Previously: The story of how Bob Forsch converted to pitching

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