Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

John Cumberland was a teenager from Maine who yearned to play professional baseball. A Cardinals scout took him to dinner and launched him on a path to becoming a big-league pitcher and coach.

A left-hander, Cumberland made his debut in the majors with the Yankees. He later joined Juan Marichal and Gaylord Perry as a starter for the division champion Giants, and got his last win in the big leagues as a reliever with the Cardinals.

As a coach, Cumberland mentored 18-year-old Dwight Gooden in the minors, and was the first big-league pitching coach for Zack Greinke with the Royals.

Cumberland was 74 when he died on April 5, 2022. 

Bargain player

Born and raised in Westbrook, Maine, Cumberland was a high school baseball and football player. Though he wasn’t selected in the amateur baseball draft, Cumberland’s ability to throw hard impressed Cardinals scout Jeff Jones. According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Jones bought Cumberland a steak dinner and got him to sign with the Cardinals in 1966.

“I got 52 scholarships out of high school, mostly for football, but the opportunity came up for baseball, so I signed for a steak dinner,” Cumberland recalled to the Clearwater (Fla.) Times. “What a dummy. If I’d waited a little longer, I could have gotten $30,000 or $40,000, even back then. I was anxious, though, for the publicity and all.”

Cumberland was assigned to the Eugene (Ore.) Emeralds, a minor-league club stocked with Cardinals and Phillies prospects. According to the Post-Dispatch, his roommate at Eugene was another future big-league pitcher, Reggie Cleveland.

After posting a 4-1 record for Eugene, Cumberland was taken by the Yankees in the November 1966 minor-league draft.

Two years later, he made his big-league debut for the Yankees against the Red Sox. The first batter he faced, Carl Yastrzemski, grounded a comebacker to Cumberland, who threw to first baseman Mickey Mantle for the out. Boxscore

After making two appearances with the 1969 Yankees, Cumberland got a chance to stick with them in 1970. He got his first big-league win, pitching 6.1 innings of relief against the Senators, and also stroked his first big-league hit, a single that scored Thurman Munson, in that game. Boxscore

The performance earned him a spot in the starting rotation. A month later, in a start against the Indians at Cleveland, Cumberland became the first Yankees pitcher to give up five home runs in a game. Ray Fosse and Tony Horton hit two apiece, and Jack Heidemann slugged the other. Boxscore

In his next start, against the White Sox at Yankee Stadium, Cumberland recovered and pitched his first complete game in the majors, a 3-1 victory. Boxscore

In July 1970, the Yankees traded him to the Giants for pitcher Mike McCormick.

Wakeup call

Soon after joining the Giants, Cumberland was demoted to the minors “with instructions to lose 15 pounds and gain a new pitch,” the New York Daily News reported.

“Getting sent down was the big blow,” Cumberland told reporter Phil Pepe. “It shook me up. I was kind of complacent until that happened. It made me think about my future.”

Cumberland worked on improving his curveball. Called up by the Giants in September, he was 2-0 with a 0.00 ERA in five relief appearances that month.

Pleasant surprise

In 1971, Cumberland entered spring training 15 pounds lighter than he was the previous year, and earned an Opening Day roster spot as a reliever.

When Frank Reberger got injured, Giants manager Charlie Fox chose Cumberland to start against the Cubs on June 22. He beat Ferguson Jenkins in a 2-0 duel. Boxscore

Cumberland remained in the rotation, and on July 3 he pitched a four-hitter, beating Steve Carlton and the Cardinals. Boxscore

“Cumberland is perhaps the most unartistic-looking left-handed pitcher since Hal Woodeshick went into retirement,” San Francisco columnist Wells Twombley observed.

The results, though, were effective. Cumberland was 9-6 for the 1971 Giants, who won a division title. He ranked second on the team in ERA (2.92) and third in innings pitched (185).

“He’s been the biggest surprise of the season,” Fox told United Press International. “What I like best about him is the way he battles the batters. He’s a real bulldog.”

Winding down

At spring training in 1972, teammate Juan Marichal worked with Cumberland on developing a screwball. After posting a 1.61 ERA in 28 exhibition game innings _ “My best spring training ever,” he told the Post-Dispatch _ Cumberland seemed poised to succeed in the regular season, but the opposite happened.

Cumberland was 0-4 with an 8.64 ERA for the Giants when they arrived in St. Louis on June 16, 1972, for a series with the Cardinals. Before the game that night, the Giants swapped Cumberland to the Cardinals for minor-league infielder Jeffrey Mason.

“He’s only 25 and has good control,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the Post-Dispatch. “If he can come along with that screwball, he could really help us.”

In his St. Louis debut, a start versus the Expos and former Cardinal Mike Torrez, Cumberland gave up six runs in 3.1 innings. Boxscore

After that, Schoendienst used Cumberland as a reliever.

On Aug. 19, facing the Giants in San Francisco, Cumberland pitched three innings and got the win, his last in the majors. Boxscore

“I can’t think of any club I’d rather beat,” Cumberland told the Oakland Tribune.

In 14 games with the 1972 Cardinals, Cumberland was 1-1 with a 6.65 ERA. After the season, they dealt him and outfielder Larry Hisle to the Twins for reliever Wayne Granger.

Helping hand

Cumberland’s final season in the majors was 1974. Eight years later, the Mets hired him to be a coach in the minors.

At the Lynchburg, Va., farm club in 1983, teen phenom Dwight Gooden got off to a mediocre start and was challenged by Cumberland.

“I just told him I didn’t think he wanted to win, and that he wasn’t much of a competitor,” Cumberland told the Newport News Daily Press.

According to Cumberland, Gooden responded, “You were right. I was too timid. That will never happen again.”

Gooden finished 19-4 with 300 strikeouts in 191 innings for Lynchburg.

At the Florida Instructional League after the season, Cumberland helped Gooden develop a changeup and worked with him to shorten his motion.

Cumberland coached in the Mets system from 1982-90. Others he mentored included Rick Aguilera, Randy Myers and Calvin Schiraldi.

“He was the best pitching coach we had in the minor leagues,” Mets scouting director Joe McIlvaine told the Boston Globe. “He toughened the kids up. He worked better with the mind of the player than with the body of the player. That’s a hard thing to get. When we sent a pitcher to John Cumberland in the minor leagues, he was always better for the experience.”

In addition to stints as a minor-league coach for the Padres and Brewers, Cumberland coached in the big leagues with the Red Sox and Royals.

When he was Red Sox pitching coach in 1995, the staff included Roger Clemens, and future Cardinals pitching coaches Derek Lilliquist and Mike Maddux. Derek Lowe transformed from starter to closer while Cumberland was Red Sox bullpen coach from 1999-2001.

Cumberland was Royals pitching coach for manager Tony Pena from 2002-04. When Zack Greinke, 20, made his big-league debut in 2004, he reminded Cumberland of Gooden at a similar age.

“Dwight was more of a power pitcher,” Cumberland told the Kansas City Star, “but the two have the same type of makeup: ‘Here I am. I’m not intimidated. Stand in the box. I’m going to get you out.’ That’s the way Dwight was at 18, just like this kid.”

 

Read Full Post »

When the Cardinals had Bobby Shantz in their lineup, it was like having two players instead of one _ a reliable reliever and a fifth infielder.

Sixty years ago, on May 7, 1962, the Cardinals traded pitcher John Anderson and outfielder Carl Warwick to the Houston Colt .45s for Shantz.

A month earlier, Shantz, 36, was the starting pitcher for the Colt .45s in the franchise’s first regular-season game. The Cardinals got him for the bullpen.

A left-hander who baffled batters with precision pitches and fielded with graceful glovework, Shantz gave the Cardinals what they hoped. In three seasons with them (1962-64), Shantz was 12-10 with 15 saves and a 2.51 ERA, and became the first Cardinals pitcher to earn a Gold Glove Award for fielding excellence.

Big talent

Born and raised in Pottstown, Pa., Shantz moved with his parents to the Frankford neighborhood of Philadelphia after he graduated from high school. He was 19 when he joined the Army in December 1944, and was discharged two years later.

Shantz was playing sandlot baseball in Philadelphia when he was signed by the hometown Athletics in November 1947 on the recommendation of Tony Parisse, a butcher and former big-league catcher.

Though no more than 5 feet 6 and 140 pounds, Shantz showed a big-league assortment of pitches. Assigned to Lincoln, Neb., in 1948, Shantz was 18-7 in his lone season in the minors.

Shantz, 23, opened the 1949 season with the Athletics, managed by 86-year-old Connie Mack. After debuting in relief against the Senators on May 1, Shantz was told he was being sent to the minors, but the Athletics changed their minds when another pitcher developed a sore arm.

Bravo, Bobby

On May 6, Shantz appeared in his second big-league game and gave a performance that, as the Philadelphia Inquirer described, “bordered on the incredible.”

Relieving Carl Scheib with none out in the fourth and the A’s trailing, 3-1, Shantz pitched nine hitless innings against the Tigers. He allowed no hits from the fourth through the 12th.

After the Athletics went ahead, 5-3, with two runs in the 13th, Shantz gave up two hits and a run in the bottom half of the inning, but held on for a 5-4 win.

The game showcased Shantz’s fielding as well as his pitching.

In the eighth, “Bob Swift cracked Shantz’s shins with a line drive, and Johnny Lipon bowled him over with a screamer to the throat in the 10th,” the Inquirer reported. “Both times Bobby picked himself up, grabbed the ball and threw his man out. After that, local rooters were with the kid.”

In the bottom of the 13th, George Kell led off with a double and scored on Vic Wertz’s single. Attempting to move Wertz into scoring position, Hoot Evers bunted. The ball was popped up near the first-base line. Catcher Buddy Rosar lunged for it and missed, but Shantz vaulted over the fallen catcher, caught the ball and whipped a throw to first base to nab Wertz for a rally-killing double play. Shantz struck out the next batter, Swift, to secure his first big-league win. Boxscore

Doing it all

Following an 18-10 season for the 1951 Athletics, Shantz was 24-7 for them in 1952 and received the American League Most Valuable Player Award.

“He does everything you could ask any player to do,” Browns manager Rogers Hornsby told The Sporting News. “He pitches well, he fields superbly and he can hit the ball.”

(A right-handed batter, Shantz had 107 hits and 46 RBI in 16 years in the majors. His lone home run was a liner to left against Allie Reynolds at Yankee Stadium in 1950. Boxscore)

Yankees manager Casey Stengel called Shantz the greatest fielding pitcher. “The best I ever saw,” Stengel told the New York Journal-American. “He’s all over the infield.”

Shantz was with the Yankees the first time a Gold Glove Award was given in 1957. He won the award in eight consecutive seasons (1957-1964).

In four years with the Yankees (1957-60), Shantz was 30-18 with 19 saves and a 2.73 ERA. He pitched in six World Series games for them.

After the Senators claimed him in the American League expansion draft in December 1960, the Cardinals tried to acquire him, offering Bob Gibson, but the Senators dealt Shantz to the Pirates. After posting a 6-3 record, including a complete-game win against the Cardinals, for the 1961 Pirates, Shantz was selected by the Colt .45s in the National League expansion draft. Boxscore

Houston calling

Though The Sporting News described his fastball as “mostly a figure of speech,” Shantz, 36, dazzled with his all-around skills at spring training with the Colt .45s.

“That little fellow is a remarkable athlete,” manager Harry Craft said. “Have you ever noticed the way he moves toward every ball hit on the ground? He could play anywhere. I wouldn’t be afraid to let him catch. He’d be a darned fine catcher. Before the season is over, you may see him at third base.”

Shantz was the Opening Day starting pitcher against the Cubs at Houston. The first batter he faced was Lou Brock, who struck out. Shantz pitched a five-hitter in a 11-2 win. Brock was 0-for-3 with a sacrifice fly. Boxscore

(Two years later, Shantz was among the players the Cardinals dealt to the Cubs for Brock.)

In his next start, Shantz pitched 5.2 scoreless innings against the Mets before his shoulder tightened. Ten days later, he started against the Braves, allowed one earned run in six innings, but continued to experience tightness in his shoulder.

Short man

Because of the shoulder ailment, Shantz didn’t think he could pitch deep into games as a starter, but could be effective in short relief. The Cardinals determined he was worth the risk and traded for him.

“The only thing Shantz can’t do any more is pitch long or often,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told the Philadelphia Daily News.

In his Cardinals debut, Shantz pitched two scoreless innings against the Giants. Boxscore

(Shantz faced the Giants three times in 1962 and in each game Willie McCovey was lifted for a pinch-hitter against him. McCovey was 0-for-8 versus Shantz in his career.)

