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Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

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

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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

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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

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Don Young began his professional baseball career in the Cardinals system, played for George Kissell, departed and was brought back by Stan Musial.

Though he had two stints in the Cardinals organization, Young never played for St. Louis.

Instead, he played for their rival, the Cubs; made his debut in a legendary game; and became a central character in one of their most notorious defeats.

Teen hopeful

Young was 17 when he signed with the Cardinals as an amateur free agent out of Aurora (Colo.) High School in June 1963.

An outfielder, he was assigned to the Brunswick (Ga.) Cardinals, a Class A club managed by Kissell, the respected instructor. Young batted .280 in 16 games and was sent to another Cardinals Class A team, the Billings (Mont.) Mustangs. He hit .257 in 58 games.

After spring training in 1963, Young was placed on waivers, claimed by the Cubs and began to re-establish himself. In 1965, Young batted .273 with 25 doubles and 16 home runs for the Class AA Dallas-Fort Worth Spurs.

At 19, he was rewarded with a promotion to the Cubs in September 1965.

Big-league welcome

Young made his major-league debut as the starting center fielder and leadoff batter for the Cubs in Los Angeles against the Dodgers on Sept. 9.

The Dodgers pitcher that night: Sandy Koufax.

The result: a perfect game.

Koufax retired all 27 batters in a row and struck out 14. Young popped out twice and struck out. The Dodgers, held to one hit by Cubs starter Bob Hendley, won, 1-0. Boxscore

The next night, in San Francisco, Young, described by the Chicago Tribune as “perhaps the Cubs’ top outfield farm prospect,” got his first big-league hit, a solo home run off the Giants’ Ron Herbel. Boxscore

Lou Klein, Cubs manager and former Cardinals infielder, started Young in five games versus the Dodgers and Giants, drawing criticism from Braves manager Bobby Bragan for using a rookie in the pennant stretch against contenders.

Overmatched, Young batted .057 (2-for-35) in his September stint with the Cubs.

Musial maneuvers

Young was back in the minor leagues in 1966 and 1967.

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were trying to figure out what to do with Ted Savage.

Savage, who had hit .266 with 16 stolen bases as a rookie outfielder with the 1962 Phillies, was acquired by the Cardinals after the 1964 season and spent most of the next two years in their minor-league system.

After Musial became Cardinals general manager in January 1967, he promised Savage he would try to keep him in the major leagues.

Savage earned a spot as a utility player on the Opening Day roster of the 1967 Cardinals, but seldom played. In May, Savage was ticketed for a return to the minors. Upset, he indicated he wouldn’t report, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote.

Determined to fulfill his vow, Musial looked for a big-league team that would take Savage.

Brief return

Fifty years ago, on May 13, 1967, the Cardinals traded Savage and minor-league outfielder John Kindl to the Cubs for Young and minor-league catcher Jim Procopio.

The Chicago Tribune noted that Young was “once rated a potential Cubs center fielder” but “still was struggling in the minors.”

The Cardinals assigned Young to their Class AAA Tulsa Oilers team. Young played in 12 games for manager Warren Spahn, batted .147 (5-for-34) and was sent back to the Cubs on Aug. 1. The Cubs told Young to report to their Arizona Instructional League team.

Young’s career appeared to be on the brink. He spent the 1968 season with the Lodi (Calif.) Crushers, a Class A club.

Though he wasn’t on their 40-man roster, the Cubs did invite Young, 23, to attend their 1969 spring training camp. It was there that he received an unexpected opportunity.

Rebuilding project

Adolfo Phillips, projected to be the starting center fielder for the 1969 Cubs, broke his hand at spring training. Cubs manager Leo Durocher considered giving the job to a prospect, Oscar Gamble, but the 19-year-old had only a year of minor-league experience.

With his options limited, Durocher turned to Young.

Young “conceivably could be ready for the big time,” Jerome Holtzman of The Sporting News wrote.

“He hasn’t been a strong hitter,” Holtzman opined. “He is, however, a beautiful center fielder … and could very well become a Gold Glove winner _ if he can hit enough to stay.”

Young worked with Klein, his former manager who had become a batting instructor, and Cubs coach Pete Reiser on his hitting. Durocher also wanted Young to become more aggressive.

“He could have a great future, but it’s up to him,” Durocher said. “I can’t do it for him. I don’t care what he hits. I want to see more enthusiasm from him.”

Blame game

With Phillips on the mend, Young was the Opening Day center fielder for the 1969 Cubs.

The Cubs won 11 of their first 12 games and Durocher stayed with Young. In June, Phillips, who clashed with Durocher, was traded to the Expos, solidifying Young’s hold on the job.

On July 8, the Cubs opened a key series with the Mets at New York. The second-place Mets were five games behind the Cubs and Chicago was looking to push them further back.

The Cubs led, 3-1, in the ninth, but the Mets rallied for a 4-3 victory when Young was unable to catch two fly balls that fell for doubles. Cubs third baseman Ron Santo blamed the loss on Young. Boxscore

“He was just thinking of himself,” Santo said. “He had a bad day at the bat, so he’s got his head down. He is worrying about his batting average and not the team … He can keep his head down and he can keep right on going, out of sight, for all I care.”

The next day, Santo apologized: “What I said about Donnie, I didn’t mean. I said it because I was upset.”

The damage, though, had been done. When the Cubs returned to Chicago, Santo was booed at Wrigley Field. The Mets surged ahead of the crumbling Cubs, clinched the division title and went on to win the National League pennant and World Series crown.

Young finished the 1969 season, his last in the big leagues, with a .239 batting average in 101 games.

Previously: 2nd career as Cardinal was long, fruitful for Ted Savage

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Seeking a power bat for a lineup struggling to score, the Cardinals got the slugger they wanted but paid a hefty price, dealing a player who would win the National League batting title.

When the Cardinals traded outfielder Harry Walker, 28, and pitcher Freddy Schmidt, 31, to the Phillies for outfielder Ron Northey 70 years ago on May 3, 1947, the swap appeared to favor them.

Northey, 27, was an established left-handed pull hitter whose swing appeared tailored to take advantage of the short distance (310 feet) down the line from home plate to the right field wall at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis.

Walker, also a left-handed batter, lacked Northey’s power.

“Walker, a great fielder and fast man, wasn’t hitting far enough or long enough to suit” the Cardinals, The Sporting News reported.

The Cardinals, though, didn’t know Walker was close to mastering a revamped swing that would lead to a breakthrough.

Seeking a groove

After winning the 1946 World Series championship, the Cardinals had a dreadful start to the 1947 season. The Cardinals lost 10 of their first 12 games, including the last eight in a row. They scored two runs or less in five of those 10 losses.

St. Louis began the season with a starting outfield of Dick Sisler in left, Walker in center and Enos Slaughter in right, with Stan Musial at first base.

Walker had debuted in the big leagues with the 1940 Cardinals. He had his best year for St. Louis in 1943, batting .294 with 166 hits.

After that season, Walker joined the Army, serving with General George Patton’s unit in Europe, and was awarded the Bronze Star for valor and the Purple Heart, according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

When Walker returned to the Cardinals in 1946, he platooned with Terry Moore in center field. Trying to hit for power, Walker became a pull hitter but was unsuccessful. He batted .237 with 27 RBI.

During that season, Walker sought the advice of his brother, Dodgers outfielder Dixie Walker, who urged his sibling to close his batting stance and spray the ball to all fields.

During the 1946 World Series against the Red Sox, Walker began to see positive results from the change. He batted .412 (7-for-17) with six RBI, including the double that drove in Slaughter from first base with the winning run in Game 7.

However, when Walker started slowly in 1947, batting .200 with no RBI in 10 games, the Cardinals stepped up efforts to acquire Northey.

Rough on righties

Northey had debuted in the big leagues with the 1942 Phillies. The stocky outfielder had a strong throwing arm and a power stroke.

He also had an ear problem. In his freshman year at Duke University, Northey was beaned by a pitch and experienced a buzzing in his ears ever since, according to The Sporting News.

“It is so annoying that Northey often is forced to rattle papers to keep his mind off the buzz,” The Sporting News reported. “When he goes to bed, he falls asleep with his radio on.”

Northey had his best year with the Phillies in 1944 when he batted .288 with 35 doubles, 22 home runs and 104 RBI.

He pounded right-handed pitchers and was vulnerable against left-handers. In 1946, Northey batted .266 with 16 home runs versus right-handers and .159 with no home runs against left-handers.

In 1947, Northey reported late to spring training after unsuccessfully holding out for more pay. He also clashed with Phillies manager Ben Chapman.

Walker was in New York with the Cardinals and about to board a train for their trip to Boston when he was informed he and Schmidt had been dealt to the Phillies for Northey.

Schmidt, a right-hander, had experienced a breakout season with the 1944 Cardinals, posting a 7-3 record and 3.15 ERA in 37 appearances. He was 1-0 with a 3.29 ERA in 1946.

Let ‘er rip

In reporting the trade, The Sporting News described Northey as a “robust Pennsylvanian who swings from his heels.”

Cardinals owner Sam Breadon told the St. Louis Star-Times, “Harry Walker is a fine defensive outfielder, but what we need right now is punch and I think Northey has it.”

Northey joined the Cardinals in Boston for their series with the Braves and was placed in the lineup for a Sunday doubleheader on May 4. He singled and scored in the opener, a 4-3 Braves victory that extended the St. Louis losing streak to nine.

In the second game, Northey went 3-for-4 with four RBI and three runs scored, sparking St. Louis to a 9-0 triumph. He produced a two-run home run off starter Mort Cooper, the former Cardinal ace, in the fourth, a solo home run against Glenn Elliott in the sixth and a RBI-single off Dick Mulligan in the seventh. Boxscore

Hot hitting

Walker went on a tear as soon as he joined the Phillies, getting 10 hits in his first 24 at-bats. He had perfected the batting style his brother had suggested.

In 130 games for the 1947 Phillies, Walker batted .371 with 181 hits, including 28 doubles and a league-leading 16 triples.

Even with his 5-for-25 effort for the Cardinals added to his season total, Walker easily won the NL batting crown at .363. The runner-up, Bob Elliott of the Braves, hit .317.

Walker also placed second in the NL in on-base percentage at .436. Only the Reds’ Augie Galan (.449) did better.

Northey batted .293 with 15 home runs and 63 RBI in 110 games for the 1947 Cardinals. True to form, he hit .313 versus right-handers and .154 against left-handers.

The Cardinals ended the 1947 season in second place at 89-65, five behind the Dodgers.

Northey played two more seasons for St. Louis, batting .321 with 13 home runs in 1948 and .260 with seven home runs in 1949.

Walker batted .292 for the 1948 Phillies, was traded to the Cubs and then shipped to the Reds.

After the 1949 season, in a classic example of what goes around comes around, the Cardinals sent Northey and infielder Lou Klein to the Reds to reacquire Walker.

Previously: Tribute to Freddy Schmidt, star rookie for 1944 Cards

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Desperate for a quality shortstop, the Cardinals turned to Ruben Amaro and gave him his first opportunity to play in the major leagues. Amaro fielded splendidly but didn’t hit well enough and the Cardinals quickly gave up on him.

Amaro, who died March 31, 2017, at 81, played one season for the Cardinals. Traded to the Phillies after the 1958 season, he went on to have a long career as a player, coach and scout.

Though Amaro’s time with the Cardinals was relatively short, it covered a lot of ground, beginning in Mexico and ending in Japan.

Career choice

Born in Mexico in 1936, Amaro was the son of Santos Amaro, a powerful hitter who played baseball in Cuba in winter and in Mexico in summer.

As a teen-ager, Ruben Amaro caught the attention of the Cardinals when he played for the Mexican team in the Central American Games. The Cardinals offered him a contract in 1954.

At the time, Amaro, 18, was considering a career in engineering and his older brother, Mario, wanted to be a doctor, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. Amaro saw baseball as a way to help pay for his brother’s education.

“All the time my father played baseball, he didn’t make much money,” Amaro told Jack Rice of the Post-Dispatch. “Maybe I can. I play baseball, Mario goes to medical school.”

The Cardinals sent Amaro to their Class C team in Mexicali, a city situated on the border of Mexico and the United States. Amaro played two seasons for the Mexicali Eagles, batting .285 in 1954 and .305 with 18 home runs in 1955.

Racial prejudice

Impressed, the Cardinals promoted Amaro to the Class AA Houston Buffaloes in 1956.

Amaro “arrived in Houston with the reputation of being one of the finest fielders in baseball. Possessing a great arm, sure hands and fine speed, Amaro has not disappointed,” The Sporting News reported.

Playing shortstop for manager Harry Walker, Amaro batted .266 with 64 RBI in 1956.

The Cardinals assigned Amaro to Houston again in 1957. When Houston went to Shreveport, La., for a series in May, Amaro wasn’t allowed to play “because of the Louisiana racial law,” The Sporting News reported.

Humiliated, Amaro considered quitting baseball but decided to stick it out after a talk with his father, according to a biography by the Society for American Baseball Research.

Climbing the ladder

Houston won the 1957 Texas League championship and faced Atlanta, the Southern Association champion, in the Dixie Series.

Though Amaro hit .222 during the season, he provided the key hit in the Dixie Series. His two-run home run off Don Nottebart in the seventh inning lifted Houston to a 3-1 series-clinching victory in Game 6.

In 1958, Amaro was assigned to the Class AAA Rochester Red Wings. St. Louis that season primarily started Eddie Kasko at shortstop. In July, when Kasko’s batting average dropped to .195, the Cardinals benched him and called up Amaro, even though he was batting .200 for Rochester.

Stan lends a hand

Amaro arrived in St. Louis on July 15 and was placed in the starting lineup by manager Fred Hutchinson for that night’s game against the Braves. “His name was in the lineup card as soon as his foot was in the door,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The newspaper cautioned that Amaro “is well known to the Cards as a strong fielder but a weak hitter. His batting is the sorrow of his father, Santos Amaro.”

Sports editor Bob Broeg suggested Amaro’s arrival to play shortstop “provides just another chapter in the club’s almost constant trouble at the key defensive position.” With the exception of Marty Marion in the 1940s, the Cardinals “rarely have known satisfaction at a post which ranks second to none in defensive importance,” Broeg wrote.

In his book “Stan Musial: An American Life,” author George Vecsey said the Cardinals issued Amaro a pair of uniform pants at least two sizes too big. When Musial saw the rookie looking awkward in the baggy uniform, he said to clubhouse attendant Butch Yatkeman, “Would you get this young man a pair of pants so he can play like a major leaguer?”

When Amaro stepped onto the Busch Stadium field for the first time, he timidly watched the Cardinals take batting practice. Musial called out to the players, “He’s playing today. Let him have some swings.”

Amaro was forever grateful to Musial for his kindness.

Good glove

Starting at shortstop and batting eighth that night, Amaro went hitless in two at-bats against the Braves’ Joey Jay before being lifted for pinch-hitter Wally Moon, but his fielding impressed.

“After two easy fielding chances, his third was a hard-hit ball that made him range far toward third base and deeply,” the Post-Dispatch observed. “It is a testing place for a shortstop’s arm and he met the test well.” Boxscore

The next night, Amaro got his first big-league hit, a double off future Hall of Famer Warren Spahn. Boxscore

Amaro produced six hits in his first 18 at-bats (a .333 batting average) for the Cardinals, but struggled after that.

In 40 games, including 21 starts at shortstop, Amaro batted .224 for the 1958 Cardinals. He hit .364 (8-for-22) against left-handed pitchers and .167 (9-for-54) versus right-handers.

Strong resume

After the 1958 season, Amaro took part in a series of exhibition games the Cardinals played on a goodwill tour of Japan.

When the Cardinals returned home, they traded Amaro to the Phillies for outfielder Chuck Essegian on Dec. 3, 1958. “I cried when they traded me,” Amaro said.

After a season in the minors, Amaro played for the Phillies from 1960-65. He won a NL Gold Glove Award in 1964. Amaro also played for the Yankees (1966-68) and Angels (1969).

After his playing career, Amaro was a scout, minor-league manager, executive and big-league coach.

His son, Ruben Amaro Jr., a Stanford University graduate, played in the big leagues for eight years (1991-98) as an outfielder with the Angels, Phillies and Indians. He was general manager of the Phillies from 2009-2015.

Previously: Why Cardinals were keen on Gene Freese

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