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In his first spring training as a big-league player, Stan Musial felt the pressure of high expectations, went into a slump and nearly lost a starting spot in the Cardinals outfield.

stan_musial32Seventy-five years ago, in 1942, Musial, 21, reported to spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., as the favorite to join veterans Terry Moore and Enos Slaughter as outfield starters.

A year earlier, Musial had faced an uncertain baseball future when he converted from pitcher to outfielder at the Cardinals’ minor-league spring training camp. The transformation was a spectacular success, with Musial rapidly rising through the Cardinals system and reaching the big leagues in September 1941.

Based on his strong but brief trial _ .426 batting average (20-for-47) in 12 games with the 1941 Cardinals _ Musial was firmly in the club’s plans entering spring training in 1942.

The Natural

The 1942 Cardinals were seeking to fill a gap at first base created by the departure of slugger Johnny Mize, who was traded to the Giants in December 1941.

The Cardinals entered 1942 spring training expecting Johnny Hopp and rookie Ray Sanders to compete for the first base job. Hopp had platooned in left field with Don Padgett and Coaker Triplett in 1941. With Hopp shifting to first base, the Cardinals pegged Musial to take over in left field.

“We lost a little strength in Mize, to be sure, but Johnny Hopp, Stan Musial and others will help to make it up,” Cardinals executive Branch Rickey told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in its Feb. 22, 1942, edition.

Musial reported to Cardinals camp on Feb. 27. The next day, the St. Louis Star-Times reported, “You can take it from Billy Southworth, who manages the St. Louis Cardinals and has been in organized baseball for 30 years, that Stan Musial … is the best-looking young left-handed batter to come up to the major leagues since Paul Waner jumped from San Francisco to Pittsburgh in 1926.”

Southworth told Sid Keener of the Star-Times that Musial “is destined to become the rookie of the year” in the National League in 1942.

“He does everything well and looks like he’s been doing it for years the way he runs the bases,” Southworth said. “What is even more amazing is the fact that only a year ago he was a pitcher, just out of the Class D ranks. He hits straightaway like a seasoned veteran.”

In the groove

Musial did well at the start of the Grapefruit League exhibition season. In the opener, on March 6 against the Yankees, Musial hit an inside-the-park home run off Hank Borowy and also produced a RBI-double and a single. Four days later, Musial had two singles and a RBI against the Reds.

Analyzing Musial’s batting stroke, J. Roy Stockton of the Post-Dispatch observed:

“He has an impressive style at bat. He keeps that left arm stiff and swings in a flat arc, which undoubtedly accounts for the fact that he hits so many line drives. Occasionally, he will get under the ball, driving it over the right-field barrier … Musial seems to take a short swing, but his timing is so excellent and his coordination so good that he gets unexpected distance with his drives. His swing reminds you of the drives of a golfer whose game is well-grooved.”

Said Southworth: “Much depends this year on Stan Musial. I’d say he already was one of our key men.”

Facing a challenge

Musial, however, went into a skid the last three weeks of March and his batting average dropped to .194.

In his 1964 book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said he had trouble adjusting to the poor hitting background at Florida ballparks.

While Musial struggled, another rookie left fielder, Harry Walker, 23, hit consistently well for the Cardinals that spring. Unlike Musial, Walker didn’t have the burden of high expectations and the pressure that came with it.

Entering April, the Cardinals conceded Walker was a contender for the starting left field job. “Walker seems to have found himself,” Southworth said. “He has quit pressing and is just about a 100 percent better ballplayer than he was last spring.”

In his book, Musial said, “If I hadn’t come up to the Cardinals in the fall of 1941 and hit so hard, I’m convinced I would have been sent down in the spring of 1942 because I hit so softly … I was a lemon in the Grapefruit League.”

Blessing from boss

On April 3, near the end of the Cardinals’ time in Florida, Musial broke out of his slump with an inside-the-park home run and a single against the Tigers.

Soon after, when the Cardinals left Florida to return to St. Louis for a set of exhibition games against the Browns before opening the regular season at home, Southworth approached Musial and said, “Don’t worry, Stan. You’re my left fielder. You can do it.”

Said Musial: “Billy had a way with young players. His confidence when I was hitting under .200 helped.”

Musial was the 1942 Cardinals’ Opening Day left fielder. He went on to have a strong first full season in the big leagues, batting .315 with 147 hits in 140 games. Musial produced 32 doubles, 10 triples, 10 home runs and had a on-base percentage of .397.

Musial was a key contributor to a Cardinals club that clinched the NL pennant with a 106-48 record and went on to win four of five against the Yankees in the World Series.

Previously: Why Cardinals traded Johnny Mize to Giants

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In his bid to join the Cardinals, Red Schoendienst had no trouble with the baseball skills part of the challenge. It was the hassle of everyday life that proved to be his biggest obstacle to becoming a professional player.

red_schoendienst12Seventy-five years ago, in 1942, Schoendienst impressed the Cardinals at a tryout camp and earned a contract, launching him on a career that would lead to election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame and special status as a beloved franchise icon.

Displaying the tenacity that enabled him to spend eight decades in the big leagues as a player, manager, coach and advisor, Schoendienst overcame a series of roadblocks _ from serious to annoying _ to give himself a chance to receive an offer from the Cardinals.

Damaging accident

Schoendienst was born and raised in Germantown, Ill., about 40 miles from St. Louis. In 1939, at 16, Schoendienst quit high school and got a job in the Civilian Conservation Corps. He played amateur baseball after work and on weekends.

While on the job, Schoendienst and a friend, Joe Linneman, were building fences.

In the 1998 book “Red: A Baseball Life,” Linneman recalled: “We would stretch the wire as tight as we could get it and then use a hammer to drive a staple into a dry hedge post, which was almost as hard as a piece of steel.”

As Linneman slammed the hammer into a post, a staple caromed off the hardwood and into Schoendienst’s left eye.

“It was,” said Schoendienst, “the most intense pain I’ve ever felt in my life.”

Doctors wanted to remove the eye, but Schoendienst objected. Under treatment, Schoendienst’s sight gradually improved.

Three years later, he felt confident enough in his vision to pursue a career with the Cardinals.

Big city

In 1942, Schoendienst and Linneman noticed a newspaper item about a Cardinals tryout camp to be held at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis. Anyone attending the camp would be admitted for free to a Cardinals game against the Dodgers that week.

Neither Schoendienst nor Linneman had been to a big-league game, so they decided to take part in the camp. “I don’t think either one of us went to that tryout camp thinking we had it made,” Schoendienst said in his book.

Lacking a car or the money for bus fare, Schoendienst, 19, and Linneman hitched a ride on a dairy truck and were dropped off about a mile and a half from the ballpark. They walked the rest of the way.

Schoendienst and Linneman were among the players who performed well enough at the daylong camp to get an invitation to return for more workouts the next day.

Linneman planned to spend the night at the home of an aunt in suburban St. Louis. He invited his friend to come along, but Schoendienst didn’t want to impose.

Possessing 25 cents, Schoendienst went to a diner and spent 10 cents on a hot dog. A sympathetic waitress brought the freckle-faced teenager a glass of milk on the house.

Afterward, Schoendienst went to the train terminal at Union Station and planned to spend the night on a bench. When he was ushered out by security, he found a bench in a nearby park.

Then it rained.

With his remaining 15 cents, a tired, soaked Schoendienst rented a room at a flophouse. He awoke the next morning covered in insect bites.

“When I got to the ballpark, they gave me some lotion to put on the bites, but I think that was part of the reason I moved so fast that day,” Schoendienst said. “I made up my mind I was going to swallow my pride and stay with Joe’s aunt the next night _ and I did.”

Impressive prospects

Schoendienst’s tryout lasted a week. Near the end, Cardinals executive Branch Rickey drove Schoendienst and two other standouts from the camp _ Yogi Berra and Joe Garagiola _ to Forest Park for a workout because there wasn’t enough room at the ballpark.

“He was a terrible driver,” Schoendienst said of Rickey. “That car ride was scary. He was talking and driving like there was nobody else on the road.”

During the workout, Schoendienst, Berra and Garagiola took turns hitting against one another. (Garagiola would sign with the Cardinals but Berra went with the Yankees.)

When the training camp ended, Schoendienst hitchhiked back to Germantown. Soon after, Cardinals scout Joe Mathes asked Schoendienst to return to St. Louis _ again he hitched a ride on a dairy truck _ and signed him to a contract for $75 per month.

Rise through ranks

The Cardinals assigned Schoendienst to their Union City, Tenn., team in the Class D Kitty League. After Schoendienst played six games at shortstop for Union City, batting .407 (11-for-27), the Kitty League folded and he was sent to Albany, Ga., of the Class D Georgia-Florida League. His teammate there was his friend, Linneman, who had been signed by the Cardinals as a pitcher.

With his weak left eye causing him problems against right-handed pitchers, Schoendienst became a switch hitter. He batted .269 in 68 games for Albany in 1942, but also committed 27 errors at shortstop.

From there, Schoendienst made a meteoric rise through the organization.

In 1943, a year after his tryout with the Cardinals, Schoendienst, a shortstop for manager Pepper Martin’s Class AA Rochester, N.Y., team, was named Most Valuable Player of the International League. Though he committed 48 errors at shortstop, Schoendienst batted .337 with 187 hits and 20 stolen bases in 136 games.

Schoendienst “showed poise and an instinct for doing the right thing,” The Sporting News reported, and added he “gets a good jump on a ball, owns a good pair of hands and strong arm.”

In October 1943, Cardinals owner Sam Breadon told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that Schoendienst “is a great prospect, but needs experience.”

Two years later, in 1945, Schoendienst, 22, debuted with the Cardinals and primarily played left field. He shifted to second base in 1946 and was named an all-star that season.

Previously: How Bill Bergesch got Bob Gibson to Cardinals

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The relationship formed by Ozzie Canseco and the Cardinals was based on mutual need rather than mutual affection. Neither expected it to last long.

ozzie_cansecoCanseco, after flopping during a stint in Japan, was looking to revive his career in the United States in order to make himself appealing in the National League expansion draft.

The Cardinals were seeking a slugger to generate fan interest at their top farm club in Louisville.

Twenty-five years ago, in January 1992, the Cardinals signed Canseco, a free agent, to a minor-league contract. It was the start of a relationship that would take several twists and turns.

Changing roles

Ozzie and his twin brother Jose were born in Cuba on July 2, 1964. Jose became a standout on three pennant-winning Athletics teams managed by Tony La Russa. Ozzie entered the Yankees organization in 1983 as a pitcher.

“He had a good breaking ball and he could throw hard,” Bucky Dent, Ozzie’s manager with the Class A Fort Lauderdale Yankees, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “We liked him a lot as a pitcher, but he was always wanting to switch over (to outfield).”

Said Ozzie: “I asked them every year, ‘Please let me make the transition from pitching to hitting.’ ”

In 1986, Ozzie got his wish. Released by the Yankees, he signed with the Athletics and became an outfielder. In 1990, Ozzie made his major-league debut with the Athletics as a teammate of Jose. Appearing in nine games, Ozzie batted .105.

Oh, brother

Jose was one of baseball’s top players. In 1988, when he won the American League Most Valuable Player Award, Jose became the first big-league player to have 40 home runs and 40 steals in a season.

“Jose cast a tremendous shadow over me because of who he is, because we’re identical twins,” Ozzie told Scripps Howard News Service. “… When I was trying to make the transition from pitcher to hitter, people expected me to hit like Jose did and I had a problem with that.”

Released by the Athletics after the 1990 season, Ozzie signed with the Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japanese Pacific League.

“I basically went over there to learn how to hit the breaking ball,” Ozzie told the Post-Dispatch. “The forkball, the slider _ that’s all you see over there if you’re a power hitter.”

However, Ozzie never made it to the majors in Japan. Instead, the Buffaloes assigned him to their minor-league club at Osaka. Ozzie left after 38 games and returned home to Miami.

Louisville lumber

When the NL announced plans to expand in 1993 to Miami and Denver, Ozzie saw opportunity. If he could have a strong season in 1992, he believed the Marlins, with a large fan base of Cuban-Americans, would select him in the expansion draft. First, though, he needed to find a team to play for in 1992.

Ted Simmons, Cardinals player development director, was seeking veterans to stock the Louisville roster. He offered Ozzie a contract.

“This is purely a ‘Come to spring training and show me what you got’ type of deal,” Simmons said.

Ozzie showed enough to make Louisville’s Opening Day roster. He started belting home runs, many prodigious.

In July 1992, the Post-Dispatch reported Ozzie “is drawing fans and drawing respect as one of the most feared power hitters in the American Association.”

Cardinals management took notice. Though Ozzie struck out 96 times in 98 games with Louisville, he slugged 22 home runs. When big-league rosters expanded on Sept. 1, Ozzie, 28, was one of the players the Cardinals promoted.

Ozzie got into nine games with the 1992 Cardinals. He hit .276 with no home runs and made several fielding mistakes before he injured his right shoulder.

Still, the Cardinals saw enough to view him as a potential contributor in 1993.

“He has raw power,” said Cardinals hitting coach Don Baylor.

In November 1992, Ozzie was one of 15 players the Cardinals protected from the expansion draft.

Spring disappointment

Ozzie’s hopes of sticking with the Cardinals got a boost in February 1993 when St. Louis traded starting right fielder Felix Jose to the Royals for first baseman Gregg Jefferies. The Cardinals declared Brian Jordan and Ozzie the candidates to compete in spring training for the starting right fielder job.

“I want to see them both play and see who wins it,” said manager Joe Torre. “I don’t think it’s Jordan’s job to lose.”

Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said of Ozzie: “What we saw at the Triple-A level was that he could hit the ball out of any ballpark … We don’t have anybody with that kind of power and really haven’t had in the organization for a long time.”

Asked about Ozzie’s outfield skills, Maxvill replied, “He’s no Willie McGee or Willie Mays … but he did a very adequate job.”

“Mainly,” Maxvill concluded, “he needs to whack the ball for us.”

After hitting .192 in his first 10 spring training games, Ozzie finished as the 1993 Cardinals’ Grapefruit League leader in home runs (4) and RBI (14).

Neither he nor Jordan, though, won the job.

On March 31, the Cardinals traded pitcher Mark Clark to the Indians for Mark Whiten and named him their starter in right field.

Ozzie was demoted to Louisville.

“I thought I did well enough to make the team,” Ozzie said. “I’m disappointed.”

Farewell, St. Louis

Ozzie went on a tear at Louisville, hitting nine home runs. On May 5, he was brought back to the Cardinals.

He floundered in the field, however, and hit .176 with no home runs in six games. The Cardinals returned him to Louisville.

Ozzie continued to slug home runs for Louisville _ 13 in 44 games _ but he also struck out 59 times. On June 11, Ozzie informed the Cardinals he was quitting.

“It got to a point where I was miserable and it seemed like I was constantly fighting an uphill battle,” Ozzie said.

Said Maxvill: “He definitely had gone backwards in all aspects and complained the whole way. So I guess he needs a career change and, quite frankly, it’s probably a good idea.”

Ozzie sat out the rest of the season. On Dec. 14, 1993, the Cardinals traded him to the Brewers for minor-league outfielder Tony Diggs.

Ozzie played professional baseball for several more seasons, including a stint in the Mexican League, but he never returned to the majors after his trials with the 1992-93 Cardinals.

Previously: How a tragic accident brought Mark Whiten to Cards

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Three days after making his major-league debut with his hometown team, infielder Bob Sadowski was traded by the Cardinals for a player they thought could challenge Curt Flood for the center field job.

robert_sadowskiThe deal sent Sadowski on an odyssey during which he played for three big-league clubs in the next three years before returning to the minors, including a second stint in the Cardinals system.

Sadowski, 79, died Jan. 6, 2017 _ a week before his 80th birthday.

Talented infielder

Born and raised in St. Louis, Sadowski played baseball at Webster Groves High School and with the Maplewood American Legion team. A teammate on both clubs was future Cardinals outfielder Charlie James.

In 1955, when Sadowski was 18, he impressed the Cardinals at a tryout camp and they signed him to a contract.

A left-handed batter who could play multiple positions, especially third base and second base, Sadowski established himself as a prime prospect with a strong season for the Billings Mustangs of the Class C Pioneer League in 1957. Sadowski batted .302 and produced 20 doubles, 13 triples and 15 home runs for Billings.

Sadowski caught the attention of the Cardinals again in 1959 when he batted .290 with 24 doubles and 12 triples for Omaha of the Class AAA American Association.

Omaha manager Joe Schultz tabbed Sadowski as a player with a bright future. The Sporting News declared him “a talented infielder.” After the 1959 season, the Cardinals put Sadowski on their big-league roster.

Cardinals call

At Cardinals spring training camp in 1960, Sadowski developed astigmatism, making objects at a distance appear blurry or wavy, and eyeglasses were prescribed for him, The Sporting News reported.

He opened the 1960 season with the Cardinals’ affiliate at Rochester in the Class AAA International League. Batting .223 after 51 games, Sadowski was loaned to the White Sox Class AAA farm club in San Diego. He revived his career with the Pacific Coast League team, batting .340 in 64 games.

Impressed, the Cardinals promoted Sadowski to the big leagues in September 1960.

Debut at home

On Sept. 16, 1960, a Friday night at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Sadowski, 23, lived a dream by making his major-league debut for the Cardinals.

After five innings, in a game delayed an hour and 32 minutes by rain, the Giants led, 6-0. Cardinals manager Solly Hemus made several substitutions, including putting in Sadowski at second base to replace Julian Javier.

Sadowski led off the St. Louis half of the sixth against reliever Stu Miller, formerly of the Cardinals, and grounded out to third baseman Jim Davenport.

In the eighth, Orlando Cepeda reached on an error by Sadowski. In the Cardinals’ half of the inning, Sadowski reached on a walk. He was stranded when Miller struck out Bill White and got Stan Musial and Ken Boyer on pop-outs. Boxscore

That one game would be Sadowski’s lone appearance with the Cardinals.

Trade bait

With Javier at second and Boyer at third, the Cardinals were strong in the two positions Sadowski played best. What the Cardinals thought they needed was to bolster the center field position. Flood, the everyday center fielder, hit .237 for the 1960 Cardinals. Hemus was seeking better production from that position.

On Sept. 19, 1960, the Cardinals acquired center fielder Don Landrum from the Phillies for Sadowski and three players on their Rochester roster _ outfielder Jim Frey, second baseman Wally Shannon and pitcher Dick Ricketts.

Landrum, 24, had spent the 1960 season with the Phillies’ Class AAA farm club at Buffalo, where he batted .292 and led the International League in hits (178), doubles (35) and runs scored (112).

The Sporting News praised Landrum as being “a capable fly chaser who can also swing the bat.”

On the day of the trade, Landrum joined the Cardinals in time for their game that night against the Dodgers at St. Louis. He produced three singles and a stolen base. Two nights later, Landrum hit a home run and a triple off the Dodgers’ Don Drysdale.

Versatile prospect

Like the Cardinals, the Phillies had an established starter at second base in Tony Taylor. Sadowski was acquired to be a backup.

Under the headline “Phils Bolster Infield, Land Keystone Kid,” The Sporting News reported: “Because of his versatility, it is possible Sadowski might land a utility infield spot” with the 1961 Phillies.

Sadowski batted .130 in 16 games for the 1961 Phillies. He was traded to the White Sox after the season and hit .231 with six home runs for them in 79 games in 1962. Selected by the Angels in the Rule 5 draft, Sadowski hit .250 in 88 games for them in 1963.

Back where he began

Sadowski spent the rest of his playing days in the minor leagues. After starting the 1968 season with the Syracuse Chiefs, Sadowski rejoined the Cardinals’ organization and was assigned to the Class AAA Tulsa Oilers of the Pacific Coast League.

Playing for manager Warren Spahn, Sadowski, 31, filled a utility role and helped Tulsa to the league championship. “Sadowski’s hitting perked up the Oilers, especially over short stretches,” The Sporting News noted.

In 1969, his last season in organized baseball, Sadowski returned to the Angels’ organization as an infielder for the Class AA El Paso Sun Kings, who were managed by former Cardinals catcher Del Rice.

The Cardinals reacquired Sadowski in June 1969 and he finished the season with Class AA Arkansas and Class A Cedar Rapids.

Previously: Daryl Spencer followed in footsteps of Marty Marion

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In his debut with the Cardinals, Stan Musial saw a knuckleball for the first time. Rather than become baffled or intimidated, Musial determined what he’d have to do to succeed, adjusted his approach at the plate and attacked the pitch with a purpose.

jim_tobinSeventy-five years ago, on Sept. 17, 1941, at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis, Musial, 20, appeared in his first Cardinals game in the nightcap of a doubleheader versus the Braves. Batting third and playing right field, Musial was 2-for-4 with two RBI in the Cardinals’ 3-2 victory.

Facing knuckleball pitcher Jim Tobin, 28, who was in his fifth season in the big leagues, Musial had a double and a single, launching a Cardinals career that would lead to his induction into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Wakeup call

Converted from a pitcher to an outfielder, Musial had opened the 1941 season with the Cardinals’ Class C minor-league club at Springfield, Mo. In 141 games combined for Springfield and Class AA Rochester, Musial batted .359 with 204 hits.

When Rochester was eliminated from the International League playoffs, Musial returned home to Donora, Pa. After attending Sunday Mass, he was taking a nap when a telegram arrived from the Cardinals, instructing him to report to the big-league club in St. Louis.

Musial walked into the Cardinals’ clubhouse for the first time on the morning of Sept. 17 and was greeted by equipment manager Butch Yatkeman, who issued the newcomer uniform number 6.

After watching the Cardinals win the first game of the doubleheader, 6-1, behind rookie starter Howie Pollet, Musial was put in the lineup for Game 2 by manager Billy Southworth.

Unforgettable flutter

In the first inning, Musial stepped to the plate against Tobin.

Recalling the moment in his book, “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story,” Musial said, “I’ll never forget … the challenge of the first knuckleball I’d ever seen. It fluttered up to the plate, big as a grapefruit but dancing like a dust devil.”

Musial swung and popped up weakly to the third baseman.

The next time up, Musial took a different approach. “I learned to delay my stride, cut down my swing and just stroke the ball,” Musial said.

With two on and two outs in the third inning, Musial swung at the knuckler and lined a two-run double to right-center field.

The Cardinals won, 3-2, when Estel Crabtree snapped a 2-2 tie with a walkoff home run against Tobin in the ninth. Boxscore

Said Musial: “I was a happy kid all right and pretty lucky.”

Rave reviews

In its report on the game, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch cited “some welcome help from Stanley Musial, recruit outfielder from Rochester.”

Impressed, The Sporting News called Musial “a hard hitter” who “packs a lot of wallop in his 5 feet and 11 inches and 158 pounds of muscle.”

In summary, The Sporting News opined, “In addition to his hitting ability, Musial has shown exceptional speed and defensive skill. National League pitchers can expect to see a lot of him in 1942.”

In 12 games with the 1941 Cardinals, Musial batted .426 (20-for-47) and struck out just once.

He would go on to bat .429 (18-for-42) in his career versus Tobin, according to retrosheet.org.

Previously: Cards rookie Enos Slaughter set torrid extra-hit pace

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Working with Cardinals coaches Mark Riggins and Bob Gibson after his promotion from the minor leagues to St. Louis in September 1995, Alan Benes adjusted his approach, mixing off-speed pitches with his fastball, and delivered a double-digit strikeout performance in earning his first win.

alan_benes3On Sept. 30, 1995, Benes, in his third big-league appearance, struck out 10 Pirates in the Cardinals’ 5-1 victory at St. Louis.

Twenty-one years later, Luke Weaver joined Benes and Stu Miller as the only Cardinals pitchers to achieve double-digit strikeouts in one of their first four appearances for St. Louis, according to researcher Tom Orf.

Miller struck out 10 Dodgers in his fourth Cardinals appearance on Aug. 26, 1952. Boxscore Weaver struck out 10 Brewers in his fourth Cardinals appearance on Aug. 31, 2016. Boxscore

Valued prize

Like Weaver in 2014, Benes was a first-round draft choice of the Cardinals. Benes was selected in the 1993 June amateur draft with the 16th overall pick just after the Blue Jays took pitcher Chris Carpenter with the 15th pick.

Benes produced a 17-3 record and 2.28 ERA in 30 starts in the Cardinals’ minor-league system in 1994. Limited by an injury, he was 4-2 with a 2.41 ERA in 11 starts for Class AAA Louisville in 1995 before his call-up to the Cardinals.

In September 1995, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch described Benes as “the most valued prize in the Cardinals’ farm system.”

Learning curve

Benes, 23, made his Cardinals debut on Sept. 19, 1995, in a start against the Pirates at Pittsburgh. He displayed an impressive fastball, but wasn’t effective. His line: 4 innings, 8 hits, 7 runs, 1 walk and 5 strikeouts. The Pirates won, 12-1, and Benes was the losing pitcher.

“He threw a few too many strikes,” Riggins told writer Rick Hummel. “He didn’t make the hitters chase some pitches and he can. That comes with experience.”

Said Benes: “I didn’t really move the ball around as much as I could have. I didn’t throw inside enough. I basically had one pitch.”

Six days later, on Sept. 25, Benes made his second appearance, starting against the Cubs at Chicago, and the results were similar to his first. Benes’ line: 3.1 innings, 9 hits, 7 runs, 1 walk, 5 strikeouts. The Cubs won, 7-0, dropping Benes’ record to 0-2.

“He didn’t get his breaking ball over,” said Cardinals manager Mike Jorgensen. “… He’s throwing hard. It’s a matter of pitching rather than throwing.”

Said Benes: “I’m not happy, but I’m not going to put a lot of stock in it. The first three or four games you’ve got to learn.”

That’s a winner

Benes was a quick study. Riggins, the pitching coach, and Gibson, the bullpen coach and former ace, worked with Benes on pitch selection and command.

In his third Cardinals appearance, on Sept. 30 against the Pirates at St. Louis in the next-to-last game of the season, Benes was dominant.

The 6-foot-5 right-hander shut out the Pirates through eight innings. He entered the ninth with a 5-0 lead.

With two outs and runners on first and third, Midre Cummings hit a double to center off Benes, driving in a run.

Jorgensen was booed when he went to the mound and called for closer Tom Henke to replace Benes. Henke struck out Kevin Young, saving Benes’ first win. Benes’ line: 8.2 innings, 7 hits, 1 run, 2 walks and 10 strikeouts. Boxscore

In his analysis of Benes’ performance, Cardinals catcher Danny Sheaffer said, “He got ahead in the count. No doubt that made a big difference. That and he pitched a little different with the early lead.”

Entering the off-season on a positive, Benes admitted, “This was a real important game for me to win.”

Three months later, the Cardinals signed his older brother, starting pitcher Andy Benes, who had become a free agent after pitching for the Padres and Mariners. In 1996, Andy and Alan Benes combined for 31 regular-season wins, helping the Cardinals to a division championship.

Previously: The story of Stu Miller and his stellar start with Cards

Previously: Unlike Lance Lynn, Alan Benes unlucky in big K effort

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