Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Prospects’ Category

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.

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

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.”

Read Full Post »

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.

Read Full Post »

For a team that finished out of contention in fifth place, the Cardinals had a lot of players others valued.

On Oct. 10, 1961, seven Cardinals were chosen in the National League expansion draft. No other club lost more players in filling the rosters of the Houston Colt .45s and New York Mets.

“I think it proves we have a lot of good players in our organization,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine told the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.

Two of the seven selected from the Cardinals went on to become National League all-stars, and another would play in three World Series.

Cash transactions

The expansion draft was held at the Netherland-Hilton Hotel in Cincinnati the day after the Yankees and Reds completed the 1961 World Series at Crosley Field.

The draft was held in two phases:

_ In Phase One, the Colt .45s and Mets drafted players left unprotected by the eight existing National League clubs. The expansion club paid from $50,000 to $75,000 for each player it took. The money went to the club that lost the player.

_ Phase Two was described as a premium draft. Each existing National League club had to offer two players who had been protected from the regular draft. The Colt .45s and Mets each could take four players in the premium draft, but no team could lose more than one player. Each premium player taken cost the expansion club $125,000.

The Cardinals, who finished with an 80-74 record, 13 games out of first in 1961, lost pitcher Bob Miller to the Mets in the premium draft.

Of the six Cardinals chosen in the regular draft, pitcher Craig Anderson, catcher Chris Cannizzaro and outfielder Jim Hickman went to the Mets, and infielder Bob Lillis and outfielders Ed Olivares and Don Taussig went to the Colt .45s.

As compensation, the Cardinals received $525,000 _ $125,000 for Miller, $75,000 each for Anderson, Cannizzaro, Lillis and Taussig, and $50,000 each for Hickman and Olivares.

“The $525,000 will be needed to balance the books on a red ink season at the gate,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Among the available Cardinals not taken in the draft were utility player Red Schoendienst, outfielder Don Landrum and infielder Alex Grammas.

Like Miller, Grammas was made available in the premium draft. After Miller was chosen, the Cardinals were able to protect Grammas, a valued utility player.

“Grammas is important until Jerry Buchek is completely ready to take over at shortstop,” Cardinals manager Johnny Keane told the Globe-Democrat.

As for Landrum, who hit .313 in the Cardinals’ farm system in 1961, Keane said to the Post-Dispatch, “I’ll be glad to have him available as center field insurance in case anything happens to Curt Flood.”

Pitching potential

The players the Cardinals disliked losing in the draft were the two right-handed pitchers, Miller, 22, and Anderson, 23.

Miller “has all the tools to be a real good pitcher,” Keane told the Globe-Democrat. He said Anderson “has a fine potential.”

Solly Hemus, who was replaced by Keane as Cardinals manager in July 1961, had become a Mets coach and advocated for the drafting of the Cardinals pitchers.

As a rookie in 1961, Anderson was 4-3 with a save and a 3.26 ERA in 25 relief appearances for the Cardinals.

Miller, a St. Louis native, was 18 when he signed with the Cardinals on June 20, 1957, after graduating from Beaumont High School. Cardinals scout Joe Monahan rated Miller “the finest pitching prospect in the St. Louis area in all the years I’ve scouted,” The Sporting News reported.

A week after turning pro, Miller made his big-league debut with the Cardinals. Boxscore

Miller was one of two 18-year-olds on the 1957 Cardinals’ pitching staff. The other was Von McDaniel.

In four seasons (1957 and 1959-61) with the Cardinals, Miller was 9-9 with three saves and a 3.83 ERA.

Talent search

The first player selected by the Mets in the regular draft was Giants catcher Hobie Landrith, a former Cardinal. Giants shortstop Eddie Bressoud was the first choice of the Colt .45s. Bressoud finished his career in 1967 as a utility player for the World Series champion Cardinals.

The Reds, Dodgers and Pirates lost six players apiece in the draft. The Giants, Phillies and Cubs each had five players drafted.

Here, in alphabetical order, is a look at what became of the seven players drafted from the Cardinals:

_ Craig Anderson: On May 12, 1962, Anderson won both games of a doubleheader for the Mets against the Braves. Then he lost his next 16 decisions, finishing the season with a 3-17 record. Anderson’s four saves led the Mets’ staff.

_ Chris Cannizzaro: The 1962 Mets used seven catchers, but Cannizzaro played more games than any of them. Cannizzaro threw out 55.6 percent of the runners attempting to steal against him in 1962. Seven years later, Cannizzaro was with another National League expansion team, the Padres, and was their representative on the all-star team.

_ Jim Hickman: He spent five seasons with the Mets and was the franchise’s first player to hit for the cycle and to hit three home runs in a game. With the Cubs in 1970, Hickman was an all-star and hit 32 home runs with 115 RBI. He finished his career with the 1974 Cardinals.

_ Bob Lillis: He started the most games at shortstop for the 1962 Colt .45s. As Astros manager from 1982-85, Lillis had a .514 winning percentage.

_ Bob Miller: He was one of two Bob Millers who pitched for the 1962 Mets. The former Cardinal was 1-12 that season. The other Bob Miller was 2-2. St. Louis’ Bob Miller went on to pitch 17 seasons in the majors for 10 teams. With the 1964 Dodgers, he led National League pitchers in appearances (74). Miller pitched in the World Series for the Dodgers in 1965 and 1966, and for the Pirates in 1971.

_ Ed Olivares: He never got to play for the Colt .45s, or any other team in the majors, after leaving the Cardinals, but his son, Omar Olivares, pitched for the Cardinals from 1990-94. Ed and Omar Olivares were the first father and son to play for the Cardinals.

_ Don Taussig: His one home run for the 1962 Colt. 45s came against the Cardinals’ Larry Jackson and was the winning run in a 4-3 victory. Boxscore

Read Full Post »

When the body of Cardinals scout Les Wilson was found bloodied and battered in a hotel room, police suspected murder. Turns out, the victim killed himself.

On Aug. 17, 1946, Wilson, 35, died after a hellish night of hallucinations and destructive drinking.

The demons that tormented him took a terrible toll.

Farm work

Edward Leslie Wilson was born in St. Louis on Aug. 15, 1911, according to baseball-reference.com. He relocated with his family from St. Louis to Fayetteville, Ark., when he was 8, the Associated Press reported.

Wilson excelled at baseball in high school in Fayetteville. A catcher and infielder, he went on to play multiple seasons in the minors.

He broke his hand when Dom Dallessandro, a future big-leaguer, accidently stepped on it during a play at first base, according to the Associated Press.

After the hand injury, Wilson returned to Fayetteville and ran a cab company, the Associated Press reported.

He attempted a comeback as a player, then became an umpire in the minors from 1938-41.

Wilson enlisted in the Army Air Forces on Dec. 12, 1941, five days after the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor.

Soon after his honorable discharge on Jan. 15, 1946, the Cardinals hired Wilson to be a scout.

At the Cardinals’ minor-league spring training camp at Albany, Ga., in 1946, Wilson worked with Wally Schang, manager of the Marion, Ohio, team, in selecting a roster, the Marion Star reported.

Early in the season, Wilson spent nearly a week in Marion, “helping shape the team,” according to the Marion newspaper.

Wilson “discovered and signed several of the players now on the active list, including catcher Vern Rapp,” the Marion Star reported. Rapp would manage the Cardinals in 1977 and 1978.

Mystery visit

After his work with Marion, Wilson’s other assignments included helping run Cardinals tryout camps in Canada, Nebraska and Missouri, according to the Ottawa Citizen and the Associated Press.

Eventually, Wilson was assigned to scout in Texas, United Press reported.

During the first week of August, Joe Mathes, head of the Cardinals’ farm and scouting systems, said he spoke to Wilson in Houston, the Associated Press reported. Mathes said he assigned Wilson to be in Colorado Springs, Colo., for the American Legion Tournament Aug. 11-14.

“He wasn’t supposed to be in Dallas,” Mathes told the Dallas Times-Herald.

Wilson checked in to a Dallas hotel on Aug. 13. The next night, Aug. 14, he was told to leave because he became intoxicated and destroyed several pieces of furniture in his room, the hotel manager told United Press.

Wilson was arrested on a charge of drunkenness on the night of Aug. 14 and spent his 35th birthday, Aug. 15, in jail. He was released the morning of Aug. 16 after paying a $10 fine.

Dark night

At 6:05 on the morning of Aug. 16, Wilson checked in to the Savoy Hotel and was given a room on the fourth floor, the Associated Press reported. United Press described it as “a third-rate Dallas hotel.”

That night, Wilson had a hotel porter, William Brown, bring him two bottles of whiskey and a bottle of wine, United Press reported. Brown said Wilson was alone in the room.

Hours later, at 3:15 a.m. on Aug. 17, another porter, Johnny Lee Joe, was summoned to Wilson’s room. The porter “found the room wildly disarranged” and Wilson was “bloody and battered,” United Press reported.

Wilson, alone in the room, wanted ice water. The porter asked Wilson if he needed help. “Wilson said no, he had hurt himself in a fall, but would be all right,” United Press reported.

About six hours later, at 9:45 a.m. on Aug. 17, housekeeper Opal Cooper entered the room and discovered Wilson dead.

Gruesome scene

“His blood-stained, bruised body was found in a sitting position, propped against the wall,” The Sporting News reported.

Police suspected Wilson “died in a desperate battle with robbers in his room,” United Press reported.

“The walls were splattered with blood from baseboards to shoulder height,” according to United Press. “Blood even was splattered on the ceiling. Furniture was broken and blood soaked the broken bed.”

The first physician on the scene saw gashes on Wilson’s head and shoulders and determined those were knife wounds, United Press reported.

“A coroner’s investigation disclosed Wilson had been slashed across the throat and stabbed in the head and shoulders by an unknown assailant,” according to United Press.

“Wilson’s body was a mass of bruises, indicating he also was engaged in a fistfight with his attacker before the fatal wounds were inflicted.”

According to the Associated Press, detective chief Will Fritz “said he believed Wilson had been knocked unconscious in a fight, regained his senses and staggered about the room in a dazed condition. He said that could explain blood stains on the wall.”

Detective Fritz estimated the time of death to be 5:30 a.m.

No weapons were found in the room. On the dresser was a wallet, but the only money found were a few scattered coins, United Press reported.

According to the Associated Press, “on the floor of the wrecked room police found fragments of a torn photograph of a woman.”

An empty whiskey bottle and one half-full were on a window sill when officers arrived, United Press reported.

“Police had not the slightest doubt they were confronted with a murder,” United Press noted. “It promised to be a murder mystery.”

According to the Associated Press, two men dressed in khakis were sought by police in connection with the murder. The men were seen walking down the hotel’s fourth-floor hallway with Wilson the afternoon of Aug. 16.

Police also held three persons for questioning: the late-night porter, and two hotel guests _ a 33-year-old man Detective Fritz said had been arrested many times, and a 30-year-old woman.

Drunken violence

The case took an unexpected twist after an autopsy was ordered by a justice of the peace.

The autopsy was conducted by two physicians at Parkland Hospital in Dallas: Dr. Morton Mason, a toxicologist, and Dr. Charles Ashworth, a pathologist.

Dr. Mason ruled cause of death was “acute alcoholism.”

Wilson “killed himself with alcoholic gluttony in a wild, all-night wrestle with whiskey-produced phantoms,” United Press concluded. “Not one of his many wounds, all evidently inflicted when he flung himself against the walls of his hotel room in pursuit of bottle demons, was sufficient to have caused death,” the doctors said.

Dr. Ashworth said Wilson suffered a smashed nose and swollen upper lip, International News Service reported.

Detective Fritz said Wilson lost considerable blood from nose bleeding, the Associated Press reported.

According to The Sporting News, friends attributed Wilson’s “mental condition to reaction from the war and the death of his father last year.”

Wilson, unmarried, was survived by a cousin and an aunt, both of St. Louis, the Associated Press reported.

Cardinals owner Sam Breadon authorized a Dallas mortician, Vernon O’Neal, to hold funeral services and burial in Dallas Aug. 20 at Holy Trinity Catholic Church, according to the Associated Press.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »