Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Archive for the ‘Trades’ Category

Outfielder Bob Nieman, who made an unprecedented debut with the Browns, returned to St. Louis as an accomplished hitter with the Cardinals.

Sixty years ago, on Dec. 2, 1959, the Cardinals acquired Nieman from the Orioles for outfielder-catcher Gene Green, plus minor-league catcher Chuck Staniland.

Eight years earlier, Nieman became the first player to hit home runs in his first two major-league at-bats. Since then, the only other player to do it is the Cardinals’ Keith McDonald.

A right-handed batter, Nieman appealed to the Cardinals because he hit left-handers well and “southpaws have been a constant plague” to them, The Sporting News reported.

Marty Marion, the former Cardinals shortstop who was Nieman’s teammate with the Browns, said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He’s only a mediocre outfielder and he’s a hypochondriac, but, man, he can whale that ball.”

Overcoming hurdles

Nieman was born in Cincinnati and began going to Reds games when he was 3 with his father, a semi-pro catcher.

Nieman developed into a baseball catcher and football fullback in high school. After graduation, he joined the Army, was stationed in France and got pneumonia. The drugs used to treat him damaged his kidneys and he developed nephritis. Given a medical discharge, Nieman returned home, recovered, married his high school sweetheart and tried out with the Reds.

After Nieman signed a minor-league contract with the Reds, a tumor was discovered in his right arm and he underwent surgery. When he healed, the Reds converted him from catcher to outfielder. In 1948, his first minor-league season, Nieman hit .367.

During his off-seasons in the minors, Nieman pursued a college education at Kent State. Nieman was studying journalism in the hope of being a sports reporter and his wife, Patricia, was majoring in advertising.

“Next to actual participation, I can think of no life more enjoyable than watching games and being paid to do so,” Nieman said.

In June 1951, the Reds determined they had a surplus of outfielders in the minors and placed Neiman on waivers. He was claimed by Oklahoma City, an unaffiliated team in the Texas League. Nieman led the league in hitting (.324) and his contract was purchased by the Browns.

Boston fireworks

Nieman, 24, joined the Browns in Boston. Manager Zack Taylor didn’t plan to play him, but changed his mind when the Red Sox started a left-hander, Mickey McDermott. Nieman played left field and batted fifth in the Friday afternoon game on Sept. 14, 1951, at Fenway Park.

When he came to bat for the first time as a big-leaguer in the second inning, Nieman hit a solo home run. In his second at-bat in the third, he hit a two-run home run. According to the Post-Dispatch, those were the only pitches he swung at in those at-bats.

“This is really the day of my life,” Nieman said.

He almost got upstaged in the eighth when Satchel Paige, 45, relieved for the Browns and faced Ted Williams. With the count 0-and-2, Williams moved up in the batter’s box, expecting an off-speed pitch. Paige fired a fastball and Williams swung and missed, striking out.

When Williams got to the dugout, he “smashed his bat into pieces,” the Boston Globe reported. “He first whacked it against the railing leading to the dressing room. When that didn’t suffice, Williams flung the bat toward the rack. He still wasn’t satisfied, so he smashed it on the floor of the dugout. That ended the bat’s worth for good.”

Watching from the mound, Paige “was laughing his head off,” the Globe noted.

“I’ve never seen anything like it in the big leagues,” Paige said. “He was sore because I crossed him up.”

Asked about Nieman’s performance, Paige said the burly rookie “is just a lot of boy. Leans into that ball pretty good and hits the pitch where it is.” Boxscore

Designated hitter

Nieman hit .372 in 12 games for the 1951 Browns. The next year, he led the 1952 Browns in batting average (.289), home runs (18) and RBI (74), but they traded him to the Tigers after the season. Nieman played for the Tigers (1953-54), White Sox (1955-56) and Orioles (1956-59). He batted .322 for the Orioles in 1956 and .325 in 1958.

In 1959, when Nieman hit .292 with 21 home runs for the Orioles, The Sporting News described him as “a terror at the bat but sometimes frightful in the field.” Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch suggested Nieman “thought defense was the time to rest.”

The Cardinals got Nieman for his hitting, not his fielding. He batted .287 in 81 games in 1960 and had an on-base percentage of .372.

Among his highlights:

_ A home run against Sandy Koufax in a 2-0 triumph over the Dodgers on Aug. 21. Boxscore

_ A double, triple and home run for four RBI against Dick Ellsworth in a 4-3 victory versus the Cubs on Sept. 4. Boxscore

_ A ninth-inning home run against Johnny Podres to force extra innings against the Dodgers on Sept. 21. Boxscore

In 1961, Nieman, 34, was hitting .471 (8-for-17) when the Cardinals traded him to the Indians on May 10. The Cardinals made the deal because they wanted to give more playing time to Charlie James, 23, who they were grooming to replace Stan Musial in left.

“At least Nieman has the consolation of being one of the few .471 hitters ever traded,” the Post-Dispatch concluded.

Nieman said, “I certainly hate to leave this club. I mean it when I say this is the finest outfit I’ve ever been associated with.”

As he departed, Nieman wrote a message on the blackboard in the Cardinals’ clubhouse: “Good luck, boys, see you in the World Series.”

The Cardinals didn’t reach the World Series in 1961, but Nieman did a year later. After hitting .354 in 39 games for the Indians in 1961, they traded him to the Giants the next year and Nieman appeared in the 1962 World Series.

Read Full Post »

Jose Cardenal, looking for the right fit for a baseball home after being exiled from his native Cuba, embraced an opportunity to be the center fielder for the Cardinals.

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 21, 1969, the Cardinals acquired Cardenal from the Indians for right fielder Vada Pinson.

The Cardinals got Cardenal to replace Curt Flood, who was traded a month earlier to the Phillies.

“Cardenal won’t hit or field as did Curt Flood, but he’ll run even more rapidly and throw better,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg noted.

Formative years

Cardenal was born and raised in Cuba as the youngest of five children. His father was a carpenter. Cardenal’s brother, Pedro, was an outfielder in the Cardinals’ farm system from 1955-58 but didn’t reach the majors. Cardenal’s cousin, Bert Campaneris, was a big-league shortstop.

As a youth, Cardenal played baseball on fields covered with stones and broken glass. “Some day, I will show you the scar from a cut on my right foot from stepping on a broken bottle,” he told the Post-Dispatch. “I was 9 years old and we played barefoot then.”

The Giants recognized Cardenal’s talent, signed him for $250 and brought him to the United States to begin his career in their farm system. He started out playing second and third before being shifted to the outfield.

In 1961, when Cardenal was 17, he hit .355 with 35 home runs and 108 RBI for El Paso. After the season, he wanted to visit family in Cuba but couldn’t. Cuba and the United States had severed relations and there were no assurances Cardenal would be permitted to leave Cuba if he went there. “Those were lonely, confusing months” for Cardenal, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“When I came to this country from Cuba to play baseball, I couldn’t speak much English,” Cardenal said, “so I ordered ham and eggs or hamburgers all the time. I couldn’t say anything else to eat in English.”

While playing for El Paso in 1963, Cardenal, 19, met a college coed in Tulsa, where the Cardinals had a farm club, and she became his wife.

Multiple skills

When Cardenal made his major-league debut with the Giants in 1963, manager Al Dark thought the rookie bore a facial resemblance to slugger Orlando Cepeda and called him “Junior.” The nickname stuck, but Cardenal didn’t. The Giants traded him to the Angels. After the 1967 season, the Indians, who hired Dark to be their manager, obtained Cardenal.

In 1969, Cardenal produced 143 hits and 36 stolen bases for the Indians. After the Cardinals traded Flood, they considered moving Pinson, 31, from right to center, “but there was a question about whether he could handle the position adequately in a big park such as Busch Stadium,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

The Cardinals preferred Cardenal, 26, who had “a throwing arm that could really skip a ball as fast as he’ll run on the new synthetic surface,” Broeg observed.

At Cardinals spring training in 1970, Cardenal impressed with his baserunning and hitting. After watching Cardenal steal bases in Grapefruit League exhibition games, teammate Lou Brock said, “Jose has good form, good speed and he gets a very good jump.”

Hitting coach Dick Sisler said Cardenal “has good bat control.”

Cardenal’s hitting improved when he choked up on the bat. “That way, I get more wood on the ball,” he said. “I choke up a little more when I have two strikes on me.”

Said Sisler: “By choking extra, he protects the plate all the more. He’s attacking the ball and he’s hitting to all fields.”

Big year

The Cardinals issued uniform No. 1 to Cardenal. Before him, others to wear the number for the Cardinals included Pepper Martin and Whitey Kurowski. The Cardinals retired the number after Ozzie Smith wore it from 1982-96.

Cardenal had a torrid start to his first Cardinals season. In the home opener against the Mets, he had three hits, a RBI and a run scored. In 16 April games, Cardenal batted .353 with 24 hits and 15 runs scored.

He finished the 1970 season with a .293 batting average, 74 RBI and 26 stolen bases and led the club in doubles (32). Cardenal was especially good from the No. 2 spot in the order, batting .350 with a .412 on-base percentage in 44 games.

It was a different story the following year. Cardenal was moved from center to right, hit .243 for the 1971 Cardinals and was traded to the Brewers in July. He returned to the Cardinals in 1994 as a coach on the staff of manager Joe Torre.

Read Full Post »

With one bold move, the Cardinals got a No. 1 starter for their rotation and a closer for the bullpen.

Twenty years ago, on Nov. 16, 1999, the Cardinals acquired pitchers Darryl Kile, Dave Veres and Luther Hackman from the Rockies for pitchers Manny Aybar, Jose Jimenez, Rich Croushore and infielder Brent Butler.

Kile, a bust with the Rockies, became the Cardinals’ ace. Veres, relying on a split-fingered pitch, brought stability to the closer’s role.

The trade was bold because, as Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “We gave up an awful lot of young talent.” Five months earlier, Jimenez pitched a no-hitter against the Diamondbacks. Aybar became a premier prospect when he was 10-0 for the Cardinals’ top farm club in 1998.

As it turned out, the trade paid immediate dividends for the Cardinals. Kile and Veres filled two prominent roles and significantly helped the Cardinals return to the postseason in 2000 for the first time in four years.

Ups and downs

Kile was obtained by the Cardinals two weeks before he turned 31. He made his major-league debut in 1991 with the Astros and developed into a consistent starter for them. In 1997, Kile was 19-7 with a 2.57 ERA for the Astros. He became a free agent after the season and signed with the Rockies.

The move to mile-high Denver was a disaster for Kile. When his curveball flattened out in the rarefied air of Coors Field, he tried to improvise by making perfect pitches and lost both his groove and his confidence.

In 1999, he was 8-13 with a 6.61 ERA in 32 starts. One of his few good performances was on April 29, 1999, when he pitched a complete game in a 6-2 Rockies win against the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

“Kile just wasn’t a good pitcher at Coors Field,” said Jim Leyland, manager of the 1999 Rockies. “Most guys aren’t. He just didn’t trust his stuff in that ballpark.”

Kile was 5-3 with a 7.44 ERA at Coors Field in 1999, but he also was bad on the road _ 3-10 with a 5.89 ERA, an indication he “just lost his confidence,” Jocketty said.

Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote, “Kile’s road stats essentially are irrelevant. His confidence was shot because of the battering he took at Coors. Once a pitcher’s confidence is punctured, it doesn’t matter if he’s pitching in Coors, Busch Stadium or Yellowstone National Park. He will be ineffective.”

Time for a change

The Cardinals were convinced Kile would regain his confidence and effectiveness if he pitched his home games in St. Louis.

In seven seasons with the Astros, Kile was 71-65. In two seasons with the Rockies, he was 21-30. Kile impressed the Cardinals by taking ownership of his poor Rockies record rather than blaming the conditions.

“When you make good pitches, you get outs,” Kile said. “You make bad pitches, you don’t, no matter where you pitch.”

Miklasz concluded, “There is nothing wrong with Kile’s arm or attitude. His mind and his curveball should benefit from the switch to St. Louis.”

Kile’s stoicism aside, Veres said pitching in Denver was different than anywhere else. “A bad pitch there doesn’t go to the wall,” Veres said. “It goes 20 feet over the wall.”

Stepping up

Veres was 33 when the Cardinals acquired him and he was relatively new to the closer’s role. In 1993, he was in his eighth minor-league season and headed nowhere when Astros instructor Brent Strom taught him to throw a split-fingered pitch. Veres mastered it and got to the big leagues for the first time with the Astros in 1994 at age 27.

Used as a setup reliever by the Astros and Expos, Veres was made a closer with the Rockies in 1999 and thrived in the role, earning 31 saves.

When Dennis Eckersley departed for free agency after the 1997 season, the Cardinals tried Jeff Brantley and Ricky Bottalico as the closers without much success. Veres was their next choice.

Success in St. Louis

At spring training in 2000, Cardinals pitching coach Dave Duncan was impressed by what he saw from Kile, who was 3-0 with a 1.35 ERA in his first 10 innings in exhibition games.

“He doesn’t act like he’s lacking in confidence,” Duncan said.

Kile was named the Opening Day starter for the Cardinals in 2000, beat the Cubs and went on to post a 20-9 record. Veres had 29 saves.

In three seasons with the Cardinals, Kile was 41-24. On June 22, 2002, Kile, 33, died of a heart attack caused by blocked arteries.

Veres appeared in 71 games in each of his three Cardinals seasons and earned 48 saves and 11 wins.

Luther Hackman, the other pitcher acquired in the deal with the Rockies, also pitched in three seasons for St. Louis and was 6-6 with one save.

Read Full Post »

The Cardinals began to rebuild their starting pitching rotation for the 21st century with the acquisition of a Cy Young Award winner.

Twenty years ago, on Nov. 11, 1999, the Cardinals traded catcher Alberto Castillo, reliever Lance Painter and pitching prospect Matt DeWitt to the Blue Jays for Pat Hentgen.

It was an important deal for the Cardinals, who were looking to become contenders after three years (1997-99) of failing to qualify for the postseason. Better pitching was one of their major needs.

Hentgen, 31, achieved double-digit win totals for the Blue Jays in seven consecutive seasons (1993-99) and received the American League Cy Young Award in 1996.

After acquiring Hentgen, the Cardinals added pitchers such as Darryl Kile, Andy Benes and reliever Dave Veres, and, along with the emergence of rookie Rick Ankiel, the upgrades made a difference.

After finishing 75-86 in 1999 with a starting rotation primarily of Darren Oliver, Kent Bottenfield, Jose Jimenez, Kent Mercker and Garrett Stephenson, the Cardinals in 2000 finished 95-67, won a division title and reached the National League Championship Series with a rebuilt rotation of Kile, Hentgen, Stephenson, Ankiel and Benes.

Reliable starter

Hentgen, a right-hander, made his major-league debut with the Blue Jays in September 1991, started and won Game 3 of the 1993 World Series for them against the Phillies and got the Cy Young Award in 1996 when he was 20-10 and led the American League in innings pitched (265.7), complete games (10) and shutouts (three).

He made 183 consecutive starts for the Blue Jays without missing a turn before shoulder tendinitis ended the streak in August 1998.

After a slow start to the 1999 season, Hentgen regained strength in his shoulder. Though he no longer had an overpowering fastball, he relied on location to frustrate batters. He often put pitches on the outside corner to induce groundballs and, if batters edged closer to the plate, he could deliver a pitch inside.

In August 1999, Blue Jays manager Jim Fregosi decided to have Hentgen skip a turn in the rotation, but didn’t inform the pitcher. Hentgen learned of the decision from a newspaper reporter. A month later, Hentgen and Fregosi had a heated argument in a closed-door clubhouse meeting, the National Post reported.

Hentgen finished the 1999 season with an 11-12 record and 4.79 ERA in 34 starts, but was 5-5 with a 2.87 ERA after Aug. 1.

The Blue Jays shopped him and the Tigers expressed interest, but the Cardinals made the best offer. The Blue Jays wanted Painter to replace left-hander reliever Graeme Lloyd, who departed for free agency.

Good fit

Hentgen was the fifth Cy Young Award winner acquired by the Cardinals since the honor was initiated in 1956. The others were Bruce Sutter (who won the award with the 1979 Cubs), Fernando Valenzuela (1981 Dodgers), Rick Sutcliffe (1984 Cubs) and Dennis Eckersley (1992 Athletics). Bob Gibson and Chris Carpenter are the only pitchers to receive the award as Cardinals.

The Cardinals had talked to the Dodgers about a trade for pitcher Ismael Valdes before making the deal for Hentgen, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

“We’ve been working on this deal for a long time,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. “We had tried to acquire him earlier in the year, but we weren’t able to. Finally, we got it worked out.”

Jocketty described Hentgen as a pitcher with “great upside.”

“I’m very confident he’s going to be a horse for us,” Jocketty said.

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said Hentgen reminded him of Todd Stottlemyre, a former Blue Jays pitcher who excelled for the Athletics and Cardinals with Dave Duncan as his pitching coach.

Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz predicted Hentgen and Duncan would work well together. “Hentgen appears to be the ideal Duncan project,” Miklasz wrote.

The Cardinals also were seeking a catcher and Hentgen recommended his 1999 Blue Jays teammate, Mike Matheny. When the Blue Jays released Matheny after acquiring Castillo in the Hentgen deal, the Cardinals followed Hentgen’s advice and signed Matheny.

Big fix

When Hentgen struggled with command of his pitches early in spring training with the 2000 Cardinals, Duncan studied video of the performances and discovered a flaw in Hentgen’s delivery, the Post-Dispatch reported.

“Instead of going straight to the plate, I’m going toward the on-deck circle,” Hentgen said. “It’s as if I’m pitching to the plate five seats over.”

As a result, “the arm just drags, so I had nothing on the ball and no location,” Hentgen said.

Hentgen made his Cardinals debut with a start in the second game of the 2000 season and got the win in a 10-4 victory over the Cubs at St. Louis. He retired 11 consecutive batters from the second through fifth innings. Boxscore

On Sept. 14, 2000, Hentgen beat the Cubs again, pitching a three-hit shutout at St. Louis. Boxscore

“He kept the ball down and got ahead in the count,” said Matheny.

Duncan said, “His delivery was perfectly consistent from start to finish … When you’re getting called third strikes on good hitters, you’re executing your pitches.”

Hentgen finished with a 15-12 record for the 2000 Cardinals, winning six of eight decisions from Aug. 2 to Sept. 14, and was second on the staff in games started (33). He also started and lost Game 5 of the 2000 National League Championship Series when the Mets clinched the pennant.

Granted free agency after the postseason, Hentgen signed with the Orioles.

In 14 seasons in the big leagues, Hentgen was 131-112.

Read Full Post »

George Culver, a dapper dresser who threw a sharp slider, seemed suited for a spot in the starting rotation of the Cardinals until his season unraveled like a spool of cheap threads.

Fifty years ago, on Nov. 5, 1969, the Cardinals acquired Culver from the Reds for pitcher Ray Washburn.

Culver, 26, and Washburn, 31, were right-handers who pitched no-hitters in the major leagues. Culver threw a no-hitter for the Reds against the Phillies on July 29, 1968. Boxscore Washburn had a no-hitter for the Cardinals versus the Giants on Sept. 18, 1968. Boxscore

The Cardinals projected Culver as a younger, more versatile version of Washburn and acquired him on the recommendation of Vern Benson and Hal Smith, former Cardinals players and coaches who were Reds coaches on the staff of manager Dave Bristol when Culver pitched for Cincinnati in 1968 and 1969. After Bristol was replaced by Sparky Anderson, Benson and Smith rejoined the Cardinals and urged general manager Bing Devine to make a deal for Culver.

Culver earned a spot in the Cardinals’ starting rotation in spring training and won his first three starts of the 1970 regular season, but an elbow ailment curtailed his progress and the Cardinals traded him to the Astros.

Here’s the scoop

When Culver was in eighth grade, he combined his passion for sports with an interest in writing.

“I’d listen to a game on the radio and then write a story about the game,” he told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Then I’d compare what I wrote with the story of the game that would appear in the newspaper.”

As a freshman in Bakersfield, Calif., Culver became sports editor of the high school newspaper and eventually covered prep sports events as a freelancer for the local newspaper, the Bakersfield Californian.

When he wasn’t covering sports, Culver excelled at participating. He was best at baseball. He eventually signed with the Yankees, spent a season in their farm system and was selected by the Indians in the minor-league draft.

Culver, 23, made his major-league debut with the Indians in September 1966. He arrived in the clubhouse wearing a sport jacket and carrying a suitcase containing one suit. For the next month, he wore the jacket or the suit every day and was needled by teammates for lacking a better wardrobe, he told the Post-Dispatch.

“I didn’t want to be a country dresser,” Culver said. “The next year, I got a $5,000 bonus for being in the big leagues 90 days and I went out and spent about two grand on clothes.”

From then on, Culver became as well-known for his outfits as he was for his pitching.

Fashionable player

A reliever in 1967, Culver led Indians pitchers in appearances (53) and posted a 7-3 record with three saves. Traded to the Reds, he became a starter, led them in innings pitched (226) and was 11-16 with a 3.23 ERA in 1968.

Described by the Bakersfield Californian as a “mod-style bachelor,” Culver, who was divorced, developed what the Post-Dispatch called “nocturnal habits.” He liked to golf during the day and shoot pool and play bridge or poker at night.

Whatever he did, he looked marvelous doing it.

“Culver is a good-looking, green-eyed guy who resembles his idol, golf’s dashing Doug Sanders, in physical appearance and sartorial splendor,” Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch observed.

On the day they met, Broeg reported, Culver was wearing “white shoes, cream-colored trousers and a brilliant orange sweater.”

Culver told Broeg he liked to wear purple or pink. “I know those colors aren’t very manly,” Culver said, “but they’re beautiful.”

According to the Bakersfield newspaper, Culver had a “purple Edwardian-style suit,” but he said, “I don’t wear that purple outfit anymore. I favor all-white suits now.”

Culver said he had 150 pairs of slacks and 50 Banlon shirts. “I’d rather spend 50 bucks on clothes than on a date,” he told Broeg.

The focus on fashion paid off. A Los Angeles clothing manufacturer hired Culver as a sales representative and he carried “sample swatches of material as well as color and style charts on his baseball travels,” the Bakersfield Californian reported.

Even the back of Culver’s Topps baseball card noted, “George likes to wear mod-style clothes.”

Fresh start

In July 1969 while with the Reds, Culver became ill. He was sent to a Cincinnati hospital and diagnosed with hepatitis. He returned to the club late in the season, made five appearances and finished with a 5-7 record and 4.26 ERA.

The bout with hepatitis gave Culver “a good warning about the condition of his liver” and inspired him to change his lifestyle, the Post-Dispatch reported. After his trade to the Cardinals, Culver said, “I’ve given up drinking and I’ve recently kicked a four-pack-a-day cigarette habit.”

At Cardinals spring training camp in 1970, Culver competed with Chuck Taylor and Jerry Johnson for the fifth starter spot in a rotation with Bob Gibson, Steve Carlton, Nelson Briles and Mike Torrez.

Benson said Culver has “the arm to start and relieve and the heart to do both.”

Culver won the starting role by posting a 1.73 ERA in 26 innings in Grapefruit League games.

“He keeps the ball down consistently,” said Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst.

Culver made his Cardinals debut with a start in the home opener against the defending World Series champion Mets on April 10, 1970, at Busch Memorial Stadium. He limited the Mets to two earned runs in 7.2 innings, contributed two RBI and got the win in a 7-3 Cardinals triumph before 45,960. Boxscore

Culver got complete-game wins in each of his next two starts, beating the Pirates in Pittsburgh Boxscore and the Reds at St. Louis. Boxscore After three starts, he was 3-0 with a 1.40 ERA.

Meet the press

When Culver began his professional baseball career, the Bakersfield newspaper gave him a twice-a-month sports column, “Culver’s Clubhouse,” and he still was writing it while with the Cardinals.

“I write all my own stuff,” Culver said. “I try to give the readers information they wouldn’t ordinarily get.”

While with the Cardinals, Culver’s columns included insights on:

_ Teammate Bob Gibson: “He’s one of the hardest workers in camp and you’d never know he’s 34 years old. There isn’t a tougher competitor in the game.”

_ Artificial turf in St. Louis: “One thing the AstroTurf should cut down is infield hits. It’s almost impossible to hit a slow groundball and you will never see a ball die after being bunted unless the hitter uses a sand wedge.”

_ Pitching in Pittsburgh: “I’m glad they don’t have AstroTurf there yet. I might get one of our infielders killed.”

He also was considering writing a book about his adventures playing winter baseball in the Caribbean. The working title: “Maybe Mañana.”

Short stay

Since late in spring training with the Cardinals, Culver’s right elbow was aching. After the 3-0 start to the season, Culver was winless in his next four starts and his ERA increased to 4.66.

Schoendienst moved Culver to the bullpen in mid-May and replaced him in the rotation with rookie Santiago Guzman. In four relief appearances, Culver was 0-1 with a 4.32 ERA.

On June 13, 1970, the Cardinals traded Culver to the Astros for two utility players, Jim Beauchamp and Leon McFadden, and promoted rookie Al Hrabosky to take his spot in the bullpen.

Culver made 32 relief appearances for the 1970 Astros, was 3-3 with three saves and a 3.20 ERA and had elbow surgery after the season. He went on to pitch for the Dodgers and Phillies, finishing with a career record of 48-49, 23 saves and a 3.62 ERA in nine big-league seasons.

Read Full Post »

Ron Fairly tormented Bob Gibson as an opponent and helped him as a teammate.

A first baseman and outfielder, Fairly played 21 years (1958-78) in the major leagues, primarily with the Dodgers (1958-69) and Expos (1969-74), and spent two seasons (1975-76) with the Cardinals. He played in four World Series for the Dodgers, including 1965 when he batted . 379 against the Twins.

A left-handed batter with a line drive stroke, Fairly did some of his best work against Gibson, the Cardinals’ ace.

During his Hall of Fame career, Gibson yielded more hits (48) and more doubles (10) to Fairly than he did to any other batter.

In addition to having his career highs in hits and doubles against Gibson, Fairly produced a career-best 24 RBI versus him.

In his 1968 book, “From Ghetto to Glory,” Gibson said, “I don’t have to make a mistake against Fairly. Whatever I throw, he just hits it _ I don’t care what it is _ and always when somebody is on base. The guy is just a pretty good hitter.”

Four decades later, in his book, “Sixty Feet, Six Inches,” Gibson described Fairly as a batter who “would punch the ball over the shortstop’s head and you couldn’t strike him out. I tried to pitch him in, like I did a lot of left-handed hitters, and I didn’t have any luck with that. I’d pitch him away, make a good pitch, and he’d dump it over the shortstop’s head.”

In 1975, Fairly’s first season with the Cardinals and Gibson’s last, Gibson benefitted from Fairly’s formidable hitting.

On July 27, 1975, Fairly had two hits, two walks, one RBI and scored a run in the Cardinals’ 9-6 victory over the Phillies at St. Louis. Gibson got the win, the 251st and last of his career, with four scoreless innings of relief. Boxscore

Fairly talented

Fairly attended the University of Southern California, signed with the Dodgers in June 1958 and made his major-league debut with them three months later at age 20.

He established himself as a smooth fielder at first base and a consistent hitter.

Chicago columnist Jerome Holtzman rated Fairly “the best first baseman I’ve ever seen coming in on a bunt.”

Dodgers manager Walter Alston, in a 1965 interview with Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said he regarded Fairly the best hitter with runners on base of any of the players he’d managed.

For his career, Fairly had 17 home runs and 100 RBI versus the Cardinals. He batted .302 against Gibson, with 48 hits, including four home runs, in 159 at-bats. Fairly’s on-base percentage versus Gibson was .369.

In Gibson’s autobiography, “Stranger to the Game,” Gibson’s friend and teammate Joe Torre said, “Ron Fairly hit Gibby about as well as anybody did.”

On July 15, 1964, Fairly hit two home runs, one against Gibson and the other versus Ray Washburn, in a 13-3 Dodgers victory over the Cardinals at St. Louis. Boxscore

Regarding the Gibson fastball he hit for the home run, Fairly said, “I just got around in front of the pitch and laid the bat on the ball. Gibson supplied the power.”

The next day, Fairly hit a homer against Ray Sadecki. For the three-game series, Fairly had 10 RBI and six hits in 13 at-bats.

A year later, on June 3, 1965, at St. Louis, Fairly hit a two-run home run off Barney Schultz with two outs in the eighth, erasing a 10-9 deficit and lifting the Dodgers to an 11-10 victory. Boxscore

Fairly hit the first walkoff home run of his major-league career on Sept. 25, 1970, for the Expos against the Cardinals in Montreal. With the Cardinals ahead, 5-4, the Expos had two on and two outs in the ninth when Fairly hit an 0-and-2 fastball from rookie Al Hrabosky for a game-winning homer. Boxscore

“I can’t hit a ball any better than that,” Fairly said to the Montreal Gazette.

Proud pro

On Dec. 6, 1974, the Cardinals acquired Fairly from the Expos for a pair of prospects, first baseman Ed Kurpiel and infielder Rudy Kinard. Cardinals general manager Bing Devine projected Fairly to be a pinch-hitter and backup to rookie first baseman Keith Hernandez.

Fairly, 36, told the Sporting News, “I expect to play a lot. I’d like to play every day.”

Hernandez, 21, opened the 1975 season as the starter, struggled and was sent to the minors in June.

Fairly, getting starts at first base and in the corner outfield spots, became a valuable player for the 1975 Cardinals. He hit .301 and had an on-base percentage of .421. He also hit .343 as a pinch-hitter. On July 8, 1975, at St. Louis, Fairly hit a grand slam against Pete Falcone of the Giants. Boxscore

“I don’t fool around in batting practice,” Fairly said. “I try to hit with game situations in mind. Too many players fool around too much in batting practice and that gets them in bad habits.”

Fairly shared his knowledge with Cardinals teammates. According to The Sporting News, catcher Ted Simmons, “regarded by many as the purest hitter now active in the game,” listened to the advice Fairly gave him on hitting.

Hernandez returned to the Cardinals in September 1975 and regained his starting job. In his memoir, “I’m Keith Hernandez,” Hernandez said Fairly “took the time to show me how to better break in a first baseman’s mitt and how to cheat a little bit on a close putout at first.”

“You’re moving forward to get the ball with the glove, extending your body, and your foot comes off the bag just before the ball arrives,” Fairly told Hernandez. “Don’t rush it, or the ump will catch you pulling your foot.”

In his book, Hernandez said, “I worked on it every day during infield until I had it, and took Ron’s sly little move with me for the rest of my career.”

Watching Fairly’s impact on the Cardinals, Expos owner Charles Bronfman admitted, “That Fairly deal was very unfortunate. I think Ron fooled a lot of us by playing a lot better than we expected.”

The next season, Fairly hit .264 and had an on-base percentage of .385 for the Cardinals before they sold his contract to the Athletics on Sept. 14, 1976. He batted .364 with runners in scoring position for the 1976 Cardinals.

Overall, in his two St. Louis seasons, Fairly batted .289 with a .409 on-base percentage.

He went on to play for the Athletics, Blue Jays and Angels, finishing his career with 1,913 hits.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »