Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

The Cardinals couldn’t figure out Ramon Hernandez when he pitched for them any better than they could when he pitched against them.

Fifty years ago, on March 31, 1970, the Cardinals released Hernandez, a left-handed reliever who went to spring training as a member of their major-league roster.

The Cardinals would come to regret the move.

Hernandez and another ex-Cardinal, Dave Giusti, anchored a dependable bullpen for the Pirates and helped them become the dominant club in the National League East.

The Cardinals, who finished runner-up to the Pirates in 1971 and 1974, consistently were baffled by the effective relief work of Hernandez.

Traveling man

Hernandez was born in Carolina, Puerto Rico, the same hometown as future teammate Roberto Clemente, who was six years older.

Hernandez was 18 when the Pirates signed him as an amateur free agent. In 1960, his second season in their farm system, the Pirates sent Hernandez from the Class C level to Class D. Miffed by the demotion, Hernandez sat out the 1961 season, according to the Pittsburgh Press.

In December 1961, the Pirates sold Hernandez’s contract to the Angels. He played five seasons (1962-66) in the Angels’ farm system and had his best year in 1966 when he posted a 2.16 ERA for an El Paso team managed by Chuck Tanner.

The Braves selected Hernandez in the Rule 5 draft in November 1966 and he made their Opening Day roster in 1967. Hernandez “might turn out to be the surprise hurler of the year,” The Sporting News predicted.

Hernandez made 46 appearances for the 1967 Braves and was 0-2 with five saves and a 4.18 ERA. One of his losses came against the Cardinals on July 23, 1967, at St. Louis. The winning rally began when Mike Shannon hit a smash toward the mound “which caromed off Hernandez’s glove, a play which didn’t exactly establish the Braves’ reliever as a Golden Glove candidate,” the Atlanta Constitution reported. Boxscore

Left off the Braves’ winter roster, Hernandez was chosen by the Cubs in the November 1967 Rule 5 draft at the request of manager Leo Durocher, who planned to pair Hernandez with right-hander Phil Regan as the club’s top relievers in 1968. “I didn’t draft Hernandez to send him to Siberia,” Durocher told the Chicago Tribune.

Said Cubs pitching coach Joe Becker: “I just hope he’s as good as they say he is because we need a consistent lefty for emergency calls. The day in baseball is gone when you expect a starter to finish.”

The Cubs’ faith in Hernandez went unrewarded. He appeared in eight games for them and had a 9.00 ERA.

Wrong fit

On June 14, 1968, the Cubs sold the contract of Hernandez to the Cardinals, who assigned him to their Class AAA Tulsa farm team.

Warren Spahn, who as a pitcher was baseball’s career leader in wins (363) by a left-hander, was Tulsa’s manager, but he and Hernandez clashed.

“Hernandez admitted he had differences with Warren Spahn,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

According to the Pittsburgh Press, Hernandez said Spahn “impeded his return to the majors by sending unfavorable reports back to St. Louis.”

Miserable at Tulsa, Hernandez was 2-5 with a 6.19 ERA. The Cardinals demoted him to Class AA Arkansas for 1969. At 28, his career appeared to be in decline.

On the outs

Playing for Arkansas manager Ray Hathaway, a former pitcher known for his instructional skills, Hernandez improved.

Used primarily as a starter, he was 10-10 with a 2.40 ERA. Among the wins was a no-hitter against El Paso on Aug. 17, 1969. “What else could you call it but a masterpiece?” Hathaway said. “The guy works fast, has great control and, when he really has it, like he did today, he makes this a simple business.”

Hernandez had 133 strikeouts and 38 walks in 184 innings for Arkansas. Impressed, the Cardinals put him on their winter roster and planned to give him a long look in spring training.

Cardinals director of player procurement George Silvey said, “Hernandez throws a screwball and has great control. He’s the kind of guy who maybe has to work every other day (to be effective).”

The good vibes the Cardinals had for Hernandez quickly faded at spring training in 1970 when “there were such problems as reporting late for practice sessions and not going all out in workouts,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

According to the Pittsburgh Press, the Cardinals “didn’t think he was putting out enough in the team running drills.”

Roberto Clemente later said, “Every place he went, they said he had a problem. I guess they didn’t understand him. The first tendency is to say that he is lazy.”

Hernandez allowed two earned runs in three exhibition game innings for the Cardinals before he was released.

Regarding the decision by Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, Hernandez, 29, told The Sporting News, “He thought I was too old.”

Finding a home

Hernandez signed with the Mexico City Reds of the Mexican League and pitched for them in 1970 before going home to Puerto Rico to play winter baseball. Pirates infielder Jose Pagan saw Hernandez pitch in Puerto Rico and was impressed.

“I can’t understand why some big-league club doesn’t give him a chance,” Pagan said.

At Pagan’s urging, the Pirates sent a career minor-league pitcher, Danny Rivas, 35, to Mexico City in exchange for Hernandez on Feb. 10, 1971.

The Pirates assigned Hernandez to the minors, but in June 1971, facing a shortage of pitchers because of injuries and military commitments, he was called up for a weekend series versus the Cardinals at St. Louis.

On June 12, 1971, in his first Pirates appearance, Hernandez gave up a scratch single to the first batter he faced, Lou Brock. Boxscore

The Cardinals wouldn’t get another hit against Hernandez the rest of the season.

The next day, Hernandez earned a save against the Cardinals. Boxscore

As planned, he was returned to the minors but got called up again in September. With the Pirates and Cardinals battling for the division title, Hernandez faced the Cardinals twice and got saves both times.

For the season, Hernandez had three saves in four appearances versus the Cardinals and yielded no runs. He faced 19 batters and retired 18.

The Pirates finished seven games ahead of the second-place Cardinals in the East Division, won the pennant against the Giants in the National League Championship Series and prevailed in the World Series versus the Orioles.

Hernandez had seven saves and an 0.73 ERA in 10 appearances for the 1971 Pirates.

Working the angles

Hernandez became one of the National League’s top relievers, helping the Pirates win four division titles in a five-year span, and was especially effective against the Cardinals.

In 1972, he was 5-0 with a 1.67 ERA and 14 saves, including four versus the Cardinals. In 1974, he was 2-0 with a 1.88 ERA against them.

Regarding his success with the Pirates, Hernandez told the Pittsburgh Press, “I do it with a bunch of garbage.”

Said Phillies manager Frank Lucchesi: “His motion has a lot to do with it. It’s very deceptive.”

Hernandez threw a variety of pitches from three different angles _ overhand, three-quarters and sidearm _ and at varying speeds.

Dave Giusti, his bullpen mate, said of Hernandez, “The best I’ve ever seen at getting out left-handers _ and I mean ever.”

Left-handed batters hit .224 versus Hernandez in the majors. In six seasons (1971-76) with the Pirates, Hernandez was 23-12 with 39 saves and a 2.51 ERA.

Read Full Post »

In assessing Joe McEwing’s value to the club as a utility player, the Cardinals placed a premium on productivity instead of popularity.

Twenty years ago, on March 18, 2000, the Cardinals traded McEwing to the Mets for reliever Jesse Orosco.

The deal was disliked by Cardinals fans who rooted for McEwing when he unexpectedly emerged as an overachieving underdog to become the team’s second baseman in 1999.

Nicknamed “Super Joe” for his all-out hustle, McEwing established a Cardinals rookie record with a 25-game hitting streak in 1999. The feat earned him another tag, “Little Mac,” in relation to his slugging teammate, Mark McGwire, who was “Big Mac.”

Though McEwing endeared himself to the Cardinals, sentiment was shoved aside the following spring when he struggled in a bid to earn a role as a utility player.

Job search

McEwing, chosen by the Cardinals in the 28th round of the 1992 amateur draft, was in his seventh season in their farm system when he earned a call to the big leagues in September 1998.

Placido Polanco was the Cardinals’ Opening Day second baseman in 1999, but McEwing eventually emerged from the bench to replace him. A right-handed batter, McEwing hit .275 with 28 doubles for the 1999 Cardinals, splitting time between second base and the outfield.

After the 1999 season, the Cardinals acquired second baseman Fernando Vina from the Brewers and made him their leadoff batter in 2000. McEwing, 27, went to spring training as a candidate for a utility role.

The competition for bench spots was intense. McEwing hit .143 in spring training and was outperformed by fellow utility players Shawon Dunston, Craig Paquette and Polanco.

When left-handed reliever Scott Radinsky developed elbow trouble, the Cardinals went searching for a replacement and made the swap of McEwing for Orosco.

“It would have been tough for Joe to make the club based on what we’ve seen this spring and the other candidates,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When McEwing left the Cardinals’ clubhouse in Jupiter, Fla., he wrote on a message board, “I love you guys, Joe Mac.”

Fond farewell

Most were sorry to see McEwing depart.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said he planned to keep a pair of McEwing’s cleats in his office “to remind me of what a professional ballplayer is supposed to be.”

Jocketty said when he got home after making the trade he found a McEwing baseball card belonging to his son, Joey, on a table. “I’m not popular with my son,” Jocketty told the Post-Dispatch.

Columnist Bernie Miklasz called McEwing “one of my favorite St. Louis athletes ever” and wrote, “Trading Joe McEwing is like being mean to a kitten.”

Miklasz concluded, “I didn’t want to admit it at first, but this trade makes sense.”

Warranty expires

Orosco, who turned 43 a month after joining the Cardinals, was a standout with the Mets in 1986 when they were World Series champions. In 1999, he pitched in 65 games for the Orioles.

He told the Post-Dispatch he was glad to be with the Cardinals. “Hopefully, I’m the piece to that puzzle that they needed in the bullpen,” Orosco said.

Before becoming a Cardinal, Orosco pitched in 1,090 major-league games and never was on the disabled list.

“Maybe he’s just got elastic bands for rotator cuffs,” said Cardinals pitcher Paul Spoljaric.

Turns out, the elastic was ready to snap.

Orosco pitched in three April games for the Cardinals, hurt his elbow and went on the disabled list. He returned in June, pitched in three more games, went back on the disabled list, had surgery to repair a torn elbow tendon and was done for the season.

Orosco faced a total of 16 batters for the Cardinals. He became a free agent after the season, signed with the Dodgers and continued to pitch in the majors until 2003 with the Twins at age 46. His 1,252 games pitched, including six with the Cardinals, are a major-league record

Switching sides

With Melvin Mora and Kurt Abbott in utility roles for the Mets, McEwing began the 2000 season in the minors. In mid-May, he got called up to the Mets and was in their lineup as an outfielder for all three games of a series May 26-28 against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

“I’m excited to come back,” McEwing told the Post-Dispatch before adding, “I’m a Met now. I’m happy to be a Met.”

Helped by McEwing and another ex-Cardinal, Todd Zeile, the Mets swept the three-game series. McEwing was 4-for-12 with one RBI and was warmly greeted by Cardinals fans. Zeile was 5-for-13 with three home runs and seven RBI and was booed.

After teasing McEwing about the fan reactions, Zeile told the New York Daily News, “I get excited to play back here. With every at-bat, the fans booed me a little louder and it motivated me a little more. I don’t think there’s any animosity though.”

McEwing hit .222 for the 2000 Mets, who won the pennant by prevailing against the Cardinals in the National League Championship Series.

McEwing played five season (2000-2004) with the Mets before finishing his career in the majors with the Royals (2005) and Astros (2006). He played every position in the majors except pitcher and catcher.

Read Full Post »

The strained relationship between Cardinals owner Gussie Busch and pitcher Steve Carlton had its roots in a dispute which occurred two years before the ill-fated trade of the future Hall of Famer.

Fifty years ago, on March 12, 1970, after Carlton refused to accept the club’s salary terms, Busch said, “I don’t care if he ever pitches a ball for us again.”

Carlton and the Cardinals eventually agreed on a contract, but Busch held a grudge.

Two years later, when Carlton again balked at the Cardinals’ contract offer, Busch ordered general manager Bing Devine to trade the pitcher.

Dealt to the Phillies on Feb. 25, 1972, for pitcher Rick Wise, Carlton was one of the game’s all-time best left-handers, winning four Cy Young awards, compiling 329 career wins and earning election to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Bitter Busch

After helping the Cardinals win consecutive National League pennants in 1967 and 1968, plus a World Series title, Carlton developed a devastating slider and posted a 17-11 record and 2.17 ERA in 1969. He also became the first major-league pitcher to strike out 19 batters in nine innings.

Entering spring training in 1970, Carlton, 25, told the Cardinals he wanted a salary of $50,000. The Cardinals, who paid Carlton $24,000 in 1969, gasped and responded with an offer of $30,000 for 1970. Carlton countered with an ask of $40,000, but the Cardinals “refused to budge” from the $30,000 figure, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Busch asked Carlton to accept the club’s terms and assured him the Cardinals “would make it up to him” if he produced a good season in 1970. After Carlton rejected the proposal, Busch told the Sporting News, “I don’t like his attitude, not a damn bit.”

In a rant reminiscent of his public scolding of the players in a 1969 spring training clubhouse meeting, Busch said, “The fans are going to resent this situation. I can’t understand it. The player contracts are at their best, the pension plan is the finest, the fringe benefits are better, yet the players think we are a bunch of stupid asses.

“I’m disillusioned,” Busch said. “I don’t know what’s happening among our young people, to our campuses and to our great country.”

Busch got support from the editor and publisher of The Sporting News, C.C. Johnson Spink, who wrote, “We believe fans in general will agree with Busch in his challenge to the other owners to join him in resisting some of the players’ demands.”

Surprise settlement

Carlton said he wouldn’t ask for a trade and Devine said he had no plans to deal the pitcher.

A day after Busch said he didn’t care if Carlton pitched again for the Cardinals, Carlton told the Post-Dispatch, “I intend to pitch, but I want to meet Bing again and try to solve this.”

Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg noted, “Carlton has kept his composure in the face of Busch’s unfortunate comment that he didn’t care if Steve ever pitched again for the Cardinals.”

Broeg concluded, “The Redbirds need the big left-hander, one of baseball’s best young pitchers.”

On March 17, 1970, Carlton signed a two-year $80,000 contract with the Cardinals. According to multiple published reports, the deal paid Carlton $30,000 in 1970 and $50,000 in 1971.

Carlton became the first Cardinals player to receive a two-year contract since third baseman Ken Boyer (1960-61).

“I never thought I’d sign a two-year contract, but this is a fair way to handle the situation and I’m very happy,” Carlton said.

Cardinals executive vice president Dick Meyer, who brokered the compromise, said, “This enabled both sides to maintain a posture and was fair to both of us _ to Steve and to the club.”

Get rid of him

In 1970, the first year of the contract, Carlton was 10-19. In the second year, 1971, he was 20-9.

The Cardinals reportedly offered Carlton a 1972 salary of $57,500. As spring training got under way, he remained unsigned. Carlton said he and the club were less than $10,000 apart, The Sporting News reported, but Busch was angry when the pitcher didn’t sign.

In his book, “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said, “Mr. Busch wanted him gone.”

“This thing was generated by our difference with Carlton two years ago,” Devine told the Sporting News after dealing Carlton to the Phillies. “Having gone through that experience, we could sense a similar situation developing.”

The Phillies signed Carlton for $65,000 in 1972. Though the 1972 Phillies finished in last place in the East Division with 59 wins, Carlton was 27-10 with a 1.97 ERA.

Carlton, who was 77-62 as a Cardinal, pitched 24 years in the majors and was 329-244. He ranks second all-time in career wins by a left-hander. Warren Spahn has 363.

Read Full Post »

Johnny Antonelli lost more than he won versus the Cardinals, and Stan Musial and Ken Boyer often hit well against him, but when he was at his peak he was hard to beat.

Antonelli died on Feb. 28, 2020, at 89. A left-handed pitcher, he had a 126-110 record in 12 major-league seasons with the Braves, Giants and Indians.

His most prominent year was 1954 when he was 21-7 for the World Series champion Giants and led the National League in ERA (2.30) and shutouts (six).

His 20th win in 1954 came against the Cardinals and made him the first Giants left-hander to achieve the feat since Carl Hubbell and Cliff Melton each did it in 1937.

The Natural

Antonelli’s father was born in Italy and immigrated to Rochester, N.Y., where he worked for the railroad.

In the book, “We Played the Game,” Antonelli said he played organized baseball for the first time in high school. “It came pretty easy to me,” Antonelli said. “I started out playing first, but my coach, Charlie O’Brien, noticed that when I threw the ball it had a little tail to it, so he tried me out as a pitcher.”

As he prepared to graduate from high school in 1948, Antonelli said an exhibition game against a local semipro team was arranged for him so he could pitch before big-league scouts. The game was played at the ballpark used by the Cardinals’ farm club in Rochester.

In “We Played the Game,” Antonelli said the Red Sox made the highest offer, but he signed with the Braves for a $52,000 bonus. The Braves’ manager, Billy Southworth, had led the Cardinals to three consecutive pennants (1942-44) and two World Series titles.

“I let my father make the decision,” said Antonelli. “My father and I were fans of the Rochester Red Wings and my father was surely influenced to sign with the Braves because Billy Southworth had once coached at Rochester.”

Antonelli said it also helped that the Braves were owned by an Italian-American, Lou Perini.

Mixing pitches

Antonelli, who never played in the minor leagues, was 18 when he made his debut with the Braves on July 4, 1948. He spent two years (1951-52) in the Army and was traded to the Giants in 1954 in a deal involving slugger Bobby Thomson.

Giants pitching coach Freddie Fitzsimmons helped Antonelli develop an off-speed pitch to go with his fastball and curve. Antonelli described it as a “little snap screwball.”

In “We Played the Game,” Antonelli said, “It was meant to keep batters off stride. It was the pitch that made me successful.”

Changing speeds effectively, Antonelli’s pitching, along with Willie Mays’ hitting and fielding, helped the Giants replace the Dodgers as the best team in the National League in 1954.

On Aug. 30, 1954, Antonelli pitched a four-hitter in a 4-1 Giants victory over the Cardinals at St. Louis. The win gave Antonelli a season record of 20-3. All four Cardinals hits were singles.

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Antonelli as “tremendous” and reported he used a curve, a “clever changeup” and an “overpowering fastball.”

“I’ve never seen him so fast,” Musial said. “He almost shaved me with one inside.” Boxscore

In a nifty bit of foreshadowing, the Post-Dispatch concluded, “It’s difficult to figure them beating Antonelli in a close one.”

Two weeks later, on Sept. 13, 1954, Antonelli pitched a five-hit shutout and outdueled rookie Gordon Jones in the Giants’ 1-0 triumph over the Cardinals in New York. Again, all of the St. Louis hits were singles. Antonelli allowed no hits after the fourth inning. Boxscore

Cardinals challenge

Antonelli was the starter for the Giants in the first game the Cardinals played in San Francisco in 1958. Boxscore

He also allowed two of the five home runs Musial hit in a doubleheader against the Giants on May 2, 1954 at St. Louis. Boxscore

Musial hit .302 with 11 home runs in his career against Antonelli. No other batter hit more home runs versus Antonelli.

The first home run allowed by Antonelli in the big leagues was to Musial on May 24, 1949, at St. Louis. Boxscore

Musial’s Cardinals teammate, Boyer, batted .330 with five home runs versus Antonelli. Two of Boyer’s home runs came in a game on June 27, 1956, a 6-0 Cardinals victory at the Polo Grounds. Boxscore

For his career against the Cardinals, Antonelli was 17-18 with five shutouts and a 3.53 ERA.

In his book, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “Antonelli was a good pitcher with great control for several years. In his peak, he came up with a terrific change of pace that made him outstanding. A little later, he lost that change, the pitch that went away from a right-handed hitter, and he never got it back. Losing that pitch cost him something in the way of effectiveness.”

After the 1959 season, the Cardinals offered to trade second baseman Don Blasingame and pitcher Larry Jackson to the Giants for Antonelli and shortstop Daryl Spencer, but the Giants wouldn’t part with Antonelli, a 19-game winner in 1959. With Antonelli unavailable, the deal was restructured and Blasingame was sent to the Giants for Spencer and outfielder Leon Wagner.

Read Full Post »

Dick Scott waited a long time to reach the major leagues, and when he got there, as a 30-year-old rookie, he quickly experienced highs and lows.

A left-handed pitcher, Scott was in his eighth season in the minor leagues when he got called up to the Dodgers for the first time in May 1963.

The first team Scott faced was the Cardinals at St. Louis. His debut went splendidly. The next night was a different story.

This post is in remembrance of Scott, who died Feb. 10, 2020, at 86.

Down on the farm

Born in New Hampshire, Scott went to high school in Maine and played multiple sports. He was 20 when the Dodgers signed him as an amateur free agent in August 1953. After two years in the Army, Scott began his pro baseball career in the Dodgers’ farm system in 1956.

One of Scott’s biggest boosters was Bobby Bragan, who managed him at Spokane in 1958.

Scott “should make the majors,” Bragan said to the Spokane Chronicle.

Bragan, who managed the Pirates and Indians before taking the Spokane job, told the Spokane Review, “All that Scott needs is a little confidence, that feeling of thinking to himself, ‘Just give me the ball and let me out there. I’ll mow them down.’ ”

In 1960, Scott, 27, was 8-1 with a 2.27 ERA for the Dodgers’ farm club in Atlanta, but he had left elbow surgery in September, the Atlanta Constitution reported. Toward the end of spring training in 1961, Scott pitched 18 consecutive scoreless innings, but he remained in the minors.

While pitching for Spokane in 1962, Scott “has given up the idea of trying to overpower every batter and has become a better pitcher in the process,” according to the Spokane Chronicle.

“I’ve found out I have better control when I don’t throw too hard,” Scott said.

Meet me in St. Louis

Scott had a strong spring training in 1963 and nearly made the Dodgers’ Opening Day roster. His impressive pitching carried over to the regular season with Spokane. In his first start, he pitched a three-hit shutout at Denver in a game attended by heavyweight boxing champion Sonny Liston.

On May 7, 1963, Scott was leading the Pacific Coast League in ERA (0.77) when he was called up to the Dodgers.

Scott reported to the Dodgers at St. Louis on May 8 and made his major-league debut that night against the Cardinals.

Entering in the eighth, with the Dodgers ahead, 10-5, Scott retired Curt Flood, Dick Groat and Bill White in order.

After the Dodgers added a run in the top of the ninth, Stan Musial led off the bottom half against Scott and lined out to second. Ken Boyer doubled, but Scott got George Altman to ground out and Tim McCarver to pop out to third. Boxscore

Scott’s two scoreless innings against the star-studded Cardinals lineup made a strong impression. Scott “is ready to pitch any time the Dodgers need him,” the Los Angeles Times declared.

Tough encore

Scott didn’t have to wait long. The next night, May 9, the Dodgers led, 2-0, in the fifth when the Cardinals loaded the bases with none out against starter Pete Richert.

Manager Walter Alston called for Scott to face Bill White, a left-handed batter.

“I was looking for the fastball on the first pitch because I figured Scott would try to get ahead of me,” White told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “The ball was right down the middle.”

White hit the ball over the pavilion roof at Busch Stadium and onto Grand Avenue for a grand slam, giving the Cardinals a 4-2 lead.

After Boyer lined out to center and Musial flied out to right, Charlie James singled and Gene Oliver put the Cardinals ahead, 6-2, with a two-run home run off Scott.

Rattled, Scott gave up singles to Julian Javier and Bob Gibson before Larry Sherry relieved him. Sherry surrendered a RBI-single to Flood and the run was charged to Scott.

Scott’s line: 0.2 innings, four runs, five hits. Boxscore

Wrong place, wrong time

Scott pitched in nine games for the Dodgers before he was returned to Spokane in July 1963.

A month later, Scott was sitting on the edge of the visitors dugout at San Diego when the weighted end of a lead warmup bat swung by teammate Bart Shirley, who was in the on-deck circle, came loose and struck him above the right eye.

Scott was taken to a hospital and needed 25 stitches to close the wound, according to the Spokane newspapers.

Fortunately, Scott recovered, started against Portland on Sept. 3 and pitched 7.1 innings, allowing one run.

Scott finished with a 2.28 ERA for Spokane. In December 1963, the Dodgers traded him to the Cubs for pitcher Jim Brewer and catcher Cuno Barragan.

The 1964 season was Scott’s last as a professional player. He pitched in three games for the Cubs and spent most of the year with their Salt Lake City farm team.

Read Full Post »

A trade to the Cardinals gave Omar Olivares the chance to start his major-league career with the same franchise his father did.

Thirty years ago, on Feb. 27, 1990, the Cardinals acquired Olivares, a right-handed pitcher, from the Padres for outfielder Alex Cole and left-handed reliever Steve Peters.

Six months later, when Olivares made his big-league debut, he followed in the footsteps of his father, Ed Olivares, an outfielder and third baseman who got to the majors with the Cardinals in 1960.

Ed and Omar Olivares became the first father and son to play for the Cardinals.

Family ties

A native Puerto Rican, Ed Olivares appeared in 24 games for the Cardinals from 1960-61.

Omar Olivares was born in Puerto Rico in 1967, a year after his father finished his pro playing career in the farm system of the Tigers.

Ed Olivares became a sports and recreation director in Puerto Rico and helped his son develop baseball skills.

“He taught me everything I know,” Omar Olivares told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He’s the one who thought about making me a pitcher. He knew I had a nice and loose arm, and he knew I was going to never get hurt. I was 16 years old. So I changed from an outfielder to a pitcher.”

In September 1986, Omar Olivares, 19, signed with the Padres. He earned 16 wins in the minors in 1988 and 12 at Class AA in 1989.

Special talent

Olivares caught the attention of Cardinals personnel, who urged general manager Dal Maxvill to acquire him.

“Six of our people had seen him pitch and they all liked him,” said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. “That’s unusual. The only other player that all our people had good reports on before we got him was Willie McGee.”

Though Olivares was assigned to start the 1990 season with the Cardinals’ top farm club at Louisville, Herzog was impressed by what he saw in spring training and considered him a special talent.

“He’s a great athlete,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch. “I’d like to make an outfielder out of him. He could pitch every fifth day and play the outfield the other four.”

Herzog resigned in July 1990 before he could test his idea, but Olivares remained in the Cardinals’ plans. Cardinals director of player development Ted Simmons said Olivares was “a legitimate pitching prospect, make no mistake.”

During a visit to Louisville, Cardinals minor-league pitching instructor Bruce Sutter noticed Olivares had stopped throwing a forkball and asked him about it.

“I threw it the other night and the guy hit it for a homer,” Olivares replied.

Said Sutter: “If he hit your fastball for a homer, would you quit throwing your fastball?”

Olivares got the message and returned the forkball to his arsenal of pitches.

“I wasn’t too happy about it, but I kept throwing the forkball after that,” Olivares told the Post-Dispatch. “One night, I had 14 strikeouts and that’s the best I’d had my forkball. They told me they wanted me to throw it at least 20 times a game. I’ve got much better control of it than I used to have.”

Welcome to the bigs

in August 1990, Joe Torre replaced Herzog as Cardinals manager. Soon after, John Tudor went on the disabled list because of left shoulder pain. Olivares, with a 2.82 ERA in 23 starts for Louisville, was called up to take Tudor’s spot in the rotation.

“When they told me, I called home right away,” Olivares said. “My dad wasn’t there but my mother (Edna) was … She’s more excited than I am, and I’m pretty excited.”

Torre never had seen Olivares, but he got good reports from those who had.

“He started learning that forkball because he needed another pitch,” said Cardinals pitcher Bob Tewksbury. “He’s got good mechanics and a good, live arm. He’s a good athlete. He swings the bat pretty good. He’s a good kid, too.”

On Aug. 18, 1990, Olivares, 23, made his major-league debut with a start at St. Louis and limited the Astros to a run and three hits in eight innings.

With the Cardinals ahead, 2-1, Torre lifted Olivares for closer Lee Smith, who gave up a home run to the first batter he faced, Franklin Stubbs, in the ninth, depriving Olivares of a win. The Astros prevailed, 3-2, in 11. Boxscore

“You have to go with your best,” Olivares said, defending Torre’s decision. “I’m not angry at all.”

Making his mark

According to the Post-Dispatch, Olivares was the first major-league player with the initials O.O. since Oswald Orwoll, a pitcher and first baseman for the 1928-29 Athletics. In 1993, Olivares switched to uniform No. 00 with the Cardinals.

Olivares got his first major-league home run before he got his first major-league win.

On Sept. 8, 1990, Olivares hit a solo home run and a two-run double versus Rick Sutcliffe of the Cubs at Wrigley Field, but didn’t get the decision. Boxscore

His first win came in his next start, on Sept. 13, 1990, against the Expos at Montreal. Boxscore

Olivares finished 1-1 with a 2.92 ERA for the 1990 Cardinals. His best St. Louis season was 1991 when he was 11-7.

Olivares pitched five seasons for the Cardinals and was 29-24 with a 4.02 ERA. He batted .229 with three home runs.

The Cardinals released him in April 1995 and he signed with the Rockies two days later.

In 12 seasons in the majors, Olivares was 77-86, including a combined 15-11 for the Angels and Athletics in 1999.

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »