Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

In the same year Jackie Robinson integrated the big leagues, Dan Bankhead became the first black pitcher in the majors.

In August 1947, Bankhead debuted for the Dodgers against the Pirates. His second appearance came against the Cardinals.

Unlike Robinson, Bankhead didn’t have a Hall of Fame career. He pitched in three seasons for the Dodgers and had a 9-5 record. Versus the Cardinals, he was 2-0, including his lone shutout.

Talent search

During the 1947 season, while the front-running Dodgers tried to fend off the Cardinals in the National League pennant race, Dodgers executive Branch Rickey launched a nationwide search for pitching help. Two of his scouts, Hall of Famer George Sisler and Wid Matthews, recommended Bankhead, a right-hander with the Memphis Red Sox of the Negro American League.

Bankhead was 20 when he began his pro baseball career in 1940 with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro American League. According to the New York Times, he served three years (1942-45) in the Marine Corps at Camp Lejeune in North Carolina.

After his discharge, Bankhead joined the Memphis Red Sox and his baseball career soared. B.B. Martin, a dentist who owned the Memphis club and had been involved in Negro League baseball for many years, called Bankhead “one of the great pitchers I have ever seen,” the Associated Press reported.

On July 27, 1947, Bankhead was the winning pitcher in the Negro League All-Star Game before 48,112 spectators, including Dodgers scouts, at Comiskey Park in Chicago. About the same time, Rickey began his search to bolster a Dodgers pitching staff led by 21-year-old ace Ralph Branca and closer Hugh Casey.

“I’ve flown all over the country trying to find the best possible solution to a problem that I consider desperate,” Rickey told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle.

Rickey eventually focused his attention on Bankhead. In August, he saw him pitch a five-hitter and strike out 11 in a win against Birmingham. Rickey was as impressed with Bankhead’s poise and confidence as he was with his fastball. For the season, Bankhead was 11-5 with more strikeouts than innings pitched.

Rickey, who told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “In the last three weeks, I’ve looked at more pitchers than any man in North America,” became convinced Bankhead, 27, could help the Dodgers immediately.

Dan or Diz?

On Aug. 24, 1947, the Dodgers purchased Bankhead’s contract from Memphis for $15,000. He became the second black player in the National League, joining Dodgers teammate Jackie Robinson, who integrated baseball four months earlier.

As the first black pitcher in the big leagues, Bankhead’s arrival in Brooklyn received much attention. Rickey upped the ante when he told the Brooklyn Daily Eagle, “If he were a couple of inches taller and if he had better command of that change of pace, his style would strongly suggest that of Dizzy Dean.”

Rickey added, “He wouldn’t be here if we didn’t think he had extraordinary ability, but, at the same time, I regret the necessity of rushing him right into the National League.”

On Aug. 26, two days after he signed with the Dodgers, Bankhead made his debut at Ebbets Field in Brooklyn. About one-third of the crowd of 24,069 were blacks, according to the Associated Press. As the game began, Bankhead walked to the bullpen “to the tune of welcoming applause,” the New York Times reported.

Pitching in relief of starter Hal Gregg, Bankhead gave up eight runs in 3.1 innings. His highlight came in his first plate appearance in the big leagues: a two-run home run into the left field seats against the Pirates’ 39-year-old Fritz Ostermueller. Boxscore

Dodgers manager Burt Shotton suggested Bankhead was tipping his pitches, inadvertently letting the Pirates know what was coming.

“I admit the boy didn’t look good,” Shotton said to the Associated Press, “but he certainly showed me he knows how to pitch. He has speed, a good curve and control. His delivery could be improved. The boys were calling all his pitches before they were made. His motion is too slow with men on bases.”

Noting that at Memphis he made three starts a week and often relieved on other days, Bankhead told the Associated Press, “I’m quite a bit overworked,” but added, “This is no alibi … They (the Pirates) smoked back every pitch faster than I threw it.”

Another test

Bankhead didn’t pitch again until two weeks later, Sept. 12, at St. Louis.

The Cardinals were an especially difficult test. Before facing Jackie Robinson for the first time in May, some of the Cardinals’ players reportedly threatened to boycott the game in protest of having a black player on the field. Three months later, Cardinals baserunner Enos Slaughter spiked Robinson on the foot. Some thought it was intentional.

Naturally, the first Cardinals batter to face a black pitcher was Slaughter.

Entering in relief of Casey with two outs and a runner on third in the seventh, Bankhead got Slaughter to ground out. Boxscore

(It would take seven more years, 1954, before the Cardinals had a black pitcher, Bill Greason, play for them.)

Bankhead pitched in four games, earning one save, for the 1947 Dodgers, who won the pennant. His roommate on the road, Jackie Robinson, won the Rookie of the Year Award.

In the book “We Played the Game,” another black pitcher, Don Newcombe, who was with the Dodgers’ farm team in Nashua, N.H., in 1947, said Bankhead “was a pretty good pitcher who struck out a lot of batters, but I think he was brought in mostly as a companion for Jackie.”

Sign of the times

Bankhead spent the next two years in the minors, achieving 20 wins in each season.

With nothing more to prove in the minors, Bankhead seemed ready for a return to the Dodgers in 1950, but there was a catch. According to the New York Daily News, Branch Rickey Jr., the Dodgers’ farm director and son of Branch Rickey Sr., candidly called it the “saturation point.” The 1950 Dodgers already had three blacks _ Roy Campanella, Don Newcombe and Jackie Robinson _ and the ignorant consensus of the time was that a ballclub wasn’t ready for more.

Branch Rickey Sr. “worked hard” to sell Bankhead’s contract to the White Sox, but was unsuccessful, The Sporting News reported. The Braves wanted Bankhead but the cost was deemed too steep.

“Rickey made it clear his price for Bankhead ran in the six figures,” The Sporting News reported.

Right stuff

Unable to trade Bankhead, the Dodgers opened the season with him and he won his first four decisions.

On June 18 at Brooklyn, Bankhead shut out a Cardinals lineup that included Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst and Enos Slaughter.

“Bankhead smothered each scoring chance as he poured across his fastball and snapped off his curve,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

Bankhead also had three hits and scored a run. Boxscore

The New York Daily News described him as “the tremendous triple threat man who is the pleasant surprise of the season. Dan can pitch, he can hit and he can run.”

Moved to the bullpen, Bankhead was 3-0 with two saves for the Dodgers in September. He finished the 1950 season at 9-4 and was hailed by The Sporting News as “a competitor of high quality. He has the stuff and the brass.”

Border crossings

In 1951, Dan’s brother, Sam Bankhead, became the first black manager “in organized baseball” when he signed to lead the Farnham club of the Class C Provincial League in Canada, United Press reported. As player-manager of the Homestead Grays of the Negro National League, Sam had led them to pennants in 1949 and 1950.

The 1951 season didn’t go so well for Dan Bankhead. He began the year with the Dodgers, went 0-1 in seven games and never again pitched in the majors.

“Dan and I were roommates for a while,” Don Newcombe told author Danny Peary. “He was a good pitcher, but didn’t have that much desire to play in the majors. Dan preferred playing in the wintertime because he had fallen in love with a woman in Mexico.”

Bankhead pitched in the Mexican League until 1966 when he was 42. He also became a manager there.

Read Full Post »

For a player labeled a utility man, Dick Schofield left a prominent mark.

He helped the Pirates, Dodgers and Cardinals win National League pennants. He played 19 seasons in the majors. He was the second of four generations in his family to play pro baseball.

An infielder who reached the majors with the Cardinals at 18, Schofield had three stints with them in three different decades.

All in the family

Dick Schofield’s father, John Schofield, played in the minor leagues for 10 seasons and was nicknamed Ducky. At home in Springfield, Ill., John taught baseball to his son. “We’d go out and he’d hit nine million ground balls to me,” Dick told author Danny Peary for the book “We Played the Game.”

When Dick was 8, his father showed him how to bat from both sides of the plate and Dick, a natural right-hander, remained a switch-hitter in the pros.

John Schofield also took Dick on trips to St. Louis to see the Red Sox play the Browns because Ted Williams was Dick’s favorite player. Dick became a Red Sox fan, he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

During his senior baseball season in high school, Dick Schofield drew the interest of most big-league teams. A shortstop, he hoped to sign with the Red Sox, but the highest offers came from the Cardinals and White Sox.

Big bonus

On June 3, 1953, Schofield signed with the Cardinals, even though, as he told Danny Peary, they were a team “I had always rooted against.”

The $40,000 he received was then the largest bonus paid by the Cardinals. “He’s got a great arm,” Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky told the Post-Dispatch after seeing Schofield work out with the team. “His hands are extremely quick.”

Under the rules then, an amateur player signing for more than $6,000 was required to spend his first two seasons with the big-league team.

Schofield, 18 and looking younger, joined the Cardinals in New York. “I was scared to death,” he recalled to Peary. “The team was playing Brooklyn and I checked into the Commodore Hotel in Manhattan. Then I rode to the ballpark with Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. They asked me to come along. Imagine that!”

Schofield was assigned to room on the road with the Cardinals’ backup catcher, Ferrell Anderson, 35. “He was like my dad and took good care of me,” Schofield told Peary. “He made it easier for me.”

Learning curve

Schofield was called Ducky by Cardinals players after they were introduced to his father and learned it had been his nickname.

He didn’t get into a game during his first month with the Cardinals, and spent his days being mentored by Stanky and shortstop Solly Hemus.

Stanky “knew baseball better than anybody I ever met,” Schofield told Peary. “Stanky and Hemus helped me learn to play shortstop in the majors, especially turning the double play.”

On June 25, in a game at St. Louis, Stanky complained that Giants pitcher Jim Hearn wasn’t coming to a stop in his delivery. After losing his argument with umpire Augie Donatelli, Stanky threw a towel from the dugout and got a warning from the ump, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Not wanting to back down, but not wanting to get ejected, Stanky turned to Schofield. Knowing the rookie wouldn’t get into the game, Stanky told him to toss a towel, according to the Society for American Baseball Research. Schofield obeyed, and Donatelli ejected him from a game before he’d ever played in one. Boxscore

Hello and goodbye

When Schofield made his big-league debut, on July 3, 1953, against the Cubs at Chicago, it was as a pinch-runner. Boxscore

His first hit came two weeks later, a single versus Johnny Podres at Brooklyn. Boxscore 

Used primarily as a pinch-runner, Schofield hit .179 for the Cardinals in 1953 and .143 in 1954.

With the two mandatory seasons on the big-league club completed, Schofield spent most of the 1955 and 1956 seasons playing for manager Johnny Keane at minor-league Omaha.

(Schofield married his wife Donna in Omaha in 1956. Tyrone Power and Kim Novak, in town to promote their movie, “The Eddy Duchin Story,” sent them a cake, the Post-Dispatch reported, and that’s why the Schofields’ first child, a daughter, was named Kim.)

A backup to Cardinals shortstop Al Dark in 1957, Schofield was a reserve again in 1958 when he was traded to the Pirates in June for infielders Gene Freese and Johnny O’Brien.

“I was totally surprised,” Schofield said to Peary. “I thought the world had come to an end. Nobody wanted to play on the Pirates then. They were a last-place team and Forbes Field was a tough park.”

(According to Schofield, Freese’s reaction to the deal was: “They traded two hamburgers for a hot dog.”)

Key contribution

Schofield, strictly a shortstop with the Cardinals, also was used at second and third by Pirates manager Danny Murtaugh. With Bill Mazeroski at second and Dick Groat at short, Schofield got few starts, but grew to like the Pirates.

On Sept. 6, 1960, with the Pirates contending for a National League pennant, Groat suffered a broken left wrist when hit by a pitch from the Braves’ Lew Burdette. Schofield, hitless since May, was Murtaugh’s choice to replace Groat.

Steady on defense, Schofield surprised with the bat. He hit .375 in September and his on-base percentage for the month was .459.

“He was as fine a utility infielder that ever played this game,” Groat said to Peary. “He could give you two or three weeks of great play at any one of those positions.”

The Pirates won the pennant, but Groat was reinserted at shortstop for the World Series against the Yankees. In Game 2, a Yankees rout, Schofield entered in the sixth and got a single and a walk versus Bob Turley. Boxscore

Helping hand

Groat was traded to the Cardinals after the 1962 season and Schofield, at last, became a starting shortstop. He was the Pirates’ starter in 1963 and 1964. When rookie Gene Alley was deemed ready to take over in 1965, Schofield was dealt to the Giants in May and started for them that season.

Another rookie, Tito Fuentes, became the Giants shortstop in 1966 and Schofield was shipped to the Yankees in May.

On Sept. 10, 1966, the Dodgers acquired Schofield to help them in their pennant drive. He took over for Jim Gilliam and John Kennedy at third base, and stabilized the position, helping the Dodgers win the pennant.

According to The Pittsburgh Press, Dodgers pitcher Don Drysdale said, “He’s been making the big play for us ever since we got him. If it isn’t his glove, it’s his bat. If it isn’t his bat, it’s his base running.”

Because Schofield joined the Dodgers after Sept. 1, he wasn’t eligible to play in the World Series. He watched on TV as the Dodgers got swept by the Orioles.

“The Dodgers couldn’t have won the league flag without him, and they collapsed in the World Series because he wasn’t eligible,” Los Angeles Times columnist Sid Ziff wrote.

Long, winding road

Released by the Dodgers after the 1967 season, Schofield, 33, was signed by the reigning World Series champion Cardinals to be a backup to Dal Maxvill at shortstop and Julian Javier at second base.

Fifteen years after he accompanied Schofield on his ride to the ballpark on the rookie’s first day in the big leagues, Red Schoendienst, manager of the 1968 Cardinals, told the Post-Dispatch, “Schofield is the finest all-round utility infielder we’ve got on the club.”

Schofield made 17 starts at second base and 13 starts at shortstop for the 1968 Cardinals, who repeated as National League champions. On May 4, he contributed four hits and three RBI against the Giants. Boxscore

Schofield got into two games of the 1968 World Series against the Tigers but didn’t have a plate appearance.

Two months later, the Cardinals traded Schofield to the team he rooted for as a boy, the Red Sox. Schofield spent two seasons with the Red Sox and was dealt back to the Cardinals in October 1970.

In July 1971, the Cardinals traded Schofield, 36, for the third and last time, packaging him with Jose Cardenal and Bob Reynolds to the Brewers for Ted Kubiak and a prospect.

A son, also Dick Schofield, played 14 seasons as an infielder in the majors, and a grandson, Jayson Werth (Kim’s son), was a big-league outfielder for 15 seasons.

Read Full Post »

Being a Little League phenom is no guarantee of success at the professional level. The Cardinals made that costly discovery with Art Deras.

An exceptional Little League, Pony League and high school player, Deras was signed by the Cardinals, who outbid multiple teams with the intention of grooming him to replace Ken Boyer at third base.

A right-hander who threw hard and hit with power, Deras played five seasons in the Cardinals’ system, but never reached the majors.

Super powers

When Deras grew up in Hamtramck, Mich., near Detroit in the 1940s and 1950s, the town was a Polish-American enclave. His Polish grandmother nicknamed him Pinky. “I never did learn how she picked the name Pinky, but it stuck,” Deras said to the National Polish-American Sports Hall of Fame.

In 1959, when he turned 13, Deras led Hamtramck into the Little League World Series in Williamsport, Pa.

Against San Juan, Puerto Rico, in Game 1, Deras pitched a one-hitter and struck out 17 in a 5-0 victory. In Game 2, Deras played shortstop and hit a grand slam in Hamtramck’s 8-1 triumph versus Kailua, Hawaii.

For the Game 3 championship final, Deras pitched a three-hitter, struck out 14 and hit a three-run home run in Hamtramck’s 12-0 rout of Auburn, Calif. Among those in attendance were Baseball Hall of Famers Frank “Home Run” Baker and Frankie Frisch.

In the two six-inning games Deras pitched in the Little League World Series, 31 of the 36 outs he recorded were strikeouts. He allowed four total hits and no runs.

The Sporting News described him as “this super boy from Hamtramck.”

For the season, Deras pitched 10 no-hitters, including five in a row, struck out 296 in 108 innings, and had 18 wins, including 16 shutouts, The Sporting News reported. Video

Soon after the Little League World Series, Chrysler Corporation arranged for the team to be flown to California for an appearance on The Lawrence Welk Show. Michigan-based Chrysler was a sponsor of the television program.

“They introduced us, and at the end of the show I danced with the champagne lady,” Deras recalled to the Detroit Free Press. “Can you imagine that? Twelve years old and dancing with the champagne lady. Where do you go from there?”

The beat goes on

Deras advanced to Pony League and in 1961 he led Hamtramck to a national title. One of his teammates was Tom Paciorek, who went on to hit .282 during 18 seasons (1970-87) in the majors.

In an interview with the Free Press, Paciorek described Deras as “very, very talented. A tremendously gifted athlete. At his age level, from 12 to 14, I doubt if there is any question that he was the finest athlete in the country.”

Deras continued having success in high school sports. In addition to his pitching and hitting in baseball, he was a standout running back in football. In April 1964, he signed a letter of intent to play football at Michigan State.

Big-league baseball scouts had other plans for him.

Highest bidder

“Claimed by many to be the greatest natural hitter ever to come off the Detroit sandlots,” Deras received interest from at least 10 big-league teams, the Free Press reported.

Cardinals scout Mo Mozzali recommended the club go all-out to sign Deras. Knowing it would take a substantial offer to outbid others, the Cardinals sent their 82-year-old consultant, major-league legend Branch Rickey, to Hamtramck to see the 17-year-old amateur legend and determine whether he was worth the cash.

Rickey arrived at the Hamtramck high school ballfield in a black limousine and was escorted to a roped-off area behind home plate, according to the Free Press. Rickey was impressed with what he saw, and endorsed the Cardinals’ effort to pursue Deras.

On June 1, 1964, the Cardinals came to Detroit to play the Tigers in an exhibition game to benefit amateur baseball. Wearing a Cardinals uniform, Deras worked out with the team before the game at Tiger Stadium, the Free Press reported.

Two weeks later, on June 10, Deras graduated from high school. Attending the family graduation party that night at the home of Deras’ parents were the Cardinals’ scout, Mo Mozzali, and scouts for the Red Sox and Yankees. The hometown Tigers dropped out of the chase when Deras asked for $50,000.

According to the Free Press, Deras’ father was a security guard at General Motors. Deras’ mother worked in an auto supply factory. Deras saw a big-league signing bonus as a chance to help his parents, and decided to go with the team that made the highest offer.

On June 15, 1964, the same day the Cardinals traded for Lou Brock, Deras signed with them for $80,000, $20,000 more than the other finalist, the Red Sox, offered, the Free Press and St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Attending the signing ceremony were Mozzali and Cardinals director of scouting George Silvey. Deras “has the talent to reach the majors in two years,” Mozzali told the Post-Dispatch.

Cavorting with champions

Though he primarily was a pitcher in high school, the Cardinals wanted Deras to play every day because of his bat. He hit .478 his senior season.

“The Cardinals have high hopes for him at third base” as the eventual replacement for all-star Ken Boyer, the Free Press reported.

The Sporting News designated Deras and Ed Spiezio as “the best bets as eventual successor to Ken Boyer.”

Assigned to Class A Rock Hill, Deras hit .208 in 51 games in 1964. He did better at the fall Florida Instructional League, attacking pitches the way the Cardinals hoped he would, and was invited to join the big-league club at spring training in February 1965.

Placed on the 40-man winter roster, Deras, 18, joined the reigning World Series champions at their St. Petersburg, Fla., training camp. He posed for pictures with club executive Stan Musial, took batting practice from Bob Gibson, and played cards with Mike Cuellar. “He used to cheat,” Deras told the Free Press. “Whenever you’d call him on it, he’d pretend he didn’t speak English.”

Deras returned to Class A in 1965 and hit .260 with 18 stolen bases, but the Cardinals decided to move him to the outfield. “We would have preferred to keep him at third base,” farm director Sheldon Bender told The Sporting News, “but the throwing from there to first base was bothering him.”

Peaked too soon

After two seasons at Class AA Arkansas, Deras was demoted to Class A Modesto in 1968. While Deras, 21, was on the way down, his Modesto teammate, Ted Simmons, 18, another Michigan high school standout who was signed by Mo Mozzali, was on the way up.

Deras hit .269 for Modesto, then walked away from the Cardinals. “I didn’t tell them I was retiring, and they didn’t ask why,” Deras told the Free Press. “I guess they knew.”

In five seasons in the Cardinals system, Deras hit .243 with 32 home runs.

Deras had invested part of his signing bonus in a Hamtramck sporting good store, but the business collapsed, according to the Free Press. In 1974, he joined the Warren, Mich., police force. He retired as a detective in 2001.

Looking back at Deras’ time in the Cardinals’ organization, the Free Press concluded, “It was never a question of ability. It was a question of desire _ and it was gone.”

Deras said, “By the time I was 21, I had already had a full career _ playing every day, two amateur championships, a room full of trophies. I should have been reaching my prime, and I was exhausted. Looking back on it, I guess it was just a problem of getting too much too soon.”

Read Full Post »

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

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

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

Bargain player

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wakeup call

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

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

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

Pleasant surprise

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

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

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

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

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

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

Winding down

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

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

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

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

After that, Schoendienst used Cumberland as a reliever.

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

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

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

Helping hand

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Read Full Post »

A trade for a minor-league pitcher gave the Cardinals a lift in their quest for a World Series championship.

On April 1, 1982, the Cardinals acquired Jeff Lahti and another minor-league pitcher, Oscar Brito, from the Reds for big-league pitcher Bob Shirley.

Called up to the Cardinals two months later, Lahti added valuable depth to a bullpen featuring Bruce Sutter, Jim Kaat and another ex-Red, Doug Bair.

Promising prospect

Born and raised in Oregon, Lahti was taken by the Reds in the fifth round of the 1978 amateur baseball draft. A right-hander, he became a reliable reliever in the minors, posting ERAs of 2.67 in 1979, 2.77 in 1980 and 2.97 in 1981.

“Lahti has very good ability, and he has that intangible _ competitiveness,” Reds manager John McNamara told the Dayton Journal Herald in 1981.

After watching Lahti pitch for Class AAA Indianapolis in 1981, Cardinals scout Mo Mozzali recommended him.

A chance to acquire Lahti came during spring training in 1982 when left-hander Dave LaPoint earned a position on the Cardinals’ pitching staff as a spot starter and reliever.

LaPoint’s performance made left-hander Bob Shirley expendable. For the Cardinals in 1981, Shirley was 6-4, including 2-0 against the Reds. Including his four seasons with the Padres before being dealt to the Cardinals, Shirley had a 12-7 record and two saves versus the Reds.

When the Reds learned Shirley was available, they agreed to send Lahti and Brito, another right-hander, to the Cardinals.

“This was a big decision for us to make to give up two young prospects like this,” Reds general manager Dick Wagner told the Cincinnati Enquirer. “Brito is one of the highest-regarded prospects in the game, period. They were very important to us. It was a tough decision.”

Fired up

The Cardinals assigned Lahti and Brito to Class AAA Louisville to begin the 1982 season. In June, Lahti was called up when reliever Mark Littell accepted a demotion to Louisville.

Lahti, 25, brought a rookie’s enthusiasm that was embraced by the contending Cardinals. Between pitches, he “stomps around the mound like a bull protecting a pasture,” Hal McCoy wrote in the Dayton Daily News.

“I try to keep myself pumped up, but I’m not conscious of my actions,” Lahti told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Maybe it’s my second being. They say there are two sides to everybody. Maybe that’s my second side. On the mound, I’m a monster.”

On July 16, 1982, in a game Shirley started for the Reds, Lahti won for the first time in the majors, pitching 3.1 innings in relief of Steve Mura before Bruce Sutter came in to close.

In the ninth, when Sutter got Paul Householder to ground into a double play, Lahti raced from the dugout onto the field. “He was halfway to the foul line before realizing there were only two outs,” the Dayton Daily News reported.

Lahti called his first big-league win “the thrill of my life.”

“I never thought my first victory would be against the Reds,” he said. “I always thought it would be for them.” Boxscore

Getting it done

On Aug. 9, 1982, Lahti pitched six scoreless innings in relief of Dave LaPoint for a win against the Mets. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog told the Post-Dispatch, “I like him because he comes in and gets after people. He’s a good jam pitcher.” Boxscore

From then on, according to the Cardinals media guide, Herzog referred to Lahti as “Jam Man” for his ability to work out of tight situations.

A month later, on Sept. 18, Lahti again pitched six innings of relief for a win versus the Mets. Boxscore

In his last five regular-season appearances, totaling 4.1 innings, Lahti yielded one run, helping the Cardinals secure a division title for the first time.

Lahti was 5-4 with a 3.91 ERA in 33 games for the 1982 Cardinals. Excluding his one start, his season ERA as a reliever was 3.04.

Key contributor

Bob Shirley finished 8-13 in 1982, his lone season with the Reds. He went on to pitch for the Yankees and Royals.

Oscar Brito never made it to the big leagues.

Despite persistent shoulder pain, Lahti pitched well for the Cardinals from 1982 through 1985. He led them in saves (19) and ERA (1.84) in 1985, and was the winning pitcher in the pivotal Game 5 of the National League Championship Series which ended on Ozzie Smith’s iconic walkoff home run. Boxscore

After apearing in four games in 1986, Lahti underwent shoulder surgery. “The surgeon found a torn rotator cuff, with which Lahti had pitched for several years, and also bone chips that no one had detected before,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The shoulder never regained full strength and Lahti’s pitching career was finished.

His career numbers with the Cardinals: 17-11 record, 20 saves and a 3.12 ERA. Against the Reds, Lahti was 4-1 with a save and a 1.66 ERA.

According to the Post-Dispatch, Lahti returned to Hood River Valley in Oregon, operated a bottling company, owned an apple orchard and coached baseball.

Read Full Post »

When it came time to select a team to sign with, the Cardinals were the first choice of teen pitching prospect Ralph Terry. Instead of beginning his baseball career with them, though, Terry ended up with the Yankees.

Terry’s heart may have been with the Cardinals, but he went on to pitch in five World Series with the Yankees and was involved in two of the most dramatic Game 7 finishes.

He also pitched against the Cardinals in the 1964 World Series and narrowly missed having a pivotal role in the crucial Game 4.

A right-hander who pitched 12 seasons in the majors, Terry achieved a 107-99 record, including 78-59 with the Yankees.

Deadly arm

Terry was born in Big Cabin, Okla., and raised in the nearby town of Chelsea in the northeastern section of the state.

According to the New York Times, “As the story goes, Terry first tested his pitching arm on his grandmother’s farm. He started throwing corncobs, then switched to rocks. One day, he killed grandma’s pet rooster with a rock. The next day, she gave him a baseball. After that, he terrorized only schoolboy batters.”

Terry excelled in sports for the Chelsea High School Green Dragons and in amateur baseball leagues.

In November 1953, when he was 17, Terry said he decided to accept an offer from Cardinals scout Fred Hawn, The Sporting News reported. The Yankees continued their pursuit, prompting a series of arguments between Hawn and Yankees scout Tom Greenwade. according to the New York Times.

On Nov. 19, 1953, Greenwade persuaded Terry to choose the Yankees. Greenwade prepared a telegram of acceptance to send to Yankees general manager George Weiss in New York. Terry signed it, but because he was younger than 18, the agreement needed the signature of a parent to be official.

According to J. Roy Stockton of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Terry said Greenwade had him sign his mother’s name to the telegram.

Weiss said he received the telegram, saw the signatures of Terry and his mother, and immediately sent back a confirmation of the acceptance, the New York Daily News reported.

“Confirmation by telegraph is an accepted way of doing business,” Weiss told United Press.

Dazed and confused

That night, Terry said, he changed his mind about joining the Yankees. He met with Hawn and Cardinals minor-league manager Ferrell Anderson in Joplin, Mo., and signed a Cardinals contract. Accompanied by Hawn, Terry went home to Chelsea, where his mother also signed the agreement, The Sporting News reported.

According to United Press, Terry’s mother denied she or her son had come to terms with the Yankees.

Terry told the wire service, “I definitely want to play with the Cardinals. I was confused for a time. There was a lot of fast talk on both sides, but I feel I’d be better off with the Cardinals.”

With both the Yankees and Cardinals claiming Terry, baseball commissioner Ford Frick was asked to settle the dispute.

“We’ll welcome any investigation,” Cardinals vice-president Bill Walsingham told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. “We signed him first.”

To the Post-Dispatch, Walsingham said, “We are sure we are not only within our rights signing Terry, but also that the actions of our scout (Hawn) were entirely honest and above board.”

After meeting with Yankees and Cardinals officials, Frick ruled in favor of the Yankees, saying Terry accepted their terms before signing with the Cardinals.

Referring to Terry apparently forging his mother’s signature on the Yankees telegram at the suggestion of Greenwade, the Post-Dispatch dryly noted Frick’s ruling “surprised some observers,” but Cardinals vice-president John Wilson said, “Although we’re sorry and disappointed to lose Terry, there’s nothing to be done about it.”

Hype and hope

Noting that Greenwade was the scout who signed another prized prospect from Oklahoma, Mickey Mantle, the New York Daily News headline announcing Terry’s arrival with the Yankees declared, “Second Mickey?”

Terry, who turned 18 in January 1954, came to Yankees spring training camp a month later and dazzled manager Casey Stengel.

“I think he’s the greatest pitching prospect I’ve laid eyes on since I’ve been in baseball,” Stengel, 63, said to Dan Parker of the New York Daily Mirror.

Terry, 20, got to the majors with the Yankees in August 1956. They traded him to the Athletics in June 1957 and reacquired him in May 1959.

Goat and hero

In Game 7 of the 1960 World Series at Forbes Field in Pittsburgh, the score was tied at 9-9 when Bill Mazeroski led off for the Pirates in the bottom of the ninth against Terry, working in relief.

After the first pitch, catcher Johnny Blanchard went to the mound and said, “This guy is a high-ball hitter. Get the ball down,” Terry said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Mazeroski walloped the next pitch, a slider, for a home run, clinching the championship.

“I knew it was high when I let it go,” Terry told the Post-Gazette. “I thought it might be hit off the wall for a double.” Boxscore and Video

Two years later, Terry again was pitching for the Yankees in the bottom of the ninth in Game 7 of the World Series. With the Yankees ahead, 1-0, at Candlestick Park in San Francisco, Terry, a 23-game winner during the season, faced Willie McCovey with two outs and runners on second and third.

“The first pitch was down the middle and it surprised me and I pulled it foul,” McCovey told the New York Times. “I figured it was a mistake, but the second was another strike.”

McCovey scorched a line drive at second baseman Bobby Richardson. If the ball rose, Richardson said, he would have been in trouble, but instead it started to sink and it landed with a thud into his mitt for the final out. Boxscore and Video.

Terry, who started and won Games 5 and 7 after losing Game 2, was named most valuable player of the 1962 World Series.

“I am a very lucky fellow,” Terry told the New York Times. “You don’t often get another chance to prove yourself in baseball or in life.”

Different story

The Cardinals were desperate for a win in Game 4 of the 1964 World Series at Yankee Stadium. The Yankees won two of the first three games, and a win in Game 4 would put them in a commanding position.

With the Yankees ahead, 3-0, in the sixth inning, the Cardinals had runners on first and second, one out, against starter Al Downing. Dick Groat hit a grounder that had the look of an inning-ending double play. Bobby Richardson gloved the ball, but his toss to shortstop Phil Linz, who was moving toward the bag at second, was late and off target. All runners were safe, loading the bases, and Richardson was charged with an error.

“If Groat gets a clean hit, then I’d have to pull Al Downing and go with Ralph Terry,” Yankees manager Yogi Berra told the Post-Dispatch.

Because Downing had induced a grounder that should have produced an out, Berra felt compelled to let Downing, a left-hander, pitch to Cardinals cleanup hitter Ken Boyer, who batted right-handed.

“Terry still was in the bullpen when Downing threw a waist-high changeup to Boyer,” the Post-Dispatch noted.

Boyer hit it over the fence in left for a grand slam and the Cardinals went on to a 4-3 victory, evening the Series. Boxscore and Video.

If Berra had brought in Terry to face Boyer, it’s impossible to say whether the result would have been different, but Terry did pitch two scoreless innings in the eighth (when he got Boyer to ground into a double play) and ninth.

National Leaguer

That was the last game Terry pitched for the Yankees. He went to the Indians and Athletics before finishing his career with the Mets.

Terry’s first appearance in the National League was a start against the Pirates at Forbes Field on Aug. 11, 1966. Facing Terry for the first time since the World Series home run, Mazeroski flied out in the first, singled in the third and popped out in the fifth. Boxscore

According to Dick Young of the New York Daily News, a month later, when Terry saw his 1960 Yankees manager, Casey Stengel, now retired, in Los Angeles, he said, “Hey, Casey, I got Mazeroski out. I pitched him low.”

Stengel replied, “It’s about time.”

During his stint with the Mets, Terry faced the Cardinals once and it didn’t go well for him.

On Aug. 14, 1966, the Mets led the Cardinals, 3-1, in the bottom of the ninth at St. Louis. With two outs and none on, reliever Jack Hamilton walked Curt Flood and yielded a single to Tim McCarver.

Orlando Cepeda hit a pop foul near the Cardinals’ dugout. The ball tipped off the mitt of Mets catcher Jerry Grote. Instead of a game-ending out, Cepeda got to continue the plate appearance and walked, loading the bases.

Mets manager Wes Westrum brought in Terry to face Mike Shannon. With the count 2-and-2, Terry threw a pitch low and away. Shannon reached out and stroked a two-run single, tying the score at 3-3.

“The ball I hit was a hell of a pitch,” Shannon said. “I don’t know whether the pitch would have been a strike or not, but I couldn’t take the chance.”

The next batter, Charlie Smith, hit Terry’s first pitch for a single, driving in pinch-runner Bob Gibson with the winning run. Boxscore

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »