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Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

Roger Kahn, who gained prominence for his work about the Dodgers, wrote extensively about the Cardinals as well.

Kahn, 92, died on Feb. 6, 2020. A newspaper and magazine journalist, Kahn wrote 20 or so books, including the 1972 classic “The Boys of Summer” about his hometown Brooklyn Dodgers.

After covering sports for the New York Herald Tribune, Kahn wrote for magazines such as Collier’s, The Saturday Evening Post and Sports Illustrated.

Kahn was respected by colleagues and the baseball people he covered. In February 1954, he called former Cardinals and Dodgers executive Branch Rickey, who had moved to the front office of the Pirates, at his spring training base in Fort Pierce, Fla., and was “offered a job,” The Sporting News reported.

When Kahn asked Rickey how long it would take him to do for the Pirates what he did for the Cardinals and Dodgers, Rickey replied, “I need help. If you know how to help a tail end ballclub, come down here. I’ll pay you more than you’re making. I don’t care what it is.”

Lane explains

In May 1956, Dodgers outfielder Duke Snider was the subject of a controversial Kahn article in Collier’s titled, “I Play Baseball For Money, Not Fun.”

A month later, in The Saturday Evening Post, Kahn wrote about Cardinals general manager Frank Lane in a piece titled, “I’m Here To Win A Pennant.” Lane was in his first season with the Cardinals and created a ruckus by trading players such as Red Schoendienst, Harvey Haddix and Bill Virdon.

“I didn’t come to St. Louis to raise red roses or tell after-dinner stories or take the tenor lead in ‘Hearts and Flowers,’ ” Lane told Kahn. “I came here to win a pennant and that’s exactly what I intend to do any way I can.

“I’ve got a program here to keep the club growing and improving,” Lane said. “I want to tell the other general managers around the National League that, with our fine farm clubs, and with the tough core we’ve welded, I’m not going to have to jump at every little offer for a trade. If I see something good, though, they’d better be ready.”

Lane lasted two seasons with the Cardinals and didn’t win a pennant.

Prideful struggle

Four years later, in September 1960, Kahn wrote a story on Stan Musial for Sports Illustrated titled, “Benching of a Legend.”

Musial, 39, was hitting .250 when he was benched by Cardinals manager Solly Hemus. Musial was kept out of the starting lineup from May 27 through June 23. His season batting average fell to .229 on June 25, but Musial recovered by hitting .352 in July and finished the year at .275 with 17 home runs.

Musial “intends to end his career with dignity and with base hits,” Kahn wrote. “Neither comes easily to a ballplayer several years past his peak, and so to Musial, a man accustomed to ease and to humility, this has been a summer of agony and pride.”

Regarding Musial’s struggles in the first part of the season, Kahn concluded, “Athletes, like chorus girls, are usually the last to admit that age has affected them, and Musial appeared to be following the familiar unhappy pattern.”

In an interview with Kahn, Hemus said, “What’s my obligation as manager? It’s not to a friendship, no matter how much I like a guy. My obligation is to the organization that hired me and to 25 ballplayers. I have to win. Stan was hurting the club. He wasn’t hitting and balls were getting by him at first base.”

Kahn reported, “Musial hated the bench. He confided to a few friends that he wouldn’t mind being traded to a club that would play him every day.”

After returning to the starting lineup, Musial told Kahn, “Maybe my wheels are gone, but I’ll be able to hit like hell for a long time.”

Musial went on to play three more seasons for the Cardinals, including 1962 when he hit .330, before retiring at 42.

High praise

When “The Boys of Summer” came out in February 1972, it received a glowing review from the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which called Kahn’s work “a magnificent sports volume” and “a book which is redolent of dream and magic and which finds a common ground between one boyhood in a big city and lots of boyhoods in many other places.”

In September 1972, when Kahn was in St. Louis for a Cubs-Cardinals series, columnist Jerome Holtzman wrote in The Sporting News, “A half-dozen ballplayers got into line to meet and shake hands with Roger Kahn, who was in town promoting his bestselling ‘Boys of Summer.’ I had never seen players line up to meet a writer, and Kahn said it was a big thrill for him.”

Pitching lessons

In 2000, Kahn’s book, “The Head Game,” was published. It focused on pitchers, including two who were prominent with the Cardinals, Bob Gibson and Bruce Sutter.

Gibson told Kahn, “Pitching is inexact. It begins as a craft, working with your hands, but the longer you go, if you know how to think, the more it becomes an art.”

To illustrate, Gibson cited how he threw fewer knockdown pitches as he gained experience.

“As the art, the thinking, takes over, I’ve come to realize not everyone is bothered by knockdowns and some of them are afraid of my fastball, whether I throw at them or not,” Gibson said.

Like Gibson, Sutter won head games with batters. A Cardinals closer, Sutter did it with an innovative pitch, the split-fingered fastball.

“It was some time before I could control the splitter the way I had to,” Sutter told Kahn. “After a while, I found out I did best throwing for the top of the catcher’s mask. That became my target. If I used a wide finger split, the ball would end up in the dirt. If I split the fingers a little less, it would be a strike at the knees.

“Once in a while,” said Sutter, “maybe one pitch in 10, to cross them up, I’d play real dirty. I’d throw a straight fastball that didn’t drop at all.”

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The election of outfielder Larry Walker to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2020 qualifies him as the top Canadian to play for the Cardinals.

Here’s a look at the five best Canadian Cardinals:

LARRY WALKER

Acquired from the Rockies on Aug. 6, 2004, Walker, 37, hit .280 in 44 games for the 2004 Cardinals. With a .393 on-base percentage, the right fielder helped the Cardinals win a division title.

In the 2004 postseason, Walker hit six home runs: two in the National League Division Series versus the Dodgers, two in the NL Championship Series against the Astros and two in the World Series versus the Red Sox.

In Game 1 at Fenway Park in Boston, Walker, appearing in a World Series for the first time, was 4-for-5, including two doubles and a home run, and two RBI. Boxscore

The Associated Press noted, “He hasn’t allowed the atmosphere to overwhelm him. He said he was most excited about seeing Aerosmith singer Steven Tyler, who sang ‘The Star-Spangled Banner,’ standing a few feet away from him.”

Born in Maple Ridge, British Columbia, Walker became the second Canadian to hit a home run in a World Series game. The first was George Selkirk for the 1936 Yankees against the Giants.

In 2005, his final season, Walker hit .289 for the Cardinals. His .384 on-base percentage helped them qualify for the postseason again.

RON TAYLOR

A right-handed pitcher who could start and relieve, Taylor was 19-12 with 20 saves in three seasons (1963-65) with the Cardinals. His best pitches were a sinking fastball and slider.

Acquired from the Indians on Dec. 15, 1962, the Toronto native was a prominent member of the Cardinals’ staff in 1964 when they won a World Series title.

“As long as we have him in the bullpen, we’ll be well-fortified,” Cardinals consultant Branch Rickey told The Sporting News.

In the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, Taylor allowed no hits in 4.2 scoreless innings of relief.

Five years later, in the 1969 World Series for the Mets versus the Orioles, Taylor allowed no hits in 2.1 scoreless innings of relief.

His career statistics in the World Series: seven innings pitched, no hits, no runs and two saves.

Taylor, who earned a degree in engineering from the University of Toronto in 1961, enrolled in medical school after his playing career, graduated in 1977 and became the team physician of the Blue Jays in 1979.

REGGIE CLEVELAND

Born in Swift Current, Canada, the pitcher was 17 when he signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent in August 1965.

He made his Cardinals debut with a start against the Phillies on Oct. 1, 1969.

Cleveland lost his first six big-league decisions before outdueling Juan Marichal and beating the Giants at San Francisco on April 20, 1971.

Cleveland’s best season with the Cardinals was 1973 when he was 14-10 with a 3.01 ERA in 32 starts.

Though he threw right-handed, Cleveland used his left hand to eat, write and play other sports such as bowling and billiards.

“If somebody gave me a million dollars, I still couldn’t pitch left-handed,” Cleveland told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In five seasons with the Cardinals, Cleveland was 40-41 with eight shutouts and 27 complete games.

RHEAL CORMIER

A left-handed pitcher, Cormier was chosen by the Cardinals in the sixth round of the amateur draft in 1988 when he was a member of the Canadian Olympic team.

A native of Moncton, Canada, he spent college summers working as a lumberjack.

Cormier played for the Cardinals for four seasons (1991-94). Appearing in 87 games, including 68 as a starter, he was 24-23.

His best Cardinals season was 1992 when he won his last seven decisions in a row and finished 10-10 in 30 starts. The winning streak was a relief for Cormier after he lost 10 of his first 13 decisions. He told the Post-Dispatch, “My wife and I were talking. She said we could be back in Canada chopping wood.”

TYLER O’NEILL

A native of Burnaby, Canada, O’Neill went to high school in Larry Walker’s hometown of Maple Ridge. In 1975, O’Neill’s father was named Mr. Canada for winning the nation’s bodybuilding championship.

O’Neill, who played the piano as a youth, is a power-hitting outfielder who bats right-handed.

Selected by the Mariners in the third round of the 2013 amateur draft, O’Neill was acquired by the Cardinals for pitcher Marco Gonzales on July 21, 2017.

In two seasons (2018-19) with the Cardinals, O’Neill batted .258 and had far more strikeouts (110) than hits (70), but the club remained intrigued by his slugging potential.

In 2018, O’Neill hit 26 home runs in 238 at-bats for the Memphis farm club and nine home runs in 130 at-bats for the Cardinals.

“I get overanxious and I swing at stuff I shouldn’t swing at,” O’Neill told the Post-Dispatch in January 2020. “When I’m in my groove, I’m not chasing nearly as much and I have the ability to play in this league and excel in this league.”

SPECIAL MENTION

_ Tip O’Neill: A native of Springfield, Canada, the outfielder never played for the Cardinals but he did play for their predecessors.

O’Neill spent seven seasons (1884-89 and 1891) with the St. Louis Browns of the American Association, a major league at the time. The American Association Browns were unrelated to the St. Louis Browns of the American League. In 1892, the American Association Browns joined the National League and eventually were renamed the Cardinals.

O’Neill, a right-handed batter, hit .344 during his St. Louis years, with an on-base percentage of .406.

_ Dave McKay: The Vancouver native was a Cardinals coach for 16 seasons (1996-2011) and helped them win three pennants and two World Series titles. His son, Cody McKay, also a Canadian, was a Cardinals utility player in 2004.

_ Stubby Clapp: A native of Windsor, Canada, Clapp became a Cardinals coach in 2019 after a successful stint as a manager in their farm system. Clapp managed Memphis to consecutive Pacific Coast League titles in 2017 and 2018.

His big-league playing career consisted of 23 games as a utility player for the Cardinals in 2001.

_ April 14, 1969: The Cardinals faced the Expos at Montreal in the first regular-season big-league game played outside the United States.

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After Jesse Haines transformed into a knuckleball pitcher, the Cardinals transformed into a National League powerhouse.

Fifty years ago, on Feb. 1, 1970, Haines, 76, was rewarded for his achievements when he got elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

Haines pitched 18 seasons (1920-37) for the Cardinals. When he joined them after pitching one game for the Reds, the Cardinals were perennial losers. He helped them become perennial contenders.

Haines pitched for five pennant-winning Cardinals clubs and three World Series champions. The right-hander remains the Cardinals’ all-time leader in games pitched (554) and ranks second in wins (210), complete games (209) and innings pitched (3,203.2).

Down on the farm

Haines was born and raised in Ohio farm country near Dayton. He excelled at baseball as a youth and became a professional at age 20 when he joined an independent minor-league team in Saginaw, Mich.

In July 1918, Haines was pitching for another minor-league club in Hutchinson, Kan., when his contract was purchased by the Reds. On July 20, 1918, two days before his 25th birthday, Haines made his major-league debut, allowing one run in five innings of relief versus the Braves at Cincinnati. Boxscore

The Reds, managed by Christy Mathewson, released Haines soon after his debut, but he revived his career by posting a 21-5 record for a minor-league team in Kansas City in 1919.

Multiple major-league teams, including the Cardinals, were interested in Haines. The cash-strapped Cardinals finished 54-83 in 1919 and 51-78 the year before. Manager Branch Rickey, whose farm system wasn’t in place yet, was desperate for talent and was determined not to let Haines get away. Rickey borrowed $10,000 from banks in order to purchase Haines’ contract from the Kansas City club.

Perfect pitch

Haines turned 27 in his first season with the Cardinals. Relying primarily on a fastball, he earned 13 wins in 1920 and 18 in 1921. With Haines leading the pitching staff and Rogers Hornsby producing runs, the 1921 Cardinals were 87-66.

At spring training in 1922, Haines, looking to add a pitch, approached Athletics knuckleballer Eddie Rommel before an exhibition game and asked for a lesson.

“Eddie would dig his fingernails into the cover of the ball and just use the front knuckles,” Haines told the Dayton Daily News. “I tried it, but couldn’t control the ball that way.”

Haines worked throughout the 1922 season to find a comfortable grip for throwing the knuckler. Haines said he settled on “using the first and middle fingers and pressing the two knuckles down between the seams. I put my thumb down under and it worked fine.”

Haines unveiled his knuckleball in 1923 and earned 20 wins for the Cardinals. The knuckler became his signature pitch.

“When I threw sidearm, it broke down and away,” Haines said. “When I threw overhand, it broke straight down. I knew exactly what the pitch would do.”

Haines threw his pitch much harder than other knuckleballers.

“He must have had exceptionally strong fingers, which he used like talons,” syndicated columnist Red Smith observed. “He gripped the ball with the very tips, went up high on his toes in the middle of his delivery and came over the top with a furious motion.

“Because of the way he gripped a baseball and the way he threw it,” Smith wrote, “it was a common occurrence for him to finish a game with his fingertips bleeding.”

Determined to win

Haines was a fierce competitor who flashed a temper when he lost.

“He could be kind, gentlemanly, considerate and philosophical, except when he pitched,” Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch noted. “He was the darndest hard loser.”

In 1935, when Haines was 42 and called “Pops” by his teammates, he surprised rookie outfielder Terry Moore by tearing up the clubhouse in Cincinnati after a loss to the Reds.

“I never forgot how much Haines expected of himself and of others,” Moore said.

Among Haines’ top performances for the Cardinals:

_ On July 17, 1924, Haines pitched a no-hitter against the Braves at St. Louis. Casey Stengel made the last out on a grounder to Hornsby at second. Boxscore

_ On Oct, 5, 1926, Haines pitched a shutout and hit a home run in Game 3 of the World Series versus the Yankees. It was the first World Series game played at St. Louis. Boxscore

_ Exactly four years later, on Oct. 5, 1930, Haines pitched a four-hitter and outdueled Lefty Grove to win Game 4 of the World Series against the Athletics at St. Louis. Haines also drove in a run with a single. Boxscore

Game 7 winner

Haines was overshadowed in the biggest win of his career.

On Oct. 10, 1926, Haines got the start in Game 7 of the World Series at Yankee Stadium. Throwing mostly hard knuckleballs, Haines was effective but the effort took a toll on his fingers.

In the seventh inning, with the Cardinals ahead, 3-2, a big blister developed on a finger Haines used to grip the knuckler. Struggling to control the pitch, Haines yielded a single and two walks. With the bases full of Yankees and two outs, Hornsby, the Cardinals’ player-manager, made a mound visit.

“When I showed the blister to Hornsby, he decided to take me out,” Haines told United Press International.

Grover Cleveland Alexander, who started and won Game 6, relieved Haines, struck out Tony Lazzeri to escape the bases-loaded jam and shut out the Yankees over the last two innings, clinching the Cardinals’ first World Series championship.

“I went straight to the clubhouse and didn’t see Alex strike out Lazzeri,” Haines said.

Haines was the winning pitcher but Alexander became the legend. Boxscore

Magic moment

Haines was 44 when he pitched his last game for the Cardinals in 1937. He was 210-158 for them in his career. He also was 3-1 in four World Series.

After his baseball career, Haines was a county auditor in Ohio.

When informed of his election to the Baseball Hall of Fame, Haines said, “I’d hoped that if I ever was going to get into the Hall it would come before I passed on. Now it’s happened. I’m kind of broke up about it.”

The Veterans Committee considered candidates who had been out of the game for 20 years or more. Among the committee members were Haines’ Cardinals teammate, Frankie Frisch, and retired Post-Dispatch journalist J. Roy Stockton.

“Haines is a worthy, worthy man,” Frisch told the Associated Press. “He was a great competitor, a fine fellow on and off the field. Any club would want a fellow like him.”

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The Cardinals gave Ed Sprague a chance to become a professional ballplayer and make a connection with Sparky Anderson.

Sprague died Jan. 10, 2020, at 74. A right-hander, he pitched for eight seasons in the major leagues with the Athletics, Reds, Cardinals and Brewers.

It took a series of career turns before Sprague pitched in a big-league game for the Cardinals in his second stint with them.

Good advice

Sprague was born in Boston and went to high school in Hayward, Calif., about 15 miles south of Oakland. He didn’t play prep sports because he had a job after school at a furniture store.

In March 1964, Sprague, 18, enlisted in the Army. While stationed in Mainz, Germany, as a paratrooper, he joined the military base fast-pitch softball team as a catcher. Sprague had a strong arm and an Army colleague, former minor-leaguer Dick Holland, encouraged him to pursue a baseball career, The Sporting News reported.

After his discharge from the Army in March 1966, Sprague, 20, enrolled at a baseball school in West Palm Beach, Fla., run by big-league infielder Dick Howser.

Four days later, the school held a tryout camp attended by big-league scouts. “About 100 kids tried out that day,” Spague told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Cardinals scout Tommy Thomas made an offer and Sprague signed. “I didn’t get a bonus,” he told The Sporting News.

Fast learner

Relyng exclusively on a fastball, Sprague pitched in 13 games for two farm clubs in 1966 and posted a 2.66 ERA.

In 1967, Sprague, 21, was assigned to Modesto, a California League team managed by Sparky Anderson.

“He was so raw and inexperienced then that he didn’t even know how to stand correctly on the pitching rubber,” Anderson told The Sporting News. “You almost had to lead him to the mound.”

Throwing with a sidearm delivery, Sprague learned quickly and had an 11-7 record and 3.12 ERA for league champion Modesto.

After the season, Anderson joined the Reds as a minor-league manager and Sprague reported to the Cardinals’ 1967 fall Florida Instructional League team. Playing for manager George Kissell, Sprague had a 1.74 ERA in 11 starts.

Left off the Cardinals’ 40-man winter roster, Sprague was selected by the Athletics with the first pick in the Nov. 28, 1967, minor-league draft. Athletics executive vice president Joe DiMaggio made the announcement at the baseball winter meetings in Mexico City.

Finding his footing

Sprague pitched well at spring training in 1968 and earned a spot on the Athletics’ Opening Day roster. The Athletics moved from Kansas City to Oakland after the 1967 season, meaning Sprague would begin his big-league career with a team located a 15-minute drive from where he went to high school.

“He throws a sidearm pitch with considerable speed,” The Sporting News noted. “It sinks.”

On April 16, 1968, in his second major-league appearance, Sprague got the win with three scoreless innings in relief of starter Catfish Hunter at Yankee Stadium.

The outing started ominously when Sprague lost his balance on the second pitch he threw and fell off the mound.

“I don’t know what happened,” Sprague told The Sporting News. “All of a sudden, there I was flat on my face and everyone was laughing at me.”

Sprague regained his composure and finished the inning by getting Mickey Mantle to fly out to left.

In the ninth, the Yankees had a runner at second with two outs when Sprague sealed the win by getting his baseball school operator, Dick Howser, to ground out. Boxscore

Come and go

Sprague pitched for the Athletics in 1968 and 1969, but spent the 1970 season in the minors. The Reds, who won the National League pennant in 1970 in Sparky Anderson’s first season as manager, acquired him after the World Series.

In 1971, Sprague was assigned to the Reds’ top farm club at Indianapolis. The manager, Vern Rapp, had been in the Cardinals’ system when Sprague was there. Rapp taught Sprague how to throw a changeup and the pitch helped him achieve nine wins and five saves for Indianapolis.

The Reds called up Sprague for the last month of the 1971 season and he allowed no earned runs in 11 innings. “It’s pretty well known there are some among the Reds brass who think highly of Ed Sprague,” The Sporting News reported.

In 1972, when the Reds won the pennant, Sprague was 3-3 in 33 games. The Reds played the Athletics in the World Series, but Sprague didn’t pitch.

The next year, he was 1-3 with a 5.12 ERA when the Reds traded him to the Cardinals on July 27, 1973, for infielder Ed Crosby and catcher Gene Dusan. The Cardinals also got a player to be named, first baseman Roe Skidmore.

“My arm is fine,” Sprague told the Post-Dispatch. “My trouble has been lack of work.”

In his first appearance for the Cardinals, on July 29, 1973, in the second game of a doubleheader against the Cubs at Chicago, Sprague relieved starter Rich Folkers with the bases loaded and two outs in the seventh.

Jose Cardenal hit Sprague’s first pitch on the ground. “It looked like an easy out,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The ball took a high hop and bounced over the head of third baseman Ken Reitz for a fluke single, tying the score at 4-4. The Cubs won, 5-4. Boxscore

“I did what I set out to do, make him hit the ball on the ground,” Sprague said.

Sprague made eight appearances for the Cardinals and was 0-0 with a 2.25 ERA when they sent him to the minor leagues, preferring to go with a left-hander, John Andrews, as a reliever.

In the genes

After three appearances with Class AAA Tulsa, Sprague’s contract was sold by the Cardinals to the Brewers on Sept. 4, 1973.

Sprague had his best big-league season in 1974 with the Brewers. He was 7-2 with a 2.55 ERA in 10 starts and 0-0 with a 2.10 ERA in 10 relief appearances.

Sprague pitched eight seasons in the majors and was 17-23 with nine saves and a 3.84 ERA.

His son Ed Sprague Jr., was a big-league third baseman for 11 seasons, mostly with the Blue Jays, and played in two World Series with Toronto.

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As a rookie with the 1951 Cardinals, Dick Bokelmann took over the role of closer.

Bokelmann died Dec. 27, 2019, at 93. A right-handed reliever, his major-league career consisted of spending parts of three seasons (1951-53) with the Cardinals.

He experienced his most success after his promotion from the minors in August 1951.

Handy man

Bokelmann, 20, was pitching for Northwestern University when he got an offer from the Cardinals and signed with them in 1947.

His breakout season came in 1951, his fifth year in the Cardinals’ farm system, when he posted a 10-2 record and 0.74 ERA as the closer for Houston of the Texas League.

“Dick began learning to place his sinking fastball and splendid curve where he wanted it,” The Sporting News reported.

Bokelmann, 24, was called up to the Cardinals and made his debut with them on Aug. 3, 1951, earning a save in relief of starter Harry Brecheen against the Giants at St. Louis. Boxscore

In his first three appearances for the Cardinals, all against the Giants, Bokelmann faced a total of 10 batters and retired all of them.

“A kid like Bokelmann comes in handy,” Brecheen told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In the groove

Bokelmann’s emergence prompted Cardinals manager Marty Marion to move closer Al Brazle into the starting rotation, where he thrived, posting a 2.83 ERA in eight starts.

“If we had a relief pitcher like Dick Bokelmann all season, we could have started Brazle more often,” Marion said.

After a couple of shaky outings against the Dodgers and Braves in late August, Bokelmann experienced a hot streak. In four appearances from Aug. 26 to Sept. 9, Bokelmann yielded no runs over 16 innings, earning two wins and a save.

The save came on Sept. 6 when Bokelmann worked four scoreless innings in relief of starter Cliff Chambers against the Cubs at Chicago. Boxscore

The next night, Sept. 7, the Cardinals were at Pittsburgh and Bokelmann got his first big-league win, yielding one hit and no runs over five innings in relief of starter Tom Poholsky. Boxscore

On Sept. 9, at Pittsburgh, Bokelmann, the Cardinals’ third pitcher of the game, entered with one out in the fourth, held the Pirates to one hit over 5.2 innings and got the win. Boxscore

Changing careers

Bokelmann finished the season with a 3-3 record and three saves in 20 appearances for the 1951 Cardinals.

He opened the 1952 season with the Cardinals, gave up runs in seven of his 11 appearances and was sent back to the minors.

Bokelmann ended his big-league career with three appearances for the 1953 Cardinals. His overall record for them: 3-4, three saves and a 4.90 ERA in 34 games.

After his baseball career, Bokelmann worked for Prudential Insurance in Illinois for 30 years.

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Andy Hassler was willing to return to the minor leagues for the first time in 10 years to show the Cardinals he belonged with them in the majors.

Hassler died Dec. 25, 2019, at 68. A left-hander, he pitched for 14 seasons in the big leagues, primarily with the Angels.

In 1984, the Angels released Hassler at the end of spring training. He was 0-5 with a 5.45 ERA for them in 1983 and didn’t do enough at training camp the following spring to convince them to keep him.

The Cardinals offered Hassler, 32, a chance to stay in the game, but it was a humbling proposition. He would have to go to the minors, two levels down to Class AA. The last time he pitched in the minors was 1974. The last time he pitched in Class AA was 1970 when he was 18.

“It’s tough to go down after that many seasons,” Hassler told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “You have to question yourself why you really want to do it.”

Hassler did it, and by the end of the season he was back in the big leagues with the Cardinals.

Rapid rise

Hassler was 17 and recently graduated from high school in Tucson, Ariz., when he was chosen by the Angels in the 25th round of the 1969 amateur draft.

Two years later, on May 30, 1971, he made his major-league debut for them at 19 in a start at Yankee Stadium. Boxscore

Hassler lost his first eight decisions in the big leagues. Though he pitched for the Angels in parts of 1971 and 1973, his first win for them didn’t come until June 23, 1974, versus the Rangers. Boxscore

His career often was defined by extremes. He either was very good or very bad. In 1974, Hassler pitched a one-hitter against the White Sox and, on a staff with Nolan Ryan and Frank Tanana, led the Angels in ERA at 2.61. From 1975-76, he lost 18 consecutive decisions _ his last 11 of 1975 and his first seven of 1976.

“There were games in there where I pitched downright badly. I pitched poorly, period,” Hassler told the Boston Globe. “When I did pitch well, something (bad) would happen. I don’t like to make excuses, but it was a last-place team. There were a lot of plays that weren’t made.”

Hassler’s success depended on the effectiveness of his sinker.

“If I can keep the ball down, I don’t give a damn who’s up there,” Hassler told the Los Angeles Times.

Red Sox slugger Carl Yastrzemski rated Hassler “one of the four best left-handers in the league.”

Mutual admiration

On July 5, 1976, the Angels sold Hassler’s contract to the Royals, who were in first place in the American League West. The Royals’ manager, Whitey Herzog, had been an Angels coach in 1974 and 1975 when Hassler pitched for them.

According to The Sporting News, Angels owner Gene Autry told Hassler, “At least you are going to a team on top that will score some runs for you.” Regarding his Angels, Autry added, “You can’t get any lower than this one.”

After losing his first decision, his 18th in a row, with the Royals, Hassler won four in a row. “Without Andy, we wouldn’t be in first place,” Herzog said.

Said Hassler: “I have all the admiration in the world for Whitey.”

In 1984, Herzog was manager of the Cardinals when Hassler took the offer to go back to the minors.

Comeback trail

After signing with the Cardinals on May 2, 1984, Hassler reported to their Class AA farm club at Arkansas. In his Arkansas debut, Hassler took the loss, giving up a home run to Mets prospect Billy Beane, who years later became the Athletics general manager who inspired the book and movie “Moneyball.”

Hassler pitched in nine games for Arkansas, posted a 1-1 record with three saves and showed enough to earn a promotion to Class AAA Louisville.

The 1984 Louisville manager, Jim Fregosi, was Hassler’s teammate with the 1971 Angels and managed him with the 1981 Angels during Hassler’s second stint with the franchise.

Hassler regained his form with Louisville, putting together a stretch of 15 scoreless innings over nine appearances. With a 7-4 record, 10 saves and a 2.11 ERA at Louisville, Hassler got called up to the Cardinals in September 1984.

In his Cardinals debut on Sept. 16, 1984, against the Pirates at St. Louis, Hassler got the win when David Green produced a two-run single in the bottom of the 10th. Boxscore

Real pro

At spring training in 1985, Hassler allowed one earned run in 11 innings and got a spot as a reliever on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster.

“If I was a right-hander, I’d have been done 10 years ago,” Hassler said. “Thank God there will always be teams looking for left-handers.”

Herzog said he liked Hassler “for his control and movement on his fastball.”

Hassler made 10 appearances for the 1985 Cardinals and was 0-1 with a 1.80 ERA, but with two other left-handers, Ken Dayley and Ricky Horton, in the bullpen, Hassler was sent back to Louisville in May to open a roster spot in St. Louis for outfielder Tito Landrum.

“I might be the first guy to get sent out with an ERA under two,” Hassler said.

At Louisville, Hassler, 33, mentored Todd Worrell, who struggled as a starter and was being converted into a reliever.

“It was just good timing that he was there to help me,” Worrell said. “What better source to get it from than somebody who’s been there?”

Worrell excelled as a reliever, got promoted to the Cardinals, became their closer in the last month of the 1985 season and helped them become National League champions.

Hassler was 4-5 with two saves and a 3.29 ERA for Louisville and retired from baseball in August 1985.

Pitching for six big-league teams (Angels, Royals, Red Sox, Mets, Pirates and Cardinals), Hassler was 44-71 with 29 saves.

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