Special save

Shantz got his first Cardinals save with 1.2 scoreless innings against the Phillies on May 21.

With the Cardinals ahead, 4-1, in the eighth, the Phillies had Ted Savage on third and Johnny Callison on second, one out, when Shantz relieved Ray Washburn. Cleanup hitter Tony Gonzalez scorched a line drive toward the right of the mound. Shantz lunged, snared the ball backhanded, whirled and fired a strike to Ken Boyer at third, “doubling up a startled and stranded Savage, who had been on his way home, sure the ball would get through,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Boxscore

The Philadelphia Inquirer described it as “a play that had to be seen to be believed.”

Shantz “makes improbable plays look easy, and impossible plays just a trifle harder,” Stan Hochman wrote in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Bobby vs. Goliath

Shantz got his first Cardinals win on June 10 with three scoreless innings against the Giants. Boxscore

On Aug. 10, he had two infield hits and a RBI, and pitched four innings for the win against the Phillies. Boxscore

Shantz got a save in his final appearance of 1962. Trailing 7-4, the Giants had runners on first and third, two outs, in the bottom of the ninth when Shantz struck out Willie Mays. Boxscore

“Shantz caught Mays off-balance with a changeup for the third strike,” Curley Grieve of the San Francisco Examiner reported. “Catcher Gene Oliver called it a Stu Miller pitch _ all motion and nothing on the ball. The swing Willie took was just a gesture. He knew he was hooked.”

Shantz was 5-3 with four saves and a 2.18 ERA for the 1962 Cardinals.

The next year,  he appeared in 55 games for St. Louis and was 6-4 with 11 saves and a 2.61 ERA.

One of his highlights with the 1963 Cardinals occurred on July 16 when he struck out eight of 11 batters faced in a win against the Reds. Vada Pinson, 0-for-13 against Shantz in his career, struck out twice. Shantz also fanned Frank Robinson and Pete Rose. Boxscore

“He’s unbelievable,” Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver told the Post-Dispatch. “His control, his change of speed. I’ve never caught anybody who could change speeds like that.”

Shantz said, “I had about as good a curveball as I’ve had all year, but it still took a lot of luck. If they don’t swing at a lot of those balls, I’m in trouble because some of them were bad pitches.”

Shantz had a 1-3 record when he was sent to the Cubs in the Brock deal in June 1964. Two months later, his contract was sold to the Phillies, who were in first place. In 14 appearances with the Phillies, Shantz was 1-1 with a 2.25 ERA, but the Cardinals clinched the pennant on the last day of the season.

 

Read Full Post »

Facing Ernie Broglio for the first time since they were traded for one another, Lou Brock ignited a rally with a bunt.

On July 28, 1964, Broglio started for the Cubs against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It was the first time the Cardinals and Cubs played one another since the June 15 deal of Brock and pitchers Jack Spring and Paul Toth to the Cardinals for Broglio, pitcher Bobby Shantz and outfielder Doug Clemens.

Broglio, who was 3-5 with a 3.50 ERA for the 1964 Cardinals, entered the series with a 1-4 record and 5.70 ERA for the Cubs. Pitching with an aching right elbow, he lost his first four decisions with the Cubs before beating the Mets with a 10-hit complete game.

Brock, who batted .251 for the 1964 Cubs, entered the series with a .338 batting average and 11 stolen bases for the Cardinals. Brock’s speed, base running and hitting drew comparison’s with former Cardinals standout Enos Slaughter.

“He’s about as close to Slaughter as you can get,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane told the Associated Press, “and he’s faster. His running has made a great difference to this ballclub.”

Brock said, “Stealing bases is like hitting. It’s timing and rhythm. I don’t study pitchers much. When you have the timing and rhythm, a pitcher can do anything and you can still steal the base.”

Lighting a spark

The Tuesday afternoon game was played before 16,052 spectators on a day when the Chicago temperature exceeded 90 degrees.

Brock grounded out and struck out in his first two plate appearances against Broglio.

In the sixth, with the Cubs ahead, 4-1, Brock gave the Cardinals a chance to climb back. With one out and none one, he pushed a bunt toward the mound. Broglio fielded the ball, but Brock streaked to first with a single. Ken Boyer drove him in with a triple, and Bill White followed with a home run, tying the score at 4-4.

Though the Cubs regained the lead in the bottom of the sixth against an ineffective Bob Gibson, Broglio couldn’t protect it and the Cardinals knocked him out with two runs in the seventh. Broglio and Gibson each gave up six runs.

The game was delayed for five minutes before the start of the ninth because of excessive heat and humidity. Plate umpire Doug Harvey was overcome by exhaustion and was replaced by Lee Weyer.

The Cardinals prevailed, 12-7, in 10 innings, with another of their former pitchers, Larry Jackson, taking the loss. Boxscore

Chicago blues

Brock faced Broglio twice more in 1964, going 0-for-2 with a walk on Sept. 6 and 2-for-4 (two singles) on Sept. 11.

In the Sept. 6 game, Broglio pitched 6.1 innings and allowed one earned run, but he told The Sporting News, “I felt as if I had pulled everything inside the elbow.” Boxscore

The last match between them was on June 27, 1965, when Brock drove in a run with a groundout. Boxscore

As a Cardinal, Brock was 3-for-10 versus Broglio. As a Cub, he was 7-for-31, with two home runs. His home run on July 19, 1962, ended a streak of 11.1 scoreless innings for Broglio. Boxscore

Overall, Brock hit .244 versus Broglio with five RBI.

Brock excelled against the Cubs throughout his Cardinals career. His .334 batting mark versus the Cubs was his best against any opponent. Brock also had career highs in hits (342) and doubles (64) against the Cubs.

In four starts against the Cardinals, Broglio was 0-2 with a 5.32 ERA. He underwent right elbow surgery after the 1964 season for removal of four bone fragments, and told The Sporting News he had been taking cortisone shots once every two weeks for two years.

Broglio pitched two more years (1965-66) for the Cubs and was 30 when he played his last game in the majors.

Brock and Broglio developed a friendship after their playing careers. Broglio displayed a photo from Brock, who inscribed it to “a hell of a player.”

“Ernie is top of the charts,” Brock told ESPN. “He is a good man, a man with integrity. We have a good relationship.”

Read Full Post »

What happened to Bob Gibson on a frigid night at Connie Mack Stadium was weird even by Philadelphia standards. Almost as weird as Santa Claus being booed and pelted with snowballs, or a team mascot getting attacked by an opposing manager.

Sixty years ago, on April 16, 1962, Gibson gave away a six-run Cardinals lead in the first and didn’t last the inning against the Phillies.

For a pitcher who usually excelled at protecting leads and dominated the Phillies, the failure by Gibson defied the odds and illustrated just how difficult and unpredictable the game could be, even for those at the top of the profession. 

Frozen tundra

After winning their first three games of the 1962 season, the Cardinals were in Philadelphia to play the Phillies on a Monday night. According to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, the temperature at game time was “a bone-chilling cold” 32 degrees.

“The ball was slick and cold, just like a piece of ice,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The starting pitchers were Gibson, 26, and Cal McLish, 36, whose full name was Calvin Coolidge Julius Caesar Tuskahoma McLish.

Both were making their first appearances of the season. Against the Phillies in 1961, Gibson was 3-0 with an 0.67 ERA, allowing two earned runs in 27 innings. An Oklahoma native who followed the Cardinals as a youth, McLish was making his Phillies debut after being acquired from the White Sox a month earlier. (In 1982, McLish was the pitching coach for the Brewers, who opposed the Cardinals in the World Series.)

An audience of 3,895 settled in to see the show.

Out of control

Struggling to get pitches over the plate, McLish “was in the showers before you could pronounce his whole name,” Neal Russo of the Post-Dispatch observed.

McLish walked the first two batters, Don Landrum and Julian Javier. Bill White doubled, scoring Landrum and moving Javier to third. After Stan Musial was walked intentionally, loading the bases, Ken Boyer walked unintentionally, scoring Javier.

Gene Oliver made the first out, popping up to third. Doug Clemens, who grew up in Leesport, about 70 miles northwest of Philadelphia, cleared the bases with a double, making the score 5-0.

Phillies manager Gene Mauch replaced McLish with Dallas Green. “It wasn’t that bad pitching out there,” McLish said to the Post-Dispatch, “but I kept fighting myself and got in a rut.”

Green drilled Julio Gotay with a fastball. “It was a knockdown pitch,” Keane told the Post-Dispatch.

The next batter, Gibson, wasn’t intimidated. He rapped a grounder into the hole on the left side for an infield single, and, when shortstop Ruben Amaro made a wild throw after gloving the ball, Clemens scored, giving the Cardinals a 6-0 lead.

Not worth the wait

“Thirty minutes elapsed before Dallas Green got the side out, and, by that time, Gibson was as stiff as a fungo bat,” Stan Hochman noted in the Philadelphia Daily News.

Keane told the Post-Dispatch, “Gibson was cooled off by the time he got to the mound. Maybe we missed the boat by not sending him to the bullpen while we were at bat so long.”

Like McLish did in the top half of the inning, Gibson walked the first two batters (Tony Taylor and Johnny Callison), but Tony Gonzalez struck out and Wes Covington flied out to center.

Then the next six Phillies batters reached base.

Billy Klaus singled, scoring Taylor. Frank Torre walked, loading the bases, and Clay Dalrymple followed with a two-run single, getting the Phillies within three at 6-3.

Amaro walked, reloading the bases, and Gibson was relieved by Ernie Broglio.

“I have no excuses,” Gibson said to the Post-Dispatch. “I was just wild. My ball was moving real good _ in fact, it was moving a little too much. I had good stuff.”

Keane said, “Gibson, with his fastball, usually knocks the bats out of their hands on a cold night like this one.”

Roy Sievers batted for Dallas Green and drew a walk from Broglio, scoring Torre from third. Tony Taylor followed with a two-run single, tying the score at 6-6.

With Broglio shutting out the Phillies over the last eight innings, the Cardinals rallied for four runs against Don Ferrarese and two versus Jack Baldschun, winning 12-6. Boxscore

(Two weeks later, Ferrarese was traded to the Cardinals for Bobby Locke.)

Back on track

In his book “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson recalled, “After that, our pitching coach, Howie Pollet, made me throw more pitches and simulate game conditions in the bullpen, which seemed to help.”

Two weeks later, Gibson pitched a two-hitter to beat the Houston Colt .45s. Boxscore

Gibson was 15-13, including 3-1 versus the Phillies, in 1962 before he broke his right leg during batting practice before a September game against the Dodgers.

For his career, Gibson was 30-12 with a 2.59 ERA versus the Phillies. He had more career wins against the Phillies than he did versus any other club.

Read Full Post »

Scipio Spinks had the talent and charisma to become a renowned player for the Cardinals, but injuries derailed his promising pitching career.

Fifty years ago, on April 15, 1972, in a swap of pitchers, the Cardinals sent Jerry Reuss to the Astros for Spinks and Lance Clemons.

The dispatching of Reuss was initiated by the Cardinals’ petty plutocrat, Gussie Busch, but general manager Bing Devine nearly straightened out the mess when he obtained Spinks.

A right-hander with an exceptional fastball and an ebullient personality, Spinks was as foreign to St. Louis as a hero of antiquity, but he quickly made his mark.

Notable name

Born and raised in Chicago, Scipio Spinks could trace his first name to Scipio Africanus Major, a Roman general who defeated the Carthage leader Hannibal in the Battle of Zama on the north coast of Africa in 202 BC.

“Spinks said the first male child in his father’s family has been named Scipio for a number of generations,” The Sporting News reported.

Spinks told the Associated Press the family name spanned a minimum of six generations. “I’m at least Scipio Spinks the sixth,” he said.

The south side of Chicago, where Spinks was from, was White Sox territory, but he rooted for the Cubs. “I liked Lou Brock a lot, even when he wasn’t hitting, because he could run and so could I,” Spinks told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “but my first favorite was Ernie Banks.”

(When Spinks joined the Cardinals, he and Brock became teammates.)

A standout high school athlete who ran the 100-yard dash in 9.5 seconds, Spinks said he wrote to the Cubs multiple times, asking for a tryout, but they were uninterested. He was 18 when he signed with the Astros as an amateur free agent in 1966.

Spinks made his major-league debut with the Astros in September 1969. He got called up again in May 1970 and made five appearances, including a start against the Cardinals in which he gave up a home run to Dick Allen. Boxscore

The Astros had two terrific prospects, Spinks and 6-foot-8 J.R. Richard, at their Oklahoma City farm team in 1971. Richard was 12-7 with 202 strikeouts in 173 innings. Spinks was 9-6 with 173 strikeouts in 133 innings.

“Oklahoma City foes say Scipio Spinks throws harder than teammate J.R. Richard,” The Sporting News reported.

Spinks pitched in five September games for the 1971 Astros and beat the Braves for his first win in the majors.

Idiot wind

At spring training with the 1972 Astros, managed by ex-Cardinal Harry Walker, Spinks earned a spot in a starting rotation of Don Wilson, Larry Dierker, Dave Roberts and Ken Forsch. Roberts gave Spinks the nickname “Bufferin” because his fastball worked faster than aspirin, The Sporting News reported.

Meanwhile, Reuss, a St. Louisan who had 14 wins for the 1971 Cardinals, came to spring training unsigned in 1972. A petulant Busch threw a fit in February when pitcher Steve Carlton dared to negotiate a contract rather than bend to Busch’s will. Busch ordered Devine to trade Carlton.

Next on Busch’s Schlitz list was Reuss. In addition to trying to negotiate an upgrade on the $20,000 salary offered by the Cardinals, Reuss, 22, made the mortal sin of growing a moustache. Busch was apoplectic. His narrow mind went into bully mode and he pressured Devine to deal Reuss, too.

Devine announced the trade at 6 p.m. following the Cardinals’ Opening Day loss to the Expos before 7,808 spectators at Busch Memorial Stadium. Boxscore

Seven years earlier, when Bob Howsam was general manager, the Cardinals traded another left-hander, Mike Cuellar, to the Astros and came to regret it. The Reuss deal had the same vibe.

Fitting in

Spinks, 24, was put into a starting rotation with Bob Gibson, Rick Wise and Reggie Cleveland. He lost his first start, then won his next three decisions, including a May 9 game against the Astros. Boxscore

“His fastball was just dynamite,” Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons told The Sporting News.

Brock said, “He seems to be able to challenge the hitters consistently better than most pitchers with his experience.”

Brock and Gibson took a liking to Spinks, whom The Sporting News described as “a great crowd-pleaser and a bubbling personality.” Their good-natured needling became a clubhouse staple.

“Big-name stars are the easiest to kid,” Spinks told the Associated Press. “Brock, Gibson, Joe Torre – people of that caliber – take it, then they dish it back. It keeps everybody smiling.”

In his book “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson said, “I admired Spinks’ energy and appreciated the fact he apparently thought he could become a better pitcher by hanging around me.”

Spinks bought a large stuffed gorilla in a hotel gift shop, dubbed it “Mighty Joe,” and displayed the good-luck charm in his clubhouse locker. The other players eventually adopted Mighty Joe as a team mascot.

After beating the Phillies on June 30, Spinks was 5-4 with a 2.33 ERA and was being hailed, along with the Mets’ Jon Matlack, as a strong candidate for the 1972 National League Rookie of the Year Award.

“I’ve been in baseball 30 years and I’ve seen a lot come and go, but this guy Spinks is one of the greatest I’ve seen break in,” umpire Ed Sudol told The Sporting News. “Besides that fastball, he has a snapping curve.”

Reds coach Alex Grammas, the former Cardinals shortstop, said, “Spinks can throw as hard as Nolan Ryan and Bob Gibson.”

Wounded knee

On July 4 at Cincinnati, Spinks streaked from first base to the plate on a Luis Melendez double and slid into the shin guards of catcher Johnny Bench. The collision knocked the ball from Bench’s glove and Spinks was ruled safe, but he tore ligaments in his right knee. Boxscore

Spinks had knee surgery two days later and was done for the season. At the time of his injury, Spinks ranked third among National League pitchers in strikeouts, behind Carlton and Tom Seaver.

Spinks was 5-5 with a 2.67 ERA in 16 starts for the 1972 Cardinals. In his five wins, his ERA was 1.20 and all were complete games.

In 1973, Spinks returned to the Cardinals’ starting rotation, lost his first four decisions and then got a measure of revenge against the Reds, earning a win with six shutout innings. Boxscore

It would be Spinks’ last win in the majors. In June, he went on the disabled list because of a shoulder injury and was shut down for the season. In eight starts for the 1973 Cardinals, Spinks was 1-5 with a 4.89 ERA.

At spring training in 1974, the Cardinals traded Spinks to his hometown Cubs for pinch-hitter Jim Hickman. On his way out, Spinks gave “Mighty Joe” to Bernie Carbo, a former Cardinals teammate who was with the Red Sox.

Spinks never played in another big-league game. He tore a thigh muscle and spent the 1974 season in the Cubs’ farm system. His last season, 1975, was with minor-league teams of the Astros and Yankees.

Lance Clemons, the other pitcher acquired for Reuss, appeared in three games for the 1972 Cardinals and was traded to the Red Sox in March 1973.

Reuss played 22 seasons in the majors, primarily with the Pirates and Dodgers, and earned 220 wins. He was 14-18 with five shutouts versus the Cardinals.

Read Full Post »

Early in his Hall of Fame career, Pirates slugger Willie Stargell experienced a humbling stretch of futility against the Cardinals.

Stargell struck out swinging in seven consecutive plate appearances versus the Cardinals in September 1964.

Recalling the embarrassment he felt, Stargell told the Atlanta Constitution, “I literally went home and cried.”

Can’t connect

On Sept. 24, 1964, the Cardinals (84-67) were five games behind the first-place Phillies (90-63) when they opened a five-game series against the Pirates at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh.

Stargell, 24, was in his second full season with the Pirates. Though he displayed astonishing power, he was vulnerable to left-handed pitching. He also was hampered by torn cartilage in his left knee and bone chips in his left elbow.

The series began with a Thursday doubleheader. Bob Gibson started the opener and pitched a complete game in a 4-2 Cardinals triumph. Boxscore

In his last at-bat in the game, Stargell struck out. (Stargell had more career strikeouts (41) than hits (38) versus Gibson, including a whiff for the last out of Gibson’s 1971 no-hitter.)

Left-hander Ray Sadecki started the second game of the doubleheader and pitched a five-hit shutout in a 4-0 Cardinals victory. Boxscore

Stargell struck out in all four of his plate appearances versus Sadecki, giving him five consecutive whiffs for the night. (Stargell had three hits, all singles, in 50 career at-bats versus Sadecki and struck out 22 times against him.)

“Sadecki completely handcuffed Willie Stargell,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

In Game 3 of the series on Friday night, another left-hander, Gordon Richardson, made his sixth start of the season for the Cardinals.

Stargell fanned his first two times at the plate against Richardson, stretching his strikeout streak to seven.

He ended the futility with a single against right-handed reliever Ron Taylor in the seventh, drawing a mocking ovation from the crowd.

The next time up, in the ninth, Stargell struck out facing right-handed knuckleball specialist Barney Schultz. Boxscore

Sultans of swish

That was Stargell’s last at-bat of the season. He missed the Pirates’ final nine games, including the last two of the Cardinals series.

While the Cardinals completed a five-game sweep of the Pirates, the Reds won five in a row against the Mets, and the Phillies lost four straight to the Braves. With a week left in the season, the Reds were in first place, 1.5 games ahead of the Cardinals.

On the last day of the season, the Cardinals clinched the pennant, finishing a game ahead of the Phillies and Reds.

Stargell underwent knee surgery on Sept. 30, 1964. For the season, he hit 21 home runs and struck out 92 times. He hit .295 against right-handers and .188 versus left-handers. Stargell had 16 hits and 32 strikeouts against left-handers in 1964.

The only time Stargell led the National League in most times striking out in a season was 1971. Stargell whiffed 154 times that year, but also led the league in home runs (48) and extra-base hits (74).

Stargell struck out 1,936 times in his big-league career. The only left-handed batters who struck out more were Reggie Jackson (2,597), Jim Thome (2,548) and Adam Dunn (2,379).

Stargell is tied with another left-handed batter, the Cardinals’ Stan Musial, for career home runs (475), but Stargell struck out almost three times as much as Musial did (696).

According to Baseball Almanac, pitcher Sandy Koufax of the 1955 Dodgers holds the National League record for striking out in the most consecutive plate appearances (12). The last of those 12 strikeouts came against the Cardinals’ Ben Flowers.

The National League record by a batter other than a pitcher for striking out in the most consecutive plate appearances is nine. The three players who did that were Adolfo Phillips of the 1966 Cubs, Eric Davis of the 1987 Reds and Mark Reynolds of the 2007 Diamondbacks.

 

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »