Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

After eight years as the center fielder for the Cardinals, Jim Edmonds had no intention of taking a reduced role with the team. If the Cardinals couldn’t commit to him, Edmonds told them, he’d rather play somewhere other than St. Louis.

Concerned Edmonds no longer was durable and convinced they had candidates within the organization to replace him, the Cardinals decided the time was right to part with a player who had been among their most popular and productive.

Ten years ago, in December 2007, John Mozeliak made his first trade as Cardinals general manager, sending Edmonds to the Padres for minor-league third baseman David Freese.

The deal sent away a player who had performed a key role in helping the Cardinals win a World Series title in 2006 and brought them a player who would perform a key role in helping them win another World Series championship in 2011.

Special talent

Edmonds, acquired by the Cardinals from the Angels in March 2000, was a central figure in the franchise’s success from 2000 to 2007. In that period, the Cardinals won a World Series crown and two National League pennants and qualified for the postseason six times.

With the Cardinals, Edmonds won the Gold Glove Award six times and was named an all-star three times.

In his eight seasons with St. Louis, Edmonds produced 1,033 hits and batted .285. He had an on-base percentage of .393.

Edmonds hit 241 home runs for St. Louis, placing him fourth all-time among Cardinals. Only Stan Musial (475), Albert Pujols (445) and Ken Boyer (255) hit more. Musial is the lone left-handed batter with more career home runs as a Cardinal than Edmonds.

Also, Edmonds had a .555 slugging percentage for St. Louis. Only six others _ Mark McGwire, Pujols, Johnny Mize, Chick Hafey, Rogers Hornsby and Musial _ have higher slugging percentages as Cardinals than Edmonds.

“If we consider the combination of offense and defense, Edmonds was the best overall center fielder in Cardinals history,” wrote Bernie Miklasz, columnist for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

That’s high praise considering the franchise has had standout center fielders such as Curt Flood, Ray Lankford, Willie McGee and Terry Moore.

Time takes toll

In 2007, however, Edmonds showed signs his health and his skills were eroding. He had surgery on his right shoulder and left foot after the 2006 World Series. During the 2007 season, Edmonds was on the disabled list from June 16 to July 18 because of back problems. Late in the season, he had a groin injury and made just one start after Sept. 17.

Edmonds played in 117 games in 2007 and batted .252 with 12 home runs and 53 RBI. He hit .198 against left-handers.

In the off-season, Edmonds, 37, heard speculation the Cardinals might reduce his playing time in 2008 and shift him to right field.

“After running down all of those line drives in the gaps, he couldn’t outrun his age,” Miklasz wrote of Edmonds.

Edmonds approached Cardinals management and asked about their plans for him. “Basically, the feedback wasn’t so great, and they couldn’t guarantee anything,” Edmonds said to the Associated Press.

The Cardinals believed Rick Ankiel, the converted pitcher, was ready to take over in center field. “I think Rick Ankiel has emerged as a force,” said Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt Jr. The Cardinals thought their top minor-league prospect, Colby Rasmus, could compete for the center field job, too.

Edmonds, believing he still could be a starter in center, agreed to relinquish the no-trade clause in his contract. He gave the Cardinals a list of teams. His preference was a Southern California club because he had a home in Irvine, Calif.

“I wanted a chance to play every day,” Edmonds said.

California dreaming

The Padres were in the market for a center fielder. Their 2007 starter, Mike Cameron, had become a free agent. San Diego was interested in Japanese League import Kosuke Fukodome, but he signed with the Cubs. Cameron went to the Brewers.

Edmonds became the Padres’ best option. “We felt it was a risk worth taking,” said Padres general manager Kevin Towers.

The Cardinals and Padres agreed to a deal on Dec. 14, 2007. The Post-Dispatch broke the news on its Web site that night. The trade formally was announced the next day, Dec. 15.

“I’m kind of shocked but excited because I get to be in Southern California next to my family and play for a contending team in a beautiful ballpark,” Edmonds said.

Towers predicted to the San Diego Union-Tribune that Edmonds would bat .270 and hit 15 to 20 home runs for the Padres in 2008.

Return on investment

The Cardinals were glad to get a player for Edmonds before he became eligible for free agency after the 2008 season.

Freese, who grew up in St. Louis and graduated from Lafayette High School, had been chosen by the Padres in the ninth round of the 2006 amateur draft. In 2007, playing for the Lake Elsinore Storm of the Class A California League, Freese batted .302 with 96 RBI and scored 104 runs.

Asked his reaction to being traded for Edmonds, Freese said, “It’s been a dream of mine to play for the Cardinals. Now it may become a reality.”

Freese debuted with the Cardinals in 2009 and became their primary third baseman in 2010.

Ankiel was the Cardinals’ primary center fielder in 2008 and Rasmus became the starter in 2009.

Edmonds played in 26 games for the 2008 Padres, batted .178 and was released in May. He spent the rest of the season with the Cubs and hit 19 home runs for them.

After sitting out the 2009 season, Edmonds played for the Brewers and Reds in 2010, producing 11 home runs and 23 RBI. He attempted a comeback with the Cardinals the following year at spring training, but announced his retirement on Feb. 18, 2011.

Freese earned a permanent place in Cardinals lore with his postseason performance in 2011. He had 21 RBI _ five in the NL Division Series versus the Phillies, nine in the NL Championship Series against the Brewers and seven in the World Series versus the Rangers.

With the Cardinals on the brink of elimination in the World Series, Freese’s two-run triple with two outs in the ninth inning of Game 6 tied the score and his home run leading off the 11th gave St. Louis the win.

Previously: Jim Edmonds ignited Cardinals with hot start

Read Full Post »

From the Cardinals’ perspective, hard-throwing Mark Littell was a younger, clean-cut, right-handed version of Al Hrabosky. So, when given the chance to swap Hrabosky for Littell, the Cardinals acted.

Forty years ago, on Dec. 8, 1977, the Cardinals traded their left-handed closer, Hrabosky, to the Royals for Littell and catcher Buck Martinez.

Littell, 24, was nicknamed “Country.” He had a low-key personality, an all-American look and he excelled at striking out batters with an impressive fastball.

Hrabosky, 28, was nicknamed “Mad Hungarian.” He was a high-strung showman who liked to grow a Fu Manchu, performed self-psyching theatrics on the field and he excelled at striking out batters with an impressive fastball.

Both relievers had become available on the trade market for different reasons.

Littell slumped in the second half of the 1977 season and lost the closer role.

Hrabosky feuded throughout the year with Cardinals manager Vern Rapp and openly defied franchise owner Gussie Busch on the club’s facial hair ban.

Made in Missouri

Littell was born in Cape Girardeau, Mo., and grew up in the town of Gideon in the southeast corner of the state. “Population 800,” Littell told The Sporting News. “Soy beans, cotton and wheat.”

His father was a farmer and his mother was a nurse. Littell worked on his father’s farm and developed strength. “I plowed, planted and loaded soy beans _ 60-pound sacks, 500 or 600 a day,” Littell recalled. “I liked farm work.”

When he was 9 and 10 years old, Littell went to Cardinals games in St. Louis with his family. Among the players who made the most memorable impression on him were Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Curt Simmons, Minnie Minoso and Bill White.

“We used to come to see the Cardinals six, maybe 10, times a year,” Littell told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “… I saw Musial get a game-winning hit with two out in the ninth inning … I can still visualize him hitting that ball. He went the opposite way with it, between shortstop and third base.”

Ups and downs

At age 20, Littell debuted in the major leagues with the Royals in 1973.

Littell became their closer in 1976. The Royals won the American League West Division title that year under manager Whitey Herzog. Littell was 8-4 with 16 saves and a 2.08 ERA.

With the score tied 6-6 in the decisive Game 5 of the 1976 AL Championship Series, Littell yielded a ninth-inning home run to Chris Chambliss that clinched for the Yankees their first pennant since 1964.

Littell recovered from that setback. He was dominant in the first half of 1977, posting a 2.59 ERA with 12 saves.

He struggled, however, in the second half of the season. Littell had a 5.20 ERA and no saves after the all-star break. Doug Bird replaced him as the closer.

“I just wasn’t as consistent,” Littell said. He also was slowed by back muscle spasms and a sore rib cage.

Still, in 104.2 innings, Littell struck out 106 batters and yielded 73 hits.

“His ratio of strikeouts and hits to innings pitched is remarkable,” said Cardinals general manager Bing Devine.

Quality swap

At the 1977 baseball winter meetings in Honolulu, the Royals were seeking a left-handed power pitcher to pair with Bird, a right-hander, in the bullpen. The Cardinals were willing to trade Hrabosky, who was 6-5 with 10 saves and a 4.38 ERA for them in 1977.

“I talked to all the National League managers and they told me Hrabosky was messed up last season because of his troubles with Rapp,” Herzog said. “They told me he still is an outstanding pitcher. We think he is.”

When the Royals offered Littell for Hrabosky, the Cardinals agreed.

“Now we have a left-hander coming out of the bullpen who can blow people away,” Herzog said. “We didn’t go to Hawaii with an idea of trading Mark Littell, but we knew the Cards liked him.”

Admitting he and Rapp “definitely had personality conflicts,” Hrabosky said of the trade, “The only sad thing about the whole thing is I’m leaving St. Louis as a bad guy.”

Asked his reaction to the deal, Cardinals catcher Ted Simmons told columnist Dick Young, “In the past, when there was a personality difference, this team would unload a man for a song and a prayer. This time we at least got value for Hrabosky.”

Said Devine of Littell: “If we need a strikeout, he’s the man to bring in.”

Results are in

Littell requested uniform No. 17 from the Cardinals, but the club had retired that number in honor of Hall of Fame pitcher Dizzy Dean. Littell took No. 32 instead.

In 1978, Littell was 4-8 with 11 saves and a 2.79 ERA for the Cardinals. He struck out 130 batters in 106.1 innings. He also was second in the NL in appearances (72).

Hrabosky was 8-7 with 20 saves and a 2.88 ERA for the 1978 AL West champion Royals.

In 1979, Littell was 9-4 with 13 saves and a 2.19 ERA for the Cardinals. Hrabosky was 9-4 with 11 saves and a 3.74 ERA for the Royals.

After that, the careers of both pitchers declined.

Hrabosky ended his playing days with the Braves, totaling seven saves in three years (1980-1982).

Littell had four total saves in his final three seasons (1980-1982) with the Cardinals.

Overall, in five years with St. Louis, Littell was 14-18 with 28 saves, a 3.31 ERA and 233 strikeouts in 261 innings.

Previously: How Al Hrabosky stood up to Gussie Busch

Previously: 100 Ks: Mark Littell, Trevor Rosenthal, Seung Hwan Oh

Read Full Post »

Needing a proven right-handed hitter to balance and bolster their lineup, the Cardinals appeared to make the right move when they acquired the player who had been the Cubs’ most consistent run producer of the mid-1970s.

The timing, however, turned out to be terrible.

Jerry Morales, an all-star outfielder with the 1977 Cubs, was a bust with the 1978 Cardinals.

Forty years ago, on Dec. 8, 1977, the Cardinals got Morales and catcher Steve Swisher from the Cubs in a trade for outfielder Hector Cruz and catcher Dave Rader.

At the time, the Cardinals’ best batters either were switch-hitters (Ted Simmons and Garry Templeton) or left-handed (Lou Brock and Keith Hernandez).

Cardinals right-handed batters collectively hit .217 versus right-handed pitching in 1977.

At the baseball winter meetings in December 1977, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine went shopping for a productive right-handed bat.

Chicago hit man

Morales debuted in the major leagues at age 20 with the 1969 Padres. After five seasons with San Diego, he was traded to the Cubs in November 1973.

Morales became one of the Cubs’ premier players. He led them in RBI in 1974 (82) and 1975 (91) and hit a career-high 16 home runs in 1976.

“He has that knack of driving in the tough runs,” Cubs pitcher Rick Reuschel said.

Morales hit .331 in the first half of 1977 and was selected to the all-star team. “Morales has an unmistakable batting stance,” The Sporting News observed. “He keeps his feet wide apart and holds the bat over his head … This unusual stance, he insists, enables him to wait longer on the pitch.”

Batting in the All-Star Game against Sparky Lyle, Morales was hit on the knee by a pitch.

The knee became sore and bothered Morales the remainder of the season. He also wrenched his back and broke a finger. The injuries took a toll. Morales hit .218 in the second half of the season.

Though his overall batting average that year was a career-best .290, Morales called 1977 “the most disappointing season of my career” because he tailed off so badly after a stellar start.

Mix and match

After the 1977 season, the Cubs signed free-agent slugger Dave Kingman, making Morales expendable.

The Cubs needed a starting catcher. Their general manager, Bob Kennedy, began a “relentless search” for one, according to the Chicago Tribune.

Kennedy, who had been the Cardinals’ director of player development before becoming general manager of the Cubs in November 1976, made Rader his “main target,” the Tribune reported.

With workhorse Ted Simmons at catcher for St. Louis, Rader seldom played and he had asked the Cardinals to trade him.

Cruz also appealed to the Cubs. Though Cruz had flopped as the Cardinals’ right fielder in 1977 (.236 batting average, six home runs, 42 RBI), Kennedy liked him. In 1975, when Kennedy ran the Cardinals’ farm system, Cruz was named Minor League Player of the Year by The Sporting News.

When Kennedy asked the Cardinals for Rader and Cruz, Devine demanded Morales. “We had been trying to get Morales for two or three years,” Devine said.

Said Kennedy: “We didn’t want to give up Morales, but he’s the only guy who had enough value for us to get the catcher we wanted.”

Cardinals nemesis

In its report on the trade, The Sporting News called Morales the Cubs’ “most consistent hitter the last four seasons” and “a good all-round player.”

With the Cubs, Morales had batting averages against the Cardinals of .352 in 1975, .300 in 1976 and .313 in 1977.

“He’s an altogether different kind of hitter in a tight game with a runner on second or third base,” Simmons said. “He’s been one of the five or 10 hitters I’ve least wanted to see up there at bat (against the Cardinals) when it counts.”

Cardinals manager Vern Rapp envisioned an outfield of Morales in right, Brock in left and Tony Scott in center.

When the Cardinals began the 1978 season, the top five in their batting order were Brock, Templeton, Morales, Simmons and Hernandez. In the April 7 season opener against the Phillies, Morales had three singles against Steve Carlton and scored a run in a 5-1 Cardinals victory.

That turned out to be one of his few Cardinals highlights.

Morales had a miserable May, batting .194, and struggled to recover.

In July, The Sporting News reported, “Morales, who was counted on as a big RBI man, had been trying extra hard, as witness a 30-minute extra batting practice session one day and 10 minutes extra before the next game, but continued to be disappointing.”

Morales finished the season with a .239 batting average, four home runs and 46 RBI. He hit .205 against right-handers.

Traveling man

The Cardinals finished 69-93 in 1978. Devine was fired and replaced by former Red Sox assistant general manager John Claiborne. Morales asked to be traded, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Claiborne was happy to oblige.

“He hit a lot of 385-foot outs at Busch Stadium, but they were still outs,” Claiborne said.

The Cardinals talked with the Red Sox about a trade of Morales for pitcher Bill Lee, who was feuding with manager Don Zimmer, The Sporting News reported.

However, the Tigers, who had been trying to acquire Morales for more than a year, were the most aggressive pursuers.

In Claiborne’s first trade as general manager, the Cardinals sent Morales and pitcher Aurelio Lopez to the Tigers for pitchers Bob Sykes and Jack Murphy.

Morales hit .211 for the 1979 Tigers and was dealt to the Mets. He spent his last three seasons (1981-1983) with the Cubs.

Morales played a lot better against the Cardinals than he did for them. In 115 career games versus St. Louis, Morales hit .327.

From 2002-2004, Morales was a coach on the staff of Expos manager Frank Robinson. He coached again in 2007 and 2008 on the staff of Nationals manager Manny Acta.

Previously: Cardinals made mistake giving up on Jose Cruz

Read Full Post »

The Cardinals took a chance on Jeff Brantley and lost.

Needing a closer, the Cardinals traded a prime prospect, Dmitri Young, to the Reds for Brantley, even though the pitcher had spent most of the previous season on the disabled list.

Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty made the deal 20 years ago, on Nov. 10, 1997, when he got assurances Brantley had recovered fully from surgery to repair injuries to his right shoulder and rotator cuff.

The Cardinals, though, should have been as skeptical as columnist Bernie Miklasz, who, at the time of the trade, wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “The Jeff Brantley trade makes me nervous; a 34-year-old pitcher coming off shoulder surgery?”

Brantley flopped with the 1998 Cardinals. Claiming his arm hurt, Brantley pitched poorly, clashed with pitching coach Dave Duncan, was removed from the closer’s role and got traded after the season.

The Cardinals’ misjudgment of Brantley set back the organization in significant ways. The Cardinals had to continue to scramble to find a closer and they had to do so without one of their strongest trade chips. Young, who became a productive hitter, was given away to a division rival without St. Louis getting full value in return.

Price is right

When closer Dennis Eckerlsey opted for free agency after the 1997 season, the Cardinals went in search of a replacement.

Wanting to avoid getting involved in bidding for free agents, Jocketty looked to make a trade. He was willing to part with Young, a first baseman and outfielder, because the Cardinals had top talent at those positions. Mark McGwire was the first baseman and Ron Gant, Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan were the outfield starters.

Though Brantley, 34, had not pitched since May 19, 1997, he appealed to the Cardinals. Brantley had earned 44 saves for the Reds in 1996.

“We knew we had to act quickly because other clubs were interested in him,” Jocketty said to Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch.

Given orders by ownership to cut player payroll, Reds general manager Jim Bowden was eager to deal Brantley, who was under contract for salaries of $2.8 million over each of the next two years.

The Reds had another capable closer, Jeff Shaw, on their roster and he was paid less than Brantley.

The $5.6 million owed Brantley over 1998 and 1999 didn’t dissuade the Cardinals from pursuing a deal for him. “Guys who might be available in free agency would have cost twice as much,” Jocketty said.

Special hitter

When Jocketty offered Young, 24, to the Reds, Bowden accepted.

“This deal was made for financial reasons,” Bowden said to the Associated Press, “and is consistent with our commitment to get younger and cheaper.”

Asked by Jeff Horrigan of The Cincinnati Post about Young, Reds manager Jack McKeon replied, “He has a great attitude and a great upside … We might have something special here.”

Young, a switch hitter, was the top pick of the Cardinals in the 1991 amateur draft. He led the Class AAA American Association in batting average (.333) in 1996, producing 153 hits in 122 games.

Young debuted with the Cardinals in August 1996 and hit a key triple for them that fall in Game 4 of the National League Championship Series against the Braves. In 1997, Young hit .258 in 110 games for St. Louis.

Projecting Young to be best-suited as a designated hitter, Jocketty said, “Dmitri is going to be a very good hitter. He’d be a good American League player.”

Regarding Young’s potential role with the 1998 Cardinals, manager Tony La Russa said, “There was a way to wedge him onto the team, but it was not a good fit.”

The acquisition of McGwire by St. Louis in July 1997 “kind of put a damper” on the Cardinals’ plans for him, Young told Mike Bass of The Cincinnati Post. “I didn’t have a clue what the Cardinals were going to do with me,” Young admitted.

Asked his reaction about joining the Reds, Young said, “The only thing I know about Cincinnati is the Isley Brothers are from there. I wouldn’t say I’m a big fan, but I like their music.”

Not the same

Before the deal became official, the Cardinals sent Brantley to Birmingham, Ala., for an examination by Dr. James Andrews. With Cardinals trainer Barry Weinberg witnessing the exam, Andrews declared Brantley physically fit to pitch.

“I didn’t have any doubts that it wouldn’t be a problem,” Brantley said to the Post-Dispatch. “I’ve been throwing for over two months.”

Brantley told The Cincinnati Post that Andrews “gave me a 100 percent clean bill of health.”

Brantley, though, wasn’t effective. He was 0-5 with a 4.44 ERA for the 1998 Cardinals. He had 14 saves _ three after June 30. Booed by Cardinals fans, Brantley was especially bad in home games: a 6.38 ERA in 24 appearances at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals traded him to the Phillies after finishing in third place in the NL Central Division at 83-79.

Young was successful with Cincinnati. Primarily playing left field, he led the 1998 Reds in batting average (.310) and doubles (48) and tied with future Hall of Famer Barry Larkin for the club lead in hits (166).

In four seasons with the Reds, Young batted .304 and had an on-base percentage of .353.

Overall, in 13 big-league seasons with the Cardinals, Reds, Tigers and Nationals, Young had a .292 batting mark and an on-base percentage of .351.

Read Full Post »

Leo Durocher, combative shortstop of the Cardinals’ Gashouse Gang teams of the mid-1930s, fell out of favor with manager Frankie Frisch.

Their relationship deteriorated so badly that Frisch issued an ultimatum to Cardinals executive Branch Rickey: Either Durocher goes or I go.

Eighty years ago, on Oct. 5, 1937, the Cardinals dealt Durocher to the Dodgers for third baseman Joe Stripp, second baseman Jim Bucher, outfielder Johnny Cooney and pitcher Roy Henshaw.

The trade, it turned out, created a career-boosting opportunity for Durocher. After a season as the Dodgers’ starting shortstop, he became their player-manager in 1939. Durocher went on to a successful, sometimes stormy, managerial career that earned him election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame.

Meanwhile, none of the players acquired by the Cardinals for Durocher contributed much. Frisch, who had been player-manager since 1933, was fired in September 1938 near the end of the Cardinals’ first losing season in six years.

Battle of wills

Durocher had come to the Cardinals from the Reds in a May 1933 trade. As their starting shortstop, Durocher helped the Cardinals to a World Series title in 1934. He led National League shortstops in fielding percentage in 1936.

Complaining of a kidney ailment and bad back, Durocher had a poor start to the 1937 season. After going hitless in a May 4 game at Boston against the Braves, Durocher’s batting average was at .132.

After the game, Durocher asked Frisch for permission to stay out of the hotel past the manager-mandated midnight curfew. The request upset Frisch, who accused Durocher, the team captain, of being focused more on fun than on performance.

The next day, May 5, Frisch benched Durocher and started Jimmy Brown at shortstop against the Braves.

After an off day on May 6, the Cardinals opened a series against the Giants at New York. Brown started at shortstop in the May 7 game.

When Frisch posted a lineup with Brown at shortstop again on May 8 against the Giants, Durocher declined to take batting or fielding practice at the Polo Grounds.

Durocher’s defiance was intolerable to Frisch.

“Nobody on my team _ even you _ can show such a lack of spirit,” Frisch said to Durocher.

When Durocher spoke up for himself, saying he had played earlier despite being ill and in pain, Frisch barked, “Get a train and go back to St. Louis. Get out of here.”

Durocher didn’t depart, but he didn’t get back into the starting lineup until May 12 against the Phillies at Philadelphia.

Big deal

Durocher, 32, played out the rest of the season as the Cardinals’ primary shortstop. He batted .203 in 135 games and grounded into a team-high 17 double plays.

In summarizing Durocher’s season, the St. Louis Star-Times wrote, “He was off stride at the very start, complained of illness and injuries, and was anything but the brilliant defensive player he had been. Durocher gained weight and was unable to handle the important shortstop position with his old-time finesse. Batted balls to his left and to his right became base hits.”

On Oct. 5, two days after the completion of the Cardinals’ season, Rickey was in New York to attend the World Series between the Giants and Yankees when he made the trade with the Dodgers.

Dick Farrington, in a column for The Sporting News, declared, “Leo Durocher’s passing from the Cards to the Dodgers was a case of ‘It’s Durocher or me’ with Frankie Frisch.”

A headline in The Sporting News blared, “Frisch Responsible For Durocher Going.”

The key players in the deal for the Cardinals were Stripp and Bucher. Stripp _ “Generally regarded as one of the best third sackers in the major leagues,” according to the Post-Dispatch _ long had been coveted by Frisch. Rickey liked Bucher, who had started his career in the Cardinals’ system before being drafted by the Dodgers.

“Bucher, alone, is a better ballplayer than Durocher,” Giants manager Bill Terry told International News Service in rating the deal a steal for St. Louis.

According to The Sporting News, “The first impulse of Brooklyn fans was heavily against the switch” because they thought four players were too high a price for Durocher.

However, Pie Traynor, Pirates manager, said, “The Dodgers got a great shortstop and they didn’t give up anybody who could help them.”

Dodgers benefit

The 1938 season was a failure for Frisch and the Cardinals.

Stripp squabbled with management over his contract and got a late start to the season. He batted .286 in 54 games but was sent to the Braves on Aug. 1.

Bucher, who spent most of the year in the minors, hit .228 in 17 Cardinals games.

Henshaw had a 5-11 record and 4.02 ERA for the Cardinals.

Cooney was released on the eve of the season opener.

On Sept. 11, with the Cardinals’ record at 63-72, Frisch was fired and replaced by a coach, Mike Gonzalez, for the rest of the season.

Durocher in 1938 led National League shortstops in fielding percentage and was named to the all-star team.

Previously: Rift with Branch Rickey led Cards to oust Frankie Frisch

Read Full Post »

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 »

Older Posts »