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The Cardinals were a significant part of the baseball career of Jim Hickman. He signed his first professional contract with the Cardinals, played in their minor-league system for six seasons and ended his big-league playing career with them. Also, Hickman’s two best games in the major leagues came against the Cardinals.

jim_hickmanHickman, 79, an outfielder and first baseman for 13 years in the big leagues, died June 25, 2016, in his hometown of Henning, Tenn.

Best known as a member of the original 1962 Mets and for an all-star season with the 1970 Cubs, Hickman grew up a Cardinals fan and was 18 when he signed an amateur free agent contract with St. Louis in 1956.

“As a kid, I didn’t know there was any other club except the Cardinals,” Hickman told The Sporting News.

Helped by expansion

Displaying power but failing to hit for average, Hickman played in the Cardinals’ system from 1956-61 without getting a call to the big-league club. His best seasons in the Cardinals organization were 1957 when he produced 26 home runs and 113 RBI in 138 games for Class D Albany (Ga.) and 1959 when he had 22 home runs and 81 RBI in 133 games for Class AA Tulsa.

Wrote The Sporting News of Hickman: “The closest he ever got to the big club was a couple of early spring training camps. They gave Jim big uniform numbers reserved for no names … and he didn’t get much of a look.”

After Hickman hit 11 home runs with 57 RBI for Class AAA Portland (Ore.) in 1961, the Cardinals made him available in the National League expansion draft. According to The Sporting News, the Cardinals lost interest in Hickman when they received a scouting report that said he lacked aggressiveness.

Said Hickman: “I know people say I’m not aggressive … I give it all I got.”

Hickman was drafted by the expansion Mets. He made his big-league debut with them in 1962 and became one of their everyday outfielders, batting .245 with 13 home runs in 140 games.

Cycle in sequence

In July 1963, Mets manager Casey Stengel experimented with converting Hickman into a third baseman. Hickman was batting .223 entering the Aug. 7, 1963, game between the Cardinals and Mets at the Polo Grounds.

Batting leadoff and playing third base, Hickman became the first Mets player to hit for the cycle. He was 4-for-5 with two RBI and two runs scored in the Mets’ 7-3 victory.

Hickman, a right-handed batter, got his first three hits off starter Ernie Broglio: a single in the first, a double in the second and a RBI-triple in the fourth. In the sixth, Hickman hit a solo home run off Barney Schultz to complete the cycle.

“If this fellow can learn to cut down on his strikeouts, he could be one of the top hitters around,” Stengel said of Hickman. “He has all the power he needs, but by now he should know that you can’t hit a ball with the bat on your shoulder. You have to swing.” Boxscore

Trio of homers

Two years later, on Sept. 3, 1965, Hickman became the first Mets batter to hit three home runs in a game. He did it against Cardinals starter Ray Sadecki, leading the Mets to a 6-3 triumph at St. Louis.

Batting sixth and playing first base, Hickman, who entered the game with a .212 batting average, was 4-for-4 with four RBI and three runs scored.

A look at his three home runs off Sadecki:

_ Home run #1: Swinging at the first pitch, a high, outside fastball, Hickman hit it 403 feet the opposite way, clipping the pavilion roof in right-center.

_ Home run #2: The count was 3-and-0 when Hickman looked toward third-base coach Don Heffner and was surprised to see he was being given the freedom to swing away.

Wrote The Sporting News: “Hickman, knowing the Mets have an automatic $10 fine for a missed sign, stepped out of the batter’s box and looked again.”

Heffner shouted to him, “Go ahead. It won’t cost you 10 bucks.”

Sadecki threw a fastball and Hickman pulled it over the left-field wall.

_ Home run #3: On a 1-and-2 count, Hickman swung at a slider down in the zone and golfed it into the left-field bleachers.

When Hickman batted for a fourth time in the game, Nelson Briles was pitching in relief. Asked later whether he was trying for a fourth home run, Hickman replied, “You bet.”

Instead, he produced a single on a groundball that took a bad hop and eluded third baseman Ken Boyer. Boxscore

Nostalgia tour

In 1970, Hickman was named an all-star for the only time. Playing for the Cubs, he produced 32 home runs and 115 RBI that season and was named NL Comeback Player of the Year by The Sporting News.

On March 23, 1974, the Cubs traded Hickman to the Cardinals for pitcher Scipio Spinks. Eighteen years after he had signed with St. Louis, Hickman finally was getting his chance to play for the Cardinals.

Said Hickman: “I’m 36, but I know I still can hit a baseball. And I still can half-catch a baseball.”

Used primarily as a pinch-hitter and backup to Joe Torre at first base, Hickman hit .267 (16-for-60) with the 1974 Cardinals. He hit two pinch-hit home runs _ off George Stone of the Mets and Danny Frisella of the Braves _ but his batting average as a pinch hitter was .182 (6-for-33).

On July 16, 1974, four months after they acquired him, the Cardinals released Hickman. He made it clear he would retire rather than seek a chance with another club.

“This is it,” Hickman said. “So what if I hooked up with another club for the last two months? It would be the same thing after the season ended.”

In a big-league career from 1962-74 with the Mets, Dodgers, Cubs and Cardinals, Hickman batted .252. He had a .242 career mark with 20 home runs in 153 games versus the Cardinals.

Previously: Bob Gibson nearly was unbeatable against Mets

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Two years after they joined Bob Gibson in forming the foundation of the World Series champion Cardinals’ starting rotation, left-handers Curt Simmons and Ray Sadecki were St. Louis outcasts.

curt_simmons3At least the Cardinals got a significant return, first baseman Orlando Cepeda, for Sadecki, 25, when they traded him to the Giants on May 8, 1966. All the Cardinals got for Simmons was cash.

Fifty years ago, on June 22, 1966, Simmons, 37, was purchased by the Cubs from the Cardinals for $20,000.

Simmons, unhappy with the way he was being utilized by the Cardinals, looked forward to joining the Cubs’ starting rotation.

The Cardinals, who had tried to get a player in return for Simmons, were willing to move him to open room in their rotation for a pair of promising left-handers, Larry Jaster, 22, and Steve Carlton, 21.

Arm for hire

In 1964, when they won their first World Series title in 18 years, the Cardinals’ top three starters were Gibson (19 wins), Sadecki (20 wins) and Simmons (18 wins). The next year, Gibson won 20, but the win totals of Sadecki (6) and Simmons (9) declined significantly.

During 1966 spring training, the Cardinals tried to trade Simmons.

Initially, Simmons “was available at a modest price in players or cash,” The Sporting News reported.

When Simmons sparkled in spring training, yielding no walks in 25 innings, the Cardinals increased the price for him.

The Orioles showed interest, but “the Cardinals want a promising, young player in return and the Orioles are reluctant to give up anything more precious than cash,” The Sporting News reported.

Seeking starts

The 1966 Cardinals entered the season with more starters than spots in the rotation. Joining Gibson, Sadecki and Simmons were left-handers Jaster and Al Jackson and right-handers Ray Washburn, Tracy Stallard, Art Mahaffey and Nelson Briles.

Sadecki got three starts before he was traded. Simmons also was used sparingly.

Simmons got his first 1966 start on April 13 against the Phillies at St. Louis.

He didn’t get another start until more than a month later, May 17, at Philadelphia. In that game, Simmons yielded three runs and was lifted after three innings. “I had nothing out there,” Simmons said. “You’ve got to pitch guys in rotation. You can’t play checkers with pitchers.”

Simmons waited nearly three more weeks before getting his third start of the season on June 4 versus the Braves.

“It’s frustrating,” Simmons said of the limited number of starts he and other veterans were getting with the Cardinals. “We’re rusting and our market value is going down. If they’re going with the young guys, they ought to hurry up and make up their minds and let us go.”

Referring to Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam, Simmons said, “He’s burying too many good pitchers.”

Few suitors

A St. Louis newspaper reported the Braves were discussing the possibility of trading outfielder Rico Carty to the Cardinals for Simmons. Braves manager Bobby Bragan nixed the deal, telling The Sporting News he was concerned about Simmons’ long-term effectiveness.

In 10 appearances, including five starts, for the 1966 Cardinals, Simmons was 1-1 with a 4.59 ERA. As Simmons had predicted, his market value was diminishing.

With their options dwindling, the Cardinals sent Simmons to the last-place Cubs, who put him in a rotation that included Dick Ellsworth, Ken Holtzman and Bill Hands.

In seven years (1960-66) with the Cardinals, Simmons posted a 69-58 record, 3.25 ERA and 16 shutouts.

On June 26, four days after he was acquired, Simmons made his Cubs debut and pitched a five-hit shutout against the Mets at Chicago. Boxscore

Two weeks later, still desperate for pitching, the Cubs signed Robin Roberts, 39, who first had become a teammate of Simmons with the 1948 Phillies, and put him in the starting rotation as well.

Simmons was 4-7 with a 4.07 ERA for the 1966 Cubs. He spent the next season with the Cubs and Angels before retiring as a player.

Previously: Cardinals rolled out welcome mat for Orlando Cepeda

Previously: Art Mahaffey and his short, shaky stint with Cardinals

Previously: Final home opener at Busch I was bust for Cardinals

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In his fourth major-league start for the Cardinals, Anthony Reyes delivered a performance that was both brilliant and frustrating.

anthony_reyes2Ten years ago, on June 22, 2006, Reyes pitched a one-hitter for the Cardinals against the White Sox in Chicago, but lost. The hit he surrendered, a home run by Jim Thome in the seventh inning, carried the White Sox to a 1-0 victory.

“There is no justice that he is the losing pitcher,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

White Sox coach Joey Cora, who was filling in for suspended manager Ozzie Guillen, said of Reyes’ pitching: “Hall of Fame stuff.”

Changing speeds

Reyes, 24, had been called up to the Cardinals from Class AAA Memphis before the game to replace injured Mark Mulder in the rotation. Reyes had debuted with the Cardinals in August 2005 and had made two starts for them in May 2006 before being sent to Memphis.

A right-hander, Reyes was facing a White Sox lineup that had pummeled Cardinals pitching in the first two games of the series. The White Sox won those games by scores of 20-6 and 13-5.

Using a mix of fastballs, changeups and curves, Reyes kept White Sox batters off balance.

“He changed speeds, moved the ball in and out,” Cora said to the Chicago Sun-Times. “He was outstanding.”

Good wood

With one out in the seventh and the score at 0-0, Reyes hadn’t yielded a hit. Asked later whether he was aware at that point he had a chance for a no-hitter, Reyes told the Associated Press, “I never thought about it.”

Then, Thome, the designated hitter for the White Sox, came to the plate.

“He had been throwing me the fastball early on, and I just wanted to make sure I was ready for that,” Thome said.

Reyes’ first pitch to Thome was a fastball. The slugger swung and launched a shot into the bleachers.

“I was fortunate that I got a pitch to hit and I put good wood on it,” Thome said to MLB.com.

Said Reyes of the pitch Thome walloped: ‘I just missed a little bit over the plate and you can’t really do that up in this league.”

Series star

Reyes pitched the 23rd one-hitter in Cardinals franchise history.

His line for the game: 8 innings, 1 hit, 1 run, 0 walks, 6 strikeouts.

The Cardinals, meanwhile, were kept in check by White Sox starter Freddy Garcia. He limited the Cardinals to four hits _ a David Eckstein double and singles by Scott Rolen, Juan Encarnacion and Aaron Miles _ over eight innings. Bobby Jenks pitched a hitless ninth.

“This was a very tough game to lose,” La Russa said. “We had a chance to win and we didn’t win it.” Boxscore

Reyes made 17 starts for the 2006 Cardinals and was 5-8 with a 5.06 ERA. His gem against the White Sox was his only complete game that season.

In the 2006 World Series, Reyes delivered another surprise. He started and won Game 1 for the Cardinals, holding the Tigers to four hits and two runs in eight innings in a 7-2 St. Louis triumph at Detroit.

Previously: Jim Thome: 18 homers, .430 batting mark vs. Cards

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Ninety years ago, the Cubs unwittingly did the Cardinals a favor and helped them achieve their first championship season.

grover_alexanderOn June 22, 1926, the Cubs, at the urging of manager Joe McCarthy, placed pitcher Grover Cleveland Alexander on waivers.

Alexander, 39 and on the back end of a Hall of Fame career, still was effective, but McCarthy had become fed up with the pitcher’s drinking.

Claimed for the waiver price of $4,000, Alexander landed with the Cardinals and played a prominent role in stabilizing their pitching staff and lifting them to their first National League pennant and World Series championship.

Bottoms up

In June 1926, the Cubs were in Philadelphia when Alexander “appeared at the Phillies’ park apparently the worse for wear,” The Sporting News reported.

Said McCarthy: “This isn’t the first time. This is the sixth time in the last 10 days … I absolutely refuse to allow him to disrupt our team and will not have him around in that condition.”

Alexander, who had a 3-3 record and 3.46 ERA in seven starts for the 1926 Cubs, was suspended by McCarthy and sent back to Chicago.

“It’s all right to drink while you can win, but it’s not for losers,” McCarthy said.

When the Cubs placed Alexander on waivers, he was claimed by the Cardinals, Pirates and Reds. At the time, the Reds were in first place and the Pirates in second in the National League. The Cardinals, in third place, got Alexander because they were lowest in the standings among the three teams that made claims.

Cubs fans were stunned and disappointed by the move because Alexander “has become almost an institution in Chicago,” according to International News Service.

Old pals

In joining the Cardinals, Alexander was reunited with his friend, Bill Killefer, a coach under manager Rogers Hornsby. Killefer was Alexander’s catcher with the Phillies from 1911-17. In December 1917, the Phillies traded Alexander and Killefer to the Cubs. Killefer was the Cubs’ manager from 1921-25.

“They are a couple of Peter Pans who never have taken life very seriously,” The Sporting News wrote of Alexander and Killefer.

Alexander enhanced a Cardinals rotation that included Flint Rhem, Bill Sherdel and Jesse Haines.

Harry Nelly of the Chicago American wrote, “Before Alexander went to the Cardinals, that team was shy of pitchers. It is a run-making outfit, but often found itself without a proper person to prevent the other side from scoring frequently.”

In The Sporting News, columnist John B. Sheridan suggested Alexander had a lot to offer the Cardinals: “He can lose nine-tenths of his skills and still be a greater pitcher than most of the ice-cream kids that come along in these degenerate days.”

Dazzler of a debut

On June 27, 1926, Alexander made his Cardinals debut in the first game of a doubleheader against the Cubs at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. A crowd of 37,196 squeezed into the ballpark that seated about 34,000.

“It was the greatest throng that had ever paid to witness a baseball attraction in this city,” The Sporting News reported.

Alexander pitched a complete-game four-hitter and got the win in a 3-2 Cardinals triumph in 10 innings.

Wrote The Sporting News of Alexander: “He had his old half sidearm delivery. He had a fast-breaking curve and he had a fast one.”

Said Alexander: “Don’t let anybody tell you that this arm hasn’t a few more good ones left in it. I’m tickled to be with the team and Hornsby and Killefer. All Rog has to do is nod his head and I’ll jump through a hoop for him.” Boxscore

Title run

Alexander won nine of his first 14 decisions with the Cardinals before losing his last two. In 23 appearances, including 16 starts for the Cardinals, Alexander was 9-7 with a 2.91 ERA. He pitched 11 complete games and two shutouts.

In the 1926 World Series against the Yankees, Alexander started and won Game 2 and Game 6. He relieved in Game 7, struck out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded in the seventh and earned the save by pitching 2.1 hitless innings to clinch the championship for the Cardinals.

Without Alexander, the Cubs finished in fourth place, seven games behind the Cardinals.

Previously: Stan Musial and the Cardinals’ most iconic moment

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Jim Ray Hart had a prominent role in contributing to Bob Gibson’s worst start with the Cardinals, an outing so outlandishly poor that the pitcher was booed by the home crowd.

jim_hartHart, batting cleanup, had two key hits in the Giants’ 11-run first inning against the Cardinals on June 29, 1967, at St. Louis.

Nine of those runs, all earned, were charged to Gibson. Those are the most earned runs yielded in a game by Gibson in his Hall of Fame career.

The first eight batters Gibson faced reached base _ seven hits and a walk _ and the Giants led 7-0 before Gibson recorded an out. He was lifted before the Giants completed the inning.

In his book “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson called the outing “possibly the worst start of my life.”

In a Giants lineup that featured Willie Mays and Willie McCovey, no one did more damage that Thursday night than Hart, who drove in four runs in the opening inning with a single and a home run.

The story is recalled here in tribute to Hart, 74, who died May 19, 2016. In 12 years (1963-74) with the Giants and Yankees, Hart, a third baseman and outfielder, batted .278 and produced 1,052 hits. He led the Giants in hits in each of three consecutive seasons (1965-67).

Stacking southpaws

The Giants began a four-game series with the first-place Cardinals on June 26, 1967, at St. Louis. The Cardinals won the opener, beating right-hander Gaylord Perry and dropping the fifth-place Giants 8.5 games behind the frontrunners.

The Giants, behind left-handed starters Mike McCormick and Ray Sadecki, won the second and third games. McCormick and Sadecki combined to limit the Cardinals to one run in 18 innings.

The series finale was scheduled to be a matchup of right-handed aces, Gibson for the Cardinals and Juan Marichal for the Giants.

However, based on the performances of McCormick and Sadecki, Giants manager Herman Franks decided to start another left-hander against the Cardinals.

Franks replaced Marichal with Joe Gibbon, a left-hander who had started and won against the Cardinals two weeks earlier, on June 17, at San Francisco. Gibbon had pitched in relief vs. the Cardinals on June 26 in the series opener at St. Louis.

All of the maneuverings were for naught. Gibson and Gibbon, similar in name, had similar results: Both were ineffective.

Opening salvo

The first two Giants batters, Jim Davenport and Tom Haller, each singled.

Willie Mays also singled, scoring Davenport and advancing Haller to second base.

Next up was Hart. He hit a line drive to left for a single, scoring Haller. Lou Brock, the left fielder, bobbled the ball, enabling Mays to score on the error and giving the Giants a 3-0 lead. Hart, credited with one RBI, reached second on the play.

With first base open, Gibson issued an intentional walk to Willie McCovey.

The next batter, Ollie Brown, singled, scoring Hart and putting the Giants ahead, 4-0. McCovey advanced to third.

Hal Lanier, the shortstop and son of former Cardinals pitcher Max Lanier, was up next.

Lanier, batting .202, tripled, scoring McCovey and Brown and increasing the Giants’ lead to 6-0.

Unhappy fans

The eighth batter, Tito Fuentes, singled, driving in Lanier and making the score 7-0.

Gibson struck out Gibbon and got Davenport to pop out to second.

When Gibson walked the next batter, Haller, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst replaced him with Nelson Briles.

In the book “El Birdos,” author Doug Feldmann wrote that as Gibson departed “he was booed voraciously by the Busch Stadium crowd. Upon receiving the unfriendly goodbye from the home folks, Gibson tauntingly flung his cap in the air, which only increased the volume of the derision.”

Hammer from Hart

The first batter Briles faced was Mays, who singled, scoring Fuentes, advancing Haller to second and boosting the Giants’ lead to 8-0.

Hart, using a bat borrowed from Lanier, capped the outburst by hitting a three-run home run into the left-field bleachers, making the score 11-0.

The final line on Gibson: 0.2 innings, 9 runs, 7 hits, 2 walks.

Redbirds respond

Given a huge lead, Gibbon couldn’t taken advantage.

Brock led off the Cardinals’ half of the first with a triple. Julian Javier singled, scoring Brock. Curt Flood singled, moving Javier to third.

Orlando Cepeda delivered the Cardinals’ fourth consecutive hit, a single that scored Javier, moved Flood to third and made the score 11-2.

So much for using a left-hander.

Franks removed Gibbon, who failed to record an out, and replaced him with Bobby Bolin. The right-hander did the job. He got Mike Shannon to ground into a double play and Tim McCarver to fly out, ending the inning.

Bolin pitched nine innings of relief and got the win in a 12-4 Giants triumph. Boxscore

“So, a right-hander finally won one,” Giants pitching coach Larry Jansen said to the Oakland Tribune.

Beware of Bob

Gibson had entered the game with a 3.01 ERA and exited it with a 3.68 ERA.

“This, of course, put me in the mood to take it out on somebody and the opportunity quickly presented itself against the Reds,” Gibson said.

Facing the Reds in his next start, July 3, 1967, at St. Louis, Gibson struck out 12 in 7.2 innings, gave up 3 runs (2 earned), took part in a brawl and got the win in a 7-3 Cardinals victory. Boxscore.

Previously: Cardinals, Reds stage star-studded brawl in 1967

Previously: Jim Davenport delivered against Cardinals aces

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Adam Wainwright turned a special at-bat into a special feat.

Ten years ago, on May 24, 2006, Wainwright swung at the first pitch in his first major-league plate appearance and hit a home run for the Cardinals against the Giants at San Francisco.

adam_wainwright9Leading off the fifth inning, with the Giants ahead, 4-2, Wainwright hit a Noah Lowry pitch over the left field wall.

Wainwright, 24, had appeared in three games for the 2005 Cardinals and 14 games for the 2006 Cardinals before getting his first plate appearance. He hadn’t taken any batting practice since spring training.

Asked by Joe Strauss of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch what he was thinking once he realized he had hit a home run, Wainwright said, “I wasn’t thinking anything until I hit third (base). I was wandering around the bases, making sure I was going the right way. I hit third (base) and I said, ‘Oh, my goodness. I just hit a home run in my first at-bat.’ It was crazy.”

A win and a blast

Chris Carpenter had been scheduled to start for the Cardinals, but he developed bursitis under his right shoulder and was scratched.

Brad Thompson got the start and pitched two innings. After Tyler Johnson pitched the third inning, Wainwright relieved.

With the score tied at 2-2, Wainwright yielded two runs in the fourth.

Before Wainwright went to bat in the fifth, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa approached him.

“Tony told me to have a good at-bat, so I made sure I swung at the first pitch,” Wainwright told the San Jose Mercury News.

Lowry, a left-hander, threw a fastball. “One of the few fastballs Noah threw for strike one,” Giants manager Felipe Alou said to the Alameda Times-Star.

Said Lowry of Wainwright: “He just jumped out there early and connected.” Video of home run

Wainwright pitched a scoreless fifth. In the sixth, the Cardinals scored twice, taking a 5-4 lead. Wainwright held the Giants scoreless again in the sixth.

For his three innings of relief, Wainwright earned the win in the Cardinals’ 10-4 triumph. “I think that’s just a lucky day,” Wainwright told the Associated Press. Boxscore

Wainwright was one of three Cardinals pitchers to get an extra-base hit in the game. Jason Marquis tripled. Braden Looper doubled.

Sweet swings

Wainwright is one of eight Cardinals to hit a home run in his first plate appearance in the major leagues.

The 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.

Previously: Oscar Taveras, Eddie Morgan: Flashy starts to Cards careers

Previously: How Keith McDonald gained spot in Cards record book

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