Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Pitchers’ Category

Johnny Lindell faced the Cardinals in a World Series as a Yankees outfielder and in a regular season as a pitcher for the Pirates and Phillies. He also played for the Cardinals for a couple of months when they sought power for their lineup.

Seventy years ago, on May 15, 1950, the Cardinals purchased the contract of Lindell from the Yankees for the $10,000 waiver price.

Lindell was an intriguing player because of the multiple roles he performed. He began his professional career as a pitcher, moved to outfielder and went back to pitching again.

A strapping 6 feet 4 and 225 pounds, Lindell batted and threw right-handed. Talented as well as versatile, he pitched for one pennant-winning Yankees team and played outfield for another. As a hitter, he twice led the American League in triples and as a pitcher he once led the National League in most walks issued.

Pitching prospect

Lindell developed his athletic skills in high school at Monrovia, Calif., near Pasadena. He was offered a chance to play football at the University of Southern California but signed with the Yankees when he was 19 in 1936. The Yankees sent him to their farm club in Joplin, Mo., and he posted a 17-8 record.

Working his way through the minor leagues, Lindell became a prominent pitching prospect. He was 18-7 with a 2.70 ERA for the Kansas City Blues in 1940.

Lindell began the 1941 season with the Yankees, made his major-league debut in a pinch-hitting appearance on April 18 and was sent to their farm club in Newark, N.J. Lindell was 23-4 with a 2.05 ERA for Newark in 1941 and the Yankees made plans to have him on their pitching staff in 1942.

Though he pitched in 23 games for the 1942 Yankees and was 2-1 with a 3.76 ERA, Lindell’s fastball and curve no longer were effective and manager Joe McCarthy lost confidence in him. Lindell didn’t pitch in the 1942 World Series versus the Cardinals.

According to The Sporting News, McCarthy told Lindell after the season, “Johnny, it does not look as if you ever will be a really good pitcher. However, you have the makings of a hitter.”

Lindell worked on his hitting in winter ball in California and reported to spring training in 1943 as an outfield candidate.

New role

The Yankees’ center fielder, Joe DiMaggio, and right fielder, Tommy Henrich, entered military service in 1943 and the club needed outfielders. Lindell was the Yankees’ 1943 Opening Day right fielder and remained in the lineup throughout the season. Lindell started 64 games in right, 52 in center and four in left for the American League champions. He led the league in triples (12) and was named to the all-star team.

In the 1943 World Series against the Cardinals, Lindell hit .111 but was involved in a critical play.

After the teams split the first two games, the Cardinals led, 2-1, in Game 3. Lindell led off the eighth inning with a single and advanced to second when center fielder Harry Walker bobbled the ball. George Stirnweiss bunted to first baseman Ray Sanders, whose throw to third arrived ahead of Lindell.

As third baseman Whitey Kurowski went to apply the tag, Lindell “came into the bag like a 10-ton truck,” crashing into Kurowski and knocking the ball loose, The Sporting News reported. The impact snapped Kurowski’s head back.

Lindell said the collision was unavoidable because Kurowski positioned himself in front of the base. “What was I to do? Beg his pardon?” Lindell asked.

Said Cardinals manager Billy Southworth: “Lindell played ball the way I like to see it played.”

The play woke up the Yankees, who scored five runs in the inning and won, 6-2.  Boxscore

Lindell had his best season in 1944. As the Yankees’ center fielder, he hit .300 with 33 doubles, 18 home runs and 103 RBI. He led the league in triples (16), extra-base hits (67) and total bases (297).

After spending part of 1945 in military service, Lindell returned to the Yankees in 1946 and was their Opening Day left fielder. In 1947, Lindell batted .500 in the World Series against the Dodgers, collecting nine hits in 18 at-bats and driving in seven runs in six games, despite cracking a rib in Game 5.

Right fit

Lindell’s playing time decreased when Casey Stengel became Yankees manager in 1949. After starting in left field on Opening Day in 1950, Lindell struggled, hitting .190 in 21 at-bats.

The 1950 Cardinals were stocked with left-handed hitters, led by Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter, and were looking for a power bat from the right side. Lindell, 33, was an available candidate.

“He’s a good competitor, a clutch player,” Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer told The Sporting News.

Though he had spent 15 years in the Yankees’ organization, Lindell welcomed the move to St. Louis. “I wanted to be traded because I didn’t fit Casey Stengel’s idea of a ballplayer,” Lindell told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Not enough obvious spark, I guess.”

Lindell reported to the Cardinals 15 pounds over his regular weight of 225, the Post-Dispatch noted, but Dyer played him immediately in left field.

In his Cardinals debut, Lindell went 0-for-4 against the Dodgers’ Preacher Roe, but in his next game he hit a two-run home run into the upper deck in left at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn against rookie Billy Loes. Boxscore

A month later, on June 24, 1950, Lindell’s 10th-inning home run against Bob Chipman gave the Cardinals a 7-6 triumph over the Braves at Boston. Boxscore

Though 12 of Lindell’s 21 hits for the Cardinals were for extra bases, including five home runs, he batted .186 in 36 games and “his fielding had slipped along with his hitting,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

On July 17, 1950, the Cardinals sent Lindell to their farm team at Columbus, Ohio. After playing in five games there, the Cardinals accommodated his request to be sent to a Pacific Coast League club closer to his California home and traded him to the Hollywood Stars, a farm team of the Dodgers.

On the mound again

In 1951, Lindell went back to pitching and was 12-9 with a 3.03 ERA for Hollywood. Relying on a knuckleball, Lindell was dominant in 1952, posting a 24-9 record and 2.52 ERA for Hollywood, which had become a Pirates affiliate.

Lindell returned to the big leagues in 1953 as a member of the Pirates’ starting rotation. On May 3, 1953, he earned his first National League win, a four-hitter against the Cardinals at Pittsburgh. Boxscore

After posting a 5-16 record and 4.71 ERA for the Pirates, Lindell’s contract was sold to the Phillies on Aug. 31, 1953. He earned one win for the Phillies and it came against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Lindell struck out 11, walked eight and ignited the winning rally in the ninth with a run-scoring single. Boxscore

Lindell “would have had a far easier time if his catchers had been able to hold” the knuckleball, the Post-Dispatch reported.

The win was Lindell’s last as a pitcher. He was 1-1 with a 4.24 ERA for the Phillies. His combined record for the Pirates and Phillies in 1953 was 6-17 with a 4.66 ERA, and in six starts versus the Cardinals he was 2-4 with a 3.64 ERA. Lindell led National League pitchers in allowing the most walks (139) and wild pitches (11).

In 1954, Lindell didn’t pitch, made seven plate appearances, all as a pinch-hitter, for the Phillies and was released on May 10.

In 12 big-league seasons, Lindell hit .273 and had a pitching record of 8-18.

Read Full Post »

(Updated June 6, 2020)

As a youth in his hometown of Winston-Salem, N.C., where the Cardinals had a farm club, Don Cardwell rooted for a promising prospect, Joe Cunningham. A few years later, Cunningham made the dramatic final out in the best game Cardwell pitched in the major leagues.

Sixty years ago, on May 15, 1960, Cardwell pitched a no-hitter for the Cubs against the Cardinals at Wrigley Field in Chicago. It was Cardwell’s first appearance for the Cubs since being acquired from the Phillies, and it was the first no-hitter pitched against the Cardinals in 41 years. Before Cardwell, Hod Eller of the Reds was the last to do it on May 11, 1919.

Needing one more out to complete the no-hitter, Cardwell faced his boyhood favorite, Cunningham, who laced a sinking line drive. The ball seemed destined to drop for a single until left fielder Walt Moryn came in and made a catch near his shoetops.

Cardinals connections

While in high school, Cardwell got a job at the Winston-Salem ballpark. “I used to hang up the score for each inning on the board and get $2.50 a night for doing it,” Cardwell told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I went to the park often to watch Harvey Haddix, Vinegar Bend Mizell, Joe Cunningham and Don Blasingame.”

In his senior season of prep baseball, Cardwell pitched a pair of no-hitters. The first was a perfect game and the second occurred in the state title game.

Cardwell was 18 when the Phillies signed him in 1954. He made his big-league debut with them three years later. A 6-foot-4 right-hander, Cardwell threw hard from a sidearm delivery but had losing records with the Phillies.

“Catching his ball was like catching a brick. It was that heavy,” Phillies first baseman Ed Bouchee said in the book “We Played the Game.”

On May 13, 1960, the Phillies traded Cardwell and Bouchee to the Cubs for second baseman Tony Taylor and catcher Cal Neeman. Cardwell wasn’t surprised to be traded, but expected it would be to the Cardinals, whose manager, Solly Hemus, had been his Phillies teammate.

“I thought I’d be with your ball club by now,” Cardwell told the Post-Dispatch.

Hello, Chicago

Two days after the trade, Cardwell was the starting pitcher for the Cubs in Game 2 of a Sunday doubleheader against the Cardinals at Chicago.

In Game 1, Larry Jackson pitched a four-hitter in a 6-1 victory, ending the Cardinals’ eight-game losing streak. It was their first road win of the season in 13 attempts. Boxscore

Entering Game 2, Cardwell was an unlikely candidate to pitch a no-hitter versus the Cardinals. He had an 0-3 record against them since reaching the majors.

The Cardinals’ batting order was Cunningham, right field; Alex Grammas, shortstop; Bill White, first base; Ken Boyer, third base; Daryl Spencer, second base; Leon Wagner, left field; Curt Flood, center field; Hal Smith, catcher; Lindy McDaniel pitcher.

With one out in the first inning, Cardwell issued a walk to Grammas before retiring the next 26 batters in a row.

“His fastball was his best pitch,” Cubs catcher Del Rice told The Sporting News. “We used some breaking stuff early in the game, but from the fifth inning on I called fastballs almost entirely.”

Cardwell credited Rice and an unusual pitching delivery with making a difference in his performance.

Rice, 37, debuted with the Cardinals in 1945 and played for them the first 11 years of his major-league career. “I never had to shake Del off once,” Cardwell said. “He called the pitches perfectly.”

As for his pitching motion, Cardwell explained he developed a way to go into his windup with the ball in his glove instead of his hand because he suspected batters were detecting his pitches. “I was determined to hide my pitches better,” he said.

Cardwell “doesn’t have the ball in his right hand when he starts his windup,” The Sporting News observed. “The ball is in his glove. Cardwell pumps once with both arms going above his head, but with his right hand empty. Then he repeats the pumping action and at the top of the windup he takes the ball out of the glove and comes through with the pitch.”

Tough outs

The biggest threats to Cardwell’s no-hitter came in the last two innings.

In the eighth, Spencer led off “with a sizzling smash” to second baseman Jerry Kindall, who ranged to his right, “got in front of it, gloved it on a wicked first hop” and threw to first in time, The Sporting News reported.

After Wagner grounded out, Stan Musial batted for Flood. Cardwell threw sinking fastballs and Musial struck out. “I was swinging at the sound,” Musial told the Post-Dispatch.

Said Rice: “He was really humming at the finish.”

In the ninth, Cardwell’s former Phillies teammate, Carl Sawatski, batting for Hal Smith, led off and sent a drive to right. Bob Will, who stood 5 feet 10, usually played right field for the 1960 Cubs, but after Will went hitless in Game 1, manager Lou Boudreau put George Altman, who stood 6 feet 4, in right for Game 2. “Altman went back and grabbed the ball with a one-handed, leaping catch in front of the wall,” The Sporting News noted.

“When George Altman reached high to get Carl Sawatski’s drive, I went up three feet with him,” Cardwell told the Post-Dispatch.

Several Cubs told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat that Bob Will never would have reached Sawatski’s drive.

After George Crowe, batting for McDaniel, flied out to center, Cunningham came to the plate. The drama intensified with each pitch as Cunningham worked the count to 3-and-2.

Cunningham hit a low liner to left. Walt Moryn, nicknamed “Moose,” loped forward and reached down at the last moment to catch the ball before it landed.

“For this once,” wrote The Sporting News, “the Moose turned gazelle.”

Moryn told the Chicago Tribune, “If I’d have missed that last catch, I’d have been begging for an error.”

Said Cardwell: “When Walt Moryn came in and grabbed that low liner by Cunningham, I sank to the ground with him.” Video

“Thousands of fans poured onto the field and surrounded their new hero,” the Associated Press reported. “A score of ushers and police officers needed something like a half hour to get Cardwell safely into the Cubs dressing room.”

The Cubs won, 4-0, in a game played in 1:46. Boxscore

Changing places

On June 15, 1960, exactly one month after his big catch, Moryn was traded by the Cubs to the Cardinals.

Cardwell was 8-14 for the 1960 Cubs. He was 15-14 in 1961 and 7-16 in 1962.

On Oct. 17, 1962, the Cubs traded Cardwell, Altman and catcher Moe Thacker to the Cardinals for pitchers Jackson and McDaniel, plus catcher Jimmie Schaffer.

Cardwell never pitched for the Cardinals. A month after they acquired him, the Cardinals dealt Cardwell and shortstop Julio Gotay to the Pirates for shortstop Dick Groat and pitcher Diomedes Olivo. Groat played a key role in helping the Cardinals become World Series champions in 1964.

Cardwell twice was a 13-game winner for the Pirates. In 1969, he pitched for the World Series champion Mets.

In 40 appearances, including 32 starts, versus the Cardinals in his career, Cardwell was 5-19 with a 4.55 ERA.

Read Full Post »

In his first game against the Phillies after being traded to the Cardinals, Richie Allen savored sweet satisfaction.

Fifty years ago, on May 11, 1970, Allen hit a three-run walkoff home run in the bottom of the ninth inning, ending a scoreless duel between future Hall of Famers Jim Bunning and Steve Carlton and carrying the Cardinals to a 3-0 triumph.

Seven months earlier, in October 1969, Allen was traded by the Phillies to the Cardinals in a multi-player deal involving Curt Flood, Tim McCarver and others. Allen’s relationship with Phillies management deteriorated when they suspended him for part of the 1969 season because of insubordination.

Given his first chance for revenge, Allen delivered a spectacular result.

Masters on the mound

The Monday night matchup between Bunning, 38, and Carlton, 25, was a classic. Bunning was in his second stint with the Phillies. He and Allen were Phillies teammates from 1964-67. Carlton was two years away from being traded to the Phillies and becoming their ace.

Carlton gave up two hits in the first inning and two more over the last eight. He retired 15 batters in a row until Tony Taylor hit a double with one out in the ninth.

Bunning held the Cardinals hitless until the sixth. With one out, Carlton singled to center and Jose Cardenal followed with an infield hit on a slow bouncer to short. After Leron Lee struck out, Lou Brock sliced a shot toward third. Don Money, the third baseman, lunged for the ball, knocked it down and held Brock to a single, loading the bases for Allen.

Working carefully, Bunning got the count to 1-and-2 to Allen and threw a low, inside pitch. Allen swung and missed.

Surprise sign

After Carlton worked out of a tight spot in the top of the ninth, getting former teammate Byron Browne to ground out with two on and two outs, the Cardinals went to work against Bunning in the bottom half of the inning.

Leron Lee led off and drilled a high pitch against the wall in right-center for a double. Looking to set up a force play and avoid facing a left-handed batter, Bunning gave an intentional walk to Brock, preferring to face Allen.

“It was a situation Rich must have been dreaming about,” wrote Philadelphia Inquirer columnist Frank Dolson.

Allen stepped into the batter’s box and looked for a sign from George Kissell, the third-base coach. Kissell signaled for Allen to bunt.

“Rich stared at him, seemingly unable, or perhaps unwilling, to comprehend the signal,” the Inquirer reported.

Allen asked for the sign again. Kissell walked up to Allen and told him to bunt.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch he ordered the bunt because “the third baseman was playing back.”

Allen squared around and took the first pitch from Bunning for strike one.

“No way he wanted to bunt,” said Phillies pitcher Chris Short, who was watching the drama from the dugout.

Allen again looked toward Kissell and got the sign to swing away. Schoendienst said he switched gears because the Phillies’ corner infielders “were coming in” to play for a bunt.

Allen fouled the pitch back, making the count 0-and-2.

Wrong pitch

Bunning wanted the next pitch to be a fastball inside. “I wanted to get it in because he likes the ball out over the plate,” Bunning told the Inquirer.

Bunning hoped to drive Allen off the plate and come back with a pitch away. “I was trying to set him up for a curveball,” Bunning explained.

Instead, Bunning’s third pitch to Allen was “way up and over the middle of the plate,” Bunning said. “It was over his head, in fact.”

Allen swung his 40-ounce bat and drove the ball into the “fourth or fifth row of the bleachers in right-center,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

As Bunning walked slowly off the mound, “Allen trotted around the bases to be mobbed at home plate by his teammates,” the Inquirer reported. He was “the center of attention in the raucous Cardinals clubhouse, as noisy as if a team had just won a pennant.”

“Rich Allen wanted to hit that ball out of here something bad and he did it,” Carlton told the Philadelphia Daily News.

Said Allen: “I’m happy I helped Steve Carlton win a game the way he pitched.” Boxscore

Gene Mauch, who had issues with Allen when he managed him with the Phillies before going to the Expos, told The Sporting News, “I wouldn’t give him a high fastball or a fast highball.”

Allen had a career batting average of .478 versus Bunning. Of Allen’s 11 hits against him, three were home runs and three were doubles.

In December 2014, Bunning was a member of a Baseball Hall of Fame committee and lobbied for Allen to be elected to the shrine. Allen needed 12 of 16 votes from the committee and got 11. The close miss upset Bunning, who absolutely had firsthand knowledge of Allen’s qualifications.

Read Full Post »

Mike Torrez, a big guy with big talent, capped a hot personal stretch for the Cardinals with his most dominant pitching performance.

Fifty years ago, on April 15, 1970, Torrez pitched a one-hitter for the Cardinals against the Expos at St. Louis. The win was the 11th in a row for Torrez. He won his last nine decisions of 1969 for the Cardinals and his first two of 1970.

A 6-foot-5, 220-pound right-hander, Torrez joined Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton and Jerry Reuss in a Cardinals rotation primed to become one of baseball’s best, but it didn’t work out.

The Cardinals traded Carlton because of a contract squabble, Reuss because he wouldn’t shave his moustache and Torrez because he couldn’t control his pitches.

Wild thing

Born in Topeka, Kansas, Torrez was 18 when he signed with the Cardinals in September 1964.

In 1967, his fourth season in the Cardinals’ farm system, Torrez was assigned to Tulsa, whose manager was pitching legend Warren Spahn.

At mid-season, Torrez was 3-8 and struggled to get pitches over the plate. Torrez said Spahn helped him to focus. Hand-written on Torrez’s glove were four words: think, concentrate, throw strikes.

“I know I’ve got one of the best arms in the organization,” Torrez told The Sporting News.

Torrez turned around his season, winning six consecutive decisions, and became the Pacific Coast League’s “most exciting pitcher,” The Sporting News reported.

“At last, I’m throwing strikes and thinking out there,” Torrez said.

The Cardinals, on their way to the 1967 National League pennant, called up Torrez in September. He made his big-league debut in relief against the Pirates and was picked to make his first start on Sept. 22 against the Braves.

“I had time to think about what could happen to me and I got nervous,” Torrez told Sports Illustrated. “You look around and all of a sudden you are in the major leagues. They were all there _ Cepeda, Maris, Flood, Brock _ and I knew they were yelling for me, but you feel so alone.”

Torrez’s nervousness showed in the first inning when the first three Braves batters reached base, but he limited the damage to one run. He went five innings and didn’t give up another run after the first. Boxscore

Gobbling up wins

Torrez opened the 1968 season with the defending World Series champion Cardinals, was 2-1 in five games and got sent down to Tulsa.

In 1969, Torrez stuck with the Cardinals. He was 10-4, but had almost as many walks (61) as strikeouts (62).

If Torrez could control his pitches, the Cardinals figured, he could be a big winner. “His potential is unlimited,” Cardinals pitching coach Billy Muffett told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in March 1970.

Torrez also had a big appetite. On the eve of his first start in 1970, he dined out in Montreal and “put away a 20-ounce steak,” the Post-Dispatch reported. “The restaurant charged by the ounce and the price was 75 cents an ounce, or $15.”

The next night, Torrez, well-fortified, won, limiting the Expos to one earned run in 8.1. innings.

Wild but wily

The Expos were the opponent again when Torrez made his next start at St. Louis.

Relying primarily on a fastball, Torrez held the Expos hitless through seven innings.

“I was conscious of the no-hitter in the sixth inning,” Torrez told the Montreal Gazette. “I thought I could do it.”

The No. 8 batter in the order, Adolfo Phillips, led off the eighth for the Expos.

“I had been pitching him inside all night and I was trying to jam him,” Torrez told the Post-Dispatch, “but I put the ball right over the plate.”

Phillips lashed at the fastball and sent a grounder skimming along the AstroTurf between third baseman Richie Allen and shortstop Dal Maxvill. Neither could reach it and the ball rolled through for a single.

Torrez went on to complete the first shutout of his career in the majors and his only one-hitter. He walked six and struck out three. Boxscore

“Mike’s fastball was really quick,” said Cardinals catcher Joe Torre. “He was consistent with it, even with all the walks. It sounds funny, but he wasn’t as wild as he had been. He put the fastball in good spots and had it moving good.”

Said Torrez: “I felt my control was good, but I’m relatively new in the league and the umpires don’t know me. I thought they took a few good pitches away from me.”

According to the Post-Dispatch, Torrez threw 117 pitches, including 98 fastballs. He registered 60 balls and 57 strikes.

“Torrez has got to be a strong boy to make that many pitches and still throw a one-hitter,” said Expos manager Gene Mauch. “He has good life in his fastball.”

Torrez also contributed as a hitter to the 10-0 victory. In four plate appearances, he had three singles and was hit on the left arm by a Ken Johnson knuckleball. Torrez scored twice and had a RBI.

Overcoming adversity

Lacking command, Torrez couldn’t sustain his early success in 1970. He finished the season 8-10 with a 4.22 ERA and had more walks (103) than strikeouts (100).

In 1971, his career nearly unraveled. In nine games for the Cardinals, Torrez was 1-2 with a 6.00 ERA, walking 30 and striking out eight. On June 15, 1971, the Cardinals traded Torrez to the Expos for reliever Bob Reynolds. The Expos sent Torrez to the minors and his struggles continued. He was 2-4 with an 8.16 ERA for Winnipeg, walking 52 and striking out 45.

Torrez revealed he was having marital problems and admitted he’d become overweight.

“I was all mixed up,” Torrez told The Sporting News. “I used to lie awake nights wondering what to do about my marriage. I wondered what was going on back home. I didn’t know if I should be there and forget baseball. It was difficult to concentrate.”

Torrez and his wife divorced and he went on a diet. In 1972, Expos pitching coach Cal McLish helped Torrez develop a slider and sinking fastball.

The results were immediate. Torrez was 16-12 with a 3.33 ERA for the 1972 Expos, working 243.1 innings.

Torrez went on to pitch 18 years in the majors. Though he became known for throwing the pitch Bucky Dent of the Yankees hit for an improbable home run to beat the Red Sox in a one-game playoff for a division title, Torrez had more success than failure.

He had a career record in the majors of 185-160 and 10 times had seasons of double-digit wins, including 1975 when he was 20-9 for the Orioles. In 1977, Torrez made two starts for the Yankees in the World Series against the Dodgers and won both.

Read Full Post »

Bob Lee, who threw hard pitches and hard punches, capped his career in the majors with wins in consecutive games against the Cardinals.

A 6-foot-3, 250-pound right-hander whom The Sporting News described as a “hurling Hercules,” Lee had the most intimidating fastball in the American League when he was a closer for the Angels in the 1960s.

In 1968, his final big-league season, Lee was with the Reds in the National League and no longer overpowered batters, but he was durable and figured out a way to beat the defending World Series champion Cardinals.

A late bloomer who pitched eight years in the minors before getting his chance in the big leagues, Lee died March 25, 2020, at 82.

Escaping the mines

Lee was 18 when he signed with the Pirates in 1956. His career stalled in the minors and in 1963 it went backward. Lee, 25, began the year with Asheville, N.C., posted a 6.75 ERA and was demoted to Batavia, N.Y., the farm club in the lowest rung of the Pirates’ system. “Batavia is the salt mines of professional baseball,” the Los Angeles Times declared.

Lee decided to give baseball one last try. “I figured, I’m 25, in a lousy league with bad lights. If I can’t win here, I ought to quit,” he said.

The demotion “was supposed to teach Lee a lesson,” the Los Angeles Times observed. “It did. Taught him how to throw bullets.”

Using his fastball to overpower the overmatched prospects in the New York-Pennsylvania League, Lee became nearly unbeatable. He was 15-2 and won 14 decisions in a row for Batavia when the Pirates decided to start him in their exhibition game against the Indians in Cleveland on Aug. 1, 1963.

On the day of the game, Lee drove the 225 miles from Batavia to Cleveland, took the mound before a crowd of 34,487 and proceeded to show he could dominate big-league batters the way he did those in the minors. Lee struck out 16 and held the Indians to six hits in a 7-1 Pirates triumph. Only two of Lee’s 16 strikeouts were called, The Sporting News reported.

Except for catcher Jim Lawrence, the Indians played their starters: left fielder Tito Francona, shortstop Larry Brown, center fielder Willie Kirkland, first baseman Joe Adcock, third baseman Woodie Held, right fielder Al Luplow and second baseman Jerry Kindall. Francona’s home run accounted for the Indians’ run.

“I had a good fastball and depended on it a great deal,” Lee told The Sporting News.

Lee drove back to Batavia after the game. He finished the season with a 20-2 record and 1.70 ERA, striking out 240 in 185 innings.

Sheer speed

The Pirates traded Lee to the Angels in September 1963 for $25,000.

Lee made the Angels’ 1964 Opening Day roster and, after a couple of relief appearances, the 26-year-old rookie was put into the rotation.

“I knew this was my big opportunity,” Lee told The Sporting News. “If I was going to make it in the big leagues, it had to be now.”

In his first start, on April 25, 1964, Lee held the Indians to one run in 10 innings but didn’t get a decision. Boxscore

Four days later, Lee got his first win in the majors, yielding one hit in seven innings versus the Senators. Boxscore

On an Angels staff featuring Dean Chance and Bo Belinsky, nobody threw as hard as Lee, catcher Buck Rodgers told The Sporting News.

Chance told the Los Angeles Times, “On certain nights, I can throw as hard as anyone, including Sandy Koufax, but for sheer speed, Bob Lee gets my vote.”

Said Lee: “I was lucky. I just got off to a big start. Nobody knew me. I was just a big, sloppy buffalo out there.”

After three more starts, Angels manager Bill Rigney and pitching coach Marv Grissom noticed Lee lost command the longer he pitched in a game, so they moved him to the bullpen and Grissom told him to “fire the ball over the plate.”

Encouraged to throw to the strike zone as hard as he could rather than try to hit spots, Lee thrived, blowing his fastball past hitters.

“The bullpen is my cup of tea,” Lee said. “I really enjoy it. I can get myself up for it. I can go like hell for one or two innings. If I throw 25 to 30 pitches, I’m real good. If I have to throw 40 to 45 pitches, I start running out of gas.”

Lee soon got compared with Red Sox closer Dick Radatz, who was nicknamed “The Monster,” but Radatz told The Sporting News, “Lee is faster than I am.”

“Radatz appears to throw effortlessly. Lee looks like a roaring train every time he throws,” The Sporting News reported.

Naval attack

Heading into a September series at Boston, Lee was 6-5 with a 1.51 ERA in 64 games for the 1964 Angels and set an American League record for most appearances by a rookie pitcher. He was 1-1 with a 2.36 ERA in five starts and 5-4 with 19 saves and a 1.31 ERA in 59 relief stints.

His season ended on Sept. 11, 1964, when he broke his right hand in an altercation with a heckler at Fenway Park. Lee threw three punches and the last one hit a metal railing, fracturing two bones in his right hand.

Lee and other Angels, on the field early for warmups, “were the targets of jibes and insults” by three sailors attending the game, The Sporting News reported. When the hecklers directed their barbs at the Angels’ bat boy, Lee “suggested the sailors take a boat ride.”

When Lee moved out to the bullpen in right field, the sailors followed, “giving me hell all the time,” Lee told the Los Angeles Times.

“They were on me like a new suit,” Lee said. “One of them came down to the rail, just a few feet away, and began to get real abusive. Something snapped and I grabbed him. He swung. I grabbed him by the collar. I hit him once, twice, three times. The third time, they say, I hit the rail with my hand.”

Lee came back in 1965 as good as new, earned a spot on the American League all-star team and was 9-7 with 23 saves and a 1.92 ERA for the Angels.

Though effective in 1966 (5-4, 16 saves, 2.74 ERA), the Los Angeles Times noted, “There is at least some suspicion his fastball may be a zing of the past.”

Cardinals challenges

On Dec. 15, 1966, the Angels traded Lee to the Dodgers for pitcher Nick Willhite. Lee, who described himself as “a blazing 250” pounds, said he was delighted by the deal because “Dodger Stadium is a pitching paradise. The air is heavy and it’s a $3.80 cab drive to the center field fence.”

Lee pitched in four games for the Dodgers, who sold his contract to the Reds in May 1967.

Two months later, on July 3, 1967, Lee was ejected for his role in a brawl between the Reds and Cardinals at St. Louis involving future Hall of Famers Bob Gibson, Orlando Cepeda and Tony Perez.

In 1968, Lee, 30, was a Reds workhorse. He pitched in six consecutive games from April 11 to April 18. The final two games in that stretch were against the Cardinals and Lee won both, his last wins in the majors.

On April 17, 1968, at Cincinnati, the Cardinals had Lou Brock on third base, Curt Flood on first, with none out in the 12th inning, when Lee relieved Ted Davidson. Lee got Bobby Tolan to lift a pop fly into foul territory along the line in right. Reds right fielder Pete Rose “barely caught up with the ball after a long run,” the Dayton Daily News reported.

“I was expecting Brock to try and score on that one, even though there was only one out,” Lee said. “Pete had to go a long way and he was way off-balance, but he threw a strike to the plate.”

Brock held third and Lee’s adversary, Cepeda, stepped to the plate.

“I got two strikes on him and threw him a bad pitch, right up in his power,” Lee said.

Cepeda grounded sharply to shortstop Leo Cardenas, who turned a 6-4-3 double play. The Reds scored in the bottom half of the inning, earning the win for Lee. Boxscore

The next night, Lee pitched three scoreless innings and got another win versus the Cardinals. In the 10th, when he worked out of a bases-loaded jam by getting Julian Javier to hit into a forceout, “the Cardinals were ready to surrender again to Robert D. Lee,” wrote Neal Russo of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boxscore

The 1968 season was Lee’s last in the majors. In five big-league seasons, he was 25-23 with 64 saves and a 2.71 ERA.

Read Full Post »

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 »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »