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Though the Cardinals put Lindy McDaniel on their team because they had to, he showed he deserved to be there.

A right-hander who developed into a quality reliever and pitched 21 seasons in the major leagues, McDaniel died Nov. 14, 2020, at 84.

McDaniel was 19 when he got to the big leagues with the Cardinals as a teammate of Stan Musial in 1955 and he was 39 when he pitched his final game with the Royals as a teammate of George Brett in 1975.

In addition to Cardinals (1955-62) and Royals (1974-75), McDaniel pitched for Cubs (1963-65), Giants (1966-68) and Yankees (1968-73). 

McDaniel led the National League in saves three times: twice with the Cardinals (1959 and 1960) and once with the Cubs (1963). He had a career record in the majors of 141-119 with 174 saves.

One of his most important wins was his first. It came when he was 20 years old and it helped convince the Cardinals his spot on the club was warranted.

Prime prospect

McDaniel was 19 when he signed with the Cardinals for $50,000 on Aug. 19, 1955. Because of the amount he received, the Cardinals were required by a baseball rule at the time to keep McDaniel on the big-league club for at least the next two years.

The Cardinals signed McDaniel on the recommendation of scout Fred Hawn, who called him “the best pitching prospect, maybe the best player, I’ve ever scouted for the Cardinals.,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported. “His fastball and his curve are alive and he gets them over the plate.”

An amateur baseball standout in Oklahoma, McDaniel had been pursued by the Cardinals since he was 16 in 1952. He attended the University of Oklahoma for a year, but left to join the Cardinals, “fulfilling a childhood ambition to play with Dizzy Dean’s old club and alongside his idol, Musial,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The Phillies, Dodgers, Reds, Yankees, Indians and Red Sox also wanted to sign McDaniel, but “when I found out the Cardinals were interested, I told the others not to bother,” McDaniel said to The Sporting News. “They’re a team of the future with a young staff. I’ll get more chances to pitch with them than with other clubs.”

When Lindy and his father, Newell McDaniel, an alfalfa and cotton farmer, went to St. Louis for the contract signing, Lindy let his dad do most of the talking.

“He don’t talk much,” Newell said to the Post-Dispatch. “You won’t get much out of him. He concentrates on training. He’s one of those boys just born that way, not interested in girls or anything. Exercises every night before retiring. He’s a fanatic.”

According to The Sporting News, Lindy invested part of the signing bonus in purchasing a 160-acre farm near his home in Hollis, Okla., and turning it over to his father to tend.

Teen dream

McDaniel reported to the Cardinals on Sept. 1, 1955, and he made his debut in the majors the next day at Chicago. McDaniel, 19, entered in the seventh inning with the Cubs ahead, 11-1, and the second batter he faced, Walker Cooper, 40, hit a home run. McDaniel regrouped and didn’t allow another run over two innings. Boxscore

“That boy may never have to go down to the minors,” Cardinals manager Harry Walker told the Post-Dispatch.

On Sept. 19, 1955, McDaniel got his first start in the majors against the Cubs at St. Louis. He gave up a grand slam to Ernie Banks, making him the first player in the majors to hit five in one season. McDaniel gave up five runs, 10 hits and four walks in seven innings, but didn’t get a decision after the Cardinals rallied to win. Boxscore

McDaniel made four September appearances for the 1955 Cardinals and was 0-0 with a 4.74 ERA. According to The Sporting News, he “demonstrated he might be just more than ornamental in 1956.”

On his way

The Cardinals changed managers after the 1955 season, hiring Fred Hutchinson, a former pitcher, to replace Harry Walker.

McDaniel didn’t pitch much at spring training in Florida, but Hutchinson told The Sporting News, “I saw enough of him to know he had good stuff.”

As the Cardinals headed north from Florida to open the season, they were scheduled to play an exhibition game against the White Sox at Oklahoma City. McDaniel was supposed to pitch before a big crowd in his home state, but the game was canceled because of bad weather.

In the Cardinals’ final exhibition game at Kansas City two days before the season opener, McDaniel pitched two scoreless innings against the Athletics.

After losing two of their first three games of the regular season, the Cardinals were home to play the Braves on April 21, 1956, a Saturday afternoon.

With the Braves ahead, 5-3, McDaniel made his first appearance of the season, entering in the fifth inning in relief of starter Willard Schmidt.

Hutchinson “appeared to be taking a long gamble by bringing in a kid” whose “total professional experience consisted of 19 innings last September,” the Post-Dispatch reported, but Hutchinson “had been impressed with Lindy’s poise and potential.”

McDaniel rewarded his manager’s faith in him, retiring 12 of the 15 Braves batters he faced and pitching five scoreless innings. The Cardinals rallied for a 6-5 victory, giving McDaniel his first win in the majors.

A turning point came in the eighth inning. Eddie Mathews led off with a single and Hank Aaron walked, but catcher Bill Sarni made a snap throw to first baseman Wally Moon, picking off Aaron. McDaniel struck out Bobby Thomson and got Joe Adcock to ground out, ending the threat. He retired the side in order in the ninth.

“The kid did great,” Hutchinson said. Boxscore

Plate umpire Babe Pinelli told the Sporting News, “He showed one of the best curves I’ve ever seen and I’ve been in baseball 40 years. He doesn’t scare. He looks nerveless.”

Family affair

The win gave McDaniel a considerable boost. He was 4-0 with a 2.83 ERA entering June. Hutchinson tried him as a starter, but it didn’t work out. McDaniel finished the season at 7-6. He was 5-2 with a 2.58 ERA in 32 relief appearances and 2-4 with a 5.25 ERA in seven starts.

The next year, the Cardinals signed Lindy’s brother, Von McDaniel, 18, for $50,000 and he joined Lindy on the big-league club.

Von won his first four decisions with the 1957 Cardinals, finished 7-5 and flamed out.

Lindy was 66-54 with 66 saves in eight seasons with the Cardinals before he was traded with Larry Jackson and Jimmie Schaffer to the Cubs for George Altman, Don Cardwell and Moe Thacker on Oct. 17, 1962.

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The Cardinals had the right idea, but the wrong position in mind, when they acquired strong-hitting Cecil Cooper from the Red Sox.

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 30, 1970, the Cardinals chose Cooper in the Rule 5 draft. Cooper, 20, was the Midwest League batting champion in 1970, but the Red Sox didn’t put him on their 40-man major-league winter roster, leaving him eligible to be drafted by another organization.

The Cardinals took advantage of the opportunity to obtain a left-handed hitter who was tailored for the AstroTurf and spacious dimensions of Busch Memorial Stadium in St. Louis.

Cooper ran well and consistently hit line drives to all fields, but his best position was first base. The Cardinals wanted him for the outfield.

Cards call

A standout high school player in Texas, Cooper was 18 when he was selected by the Red Sox in the sixth round of the June 1968 amateur draft. Assigned to a Class A farm club in Jamestown, N.Y., Cooper impressed, batting .452 with 38 hits in 26 games.

Though he continued to hit well, Cooper stayed in Class A the next two seasons. He hit .297 as the first baseman for Greenville, S.C., in 1969 and .336 for Danville, Ill., in 1970. Cooper primarily played first base for Danville but he also appeared in the outfield in 47 games.

The Cardinals were looking for backup outfielders for the 1971 season. When Cooper was left unprotected, the Cardinals paid the required $25,000 fee to draft him and put him on their 40-man major-league winter roster as an outfielder.

Either the Cardinals thought Cooper had a good chance to make the leap from Class A to the major leagues, or they figured the Red Sox wouldn’t want him back. Under the rules of baseball, if a player claimed in the Rule 5 draft is not kept on the major-league roster throughout the following regular season, he must be offered back to the team that lost him for $12,500.

Plenty of competition

The Cardinals went into 1971 spring training with a starting outfield of Lou Brock in left, Matty Alou in center and Jose Cardenal in right. Seven other players listed as outfielders on the big-league roster were competing for backup spots. In addition to Cooper, others in the mix were Jim Beauchamp, Bob Burda, Jose Cruz, Leron Lee, Luis Melendez and Jorge Roque.

Of the backup outfielder candidates, Burda, Cooper, Cruz and Lee batted from the left side. Another left-handed batter, Joe Hague, was the starting first baseman. Beauchamp, Burda and Cooper could back up Hague as well as play the outfield, but only Cooper lacked big-league experience.

“The Cardinals tried to make an outfielder out of me,” Cooper told The Sporting News.

When the Cardinals began playing intra-squad games, Cooper swung “a pretty stout bat,” according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In a game with eight position players in the field and batters taking their cuts against a pitching machine, Cooper hit a three-run triple. In an intra-squad game versus pitchers, he had a triple against Santiago Guzman and a double off George Lauzerique. He also substituted for Alou in center field.

“I’m very happy to get this shot with St. Louis and I hope to make the most of it,” Cooper told the Post-Dispatch. “I’ve got to work on my fielding and my throwing.”

Cooper didn’t fare so well in Grapefruit League exhibition games. He had one hit in 11 at-bats. He also walked and scored a run against the Reds. Meanwhile, his competition hit much better: Beauchamp, .408, and Burda, .438.

The Cardinals opened the 1971 season with Beauchamp, Burda, Lee and Melendez in reserve roles. Cruz and Roque were sent to the minors. Cooper was offered back to the Red Sox.

If the Red Sox had said no thanks, the Cardinals could have kept Cooper and assigned him to the minors, but the Red Sox paid the $12,500 to get him back.

Hot hitting

To his dismay, Cooper was assigned by the Red Sox to Winston-Salem, a Class A team, though he already had proven he could play at that level.

“That got me mad, depressed and frustrated,” Cooper said. “I told them, ‘I’m going home,’ and stayed away for five days. I wasn’t going to quit, but I wanted to get away and think. They told me I was lazy, that I didn’t want to play.”

Cooper took out his frustrations on opposing pitchers. He hit .379 in 42 games for Winston-Salem and got promoted to Class AA Pawtucket. In his first six games for Pawtucket, Cooper had 14 hits in 23 at-bats. He went on to hit .343 for Pawtucket, and in September, five months after the Cardinals rejected him, the Red Sox brought him to the major leagues.

“They aren’t likely to let him get away again,” The Sporting News declared. “Cooper is a hitter of promise.”

Cooper’s first hit in the big leagues was noteworthy, It came on Sept. 11, 1971, against Joe Coleman of the Tigers. Coleman held the Red Sox hitless until Cooper singled to lead off the eighth. Swinging at the first forkball he’d ever seen, Cooper tapped the ball toward third. Aurelio Rodrigeuz tried to make a backhand scoop, but the ball rolled under his glove and was ruled a hit. “I thought it would be an error the way I hit it,” Cooper told the Boston Globe. Boxscore

Cooper hit .310 for the Red Sox in 1971 and figured to be their first baseman in 1972, but they traded for Danny Cater and gave him the job. In 1973, Carl Yastrzemski moved from the outfield to first base and he remained the Red Sox’s first baseman through 1976, relegating Cooper to the role of backup and designated hitter.

“Boston never gave me a chance to show what I could do,” Cooper told The Sporting News. “I feel the Red Sox did me an injustice.”

Everyday excellence

In December 1976, the Red Sox traded Cooper to the Brewers for George Scott and Bernie Carbo. Given the chance to play every day, Cooper thrived as the first baseman. He was named to the American League all-star team five times and twice won a Gold Glove Award for fielding. In 1980, he led the league in total bases (335) and RBI (122). He was the RBI leader again in 1983 (126), and twice topped the league in doubles: 44 in 1979 and 35 in 1981.

The Brewers got to the World Series for the only time in 1982 and faced the Cardinals. Though the Cardinals won the championship in seven games, Cooper hit .286 with six RBI.

In Game 5, with the Brewers clinging to a 3-2 lead, the Cardinals had runners on first and second, two outs, in the seventh when Darrell Porter hit a ball sharply to the right side of the infield. Cooper dived, snared the ball and threw to pitcher Mike Caldwell covering first to retire Porter. The Brewers went on to a win, their third of the Series. Boxscore

“That play changed the whole game,” Cardinals second baseman Tommy Herr told the Post-Dispatch. “Cooper has played great first base the whole Series.”

Cooper batted .298 with 2,192 hits and 1,125 RBI in 17 seasons in the majors.

He became Astros manager late in the 2007 season, and managed them in 2008 (86-75) and 2009 (70-79).

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In his last hurrah as a National League player, Joe Morgan helped the Phillies dethrone the Cardinals.

A second baseman who began his big-league career with the Houston Colt .45s and spent his prime years as an integral member of championship Reds teams in the 1970s, Morgan died on Oct. 11, 2020, at 77.

A two-time recipient of the National League Most Valuable Player Award as well as a member of the Baseball Hall of Fame, Morgan was 5 feet 7 but hit like a giant. He produced 2,517 hits and 1,133 RBI in 22 seasons in the majors. He also won five Gold Glove awards for fielding.

Morgan, a left-handed batter who flapped his left elbow as a distinctive timing mechanism before unleashing his swing, consistently clobbered the Cardinals.

A career .271 hitter, he batted .293 versus the Cardinals. His on-base percentage against them was .408. In 203 games versus the Cardinals, Morgan had 216 hits and 147 walks. He hit .313 against Bob Gibson and struck out a mere three times in 83 career at-bats versus the Cardinals’ ace.

In 1976, when Morgan was at his peak, he hit .452 versus the Cardinals, and his on-base percentage against them was an astounding .578. In 45 plate appearances against the 1976 Cardinals, Morgan had 14 hits and 12 walks.

Seven years later, with the 1983 Phillies, Morgan’s numbers against the Cardinals weren’t as great, but his performance remained devastating.

Power surge

In December 1982, after two seasons with the Giants, Morgan, 39, was traded to the Phillies, and was reunited with a prominent pair of former Big Red Machine teammates, Pete Rose and Tony Perez.

Playing in the same National League East Division as the Cardinals, who won the World Series championship in 1982, the 1983 Phillies were assembling a group of baseball royalty in the hope of overtaking the Cardinals. In addition to Morgan, Rose and Perez, the Phillies had Mike Schmidt and Steve Carlton.

Early on, the Phillies fizzled. They were 9-13 in May and lost their first four games in June.

On June 9, 1983, the Phillies went into their home game against the Cardinals with a record of 22-25. Morgan was batting .193.

Before the game, Morgan worked with coaches Deron Johnson and Bobby Wine to correct a flaw in his swing. Johnson noticed Morgan was committing too soon to pitches, and suggested Morgan rely more on his hands for timing. “As soon as I did, I felt good,” Morgan told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

In the bottom of the first inning, Morgan led off with a home run against Joaquin Andujar. The Cardinals came back and led, 5-1, heading to the bottom of the eighth, but Andujar unraveled. A double and two singles produced a run, making the score 5-2, and brought Morgan to the plate with two on and none out.

With the count 1-and-0, Andujar threw a fastball and Morgan walloped it over the wall in right for his second home run of the game, tying the score at 5-5.

“I wanted to go up and get a pitch I could pull and maybe hit out of the ballpark,” Morgan said. “I knew the situation, and I knew what I’m here for. I’m here to add some power. I could go up there and try to slap a ball to right, but they brought me here to do a job.”

It was the first time Morgan hit two home runs in a game since 1977. When Andujar gave up the second home run, he threw his hands up in disgust. “I feel like I want to kill myself,” Andujar told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Phillies got a run against Cardinals relievers in the 11th and won, 6-5. Boxscore

Repeat performance

Morgan said he thought the comeback victory would propel the Phillies into a winning streak, but it didn’t happen. Instead, the Phillies experienced a dismal July. Manager Pat Corrales was fired and replaced by Paul Owens. Morgan suffered a hamstring pull and batted .060 for July.

On Aug. 5, 1983, the Phillies were in St. Louis to play the Cardinals, and both Morgan and the club remained in a funk. The Phillies were 53-50 and trailed the first-place Pirates. Morgan was batting .192 for the season.

In the second inning, with the Phillies ahead, 2-0, Morgan faced John Stuper with two on and two outs. With the count 3-and-0, Morgan got a fat pitch and hit it over the wall in right for a three-run home run. In the seventh, Morgan hit a solo home run versus Dave Von Ohlen, giving him his second two-homer game of the season against the Cardinals. The Phillies won, 10-7. Boxscore

“I’m really glad for Joe,” Owens said. “It’s good to see him finally relax a little.”

Experience counts

Entering September, four teams were in contention for the National League East title. The Pirates (68-63) led, but the Phillies (67-64), Expos (66-64) and Cardinals (65-65) were close behind.

The Phillies took control, and Morgan played a prominent part. 

The Phillies were 22-7 in September, including 6-0 against the Cardinals, and finished atop the division at 90-72. The Cardinals were 12-18 in September and finished at 79-83.

Morgan hit .337 in September and had 18 RBI in 24 games. He had unusual numbers against the Cardinals for the season: a .181 batting average, but five doubles, four home runs and 13 RBI in 17 games.

The Phillies prevailed in the National League Championship Series versus the Dodgers and advanced to the World Series against the Orioles. Though the Orioles won four of five games, Morgan hit two home runs.

Released by the Phillies after the World Series, Morgan signed with the Athletics, who wanted him as their second baseman. After 21 seasons in the National League, Morgan, 40, completed his playing career in the American League with the 1984 Athletics.

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If not for the effective relief pitching of Ron Perranoski, the Cardinals, not the Dodgers, might have won the 1963 National League pennant and given Stan Musial a chance to end his playing career in a World Series.

A left-hander who played 13 years in the majors and coached another 17 years in the big leagues, Perranoski died Oct. 2, 2020, at 84.

In 1963, the Dodgers held a one-game lead over the Cardinals heading into a three-game series at St. Louis. The Dodgers swept, with Perranoski earning a save and a win, and went on to clinch the pennant.

Cool and collected

Born and raised in New Jersey, Perranoski early on displayed poise and a calm disposition on the mound. “As a high school pitcher, mom and dad used to complain they couldn’t tell whether I’d won or lost by the way I looked when I came home,” Perranoski told the Los Angeles Times.

He enrolled at Michigan State and was a roommate and teammate of Dick Radatz, who, like Perranoski, would become a dominant reliever in the majors.

Perranoski signed with the Cubs in June 1958. After two years in their farm system, the Cubs traded Perranoski to the Dodgers for infielder Don Zimmer. Former Cubs manager Bob Scheffing, who considered Perranoski a top prospect, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “If I were still with Chicago, they’d have made that Perranoski trade over my dead body.”

After posting a 2.58 ERA in the minors in 1960, Perranoski pitched well at spring training in 1961 and earned a spot on the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster. His first big-league save came on April 18, 1961, against the Cardinals. In what the Los Angeles Times described as “a brilliant piece of relief pitching,” Perranoski retired Bill White with the bases loaded in the eighth, and set down the side in order in the ninth. Boxscore

A year later, in May 1962, Musial’s single off a curve from Perranoski gave Musial his 3,431st hit and moved him ahead of Honus Wagner for No. 1 on the National League career hit list.

Reliable relief

In 1963, there were no better relievers in the majors than the former Michigan State roommates, Perranoski and Radatz. Perranoski was 16-3 with 21 saves and a 1.67 ERA for the 1963 Dodgers. Radatz, a hulking right-hander nicknamed “The Monster,” was 15-6 with 23 saves and a 1.97 ERA for the 1963 Red Sox.

The Los Angeles Times described Perranoski as the “miracle man of the 1963 Dodgers. If the others can’t win them, he will.”

With Perranoski in the bullpen, and Sandy Koufax, Don Drysdale and Johnny Podres heading the starting rotation, the Dodgers had the best ERA in the National League in 1963, but the Cardinals kept pace with them.

Entering the Sept. 16-18 series at St. Louis, the Dodgers were 91-59 and the Cardinals were 91-61.

The Cardinals became sentimental favorites when Musial, their 42-year-old icon, revealed in August that 1963 would be his last year as a player. Musial had played in four World Series, but none since 1946, and many were pulling for the Cardinals to overtake the Dodgers and give Musial a storybook finish to his career.

Naturally, Perranoski and the Dodgers had other ideas.

Impressive pitching

Podres and Ernie Broglio were the starting pitchers for the opening game of the Dodgers-Cardinals series. The score was tied at 1-1 when the Dodgers struck for two runs in the top of the ninth against relievers Bobby Shantz and Ron Taylor.

Perranoski replaced Podres for the bottom of the ninth and got the save, retiring Dick Groat, Musial and Ken Boyer in order. Boxscore

“Podres still can make the big haul and Perranoski puts the cash in the bank,” the Post-Dispatch noted.

Said Podres: “I knew Perranoski would be ready. He’s the best relief pitcher there is.”

When Koufax pitched a four-hit shutout against the Cardinals in Game 2, the Dodgers moved three ahead in the standings. Boxscore

The Cardinals needed to win the series finale to keep their pennant hopes from fading.

Great escape

The starting pitchers for Game 3 were the Cardinals’ Bob Gibson and the Dodgers’ Pete Richert. In the eighth, with the Cardinals ahead, 5-1, the Dodgers scored three times against Gibson and Shantz, getting within a run.

Dodgers manager Walter Alston picked Perranoski to pitch the bottom of the eighth and he retired the side in order. In the ninth, Dick Nen, in his debut game, hit a home run against Ron Taylor, tying the score at 5-5.

Perranoski again retired the Cardinals in order in the ninth, but he got into trouble in the 10th. Dick Groat led off and tripled. “I tried to jam Groat with a fastball, but I got it up,” Perranoski told the Post-Dispatch.

Alston went to the mound for a conference with Perranoski. Don Drysdale was throwing in the Dodgers’ bullpen, but Alston later said, “I was going all the way with Perranoski.”

Alston asked Perranoski whether he wanted to pitch to the next batter, Gary Kolb, or load the bases with intentional walks to set up a forceout at the plate. Perranoski opted to pitch to Kolb, a left-handed batter who entered the game in the seventh to run for Musial.

“I wasn’t too alarmed because I knew I had control and I felt if I got beat they’d have to beat me on my best pitch,” Perranoski told the Los Angeles Times.

Kolb struck out looking at an outside curve.

Perranoski gave intentional walks to Ken Boyer and Bill White, loading the bases for Curt Flood. “I knew Flood was a tough cookie to double up, but I had to get him to hit the ball on the ground,” Perranoski said.

After jamming Flood with an inside fastball, Perranoski got him to chase an outside curve. Flood hit a bouncer to shortstop Maury Wills, who threw to the plate to get the forceout on Groat.

With two outs and the bases loaded, Mike Shannon came up next. “I knew Shannon was a good fastball hitter,” Perranoski said.

Perranoski started him off with a sinker. Shannon hit a tapper to third. Jim Gilliam fielded the ball and threw to first in time to retire Shannon and end the threat.

Long career

The Cardinals didn’t get another good scoring opportunity against Perranoski. In the 13th, the Dodgers scored an unearned run against Lew Burdette. Perranoski retired the Cardinals in order in the bottom half of the inning, sealing the 6-5 Dodgers win and crushing the Cardinals’ pennant chances. Boxscore

With six innings of scoreless relief, Perranoski got his 16th win of the season. “This was the biggest game I ever pitched,” he said. “It’s got to be my biggest thrill.”

Cardinals manager Johnny Keane said, “I’ve never seen anyone get them out better than he does time after time.”

The Dodgers went on to clinch the pennant, finishing at 99-63. The Cardinals placed second at 93-69.

Perranoski pitched in three World Series for the Dodgers. He also pitched for the Twins, Tigers and Angels, leading the American League in saves in 1969 and 1970.

Perranoski was Dodgers pitching coach from 1981-94. Among the pitchers he helped develop were Orel Hershiser, Rick Sutcliffe and Fernando Valenzuela.

He also mentored reliever Tom Niedenfuer. According to the Los Angeles Times, Perranoski “sort of adopted him.”

“Possibly the greatest thing Perranoski did for Niedenfuer was tell him to throw with the same motion as Goose Gossage,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

In 1985, Niedenfuer led the Dodgers in saves, but in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series he gave up a walkoff home run to the Cardinals’ Ozzie Smith. In the next game, Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda ordered Perranoski to tell Niedenfuer to pitch to Jack Clark with two on, two outs and a base open, and Clark hit a home run, carrying the Cardinals to the pennant.

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In 1964, the year he revived his baseball career, Jim Owens nearly derailed the Cardinals’ pennant chances. He also struck out Lou Brock in his first at-bat for the Cardinals.

A right-handed pitcher with a reputation as a carouser, Owens died on Sept. 8, 2020, at 86.

Once a prized Phillies prospect, Owens clashed with the club’s management and created havoc as part of a group of hard-drinking pitchers dubbed the Dalton Gang.

The Phillies finally gave up on him, and so did his next team, the Reds.

With his career headed in reverse, Owens, 30, got a lifeline from the Houston Colt .45s in 1964, and made the most of the opportunity. Used as a reliever and spot starter, Owens was most effective against the Cardinals. His record against them in 1964 was 4-0 with one save and a 2.51 ERA.

Only the Mets had a worse record than the Colt .45s in the National League in 1964, but the Cardinals were unable to take full advantage. Partly because of Owens’ success against them, it took the Cardinals until the final day of the season to clinch the National League pennant.

Great expectations

Owens was born in Gifford, Pa., near the New York state border. The Phillies were the defending National League champions when he signed with them at age 17 in 1951.

It didn’t take long for Owens to rise through the Phillies’ farm system. He was a 22-game winner in 1952, and he won 22 again in 1953 for Terre Haute, a team managed by Hub Kittle.

“Owens was the finest pitching prospect this club ever had, and that includes Robin Roberts,” Phillies owner Bob Carpenter told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Owens got to the majors with the Phillies in 1955, but lost his first six decisions. He didn’t get a win for them until 1958. Owens finally began to fulfill expectations in 1959, when he was 12-12 with 11 complete games, but it also was the year he joined the Dalton Gang.

Gang’s all here

Turk Farrell, Jack Meyer, Seth Morehead and Owens were the Phillies pitchers in 1959 who formed the Dalton Gang. According to Sports Illustrated, Phillies coach Tom Ferrick gave the group its name because of their outlaw antics. The real Dalton Gang robbed banks and trains in the late 1800s, primarily in the Kansas and Oklahoma territories.

Sports Illustrated described the Phillies’ Dalton Gang as “a group of wild-living, fun-loving, hell-raising players” who shared a “common love of the fast, loose life _ hard drinking, frequent fighting, late hours and casual friendships.”

Si Burick of the Dayton Daily News called the gang “a hard-riding, after-hours” group, and cited Owens for being “known as an athlete of questionable off the field habits, one who has been especially indiscreet in the drinking league.”

Asked about Owens, Phillies manager Gene Mauch told Burick, “There are people in baseball who drink as much as he does, maybe more, but they don’t get into trouble like him.”

Farrell and Owens were road roommates for one year in the minors and four years with the Phillies. During the 1960 season, in an effort to stop the shenanigans, Mauch split up the pair, rooming Farrell with coach Ken Silvestri and Owens with coach Peanuts Lowrey.

“Silvestri would go to bed at 10 o’clock,” Farrell told The Sporting News. “I’d keep the TV set on until 4 and order up some beer. Jim did the same thing in his room. We kept this up for 10 days and finally Silvestri and Lowrey went to Mauch and begged him to change his mind. So Mauch roomed me and Owens back together.”

One year, the Phillies offered Owens a $500 bonus if he promised to behave. According to Sports Illustrated, he “didn’t even make it through spring training. He got involved in a barroom brawl in Florida, lost the bonus and was fined an extra hundred to boot.”

In 1961, when Owens stormed out of Phillies training camp because of a disagreement with Mauch and threatened to quit, Larry Merchant of the Philadelphia Daily News described him as “a magnificent pitcher from the eyebrows down” and said the reason for Owens’ sulking was “as clear as a head full of vodka stingers.”

Not done yet

After the 1962 season, the Phillies traded Owens to the Reds for infielder Cookie Rojas. Owens pitched poorly for the 1963 Reds and in July they sent him to their San Diego farm club.

The demotion apparently was a wakeup call for Owens. He was 4-2 with a 2.21 ERA for the Reds’ farm team. The Colt .45s claimed him in the December 1963 minor-league draft, and Owens went to pitch winter ball in Venezuela in order to prepare to make a bid for a return to the majors in spring training.

In Venezuela, facing lineups stocked with major leaguers, Owens was the league’s best pitcher. He was 8-2 with an 0.72 ERA. All was going splendidly until on Jan. 29, 1964, when Owens was taken to a hospital for treatment of a leg wound.

According to The Sporting News, multiple variations were reported of how Owens cut his leg. Two newspaper reporters said Owens “had been stabbed during a Valencia barroom argument.” Valencia police said Owens “attempted to act as peacemaker on behalf of a friend during a fight and was cut in the right thigh” by someone wielding a knife. The president of the Valencia ballclub said Owens was injured in a swimming pool mishap. Owens said he slipped in a bowling alley and fell on top of a glass tumbler.

Old pro

Stitched up, Owens reported to the Colt .45s and “was the surprise of spring training,” The Sporting News reported. He earned a spot in the starting rotation and was reunited with his Dalton Gang buddy, Turk Farrell, who also was a Colt .45s starter.

“I always thought Jim was a good pitcher,” Farrell said. “He got the shaft in Philadelphia. Everybody tried to tell him how to pitch and how to live and he never got to pitch enough. If they would have left him alone, he’d have been all right.”

On April 26, 1964, Owens started against the Cardinals and got his first win for the Colt .45s, beating his former Phillies teammate, Curt Simmons. Boxscore

Two months later, on June 15, Owens relieved, retired all nine batters he faced, and got the win against the Cardinals. Brock, acquired earlier in the day from the Cubs, appeared as a pinch-hitter and struck out on three pitches from Owens. Boxscore

Owens also got relief wins versus the Cardinals on June 24 and Aug. 19, and earned a save against them on Aug. 8.

“Although Owens has been haunted in his career by a reputation for off the field hijinks, he has been a model of good deportment on the Colt .45s,” The Sporting News reported. “It is plain Jim would like to live down the playboy label of his youth.”

Owens was called “Bear” by his teammates because he had “the square build and somewhat lumbering gait of a medium-sized grizzly,” The Sporting News noted.

The nickname also fit his demeanor. According to The Sporting News, Owens “stays to himself as much, or more, than any other player on the Houston club. He is quiet, seldom smiles and does not engage much in small talk. On the mound, he acts like a man in a bad temper. He scowls as he pitches, and when he takes a throw from his catcher, he jerks at the ball in a short, angry gesture.”

Owens finished with an 8-7 record, six saves and a 3.28 ERA for the 1964 Colt .45s. The next year, the team became the Astros, and Owens again was tough versus the Cardinals, with a 1-0 record, a save and 2.08 ERA against them.

In June 1967, Owens made his last appearance as a pitcher, giving up a three-run home run to Orlando Cepeda in a relief stint versus the Cardinals. Boxscore

In a reversal of roles, the one-time baseball bad boy joined management, becoming an Astros coach for the remainder of 1967, and stayed in the job until 1972.

“He knows more about pitching than anybody on this club,” Astros manager Grady Hatton told The Sporting News.

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Hank Aaron was the recipient of a special delivery from Bob Gibson.

On July 28, 1970, Gibson threw a knuckleball in a game for the first time. The batter he threw it to was Aaron.

The unlikely pitch from a premier fastball pitcher to a premier fastball hitter occurred in a game between the Cardinals and Braves at Atlanta.

Mighty matchups

Aaron, 36, and Gibson, 34, still were at the top of their games in 1970. Aaron would finish the season with 38 home runs and 118 RBI. Gibson would finish at 23-7 and win his second National League Cy Young Award.

The two future Hall of Famers faced each other often. Aaron completed his career with 163 at-bats against Gibson. Only Billy Williams (174) batted more times versus Gibson.

Aaron batted .215 versus Gibson for his career. He had 35 hits, including eight home runs, and struck out 32 times.

In his book, “Sixty Feet, Six Inches,” Gibson said, “There are very few guys who can consistently hit that 95 mph fastball that’s up above the belt. Hank Aaron could. Aaron swung down on the ball. He’d get backspin on it and hit line drives that would start off close to the ground and just keep going unless the fence got in the way.”

“I’d avoid throwing Hank Aaron a fastball over the plate if there was any possible way I could get around it,” Gibson said. “That man did not miss a fastball.”

In Gibson’s first two starts against the 1970 Braves, Aaron tagged him for five hits in eight at-bats.

Entering their third and final matchup of the season on a hot, humid night in Georgia, Gibson had a surprise for Hammerin’ Hank.

Ready or not

Before the game, Gibson told catcher Joe Torre he wanted to throw a knuckleball.

“I’ve been fooling around with that pitch on the sidelines for what, three, four years?” Gibson said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I figured I finally had enough guts to throw it in a game. I just wanted to see what would happen.”

In the first inning, the Braves had a runner on second, one out, and Aaron at the plate. When the count got to 2-and-2, Gibson decided to unveil the knuckleball.

“I got it over and it went down pretty good,” Gibson said.

Aaron swung at it and popped out to second baseman Julian Javier.

In his book, Gibson recalled, “As he ran back to the dugout, he yelled to me, ‘What the hell was that?’ I laughed and told him, all proud, ‘That was my knuckleball.’ ”

Gibson knew Aaron sometimes could be coaxed into chasing tantalizingly slow pitches. Five years earlier, in 1965, the Cardinals’ Curt Simmons threw a high, floating changeup to Aaron, who hit the ball over the wall but was called out by the umpire for stepping out of the batter’s box.

Gibson said he tried a knuckleball as a substitute for a changeup.

“Knuckleballs, incidentally, aren’t thrown with your knuckles,” Gibson said in his book. “They’re thrown with your fingernails. The reason they call it a knuckleball is because that’s what the hitter sees when you dig your fingernails into the seam.”

Encore in ninth

Gibson retired 12 of the first 13 Braves batters, and the Cardinals built a 6-0 lead against Jim Nash and Bob Priddy.

According to the Atlanta Constitution, Braves manager Lum Harris said Gibson “was bringing it up there in a hurry. I wondered if we’d get any runs off him.”

In the sixth, Aaron drove in a run with a single and the Braves scored three times in the inning. “I pitched dumb,” Gibson said of his sixth-inning effort. “I just tried to get by on nothing but fastballs, and I was getting tired.”

The Braves added another run in the seventh, getting within two at 6-4.

In the ninth, the Braves brought in the master knuckleball specialist, 48-year-old Hoyt Wilhelm, to pitch, and he retired the Cardinals in order. “Old Hoyt was something,” Harris marveled.

After retiring Felix Millan in the bottom half of the inning, Gibson again faced Aaron, who popped out to second base for the third time in the game.

“I got Aaron on that pop-up in the ninth on a knuckler,” Gibson told the Atlanta Constitution.

Torre said to the Post-Dispatch, “In the ninth, when Henry popped up, it looked as if he had a good ball to hit, but just when Henry got the bat around to where the pitch was, the ball sailed out. Henry never had a chance. All Henry said was, ‘Son of a bitch.’ ”

Gibson struck out the next batter, Rico Carty, to complete the game and earn the win, boosting his record to 13-5. His totals for the game: 9 innings, 12 hits, 4 runs, 1 walk, 7 strikeouts. Boxscore

“Twelve hits are a lot to give up and still win, but I’m not complaining,” said Gibson.

In his book, Gibson said he rarely threw another knuckleball.

“Every time I threw a changeup, somebody would whack it over some fence, or in between the outfielders,” Gibson said. “Unfortunately, my knuckleball wasn’t much better.”

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