Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

Dick LeMay was a pitcher who impressed Carl Hubbell, earned a complete-game win in his first major-league start against Bob Gibson and was the ace on Cardinals minor-league teams managed by Warren Spahn.

Unlike Hubbell, Gibson and Spahn, who were Hall of Fame pitchers, LeMay was a journeyman. Though he pitched in the big leagues for the Giants and Cubs, LeMay spent a significant portion of his playing career in the Cardinals’ system.

LeMay, who died March 19, 2018, at 79, pitched for Cardinals Class AAA clubs during a five-year period (1964-68) when the major-league team won three National League pennants.

Screwball specialist

A Cincinnati native, LeMay, 19, received an offer to begin his professional career with the Reds, but he chose to sign with the Giants as an amateur free agent in 1958 because they offered the most money, a $12,000 signing bonus.

LeMay was toiling in the Giants’ system when, in 1961, Hubbell, the organization’s director of player development, scouted him and filed a favorable report. Like Hubbell, who had been a Giants ace in the 1930s, LeMay was left-handed and threw an effective screwball.

“When I looked at LeMay, I discovered he had a good forkball and screwball, wasn’t too fast, but could consistently get his breaking ball over,” Hubbell told The Sporting News.

Backed by Hubbell’s endorsement, LeMay was promoted to the Giants and he made his major-league debut for them on June 13, 1961, with 2.2 innings of scoreless relief against the Dodgers. After two more scoreless relief stints, LeMay got his first big-league start on June 24, 1961, versus the Cardinals at St. Louis.

The game matched LeMay against Gibson, who was in his third big-league season and starting to emerge as a consistent winner.

LeMay shut out the Cardinals until the ninth, when he yielded a run-scoring single to Carl Warwick. Powered by home runs from Orlando Cepeda (a three-run shot off Gibson) and Willie McCovey, the Giants prevailed, 6-1. LeMay got the complete-game win. Gibson went five innings and gave up five runs. Boxscore

Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported LeMay threw “soft breaking stuff with a big motion, using a screwball and forkball more than he did a fast one.”

Appearing with Cardinals broadcaster Harry Caray on a post-game radio show, LeMay said he hoped Giants manager Al Dark “lets me get back in the bullpen. You get in more games that way.”

Ups and downs

After LeMay was shelled for seven runs in 5.2 innings in a start against the Cardinals on July 8, he returned to the bullpen. He got a win against the Cardinals on July 20, with 3.1 innings in relief of starter Sam Jones. LeMay gave up a bases-loaded double to Bill White in the sixth (two of the runs were charged to Jones), but shut out the Cardinals over the last three innings. With the score tied at 6-6 in the eighth, LeMay sparked a four-run rally against Lindy McDaniel by drawing a walk on five pitches. Boxscore

LeMay posted a 3-6 record with three saves and a 3.56 ERA for the 1961 Giants.

He made nine relief appearances for the 1962 Giants and was 0-1 with a 7.71 ERA. The loss came against the Cardinals on Sept. 20 when LeMay was unable to protect a 4-3 lead in the ninth. Boxscore

Upset by the loss, Dark “knocked a box containing three dozen hardboiled eggs off a table and scattered them about the clubhouse,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

After the 1962 season, the Giants traded LeMay to the Colt .45s. Toward the end of spring training in 1963, the Colt .45s (who later became the Astros) dealt LeMay to the Cubs. The Cubs loaned LeMay to the Atlanta Crackers, a Class AAA affiliate of the Cardinals, and he was 3-3 with a 2.22 ERA for that club before being called up by the Cubs. LeMay made nine appearances, three versus the Cardinals, for the 1963 Cubs and was 0-1 with a 5.28 ERA.

Stuck in minors

The Cubs cut loose LeMay and he signed with the Cardinals, who invited him to their 1964 major-league spring training camp as a non-roster player. When the season began, LeMay was assigned to the Class AAA Jacksonville Suns and he did well for them (12-7 record, 2.81 ERA). The Cardinals rewarded LeMay by placing him on their 40-man big-league winter roster, putting him in the mix to earn a relief job in 1965.

Before the start of spring training in 1965, The Sporting News said of the defending World Series champion Cardinals, “The bullpen shapes up pretty well, with Barney Schultz and Ron Taylor as the bellwethers and such men as Bob Humphreys, Mike Cuellar, Fritz Ackley and Dick LeMay available.”

The Cardinals, however, returned LeMay to Jacksonville for the 1965 season and he again did well (17-11, 3.19) for the Suns.

Though he was excelling at the highest level of their farm system, LeMay wasn’t prominent in the Cardinals’ plans. Left-handers such as Steve Carlton and Larry Jaster surpassed LeMay as premier prospects. LeMay, who turned 28 in 1966, spent that season with the Tulsa Oilers, a Cardinals Class AAA club, and was 14-13 with a 4.35 ERA.

In 1967, Spahn, who retired as the all-time leader in wins among left-handed pitchers, became manager of the Oilers. LeMay was Spahn’s most durable starter in 1967 (13-18, 3.48) and 1968 (16-10, 3.29).

After that, LeMay went back to the Cubs organization, pitched two more seasons at the Class AAA level, retired from playing and managed the Class A Quincy (Ill.) Cubs of the Midwest League in 1971 and 1972.

LeMay pitched in 45 major-league games, nine versus the Cardinals. He was 2-1 with a 5.13 ERA against St. Louis. His overall career mark in the big leagues is 3-8 with a 4.17 ERA.

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Jack Hamilton was a hard-throwing Cardinals pitching prospect who left the organization after four seasons and went on to experience his best major-league moments against them.

Hamilton, who died Feb. 22, 2018, at age 79, is most remembered as the pitcher who in 1967 beaned Red Sox slugger Tony Conigliaro, fracturing his cheekbone, dislocating his jaw and severely damaging his left eye.

Though wildness plagued him throughout his professional baseball career, Hamilton was capable of dominating a game. With the Mets in 1966, he pitched a one-hitter against the Cardinals. A year later, he surprised the Cardinals with his bat, hitting a grand slam.

Wild Thing

Hamilton, 18, attended a Cardinals tryout camp at Busch Stadium in St. Louis in 1957 and impressed. “There were a lot of kids there, but I believe only two of us signed contracts,” Hamilton said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals gave Hamilton a $4,000 bonus and assigned him to Wytheville, Va., a Class D club in the Appalachian League. Hamilton posted a 7-0 record for Wytheville and pitched a no-hitter in a game scheduled for seven innings.

After that, though, he was erratic in pitching for other Cardinals farm clubs. Hamilton was 12-16 for Keokuk, Iowa, in 1958 and 6-10 for York, Pa., in 1959.

Assigned to the Class AA Memphis Chickasaws in 1960, Hamilton was chosen by manager Joe Schultz to be the Opening Day starter against Nashville. “He shut them out for four innings and then he went wild,” Schultz said. “He kept hitting the backstop and a couple of balls almost hit my catcher, Tim McCarver, on the head.”

The Cardinals demoted Hamilton to the Class B Winston-Salem Red Birds and he was 6-9 with a 4.33 ERA. Despite an exceptional fastball _ “He could throw a ball through a brick wall,” said Cardinals icon Red Schoendienst _ Hamilton wasn’t protected on the St. Louis roster and he was chosen by the Phillies in the November 1960 minor-league draft.

“Jack always could throw hard, but he was too wild,” Schultz said.

Beware the bunt

Hamilton, a right-hander, got to the major leagues with the Phillies in 1962 and the rookie led the National League that season in walks (107) and wild pitches (22).

After stints with the Phillies (1962-63) and Tigers (1964-65), Hamilton landed with the Mets in 1966.

On May 4, 1966, Hamilton started for the Mets against the Cardinals at St. Louis and was opposed by Ray Sadecki. Hamilton and Sadecki became friends when both were in the Cardinals’ minor-league system.

Hamilton held the Cardinals to one hit over nine innings in an 8-0 Mets triumph. The lone St. Louis hit was a bunt single by Sadecki with two outs in the third inning.

With the count at 1-and-1, Sadecki pushed a bunt toward the third-base side of the infield. “A bunt was the furthest thing from my mind in the third inning,” said Mets third baseman Ken Boyer, the former Cardinal.

Hamilton told The Sporting News, “He (Sadecki) caught me flat-footed.”

After the game, Sadecki came into the Mets’ clubhouse and congratulated Hamilton. “Ray and I … were old buddies,” Hamilton said. “He told me he was sorry he got the hit. I ribbed him about that, telling him how much money he cost me by preventing me from pitching a no-hitter.” Boxscore

Hard to believe

A year later, on May 20, 1967, Hamilton, a .107 career hitter in the big leagues, hit his only home run, a grand slam off the Cardinals’ Al Jackson in the second inning. Hamilton, however, yielded four runs in three innings and the Cardinals came back for an 11-9 victory over the Mets at New York. Boxscore

“We get the Cardinals games clear on radio from St. Louis to our home in Burlington, Iowa,” Hamilton said, “and my wife said right after I hit the home run she must have got 10 phone calls asking if it was really true.”

A month later, the Mets traded Hamilton to the Angels. He was 9-6 with a 3.24 ERA for the 1967 Angels, but his peformance was marred by the beaning of Conigliaro in August that year.

Hamilton, often accused by opponents of throwing a spitball, finished his major league career in 1969 with the Indians and White Sox. His big-league totals include a 32-40 record, 20 saves and almost as many walks (348) as strikeouts (357).

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Though knowing Gerry Staley was committed to a stint in the Army during World War II, the Cardinals went ahead and acquired him anyway. The investment paid a significant dividend when Staley emerged as the ace of the Cardinals’ staff in the early 1950s.

In 1942, Staley was in his second season as a pitcher for the Boise (Idaho) Pilots of the Class C Pioneer League. Boise wasn’t affiliated with any major-league organization.

In September 1942, Staley, 22, was inducted into the Army. Two months later, on Nov. 24, the Cardinals selected Staley in the minor-league draft and assigned him to their Columbus (Ga.) Red Birds farm club in the Class B South Atlantic League.

By then, Staley was deep into military service. He would spend three years in the Army. Most of that time, he was stationed in the South Pacific.

The Cardinals, though, didn’t forget him.

Military veteran

A native of Brush Prairie, Wash., Staley was working in an aluminum plant and playing sandlot baseball when he was signed by Boise in 1941, according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

A right-handed pitcher, Staley quickly developed into a standout for Boise. He was 22-8 with a 2.79 ERA in 1941 and 20-10 with a 2.73 ERA in 1942.

St. Louis had a farm club, the Pocatello (Idaho) Cardinals, in the Pioneer League. Pocatello and Boise were matched in the league championship series in 1942. Staley won Game 2 of the series just before reporting to the Army. He impressed the Cardinals with his ability.

When the minor-league draft was held, the Cardinals chose Staley and assigned him to Columbus for the 1943 season, The Sporting News reported.

Staley never got to pitch for Columbus. Still in the Army as a sergeant with an evacuation hospital on Bougainville Island of New Guinea, the Cardinals assigned him to their Class AAA Sacramento Solons farm club in the Pacific Coast League in 1944, according to The Sporting News.

Staley continued his active duty in the military in 1945. When the war ended and he was discharged, Staley, 25, reported to Sacramento for the 1946 season.

Impressive return

By then, Sacramento no longer was a Cardinals affiliate. Local owners had purchased the franchise from the Cardinals. Though independent of any big-league affiliation, Sacramento maintained a working agreement with the Cardinals.

Staley got off to a strong start in the 1946 season. On April 18, he pitched a three-hitter and singled in the winning run in Sacramento’s 2-1 triumph over Oakland.

His best performance occurred on May 28 at Portland, Ore., just across the Columbia River from his home in Vancouver, Wash. Staley pitched all 14 innings and limited Portland to four hits in Sacramento’s 1-0 victory.

Under terms of the working agreement, the Cardinals had the right to purchase the contract of one of Sacramento’s returning servicemen for $5,000.

On Aug. 22, 1946, the Cardinals selected Staley (13-12 with a 2.94 ERA) and invited him to their spring training camp in 1947.

Making the grade

The Cardinals went to spring training in 1947 as the defending World Series champions. Staley, 26, wasn’t intimidated. He earned a spot on the Opening Day roster and made his major-league debut on April 20, 1947, with two innings of scoreless relief against the Cubs. Boxscore

Used exclusively in relief, Staley slumped during the summer and had a 5.54 ERA when the Cardinals sent him to their Class AAA Columbus (Ohio) Red Birds club in the American Association in late July.

Staley was 6-1 for Columbus and was called back to the Cardinals in September.

On Sept. 25, 1947, in the second game of a doubleheader at Pittsburgh, Staley got his first major-league start. He pitched a complete game and earned the win in the Cardinals’ 3-1 victory over the Pirates. Boxscore

Staley finished his rookie season with a 1-0 record and 2.76 ERA in 18 appearances for St. Louis. He was on his way to becoming a prominent member of the Cardinals’ staff.

Big winner

Staley pitched eight seasons (1947-54) for the Cardinals and was 89-76 with a 4.03 ERA during that time. He twice was all-star with the Cardinals (1952 and 1953).

In 1949, Staley ranked second in the National League in ERA at 2.73. He led the Cardinals in wins in 1951 (19) and 1952 (17) and was second in 1953 (18).

After a 1954 season when his wins total fell to seven, the Cardinals traded Staley, 34, and third baseman Ray Jablonski to the Reds for pitcher Frank Smith.

Staley eventually became a top relief pitcher. In 1959, he helped the White Sox to an American League pennant, with eight wins, 15 saves and a 2.24 ERA in a league-leading 67 appearances.

He earned a save in Game 1 of the 1959 World Series against the Dodgers, but was the losing pitcher in Game 4 when he gave up a game-winning home run to Gil Hodges in the eighth inning.

Staley pitched 15 seasons in the major leagues for six clubs _ Cardinals, Reds, Yankees, White Sox, Athletics and Tigers. He has a career record of 134-111 with 61 saves and a 3.70 ERA.

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Seeking a return to professional baseball after a stint in a hospital rehabilitation facility to treat his depression, Jimmy Piersall was given a chance to manage a group of players in the Cardinals’ organization.

The man who hired Piersall to manage the Orangeburg (S.C.) Cardinals in 1973 didn’t know the former big-league outfielder was being treated for a mental health issue at that time, though Piersall’s history certainly was no secret. In 1952, while playing for the Red Sox, Piersall suffered a nervous breakdown. He wrote a book, “Fear Strikes Out,” about that experience and Hollywood made it into a film, starring Anthony Perkins.

Piersall played 17 years in the major leagues, twice won a Gold Glove Award and was notorious for his on-field antics and feuds with umpires.

He never managed a team until getting the chance with the Cardinals prospects.

It would be his only season as a manager.

Road to recovery

In 1972, Piersall worked for the Athletics in group ticket sales and promotions. The 1972 Athletics won the World Series championship and Piersall earned a ring.

However, Piersall clashed with Athletics owner Charlie Finley. Piersall also disclosed in his second book, “The Truth Hurts,” that he was having marital problems at the time.

“So between my wife and the Finley situation, it really hit me, and I got very depressed, into crying and all that, and I went to see a psychiatrist,” Piersall said.

Piersall was admitted to a rehabilitation center at a hospital in Roanoke, Va. He stayed for about a month. “Finally I got back in shape,” Piersall said. “I felt strong and the attitude was good again.”

As his stay at the treatment center neared its end, Piersall said, he got a call from a friend, Red Dwyer, who had become president and general manager of the Orangeburg Cardinals, a fledgling franchise in the Class A Western Carolinas League.

Dwyer asked Piersall to manage the club. Dwyer “didn’t know I was in the rehab center,” Piersall said. “He just thought I was in the hospital for some minor thing.”

Piersall, 43, accepted the offer and on March 13, 1973 _ a month before the season opener _ he was named manager.

Bad behavior

Orangeburg hadn’t had a minor-league team since 1908. The 1973 Orangeburg Cardinals were not officially affiliated with the St. Louis Cardinals. The club was a co-op, meaning its roster was composed of players from several big-league organizations. St. Louis, though, supplied the majority of players.

“By the time I linked up with the Orangeburg team, spring training was already over,” Piersall said. “When I got a look at the team, I knew I had a bunch of guys who just weren’t good enough to be professional baseball players … Most of them were getting their last shot at the game.”

On the eve of the opener, Piersall told the Orangeburg Times-Democrat, “I know that I’m going to have to conduct myself properly and make the right decisions.”

Piersall, however, got involved in several scrapes with umpires. In June, he was suspended for two games by the league after he reportedly pushed umpire Bob Nelson, causing him to fall backwards.

Soon after his return, police were called to escort Piersall from the ballpark when he continued to argue with umpires after a game.

“When he gets vehemently loud, he detracts from the concentration of his own players, the guys on the other teams and from the umpires,” said umpire Dave Slickenmyer.

Said Piersall: “What I try to do is fight for my players. I don’t look to get into a show with a hundred people in the stands.”

Handle with care

Piersall took seriously the responsibilities of working with his players and managing games.

“The kids make mistakes _ chiefly in fundamentals _ but they are sharp, have ability and want to learn,” Piersall told the Associated Press.

Piersall said he was learning “how to cope with young people without blowing my top. It’s something I have learned day by day. I keep notes during games to point out to the kids in practice the next day mistakes they have made. With no coaches to help, it’s hard giving instruction.”

The best prospect on the club was 18-year-old outfielder Tito Landrum. “He has all the tools to become a big leaguer,” Piersall said. “He has a lot to learn, but his attitude is good, he has a great arm and speed.”

Landrum told the Times-Democrat how Piersall helped him become a better hitter by having him place more weight on his front foot and less on his back foot.

(Landrum batted .279 in 70 games for Orangeburg. He would be the only member of the Orangeburg Cardinals to play in the major leagues. He spent nine seasons in the majors _ eight with St. Louis _ and played in two World Series.)

Three other players of note on the Orangeburg roster:

_ Dave Bialas, who would become a manager in the Cardinals’ farm system.

_ Rob Sievers, son of former big-league slugger Roy Sievers.

_ Randy Poffo, who would become the professional wrestler known as Macho Man Savage.

One and done

National media _ including the Washington Post and Heywood Hale Broun of CBS News _ came to Orangeburg to do stories on Piersall.

In August, Piersall experienced chest pains and was taken to a hospital. Dwyer said Piersall was diagnosed with bronchitis. Piersall returned to the team. (Two years later, Piersall was found to have blocked arteries and underwent heart surgery.)

Orangeburg finished in last place with a 50-72 record.

In 1974, Orangeburg became an affiliate of the Dodgers. Bart Shirley, a former major-league infielder, was named manager. Among the prospects on the 1974 Orangeburg Dodgers were future big-leaguers Pedro Guerrero and Jeffrey Leonard.

Trying to remain in baseball, Piersall contacted his friend, Billy Martin, who had replaced Whitey Herzog as Rangers manager. Martin helped Piersall get a job in group ticket sales and promotions with the 1974 Rangers.

Previously: Jimmy Piersall and his NL debut against Cardinals

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Delivering pitches with a motion that resembled someone cracking a whip, Jim Donohue was a top prospect in the Cardinals’ system.

In 1960, Donohue, a St. Louis native and graduate of Christian Brothers College High School, made a strong bid for a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster, but fell short of achieving the goal.

Instead, two months later, the Cardinals traded him.

Though he never pitched for the Cardinals in the regular season, Donohue did play two years in the major leagues with three American League teams.

Donohue died in St. Louis on Sept. 9, 2017, at 78.

Career choice

Donohue, son of a policeman, was a teammate of Mike Shannon, future Cardinals player and broadcaster, at Christian Brothers.

In June 1956, Donohue graduated from high school and signed with the Cardinals for $4,000.

Asked years later by reporter Jack Herman about the decision to pursue a baseball career rather than follow his father into law enforcement, Donohue replied, “I’d rather pitch than get shot at.”

Donohue, 17, made his professional debut with the 1960 Gainesville (Fla.) G-Men, a Class D club in the Cardinals’ system.

His breakout season _ the one that put him in the top tier of prospects _ occurred two years later, 1958, with the York (Pa.) White Roses, a Class A club managed by Joe Schultz.

Donohue was 7-0 with a 1.48 ERA for York.

Moving up

Impressed, the Cardinals promoted Donohue to their Class AA team, the Houston Buffaloes, in June 1958. In his debut game for Houston, Donohue pitched a two-hitter in a 4-0 shutout win over the Dallas Rangers. He struck out 11.

In October 1958, Donohue was invited to join other top Cardinals prospects in the Florida Instructional League. Donohue and Gordon Richardson were cited by The Sporting News as “fledgling Cards pitchers from whom much is expected.”

Donohue opened the 1959 season with the Rochester Red Wings, but soon after was sent to St. Louis’ other Class AAA club, the Omaha Cardinals, where he was reunited with manager Joe Schultz. Donohue joined a staff that included other elite pitching prospects such as Bob Gibson and Ray Sadecki.

In July 1959, Donohue pitched a two-hitter for Omaha in a 4-0 triumph over the Minneapolis Millers. Donohue retired 18 consecutive batters until Chuck Tanner singled.

“Manager Joe Schultz’s faith in young Jim Donohue is reaping rich rewards for Omaha,” The Sporting News wrote.

Said Schultz of Donohue: “He’s got quite a future.”

Donohue had a 2.39 ERA in 28 appearances for Omaha. After the season, St. Louis placed Donohue on its big-league winter roster.

The Whip

During that off-season, Donohue participated in workouts at the St. Louis University gym with fellow area residents Stan Musial, Ken Boyer and Joe Cunningham of the Cardinals.

Donohue reported to 1960 spring training at St. Petersburg, Fla., determined to earn a spot on the big-league pitching staff.

At 6 feet 4 and 175 pounds, Donohue had a “buggy whip” delivery that reminded many of another right-hander, Ewell Blackwell, who had been an all-star with the Reds in the 1940s.

“Jim is rough on right-handed swingers,” Sadecki said. “He throws everything downstairs. They call him The Whip and I guess he is the closest thing to Blackwell in both physique and delivery to come along in several years.”

Sal Maglie, who ended his pitching career with the 1958 Cardinals and stayed with the organization as a scout and instructor in 1959, worked with Donohue to develop a slider to use against left-handed batters.

After Donohue had several effective outings early in 1960 spring training, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine called him the “sleeper” of training camp.

However, in April, just before the Cardinals opened the season, Donohue was sent to Rochester.

“I thought I was going to make it with the Cardinals,” Donohue said.

Big time

Donohue was 4-2 with a 4.03 ERA for Rochester. On June 15, 1960, 30 minutes before the trade deadline, the Cardinals dealt Donohue and outfielder Duke Carmel to the Dodgers for outfielder John Glenn.

In reporting the trade, the Post-Dispatch described Donohue as a “highly regarded pitching prospect who almost stuck with the varsity in the spring” and “rated among the top Cardinals farmhands.”

The Dodgers assigned Donohue to their Class AAA club, the St. Paul Saints, and he spent the rest of the 1960 season there.

In December 1960, the Tigers took Donohue in the minor-league draft. He pitched well at training camp and opened the 1961 season on the Tigers’ Opening Day roster.

Donohue made his big-league debut in the Tigers’ season opener on April 11, 1961. He pitched two scoreless innings of relief against the Indians. Boxscore

On April 23, the Tigers and Angels played a doubleheader at Detroit. Donohue got his first big-league save in the opener and his first big-league win in the second game.

In the ninth inning of the first game, the Angels had the bases loaded, one out, when Tigers manager Bob Scheffing turned to Donohue to protect a 3-1 lead. Donohue retired pinch-hitters Ken Hunt and Leo Burke on pop-outs. Boxscore

In Game 2, Donohue relieved Jim Bunning in the 11th, pitched a scoreless inning and got the win when the Tigers scored in the bottom half of the inning. Boxscore

“Donohue looked good in Florida near the end (of camp),” Scheffing said. “We had a feeling he would be a big help.”

Baseball man

Donohue was 1-1 with one save and a 3.54 ERA when the Tigers traded him to the Angels in June 1961. He got into 38 games with the 1961 Angels and was 4-6 with five saves and a 4.31 ERA.

In 1962, his last season in the majors, Donohue pitched for the Angels and Twins. His combined record for those teams was 1-1 with one save and a 4.67 ERA in 18 appearances.

Fifty-five years later, Donohue’s obituary in the Post-Dispatch noted, “His love for baseball continued throughout his lifetime.”

Previously: Clyde King mentored young Cardinals of 1960s

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(Updated Jan. 9, 2019)

Early in the 2007 season, the Cardinals had a plan to call up Rick Ankiel from the minor leagues in September to see what he could do. By mid-summer, when Ankiel continued to clout home runs at a consistent clip for Memphis, the plan changed and the Cardinals moved up their timetable.

On Aug. 9, 2007, Ankiel returned to the big leagues with the Cardinals after a three-year absence.

When he had left, he was a pitcher.

He came back as an outfielder.

Arriving in St. Louis from Memphis late that Thursday afternoon, Ankiel was inserted in the starting lineup for that night’s game against the Padres.

It was a memorable return. Ankiel hit a three-run home run, signaling that his transformation from pitcher to slugger was no stunt.

Something to consider

In 2000, his first full season with the Cardinals, Ankiel was a starting pitcher. The left-hander earned 11 wins and struck out 194 in 175 innings. His career quickly unraveled during the 2000 postseason when he suddenly lost the ability to pitch in the strike zone.

Frustrated by injuries and unhappy with his career path, Ankiel decided during spring training in 2005 to give up pitching and become an outfielder.

Assigned to the minor leagues, Ankiel played for two Cardinals farm clubs _ Quad Cities and Springfield, Mo., _ in 2005. His combined statistics that season included 21 home runs and a .275 batting average.

Injured, Ankiel sat out the 2006 season.

In 2007, the Cardinals assigned him to their top farm team, Memphis, where he produced 104 hits in 102 games, with 32 home runs and 89 RBI.

Lineup upgrade

On Aug. 8, when asked by the St. Louis Post-Dispatch about Ankiel, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said, “We’re talking about when is the right time” for a call-up.

Later that day, as the Memphis team was in Tacoma, awaiting a flight back home, Memphis manager Chris Maloney informed Ankiel the Cardinals wanted him to report to St. Louis the next day because a roster spot opened when Scott Spiezio went on leave to address a substance abuse problem, Ankiel said in his 2017 book “The Phenom.”

Ankiel arrived at Busch Stadium at 4 p.m. on Aug. 9, 2007.

“I pulled open the door to a major-league clubhouse I’d sometimes wondered if I’d ever see again,” Ankiel said in his book.

La Russa put Ankiel in the lineup as the right fielder and batted him second in the order, behind David Eckstein and ahead of Albert Pujols.

“It’s very overwhelming,” Ankiel admitted.

Ankiel, 28, hadn’t appeared in a major-league game since Oct. 1, 2004.

“If I didn’t think having him in the lineup gives us a better chance to win, he wouldn’t be here,” La Russa said.

Home sweet home

Ankiel received a standing ovation when he stepped to the plate in the first inning. Facing Chris Young, the Padres’ 6-foot-10 pitcher, Ankiel popped out to shortstop.

Young struck out Ankiel in the second and again in the fifth.

In the seventh, the Cardinals led, 2-0, and had runners on second and third, two outs, when Ankiel came to bat against Doug Brocail.

“I just hope people have patience and realize he’s still not a polished major-league hitter,” Cardinals television broadcaster Al Hrabosky said to viewers.

Broadcast partner Dan McLaughlin replied, “Chance here to make an impression, though.”

Ankiel pulled a 2-and-1 slider over the right-field wall, thrilling the crowd and his teammates.

In the dugout, La Russa beamed and applauded. Ankiel raised his right fist in triumph as he reached first base. Video

“Almost seven years after it had happened the first time, I felt as though I’d left my body again,” Ankiel said in his book. “This time, however, there was no panic. My breaths were short _ not out of fear but in celebration, in joy. I could feel the game in my heart, in my soul.”

Ankiel got a curtain call from the crowd of 42,848. Boxscore

“I’m happy to be home,” Ankiel said.

Power supply

Declaring Ankiel’s home run the “best single moment in St. Louis sports in 2007,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz also wrote, “It was great theater and it moved anyone who witnessed it. Most of all, the homer gave us another indication of Ankiel’s strong, competitive character. He didn’t give up on himself after a barrage of misfortune that would have ruined many athletes. Ankiel deserved the joy and happiness that came his way.”

Jim Riggleman, the Cardinals’ minor-league field coordinator, said, “The moment he stopped pitching is the same moment he became the No. 1 power bat in the system.”

Ankiel had hit two home runs as a Cardinals pitcher in 2000. He became the first big-league player since Clint Hartung to hit his first big-league home run as a pitcher, return to the majors as a position player and hit a home run again. Hartung pitched for the Giants from 1947-50 and he was an outfielder for them in 1951 and 1952.

Before Hartung, the last major-league player to hit his first home run as a pitcher, change positions and hit a home run again was Babe Ruth.

On Aug. 11, two days after his dramatic return to the big leagues, Ankiel again dazzled. He hit two home runs _ a two-run shot off starter Derek Lowe and a solo blast off Roberto Hernandez _ in a 6-1 Cardinals triumph over the Dodgers at St. Louis.

In 47 games for the 2007 Cardinals, Ankiel produced 49 hits, with 11 home runs and 39 RBI.

The next year, Ankiel had his best season as a hitter, with 25 home runs and 71 RBI in 120 games for the 2008 Cardinals.

Previously: Pitching or hitting, Rick Ankiel was marvel and mystery

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