Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

A surprising aspect of the Cardinals’ 1982 season was they succeeded without a big contribution from a pitcher considered a key to the starting rotation.

In March 1982, the Cardinals were counting on right-hander Andy Rincon to be a consistent winner.

Instead, he spent much of the season in the minors and wasn’t with the Cardinals when they won the National League pennant and the World Series championship.

Ticketed for majors

Born and raised in California, Rincon played high school baseball in Santa Fe Springs, near Los Angeles, and was a teammate of Mike Gallego.

The Cardinals chose Rincon, 18, in the fifth round of the 1977 June amateur draft.

In 1980, Rincon pitched for Class AA Arkansas, earning 10 wins during the regular season and two in the playoffs for the Texas League champions. After the final game, he left Little Rock to drive home to California.

Cardinals general manager Whitey Herzog, who scouted the Arkansas team, wanted Rincon to join the Cardinals for the final month of the season. Herzog said “it looked like Andy had the best arm in the organization,” interim Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Hoping to contact Rincon before he got to California, the Cardinals alerted authorities in Texas to be on the lookout for him, The Sporting News reported.

Rincon was stopped for speeding in El Paso, Texas, and immediately brought to traffic court. According to the Post-Dispatch, when Rincon gave his name in court, the judge replied, “Oh, you’re the guy we’ve been looking for,” and told him to call the Cardinals.

Herzog informed Rincon to take a flight from El Paso to Philadelphia and join the team there. Rincon paid a $23 traffic fine, parked at the El Paso airport and boarded a plane. “All my stuff is in the car,” he told the Post-Dispatch.

From Philadelphia, the Cardinals went to Chicago and Rincon, 21, made his debut for them there, pitching a five-hitter in a win against the Cubs at Wrigley Field. Boxscore

“Who is he, anyway?” Cubs shortstop Ivan DeJesus asked the Post-Dispatch.

Rincon made three more starts for the 1980 Cardinals and finished 3-1 with a 2.61 ERA.

Bad break

Herzog, who returned to managing the Cardinals in 1981, had Rincon in the starting rotation to begin the season. After four starts, he was 2-1 with a 2.22 ERA. Rincon was the “Cardinals’ best pitcher in the first month of the season,” The Sporting News declared.

On May 9, 1981, in a start at St. Louis, Rincon was cruising to his third win. He shut out the Pirates for seven innings, drove in three runs and had a 13-0 lead.

In the eighth, Phil Garner led off and hit a line drive that struck Rincon in the throwing arm. The ball caromed to third baseman Julio Gonzalez, who fielded it and threw out Garner at first base. Rincon suffered a hairline fracture of the right forearm. Boxscore

Rincon (3-1, 1.77 ERA) was placed on the disabled list. Two days before the players went on strike on June 12, Rincon received medical clearance to resume pitching, The Sporting News reported. “He was throwing the hell out of the ball,” Herzog said. “I couldn’t see anything wrong with him.”

The Cardinals sent Rincon to their Class AAA Springfield (Ill.) farm club so that he could pitch during the strike, but it was too much too soon and he strained his right shoulder.

“Being weak in my forearm put more strain on my shoulder,” Rincon told The Sporting News. “If I’d just backed off and been more patient, things might have been better.”

In eight starts for Springfield, Rincon was 1-3 with a 6.55 ERA. Instead of helping the Cardinals after the strike ended in August, Rincon was reassigned to Arkansas and was 0-2 with a 6.75 ERA in two starts there.

“We wanted him to pitch, but he wasn’t worth a damn down there,” Herzog said to the Post-Dispatch.

Cardinals first baseman Keith Hernandez criticized Rincon for not working hard enough to come back from the injury and help the club in 1981, The Sporting News reported.

“He might be right,” Rincon said. “I feel like I did let the guys down.”

Missing out

Despite the setbacks encountered in 1981, Rincon was viewed by Herzog as “the key to the pitching staff” entering 1982 spring training, The Sporting News reported.

After working daily during the winter on a Nautilus machine and in aerobic exercises, Rincon, 23, reported to spring training fit and healthy. “I feel great,” he said. “I want to be the stopper of our staff. I want to pitch the tough games.”

The Cardinals entered the 1982 season with a starting rotation of Rincon, Bob Forsch, Joaquin Andujar, Steve Mura and John Martin.

“Rincon potentially is the Cardinals’ best starting pitcher,” The Sporting News declared.

In his first start of the season, Rincon pitched a three-hitter to beat Ferguson Jenkins and the Cubs at Wrigley Field, but his performances unraveled after that. Boxscore

Lacking command, he had more walks (25) than strikeouts (11). In his last start, against the Dodgers, Rincon “incurred Herzog’s displeasure for failing to hold runners on” and “missing a hit-and-run sign,” The Sporting News reported.

Rincon (2-3, 4.73 ERA) and Martin were sent to the minors, and John Stuper and Dave LaPoint replaced them in the Cardinals’ rotation.

At Class AAA Louisville, Rincon was 5-8 with a 5.09 ERA. When it came time to call up players to help the contending Cardinals, Louisville manager Joe Frazier told Herzog he didn’t think Rincon merited a chance.

“What Frazier said is good enough for me,” Herzog told The Sporting News.

Without Rincon, the Cardinals went on to win their first World Series championship in 15 years.

Still trying

Rincon never got back to the majors.

At spring training with the Cardinals in 1983, Herzog became unhappy with the number of runners stealing bases against Rincon and wanted him to change his pitching delivery. “I could steal on him, and I’m 51 years old,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch.

Eric Rasmussen, 31, edged Rincon for the final pitching spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster.

Rincon reported to Louisville, experienced elbow pain and was limited to 31 innings pitched in 1983. Granted free agency after the season, he signed with the Pirates and spent 1984 in their farm system, pitching a no-hitter for Hawaii.

Rincon went to spring training with the Orioles in 1985, but, when his arm didn’t respond, he went home. He sat out the 1985 and 1986 seasons, had shoulder surgery late in 1986, and was sidelined again in 1987.

In 1988, Rincon pitched in Mexico, then joined Fresno, an unaffiliated Class A club that had become a refuge for former big-leaguers seeking comebacks.

Cardinals scout Fred McAlister saw Rincon pitch at Fresno and signed him to a minor-league contract for 1989. “It’s a chance,” Rincon told the Post-Dispatch. “That’s all I want.”

Assigned back to Class AA Arkansas, from where he first made the leap to the majors nine years earlier, Rincon, 30, ended his playing days with a 1-0 record and 4.21 ERA in 11 relief appearances in 1989.

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In his quest to pitch for the Cardinals, Bob Slaybaugh lost an eye, but not his determination.

On March 24, 1952, Slaybaugh was pitching batting practice at Cardinals spring training when he was struck in the head by a line drive. He suffered severe damage to his left eye and it had to be surgically removed.

A couple of months later, Slaybaugh was pitching again.

Promising prospect

Robert Slaybaugh was born and raised in the village of Hartville, Ohio, located about halfway between Akron and Canton. According to census records and his obituary, the family name was spelled Slabaugh. At some point, either intentionally or inadvertently, a “y” was added to the spelling of his last name.

Known as Bob or Bobby, Slaybaugh was stricken by rheumatic fever as a youth and had to use a wheelchair for a time, according to baseball-reference.com.

A left-handed pitcher who stood 5 feet 9, Slaybaugh developed into a pro prospect and was signed by the Cardinals. In his first season, 1950, he was 6-17 with a 4.85 ERA for Goldsboro, N.C., a Class D farm team. He returned to Goldsboro in 1951, became the ace (17-10, 2.33 ERA) and led the league in strikeouts (224 in 219 innings, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch).

The Cardinals rewarded Slaybaugh with an invitation to attend big-league spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., in 1952. 

Described by the St. Petersburg Times as a “quiet, likeable, team-type player,” Slaybaugh roomed at the Bainbridge Hotel with another pitcher, Gary Blaylock.

“Residents along lower Second Avenue South became accustomed to seeing the two stroll toward the Bainbridge each evening after games, so absorbed in replaying the contest that they stopped from time to time to demonstrate by gestures what had occurred,” the St. Petersburg Times observed.

Slaybaugh got into two Cardinals exhibition games, pitching two innings against the Senators and three versus the Braves. He allowed one run, showing Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky enough to convince him “he was only a year or two away” from being ready for the majors, the St. Petersburg Times noted.

“Right back at me”

On March 24, 1952, it was Slaybaugh’s turn to pitch batting practice during morning drills for rookies and prospects. Jim Dickey, a power-hitting first baseman at the Class A level, stepped in from the left side of the plate. Slaybaugh threw a pitch on the outside corner.

“I was expecting it to be pushed down the left field line as usual,” Slaybaugh told Helen Popa for The Sporting News. “Instead, it shot right back at me. I watched it all the way and threw my gloved hand in front of my face for protection, but at the same moment I jerked my head. The ball tipped one of my gloved fingers and hit the left side of my face.”

Slaybaugh “dropped as though shot,” the St. Petersburg Times reported.

According to The Sporting News, “the line drive shattered the left cheekbone and forced the left eyeball partly out of the socket.”

Stanky and Don McGranaghan, a vacationing New York state police officer, rushed Slaybaugh to a hospital in McGranaghan’s car, Bob Broeg reported in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“With a towel, Stanky literally held the eye in place,” according to Broeg.

Stanky told The Sporting News, “In the car on the way to the hospital, he talked about baseball. No whimper out of him, and the pain must have been terrific. He told me that, if they had to operate, for me to be sure to tell the surgeons that he had rheumatic fever when he was young, so they could be careful about the effect of anesthetic on the heart.”

Significant damage

A St. Louis ophthalmologist, Dr. S. Albert Hanser, happened to be vacationing in nearby North Reddington Beach. A police escort raced him to the hospital, according to the St. Petersburg Times.

Dr. Hanser joined St. Petersburg ophthalmologist Dr. Bernard Bell in treating Slaybaugh. They performed “a delicate operation” in an effort to save the left eye, the Associated Press reported.

In addition to the damaged eye, Dr. Hanser said Slaybaugh suffered a fracture of the left cheekbone, a fracture of a group of bones near the eye and multiple fractures of the nasal bones, the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

Cardinals owner Fred Saigh called Slaybaugh’s parents in Ohio, informed them of their son’s injury and arranged for them and another son to travel by plane to St. Petersburg the next day, The Sporting News reported.

After a week in the St. Petersburg hospital, Slaybaugh, accompanied by his mother, took a flight to St. Louis on March 31 for further treatment at a hospital there. That same day, Jim Dickey, who hit the line drive, was assigned by the Cardinals to their Rochester farm team. He’d never make it to the majors.

On April 4, Slaybaugh’s damaged eye was removed in “an emergency operation,” the Associated Press reported. Dr. Hanser, who performed the operation, said, “A rupture at the rear of the eyeball forced the removal.”

Passing grade

Sometimes, good can come amid tragedy. While recuperating from his eye operation in the St. Louis hospital, Slaybaugh met a nurse, Joy, and she became his wife, according to The Sporting News.

In late April, Slaybaugh was cleared to practice with the Cardinals at Sportsman’s Park.

“When I first started working out, I was ready to give up,” he told The Sporting News. “I couldn’t do anything right. I was confused by distances and was just plain scared, but Eddie Stanky and the players kept encouraging me and gradually I started feeling better.”

In mid-May, Slaybaugh was discharged from the hospital. He made a brief visit home to Ohio, then reported to the Cardinals’ Omaha farm team, managed by George Kissell.

Ray Oppegard, business manager of the Omaha team, said, “(Slaybaugh) still thinks he can pitch and so do we and our doctors.”

Kissell wasn’t so sure. Asked in May by the Des Moines Tribune whether he’d let Slaybaugh pitch in a game, Kissell said, “Too dangerous. A one-eyed person has no depth perception.”

When Slaybaugh arrived in Omaha, he said to Kissell, “I didn’t come here to sit on the bench. Let me pitch.”

According to The Sporting News, Kissell set up a program to help determine Slaybaugh’s chances of playing again. He had Slaybaugh throw on the sideline. After several good sessions, Slaybaugh was allowed to stand behind the pitcher during batting practice to get used to batted balls again.

After that, Slaybaugh progressed to pitching in bunting practice, then batting practice.

“At first, he threw the ball only to the inside corner so that he knew when it was hit it wouldn’t come back at him,” Kissell told The Sporting News. “Now he throws all over the plate.”

Kissell then put Slaybaugh through fielding practices. “He had his players drive grounders straight at Slaybaugh and to both sides,” the Des Moines Tribune reported. “Then he tested him with line drives.”

Finally, Slaybaugh got to bat in batting practice. When he passed all the tests to Kissell’s satisfaction, it was time to play in games.

Quite a comeback

On June 22, in his first game since losing the eye, Slaybaugh allowed one run in 6.1 innings of relief against Colorado Springs.

His next appearance, on June 29, was a start against Des Moines in the first game of a doubleheader. Slaybaugh responded with a four-hit shutout in a 1-0 Omaha victory in seven innings.

“That shows you what determination and courage will do,” Des Moines manager Harry Strohm told the Des Moines Tribune.

Slaybaugh called it “the biggest game of my life.”

He pitched 31 innings for Omaha in 1952 and posted a 2-2 record, according to baseball-reference.

The next year, he was 2-9 for Columbus (Ga.) and Winston-Salem. On May 1, he tried to pitch for the first time without an eye patch, placing a strip of tape over the left optic. In the fifth inning, the artificial eye fell to the ground. “Unflustered, Bobby picked it up and stuck it in his pocket,” The Sporting News reported.

The 1954 season was Slaybaugh’s last as a pro. After brief stints with Columbus (Ga.) and Lynchburg (Va.), the Cardinals asked him to report to Winnipeg, Canada. “Instead, he went home and obtained a job as a bookkeeper with a produce firm,” according to The Sporting News.

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Great expectations followed David Green from Nicaragua to the United States, creating golden opportunities along with a multitude of pressures.

Green had successes, but his drinking held him back, and his recklessness had devastating consequences.

A member of the Cardinals’ 1982 World Series championship team, Green was 61 when he died on Jan. 29, 2022.

Dad’s influence

Green’s father, Eduardo Green, was an outfielder on the Nicaraguan national teams in the 1940s and 1950s. Nicknamed “The Black Gazelle,” Eduardo was described by sportswriter Edgard Tijerino as having “the soul of a ballet dancer” and “the reflexes of a panther,” according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

In 1951, Eduardo joined the Dodgers at their minor-league spring training camp in Daytona Beach, but left because of the racism he encountered in Florida.

Eduardo and Bertha Green had 10 children. One of their five sons, David, was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and named in honor of his paternal grandfather, a missionary who immigrated from Jamaica.

Like his father, David Green developed into an exceptional athlete. “Soccer was my best sport,” he told the San Francisco Examiner.

He played baseball, too, and Eduardo advised him to pursue a career in the sport.

Prime prospect

David Green was playing for the Nicaraguan national team in 1978 when he caught the attention of Ray Poitevint, the Brewers’ director of scouting and player development. “He’s got Willie Mays’ physical abilities,” Poitevint told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Green was 17 when he signed with the Brewers in September 1978.

“He has all the tools _ not only to be a big-league player, but a big-league star,” Poitevint said to The Sporting News. “If you were a betting man, you would have to bet on this kid.”

Eduardo Green died in September 1980. His son had just completed his second season in the Brewers’ farm system and was rated their top prospect.

Whitey Herzog, Cardinals manager and general manager, envisioned Green as a center fielder who could become the centerpiece of the team.

The Brewers wanted to make a trade, but were reluctant to give up Green. 

In the book “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog said, “He was so good that some of the Brewers executives damn near came to blows over giving him up.”

Years later, Herzog told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch that he’d heard from a Brewers scout that Green had a drinking problem, but Herzog wanted him anyway.

In his book “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Herzog said, “He was absolutely the key to the deal.”

On Dec. 12, 1980, the Cardinals traded two future Hall of Famers, Ted Simmons and Rollie Fingers, and a future Cy Young Award winner, Pete Vuckovich, to the Brewers for Green, Dave LaPoint, Lary Sorensen and Sixto Lezcano.

“I had a little buyer’s remorse afterward,” Brewers general manager Harry Dalton told the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel. “I wondered if I had done the right thing.”

Ups and downs

Promoted to the Cardinals in September 1981, Green was the first National League player born in Nicaragua. The first in the American League was Orioles pitcher Dennis Martinez in 1976.

Green, 20, got his first big-league hit, a single, against the Pirates’ Luis Tiant, 40. Boxscore

At spring training in 1982, Green “probably was the Cardinals’ best player in camp,” The Sporting News reported, and he won the center field job.

“He had more raw ability than any young player I’ve ever managed,” Herzog said in “White Rat.” Video

Green, 21, began the 1982 season with a flourish, hitting .381 in April. His batting mark was at .316 on May 7 when he tore a hamstring.

While Green was on the disabled list, Willie McGee took over in center. McGee did so well he kept the job when Green returned.

The Cardinals sent Green to the minors for two months so that he could play every day. He was back with the Cardinals for their pennant push.

In the pivotal Game 2 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves, Green led off the ninth inning with a single, moved to second on a bunt and scored the winning run on Ken Oberkfell’s hit. Boxscore

Facing the Brewers in the World Series, Green had two hits, a double and a triple, in Game 5 versus Mike Caldwell. Boxscore

Dealing with change

At spring training in 1983, Herzog told The Sporting News, “We’ve got to find a place for Green. It’s almost a must.”

Toward the end of spring training, McGee separated a shoulder and began the season on the disabled list, opening a starting spot for Green in the outfield.

In June, after first baseman Keith Hernandez was traded, Herzog moved right fielder George Hendrick to first and Green took over in right.

Two months later, Green told the Post-Dispatch that an older brother, Edward, was jailed in Nicaragua. In September, Green’s mother, Bertha, and a younger brother, Enrique, joined him in the U.S.

Green led the 1983 Cardinals in triples (10) and had 34 stolen bases.

Wrong direction

Just before the start of spring training in 1984, Green’s mother died. That is when “Green’s downfall began,” the Post-Dispatch noted.

Herzog moved Hendrick back to right field and started Green at first base. In May, Green went into a funk. “He’s really gone downhill the last two or three weeks,” Herzog told The Sporting News. “His reactions were not good. Balls (thrown to him) were hitting him on the wrist.”

The Cardinals suspected Green’s drinking was to blame and convinced him to enter a rehabilitation center in St. Louis.

In “White Rat,” Herzog said, “The young man developed a real problem with alcohol. Everybody on the club knew it. He’d show up late, hung over real bad … His tolerance for booze was about zero.”

Green spent three weeks in the rehabilitation center. He told the Post-Dispatch, “I didn’t need to go, but I went anyway because somebody had to do it.”

Herzog told the Post-Dispatch, “He didn’t give himself much of a chance. You spend only 10 or 12 days there and you’re not going to be cured.”

In “You’re Missin’ a Great Game,” Herzog recalled an incident that occurred soon after Green completed his rehabilitation stint.

“I’m driving home from the ballpark and I end up a couple of car lengths behind him on the highway,” Herzog said. “He doesn’t see me. I’m keeping a safe distance. Pretty soon, here come the beer cans flying out of the car. One right after the other, every five minutes. We drove past the hospital where he did rehab. More cans!

“When they get hooked on this stuff, they turn into con artists. They’re conning themselves, and they expect you to swallow their bull, too.”

Moving on

In February 1985, in a deal that put them back on the championship track, the Cardinals traded Green, Dave LaPoint, Jose Uribe and Gary Rajsich for Jack Clark.

“Of all the players I’ve had the opportunity to manage, David Green has more ability than anyone as far as hitting, hitting with power, speed and throwing arm,” Herzog told The Sporting News after the deal. “Garry Templeton and George Brett are in that category, but Green has more power than either, he runs better than either, and he throws better than George.”

Asked about his time with the Cardinals, Green told the San Francisco Examiner, “They were expecting too much of me and then they didn’t play me. Sometimes they called me the franchise, then they played Andy Van Slyke. I think I did great in the outfield, then they moved me to first base.”

The Giants started Green at first base but he had a dreadful beginning to the 1985 season. His batting average on May 11 was .080.

“It’s a matter of concentration,” Giants hitting coach Tom McCraw told the Examiner. “I tell him something in the dugout, and he says, ‘Yeah,’ and by the time he gets to the plate he’s forgotten it.”

The Giants traded Green to the Brewers after the season, but he was released at the end of spring training in 1986.

Comeback try

After playing in Japan and Mexico, Green contacted the Cardinals and asked for a tryout with the Class AAA Louisville club.

Green signed in July 1987, hit .356 for Louisville and was called up to the Cardinals, who were contending for a division crown, in September.

The Cardinals projected him to compete for an outfield spot in 1988.

“This is my last chance,” Green told The Sporting News, “and I’m trying to take advantage of it.”

He was only 27 when he arrived at spring training in 1988, though speculation had swirled for years that his December 1960 birthdate was inaccurate.

In the book “Whitey’s Boys,” Herzog said, “David might have been a couple of years older than we thought he was. I don’t know anybody who has ever seen his birth certificate from Nicaragua.”

Cardinals general manager Dal Maxvill said to the Post-Dispatch, “He might be anywhere between 28 and 32, but I don’t care if he is 32, if he does the job.”

Green’s bid to make the Opening Day roster failed. Sent back to Louisville, he hit .216, clashed with manager Mike Jorgensen and was waived in June 1988.

Fatal accident

Seven years later, in January 1995, Green was arrested on suspicion of drunk driving in a car accident in suburban Country Club Hills, Mo. 

According to the Post-Dispatch, a passenger in the car Green struck, Gladys Yount, 85, of Jennings, Mo., suffered a fractured pelvis in the accident and died of a heart attack two hours later.

Green was charged with involuntary manslaughter and served six months in jail, the Post-Dispatch reported.

He went on to help operate a dog grooming business in south St. Louis and was a youth baseball instructor.

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Red Schoendienst, who knew a thing or two about baseball skill, said Julio Gotay reminded him of Pepper Martin. Branch Rickey, another pretty good talent evaluator, insisted the Cardinals would be better with Gotay than with Dick Groat.

In 1962, Gotay was the Cardinals’ starting shortstop.

He turned out to be a can’t-miss prospect who did _ miss, that is.

Gotay had the athletic ability, but apparently lacked most of the rest of what it took to do the job for the Cardinals.

Fast rise

Born and raised in Puerto Rico, Gotay was a teenager playing amateur baseball there when he was spotted by former Cardinals catcher Mickey Owen, who was managing a winter league club. Owen told the Cardinals about Gotay and they signed him, sight unseen, on Owen’s recommendation, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In 1957, the year he turned 18, Gotay began his professional career in the Cardinals’ system, playing for teams in Florida and Virginia. The following season, he was assigned to Winnipeg and got a chilly reception. The Canadian club’s first three games were called off because of “the heaviest snowfall of the year combined with record-low temperatures,” The Sporting News reported.

It was the first time Gotay saw snow.

Warming to the challenge, Gotay hit .323 with 24 home runs and 95 RBI as the Winnipeg third baseman.

Intrigued, the Cardinals invited Gotay, 19, to work with the big-league team at spring training in 1959. Marty Marion, the shortstop on the Cardinals’ four pennant-winning teams of the 1940s, was brought in to provide instruction to Gotay. Marion’s mission was to teach him to be a shortstop.

Alex Grammas had been projected to be the shortstop for the 1959 Cardinals until manager Solly Hemus became enamored of Gotay. “He’ll have to play himself off the ballclub,” Hemus, a former shortstop, told the Post-Dispatch.

In addition to swinging “a vicious bat,” Gotay displayed “a powerful throwing arm, good ranging ability and deft hands … He has handled several bad bounces by split-second shifting of his glove,” The Sporting News reported.

As the 1959 opener approached, the Cardinals decided to stick with Grammas because of his smooth fielding and big-league experience, and send Gotay to the minors to continue his development.

According to The Sporting News, Marion recommended the Cardinals put Gotay with a Class A team. Instead, he was assigned to Class AA Tulsa.

Jittery play

Gotay made 50 errors with Tulsa in 1959, but hit .284 with 17 home runs. Cardinals scout Fred Hawn told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, “He’ll be one of the most exciting players in the majors in a couple of years.”

The Cardinals promoted Gotay to Class AAA Rochester in 1960, but he slumped and complained of a nervous stomach. Sent back to Tulsa, Gotay relaxed and played better.

In August 1960, when injuries left the Cardinals with a depleted bench, they called up Gotay. In his first at-bat in the majors, he singled against the Reds’ Joe Nuxhall. Boxscore

Gotay should have been a candidate for a spot on the 1961 Cardinals, but he developed an eye infection, missed most of spring training and was assigned to Class AAA.

Daryl Spencer began the season as the Cardinals’ shortstop but was traded to the Dodgers in May. The Cardinals tried Grammas and Bob Lillis but neither hit well enough. Next, they called up Gotay.

Experiencing what The Sporting News called “butterflies under major-league pressure,” Gotay made three errors at Pittsburgh in his first start. Boxscore 

In a game at Cincinnati, two wild throws by Gotay landed in different dugouts on consecutive plays. In trying to complete a double play on a grounder by Vada Pinson, Gotay’s throw sailed into the first-base dugout and Pinson advanced to second. On the next play, Gotay fielded a grounder and tried to throw out Pinson at third, but the ball went into the third-base dugout and Pinson scored. Boxscore

In 10 June starts at shortstop for the 1961 Cardinals, Gotay made 10 errors. Returned to Class AAA, Gotay mostly played second base and hit .307. 

High hopes

After the 1961 season, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine tried to acquire power-hitting shortstop Woodie Held from the Indians, “but I don’t see how we can give up what they want,” he told The Sporting News.

A factor in Devine’s decision to end his pursuit of Held was the play of Gotay in winter ball at Puerto Rico. Cardinals manager Johnny Keane went to Puerto Rico for a week, specifically to watch Gotay, and filed an encouraging report.

Devine said, “Gotay is having his best winter ever. He has become more confident, which may help overcome his tendency to be erratic. We know he has the ability.”

Competing against another prospect, Jerry Buchek, and Grammas at spring training, Gotay won the starting shortstop job with the 1962 Cardinals.

“Julio has a tremendous amount of raw ability,” Keane told The Sporting News. “I’m elated over what he has shown me.”

Red Schoendienst, a player-coach with the 1962 Cardinals said, “Gotay reminds me of (1930s Gashouse Gang player) Pepper Martin because he’s awkward but quick and effective. Strong, too. He’ll make it.”

Gotay, who joined an infield of Bill White, Julian Javier and Ken Boyer, performed well early in the season. He hit .302 in April and .313 in May. A 12-game hitting streak raised his batting mark to .333 on May 4. A week later, he went 4-for-4 and reached base six times in a game versus the Dodgers. Three of those hits came against Sandy Koufax. Boxscore

Gotay fielded well, too, He made three errors in 15 games in April and four errors in 30 games in May.

The Sporting News declared that Gotay “stands a good chance of having the longest reign as a Cardinals shortstop since Marty Marion’s day.”

Magic missing

After that, Gotay’s season began to unravel. He hit .214 in June and .205 in July. He made as many errors in June as he did in the first two months combined.

In his book “Stranger to the Game,” Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson said Gotay “seemed to have all of the physical skills. We would learn the hard way, however, that the physical skills aren’t always enough.”

According to Gibson, Gotay “was interested in neither discipline nor fundamentals, which translated into an uncommon number of errors and foolish mistakes.”

In addition, Gibson said, Gotay “kept spooking us with voodoo. Most of us didn’t take the voodoo seriously, but now and then things would happen to make us a little uneasy.”

Gotay finished the 1962 season with a .255 batting average and 24 errors in 120 games. His main problem, The Sporting News suggested, “seems to be chiefly a matter of emotion and lack of maturity.”

Devine wanted to trade Gotay to the Pirates for shortstop Dick Groat, but Branch Rickey, who rejoined the Cardinals as a consultant and had the ear of club owner Gussie Busch, “still is high on Gotay,” The Sporting News reported.

In November 1962, Rickey reluctantly relented and Devine made the swap, but “Rickey hated the deal,” author David Halberstam wrote in “October 1964.”

Groat turned out to be the answer to the Cardinals’ shortstop need. He helped them contend in 1963 and become World Series champions in 1964.

Gotay was a bust with the Pirates. He went on to become a utility player with the Angels and Astros. He finished his playing career in 1971, hitting .302 for the Cardinals’ Tulsa farm team.

Though Gotay didn’t develop into an all-star, he had noteworthy achievements.

In a 1967 game versus the Cardinals, Gotay was 5-for-5. Four of the hits came against Bob Gibson. Boxscore

For his career, Gotay worked his voodoo versus Gibson, hitting .500 (8-for-16) against him. He also hit .438 (7-for-16) against Juan Marichal and .667 (4-for-6) versus Whitey Ford.

A nephew, Ruben Gotay, spent time in the Cardinals’ farm system and played in the majors with the Royals, Mets and Braves.

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A recommendation from a manager in their farm system prompted the Cardinals to acquire a player who would become the top rookie in the National League.

Bill Virdon was an outfielder with the Yankees’ minor-league American Association club in Kansas City in 1953. Johnny Keane, managing the Cardinals’ Columbus, Ohio, club in the American Association, was impressed by Virdon’s defense, speed and throwing, and rated him ready for the big leagues.

Acting on Keane’s advice, the Cardinals acquired Virdon and two other prospects from the Yankees for outfielder Enos Slaughter in April 1954. Virdon became the Cardinals’ center fielder in 1955 and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He went on to play 12 years in the majors before becoming a coach and manager.

Eyeing opportunity

Virdon was born in Hazel Park, Mich., near Detroit. His parents moved there from Missouri to find work in the auto industry. Virdon’s father was a machinist in an auto plant, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When Virdon was 12, the family relocated to West Plains, Mo., about 20 miles from the Arkansas border. West Plains was the birthplace of actor Dick Van Dyke and country singer Porter Wagoner. Virdon later became a West Plains neighbor of Preacher Roe, who operated a grocery store there on the corner of Broadway and Porter Wagoner Boulevard after finishing his big-league pitching career.

Signed by the Yankees, Virdon entered their farm system in 1950.

“He credits his powerful forearms and biceps to gymnastics and summer jobs of toting full 24-bottle cases _ one to each hand _ for a soft-drink company in West Plains,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

In 1953, while with the Yankees’ Class AAA affiliate in Kansas City, Virdon struggled to hit, puzzling manager Harry Craft.

“Virdon was barely hitting over .200,” a teammate, pitcher Bob Wiesler, told The Sporting News, “and one day he was reading the paper in the hotel lobby when Craft walked in. Craft nearly fell over when he saw Virdon wearing glasses.

“He asked Bill if it was something new, but Bill told him he always used them for reading. Because he wasn’t hitting, Craft suggested he wear them on the field, too.”

Said Virdon, “The way I wasn’t hitting, he knew I had nothing to lose.”

Tests revealed Virdon had astigmatism in his right eye, the Post-Dispatch reported. A left-handed hitter, Virdon’s right eye was the one closest to the pitcher when he batted.

Virdon began wearing steel-rimmed spectacles on the field. The Yankees sent him to Birmingham, Ala., and Virdon hit .317 for the Class AA team.

“Virdon credits his improved hitting to the use of glasses after an eye test proved his vision in one eye was 50 percent impaired,” The Sporting News reported.

Prized prospect

Early in 1954, the Pirates offered pitchers Vern Law and Max Surkont to the Yankees for Virdon, The Sporting News reported. The Yankees were more interested in obtaining Enos Slaughter from the Cardinals. When the Yankees agreed to package Virdon with two other minor-leaguers, outfielder Emil Tellinger and pitcher Mel Wright, the deal was done.

“It was Johnny Keane’s report and recommendation on Bill Virdon that was the big factor in his being included in the deal,” Cardinals farm director Walter Shannon told The Sporting News.

Virdon was assigned to the Cardinals’ Class AAA Rochester, N.Y., farm team in 1954. Playing for manager Harry Walker, Virdon was the International League batting champion (.333) and led the club in home runs (22) and RBI (98). He also “continues to cover the outfield like a tarpaulin, and none take liberties with his arm,” The Sporting News noted.

“Virdon undoubtedly is the best player I’ve ever managed,” Walker said after the season. “He excels in every phase of the game.”

With prospects such as Virdon, Ken Boyer and Don Blasingame in their system, “for the first time I can see a future without Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst,” Cardinals vice-president Bill Walsingham told The Sporting News.

After Rochester’s season ended, Virdon played winter baseball in Cuba and led the Havana Reds in hitting (.340).

Cardinals scout Gus Mancuso, who watched Virdon in Cuba, called him “one of the best young stars I’ve come across in a long time.”

Rookie sensation

The Cardinals’ center fielder in 1954 had been Wally Moon, who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award that season. To make room for Virdon in center in 1955, Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky shifted Moon to a corner outfield spot. The other corner outfielder was Rip Repulski. Stanky moved Stan Musial from the outfield to first base.

Virdon was given uniform No. 9, the same Enos Slaughter wore with the Cardinals.

Though Virdon got off to a good start, the Cardinals didn’t. Stanky was fired in May and replaced by Harry Walker.

Virdon hit .281 with 17 home runs for the 1955 Cardinals and fielded impressively. Virdon “can go get them as well as Willie Mays,” Cardinals infielder Solly Hemus said to The Sporting News.

In balloting for the Rookie of the Year Award, Virdon got 15 of the 24 votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

When Virdon struggled to hit early in the 1956 season, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane suspected it was because of an eye problem and traded him to the Pirates for outfielder Bobby Del Greco and pitcher Dick Littlefield.

Virdon spent the rest of his playing career with the Pirates. He was part of their 1960 World Series championship team and won a Gold Glove Award in 1962. Virdon three times led National League center fielders in fielding percentage and finished with 1,596 hits.

Leader and teacher

In 1966 and 1967, Virdon was a manager in the Mets’ farm system. The Mets’ director of player development was Whitey Herzog. He and Virdon had become friends when both were outfield prospects with the Yankees.

Virdon went on to manage in the big leagues with the Pirates, Yankees, Astros and Expos. He also coached for the Pirates and Astros. He had four stints as a Pirates coach, including two with manager Jim Leyland.

“I can’t think of anybody I respect in baseball more than Bill Virdon,” Leyland told Scripps Howard News Service in 1992.

In 1985, Whitey Herzog arranged for Virdon to spend the season as the Cardinals’ minor-league hitting instructor.

‘I think Whitey’s basic theory is to drive the ball and not worry about home runs,” Virdon told the Post-Dispatch. “If my thinking was a great deal different than Whitey’s, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

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If not for an injury, Cloyd Boyer might have been to Cardinals pitching what his brother, Ken Boyer, was to Cardinals hitting and fielding.

A right-handed pitcher, Cloyd Boyer had an exceptional fastball when he got to the big leagues with the Cardinals, drawing comparisons to ace Mort Cooper, but he wasn’t the same after hurting his shoulder.

Boyer pitched in four seasons for the Cardinals and had a record of 15-18 with a 4.24 ERA. After his playing days, he had a long career as a major-league pitching coach and minor-league manager.

Baseball family

Born in Missouri’s Jasper County near Joplin, Cloyd was the oldest son of the 14 children of Vern and Mabel Boyer.

Cloyd and his six brothers all became professional baseball players. Cloyd, Ken and Clete reached the majors. Wayne, Lynn, Ron and Len spent all their time in the minors.

Ken and Clete were standout third basemen. Ken earned five Gold Glove awards with the Cardinals and won the National League Most Valuable Player Award in 1964 when the Cardinals were World Series champions. Clete played for the Yankees in five World Series, including in 1964 against Ken and the Cardinals.

The Boyer boys got their passion for baseball from their father Vern, who worked a variety of jobs, including marble-cutter and blacksmith, and helped build a lighted baseball diamond across the street from the family house in Alba, Mo.

“He bought us a couple of gloves that were nothing bigger than your hand and we used corn cobs for balls,” Cloyd recalled to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “He loved the game. If it hadn’t been for him, I would have never been in baseball.”

In 1944, when Cloyd was 17 and working for a farmer, Vern learned the Cardinals were conducting a tryout camp at nearby Carthage, Mo. “My father came and took me off the hay baler and carried me to the tryout camp,” Cloyd said in the book “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain.”

Cardinals scout Runt Marr and administrator Walter Shannon, who were running the tryout camp, became impressed “the minute Boyer powered a throw to the plate from the outfield,” the Post-Dispatch reported. They met with Cloyd and his father in Alba that night and signed the teen to a contract.

Hard thrower

After his first season in the Cardinals’ farm system in 1945, Cloyd enlisted in the Navy when he turned 18 in September that year. He served for almost a year, including three months aboard the USS Iowa, and was discharged in time to pitch in five games in the minors at the end of the 1946 season.

Cloyd began an ascension in the Cardinals’ farm system with consecutive 16-win seasons in 1947 and 1948.

“Boyer has a terrific fastball,” Cardinals farm director Joe Mathes told The Sporting News in 1948.

Cloyd, 21, earned a spot on the Cardinals Opening Day roster in 1949.

Comparing Boyer to Johnny Beazley, who had 21 wins as a rookie for the 1942 Cardiinals, Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch wrote, “Cloyd was shy, almost bashful, when he came up to the Cardinals, but was not too shy to knock down a hitter who dug in too earnestly against his swift, side-armed fastball.”

Cloyd made his major-league debut on April 23, 1949, with two scoreless innings of relief against the Cubs, but was returned to the minors after three appearances. Boxscore

Tough guy

Boyer stuck with the Cardinals in 1950, beginning the season as a reliever and moving into the starting rotation in late July.

“There isn’t a veteran pitcher on my squad who can match the speed of Cloyd Boyer,” Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer told The Sporting News.

Dyer was impressed as much by Cloyd’s courage and poise as he was with his fastball.

On July 17, 1950, the Dodgers’ Carl Furillo lined a pitch that struck Boyer “hard on the right thumb, glanced off and slammed against his throat,” Dick Young of the New York Daily News reported.

Boyer retrieved the ball and threw to first base in time to get Furillo, but “almost fainted a moment later, gasping for breath,” the Daily News reported. “His mates had him lie on the hill for several minutes, regaining his wind.”

Once he could breathe freely, Boyer got to his feet and walked off the field. X-rays disclosed a ruptured blood vessel at the heel of his hand. “He’s lucky he’s alive,” the Daily News declared. “Getting his hand in the way of Furillo’s comeback bullet just in time to prevent it from tearing into his neck probably saved the guy’s life, or at least his voice.” Boxscore

Four days later, Boyer pitched 11 innings in a start against the Giants. Boxscore

On July 27, 1950, 10 days after being struck by the Furillo liner, Boyer faced the Dodgers again and pitched a complete game for the win, holding Furillo hitless. Boxscore

“The kid’s got moxie,” Cardinals scout Fred Hawn said to the Post-Dispatch.

Pitching in pain

Two months later, on Sept. 15, 1950, Boyer hurt his right shoulder on the last pitch of his warmup before a start against the Dodgers and couldn’t continue. Cardinals trainer Doc Weaver described the injury as “an inflamed nerve,” the St. Louis Globe-Democrat reported.

According to the book “Ken Boyer: All-Star, MVP, Captain,” Cloyd “likely damaged his rotator cuff, but the mentality of managers and pitching coaches at the time was to pitch through the pain.”

Incredibly, Boyer started against the Braves five days later, on Sept. 20, and pitched a four-hit shutout. Boxscore

The performance took a toll, though. On Sept. 29, while warming up before a start versus the Cubs, Boyer’s pitches “lacked the usual zip.” the Post-Dispatch reported.

He started the game and, “flinching on several throws,” got the count to 3-and-2 before yielding a double to leadoff batter Randy Jackson. Dyer ran to the mound and removed the ailing pitcher. Boxscore

Boyer finished the season 7-7 with a 3.52 ERA. He was 3-0 against the Dodgers.

Helping others

First-year Cardinals manager Marty Marion figured on Boyer for a spot in the starting rotation in 1951, but his arm wasn’t right. Ineffective, he was sent to the minors in July. Though brought back to the Cardinals at the end of the month, Boyer finished 2-5 with a 5.26 ERA for them in 1951.

“Boyer, until he suffered arm trouble, was considered another prospect like Mort Cooper,” The Sporting News noted.

Boyer was 6-6 with a 4.24 ERA for the Cardinals in 1952, then spent the next two seasons in the minors.

The Athletics acquired him and he pitched his last season in the majors for them in 1955, posting a 5-5 record and 6.22 ERA. 

Cloyd never got to play a big-league game with brother Ken, but he did with brother Clete, who was 18 when he made his debut in the majors with the 1955 Athletics.

Cloyd became a big-league coach for the Yankees (1975 and 1977), Braves (1978-81) and Royals (1982-83). Otherwise, from the 1960s to the 1990s, he was a scout, coach and manager in the minors.

Among the pitchers he managed in the minors were 17-year-old Pat Hentgen, who became an American League Cy Young Award recipient and a 15-game winner with the 2000 Cardinals.

Cloyd also managed a couple of 18-year-old pitchers, Steve Avery and Mark Wohlers, who became key members of 1990s pennant-winning Braves teams.

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