Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

Chuck Essegian, a Renaissance man who played the violin, studied to be a doctor, became a lawyer, and excelled at baseball and football, began the 1959 major-league season as a Cardinals reserve and ended it as a World Series hero for the Dodgers.

Sixty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1958, the Cardinals acquired Essegian from the Phillies for shortstop Ruben Amaro.

Essegian was an outfielder with a weak throwing arm, but the Cardinals were intrigued by his power.

After a short stint with them, Essegian was demoted by the Cardinals to the minor leagues in June 1959 and nearly quit baseball to pursue a medical career, but reconsidered after the club offered to relocate him to a West Coast franchise.

Four months later, Essegian achieved an unprecedented feat in the World Series.

Stanford standout

Essegian (pronounced Uh-see-jee-un) was born in Boston and moved with his family to Los Angeles when he was a boy. Essegian’s father was an Armenian immigrant who became a mail carrier.

Essegian was a standout baseball and football player at Fairfax High School in Los Angeles as well as a promising violinist. “If he could belt a tune the way he batters that baseball, the Philharmonic missed a hot bet,” the Los Angeles Times reported.

He enrolled at Stanford, played baseball and was a linebacker and fullback in football, appearing in the 1952 Rose Bowl game against Illinois. Essegian earned a degree in biology and considered pursuing a career as a doctor or dentist, but first tried professional baseball.

From 1953-55, Essegian played mostly for unaffiliated minor-league clubs. In 1956, he led the Northwest League in batting at .366 for Salem (Ore.).

Essegian asked the National Association, the organization overseeing minor-league baseball, to declare him a free agent because of irregularities in the handling of his 1956 contract. On Dec. 4, 1956, National Association president George Trautman ruled in favor of Essegian, granting him free agency and giving Salem 30 days to appeal, The Sporting News reported.

The next morning, Dec. 5, 1956, the minor-league draft was held and the Cardinals’ Rochester farm team, unaware Essegian was a free agent, selected him off Salem’s roster.

Rochester was allowed to cancel its selection and choose another player, but stuck with Essegian, hoping the free agency ruling was reversed on appeal.

While awaiting the results of the appeal, Essegian took graduate courses, “which may lead to a career in dentistry,” the Capital Journal in Salem reported.

On Feb. 15, 1957, an executive committee of the minor leagues rejected Salem’s appeal.

Free to make his own deal, Essegian signed with the Phillies.

Cards come calling

Essegian spent 1957 in the Phillies’ farm system and led the Eastern League in batting at .355 for Schenectady.

In 1958, Essegian reached the major leagues, batted .246 for the Phillies and hit his first big-league home run on May 6 against Sandy Koufax of the Dodgers. Essegian became a friend of Phillies second baseman Solly Hemus, who after the season was named manager of the Cardinals. Hemus suggested the club acquire Essegian.

Essegian, 27, displayed impressive power for the 1959 Cardinals in spring training. On March 15, he hit two home runs against Dick Donovan of the White Sox in an exhibition game at Tampa and the next day he hit another home run off the Yankees’ Don Larsen at St. Petersburg.

Essegian “doesn’t have a good throwing arm, a result of a football injury,” but “is eager to give baseball a good try before returning to medical school at his alma mater,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Essegian made the Opening Day roster and in his second regular-season game for the Cardinals he drove in three runs against the Dodgers. Boxscore

Highlights were few, however. Essegian hit .179 and on June 3, 1959, the Cardinals assigned him to Rochester.

Essegian balked at reporting and “talked of quitting baseball unless he could spend more time on the West Coast,” according to The Sporting News.

After the Cardinals assured him they’d try to accommodate him, Essegian went to Rochester and hit four home runs in 10 games. Good to their word, the Cardinals traded Essegian and pitcher Lloyd Merritt to the Dodgers on June 15, 1959, for infielder Dick Gray.

Series slugger

Essegian was sent to Spokane and hit nine home runs before being called up to the Dodgers on Aug. 4, 1959. Batting .304 over the last two months of the season, Essegian earned a World Series roster spot against the White Sox.

In Game 2 at Comiskey Park in Chicago, the White Sox led, 2-1, in the seventh when Essegian, batting for pitcher Johnny Podres, got a high slider from Bob Shaw and drove it deep into the upper deck in left for a home run, tying the score. “It had to be the best ball I ever hit,” Essegian said. The Dodgers won, 4-3, and Essegian was credited with sparking the comeback. Boxscore

The Dodgers led the decisive Game 6, 8-3, in the ninth at Chicago when manager Walter Alston, playing a hunch, had Essegian bat for Duke Snider. Essegian lined the first pitch from Ray Moore into the lower left-field stands, capping a 9-3 championship-clinching triumph.

“He broke his bat on that homer, you know,” said Dodgers coach Pee Wee Reese. “How about that for power?” Boxscore

Essegian became the first player to hit two pinch-hit home runs in a World Series. Another former Cardinal, Bernie Carbo, matched the feat in 1975 for the Red Sox against the Reds.

Essegian also became the second athlete to play in a Rose Bowl and a World Series. The other, Jackie Jensen, appeared in the 1949 Rose Bowl for Cal and the 1950 World Series for the Yankees.

Law and order

Even with his World Series heroics, Essegian barely survived the last roster cut at spring training in 1960 and his name was omitted from the Opening Day game program.

A crowd of 67,550 filled Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum to see the defending World Series champions open the 1960 season against the Cubs. With the score tied 2-2 in the 11th, Essegian batted for pitcher Don Drysdale and hit a slider from Don Elston high into the left-field seats for a walkoff home run. Boxscore

The 1960 season was Essegian’s last with the Dodgers. In 1961, he played for three American League teams _ Orioles, Athletics and Indians. He became an everyday player for the first time in the big leagues in 1962 and hit 21 home runs for the Indians. “Because of his medical school aspirations, (teammates) are calling him Dr. Essegian and Ben Casey,” The Sporting News reported. “He’s handsome and has the scowl. All he needs is the stethoscope.”

Traded back to the Athletics, Essegian played his last year in the big leagues in 1963. He spent 1964 with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes of the Japan Pacific League and hit 15 home runs.

Essegian never did become a doctor or dentist. Instead, he earned a law degree and became a prosecutor in Pasadena before entering private practice.

Though often asked about the World Series home runs, Essegian downplayed the feat.

“I didn’t think that was so spectacular,” he told the Baltimore Sun. “I was just doing a job. Luck has a great deal to do with something like that. You have to have the right situation, the right pitch and be lucky enough to hit it.”

In a 2006 interview with the Los Angeles Times, Essegian said, “I’m not sure, but I think those home runs probably hurt my career. You kind of get labeled as a certain kind of player. If you’re a pinch-hitter, you’re a pinch-hitter because you’re not good enough to play everyday.”

In 161 regular-season plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in the major leagues, Essegian hit three home runs. In four World Series plate appearances as a pinch-hitter in the 1959 World Series, he hit two.

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In seeking a third consecutive pennant, the Cardinals traded six players to get a No. 5 starter for their rotation.

Fifty years ago, on Dec. 3, 1968, the Cardinals acquired pitcher Dave Giusti from the Padres for infielder Ed Spiezio, outfielder Ron Davis, catcher Danny Breeden and pitcher Philip Knuckles.

Two months earlier, on Oct. 11, 1968, the Cardinals got Giusti and catcher Dave Adlesh from the Astros for catchers Johnny Edwards and Tommy Smith, but three days later the Padres selected Giusti in the National League expansion draft.

The Cardinals, who won league championships in 1967 and 1968, were determined to add Giusti to a 1969 starting rotation with Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nelson Briles and Ray Washburn, but the payoff didn’t match the price.

In exchange for Edwards, Smith, Spiezio, Davis, Breeden and Knuckles, the Cardinals got a pitcher who earned three wins in his lone season with them.

Houston calling

Giusti was a successful college pitcher at Syracuse and nearly signed with the Cardinals when he turned pro in June 1961. The Cardinals and Houston Colt .45s each offered Giusti a signing bonus of $35,000 and Giusti was leaning toward choosing St. Louis, partly because his former Syracuse roommate, Doug Clemens, was a Cardinals outfielder.

“If the Cardinals had hurried just a bit at that point, they undoubtedly would have landed Giusti,” The Sporting News reported.

Giusti opted for the Colt .45s, who were entering the National League as an expansion club in 1962, because he said “it would be the fastest way to the big leagues.”

Giusti made his major-league debut in April 1962 and developed into a durable starter for the club, which was renamed the Astros in 1965. In each of three consecutive seasons (1966-68), Giusti reached double digits in wins and topped 200 innings pitched.

During the off-seasons, Giusti, who earned a master’s degree in physical education, was a substitute teacher in a Syracuse suburb.

Giusti was delighted when the Cardinals acquired him from the Astros. With Dal Maxvill at shortstop, “I’ll have more experience behind me at that spot than I’ve had before,” Giusti said, and with an outfield of Lou Brock, Curt Flood and Vada Pinson to chase down drives “you don’t have to worry about making the perfect pitch all the time.”

Come and go

To help stock the rosters of the expansion Expos and Padres, the National League held a draft on Oct. 14, 1968, consisting of six rounds. The Expos and Padres each were allowed to select five players per round from the existing National League franchises.

Each existing team initially could protect 15 players. A team could protect three more players each time one was taken from its list of unprotected.

After the Cardinals got Giusti from the Astros, he asked general manager Bing Devine whether he’d be protected and Devine “didn’t say yes or no,” Giusti said.

The Cardinals wavered until the last minute before protecting Washburn instead of Giusti, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported. The Cardinals would have protected Giusti in the second round if another one of their players was chosen in the first round, according to the Post-Dispatch, but Giusti was the first Cardinals player drafted. The Padres selected Giusti with their second pick in the first round.

“I’m very disappointed,” Giusti said. “Nobody in St. Louis told me this was going to happen. I wanted to work for a championship club.”

Let’s make up

Trade offers for Giusti poured in to the Padres from the Reds, Orioles, Astros and Cardinals. The Reds were offering shortstop Leo Cardenas or outfielder Hal McRae, The Sporting News reported.

Devine came up with the package of four players at positions the Padres were looking to fill. “We needed numbers and the Cards wanted the proven starting pitcher,” said Padres president Buzzie Bavasi.

Devine called to inform Giusti he’d been reacquired by the Cardinals and said, “You can stop being mad at me. We’ve got you back.”

In addition to a fastball and slider, Giusti threw a palmball, which is similar to a changeup. “The difference is the pitcher grips the ball back in the palm rather than with the fingertips,” the Post-Dispatch explained.

“Learning to throw the palmball was a matter of survival,” Giusti said. “I found out early that the hitters up here can hit the fastball. I had to come up with another pitch.”

Said Cardinals pitching coach Billy Muffett: “He can throw the palmball over the plate just about any time he wants. He’s not afraid to throw it no matter what the situation. He never tips off the pitch.”

Starter to closer

In his first regular-season appearance for the Cardinals, on April 12, 1969, Giusti pitched a shutout and scored the lone run in a 1-0 victory over the Mets. The run came in the third inning when Giusti doubled and scored on Flood’s double against Don Cardwell. Boxscore

Giusti pitched a three-hitter against the Cubs for his second Cardinals win. Boxscore.

His season began to unravel in late May when he wrenched his back while fielding during batting practice. He was on the disabled list for a month and in his absence Chuck Taylor and Mike Torrez won spots in the rotation. Giusti was relegated to long-inning relief in August and September as the Cardinals faded from contention.

He finished the season at 3-7 with a 3.61 ERA in 22 appearances.

On Oct. 21, 1969, the Cardinals traded Giusti and catcher Dave Ricketts to the Pirates for outfielders Carl Taylor and Frank Vanzin. Pirates general manager Joe Brown made the deal on the recommendation of outfielder Roberto Clemente, who told him Giusti “always had good stuff and he is a tough competitor.”

The Pirates converted Giusti into a closer and in 1971 he led the National League in saves (30) for the World Series champions. Giusti pitched 5.1 scoreless innings against the Orioles in the 1971 World Series and earned a save in Game 4 when he retired all six batters he faced. Boxscore

In seven seasons (1970-76) with the Pirates, Giusti was 47-28 with a 2.94 ERA and 133 saves.

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As a big-league shortstop, Khalil Greene had special physical skills, but a mental health condition rendered him unable to continue his playing career.

Ten years ago, on Dec. 4, 2008, the Cardinals acquired Greene from the Padres for pitchers Mark Worrell and Luke Gregerson unaware Greene suffered from social anxiety disorder.

The Cardinals were seeking a replacement at shortstop for Cesar Izturis, who became a free agent, and Greene appealed because he hit for power and, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, was “an above-average defender.”

Greene also was shy, or introverted, but those personality traits, the Cardinals found out, carried deeper meaning.

Early success

Khalil Thabit Greene was born in Butler, Pa., and went to high school in Key West, Fla. His father was a jeweler and his mother was a teacher.

Greene was brought up in the Baha’i Faith, whose followers “believe the crucial need facing humanity is to find a unifying vision of the future of society and of the nature and purpose of life,” the organization’s website explains.

According to the Post-Dispatch, Khalil translates to “friend of God” and Thabit means “steadfast.”

Greene enrolled at Clemson University and earned a degree in sociology. He also excelled at baseball, completing a four-year career as Clemson’s all-time leader in hits, doubles, RBI, extra-base hits and total bases.

The Padres chose Greene in the first round of the 2002 amateur draft and he made his big-league debut with them on Sept. 3, 2003.

From 2004 through 2007, Greene averaged 18 home runs and 72 RBI per year and had his best season in 2007 when he produced 27 home runs and 97 RBI.

Greene was limited to 105 games in 2008 because of a season-ending injury on July 30 when he fractured his left hand after punching a storage chest in frustration. “I would say that was very out of character,” Greene told Derrick Goold of the Post-Dispatch.

Though Greene batted .213 in 2008, Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak was unhesitant in dealing for him. “It’s our strong belief that last year (2008) was an aberration,” Mozeliak said.

Seventy percent of respondents to a stltoday.com poll gave the trade a thumbs up.

Under pressure

At spring training with the Cardinals in 2009, Greene, 29, impressed, hitting .408 with 17 RBI in exhibition games.

Regarding his quiet demeanor, Greene told the Post-Dispatch, “I internalize more and that leads people to assume different things about me.”

The Cardinals’ high expectations for Greene were evident in the season opener on April 6, 2009, when manager Tony La Russa batted him in the cleanup spot between Albert Pujols and Ryan Ludwick. Boxscore

Greene struggled, batting .219 in April and .171 in May. Teammates noticed Greene punishing himself during the season’s first road trip, the Post-Dispatch reported.

On May 29, 2009, the Cardinals placed Greene on the disabled list because of social anxiety disorder.

“We’re trying to take some things off him for a while,” La Russa said.

Greene’s condition “is brought on by fatigue caused by incessant stress,” Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch reported. “Any failure, such as a strikeout or an error, reinforces a sense of frustration that finds release only through verbal or physical outbursts, followed by embarrassment and regret.”

Said Greene: “It’s about trying to find balance, about not being too hard on myself and being able to let it go sometimes.”

Tough tests

The Cardinals reinstated Greene on June 18, 2009, and he hit home runs against the Royals in each of his first three games back. After that, he went into a slump, the anxiety resurfaced and the Cardinals returned him to the disabled list on June 29, 2009.

“When he had success in Kansas City, that wasn’t really the test,” La Russa said to the Associated Press. “The test is when you struggle and how you handle it.”

Greene went home to South Carolina to spend time with his wife and parents and receive treatment.

Brendan Ryan had taken over as Cardinals shortstop and was playing well, so when Greene returned to the club for the last two months of the season he primarily was used as a pinch-hitter and reserve infielder.

“I need to get a sense of gratification when things are going well while being able to see any shortcomings in a way that’s not such a debilitating thing,” Greene said.

On Aug. 28, 2009, Greene hit the first pinch-hit home run of his big-league career, tying the score at 2-2 in the eighth inning against the Nationals. The Busch Stadium crowd gave him a standing ovation and his teammates pushed him toward the top step of the dugout to make a curtain call and tip his cap, telling him, “Get out there. You earned it.” Boxscore

Greene finished the 2009 season with a .200 batting average, six home runs and 24 RBI in 77 games. He did hit .353 (12-for-34) with runners in scoring position.

In November 2009, Greene entered free agency and two months later signed a $750,000, one-year deal with the Rangers, who projected him for a utility role.

“This is a situation that will be good for me in a lot of ways,” Greene said. “It’s an exciting team to play for and it looks like a neat place to play.”

On Feb. 25, 2010, the Rangers voided the contract, saying a private matter would keep Greene from reporting to spring training. At age 30, he was finished as a professional ballplayer.

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Ricky Bottalico was acquired by the Cardinals to be a setup reliever, became the closer instead and didn’t perform well enough to keep the job.

Twenty years ago, on Nov. 19, 1998, the Cardinals got Bottalico and pitcher Garrett Stephenson from the Phillies for outfielder Ron Gant and pitchers Jeff Brantley and Cliff Politte. The Cardinals also agreed to pay $6 million toward Gant’s salary over the next two years and Brantley’s salary in 1999.

With an 0-5 record, eight blown save chances and a 4.44 ERA, Brantley was a bust as Cardinals closer in 1998 and he relinquished the role to Juan Acevedo over the last two months of the season. Acevedo responded with 15 saves and the Cardinals were convinced he’d be their closer in 1999. “Our people have (Acevedo) ranked among the top five in the National League,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

What the Cardinals wanted were established setup relievers to protect late-inning leads before turning to Acevedo in the ninth. They thought they’d acquired an ideal tandem in Bottalico, a right-hander, and Scott Radinsky, a left-hander they signed as a free agent after he posted a 2.63 ERA and 13 saves for the 1998 Dodgers.

Quick study

Bottalico was a catcher in college at Florida Southern and Central Connecticut, but wasn’t selected in the major-league draft. The Phillies signed him as an amateur free agent in July 1991 and projected him to be a pitcher.

“I knew I threw the ball hard, but I really didn’t have even a windup at that point,” Bottalico said. “I was throwing more like a catcher, straight from the ear.”

Bottalico was sent to the low levels of the Phillies farm system and was used as a starter. “I learned more about pitching in the first week of minor-league baseball than in the whole rest of my life,” Bottalico said.

After making 11 starts in 1992, he was converted into a closer and began a quick ascension through the farm system. “The Phillies saw my intensity level,” Bottalico said. “Once they saw that, I was labeled for a closer’s role.”

Bottalico debuted in the big leagues with the Phillies in 1994 and he had 34 saves for them in each of two seasons, 1996 and 1997.

In April 1998, Bottalico had surgery to remove bone spurs in his right elbow. He sat out two months, returned in July and “struggled to regain his control and velocity,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

Left-handed batters hit .375 against Bottalico in 1998. He had an 11.68 ERA in August and a 5.59 ERA in September.

Something is amiss

The Cardinals approached the Phillies in November 1998 and suggested trading Gant for Bottalico, Phillies manager Terry Francona said. “We were dying for a 30-homer guy like Gant,” said Phillies general manager Ed Wade.

To sweeten the deal, the Cardinals said they’d include Brantley and Politte and would pay portions of the remainder of Gant’s and Brantley’s contracts, Francona said.

The Phillies included Stephenson in the package because he’d filed a grievance against them, claiming he was sent to the minors while injured, and “wore out his welcome here,” Wade said.

Though Bottalico was 1-5 with a 6.44 ERA for the 1998 Phillies, Jocketty called him “a guy we’ve liked for a long time” and said Cardinals doctors were convinced the pitcher’s arm was sound. “My arm hasn’t felt this good in years,” Bottalico said.

Early in the 1999 season, Bottalico pitched well for the Cardinals and Acevedo didn’t. Bottalico had a 1.46 ERA in 11 appearances in April. By mid-May, Acevedo had a 6.75 ERA, so the Cardinals made Bottalico the closer.

Though Bottalico had stretches of success, he faltered in the final two months of the season. His ERA in August was 9.72 and in September it was 7.84.

Meanwhile, Radinsky injured his elbow and didn’t pitch for the Cardinals in August and September.

The relievers who began the season as the Cardinals’ top three all produced poor results:

_ Acevedo, 4-5, 5.06 ERA, four saves as a reliever.

_ Bottalico, 3-7, 4.91 ERA, 20 saves and eight blown save chances.

_ Radinsky, 2-1, 4.88 ERA, three saves.

Bottalico had “too many walks, too many late-inning home runs, too little confidence” during the second half of the season, the Post-Dispatch surmised.

The pitcher who turned out to provide a boost was the throw-in from the Phillies deal. Stephenson, sent to the minors early in spring training, was called up to the Cardinals in June 1999 and won his first five decisions. He finished 6-3 with a 4.22 ERA. In 2000, he was a 16-game winner for the Cardinals.

One and done

The Cardinals were 75-86 in 1999 and they vowed to make moves to improve.

On Nov. 16, 1999, the Cardinals acquired reliever Dave Veres from the Rockies and projected him to be their closer in 2000.

Soon after, the Cardinals offered to deal Bottalico and outfielder Eric Davis to the Dodgers for starting pitcher Ismael Valdez and second baseman Eric Young, the Post-Dispatch reported. When the Dodgers balked at taking Davis, talks continued about a swap of Bottalico for Young.

On Dec. 12, 1999, the Dodgers got what they considered a better offer and dealt Valdez and Young to the Cubs for pitchers Terry Adams, Chad Ricketts and Brian Stephenson. A week later, the Cardinals got second baseman Fernando Vina for Acevedo, catcher Eliezer Alfonzo and pitcher Matt Parker.

Unable to trade Bottalico and unwilling to pay him the $2.2 million salary he got in 1999, the Cardinals decided they wouldn’t offer him a contract for 2000, making him a free agent. “I had a feeling this is what they might do,” Bottalico said.

In January 2000, Bottalico signed a one-year contract with the Royals, bringing his short, unfulfilling stint with the Cardinals to an official end.

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Benny Valenzuela, a pioneering Mexican-born ballplayer, emerged from a humble start in professional baseball and reached the majors, but the Cardinals were the wrong club for a rookie third baseman.

Valenzuela, who died Oct. 24, 2018, at 85, played briefly for the Cardinals in two stints with them in 1958. The Cardinals, though, were set at third base with a premier player, Ken Boyer, and that meant Valenzuela had little opportunity to play.

The Cardinals traded Valenzuela after the 1958 season and he never got back to the big leagues. He did, however, continue his playing career in the minors and he went on to have success as a manager for many years in the Mexican League.

Big break

Benjamin Beltran Valenzuela was born in Los Mochis, a city founded by Americans near the Gulf of California in northwestern Mexico. His nickname was Papelero because as a boy he sold newspapers to help his widowed mother.

Benny Valenzuela, no relation to fellow Mexican and former Cardinals pitcher Fernando Valenzuela, became a bat boy for a Los Mochis team managed by former Washington Senators pitcher Syd Cohen. In 1949, when Valenzuela was 16, Cohen became exasperated by a Los Mochis outfielder who couldn’t track fly balls in the sun. Cohen lifted the outfielder during a game and replaced him with the bat boy, Valenzuela, who’d showed an ability to play.

Three years later, in 1952, Cohen was manager of the Bisbee-Douglas Copper Kings of the Arizona-Texas League and he gave his former bat boy a spot on the team. Bisbee-Douglas was in the low levels of the minors, a remote Class C league with no affiliation to any franchise in the majors, but it was professional baseball in the United States and Valenzuela was grateful to Cohen to get the opportunity.

Valenzuela spent three seasons with Bisbee-Douglas, learning the craft, and produced batting averages of .352 in 1952, .347 in 1953 and .388 in 1954.

The Cardinals took notice and on Nov. 30, 1954, they selected Valenzuela, 21, in the minor-league draft.

Rising above

Valenzuela continued his strong hitting in the Cardinals’ system. He batted .354 for Fresno in 1955, .305 with 107 RBI for Omaha and Houston in 1956 and .286 with 24 home runs and 90 RBI for Houston in 1957.

At spring training with the Cardinals in 1958, Valenzuela impressed general manager Bing Devine and moved “to the front row among candidates for pinch-hitting jobs,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

Valenzuela also had a strong arm and the Post-Dispatch reported he “gets a ball away more quickly than any infielder we can remember. He frequently gets the ball to the first baseman before the batter has reached the halfway mark to first base.”

Valenzuela was listed as being 5 feet 10, 175 pounds, but often was described in unflattering terms. The Sporting News called him “thick-legged” and “stubby.” The Post-Dispatch resorted to “chunky.”

“He resembles Yogi Berra,” The Sporting News decided.

Stereotyping was common. The Sporting News, for instance, labeled him “the peppery Mexican” and cited his “chili con carne English.”


Valenzuela, 24, made the Opening Day roster of the 1958 Cardinals and became the 10th Mexican-born player to reach the major leagues, according to Frontera.info. He was the second Mexican-born player to join the Cardinals. The first was pitcher Memo Luna, whose big-league career with the Cardinals consisted of two-thirds of an inning in 1954.

Mel Almada, an outfielder with the 1933 Red Sox, was the first Mexican-born player in the big leagues.

Valenzuela made his Cardinals debut on April 27, 1958, when he batted for pitcher Larry Jackson and singled to right against Johnny Podres of the Dodgers. Boxscore

“He’s hitting 1.000, a heck of an average in any man’s language,” the Post-Dispatch declared.

On May 6, 1958, Valenzuela doubled against Bob Buhl of the Braves, but the Cardinals demoted him to Omaha on May 14 after he appeared in five games.

Moving on

On June 29, 1958, another Mexican-born player, shortstop Ruben Amaro, who’d been Valenzuela’s teammate for two seasons at Houston, made his major-league debut with the Cardinals.

Meanwhile, Valenzuela hit. 284 with 72 RBI for Omaha and was named the third baseman on the Parade Magazine Class AAA all-star team.

On Sept. 2, 1958, the Cardinals recalled Valenzuela to the big leagues and he appeared in five more games, producing a single against Bob Rush of the Braves on Sept. 18.

For the season, Valenzuela hit .214 (3-for-14) in 10 games for the Cardinals. Boyer, 27 and entrenched at third base, hit .307 and led the Cardinals in runs (101), hits (175), home runs (23) and RBI (90).

On Oct. 7, 1958, the Cardinals traded Valenzuela, pitcher Billy Muffett and catcher Hobie Landrith to the Giants for pitchers Ernie Broglio and Marv Grissom.

Valenzuela played three seasons (1959-61) in the Giants’ farm system before continuing his career as a player and manager in the Mexican League. Among the former major leaguers he managed in Mexico were ex-Cardinals pitchers Diego Segui and Pedro Borbon.

Valenzuela, Vinny Castilla and Aurelio Rodriguez are among the most prominent Mexican-born third basemen to reach the major leagues.

In 1986, Valenzuela and Amaro were inducted together into the Mexican Baseball Hall of Fame in Monterrey.

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A deal designed to make the Cardinals a surefire bet to win a third consecutive pennant backfired on them and instead helped the Reds develop into the most dominant team in the National League.

Fifty years ago, on Oct. 11, 1968, the Cardinals acquired outfielder Vada Pinson from the Reds for outfielder Bobby Tolan and relief pitcher Wayne Granger.

The trade was made the day after the Tigers beat the Cardinals in Game 7 of the 1968 World Series and it seemed to signal the two-time defending National League champions would be back in 1969 for a chance to reclaim the World Series crown they’d won in 1967.

Pinson, 30, was acquired to replace right fielder Roger Maris, who retired. Like Maris, Pinson batted left-handed and earned a reputation as a special talent.

The Cardinals were able to obtain him without giving up a frontline player. Tolan, 23, was a reserve and Granger, 24, was deemed expendable in a bullpen featuring Joe Hoerner and Ron Willis.

However, Reds general manager Bob Howsam was able to see what Cardinals general manager Bing Devine could not: Pinson’s skills were fading while Tolan and Granger were on the verge of becoming prominent players.

Prolific hitter

Pinson grew up in Oakland and went to McClymonds High School, which also produced athletes such as Frank Robinson and Curt Flood in baseball and Bill Russell in basketball.

Like Robinson and Flood, Pinson signed with the Reds. Robinson and Flood made their major-league debuts with Cincinnati in 1956 and Pinson was projected to be with the Reds in 1958.

The Reds could have had an outfield of Robinson, Flood and Pinson, but on Dec. 5, 1957, they traded Flood to the Cardinals in the first deal Devine made for St. Louis. In the book “October 1964,” author David Halberstam said Flood “always suspected they were not enamored of having an outfield of three black players” in Cincinnati.

Pinson became one of the game’s best players. He led the National League in hits in 1961 (208) and 1963 (204). Pinson also led the league in doubles in 1959 (47) and 1960 (37) and in triples in 1963 (14) and 1967 (13).

In 1968, Pinson, hampered by a groin injury, hit .271 with 29 doubles and 17 stolen bases, but was limited to five home runs and 48 RBI.

Judging talent

When Devine was fired by Cardinals owner Gussie Busch in August 1964, Howsam replaced him. After the 1966 season, Howsam left the Cardinals for a more lucrative deal with the Reds. Stan Musial replaced Howsam, resigned after the Cardinals won the 1967 World Series championship and was succeeded by Devine.

Several Cardinals staff members, including farm director Chief Bender and minor-league managers Sparky Anderson, Charlie Metro and Vern Rapp, eventually followed Howsam to the Reds’ organization and recommended Tolan and Granger.

As a backup outfielder and first baseman, Tolan hit .253 for the Cardinals in 1967 and .230 in 1968. Granger, a rookie, was 4-2 with four saves and a 2.25 ERA for the 1968 Cardinals.

The Cardinals “were disappointed” in Tolan’s hitting, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported, and “felt too many pitchers were able to handle him.”

“The front office and the field command had developed serious doubts Tolan would progress sufficiently as a hitter,” Post-Dispatch columnist Bob Broeg reported.

Howsam, however, was sold on Tolan, telling the Cincinnati Enquirer, “I don’t care what others say. I go by what we think of him. He’s got the ability and he has the desire.”

As for Granger, he “didn’t impress manager Red Schoendienst sufficiently,” Broeg wrote, even though minor-league manager Warren Spahn advocated for him.

Outstanding outfield

On Oct. 7, 1968, the day the Cardinals and Tigers played Game 5 of the World Series, Devine and Howsam agreed to the trade, according to the Dayton Journal-Herald. Though the clubs waited until after the World Series to announce the deal on Oct. 11, word leaked and it was widely reported on Oct. 10.

“Unless Pinson has aged overnight or has a hidden physical handicap, he’s likely to help the Cardinals with more speed on the bases and with a supply of doubles and triples,” Broeg surmised.

In a column for the Post-Dispatch, Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson told readers, “With Vada, Lou Brock and Curt Flood, I think we have the best outfield in baseball. Certainly it is the fastest.”

“Can you imagine the three of us out there?” Pinson said to the Associated Press. “We’ll have some fun. I’ve known since early this season I would be traded … but I thought I’d go to San Francisco. There was talk of Ray Sadecki or Gaylord Perry for me. I never dreamed it would be St. Louis. I’m really thrilled.”

In an interview with the Dayton Daily News, Pinson said, “I don’t believe I could have made a better deal for myself. I’m going to the top. Now I’ve got to make sure we stay at the top.

“I see no problem in bouncing back with the Cardinals. I’m only 30 and I figure I’ve got at least four or five more good years. The Cards must think so, too. I talked to Red Schoendienst and Bing Devine. They said the Cards had been scouting me for a good while.”

According to Bill Ford of the Cincinnati Enquirer, “Contemporaries congratulated Howsam” for acquiring Tolan. “They say Tolan, if handled properly, can be better than Brock.”

Said Tolan: “All I want is a chance to play every day because that’s the only way you can make any money. I can’t count on a World Series check every year.”

Reds strike gold

Pinson started splendidly for St. Louis in 1969, batting .293 in his first 21 games, before he was sidelined the first two weeks of May because of a hairline fracture in his right leg after being hit by a pitch from the Pirates’ Bob Moose.

After he returned to the lineup on May 14, Pinson struggled and batted .136 for the month. He rebounded in June (.286) and July (.302, 20 RBI), but slumped in August (.174) and September (.241).

The Cardinals finished in fourth place in the East Division and Pinson received part of the blame. Though his 70 RBI ranked second on the team, Pinson batted .255, with a poor on-base percentage of .303, and had four stolen bases.

On Nov. 21, 1969, the Cardinals traded Pinson to the Indians for outfielder Jose Cardenal.

Tolan and Granger had breakout seasons for the 1969 Reds. Tolan batted .305 with 194 hits, 21 home runs, 93 RBI and 26 stolen bases. Granger pitched in 90 games and had nine wins, 27 saves and a 2.80 ERA.

In 1970, the Reds won the pennant and Tolan and Granger were key contributors. Tolan hit .316 with 34 doubles, 80 RBI and 57 steals. Granger had 35 saves and a 2.66 ERA.

Two years later, when the Reds won the pennant again, Tolan batted .283 with 82 RBI and 42 stolen bases.

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