Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

Larry Wilson caused NFL quarterbacks to lay awake at night with worry and Bill Nelsen was no exception.

Nelsen had a prominent role in the play that defined the Pro Football Hall of Fame career of Wilson, the St. Louis Cardinals safety who was as tough as any player in the NFL.

On Nov. 7, 1965, in a game between the Cardinals and Pittsburgh Steelers at Busch Stadium in St. Louis, Wilson intercepted a pass from Nelsen while wearing casts on both fractured hands.

Wilson’s performance remains an enduring testament to his willpower and illustrates why he was so widely respected.

Mind game

Wilson, who played his entire professional career (1960-72) with the Cardinals, fractured his hands in a game against the New York Giants on Oct. 31, 1965, at New York.

Cardinals head coach Wally Lemm said Wilson would play the following Sunday versus the Steelers at St. Louis. Wilson “may be handicapped in making interceptions,” Lemm said to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “but he’ll play if at all possible. He’s too valuable a man in all ways to do without.”

Nelsen, in his third NFL season and his first as the Steelers’ starting quarterback, said he had a premonition Wilson would pick off one of his passes.

“I just knew Larry Wilson was going to get an interception,” Nelsen told the Post-Dispatch. “Lying awake the night before the game, I was thinking there was no way he could catch one with his hands wrapped up to protect his fractures, but I knew he was going to get one.”

Finding a way

Wilson’s interception set up a Cardinals touchdown in the final 75 seconds of the first half.

The Steelers led, 3-0, and had possession at their 20-yard line when Nelsen threw a pass toward the middle of the field. Wilson caught the ball against his chest at the Steelers’ 37 and returned it to the 3.

“It nestled into my arms nicely,” Wilson said to the Associated Press. Video

Noting Wilson made the only interception of the game, Post-Dispatch sports editor Bob Broeg wrote, “Wilson did what teammates with healthy and unencumbered fingers couldn’t do.”

Asked by Sports Illustrated in a 1995 interview whether it was painful to have Nelsen’s pass hit his damaged hands, Wilson replied, “The only painful thing about it was I should have scored.”

Steelers offensive line coach Ernie Hefferle called the wiry Wilson “one of the gutsiest players in football.”

“I believe he wants to make every tackle,” Hefferle sad to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.

Getting open

On the first play after Wilson’s interception, halfback Bill Triplett ran three yards for a touchdown and the Cardinals led 7-3 at halftime.

The Cardinals held a 14-3 lead entering the fourth quarter, but the Steelers rallied and went ahead, 17-14, with 1:12 to play.

Taking possession at their 20, the Cardinals noticed the Steelers moved into a prevent defense. Completing a couple of short passes across the middle, quarterback Charley Johnson advanced the Cardinals to their 41 with 46 seconds to go.

“In their prevent defense, the Steelers had put three backs on one side to cover the receivers coming out of our double-wing formation,” Johnson told the Post-Dispatch.

Johnson asked Billy Gambrell, a slight speedster, if he could beat the safety. Gambrell said he could and Johnson called the play.

With split end Sonny Randle running a route down the left side, Gambrell cut across the middle. Gambrell caught Johnson’s pass at the Steelers’ 20 and sped into the end zone for a 59-yard touchdown reception.

Said Steelers head coach Mike Nixon, “We had two men covering Gambrell … One of the two should have been with him, but the little guy got away from both of them.”

The Cardinals won, 21-17. Boxscore

Making the plays

Wilson played again the next week against the Chicago Bears, but re-injured his right hand and sat out four games.

He returned for the season finale on Dec. 19 against the Cleveland Browns at St. Louis and intercepted three Frank Ryan passes, returning the first one more than 90 yards for a touchdown. Video

Wilson made a total of 52 career interceptions for the Cardinals.

In May 1968, three years after Wilson picked off his pass in St. Louis, Nelsen was traded by the Steelers to the Browns, and his career took off. Nelsen played five seasons (1968-72) with the Browns and started in five playoff games for them.

Nelsen had his best season in 1969 when he threw for 2,743 yards and 23 touchdowns in leading the Browns to a 10-3-1 record. He tied Fran Tarkenton of the Giants for second in the NFL in touchdown passes in 1969, trailing only the Los Angeles Rams’ Roman Gabriel, who had 24.

Read Full Post »

“You’re going to like us” was the slogan used for many years by Trans World Airlines (TWA), but the upbeat pitch didn’t fly with a trio of Cardinals miscreants.

On April 11, 1979, Cardinals players Keith Hernandez, Ken Reitz and Silvio Martinez, frustrated by a lengthy flight delay, tore up a TWA hospitality room at Lambert Field in St. Louis.

The incident embarrassed Cardinals management and created a public relations headache for the club.

Storms brewing

After an April 11 afternoon game against the Cubs at St. Louis was rained out, the Cardinals boarded a bus at Busch Stadium and went to the airport for a scheduled 4:50 p.m. commercial flight to Pittsburgh.

The TWA flight, originating in San Francisco, was delayed when the plane was rerouted to Kansas City because of severe thunderstorms in St. Louis. Eventually, all flights in and out of Lambert Field were suspended for two hours because of the weather, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

TWA arranged for the Cardinals to wait out the delay in a hospitality room. The flight didn’t take off until 1:30 a.m., about nine hours later than scheduled.

At some point during the long wait, Hernandez, Reitz and Martinez went on “a destructive rumpus” and left the room “a shambles,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

Grow up, guys

Initially, details about the incident were slow to emerge.

The story took a turn when an eyewitness told the Post-Dispatch, “They put them in this VIP room and they just completely demolished it. One guy threw a chair, then threw a cabinet and tore down some signs. They just wrecked it. If it had been some college kids going to Fort Lauderdale, they’d been in the newsreels and in jail in Clayton. It was just terrible.”

TWA spokesman Larry Hillard confirmed the Cardinals “damaged folding doors, tore lettering off the walls and ripped out telephones. They also broke up some chairs and other types of wooden doors.”

While the Cardinals were in Pittsburgh, where they lost three of four games against the Pirates, public outrage in St. Louis about the airport incident was rising and club management was feeling pressure to respond. General manager John Claiborne met the team at its next stop in Chicago, fined the players involved and told them they would have to pay for the damages they caused.

“Those responsible realize they were wrong and have apologized to TWA and any other offended body, including Anheuser-Busch,” Claiborne said, referring to the Cardinals’ parent company.

Post-Dispatch columnist Dick Kaegel said the vandalism done by the players “was inexcusable” and a “childish act by grown men who should know better.”

“Sure, a nine-hour wait in an airport is frustrating,” Kaegel wrote. “It was an inconvenience. But that same night in the St. Louis area hundreds of persons were leaving their flood-devastated homes. Some were wiped out. A High Ridge mother lost her 11-year-old son to the raging torrent. A St. Charles man drowned. Compared to that, the Cardinals’ inconvenience is inconsequential.”

My fault

Days later, after the team returned home, Reitz said he was responsible for doing most of the damage at the airport and may have had too much to drink. “Keith and Silvio didn’t do all that much,” he said. Hernandez and Martinez declined comment.

“You do some things sometimes you’re sorry for later,” Reitz said. “At that point in time, I didn’t think it was that big a deal.”

Reitz said he began to realize the consequences of his behavior when Claiborne “told us what the damages were and how many people were offended.”

“I screwed up,” Reitz concluded. “Let’s put it plain and simple.”

A month later, in May 1979, the Cardinals signed Reitz, a third baseman, to a five-year contract extension totaling between $1.25 million and $1.3 million.

In October 1979, Stan Isle of The Sporting News reported Ozark Air Lines, which provided charter flights for the Cardinals and other teams, “may be having second thoughts about future service for some baseball clubs,” according to a company official, because of bad behavior by players.

According to The Sporting News, “On one of the Cardinals’ charter flights, from Pittsburgh to Chicago, witnesses said right-hander Pete Vuckovich had to be restrained after an altercation with manager Ken Boyer. The incident alarmed flight attendants and the pilot threatened to land in Indianapolis before order was restored.”

Read Full Post »

The punishing rushes of Green Bay Packers fullback Jim Taylor shredded a daring defense of the St. Louis football Cardinals.

Taylor was a bruising rusher for the championship Packers teams of the 1960s. Paired in a backfield with “Golden Boy” halfback Paul Hornung, Taylor was a powerful force who twice led the NFL in rushing touchdowns and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

In 1962, Taylor topped the NFL in rushing yards with 1,474 in 14 games. He faced the St. Louis Cardinals for the first time that season and his rushing and pass-catching skills were key to enabling the Packers to overcome a challenging defensive scheme.

Game plan

The Cardinals and Packers each had 1-0 records entering their game on Sept. 23, 1962, at Milwaukee County Stadium. The Packers were the reigning NFL champions and the Cardinals were looking to establish themselves as contenders.

Cardinals head coach Wally Lemm and his staff devised a plan to apply pressure on Packers quarterback Bart Starr by having St. Louis defensive players use stunting maneuvers and blitzing schemes.

The stunting meant two or more Cardinals defenders would alter their usual paths to the quarterback in an effort to confuse the Packers’ offensive linemen.

The blitzing freed a defensive back or linebacker to leave his usual post and become an extra pass rusher. New York Giants linebacker Donald “Red Dog” Ettinger is credited with being the first player to use the technique from 1948-50 and blitzes came to be known as “red dogging.” In 1960, Cardinals defensive backs coach Chuck Drulis designed a blitz using safety Larry Wilson and named it “wildcat.”

Pressuring Pack

The blitzing and stunting of Cardinals defenders confused the Packers in the first half of their 1962 game. Starr “was under considerable pressure from the Cardinals’ determined rush, including red-dogging defensive halfbacks,” the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported.

Packers offensive tackle Forrest Gregg said the Cardinals “were doing a lot of jumping around in there and we weren’t picking them up.”

Said Packers coach Vince Lombardi: “Their defense upset us in the beginning. We had a hell of a time trying to find them. They did a lot of stunting in there … It was new to us. We hadn’t seen it before this year.”

Lombardi and his staff tried to make adjustments during the first half, but were unsuccessful in communicating effectively during the helter-skelter pace of the game. The best the Packers could do was to hold on until they could regroup in the locker room at halftime. “We had to put it on the (chalk) board,” Lombardi said.

The Packers’ fierce defense, led by linemen Willie Davis and Henry Jordan, shut down the Cardinals’ attack and Green Bay led, 3-0, at halftime on Hornung’s field goal.

Fast learners

Using the chalkboard to illustrate what needed to be done to counter the Cardinals’ aggressive blitzing and stunting, Lombardi and his staff instructed their offensive linemen to block in assigned areas rather than man against man, and they told Starr to turn Taylor loose to rumble and mix in short passes to Taylor and tight end Ron Kramer.

The adjustments worked. Taylor, 6 feet and 215 pounds, pounded the Cardinals with runs up the middle and put the Packers in position to score a pair of touchdowns.

“In three years, nobody has run through our middle as the Packers did,” defensive tackle Frank Fuller, who played for the Cardinals from 1960-62, told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Taylor “turned the tide with his powerful smashes in the second half,” the Green Bay Press-Gazette reported. Taylor “punished the Cardinals’ defense with his hard hitting … His thrusts up the middle helped the (Packers) loosen up the Cardinals’ defense and thus make their passing work.”

Taylor finished with 122 yards rushing on 23 carries and also had four catches for 40 yards. Hornung had a three-yard touchdown run in the third quarter, Starr connected with Max McGee on a 19-yard scoring strike in the fourth quarter and the Packers won, 17-0. Boxscore

“We adjusted between halves,” Lombardi said. “In the second half, we zone blocked and area blocked. The boys picked them up real well.”

Said Taylor: “We just got to zone blocking in the second half and they changed their defense. They weren’t red-dogging so much and the red dogs were not real hard to pick up.”

One of a kind

Lemm praised the Packers as “the best-balanced team in football. Father Time is the only thing that’s going to beat the Packers.”

The Cardinals were held to 16 yards rushing and their top receiver, Sonny Randle, had one catch for five yards. Halfback John David Crow had nine yards on nine carries.

“We don’t have a Taylor,” Lemm lamented.

The 1962 Packers repeated as NFL champions and Taylor also played for league champions in 1965 and 1966. The Cardinals finished 4-9-1 in 1962.

Taylor played two more regular-season games against the Cardinals in his career.

On Oct. 20, 1963, he rushed for 67 yards and two touchdowns in a 30-7 Packers victory, and on Dec. 12, 1967, in his final NFL season with the Saints, the former Louisiana State standout had 34 yards rushing in a game the Cardinals won, 31-20.

Read Full Post »

In a football game featuring an inordinate number of big plays, Philadelphia Eagles flanker Tommy McDonald produced one nearly every time he touched the ball.

On Dec. 16, 1962, McDonald made four catches, three for touchdowns, in a game versus the St. Louis Cardinals at Busch Stadium. In a NFL career filled with achievements, it was McDonald’s best performance against the Cardinals.

McDonald was one of the NFL’s most amazing players. At 5 feet 9, 175 pounds, he was a prolific pass catcher who consistently produced touchdowns.

Walking tall

McDonald was born in Roy, New Mexico, and his father was a farmer and electrician who set up a spotlight outside the barn “so his sons could play basketball after milking the cows each night,” according to The Daily Oklahoman.

A multi-sport athlete in high school, McDonald was recruited by the University of Oklahoma and was a running back for coach Bud Wilkinson on three consecutive unbeaten teams from 1954-56. McDonald scored 17 touchdowns, 16 rushing and one receiving, for the 1955 national champions. McDonald’s success at Oklahoma earned him election to the College Football Hall of Fame.

“There are worlds of people with potential physical abilities greater than McDonald’s,” Wilkinson said to Sports Illustrated. “About his only real advantages are quickness and extraordinary determination.”

The Eagles selected McDonald in the third round of the 1957 NFL draft and converted him to a receiver.

McDonald was undersized but tough. On Oct. 4, 1959, a week after he broke his jaw and had it wired shut, McDonald played against the New York Giants and scored four touchdowns _ three on receptions and the other on a punt return.

As a teen, McDonald lost the tip of his left thumb in a motorbike accident, the New York Times reported, but he was as sure-handed as any receiver in the NFL.

McDonald also benefitted from learning the proper way to go down after being tackled by much larger defensive players. “I fall like 175 pounds of spaghetti,” McDonald said.

“He has the balance of a gymnast,” Sports Illustrated observed, and as teammate Tom Brookshier said, “The little rat is strong as a bull.”

Good chemistry

Eagles quarterback Norm Van Brocklin, traded by the Rams to the Eagles in 1958, mentored McDonald “in the art of running pass patterns,” the Times reported, and McDonald became Van Brocklin’s favorite receiver.

McDonald led the NFL in touchdown receptions (nine) in 1958.

In the 1960 NFL championship game against the Packers, McDonald caught three passes from Van Brocklin for 90 yards and a touchdown in a 17-13 Eagles victory.

“If I had to pick one guy to throw the ball to with the game on the line, I’d pick McDonald,” Van Brocklin told Ray Didinger, author of “The Eagles Encyclopedia.”

Van Brocklin retired after the championship season and his protege, Sonny Jurgensen, took over as Eagles quarterback. Jurgensen and McDonald were friends and clicked on the field. McDonald led the NFL in receiving yards (1,144) in 1961.

Jurgensen, McDonald and Van Brocklin all would be elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

“I wound up with two great quarterbacks _ Van Brocklin and Jurgensen,” McDonald told The Daily Oklahoman. “You couldn’t go in a chemistry lab and mix up two better arms.”

Thrill ride

The Eagles and Cardinals each entered the 1962 regular-season finale with a 3-9-1 record. Played on a sunny St. Louis Sunday with a temperature of 40 degrees and before a crowd of 14,989, the game quickly became what the Philadelphia Daily News described as “a spectator’s dream but a coach’s nightmare.”

Among the highlights:

_ McDonald made four catches for 162 yards. Three of those grabs were for touchdowns of 56, 60 and 40 yards, the latter “a remarkable diving catch,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

_ Jurgensen threw for 419 yards and five touchdowns. He did most of that damage from a shotgun formation designed to buy time against the Cardinals’ blitzes, according to the Inquirer.

_ Timmy Brown, the Eagles’ halfback, rushed for 50 yards and caught five passes for 199 yards, including touchdown receptions of 60 and 82 yards.

_ John David Crow, the Cardinals’ running back, rushed for three touchdowns and snared a 16-yard touchdown toss from quarterback Charley Johnson.

_ Johnson threw for 386 yards and two touchdowns and also ran for a touchdown.

_ Sonny Randle, a Cardinals split end, made three catches for 134 yards and a touchdown.

_ Taz Anderson, a Cardinals flanker, totaled 175 yards on eight receptions.

The Cardinals led, 31-28, at halftime and won, 45-35. Game summary

“I’ve never seen a shoddier defensive show by two teams,” said Eagles coach Nick Skorich.

Cardinals coach Wally Lemm said, “It seemed both teams wanted to give the game away, didn’t it?”

The teams combined for 1,087 total yards _ 589 for the Cardinals and 498 for the Eagles.

“The defensive indolence gave the illusion of offensive excellence,” the Philadelphia Daily News concluded.

Finding the end zone

McDonald six times made three touchdown catches in a game _ five times for the Eagles and the other for the Rams.

He played 12 years in the NFL for the Eagles (1957-63), Cowboys (1964), Rams (1965-66), Falcons (1967) and Browns (1968). His last regular-season game was for the Browns against the Cardinals on Dec. 14, 1968.

McDonald finished his NFL career with 495 catches for 8,410 yards and 84 touchdowns. When he retired, his 84 touchdown receptions were the second-most in NFL history, behind the 99 for the Packers’ Don Hutson. McDonald was inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame in 1998.

“I think catching passes is judgment, mostly,” McDonald said. “I’ve got good vision, good peripheral vision. I think sometimes I can see things the defensive back doesn’t see.”

In 1957, McDonald married Ann Campbell, who was Miss Oklahoma in 1955 and a finalist in the 1956 Miss America pageant. They divorced three year later. In 1962, McDonald wed Patricia Gallagher, raised four children together and were married for 55 years until she died on Jan. 1, 2018.

Read Full Post »

The departure of Jack Clark enabled the Cardinals to take a chance on Brian Jordan.

On June 1, 1988, the Cardinals chose Jordan with a supplemental pick between the first and second rounds of baseball’s amateur draft. Jordan was a junior at the University of Richmond and excelled there at football and baseball.

Though Jordan was an intriguing talent as an outfielder, there was a genuine risk he would pursue a full-time career in professional football. The Cardinals, however, were in a position to take that risk because they had three picks among the top 30 in the draft.

When Clark, their top slugger, became a free agent and signed with the Yankees after the 1987 World Series, baseball’s basic agreement with the players’ union required the Cardinals to be compensated with two additional draft picks _ one in the first round and another in the supplemental round.

Using the Yankees’ first-round pick, the 22nd overall, as compensation for Clark, the Cardinals took University of Illinois pitcher John Ericks. With their first-round pick, the 23rd overall, the Cardinals got Virginia Tech pitcher Brad Duvall.

After 26 players were drafted in the first round, four supplemental selections were made before the start of the second round. The Indians, Orioles and Giants selected before the Cardinals, with the 30th overall pick of the draft, took Jordan.

Oh, Canada

The selection of Jordan received little public notice. Instead, the headlines went to the Cardinals’ first-round picks, Ericks and Duvall. Ericks struck out 108 in 87.1 innings as a junior at Illinois. Duvall, a Virginia Tech senior, was touted by Cardinals director of scouting Fred McAlister as “kind of a country boy who brings it. You should see him pitch,” the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported.

On June 28, 1988, Jordan still hadn’t signed and the Post-Dispatch speculated he “may return to Richmond to play football” rather than play in the Cardinals’ system. A week later, on July 7, more than a month after he was drafted, Jordan signed with the Cardinals after it was agreed he could play football at Richmond his senior season.

The Cardinals dispatched Jordan to their Class A farm club in Hamilton, Ontario, Canada, and he got into 19 games, batting .310. After bruising a bone in his right foot, he returned to school.

Jordan had a solid senior season for Richmond’s football team, got invited to play in the Senior Bowl and suffered an ankle injury. The Buffalo Bills selected him in the seventh round of the 1989 NFL draft.

Sidelined by the injured ankle, Jordan was limited to playing in 11 games for the Cardinals’ Class A St. Petersburg affiliate in 1989 before he reported to Bills training camp in July.

Hanifan helps

The Bills waived Jordan on Sept. 4, 1989, and he was signed by the Atlanta Falcons the next day. On Sept. 9, the Falcons placed Jordan, a defensive back, on injured reserve because of a broken foot.

After the Falcons lost nine of their first 12 games in 1989, head coach Marion Campbell resigned and an assistant, Jim Hanifan, was named interim head coach. Hanifan was head coach of the NFL St. Louis Cardinals from 1980-85.

One of Hanifan’s first moves after replacing Campbell was to place Jordan on the active roster. Jordan made his NFL debut on Dec. 3, 1989, against the defending Super Bowl champion San Francisco 49ers. Hanifan gave him his first NFL start on Dec. 24 in the season finale against the Detroit Lions. Jordan lined up at strong safety and made three tackles.

Falcons vs. Cardinals

The Cardinals, eager to evaluate Jordan on the diamond, invited him to their major-league spring training camp in 1990. Liking what they saw, they assigned him to their Class AA Arkansas club to start the 1990 season.

“This is going to be a big year for him,” said Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog. “If he does well in Double-A, then he’s going to have to decide between the two sports.”

Jordan’s baseball season, however, was a bust. He batted .160 in 16 games for Arkansas and injured his right wrist in May. After a stint on the disabled list, Jordan was sent to Class A St. Petersburg. He played in nine games, batted .167 and was sidelined for the remainder of the season when it was discovered he’d broken a bone in his wrist.

Jordan reported to training camp with the 1990 Falcons, who hired Jerry Glanville as head coach, earned a starting job and played in all 16 regular-season games, intercepting three passes.

The Cardinals again invited Jordan to their major-league spring training camp in 1991, though general manager Dal Maxvill openly wondered whether football was gaining the upper hand.

“He’s making more money with them (Falcons) now,” Maxvill said. “Obviously, we’re trying to get as good a look as possible. Hopefully, he’ll have some success and develop a real love for (baseball) because I can see him very shortly, if he’s in the $400,000 to $500,000 range, saying, ‘I’m going to pass on baseball.’ ”

Let’s make a deal

The Cardinals sent Jordan, 24, to their top farm club, Class AAA Louisville, to start the 1991 season. He batted .264 in 61 games before reporting to Falcons training camp.

Jordan was a starter for the 1991 Falcons, played in all 16 games and had two interceptions.

When he went to spring training in 1992, Jordan hoped to earn a spot on the Cardinals’ Opening Day roster. Instead, he was sent to Louisville, but, soon after the season opened, Cardinals outfielder Felix Jose and first baseman Andres Galarraga got injured and Jordan was called up to St. Louis.

After batting .281 in May, the Cardinals gave Jordan a $2.3 million three-year contract, with the stipulation he quit playing football.

With his NFL career ended, Jordan went on to play seven seasons for St. Louis and batted .291. His best St. Louis seasons were 1996 (.310, 104 RBI) and 1998 (.316, 25 home runs, 91 RBI).

Read Full Post »

Along with Bob Gibson and Ray Sadecki, Don Choate was a prized pitching prospect who was projected to be in the Cardinals’ plans entering the decade of the 1960s, but he never got the chance to play for them in the regular season.

Instead, Choate went to the Giants in the trade that brought future all-star Bill White to the Cardinals.

Choate, a right-hander, reached the major leagues with the Giants in 1960.

A native of Potosi, Mo., Choate grew up in East St. Louis, Ill. He signed with the Cardinals in 1956, the year he turned 18, and made his professional debut that season with their minor-league club in Peoria, Ill.

In February 1957, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane cited Choate as one of the “talented kids from the St. Louis area in the Cardinals organization,” The Sporting News reported.

Assigned to the Billings, Mont., team in the Cardinals’ farm system, Choate had a breakout season in 1957, posting a 19-8 record. At 19, he pitched 20 complete games and 240 innings. On successive days, Aug. 30-31, Choate pitched shutouts against Salt Lake City. He pitched a one-hitter in a 5-0 victory cut to five innings because of rain, and came back the next night with a three-hitter in another 5-0 triumph in the seven-inning opener of a doubleheader.

Choate pitched in spring training exhibition games for the Cardinals in 1958 and was touted by The Sporting News as an “impressive” prospect. He split the 1958 season between Cardinals farm clubs in Omaha and Houston. When Choate retired 19 consecutive batters in a game against Denver, The Sporting News reported he “scintillated on the mound.”

After producing a combined record of 12-11 in 34 games for Omaha and Houston in 1958, Choate played winter ball for the Licey team in the Dominican Republic. He won his first six decisions and had a 1.54 ERA. Choate “has developed into the Dominican loop’s leading hurler,” The Sporting News reported.

George Silvey, Cardinals assistant farm director, said Choate “is sneaky fast and his curve has been improving. He’s a pitcher, not a thrower. A definite big-league prospect.”

Cardinals manager Solly Hemus and farm director Walter Shannon went to the Dominican Republic to see the top players. Hemus filed a favorable report on Choate. As the Cardinals prepared for spring training in 1959, Choate seemed a likely candidate to earn a spot on the big-league team.

While in the Dominican Republic, Hemus and Shannon also saw Bill White, who was in the Giants’ organization, and were impressed by his power, run production and versatility at first base and in the outfield. Eddie Stanky, a Cardinals scout who managed White in the minor leagues, also recommended him.

On March 25, 1959, the Cardinals traded Choate and a starting pitcher, Sam Jones, to the Giants for White and utility player Ray Jablonski. Most analysts said the deal favored the Giants. Bob Broeg, sports editor of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, predicted Choate “eventually might make the grade” as a major-league pitcher.

“There’s no doubt in my mind we’ve improved our pennant chances tremendously with Jones coming to our team,” Giants manager Bill Rigney told United Press International. Rigney added, “It was the most important pitching deal we’ve made since I’ve been manager.”

Said Bing Devine, who replaced Lane as Cardinals general manager, “We believe White will solve our outfield problem and give us the added power at the plate we have been looking for.”

White became one of the Cardinals’ best players and a premier first baseman in the National League.

Choate was assigned to the Giants’ farm club at Phoenix in 1959 and was 4-7 in 22 appearances.

In 1960, after posting a 10-15 record for Tacoma, Choate was called up to the Giants in September. He made four relief appearances for them, including a one-inning scoreless stint against the Cardinals at St. Louis on Sept. 17, and had a 0-0 record and 2.25 ERA.

Choate pitched one more season, 1961, with Tacoma, hurt his arm and was finished as a professional player at 23. He had a second career as a professional firefighter.

Read Full Post »

« Newer Posts - Older Posts »