Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

Unwilling to part with Manny Aybar, the Cardinals almost didn’t make the trade for Mark McGwire.

Twenty years ago, in July 1997, the Cardinals went in search of a power hitter. They had discussions with the Blue Jays about Joe Carter and with the Tigers about Travis Fryman. The slugger they wanted most, though, was McGwire.

For the Cardinals to get him, the Athletics demanded a package that included Aybar, a top pitching prospect.

With the trade deadline of midnight July 31 fast approaching, the Cardinals held firm in their refusal to part with Aybar. As late as 6:30 p.m. on July 31, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said he thought the deal wouldn’t happen.

When the Athletics relented and settled instead for Eric Ludwick, the trade was made. The Cardinals got McGwire for three pitchers: T.J. Mathews, Blake Stein and Ludwick.

Thumbs up

On July 25, after losing to the Marlins at St. Louis, the Cardinals fell to 48-53, six games behind the first-place Astros in the National League Central Division.

Unwilling to concede, the Cardinals determined what they needed most was another run producer in a lineup that included Ray Lankford, Ron Gant and Gary Gaetti.

Two days later, on July 27, McGwire told reporters he strongly would consider a trade to the Cardinals.

McGwire was eligible to become a free agent after the 1997 season, so the Athletics were open to trading him if they could get a good return. Because McGwire was a 10-year veteran who had played five consecutive seasons with his current team, the Athletics needed his approval before they could deal him. That’s why it was significant when McGwire went public with his consent of a possible trade to St. Louis.

Art of the deal

Initially, the Athletics inquired about the availability of two of the Cardinals’ most promising starting pitchers, Alan Benes and Matt Morris.

When Jocketty made it clear neither would be traded, the Athletics set their sights on two prospects in the Cardinals’ minor-league system: Aybar and catcher Eli Marrero.

Jocketty didn’t want to trade them either.

On July 29, Jocketty rated the Cardinals’ chances of acquiring McGwire as 50-50, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Looking to keep options open, Jocketty spoke with the Blue Jays about Carter, but they wanted outfielder John Mabry. Jocketty said no.

The Tigers were willing to deal Fryman, but they wanted starting pitcher Todd Stottlemyre. Again, Jocketty said no.

McGwire remained the best option.

The Angels also had pursued McGwire, but when they dropped out of the bidding it left the Cardinals as the lone suitor and gave Jocketty leverage.

Holding firm

With their negotiating hand weakened, the Athletics ended their demand for Marrero _ they also has asked about two other prospects, pitcher Braden Looper and infielder Brent Butler _ but still insisted on Aybar being in the deal. Jocketty wouldn’t budge. “We couldn’t give up Aybar and Mathews,” he said.

Athletics general manager Sandy Alderson indicated to Jocketty the deal could be dead. “At one point,” Jocketty said, “I thought we weren’t going to be able to get it done.”

Faced with the likely prospect of getting nothing in return for McGwire if he departed as a free agent after the season, Alderson relented and took Ludwick instead of Aybar when he realized Jocketty wouldn’t change his stance.

“Sometimes free agency forces your decisions,” Alderson said.

Four days after talks began, the deal for McGwire was completed.

It takes a village

“We were determined to get a quality bat in the middle of our lineup and I think we got the best hitter we could,” Jocketty said.

McGwire twice had led the American League in home runs and three times was the league leader in slugging percentage.

“He’s probably the greatest power hitter of his time,” said Stottlemyre.

Said Cardinals coach Carney Lansford, who, like Stottlemyre, had been McGwire’s teammate with the Athletics: “Besides being one of the best players in the game, he’s a great person and a great leader in the clubhouse.”

Tony La Russa, who had managed McGwire with the Athletics before joining the Cardinals after the 1995 season, was happy to have the slugger on his team again, but cautioned that McGwire alone couldn’t lift the Cardinals into first place.

“The quality of everything else we do has to raise itself a couple of levels for us to win a lot of games,” La Russa said.

For McGwire to be most effective, La Russa said, “we have to get on base in front of (him).”

Bernie Miklasz, Post-Dispatch columnist, acknowledged McGwire “will provide entertainment” and “will be a menacing presence” in the lineup, but expressed concern that McGwire would depart as a free agent after the season. The Cardinals would have done better to trade for an emerging talent such as Jose Cruz, 23, of the Mariners, Miklasz wrote.

Slugging and scandal

Asked why he approved the trade, McGwire said, “I decided to do this because I needed a change and I needed a challenge.”

On Aug. 1, McGwire traveled from California to Philadelphia and joined the Cardinals 90 minutes before their game that night with the Phillies.

Inserted into the cleanup spot between Phil Plantier and Gant, McGwire was 0-for-3 with a walk against Garrett Stephenson and Ricky Bottalico.

McGwire went on to hit 24 home runs with 42 RBI in 51 games for the 1997 Cardinals. Still, St. Louis finished 73-89.

After the season, McGwire signed with the Cardinals. He hit 70 home runs with 147 RBI in 1998 and 65 home runs with 147 RBI in 1999, but the Cardinals failed to qualify for the postseason both years.

McGwire and the Cardinals got into the postseason in 2000 and 2001 but didn’t reach the World Series.

In five years with St. Louis, McGwire had 220 home runs and 473 RBI.

Though tainted by his subsequent admission of using banned performance-enhancing drugs, McGwire was elected by a majority of fan voters to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2017.

Previously: Mark McGwire had hot start to 1998 Cardinals season

Read Full Post »

Seeking to bolster their rotation and add a role model to mentor their young starting pitchers, the Cardinals wanted to bring back Matt Morris.

Confident in the offer they made to the Giants for Morris, the Cardinals were astonished when he was traded instead to the Pirates.

At the trading deadline 10 years ago, on July 31, 2007, the Cardinals did acquire a starting pitcher, Joel Pineiro, from the Red Sox. At that time, though, Pineiro was in the minor leagues and his career appeared to be trending downward.

Morris would have been a more prominent acquisition.

As it turned out, Pineiro became a productive starter for the Cardinals. Morris was out of the big leagues less than a year after the Cardinals had tried to acquire him.

Learning to lead

The Cardinals, who had won the World Series championship in 2006, had a 49-53 record at the trade deadline on July 31, 2007. They were in third place in the National League Central, 6 games behind the front-running Brewers.

Still, the Cardinals determined they might make a run for the division title if they could improve their starting rotation.

Morris, who would turn 33 in August 2007, was their primary target.

He had pitched eight years for the Cardinals, posting a 101-62 record, before signing with the Giants as a free agent after the 2005 season.

Morris’ record with the 2007 Giants was 7-7 with a 4.35 ERA. The Cardinals saw him as someone who still could pitch effectively and help in the development of starters such as Adam Wainwright and Anthony Reyes.

“With us, he learned from guys like Darryl Kile about how to be a leader on a pitching staff,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “He was always a guy we felt was good with young pitchers and led on the mound and off the mound. He was a guy who would provide whatever assistance and advice he could with young pitchers.”

Caught by surprise

The Giants, in last place in the NL West, were willing to deal Morris. The Cardinals and Mariners were the most aggressive suitors.

Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch the Cardinals had agreed to send two minor-league players to the Giants and would absorb most of Morris’ contract. “From our standpoint, money was never an issue,” Jocketty said.

On the afternoon of the trade deadline, Jocketty said, he was confident the Cardinals and Giants had a deal. At the 11th hour, though, the Pirates contacted the Giants and offered to take on Morris’ entire contract. With bonuses, Morris had $13.8 million remaining on his total package.

“Pittsburgh stepped up to take the player as is, with the contract,” said Giants general manager Brian Sabean.

The Giants sent Morris to the Pirates for outfielder Rajai Davis and a player to be named (minor-league pitcher Steve MacFarland).

When Sabean “called back to say he had moved Morris, Jocketty was stunned,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Said Jocketty: “We were never told we had to take the whole contract.”

Oquendo approves

The consolation prize for the Cardinals was Pineiro. The Cardinals sent Sean Danielson, a minor-league outfielder, to the Red Sox for him.

Pineiro, 28, had made 31 relief appearances for the 2007 Red Sox, posting a 1-1 record and 5.03 ERA, before he was sent to the minors. At Class AAA Pawtucket, he made two starts and had a 2.25 ERA before he was acquired by the Cardinals.

Before joining the 2007 Red Sox, Pineiro had been a starter for the Mariners. He was 14-7 in 2002 and 16-11 in 2003, but had losing records for the Mariners in each of the next three seasons.

At the World Baseball Classic in 2006, Pineiro pitched for Team Puerto Rico. His manager was Jose Oquendo, a Cardinals coach, and his catcher was Yadier Molina. Oquendo recommended Pineiro to the Cardinals.

“He has a good arm,” Oquendo said. “What he probably needs is a philosophy about pitching.”

Dave Duncan, Cardinals pitching coach, figured to be an ideal candidate to help Pineiro develop that philosophy.

“I think this is a good situation for him,” Duncan said. “I’m expecting to see good things … Yadi will be catching him and I think that works in his favor, too.”

Pineiro produces

In his second start for St. Louis, Pineiro pitched seven shutout innings and got the win against the Padres. That was the game Rick Ankiel returned to the Cardinals as an outfielder and hit a three-run home run.

Pineiro was 6-4 with a 3.96 ERA in 11 starts for the 2007 Cardinals. He was 7-7 with a 5.15 ERA in 2008 and 15-12 with a 3.49 ERA in helping the Cardinals win a division title in 2009.

After that, Pineiro became a free agent and signed with the Angels. In three seasons with the Cardinals, Pineiro was 28-23 with a 4.14 ERA.

Meanwhile, Morris struggled with the Pirates. He was 3-4 with a 6.10 ERA in 2007 and 0-4 with a 9.67 ERA the next season before he was released late in April 2008.

Previously: How Mike Matheny helped lure Matt Morris to Giants

Read Full Post »

After a shaky first impression, Jack Lamabe had a flawless month for the Cardinals and helped them strengthen their hold on first place in the National League.

In a trade made by general managers Stan Musial of the Cardinals and Bing Devine of the Mets, Lamabe, a right-handed reliever, was sent to St. Louis 50 years ago on July 16, 1967.

In exchange, the Mets received a player to be named (pitcher Al Jackson).

Lamabe, 30, had a rough beginning to his Cardinals career. He was the losing pitcher in three of his first four appearances. His ERA in seven July games for St. Louis was 6.75.

The next month, Lamabe was untouchable. He was 3-0 with a save in August and his ERA for the month was 0.00. Lamabe didn’t allow a run in 25 innings over nine August appearances, including a start.

Lamabe’s splendid month helped stabilize a pitching staff that was missing its ace, Bob Gibson, who was sidelined with a broken leg. The first-place Cardinals, who had entered August with a 4.5-game lead, went 21-11 for the month and entered September with a 10-game advantage over the second-place Reds.

Switching sides

Lamabe had played college baseball for Vermont head coach Ralph LaPointe, who had been an infielder for the 1948 Cardinals.

Lamabe made his major-league debut with the 1962 Pirates. He also pitched for the Red Sox (1963-65), Astros (1965) and White Sox (1966). He primarily was a reliever, though he made 25 starts for the 1964 Red Sox and 17 starts for the 1966 White Sox.

After three appearances for the 1967 White Sox, Lamabe was sent to the Mets on April 26. He went 0-3 with a 3.98 ERA in 16 games with the Mets, but he held right-handed batters to a .174 average.

On July 15, Gibson was injured when struck by a line drive off the bat of the Pirates’ Roberto Clemente. With Nelson Briles moving into the starting rotation as Gibson’s replacement, the Cardinals needed a reliever to fill the void left by Briles’ departure from the bullpen.

The Mets had arrived in St. Louis for a July 16 doubleheader with the Cardinals. When Lamabe got to Busch Stadium, he was told to report to the home team clubhouse: He had been traded.

The Mets won the opener, 2-1. When Cardinals starter Jim Cosman struggled in Game 2, manager Red Schoendienst lifted him in the third inning and brought in Lamabe.

Facing batters who had been his teammates earlier that day, Lamabe yielded five runs, including Ed Kranepool’s two-run home run, in two innings and took the loss. “He’s not my friend anymore,” Kranepool said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Boxscore

Take that

A month later, on Aug. 28, the Mets and Cardinals again had a doubleheader in St. Louis. Lamabe started Game 2 and pitched a six-hit shutout. A double by Ed Charles was the lone extra-base hit Lamabe allowed in a 6-0 Cardinals victory.

“That 6-0 lead (after five innings) helped me a lot,” Lamabe said. “When I had the lead, I just challenged the hitters with something on the ball.” Boxscore

Lamabe finished the regular season with a 3-4 record, four saves and a 2.83 ERA for the pennant-winning Cardinals.

He made three relief appearances against the Red Sox in the 1967 World Series and was the losing pitcher in Game 6 at Boston. Entering in the seventh inning with the score tied at 4-4, Lamabe got Elston Howard to ground out, but yielded a single to Dalton Jones and a RBI-double to Joe Foy. The Red Sox went on to an 8-4 victory. Boxscore

Moving on

Lamabe went to spring training with the 1968 Cardinals. As camp was closing, he was cut from the roster and sent to Class AAA Tulsa. Devine, who had replaced Musial as Cardinals general manager, promised Lamabe he’d try to trade him to a team that would keep him in the big leagues.

Lamabe started the Pacific Coast League season opener for Tulsa on April 19 and pitched a five-hit shutout against San Diego.

Three days later, the Cardinals dealt Lamabe and pitcher Ron Piche to the Cubs for pitchers Pete Mikkelsen and Dave Dowling.

Lamabe ended his big-league career with the 1968 Cubs, posting a 3-2 mark with two saves and a 4.30 ERA.

With a master’s degree in physical education from Springfield College, Lamabe went on to become head baseball coach at Jacksonville University (1974-78) and at Louisiana State University (1979-83). After that, he was a minor-league pitching instructor for the Padres and Rockies.

Previously: An interview with former Cards pitcher Al Jackson

Read Full Post »

For Fernando Valenzuela, a baseball odyssey that began brilliantly with the Dodgers ended sadly in a short, unsatisfying stint with the Cardinals.

Seeking a veteran to temporarily plug an opening in their starting rotation, the Cardinals took a chance on Valenzuela, 36, and acquired him in a six-player trade with the Padres.

The deal, made 20 years ago on June 13, 1997, was a surprise. The Cardinals had approached the Padres about a utility infielder. In talks with his counterpart, Kevin Towers of the Padres, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty learned Valenzuela was available.

The trade was Valenzuela, infielder Scott Livingstone and outfielder Phil Plantier to the Cardinals for pitchers Danny Jackson and Rich Batchelor and outfielder Mark Sweeney.

The player the Padres wanted most was pitcher Mark Petkovsek, but when Jocketty insisted on pitcher Tim Worrell in return the Padres backed off, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“None of the exchanged players are at the top of their game right now,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote.

Valenzuela was the most prominent _ and intriguing _ of the group.

Traveling man

After debuting in the big leagues in 1980 with the Dodgers, Valenzuela made a splash in 1981, winning the National League Cy Young and Rookie of the Year awards and creating energy and interest in a strike-marred season.

In 1990, his final year with the Dodgers, Valenzuela pitched a no-hitter against the Cardinals.

After that, he was more journeyman than ace. From 1991-97, Valenzuela pitched for the Angels, Orioles, Phillies and Padres.

His record for the 1997 Padres was 2-8 with a 4.75 ERA.

When Jocketty and Towers began trade discussions, Livingstone and Jackson were the players involved. The Cardinals wanted a backup infielder who batted left-handed. Livingstone, who led the NL in pinch-hits in 1996, fit that need.

The Cardinals needed a starting pitcher to fill in for Donovan Osborne, who was on the disabled list because of a torn groin muscle. When the Padres offered Valenzuela, the Cardinals expanded the deal.

“Fernando was an important part of this,” Jocketty said. “(He) gives us some flexibility. When Donovan gets back, Fernando will go to the bullpen. We feel he’ll be better there than Danny (Jackson) would have been.”

Valenzuela was informed by Padres manager Bruce Bochy of the trade while warming up in the bullpen for a start against the Angels.

“It wasn’t easy to look him in the face,” Bochy said to the Los Angeles Times. “He was shocked.”

Tough stretch

Valenzuela joined the Cardinals in Milwaukee on June 16 and was given a start against the Brewers the next night.

He held the Brewers to two hits _ a Jeff Cirillo single and a Mike Matheny double _ and no runs through five innings.

In the sixth, Valenzuela allowed the first four batters to reach base. All scored. Cirillo led off the inning with a home run. Television replays indicated it was a foul ball. A throwing error by Valenzuela after he fielded a bunt by Jeromy Burnitz aided the Brewers’ comeback. The Brewers won, 4-3, and Valenzuela was the losing pitcher. Boxscore

Valenzuela lost his second Cardinals start _ 3-0 to the Cubs on June 23. Boxscore

In his next start, June 28 versus the Reds, the Cardinals won, 12-6, but Valenzuela didn’t get a decision. He was lifted in the fifth inning with the Cardinals ahead, 10-5. “Sometimes it’s better to give the ball to somebody else who can have better stuff,” Valenzuela said. Boxscore

In his fourth start, July 3 against the Pirates, Valenzuela suffered his third loss with the Cardinals. Boxscore

Tony La Russa, Cardinals manager, decided to give Valenzuela extra rest. Eleven days later, Valenzuela got his fifth Cardinals start. It would be his last.

Time to go

On July 14, against the Reds, Valenzuela yielded three runs, issued six walks and hit a batter before being relieved with two outs in the third. The Reds won, 4-2. Boxscore

“Today was a step backward,” La Russa said.

Said Valenzuela: “It’s hard to pitch when you’re not even close to the plate.”

After five starts for the Cardinals, Valenzuela had an 0-4 record and 5.56 ERA.

Valenzuela was released the next day.

La Russa had asked Valenzuela if he wanted to go on the disabled list, but the pitcher said his arm didn’t hurt.

“He said, ‘I can’t be dishonest,’ ” La Russa told the Post-Dispatch.

Said Jocketty: “Commendable. He’s such a nice man and he’s had such a distinguished career. It’s tough.”

The release brought an end to Valenzuela’s big-league career. In 17 seasons, Valenzuela had a 173-153 record and 3.54 ERA. He pitched more than 200 innings in a season seven times.

Previously: Fernando Valenzuela and his gem vs. Cardinals

Previously: Losing became habit for Danny Jackson with Cards

Read Full Post »

Seeking a left-handed reliever to help their pennant push, the Cardinals got Bob Kuzava, a proven producer under postseason pressure. The price, though, was steep: To open a roster spot for Kuzava, the Cardinals cut loose a future Hall of Fame pitcher.

With nine games left in the 1957 season, the second-place Cardinals, in pursuit of the Braves, were without a left-hander in their bullpen. On Sept. 19, general manager Frank Lane filled the need, acquiring the contract of Kuzava, 34, from the Pirates.

With their roster at the limit, the Cardinals needed to remove a player to create a spot for Kuzava. They opted to send Hoyt Wilhelm to the Indians for the waiver price.

Wilhelm went on to pitch in 1,070 big-league games and became the first reliever to be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Kuzava pitched in three games for the 1957 Cardinals, who lost six of their last nine and finished eight behind the pennant-winning Braves.

A World Series standout with the Yankees, Kuzava never got a chance to pitch in the postseason for the Cardinals. This post is a look at how Kuzava, who died on May 15, 2017, at 93, came to end his big-league career with the Cardinals.

Series star

Kuzava made his major-league debut with the 1946 Indians and also pitched for the White Sox and Senators before being dealt to the Yankees in June 1951.

In Game 6 of the 1951 World Series, the Yankees led the Giants, 4-1, entering the ninth inning at Yankee Stadium. Johnny Sain, in his second inning in relief of starter Vic Raschi, yielded singles to the first three Giants batters. Yankees manager Casey Stengel called on Kuzava to end the threat.

Kuzava retired all three batters he faced, earning the save in the Yankees’ 4-3 championship clincher. Boxscore

A year later, Kuzava did it again. In Game 7 of the 1952 World Series at Brooklyn, the Yankees led, 4-2, but the Dodgers loaded the bases with one out in the seventh. Stengel brought in Kuzava to relieve Raschi. Kuzava got Duke Snider to pop out to third and Jackie Robinson to pop out to second. Kuzava held the Dodgers scoreless in the eighth and ninth, sealing the championship for the Yankees. Boxscore

Placed on waivers by the Yankees in August 1954, Kuzava went on to pitch for the Orioles and Phillies. He opened the 1957 season with the Pirates, but was sent to their Class AAA farm club, the Columbus (Ohio) Jets, in May.

Comeback in Columbus

Used primarily as a starter, Kuzava won his first six decisions with Columbus. The highlight occurred on July 20 when he pitched a one-hitter against Richmond. Kuzava retired the first 17 batters before yielding a ground single by pitcher Marty Kutyna in the sixth.

In August, Kuzava was sidelined because of elbow trouble. Still, he won two of his last three decisions and finished the minor-league season with an 8-1 record and 3.41 ERA in 20 appearances.

Cardinals manager Fred Hutchinson wanted a left-handed reliever. The staff’s lone left-hander was starter Vinegar Bend Mizell.

“We’ve been unable to jockey against tough left-handed hitters who don’t like southpaws,” Hutchinson said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Columbus general manager Harold Cooper, who had been trying to interest the Reds in Kuzava, was glad to make a deal with the Cardinals.

(A day after acquiring Kuzava, the Cardinals obtained another left-handed reliever, Morrie Martin, from the Class AAA Vancouver Mounties, an Orioles farm club, for outfielder Eddie Miksis.)

Too little, too late

The Cardinals had three games remaining with each of three foes: Reds, Braves and Cubs. Figuring the Cardinals needed to win nearly all nine to have a chance to overtake the Braves, Hutchinson wanted left-handers to use against sluggers such as Ted Kluszewski of the Reds and Eddie Mathews and Wes Covington of the Braves.

The Cardinals won two of three against the Reds at Cincinnati and went to Milwaukee five games behind the Braves with six to play. The Braves clinched the pennant by beating the Cardinals in the series opener, 4-2, on Hank Aaron’s two-run home run off Billy Muffett in the 11th inning.

Kuzava appeared in three games _ one against the Reds and two versus the Cubs _ for the Cardinals and posted a 3.86 ERA in 2.1 innings pitched. Left-handed batters were 0-for-3 with a walk against him. Right-handed batters were 4-for-8 with a walk.

After the season, the Cardinals assigned Kuzava to the minors, but promised he would be given a chance to make the St. Louis staff in spring training.

Kuzava got his chance, but pitched poorly for the Cardinals in spring training in 1958.

On March 11, he yielded four runs in three innings against the Athletics. On March 25, he gave up six runs to the Dodgers in the ninth inning. “It was dangerous all over the field the way they were bombarding Kuzava,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Kuzava, 35, spent the 1958 season with the Cardinals’ Class AAA Rochester Red Wings club on a staff that included 22-year-old Bob Gibson. Kuzava was 5-3 with a 3.31 ERA in 25 games.

Kuzava finished his playing career in the White Sox farm system in 1959 and 1960.

Previously: How Hoyt Wilhelm got traded to Cardinals

Read Full Post »

When the Cardinals acquired Butch Metzger from the Padres, they hardly could believe their good fortune. Metzger, a relief pitcher, was just turning 25, not yet at his prime, and a few months earlier he had won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

To many, it appeared the Cardinals had secured their closer for the next several years.

What the Cardinals didn’t know was that Metzger’s pitching career had peaked and was headed toward a rapid decline.

Forty years ago, on May 17, 1977, the Cardinals traded pitcher John D’Acquisto and minor-league infielder Pat Scanlon to the Padres for Metzger.

“We felt we needed another man, a right-hander, in the bullpen and this is the type fellow we’ve been trying to acquire,” Cardinals manager Vern Rapp said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Hot streak

Metzger had won his first 12 major-league decisions. He earned a win with the 1974 Giants and a win with the 1975 Padres, but still had his rookie status with the 1976 Padres.

Under first-year pitching coach Roger Craig, who had played for the 1964 World Series champion Cardinals, Metzger became the Padres closer in 1976. He won his first 10 decisions and finished with an 11-4 record, 16 saves and a 2.92 ERA. He made 77 appearances and pitched 123.1 innings.

Metzger and Reds pitcher Pat Zachry were named co-winners of the 1976 NL Rookie of the Year Award. Each received 11 votes in balloting by the Baseball Writers Association of America, resulting in a tie for the first time in the 25-year history of the award.

“I felt I could pitch in the big leagues if I got the chance,” Metzger told The Sporting News. “I honestly didn’t expect to do as well as I did.”

Still, when Rollie Fingers, the closer who helped the Athletics to three consecutive World Series championships (1972-74), became a free agent after the 1976 season, the Padres signed him.

Opportunity knocks

Fingers figured to be the Padres’ closer in 1977, but Metzger erased any suspense with a poor spring training record, yielding 20 earned runs in 15.2 innings.

Meanwhile, the 1977 Cardinals were looking to upgrade their bullpen. Their closer, Al Hrabosky, was clashing with Rapp and their top right-handed reliever, Clay Carroll, had turned 36.

The Cardinals had approached the Padres about Metzger during the winter meetings in December 1976 and they continued their pursuit in 1977.

“Since they have Rollie Fingers now, we thought this might be a time they could spare him,” Cardinals general manager Bing Devine said of Metzger.

When Metzger got off to a poor start in 1977 _ four saves but a 5.56 ERA _ the Padres relented, dealing him five days before his 25th birthday.

“He’s been in and out, good outings and bad outings,” said Padres manager John McNamara. “We’ve had a hard time putting our finger on anything. There’s nothing wrong with his arm.”

Said Metzger: “Maybe I didn’t have things in my head right because I knew they’d gotten Fingers and he was one of the best.”

Steady work

After a good May with the Cardinals (1-0, 2.00 ERA in five appearances), Metzger had an inconsistent June (3.75 ERA, no saves in 16 games).

He found his groove late in July. In a stretch from July 25 to Aug. 13, Metzger was 3-0 with six saves and lowered his Cardinals ERA from 3.06 to 2.32.

“Now he’s showing good velocity,” Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons said. “Now I can see how he won 11 games in relief last year.”

Said Metzger: “I finally got my live, high fastball going again.”

Metzger finished with a 4-2 record, seven saves and a 3.11 ERA in 58 games for the 1977 Cardinals.

Overall, Metzger appeared in 75 games and pitched 115.1 innings combined for the Padres and Cardinals in 1977.

Foul ending

The 1978 Cardinals headed to spring training with a revamped bullpen. Hrabosky and Carroll had been traded. Rawly Eastwick, acquired a month after the Cardinals got Metzger, became a free agent and departed. The Cardinals picked up relievers Mark Littell, Dave Hamilton and Aurelio Lopez. The prime bullpen holdovers were Metzger and Buddy Schultz.

Metzger appeared headed for a right-handed setup role _ with Littell the closer _ but a poor spring training (0-2 and 6.35 ERA in eight appearances) altered the outlook.

On April 5, two days before the Cardinals opened the 1978 regular season, Metzger was placed on waivers and claimed by the Mets.

“I smelled something fishy a couple of days ago when I wasn’t pitching,” Metzger said. “Sometimes in spring training they judge you on one or two innings, which is ridiculous.”

Said Cardinals pitching coach Claude Osteen: “He just never seemed to make any adjustment with us. He had a good arm, but he just never showed any consistency.”

In 25 games for the 1978 Mets, Metzger was 1-3 with a 6.51 ERA. He was sent to the Phillies in July and never appeared in the major leagues again.

Previously: How Buddy Schultz found a home with Cardinals

Read Full Post »

Older Posts »