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Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

Gary Kolb impressed Branch Rickey, stepped in for Stan Musial and got traded for Bob Uecker.

Kolb, who played seven seasons in the major leagues with the Cardinals (1960, 1962-63), Braves (1964-65), Mets (1965) and Pirates (1968-69), died July 3, 2019, at 79.

A left-handed batter with speed, Kolb primarily was an outfielder who also experimented with catching and playing infield in the hope his versatility would enhance his value to the Cardinals.

Rickey, the former general manager who came back to the club as a consultant, liked Kolb, and so did Musial, who tabbed Kolb and Mike Shannon as potential outfield successors.

Top prospect

Kolb was a standout in baseball, basketball, football and track at Rock Falls High School in Illinois. He enrolled at the University of Illinois and played on the freshman football, basketball and baseball teams.

As a college sophomore, Kolb, 6 feet and 190 pounds, gave up basketball, but played varsity football and baseball. The football Illini projected him as a starting running back as a junior, but he signed a professional contract with the Cardinals in the spring of 1960 after completing his sophomore baseball season.

“I thought I’d better get out of football before I got hurt,” Kolb said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Kolb, 20, played for two Cardinals farm clubs in the summer of 1960, produced 15 triples and was called up to the big-league club in September. He made his Cardinals debut on Sept. 7, 1960, as a pinch-runner. Kolb appeared in nine games, eight as a pinch-runner, for the 1960 Cardinals.

Kolb spent the next two seasons in the minors before getting another September call-up to the Cardinals in 1962. He hit .357 for them in 14 at-bats.

A month later, in October 1962, the Cardinals hired Rickey, 80, as a consultant and one of his first assignments was to assess their players in the winter Florida Instructional League. Kolb was there, playing shortstop, and he caught the attention of Rickey.

Rickey “indicated he considered Kolb one of the best prospects in the camp,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Batter up

In February 1963, shortly before the Cardinals opened spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., they arranged for six prospects, including Kolb, to attend a special five-day hitting session. Joining Kolb were Jerry Buchek, Duke Carmel, Doug Clemens, Phil Gagliano and Dal Maxvill.

Rickey proposed the extra workouts after he observed the players at the Florida Instructional League.

“All are good athletes with good reflexes and baseball instinct,” the Post-Dispatch reported, “but all have been disappointing at swinging a bat against major-league pitching.”

Cardinals manager Johnny Keane, coach Vern Benson and Rickey were the instructors for the sessions.

Rickey “had a special batting cage built in the center field corner of the Redbirds’ spring training park,” the Post-Dispatch observed. “Behind the batting cage is a platform about five feet above the ground from which Rickey watches the batters hit against a pitching machine.”

Rickey told the assembled prospects, “You’ll hit until you are weary. You’ll get blisters on your hands before we’re through, unless you wear the golf gloves we have here for you, gloves for both hands. You’ll swing as hard as you can and you’ll bunt. You’ll bunt for the sacrifice and you’ll bunt for base hits.”

On the rise

The extra work apparently helped Kolb because he had a good spring training camp with the 1963 Cardinals. Eddie Stanky, the Cardinals’ director of player development, said Kolb is “a bulldog and a versatile athlete whose ability to play both infield and outfield will help him make the big-league club.”

Near the end of spring training, Kolb, at Rickey’s urging, “strapped on the pads” and worked out as a catcher “to lend value to his versatile efforts,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

When the Cardinals sold the contract of outfielder Minnie Minoso to the Senators, it opened a spot for Kolb on the Opening Day roster as a reserve outfielder.

The Cardinals returned Kolb to the minors in May 1963, but he hit .318 for Tulsa and was brought back to the big-league club in July.

Keane gave Kolb a start in right field against the Braves on July 12, 1963, and he produced two hits, including his first major-league home run, against Tony Cloninger. The two-run homer carried onto the pavilion roof at Busch Stadium. Boxscore

Kolb was back in the starting lineup again the next day, July 13, 1963, and went 3-for-4 with two singles and another home run against the Braves’ Hank Fischer. Boxscore

Kolb made 19 starts in right field, mostly in July, for the 1963 Cardinals. He batted .327 with 18 hits and 12 walks in 19 July games.

Kind words

In September 1963, with the Cardinals challenging the Dodgers for the pennant, Kolb was used primarily as a pinch-runner, most often for Musial, who was 42 and in his last season. Kolb appeared nine times as a pinch-runner for Musial in 1963.

On Sept. 29, 1963, Musial was in the Busch Stadium clubhouse, preparing to play his final game, when Kolb and Shannon walked by his locker.

“Wait a minute,” Musial said, putting an arm around each of them.

As photographers and reporters closed in, Musial said, “These are my proteges. They’re going to take over for me, aren’t you?”

Kolb and Shannon blushed, according to the Post-Dispatch.

After Musial stroked a RBI-single in the sixth, Keane sent in Kolb to run. Kolb told his hometown news organization, Saukvalley.com of Sterling, Ill., that as Musial departed first base for the final time to a thunderous ovation, he turned to him and said, “They love you, kid.” Boxscore

Moving on

Kolb batted .271 in 119 plate appearances for the 1963 Cardinals. He generated 26 hits, including five triples, and 22 walks for a .403 on-base percentage.

Kolb hit .328 for the Cardinals versus right-handers in 1963 and overall he batted .500 (9-for-18) against the Braves.

After trading George Altman to the Mets, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said in November 1963 he viewed Kolb, Shannon, Clemens and Johnny Lewis as candidates to start in right field in 1964.

The scenario changed in February 1964 when the Cardinals acquired outfielder Carl Warwick from the Houston Colt .45s. Warwick and Lewis performed best in spring training and Kolb became expendable.

On April 9, 1964, the Cardinals traded Kolb and catcher Jimmie Coker to the Braves for Uecker, who was viewed as a defensive upgrade as a backup to starting catcher Tim McCarver.

Kolb spent his final three seasons (1971-73) with the Pirates’ Class AAA farm club in Charleston, W.Va., and settled there after his playing career. His cousin, Dan Kolb, was a big-league relief pitcher from 1999-2007.

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Byron Browne, who had thunder in his bat and holes in his swing, intrigued the Cardinals as a power-hitting prospect.

On Feb. 12, 1969, the Cardinals purchased the contract of Browne from the Astros and assigned him to their farm club at Tulsa.

Browne battered baseballs with his right-handed slugging stroke, but he struck out a lot. The Cardinals wanted to see him make more contact before giving him a chance to return to the big leagues.

Working with instructors Joe Medwick and Tom Burgess, Browne hit consistently well for Tulsa and earned a promotion to the Cardinals.

Big chance

Browne was born and raised in St. Joseph, Mo., a town known as the starting point for the Pony Express and the place where outlaw Jesse James was killed.

In September 1962, Browne, 19, signed as an amateur free agent with the Pirates, played in their farm system and was chosen by the Cubs in the minor-league draft in December 1963.

On Sept. 9, 1965, Browne made his major-league debut for the Cubs, starting in left field, on the night Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game at Dodger Stadium. Browne lined out to center, grounded out to short and struck out. It also was the debut game for Cubs center fielder Don Young. Boxscore.

At spring training in 1966, Browne impressed Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who told the Chicago Tribune, “I’m going to give this boy a good, long look in center field.”

On April 21, 1966, the Cubs acquired Adolfo Phillips from the Phillies. Scouts told Durocher the only center fielders better than Phillips were Willie Mays of the Giants and Curt Flood of the Cardinals.

Durocher put Phillips in center, moved Browne to left and kept Billy Williams in right. “I possibly may have the fastest outfield in the league,” Durocher said.

Tough on Cards

Three of Browne’s best games in 1966 were against the Cardinals.

On May 26, 1966, Browne hit a two-run home run against Bob Gibson “well up into the bleachers beneath Gussie Busch’s dancing beer sign” at the new Busch Stadium, the Tribune reported. Boxscore

Two months later, on July 18, 1966, Browne hit two home runs off Larry Jaster at St. Louis. His two-run home run in the second struck the yellow foul pole in left and his three-run homer in the eighth went into the seats in left-center. Boxscore

On Sept. 18, 1966, at Chicago, Browne had three hits, including a bloop double down the right-field line against Ron Piche to drive in the winning run and end the Cardinals’ seven-game winning streak. Boxscore

Browne batted .308 in 13 games against the Cardinals in 1966, but overall his season wasn’t nearly so good. He hit 16 home runs but batted .243 and struck out a league-high 143 times.

“He’s going to be a good one someday, but he’s going to have to work … and I mean work very hard,” Durocher said.

Lord Byron

Browne spent most of the 1967 season in the minors and on May 4, 1968, the Cubs traded him to the Astros for outfielder Aaron Pointer.

Browne hit .231 in 10 games for the Astros before being sent to the minors by manager Harry Walker, who wanted him to alter his hitting approach. “I’m just not a punch-and-judy hitter,” Browne said.

The Cardinals were set in the outfield for 1969 with Lou Brock in left, Flood in center and Vada Pinson in right, so when they acquired Browne from the Astros it was with the intent he open the season at Tulsa and position himself for a promotion if needed.

Browne responded to the instruction given by Medwick, who was a Hall of Fame slugger for the Gashouse Gang Cardinals of the 1930s. Medwick told him, “Get up to the plate. You’re standing too far back in the box.”

The results were immediate. Browne had two home runs, a double and five RBI in Tulsa’s season opener.

After 14 games, Browne was batting .416 with six home runs and 25 RBI.

“Browne is a big, strong guy and he can take those short, quick strokes and hit the ball out of the country,” said Tulsa manager Warren Spahn.

Browne batted .340 with 106 hits and 79 RBI in 84 games for Tulsa.

On July 12, 1969, the Cardinals traded utility player Bob Johnson to the Athletics and called up Browne, 26, to take his spot.

Clemente’s catch

Browne played his first game for the Cardinals on July 15, 1969, against the Phillies. Starting in left field in place of Brock, who had leg cramps, Browne had a hit, a run, a RBI and three walks. Boxscore

On Sept. 11, 1969, Browne was in the starting lineup for the Cardinals in a game at Pittsburgh. The Pirates started pitcher Bob Veale, who dated Browne’s sister when Veale attended Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., across the Missouri River from Browne’s home in St. Joseph, Mo.

In his first three at-bats versus Veale, Browne struck out looking each time. According to The Pittsburgh Press, Veale set him up with fastballs and slipped sliders past him for the third strikes.

In the ninth, Veale was protecting a 3-2 lead when Browne came up with one out and a runner on first. “I tried to get cute,” Veale said. He changed his pattern, throwing a slider on the first pitch, and Browne lined it to deep right-center.

Right fielder Roberto Clemente raced toward the wall and caught the ball a step or two in front of an iron gate 435 feet from home plate.

“It would have been an inside-the-park home run because the ball would have hit the bottom of the iron gate if Clemente hadn’t made that great catch,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Said Clemente: “I did not look at the ball at all. All I do is run to the spot where I think it will be because I know it is over my head from the sound. If I do not do that, I never catch it.” Boxscore

Big deal

Browne finished the 1969 season with a couple of highlights against the Expos. On Sept. 27, 1969, he hit a home run against Jerry Robertson, helping Jerry Reuss win his major-league debut. Boxscore. A day later, in the ninth inning of a scoreless game, Browne tripled against Bill Stoneman, scoring Gibson from second, and scored on Joe Torre’s single. Boxscore

In 22 games for the 1969 Cardinals, Browne batted .226 with 12 hits and 14 strikeouts.

On Oct. 7, 1969, the Cardinals traded Browne, Flood, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver to the Phillies for Richie Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. When Flood refused to report, the Cardinals sent Willie Montanez and Jim Browning to complete the deal.

Browne had the only four-hit game of his major-league career for the Phillies against the Cardinals on June 27, 1970, at St. Louis. Boxscore

On Dec. 18, 1972, the Phillies traded Browne back to the Cardinals for outfielder Keith Lampard. Browne spent the 1973 season at Tulsa, batting .259, and played in Mexico in 1974 and 1975.

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Michael Jordan sought to achieve with the White Sox what Brian Jordan was doing with the Cardinals.

Twenty-five years ago, on Feb. 7, 1994, Jordan agreed to a minor-league contract with the White Sox and was invited to spring training as an outfielder with the major league club.

Four months earlier, in October 1993, Jordan announced his retirement from the NBA Chicago Bulls. He surprised many when he decided in February 1994 to take up a second sport as a professional.

Others, such as Brian Jordan with the NFL Atlanta Falcons and baseball Cardinals, were two-sport athletes in the pros, but most had done so before turning 30. Michael Jordan would turn 31 during spring training with the 1994 White Sox.

“I wish him all the luck in the world,” Brian Jordan said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “It’s no easy task, but when you have the athletic ability he has … you tend to make adjustments quicker than the normal athlete.”

Chasing a dream

Michael Jordan hadn’t played baseball since high school. His father James had wanted him to try professional baseball and Jordan was motivated to honor the memory of his dad, who was murdered in 1993.

“I’ve never been afraid to fail,” Jordan said to the Associated Press. “That’s something you have to deal with in reality. I think I’m strong enough as a person to accept failing, but I can’t accept not trying.”

Said White Sox general manager Ron Schueler: “He’ll have to earn it. Nothing is going to be given to him.”

In its Feb. 8, 1994, edition, the Chicago Tribune reported Jordan’s venture under the headline “The Circus Begins.”

“It’s no gimmick,” Jordan said.

Tribune columnist Bob Verdi wrote, “If Jordan can’t chase the American dream, who can?”

A right-handed batter, the 6-foot-6 rookie wore No. 45 on his uniform when he appeared for his first public workout with the White Sox at spring training camp in Sarasota, Fla.

Varied opinions

The 1994 Cardinals trained in St. Petersburg, 37 miles north of Sarasota on Florida’s west coast. Among the Cardinals players who offered their reactions to the Post-Dispatch on Jordan’s bid to play baseball:

_ Ozzie Smith: “I think people are looking for Mike to have the same success he had in basketball. He won’t achieve that right away, but as far as playing this game and being fundamentally sound at it, there’s no reason he can’t do that.”

_ Todd Zeile: “I think for him to waltz in and start at the major-league level … that’s something a lot of guys can’t comprehend. He’s going to have to prove it on the field eventually.”

_ Brian Jordan: “When everyone is counting him out, that makes him more determined. I’ve been there. People counted me out.”

In interviews with the St. Petersburg Times, several baseball Hall of Famers were skeptical of Michael Jordan’s chances of succeeding:

_ Bob Feller: “Michael couldn’t hit a big-league curveball with an ironing board.”

_ Hal Newhouser: “His swing is too long. His strike zone too big … Good, inside fastballs will eat him up.”

_ Enos Slaughter: “Wait until he gets a 90 mph pitch under his chin, followed by a nasty curve over the outside corner, then a killer changeup. Jordan’s heart may be in it, but I’m not sure his body can hang with it.”

Among Jordan’s defenders was Athletics manager Tony La Russa, who told the San Francisco Examiner: “It’s unprofessional and immature to begrudge him the opportunity to be in camp.”

Tough start

Jordan went hitless in his first 14 at-bats in White Sox spring training games.

“He’s to the point where he’s overmatched right now,” Schueler said. “It looks like he’s afraid to make a mistake. He look tentative.”

Under the headline “Err Jordan,” Steve Wulf of Sports Illustrated wrote, “Michael Jordan has no more business patrolling right field in Comiskey Park than Minnie Minoso has bringing the ball upcourt for the Chicago Bulls.”

Jordan broke his skid with an infield single against Jeff Innis of the Twins on March 14, 1994. Teammates celebrated by showering him with beer in the clubhouse after the game.

Jordan got a line-drive single two days later in a game versus the Blue Jays. “I’m going to keep trying to build on it,” he said.

The Cardinals came to Sarasota for a game against the White Sox on March 18, but Jordan didn’t play. Jose Oquendo of the Cardinals made the headlines that afternoon with a grand slam against Dennis Cook.

Down on the farm

On March 21, 1994, the White Sox assigned Jordan to their minor-league camp after he produced three hits in 20 at-bats in 13 spring training games at the big-league level. He hit the ball out of the infield twice.

The Tribune reported the demotion under a headline, “Jordan’s Just a Bush-Leaguer Now.”

“He was overmatched some, but I don’t think he’s embarrassed himself,” said White Sox manager Gene Lamont.

Said Jordan: “It doesn’t bother me personally. I don’t think like I failed at anything.”

Agreeing to begin the regular season in the minors, Jordan said, “People tend to underestimate my general attitude toward the game. I’ve always truly loved the game of baseball. I didn’t set any expectations for myself except to enjoy the game.”

Jordan spent the 1994 season with the Class AA Birmingham Barons. Playing for manager Terry Francona, Jordan batted .202 with 88 hits in 127 games. He produced 51 RBI and 30 stolen bases. As an outfielder, Jordan committed 11 errors and had six assists.

Jordan abandoned his pursuit of a baseball career after the 1994 season and returned to the NBA as a player in March 1995.

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At Florida State, James Ramsey was compared with Tim Tebow, but, like his University of Florida counterpart, the Cardinals prospect learned success in professional baseball requires more than faith.

On Jan. 7, 2019, Ramsey was hired to be the hitting coach for the Georgia Tech baseball team.

Seven years earlier, on June 4, 2012, Ramsey was selected by the Cardinals in the first round of the amateur draft.

The Cardinals in 2012 had two first-round picks followed by three supplemental selections before the start of the second round. Pitcher Michael Wacha, outfielder Stephen Piscotty and third baseman Patrick Wisdom made it to the major leagues. Ramsey and catcher Steve Bean did not.

Moving up

Ramsey, an outfielder who batted left-handed, was a standout high school athlete in suburban Atlanta. His father Craig and mother Mary were Florida State alumni and both played sports in college. Craig was a baseball player and Mary played tennis.

James followed his parents to Florida State and excelled at baseball. After his junior season, Ramsey was selected in the 22nd round of the 2011 amateur draft by the Twins, who wanted to convert him into a second baseman, but he rejected their offer of $500,000.

Ramsey spent the summer of 2011 playing in the Cape Cod League on the same team with Piscotty and batted .314.

In 2012, his senior season at Florida State, Ramsey hit .378 with an on-base percentage of .513 and was named Atlantic Coast Conference player of the year. He also earned a degree in finance.

Based on his Cape Cod League performance in 2011 and his Florida State success in 2012, Ramsey raised his ranking as a pro prospect in the 2012 draft.

“He was considered the top senior hitter in the draft,” according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Skills test

The Cardinals had the 19th pick in the first round as compensation for the Angels’ signing of free-agent first baseman Albert Pujols and also had the 23rd selection. Wacha was their first choice and Ramsey their second.

After 30 total picks were made in the first round, a supplemental round of 30 more picks was held to provide further compensation to clubs losing free agents.

The Cardinals chose Piscotty 36th overall for the loss of Pujols, Wisdom 52nd overall for the loss of Octavio Dotel to the Tigers and Bean 59th overall for the loss of Edwin Jackson to the Nationals.

Scouts were split on whether Ramsey, 6 feet, 190 pounds, should remain an outfielder or move to second base.

Ramsey “doesn’t appear to possess any off-the-chart skills,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. “He is considered to have above-average speed, but with an average arm and average power.”

After the Cardinals chose him, Ramsey told the Orlando Sentinel, “I am not going to be the sexiest prospect that comes along. I am not going to be the 6-foot-5, 220-pound guy, but I am a winner and that’s the kind of guy they want in their organization.”

Ramsey was captain of his college team and, according to the Post-Dispatch, “Scouts have called Ramsey the Tim Tebow of Florida State baseball for his leadership and strong Christian faith.”

Tebow, the former Florida quarterback, tried professional baseball after his NFL career and batted .244 in the minor leagues. Tebow, 31, entered 2019 still seeking a call to the majors.

Stiff competition

The Cardinals gave Ramsey a $1.6 million signing bonus in June 2012 and assigned him to Class A Palm Beach, where he hit .229 in 56 games as a center fielder.

In 2013, Ramsey played for three teams in the Cardinals’ system, but he primarily was with Class AA Springfield, Mo., whose manager was Mike Schildt. Ramsey’s overall statistics for 2013 included a .256 batting mark, 16 home runs and a .373 on-base percentage.

Ramsey was back with Springfield in 2014 and played again for Schildt, who, four years later, would become manager of the Cardinals.

“I can improve in a lot of facets in my game, but one thing I’ve been trying to focus on is the mental side,” Ramsey said to MiLB.com in May 2014. “If I can be the most relentless competitor everyday when I show up to the field, I’m going to give myself a good chance to succeed.”

Ramsey hit .300 with 13 home runs and a .389 on-base percentage in 67 games for Springfield in 2014, but he was unable to break through to Class AAA because the Cardinals had higher-rated outfield prospects such as Piscotty, Oscar Taveras, Randal Grichuk and Charlie Tilson.

Of those, Tilson was the most like Ramsey. “There’s no question Tilson’s emergence made Ramsey more expendable,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz observed. “Ramsey’s path to Busch Stadium was clogged.”

Down on the farm

On July 30, 2014, the Cardinals traded Ramsey to the Indians for pitcher Justin Masterson.

Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak called it “dealing from an area of depth,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Indians general manager Chris Antonetti said Ramsey “has a good approach at the plate with a little bit of power and he’s a guy we think will contribute at the major-league level,” according to the Akron Beacon-Journal.

The Indians gave Ramsey a chance at Class AAA and he hit .243 with 12 home runs for their Columbus club in 2015.

In April 2016, the Indians sold Ramsey’s contract to the Dodgers, who assigned him to a farm team. Four months later, the Dodgers dealt Ramsey to the Mariners, who also kept him in the minors.

On April 9, 2017, Ramsey was released by the Mariners and sat out the season. The Twins signed him in December 2017 and he played for two of their farm teams in 2018 before getting released on June 27, 2018.

At 28, Ramsey’s professional playing career was done without getting a chance to play a big-league game.

Florida State hired Ramsey as an assistant baseball coach in August 2018 and he worked there until getting the Georgia Tech offer.

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The Cardinals considered hometown shortstop Jerry Buchek the finest baseball prospect in the St. Louis area in 1959 and thought he could be another Marty Marion.

Buchek, who died Jan. 2, 2019, at 76, was a standout athlete at McKinley High School and excelled in amateur baseball leagues in St. Louis.

On Sept. 10, 1959, Buchek, 17, signed with the Cardinals for $65,000.

Cardinals scouts Joe Monahan and George Hasser recommended Buchek, who was pursued by several other major-league organizations.

“In our opinion, he is the best prospect in the area,” Cardinals minor-league director Walter Shannon said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“He has one of the really outstanding throwing arms in all baseball, an arm like Marty Marion’s was,” Shannon said.

Marion was the shortstop on four pennant-winning Cardinals clubs in the 1940s and was the first National League shortstop to win a Most Valuable Player Award. Marion didn’t hit for power, though, and Buchek did.

“The combination of his ability to field well with ability to hit the ball out of the park makes him desirable,” Monahan said.

Rushed to Wrigley

Buchek spent the 1960 season with Cardinals farm clubs at the Class AA and Class AAA levels and had as many strikeouts (104) as hits (104). The Cardinals assigned him to the Portland Beavers, their Class AAA team in the Pacific Coast League, in 1961.

Soon after he hit home runs in three consecutive games for Portland at Salt Lake City, Buchek, 19, was called up to the Cardinals. He joined them on June 30, 1961, in Chicago, 30 minutes before their afternoon game against the Cubs at Wrigley Field, and was put in the starting lineup by manager Solly Hemus.

In the eighth inning, with the bases loaded and one out, Buchek got his first big-league RBI when he was hit by a pitch from Don Elston. When Bob Lillis followed with a double, clearing the bases, Buchek scored his first run in the majors, helping the Cardinals to an 11-4 triumph. Boxscore

“We shouldn’t expect too much from Jerry Buchek right now,” Hemus cautioned, “but I do believe he’ll lend a little power.”

Plans change

The Cardinals were a mess when Buchek joined them. The win they got in Buchek’s debut gave them a 31-38 record.

Daryl Spencer opened the 1961 season as the Cardinals’ shortstop, but he was traded to the Dodgers on May 30 for Lillis and outfielder Carl Warwick. Lillis took over at shortstop, but was shifted to second base in mid-June. Hemus tried rookie Julio Gotay and veteran Alex Grammas before the Cardinals decided to give Buchek a shot as the shortstop.

On July 5, 1961, five days after Buchek’s debut, the Cardinals fired Hemus and promoted coach Johnny Keane to replace him. Keane continued to play Buchek as the starting shortstop, but the rookie struggled to hit.

Keane’s support of Buchek drew criticism on July 16, 1961, in a game against the Braves at St. Louis. In the fourth inning, with the Braves ahead 3-0, the Cardinals loaded the bases with one out before Buchek bounced into a double play. Two innings later, with two on and two outs, Buchek struck out, ending another Cardinals threat. He also committed an error and the Braves won, 9-1. Boxscore

After the game, Keane defended Buchek and said he’d remain the everyday shortstop.

Four days later, on July 20, 1961, the Cardinals changed their plan. Buchek, batting .128 after 16 starts at shortstop, was sent back to Portland.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said he and Keane and the coaches agreed to demote Buchek and call up pitcher Ed Bauta, who had a 9-1 record and 1.95 ERA as a Portland reliever.

“We are confident Buchek will become a great shortstop for us,” Devine said, “but we feel he can benefit just as much by playing daily for Portland.”

Years later, in an interview with Mark Simon for the Society for American Baseball Research, Buchek said, “I got a little nervous playing in my hometown.”

Ups and downs

Buchek played well in his return to Portland and when the Pacific Coast League season ended on Sept. 10 he was brought back to the Cardinals and reinserted into the starting lineup.

On Sept. 11, 1961, in his first game back as the starting shortstop, Buchek made three good plays against the Braves, the Post-Dispatch reported. He ranged to his left to snare a shot by Hank Aaron and made a strong throw to get him at first. He went behind the bag at second to start a double play and he made a “brilliant grab” of a smash by Joe Torre. Boxscore

Eight days later, on Sept. 19, 1961, Buchek made a play Keane said he’d never seen before. In the eighth, with a runner on first and two outs, Charlie Smith of the Phillies hit a fly to shallow center. Outfielder Curt Flood and second baseman Julian Javier collided attempting a catch. The ball bounced off Flood and caromed off Javier’s glove, but Buchek, racing over from the shortstop spot, dived and snared the ball before it reached the ground.

“Buchek deserves a lot of credit for being out there,” said Keane. “He didn’t just stand around.”

Buchek made 14 starts in September and October, but continued to struggle at the plate. He batted .133 for the 1961 Cardinals and made 10 errors in 30 starts at shortstop.

“It would be extremely unwise to expect him to play shortstop regularly next season,” wrote Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg.

Buchek spent all of 1962 and most of 1963 in the minors. He played for the Cardinals from 1964-66, singled against Jim Bouton of the Yankees in his lone World Series at-bat in 1964 and was the Opening Day shortstop in 1966 before being replaced as the starter by Dal Maxvill two months later.

On April 1, 1967, in the first trade made by Cardinals general manager Stan Musial, Buchek was dealt to the Mets as part of a package for infielder Eddie Bressoud, outfielder Danny Napoleon and cash.

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Jim Campanis was ready to leave the Dodgers and Al Campanis was ready to make it happen.

On Dec. 15, 1968, Jim, a catcher, was traded by the Dodgers to the Royals for cash. The Royals also agreed to loan two players to the Dodgers’ minor-league club in Spokane.

The deal was made by Jim’s father, Al, the Dodgers’ director of player personnel.

Jim had been in the Dodgers’ system since 1962, no longer was prominent in their plans and had said during the 1968 season his best chance for an extended shot at the big leagues probably was with another organization.

Al, longtime Dodgers scouting director, took over the duties of general manager in November 1968 and did his son a favor by sending him to the Royals, who were entering the American League as an expansion team in 1969 and seeking experienced players.

However, because the transaction was the first made by Al in his new role and because it featured his son, it created a media sensation.

The Los Angeles Times headline blared, “Campanis Peddles Son, Jim, to KC,” and The Sporting News featured a headline of, “No Room For Sentiment _ A Daddy Sells His Son.”

The trade was “further evidence supporting the premise that baseball and sentiment are not synonymous,” the Los Angeles newspaper reported.

All in the family

Al Campanis was born in 1916 in Kos, a Greek island in the Aegean Sea, and came to New York City with his family as a youth. After graduating from New York University, he joined the Dodgers as an infield prospect in 1940 and played briefly for the big-league club in 1943. Al was the second baseman for the Dodgers’ minor-league club at Montreal in 1946 when Jackie Robinson was the shortstop.

Al became Dodgers scouting director in 1960 and two years later, in 1962, when his son, Jim, was graduating high school, the Dodgers were one of the clubs in pursuit of the prospect. According to The Sporting News, when Dodgers owner Walter O’Malley asked whether the club was likely to sign Jim, Al responded, “I think I have a good chance. I’m pretty close to his mother.”

O’Malley approved a $10,000 bonus offer and Jim accepted.

Jim made his major-league debut with the Dodgers on Sept. 20, 1966.

Cardinals connections

In 1967, Jim began the season as a backup to Dodgers starting catcher John Roseboro. On April 24, 1967, Jim got his first big-league hit, a double down the left-field line against Cardinals reliever Joe Hoerner in the 13th inning at Los Angeles. The hit sparked a comeback by the Dodgers, who erased a 5-4 deficit and won, 6-5. Boxscore

“The kid saved our necks,” Dodgers manager Walter Alston said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Four months later, on Aug. 9, 1967, Jim was a central figure in a bizarre ending to a game against the Cardinals at St. Louis.

In the eighth inning, batting for Don Drysdale, Jim hit a solo home run high over the Busch Stadium wall in left against Larry Jaster, tying the score at 2-2, and stayed in the game as the catcher.

In the 11th, after the Cardinals loaded the bases with none out against Phil Regan, Eddie Bressoud popped out to first baseman Wes Parker. Mike Shannon, the runner on third, bluffed an advance toward the plate. Parker should have held the ball and run toward Shannon until he retreated to third. Instead, Parker lobbed a throw to Campanis.

“I was off balance … I didn’t trust myself to get set,” Parker said.

Said Alston: “Instead of throwing the ball like an old woman, he should have put something on it.”

The ball bounced in front of the plate, skidded between the legs of Campanis and rolled away. Shannon hesitated before making a dash to the dish and scored the winning run. Boxscore

“The catcher should not have let such an easy roller get away from him,” Alston scolded.

New roles

Campanis batted .161 for the 1967 Dodgers. Before the 1968 season, the Dodgers dealt Roseboro to the Twins and acquired Tom Haller from the Giants to be the starting catcher. Campanis spent most of the 1968 season in the minor leagues. At 24, he acknowledged he was looking ahead to the November 1968 National League expansion draft when the Padres and Expos would stock their rosters with players from existing franchises.

“Although I would like to play on a winner like the Dodgers, I would just be happy to be in the big leagues with any club,” Jim told The Sporting News in May 1968.

Asked whether his father being Dodgers scouting director was a help or hindrance, Jim replied, “I know it’s slowed me down. I know a couple of times I feel I should have gone to a higher classification, but didn’t because I don’t think they wanted it to look like they were showing favoritism.”

In June 1968, Dodgers general manager Buzzie Bavasi left to become president of the Padres. The Dodgers promoted farm director Fresco Thompson to replace him. Five months later, Thompson, 66, died. O’Malley gave Al Campanis the title of player personnel director and assigned him the same responsibilities of a general manager.

Jim wasn’t chosen in the expansion draft, but Royals director of player procurement Charlie Metro rated him a prospect and contacted Al to propose a deal.

“I said this was a very difficult situation for me to be involved in,” Al responded.

Al discussed it with O’Malley and they agreed the trade should be made because it would give Jim “an opportunity to go to a club he can play for regularly,” Al told the Los Angeles Times.

Jim was playing winter ball in the Dominican Republic for a team managed by Cardinals second baseman Julian Javier when Al called and told him of the trade. “He was pleased,” Al said. “He has been told he’ll get a shot at being the first-string catcher.”

The transaction was the first one Al made in his new role, according to The Sporting News. “If it means the boy is going to get a chance, this is one time I won’t mind too badly if the Dodgers made a bad deal,” Al said.

Controversial comments

Jim made the 1969 Royals’ Opening Day roster as the backup to catcher Ellie Rodriguez. In the franchise’s first regular-season game, April 8, 1969, versus the Twins at Kansas City, Jim batted for pitcher Tom Burgmeier in the sixth inning and delivered a RBI-single. Boxscore

Jim played for the Royals in 1969 and 1970 and ended his major-league career with the 1973 Pirates. He batted .147 in six big-league seasons.

Al remained the top executive of Dodgers baseball operations until April 1987 when he resigned under pressure for making insensitive racial comments during an interview with Ted Koppel of the ABC News show “Nightline.”

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