Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

Mudcat Grant began the 1969 season as the top starting pitcher for the Expos and ended it as the top right-handed relief pitcher for the Cardinals.

On June 3, 1969, the Expos traded Grant to the Cardinals for pitcher Gary Waslewski.

Grant, 33, preferred to start but the Cardinals needed bullpen help.

As a reliever, Grant appeared in 27 games for the 1969 Cardinals and was 6-3 with seven saves and a 3.22 ERA. He also made three starts and was 1-2 with a 7.62 ERA. Overall, in 30 appearances for the 1969 Cardinals, Grant was 7-5 with a 4.12 ERA.

“Our bullpen did OK once we got Mudcat Grant,” Cardinals pitching coach Billy Muffett said to The Sporting News.

Pointing to his forehead, Muffett added, “He has it up here.”

Name game

James Timothy Grant was at a Cleveland Indians minor-league camp in Daytona Beach when a colleague, mistakenly assuming the Florida native was from Mississippi, began calling him Mudcat, according to the Society for American Baseball Research.

The nickname stuck like Mississippi mud on a catfish’s whiskers.

Grant made his major-league debut with the Indians in 1958 and got traded to the Twins in 1964. He had his best season in 1965, posting a 21-7 record, and made three starts in the World Series against the Dodgers. Grant won Games 1 and 6 and lost Game 4.

In November 1967, the Twins traded Grant to the Dodgers and they converted him from a starter to a reliever. Grant did well in the role, posting ERAs of 0.98 in August and 0.77 in September. As a reliever, Grant appeared in 33 games for the 1968 Dodgers and was 5-2 with three saves and a 1.80 ERA. He also made four starts. Overall, in 37 appearances for the 1968 Dodgers, Grant was 6-4 with a 2.08 ERA.

Playing our song

The Expos selected Grant in the National League expansion draft and wanted him to be a starter. “Mudcat will win more games than any pitcher ever on a first-year expansion team,” Expos manager Gene Mauch predicted to the Montreal Gazette.

Grant impressed by yielding one earned run in spring training and was chosen to start the Expos’ first regular-season game on April 8, 1969, against the Mets at New York. Matched against Tom Seaver, Grant lasted 1.1 innings, surrendering three runs, but the Expos won, 11-10. Boxscore

Grant, a professional singer who toured with the group, “Mudcat and the Kittens,” said he planned to open a discotheque in downtown Montreal. “I’ve been in a lot of countries and a lot of states, but I’ve never felt as free as I feel right here in Montreal,” he said.

Though his record for the Expos was 1-6 with a 4.80 ERA, Grant “made a big impression” with Cardinals scout Bob Kennedy, who recommended the club acquire him to bolster the bullpen, The Sporting News reported.

Initially, Grant was displeased with the trade. “I’ll have to go back to the bullpen and I don’t dig that,” he said to the Montreal Gazette.

Grant told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “All pitchers prefer to start. Man, that’s where the action is.”

Action man

Grant got decisions in his first three relief appearances for the Cardinals.

In his Cardinals debut, on June 7, 1969, at Houston, Grant relieved Ray Washburn in the seventh inning with the score tied at 2-2, yielded a two-run single to former Cardinal Johnny Edwards and was the losing pitcher in a 4-2 Astros victory. Boxscore

On June 11, 1969, Grant pitched seven innings in relief of starter Mike Torrez and was the winning pitcher in the Cardinals’ 10-5 triumph over the Reds at Cincinnati. Boxscore

Grant’s third Cardinals appearance was June 19, 1969, versus the Expos at St. Louis and he got the win with 5.1 scoreless innings in relief of Washburn in a 5-3 Cardinals victory. Boxscore

Six days later, Grant started the second game of a doubleheader against the Expos at Montreal, pitched a complete game and got the win in an 8-3 Cardinals triumph.

Grant was “loudly booed” by the crowd of 28,819 at Jarry Park, the Post-Dispatch reported. After the game, as Grant walked near the stands, a spectator threw a cup of beer in his face and Grant retaliated

“I let him have a Joe Frazier right-cross right on the back of the ear,” Grant said. “I buckled him.” Boxscore

After losing each of his next two starts, to the Cubs and Mets, Grant returned to a relief role.

That’s entertainment

Grant made as big a splash in St. Louis with his singing as he did his pitching. On July 12, 1969, Grant performed at an event sponsored by the St. Louis Pinch-Hitters, wives and friends of Cardinals players, before more than 1,200 people at the Stouffer’s Riverfront Inn.

Under the headline, “Mudcat Grant Steals Show At Ball-B-Que,” the Post-Dispatch reported Grant performed solo and did numbers such as “I’m Going To Sit Right Down and Write Myself A Letter,” and “If I Had A Hammer.”

Four nights later, on Teen Night at Busch Stadium, Grant sang with the Bob Kuban band before a July 16 game. Video of Mudcat Grant singing “Wonderful World” at 2011 memorial for Harmon Killebrew

Grant’s best month with the 1969 Cardinals was August when he was 2-1 with a save and a 2.19 ERA. In September, he had five saves.

“Mudcat is sneaky out there,” said Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver. “He showed me he knows the hitters and he showed me he likes to pitch.”

On Dec. 5, 1969, the Cardinals sold Grant’s contract to the Athletics for what The Sporting News described as “considerably in excess of” the $25,000 waiver price.

Grant played 14 seasons in the big leagues for the Indians, Twins, Dodgers, Expos, Cardinals, Athletics and Pirates, producing a 145-119 record and 3.63 ERA.

Read Full Post »

A different role in a different league revived the playing career of outfielder Vic Davalillo.

On May 30, 1969, Davalillo was traded by the Angels to the Cardinals for outfielder Jim Hicks.

Davalillo had been a starter in the American League since making his major-league debut with the Indians in 1963. He won a Gold Glove Award in 1964 and was an all-star in 1965.

The Cardinals acquired him to be a pinch-hitter and backup outfielder and it was a role Davalillo, 32, embraced. A left-handed batter, he developed into a premier pinch-hitter and played in the major leagues until September 1980 when he was 44 years old.

Power arm

Davalillo, a native of Venezuela, followed in the footsteps of his older brother, Pompeyo “Yo-Yo” Davalillo, who was a shortstop in the American League for the 1953 Senators.

The Reds signed Vic as a left-handed pitcher and he began his professional career in their minor-league system in 1958. He had a 16-7 record and 2.45 ERA for Palatka of the Florida State League in 1959. He also batted .291.

After the 1961 season, the Reds sold Davalillo’s contract to the Indians, who converted him into an outfielder. Though Davalillo was slight at 5 feet 7 and 150 pounds, he had a powerful throwing arm and made consistent contact at the plate.

After batting .346 with 200 hits as an outfielder for Jacksonville of the International League in 1962, Davalillo became the starting center fielder for the American League Indians in 1963. His best big-league season was 1965 when he hit .301 with 26 stolen bases for the Indians.

On June 15, 1968, the Indians traded Davalillo to the Angels for power hitter Jimmie Hall. Davalillo led the 1968 Angels in batting average (.298) and stolen bases (17).

Health problems

Davalillo returned to Venezuela after the 1968 big-league season and played winter ball there until he was stricken with what was described as “nervous exhaustion and a stomach disorder,” The Sporting News reported. He spent two weeks in a hospital.

“Everything seemed to make me ill,” Davalillo said. “Then I began to worry and soon I was very nervous.”

When Davalillo got to spring training with the Angels in 1969, he struggled to perform at the level he was accustomed.

In March 1969, the Angels offered to deal Davalillo and others to the Senators for slugger Frank Howard, according to The Sporting News, but when the Senators countered by asking for a different package of players the Angels refused.

Davalillo opened the regular season by going hitless in his first 13 at-bats for the Angels. On May 2, Royals rookie Dick Drago threw a brushback pitch at Davalillo, who responded by going toward the mound while carrying the bat at his side. Royals catcher Jim Campanis grabbed Davalillo from behind and prevented an incident.

Versatile player

Davalillo was batting .155 in 33 games when the Angels dealt him to the Cardinals. The Los Angeles Times described him as “a major disappointment, a man beset with personal problems.”

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine made the deal because he projected Davalillo as “a qualified backup man for Curt Flood in center field” who provided the club “something it was sadly lacking _ a fleet pinch-hitter,” The Sporting News reported.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst told the St Louis Post-Dispatch, “You can do a lot of things with him because he can run well and play anywhere in the outfield and also do a good job of pinch-hitting.”

The Angels were happy to get Hicks, 28, in exchange for Davalillo because he gave them a potential power bat. Though Hicks batted .182 in 19 games for the 1969 Cardinals, he led the Pacific Coast League in hitting (.366) in 1968 when he played for Tulsa.

Both Davalillo and Hicks got off to storybook starts with their new teams.

On June 1, 1969, in his first at-bat as a Cardinal, Davalillo hit a three-run home run against Reds left-hander Gerry Arrigo at St. Louis. “I’ll say one thing about the little guy _ he takes a good cut and hits the ball hard,” said Schoendienst. Boxscore

Two days later, playing in his second game as an Angel, Hicks delivered his first hit for them _ a two-run home run against John Hiller of the Tigers at Anaheim. Boxscore

Hit man

The deal worked out much better for the Cardinals than it did the Angels.

Hicks batted .083 in 37 games for the 1969 Angels and ended his big-league career with four at-bats for the 1970 Angels.

Davalillo produced five hits in his first eight at-bats as a Cardinal. On July 2, 1969, pinch-hitting for Julian Javier, Davalillo hit a grand slam against Mets reliever Ron Taylor, a former Cardinal who was Davalillo’s teammate with Jacksonville in 1962. Boxscore

Davalillo batted .265 in 63 games for the 1969 Cardinals.

In 1970, Davalillo returned to the Cardinals and hit .311 in 111 games. He was amazing in the clutch, batting .393 with runners in scoring position and .727 (8-for-11) with the bases loaded. As a pinch-hitter in 1970, Davalillo batted .324, with 23 hits.

In his book, “Stranger to the Game,” Cardinals pitcher Bob Gibson described Davalillo as “a skilled veteran, a popular teammate and in 1970 the best pinch-hitter in the National League.”

Gibson also told an anecdote about a day in Chicago when Davalillo’s friends “had to bring him directly to the ballpark after a long night of festivities.”

“When we saw the condition Davalillo was in, we dressed him, pulled him up the dugout steps and took him to the bullpen where we could cover him with warmup jackets,” Gibson said.

Davalillo quietly napped in the bullpen until late in the game when Schoendienst, unaware of Davalillo’s condition, told coach Dick Sisler he wanted Davalillo as a pinch-hitter. Sisler suggested Schoendienst try someone else, but the manager was insistent.

Davalillo “had a habit of picking up his right foot when he swung the bat,” Gibson recalled, “and when he picked up his foot to swing at the first pitch that day, a strong gust of wind came up and blew him right on his ass.”

As Davalillo lay sprawled across the batter’s box, Sisler said to Schoendienst, “I told you you didn’t want Davalillo.”

On Jan. 29, 1971, the Cardinals traded Davalillo and pitcher Nelson Briles to the Pirates for outfielder Matty Alou and pitcher George Brunet. Davalillo hit .285 for the 1971 Pirates and helped them win the World Series championship.

The 1971 World Series was the first of four in which Davalillo played. He also played in the World Series in 1973 with the Athletics and in 1977 and 1978 with the Dodgers.

Davalillo finished his major-league career with a .279 batting average and 1,122 hits, including 95 as a pinch-hitter.

Read Full Post »

A friendship with general manager Bing Devine enabled first baseman Bill White to finish his playing career with the Cardinals.

Fifty years ago, on April 2, 1969, the Cardinals reacquired White from the Phillies for infielder Jerry Buchek and utility player Jim Hutto.

The trade gave White, 35, the opportunity to return to the team for whom he’d achieved the most success.

White no longer was an everyday player and he was preparing to transition into a television career in Philadelphia, but Devine wanted him to fill a bench role and White was willing to do so as a favor to his friend and to bring closure to his playing days.

Ties that bind

In White’s first stint with the Cardinals, from 1959-65, he topped 100 RBI three times, hit 20 or more home runs five years in a row and won the Gold Glove Award six times as a first baseman. He also was a National League all-star in five of his seasons with the Cardinals and helped them become 1964 World Series champions.

In October 1965, Cardinals general manager Bob Howsam traded White to the Phillies. He had 22 home runs and 103 RBI for them in 1966, but he injured an Achilles tendon in 1967 and his production declined considerably.

According to the Philadelphia Inquirer, White decided in August 1968 he would retire after the season, but Phillies general manager John Quinn convinced him to play another year.

At spring training in 1969, when the Phillies shifted Richie Allen from third base to first base, White asked Quinn what the club planned to do with him. Quinn said the Phillies wouldn’t cut White from the roster but might trade him to the Cardinals.

“Bing Devine has expressed an interest in you,” Quinn told White.

Devine was Cardinals general manager in March 1959 when the club acquired White from the Giants. Devine and White developed a mutual respect and their bond remained strong, even after Devine was fired by Cardinals owner Gussie Busch in August 1964.

In 1967, when White was with the Phillies and Devine was with the Mets, Devine visited White at his home to offer support and encouragement while White was attempting to recover from the Achilles tendon injury. “I think a lot of him,” White said to the Inquirer.

Welcome back

In his 2011 autobiography, “Uppity,” White said, “At first I said no to the proposed trade, but Bing was persuasive.”

White told Quinn he agreed to the trade because of Devine, who returned to the Cardinals after the 1967 season. “I wouldn’t have gone to any other team,” White said to the Inquirer. “I wouldn’t even have gone to St. Louis if it were not for Bing Devine.”

The Philadelphia Daily News described the two-time defending National League champion Cardinals as “a dynasty.” Joe Torre, acquired from the Braves for Orlando Cepeda, was the first baseman for the 1969 Cardinals and Devine saw White as being an ideal backup as well as a left-handed pinch-hitter.

“Bill fits the bill,” Devine said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

In a 2011 interview, White told me another reason Devine wanted him back with the Cardinals is he hoped to groom him to become a manager when White was done playing, but White wasn’t interested.

“Bing brought me back because he wanted me to manage at (Class AAA) Tulsa and eventually manage the Cardinals,” White said. “I didn’t want to manage. I didn’t want to try to tell 25 other guys how to play the game. I’d rather do something where the success depends on me, not on other people.”

Open and shut

White wore No. 12 for most of his first seven seasons with St. Louis, but backup outfielder Joe Hague had that number with the 1969 Cardinals. White asked for and received No. 7 because he liked low numbers, he said to the Post-Dispatch.

“I’m ready to do anything they want me to _ even pitch batting practice,” White said to the Post-Dispatch.

“This isn’t a knock at the Phillies’ organization _ they’ve been good to me _ but the difference between playing in St. Louis and Philadelphia is night and day,” White said to the Inquirer. “It’s depressing playing in that Philadelphia ballpark. Heck, my locker was over a sewer … And it’s depressing to hear your teammates booed.”

On April 8, 1969, the Cardinals opened the season against the Pirates at St. Louis. In the 12th inning, with the score tied at 2-2, two outs and Mike Shannon on first base, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst sent White to bat for second baseman Julian Javier.

White was “cheered loudly” as he stepped to the plate, the Post-Dispatch reported.

Facing right-hander Ron Kline, White lined a pitch to left-center.

“What appeared to be a sure double turned out to be a mere out because the ball hooked toward” left fielder Willie Stargell, who made a one-handed catch while on the run, according to the Post-Dispatch.

If the ball had eluded Stargell, Shannon likely would have circled the bases and scored the game-winning run.

“That could have been a great way to open up,” hitting coach Dick Sisler said to White.

White replied, “Yeah, that would have carried me all year.”

Instead, the Pirates scored four runs in the 14th against Mel Nelson and won, 6-2. Boxscore

The 1969 season turned out to be disappointing for the Cardinals, who finished in fourth place in a six-team division, and for White. He suffered sore ribs and cuts to his left elbow in a car accident in St. Louis on May 3. For the season, White hit .211 with no home runs and four RBI in 57 at-bats. As a pinch-hitter, he batted .167 (5-for-30).

White retired as a player after the 1969 season and launched a broadcasting career before becoming president of the National League.

Read Full Post »

To acquire Bill White, the Cardinals had to give up their best pitcher.

Sixty years ago, on March 25, 1959, the Cardinals traded pitchers Sam Jones and Don Choate to the Giants for White and utility player Ray Jablonski.

Jones led National League pitchers in strikeouts in 1958, with 225, and shattered the Cardinals’ single-season record of 199 set by Dizzy Dean in 1933. Jones also led the 1958 Cardinals in wins (14) and ERA (2.88).

White, a first baseman and outfielder, was highly regarded, but he couldn’t get a spot in the Giants’ lineup and wasn’t the Cardinals’ first choice. Giants outfielder Leon Wagner was the hitter the Cardinals wanted before they settled on White, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals took heat for making the deal, but it turned out to be the right move.

Who’s on first?

White made his major-league debut with the Giants in 1956 and hit 22 home runs as their first baseman. He served in the Army in 1957 and the first six months of 1958. Orlando Cepeda became the Giants’ first baseman in 1958 and the rookie excelled.

When White returned to the Giants in July 1958, he was relegated to a reserve role. White hit .241 in 26 games for the 1958 Giants. Cepeda hit .312 with 25 home runs and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award.

At spring training in 1959, Cepeda was back and a power-hitting prospect, Willie McCovey, whose best position was first base, was close to joining the team. White, seeing his path blocked, asked the Giants to trade him.

Help wanted

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine was determined to acquire a hitter to boost the 1959 lineup. In 1958, Ken Boyer was the only Cardinal to hit as many as 20 home runs.

According to Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg, the Cardinals set their sights on Wagner, who hit 13 home runs in half a season as a Giants rookie in 1958 after producing impressive power numbers in the minor leagues.

Wagner’s ability to hit home runs was appealing, but Cardinals talent evaluators concluded White was a better player.

While scouting winter baseball in the Dominican Republic, Cardinals manager Solly Hemus and farm director Walter Shannon saw White and were impressed. Cardinals minor-league manager Joe Schultz, who managed a team in the Dominican Republic, also raved about White.

After Cardinals scout Ollie Vanek filed glowing reports about White from Arizona spring training in 1959, Devine sent his special assistant, Eddie Stanky, to take a look. Stanky managed the Cardinals from 1952-55 and managed White in the minor leagues.

Stanky scouted White for a week. In his 2004 autobiography, “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said he called Stanky in Arizona from a phone booth on the beach near St. Petersburg, Fla., to get his opinion on whether to acquire White.

“How well do you like him?” Devine asked Stanky.

Stanky replied, “Let’s not debate it. You sent me out here to see him. I like him. I’m telling you right now I’d make the deal. I suggest you do, too.”

Worth a risk

The trade was unpopular in St. Louis because Jones was so well-regarded. “He was, and we do not mind saying it out loud, one of our special favorites,” the Post-Dispatch declared in an editorial.

Broeg noted the deal “took nerve” because “the Cardinals gambled front-line pitching for potential batting power.”

The Cardinals were heartened by the reaction of former Giants manager Leo Durocher, who told the Associated Press, “I’ll bet you that in one or two years White will be one of the great players in the National League.”

Cardinals reliever Marv Grissom, a former Giant, said the Cardinals made the right choice. “Wagner has more power, all right, as much as anybody in the game,” Grissom said. “White is a smarter player, faster, better defensively and good and strong enough at the plate.”

White told The Sporting News, “I’m happy with the trade. With the Cardinals, I’ll get to play regularly. Naturally, I’m in baseball for the money, and when you play regularly you have a better argument for salary terms.”

In his autobiography, “Uppity,” White said he was pleased to be traded, but “at the time, St. Louis was the worst city in the league for black players” because of segregationist attitudes. In 2011, when I interviewed White about the deal, he said, “St. Louis wasn’t my first choice, but it ended up that it was a great trade for me.”

Finding the groove

The Cardinals opened the 1959 season with an outfield of Stan Musial in left, Gino Cimoli in center and Joe Cunningham in right, with White at first base.

Pressing to fulfill expectations of being a power hitter, White struggled and had one hit, a single, in his first 19 at-bats. Cardinals coach Harry Walker urged him to relax and make contact rather than try for home runs. “White was lunging too much, was ahead of the pitch, wasn’t getting a good look,” Walker said.

After starting three games at first base and another in left field, Hemus had White make six starts in center field, even though Curt Flood was available.

In his autobiography, White said, “I was a terrible outfielder. I couldn’t judge fly balls. I couldn’t throw and I couldn’t cover the ground.”

On April 29, 1959, Hemus moved Musial to first base and shifted White to left. White was the left fielder from late April until early June. After that, he alternated between first base and left field.

After batting .195 in April, White hit .393 in May and .382 in June. He finished the season at .302, with 33 doubles and 12 home runs.

Jones, meanwhile, was 21-15 for the 1959 Giants and led the league in ERA at 2.83.

After the season, the Cardinals acquired Wagner from the Giants, hoping he’d fill an outfield spot, but he played one season for them as a reserve before going to the American League and becoming an all-star for the Angels.

In eight seasons with the Cardinals, White batted .298, topped 100 RBI three times and hit 20 or more home runs five years in a row. He won the Gold Glove Award six times as a Cardinals first baseman. He also was a National League all-star with the Cardinals in 1959, 1960, 1961, 1963 and 1964 and helped them become 1964 World Series champions.


Read Full Post »

For such a straightforward deal, the trade of Joe Torre to the Cardinals for Orlando Cepeda took some twists and turns involving pitcher Nolan Ryan and center fielder Curt Flood.

Fifty years ago, on March 17, 1969, the Cardinals sent Cepeda to the Braves for Torre in a swap of first basemen.

The Braves were shopping Torre because he was feuding with general manager Paul Richards and hadn’t signed a contract. Most thought Torre would go to the Mets, who’d been in trade talks with the Braves for several weeks.

The Mets offered pitcher Nolan Ryan, first baseman Ed Kranepool, infielder Bob Heise and a choice of catchers, J.C. Martin or Duffy Dyer, for Torre and third baseman Bob Aspromonte, The Sporting News reported. Torre and Aspromonte were Brooklyn natives.

Ryan, who would become baseball’s all-time leader in strikeouts, impressed the Braves but was a raw talent. Richards rejected the four-for-two proposal because he wanted catcher Jerry Grote or outfielder Amos Otis, but the Mets “labeled them untouchables,” according to Atlanta Constitution sports editor Jesse Outlar.

“We aren’t making a deal with the Mets unless they change their minds,” Richards said.

When the Mets wouldn’t budge, the Braves offered Torre to the Dodgers for catcher Tom Haller, but the Dodgers weren’t interested, the Constitution reported.

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine offered Cepeda and Flood for Torre and outfielder Felipe Alou, according to the Constitution, but Richards wouldn’t trade Alou, so the clubs settled on Cepeda for Torre. Seven months later, when the Cardinals traded Flood to the Phillies, he refused to report, prompting his legal challenge of the reserve clause and opening a path to the creation of free agency.

Cepeda feels chill

The Cardinals were willing to trade Cepeda because his performance declined in 1968 and he miffed management by reporting late to spring training in 1969.

After batting .325 with 111 RBI and winning the National League Most Valuable Player Award with the Cardinals in 1967, Cepeda hit .248 with 73 RBI in 1968.

Cepeda “found himself taken advantage of by well-wishing friends who helped him pile up debts and other problems that didn’t endear him to the Redbirds management … especially when at times he’d duck out of the dugout between innings to conduct personal matters,” Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals hoped Cepeda would be more focused in 1969, but he informed Devine by telegram he would report late to spring training.

When Cepeda arrived at camp on March 5, he said he’d been sick, but Devine fined him $250 for reporting 48 hours later than he said he would.

Cepeda said he detected “a coolness” from Devine, and Broeg reported “Cepeda realized there had been a change in attitude toward him.”

“Bing was not terribly friendly and he was all business,” Cepeda said in his 1998 book “Baby Bull.”

In his 2004 book “The Memoirs of Bing Devine,” Devine said, “I thought Cepeda might be on the way down.”

Mother knows best

Torre, meanwhile, was having issues with Braves management because Richards wanted him to take a salary cut. Torre hit .294 in nine seasons (1960-68) as Braves catcher, but he tore ligaments in his ankle in 1967 and suffered a broken cheek and broken nose when hit by a pitch from Chuck Hartenstein of the Cubs in 1968. Limited to 115 games in 1968, Torre batted .271 with 55 RBI.

The Braves were planning to move Torre to first base in 1969, but when he refused to report to spring training because of the salary squabble, Richards told him he could “hold out until Thanksgiving” because the club would be OK without him.

The Cardinals were interested because Torre (28) was three years younger than Cepeda (31), had a less expensive salary ($65,000) than Cepeda ($80,000) and could play multiple positions.

“This is all part of our belief that we can’t just sit and ride along with a winner, but must look for changes that make sense,” Devine said.

Devine projected Torre to play first base and back up Tim McCarver at catcher.

When Torre told his mother he’d been traded to the two-time defending National League champions, she replied, “Now go to church and thank God.”

“Mom recognized what going with a championship ballclub like the Cardinals meant,” Torre said.

Cepeda, described by pitcher Bob Gibson as the team’s “spiritual leader,” said he was “shocked” by the trade, “but I’m not mad at the Cardinals. They treated me very well.”

Said Richards: “Now we have someone to hit behind Hank Aaron. The opposition can no longer pitch around Aaron.”

Good fit

When Torre joined the Cardinals at training camp, he was greeted by Warren Spahn, a manager in their farm system and a former battery mate. “You’ll love it here,” Spahn told Torre.

Torre wore uniform No. 15 with the Braves, but McCarver had that number with the Cardinals. “I think I’ll ask for No. 6,” Torre said with a smile, knowing it was the retired number of Stan Musial.

Torre was given No. 9, last worn by recently retired Roger Maris.

In his 1997 book, “Chasing the Dream,” Torre said, “I felt a lot of pressure trying to replace Cepeda, but found myself surrounded by a great bunch of teammates.”

With Cepeda, the Braves won a division title in 1969 and played in the National League Championship Series against the Mets, who’d acquired Donn Clendenon to play first after they failed to get Torre. The Cardinals placed fourth in their division and Gibson good-naturedly chided Torre, saying, “You know, we used to win before you got here.”

Individually, Torre had a better 1969 season than Cepeda. Torre hit .289 with 101 RBI. Cepeda hit .257 with 88 RBI.

Cepeda played four seasons with the Braves and hit .281. Torre played six seasons with the Cardinals and hit .308. In 1971, Torre was named winner of the National League Most Valuable Player Award when he batted .363 with 137 RBI as Cardinals third baseman.

Years later, Devine said acquiring Torre “was one of my favorite deals on the basis of his long-term success.”

Read Full Post »

Byron Browne, who had thunder in his bat and holes in his swing, intrigued the Cardinals as a power-hitting prospect.

Fifty years ago, on Feb. 12, 1969, the Cardinals purchased the contract of Browne from the Astros and assigned him to their farm club at Tulsa.

Browne battered baseballs with his right-handed slugging stroke, but he struck out a lot. The Cardinals wanted to see him make more contact before giving him a chance to return to the big leagues.

Working with instructors Joe Medwick and Tom Burgess, Browne hit consistently well for Tulsa and earned a promotion to the Cardinals.

Big chance

Browne was born and raised in St. Joseph, Mo., a town known as the starting point for the Pony Express and the place where outlaw Jesse James was killed.

In September 1962, Browne, 19, signed as an amateur free agent with the Pirates, played in their farm system and was chosen by the Cubs in the minor-league draft in December 1963.

On Sept. 9, 1965, Browne made his major-league debut for the Cubs, starting in left field, on the night Sandy Koufax pitched a perfect game at Dodger Stadium. Browne lined out to center, grounded out to short and struck out. It also was the debut game for Cubs center fielder Don Young. Boxscore.

At spring training in 1966, Browne impressed Cubs manager Leo Durocher, who told the Chicago Tribune, “I’m going to give this boy a good, long look in center field.”

On April 21, 1966, the Cubs acquired Adolfo Phillips from the Phillies. Scouts told Durocher the only center fielders better than Phillips were Willie Mays of the Giants and Curt Flood of the Cardinals.

Durocher put Phillips in center, moved Browne to left and kept Billy Williams in right. “I possibly may have the fastest outfield in the league,” Durocher said.

Tough on Cards

Three of Browne’s best games in 1966 were against the Cardinals.

On May 26, 1966, Browne hit a two-run home run against Bob Gibson “well up into the bleachers beneath Gussie Busch’s dancing beer sign” at the new Busch Stadium, the Tribune reported. Boxscore

Two months later, on July 18, 1966, Browne hit two home runs off Larry Jaster at St. Louis. His two-run home run in the second struck the yellow foul pole in left and his three-run homer in the eighth went into the seats in left-center. Boxscore

On Sept. 18, 1966, at Chicago, Browne had three hits, including a bloop double down the right-field line against Ron Piche to drive in the winning run and end the Cardinals’ seven-game winning streak. Boxscore

Browne batted .308 in 13 games against the Cardinals in 1966, but overall his season wasn’t nearly so good. He hit 16 home runs but batted .243 and struck out a league-high 143 times.

“He’s going to be a good one someday, but he’s going to have to work … and I mean work very hard,” Durocher said.

Lord Byron

Browne spent most of the 1967 season in the minors and on May 4, 1968, the Cubs traded him to the Astros for outfielder Aaron Pointer.

Browne hit .231 in 10 games for the Astros before being sent to the minors by manager Harry Walker, who wanted him to alter his hitting approach. “I’m just not a punch-and-judy hitter,” Browne said.

The Cardinals were set in the outfield for 1969 with Lou Brock in left, Flood in center and Vada Pinson in right, so when they acquired Browne from the Astros it was with the intent he open the season at Tulsa and position himself for a promotion if needed.

Browne responded to the instruction given by Medwick, who was a Hall of Fame slugger for the Gashouse Gang Cardinals of the 1930s. Medwick told him, “Get up to the plate. You’re standing too far back in the box.”

The results were immediate. Browne had two home runs, a double and five RBI in Tulsa’s season opener.

After 14 games, Browne was batting .416 with six home runs and 25 RBI.

“Browne is a big, strong guy and he can take those short, quick strokes and hit the ball out of the country,” said Tulsa manager Warren Spahn.

Browne batted .340 with 106 hits and 79 RBI in 84 games for Tulsa.

On July 12, 1969, the Cardinals traded utility player Bob Johnson to the Athletics and called up Browne, 26, to take his spot.

Clemente’s catch

Browne played his first game for the Cardinals on July 15, 1969, against the Phillies. Starting in left field in place of Brock, who had leg cramps, Browne had a hit, a run, a RBI and three walks. Boxscore

On Sept. 11, 1969, Browne was in the starting lineup for the Cardinals in a game at Pittsburgh. The Pirates started pitcher Bob Veale, who dated Browne’s sister when Veale attended Benedictine College in Atchison, Kan., across the Missouri River from Browne’s home in St. Joseph, Mo.

In his first three at-bats versus Veale, Browne struck out looking each time. According to The Pittsburgh Press, Veale set him up with fastballs and slipped sliders past him for the third strikes.

In the ninth, Veale was protecting a 3-2 lead when Browne came up with one out and a runner on first. “I tried to get cute,” Veale said. He changed his pattern, throwing a slider on the first pitch, and Browne lined it to deep right-center.

Right fielder Roberto Clemente raced toward the wall and caught the ball a step or two in front of an iron gate 435 feet from home plate.

“It would have been an inside-the-park home run because the ball would have hit the bottom of the iron gate if Clemente hadn’t made that great catch,” Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Said Clemente: “I did not look at the ball at all. All I do is run to the spot where I think it will be because I know it is over my head from the sound. If I do not do that, I never catch it.” Boxscore

Big deal

Browne finished the 1969 season with a couple of highlights against the Expos. On Sept. 27, 1969, he hit a home run against Jerry Robertson, helping Jerry Reuss win his major-league debut. Boxscore. A day later, in the ninth inning of a scoreless game, Browne tripled against Bill Stoneman, scoring Gibson from second, and scored on Joe Torre’s single. Boxscore

In 22 games for the 1969 Cardinals, Browne batted .226 with 12 hits and 14 strikeouts.

On Oct. 7, 1969, the Cardinals traded Browne, Flood, Joe Hoerner and Tim McCarver to the Phillies for Richie Allen, Jerry Johnson and Cookie Rojas. When Flood refused to report, the Cardinals sent Willie Montanez and Jim Browning to complete the deal.

Browne had the only four-hit game of his major-league career for the Phillies against the Cardinals on June 27, 1970, at St. Louis. Boxscore

On Dec. 18, 1972, the Phillies traded Browne back to the Cardinals for outfielder Keith Lampard. Browne spent the 1973 season at Tulsa, batting .259, and played in Mexico in 1974 and 1975.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »