A recommendation from a manager in their farm system prompted the Cardinals to acquire a player who would become the top rookie in the National League.

Bill Virdon was an outfielder with the Yankees’ minor-league American Association club in Kansas City in 1953. Johnny Keane, managing the Cardinals’ Columbus, Ohio, club in the American Association, was impressed by Virdon’s defense, speed and throwing, and rated him ready for the big leagues.

Acting on Keane’s advice, the Cardinals acquired Virdon and two other prospects from the Yankees for outfielder Enos Slaughter in April 1954. Virdon became the Cardinals’ center fielder in 1955 and won the National League Rookie of the Year Award. He went on to play 12 years in the majors, mostly with the Pirates, and then became a coach and manager. Virdon was 90 when he died Nov. 22, 2021.

Eyeing opportunity

Virdon was born in Hazel Park, Mich., near Detroit. His parents moved there from Missouri to find work in the auto industry. Virdon’s father was a machinist in an auto plant, according to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

When Virdon was 12, the family relocated to West Plains, Mo., about 20 miles from the Arkansas border. West Plains was the birthplace of actor Dick Van Dyke and country singer Porter Wagoner. Virdon later became a West Plains neighbor of Preacher Roe, who operated a grocery store there on the corner of Broadway and Porter Wagoner Boulevard after finishing his big-league pitching career.

Signed by the Yankees, Virdon entered their farm system in 1950.

“He credits his powerful forearms and biceps to gymnastics and summer jobs of toting full 24-bottle cases _ one to each hand _ for a soft-drink company in West Plains,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

In 1953, while with the Yankees’ Class AAA affiliate in Kansas City, Virdon struggled to hit, puzzling manager Harry Craft.

“Virdon was barely hitting over .200,” a teammate, pitcher Bob Wiesler, told The Sporting News, “and one day he was reading the paper in the hotel lobby when Craft walked in. Craft nearly fell over when he saw Virdon wearing glasses.

“He asked Bill if it was something new, but Bill told him he always used them for reading. Because he wasn’t hitting, Craft suggested he wear them on the field, too.”

Said Virdon, “The way I wasn’t hitting, he knew I had nothing to lose.”

Tests revealed Virdon had astigmatism in his right eye, the Post-Dispatch reported. A left-handed hitter, Virdon’s right eye was the one closest to the pitcher when he batted.

Virdon began wearing steel-rimmed spectacles on the field. The Yankees sent him to Birmingham, Ala., and Virdon hit .317 for the Class AA team.

“Virdon credits his improved hitting to the use of glasses after an eye test proved his vision in one eye was 50 percent impaired,” The Sporting News reported.

Prized prospect

Early in 1954, the Pirates offered pitchers Vern Law and Max Surkont to the Yankees for Virdon, The Sporting News reported. The Yankees were more interested in obtaining Enos Slaughter from the Cardinals. When the Yankees agreed to package Virdon with two other minor-leaguers, outfielder Emil Tellinger and pitcher Mel Wright, the deal was done.

“It was Johnny Keane’s report and recommendation on Bill Virdon that was the big factor in his being included in the deal,” Cardinals farm director Walter Shannon told The Sporting News.

Virdon was assigned to the Cardinals’ Class AAA Rochester, N.Y., farm team in 1954. Playing for manager Harry Walker, Virdon was the International League batting champion (.333) and led the club in home runs (22) and RBI (98). He also “continues to cover the outfield like a tarpaulin, and none take liberties with his arm,” The Sporting News noted.

“Virdon undoubtedly is the best player I’ve ever managed,” Walker said after the season. “He excels in every phase of the game.”

With prospects such as Virdon, Ken Boyer and Don Blasingame in their system, “for the first time I can see a future without Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst,” Cardinals vice-president Bill Walsingham told The Sporting News.

After Rochester’s season ended, Virdon played winter baseball in Cuba and led the Havana Reds in hitting (.340).

Cardinals scout Gus Mancuso, who watched Virdon in Cuba, called him “one of the best young stars I’ve come across in a long time.”

Rookie sensation

The Cardinals’ center fielder in 1954 had been Wally Moon, who won the National League Rookie of the Year Award that season. To make room for Virdon in center in 1955, Cardinals manager Eddie Stanky shifted Moon to a corner outfield spot. The other corner outfielder was Rip Repulski. Stanky moved Stan Musial from the outfield to first base.

Virdon was given uniform No. 9, the same Enos Slaughter wore with the Cardinals.

Though Virdon got off to a good start, the Cardinals didn’t. Stanky was fired in May and replaced by Harry Walker.

Virdon hit .281 with 17 home runs for the 1955 Cardinals and fielded impressively. Virdon “can go get them as well as Willie Mays,” Cardinals infielder Solly Hemus said to The Sporting News.

In balloting for the Rookie of the Year Award, Virdon got 15 of the 24 votes from the Baseball Writers Association of America.

When Virdon struggled to hit early in the 1956 season, Cardinals general manager Frank Lane suspected it was because of an eye problem and traded him to the Pirates for outfielder Bobby Del Greco and pitcher Dick Littlefield.

Virdon spent the rest of his playing career with the Pirates. He was part of their 1960 World Series championship team and won a Gold Glove Award in 1962. Virdon three times led National League center fielders in fielding percentage and finished with 1,596 hits.

Leader and teacher

In 1966 and 1967, Virdon was a manager in the Mets’ farm system. The Mets’ director of player development was Whitey Herzog. He and Virdon had become friends when both were outfield prospects with the Yankees.

Virdon went on to manage in the big leagues with the Pirates, Yankees, Astros and Expos. He also coached for the Pirates and Astros. He had four stints as a Pirates coach, including two with manager Jim Leyland.

“I can’t think of anybody I respect in baseball more than Bill Virdon,” Leyland told Scripps Howard News Service in 1992.

In 1985, Whitey Herzog arranged for Virdon to spend the season as the Cardinals’ minor-league hitting instructor.

‘I think Whitey’s basic theory is to drive the ball and not worry about home runs,” Virdon told the Post-Dispatch. “If my thinking was a great deal different than Whitey’s, I wouldn’t be doing this.”

Johnny Bench could have ended his playing career as a member of the Cardinals, but turned down the chance.

In June 1983, the Cardinals contacted the Reds with a trade offer for Bench. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the Cardinals were willing to send first baseman Keith Hernandez to the Reds for Bench and starting pitcher Frank Pastore.

Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog envisioned playing Bench at first base and third base against left-handed pitching. “We inquired about Bench,” Herzog confirmed to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

Good try

Bench, 35, was the Opening Day third baseman for the Reds in 1983 and Alex Trevino was the catcher. Bench was destined for election to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a catcher, but hadn’t played the position regularly since 1980. Bench was a Reds first baseman in 1981 and their third baseman in 1982.

On June 10, 1983, Bench said he would retire from playing after the season. When Bench informed Reds management of his decision, “he was asked if he would consider going to another club,” the Dayton Daily News reported.

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “They offered him the chance to continue his career with the St. Louis Cardinals.”

Reds general manager Dick Wagner explained to Bench that the Cardinals had called with the trade offer. The Cardinals were the defending World Series champions and were contending again in 1983, leading the East Division on June 10. The Reds were in last place in the West.

Joining the Cardinals would enable Bench to be involved in a pennant chase in his final season, but he “politely declined,” the Cincinnati Enquirer reported.

“I wouldn’t sacrifice my association with Cincinnati to go to St. Louis for two or three months,” said Bench, who played his entire career with the Reds.

Later that season, when Bench and Herzog exchanged lineup cards before a game, Herzog said Bench asked, “Just where did you plan to use me if you got me?” Herzog replied, “We’d been vulnerable to left-handed pitching. I’d have used you against them.”

Bench strength

Herzog was looking to trade Keith Hernandez because the relationship between the two had deteriorated. Herzog said Hernandez was loafing during games.

Bench appealed to Herzog because of his ability to play multiple positions and he could hit. A right-handed batter with power, Bench hit .282 in April and .298 in May for the 1983 Reds.

“He has given me everything he has,” Reds manager Russ Nixon told The Sporting News. “He’s one veteran who has run out every ground ball.”

If the Cardinals had obtained Bench, Herzog could play him at first base against left-handers, and shift Dane Iorg or Andy Van Slyke from the outfield to first base versus right-handers. Bench also could play third base against left-handers, substituting for Ken Oberkfell, a left-handed batter. in 1983, Bench batted .284 versus left-handers.

The Cardinals wanted Frank Pastore in the deal to add to a starting rotation with Joaquin Andujar, Bob Forsch, John Stuper and Dave LaPoint. “We’ve been talking about him since spring training,” Herzog told the Post-Dispatch.

Pastore was 5-0 versus the Cardinals in his career.

Keith Hernandez would have provided a significant upgrade to the Reds in the field and at the plate. Dan Driessen (.277) ended up leading the 1983 Reds in batting and Ron Oester had the most RBI (58).

When Bench turned down the Cardinals, they traded Hernandez to the Mets for pitchers Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. Herzog moved George Hendrick from right field to first base for the remainder of the season.

Delivering drama

Three months after the trade talk, the Reds were in St. Louis for the final time that season. Before the series finale on Sept. 4, Cardinals players presented Bench with a gold-plated golf putter as a retirement gift. Cardinals management gave him a plaque featuring an illustration by Post-Dispatch artist Amadee.

In the eighth inning, the Cardinals led, 4-1, when the Reds got two runners on base with one out against Joaquin Andujar. Bruce Sutter relieved and fanned Gary Redus for the second out. Rookie right fielder Dallas Williams was up next, but Bench was sent to bat for him.

Bench swung at Sutter’s first pitch, a split-fingered fastball, and pulled it into foul territory along the line in left.

As left fielder Lonnie Smith gave a futile chase, Cardinals catcher Glenn Brummer yelled, “Catch the ball, catch the ball,” Bench said to the Cincinnati Enquirer.

“(Brummer) told me, ‘You’ll hit that pitch out if you get it again,’ ” Bench recalled.

Sutter’s next delivery was another split-fingered pitch and Bench slammed it over the wall in left for a three-run home run, tying the score at 4-4.

“When I crossed the plate,” Bench said, “I told (Brummer), ‘You were right.’ “

The Cardinals came back with a run in the ninth and won, 5-4, but the story of the game was Bench’s home run in his final Busch Memorial Stadium plate appearance.  Boxscore

The home run was the 388th of his career. It was Bench’s only hit versus the Cardinals in 10 at-bats against them that year. For his career, Bench hit .247 versus the Cardinals with 24 home runs and 85 RBI. Those were the fewest home run and RBI totals he had versus any team.

On Sept. 17, when the Reds held Johnny Bench Night at Riverfront Stadium, Bench started at catcher in a game for the final time. In the third inning, he hit his last home run, a two-run shot against the Astros’ Mike Madden. Boxscore and Video

The Brewers nearly added a fourth future Hall of Famer to the formidable lineup that challenged the Cardinals in the 1982 World Series.

In December 1981, the Phillies were prepared to deal Ryne Sandberg to the Brewers, but their offer was rejected. A month later, Sandberg was traded to the Cubs.

If the Brewers had taken Sandberg, he would have joined a batting order with three other future Hall of Famers _ Paul Molitor, Ted Simmons and Robin Yount _ along with run producers such as Cecil Cooper, Ben Oglivie and Gorman Thomas.

Trade chip

At the 1981 baseball winter meetings in Hollywood, Fla., the Phillies sought starting pitchers to add to a rotation of Steve Carlton, Larry Christenson and Dick Ruthven. First, they acquired Mike Krukow from the Cubs. Then they looked for one more starter.

The Phillies were offering a package of prospects, with Sandberg, 22, being a centerpiece. As the shortstop for Class AAA Oklahoma City in 1981, Sandberg hit .293 with 32 stolen bases.

In addition to shortstop, Sandberg could play second base, third base and center field, but the Phillies felt they were flush at those positions. They had Larry Bowa at shortstop, Mike Schmidt at third base, Manny Trillo at second and Garry Maddox in center.

Also, another shortstop prospect, Julio Franco, 23, had impressed in 1981, hitting .301 with 27 stolen bases at Class AA Reading, and the Phillies were looking to make room for him.

“The Phillies are particularly enthusiastic about Franco’s chances of becoming a top-flight big league shortstop,” the Philadelphia Inquirer reported.

As for Sandberg, “Ryne is a good prospect,” Phillies general manager Paul Owens said to the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal, “but we never felt he would play regularly for us.”

The Phillies included Sandberg in trade talks for starting pitchers Dave Stieb of the Blue Jays, Floyd Bannister of the Mariners and Mike Scott of the Mets, but came up empty, the Wilmington (Del.) Morning News reported.

Something brewing

The Phillies also approached the Brewers about starting pitcher Mike Caldwell. The Phillies initially offered outfielder Bake McBride, pitcher Marty Bystrom and infielder Luis Aguayo, the Philadelphia Inquirer reported, “but the Brewers were haggling for the inclusion of Sandberg.”

Because the Phillies had offered Sandberg in other trade proposals, it surprised some that it became “a large point of contention among people in the organization” whether to include him in a deal with the Brewers for Caldwell, according to the Philadelphia Inquirer.

“Everybody wants him, but he’s too good,” Phillies president Bill Giles said. “We figure his value is going to be much higher in a year.”

As the winter meetings neared an end, “the Phillies were wavering on throwing Sandberg back onto the market,” the Philadelphia Inquirer noted. “They knew that, if they did, they could have Caldwell.”

According to the Philadelphia Daily News, the Phillies proposed sending Sandberg, Marty Bystrom and catching prospect Don McCormack to the Brewers for Caldwell. “For a while, they thought they had that deal made,” the Daily News reported.

According to Hal Bodley in his reporting for the Wilmington (Del.) Morning News and The Sporting News, the Phillies’ offer was Sandberg, McCormack and pitching prospect Jon Reelhorn for Caldwell.

In his response to the Phillies, Brewers general manager Harry Dalton said, “Substitute Julio Franco and it’s a deal.”

The Phillies said no.

Picture this

If the Brewers had obtained Sandberg, he might have replaced Jim Gantner as their second baseman in 1982, when they won the American League pennant and opposed the Cardinals in the World Series. 

Managed by an American League batting champion, Harvey Kuenn, who replaced Buck Rodgers in June 1982, the Brewers’ hitters were called “Harvey’s Wallbangers,” because, like the classic cocktail, they were potent.

Three 1982 Brewers had more than 200 hits: Robin Yount (210), Cecil Cooper (205) and Paul Molitor (201). Each of those three also scored more than 100 runs. Four of the 1982 Brewers had more than 95 RBI: Cooper (121), Yount (114), Gorman Thomas (112) and Ted Simmons (97). The club’s top home run hitters were Thomas (39), Ben Oglivie (34) and Cooper (32).

Adding Sandberg to that lineup takes it to another level, but it might not have been enough to offset the loss of Mike Caldwell to the starting rotation.

Caldwell became a 17-game winner for the 1982 Brewers. He got two more wins in the World Series. Without Caldwell, the Brewers likely would have added Jim Slaton to an Opening Day rotation of Pete Vuckovich, Moose Haas, Randy Lerch and Bob McClure.

My kind of town

During contract negotiations in January 1982, shortstop Larry Bowa had a falling out with Phillies management.

Dallas Green, who had been the Phillies’ manager before becoming general manager of the Cubs, offered to deal shortstop Ivan DeJesus for Bowa and Sandberg. The Phillies tried to expand the deal, asking for reliever Lee Smith as well as DeJesus, but Green held firm.

“They think it’s heavy, but I don’t think so,” Green told the Philadelphia Daily News. “I won’t trade Ivan even-up for any shortstop and they know that … They have to make a decision on Sandberg. If they say OK, the deal is done.”

The trade of Bowa and Sandberg to the Cubs for DeJesus was made on Jan. 27, 1982.

In his book, “White Rat: A Life in Baseball,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said Green “robbed his old club in a deal I’m still jealous of … I’d seen Sandberg play in the minor leagues and I knew Dallas had a sleeper.”

The 1982 Cubs’ Opening Day lineup had Bump Wills at second base and Sandberg, who replaced Ken Reitz, at third. Sandberg completed the season with 172 hits in 156 games. He also scored 103 runs and had 32 stolen bases.

After the 1982 season, Wills went to Japan and Sandberg shifted to second base.

Sandberg had 35 home runs and 122 RBI against the Cardinals in his career. His signature game occurred on June 23, 1984, when he had five hits, including a pair of home runs against Cardinals closer Bruce Sutter, and seven RBI. Boxscore and Video

When Sandberg became a free agent in 1996, the Cardinals pursued him before opting for Delino DeShields as their second baseman.

Sandberg remained with the Cubs and was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame, but he never played in a World Series, an opportunity he may have gotten if the Brewers had accepted the Phillies’ 1981 trade offer.

Earl Morrall thought he was going to be a quarterback for the St. Louis football Cardinals.

It might have happened if the team he was with, the New York Giants, had been less cautious.

Rather than replacing, or substituting for, the Cardinals’ Jim Hart, Morrall went on to play for the Baltimore Colts and Miami Dolphins, filling in for Johnny Unitas and Bob Griese with astounding success.

As the Los Angeles Times noted, “Morrall was the NFL’s answer to a brilliant Broadway understudy.”

Passed around

Born in Muskegon, Mich., Morrall excelled in athletics at Michigan State. A shortstop and third baseman in baseball, he played in the College World Series. In football, he was a consensus all-America at quarterback and led Michigan State to victory in the Rose Bowl.

The San Francisco 49ers selected Morrall in the first round of the 1956 NFL draft. In his rookie season, Morrall backed up Y.A. Tittle. After the 49ers took Stanford quarterback John Brodie in the 1957 draft, they traded Morrall to the Pittsburgh Steelers.

At Pittsburgh, Morrall was the starting quarterback in 1957 and his backups were Len Dawson and Jack Kemp. Harry Gilmer was the Steelers’ backfield coach and Buddy Parker was head coach.

Parker, a former Cardinals player, had been head coach of the Detroit Lions and led them to two NFL championships before joining the Steelers. His quarterback in Detroit was Bobby Layne and Parker wanted him in Pittsburgh.

During the third week of the 1958 season, the Steelers traded Morrall to the Lions for Layne.

Returning to his home state wasn’t a treat for Morrall. He mostly was a backup to the likes of Tobin Rote, Jim Ninowski and Milt Plum. “I was at my lowest ebb,” Morrall told The Sporting News. “I thought about giving up the game.”

An exception was in 1963 when Morrall made 10 starts and threw 24 touchdown passes, but the next year he hurt his shoulder and the Lions reinstated Plum as the starter.

A positive from Morrall’s time with Detroit is he made a connection with Don Shula, a Lions assistant coach for three seasons (1960-62). Shula joined the Lions as a defensive backs coach and became defensive coordinator. “When I was in Detroit, I always had a lot of respect for the way Earl could come in off the bench and win games for you,” Shula told The Sporting News.

Help wanted

In August 1965, the Giants, seeking an experienced quarterback to replace Y.A. Tittle, acquired Morrall from the Lions.

Morrall, 31, threw 22 touchdown passes as the Giants’ starter in 1965, but the next year he broke his wrist and was limited to seven starts. After the season, the Giants got Fran Tarkenton from the Minnesota Vikings and declared him the starter for 1967.

The Cardinals’ quarterback for 1967 was supposed to be Charley Johnson, who’d been their starter since 1962. His backup was Jim Hart, who spent his rookie season in 1966 on the sidelines until getting into the final game as a substitute.

In August 1967, the Cardinals’ plans got scrambled when Johnson, a reserve Army officer, received orders to report for military service.

With Johnson unavailable, the Cardinals were looking at Hart as their starter unless they could acquire a veteran quarterback before the Sept. 17 start of the season.

“If there’s anyone I’d like to have, it would be the Rams’ Bill Munson,” Cardinals head coach Charley Winner told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.

The Cardinals contacted the Rams, who decided to keep Munson as their backup to Roman Gabriel.

“Earl Morrall might be available,” the Post-Dispatch reported.

A matter of timing

The Giants needed a defensive lineman. With second-year pro Tom Kennedy groomed as a potential backup to Tarkenton, published reports indicated Morrall was available in exchange for a defensive tackle or end.

Harry Gilmer, the Steelers’ backfield coach when Morrall was their quarterback, was in his first year as Cardinals quarterback coach in 1967 and was thought to be advocating for Morrall.

“I thought they would try to trade for an experienced quarterback because I didn’t think they thought I was ready,” Hart told Sports Illustrated.

In the 1977 book, “The Jim Hart Story,” Hart said, “You can’t tell me the Cardinals didn’t try to go after another veteran quarterback. I’ve since learned they were willing to beg, borrow or steal somebody with experience.”

When the Giants didn’t play Morrall in exhibition games, speculation suggested he was being kept out to prevent the chance of an injury while trade talks were held.

One proposed deal was for the Cardinals to send defensive lineman Don Brumm to the Giants for Morrall, the New York Daily News reported.

“The way I understand it, I would have been sent to St. Louis earlier (in the exhibition season),” Morrall told The Sporting News, “but the Giants were reluctant doing it too soon because we were going to open the (regular) season against the Cardinals and they didn’t want me revealing too much information.”

The Giants’ stalling worked in their favor. In the Giants’ final exhibition game, against the Green Bay Packers, Kennedy fractured a collarbone and separated a shoulder. With Kennedy out for the season, the Giants needed to keep Morrall as backup to Tarkenton.

“Morrall believed he was pegged for a trade to St. Louis,” The Sporting News reported. “He says he heard the deal was practically made, but was called off when Kennedy (was) injured.”

In “The Jim Hart Story,” Cardinals defensive tackle Bob Rowe said the subject of who would start at quarterback dominated discussion among the players.

“One guy wanted to know if anybody had heard who they were going to get to replace Charley (Johnson),” Rowe recalled. “Somebody else said he was pretty sure they were going to go with Hart. Then everybody in the group said, ‘Oh my God!’ “

In the 1967 regular-season opener, the Giants beat the Cardinals, 37-20, at St. Louis. Tarkenton threw three touchdown passes and wasn’t intercepted. Hart had one scoring throw and was intercepted four times.

(In retirement, Morrall and Hart both resided in Naples, Fla., and became friends. In 2014, the Naples Daily News shed a different light on the 1967 trade talk. “According to Hart, the quarterbacks nearly were traded for one another,” the newspaper reported.)

Center stage

Morrall spent the 1967 season as Tarkenton’s backup. In August 1968, the Colts’ No. 2 quarterback, Jim Ward, got hurt in an exhibition game. At the urging of Don Shula, who had become their head coach, the Colts acquired Morrall from the Giants to back up Johnny Unitas.

The minor transaction turned out to be a big deal for the Colts.

Two weeks later, on Sept. 7, 1968, Unitas severely injured his right elbow in the Colts’ final exhibition game. Morrall, 34, became the Colts’ starter and led them to a 13-1 record in the regular season. Morrall’s 26 touchdown passes were the most in the league and he was named the NFL’s Most Valuable Player.

The Colts advanced through the playoffs before losing to the New York Jets and their flashy quarterback, Joe Namath, in the Super Bowl.

Two years later, the Colts returned to the Super Bowl against the Dallas Cowboys. Unitas left the game after injuring his ribs. Morrall replaced him, helping the Colts to victory.

Don McCafferty was the Colts’ head coach then. Don Shula left after the 1969 season to become Miami Dolphins head coach.

The Colts placed Morrall on waivers before the 1972 season and the Dolphins signed him to back up Bob Griese.

Just like with the Colts in 1968, the timing was superb.

After winning their first four games, the 1972 Dolphins were playing the San Diego Chargers when Griese suffered a broken leg and dislocated ankle. Morrall, 38, could feel the tension from his teammates as he entered the huddle. According to lineman Bob Kuechenberg, Morrall took a look at the worried faces staring back at him and said, “All right, anyone know any dirty jokes?”

The relaxed confidence of the unfazed old pro calmed the Dolphins. With Morrall the starter, they completed the regular season with a 14-0 record. He led them to a win in the first playoff game and started the second before Griese replaced him. Griese was the starter when the Dolphins capped their perfect season with a Super Bowl victory against the Washington Redskins.

Morrall played for the Dolphins until he was 42. At the invitation of University of Miami head coach Howard Schnellenberger, Morrall later mentored Hurricanes quarterbacks Jim Kelly, Bernie Kosar and Vinny Testaverde.

Jerry Johnson had the right stuff, but the wrong timing, in his short, strange stay with the Cardinals.

A right-handed pitcher who grew up rooting for the Cardinals, Johnson was acquired from the Phillies in the trade that brought slugger Dick Allen to St. Louis.

The Cardinals needed quality relief pitching and Johnson provided it, but, after making a mere seven appearances, was dealt to the Giants.

Johnson developed into the Giants’ closer and helped them win a division title. He died Nov. 15, 2021, at 77.

Position change

A son of an oil rigger, Johnson was born in Miami, lived briefly in Illinois and was raised in Odessa, Texas.

In addition to playing baseball and football in Odessa, Johnson was a Golden Gloves boxer and won 14 of 15 fights, according to the Wilmington (Del.) News Journal.

After he graduated from high school in 1962, Johnson signed with the Mets and was a third baseman in their farm system. As a hitter, he lacked power and failed to make consistent contact. “I couldn’t hit the curveball,” Johnson told The Sporting News.

According to Bob Broeg of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, the Mets were prepared to release Johnson in 1963 until his teammate on the Salinas, Calif., farm team, pitcher Dick Selma, spoke up to management.

“How can you release a guy, no matter how poor he looks at the plate, when he can throw harder from third base than I can from the mound?” Selma asked.

The Mets reconsidered and converted Johnson to a pitcher. but, because of subsequent military service and a shoulder injury, it was 1967 before he had a full season of pitching.

With the Class AA Williamsport, Pa., team in April 1967, Johnson, 23, got national attention when he was matched in a start against future Hall of Famer Robin Roberts, 40, who was attempting a comeback with the Phillies’ Reading, Pa., affiliate after 19 seasons in the majors. Johnson won the duel, pitching a shutout in a 1-0 Williamsport win.

Though Johnson had a 2.78 ERA in 26 starts for Williamsport, he was left off the Mets’ 40-man winter roster and picked by the Phillies in the November 1967 minor-league draft.

Living dangerously

During the baseball off-seasons, Johnson was employed as an iron worker on bridges and high rises. “I’ve worked as high as 300 feet above the ground,” he told The Sporting News.

The heavy lifting built muscle, but made it difficult for Johnson to loosen his pitching arm. When he reported to training camp “looking like he should be on muscle beach, rubbing his pectorals with baby oil,” the Phillies told him to find a different off-season job, the Philadelphia Daily News noted.

Johnson began the 1968 season at Class AAA San Diego, posted a 1.95 ERA in 10 starts and was called up to the Phillies in July.

Relying on a fastball and slider, Johnson had early success against the Cardinals. On Sept. 24, 1968, he pitched a complete game in a 2-1 Phillies victory at St. Louis. The hard-luck losing pitcher was Ray Washburn. Boxscore

In 1969, Johnson beat the Cardinals twice in six days. On April 27, he pitched a shutout in a 1-0 Phillies win at Philadelphia. Boxscore He followed with another win on May 2 in a start at St. Louis. Boxscore Washburn was the losing pitcher in each game.

Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst harrumphed to the Post-Dispatch, “A third baseman beat us. From where I watched, he looked nice to hit.”

Cardinals general manager Bing Devine, who was a Mets executive when Johnson was transforming into a pitcher in their system, was more impressed than Schoendienst. After the 1969 season, he acquired Johnson, Dick Allen and Cookie Rojas from the Phillies for Curt Flood, Tim McCarver Joe Hoerner and Byron Browne.

Family team

Johnson’s mother was from Flora, Ill., about 100 miles east of St. Louis, and Johnson lived there as an infant. When he’d return with his mom for family visits, “they indoctrinated me” with stories about the Cardinals, Johnson told The Sporting News.

“All I heard from the time I could remember was the Cardinals and Stan Musial,” Johnson said to the Post-Dispatch. “The Cardinals have been my ballclub since I was old enough to know about baseball. Later on, I became attached to Mickey Mantle, too, but the Cardinals still were the family ballclub.”

The Cardinals projected Johnson to be a spot starter and reliever, but at spring training in 1970 he was sidetracked by a “recurrence of an elbow ailment and a pulled side muscle. The latter injury occurred when he reached too abruptly for a telephone,” The Sporting News reported.

Johnson opened the 1970 season in the minors and was called up to the Cardinals on May 1. In his first game with them, he pitched three scoreless innings and earned a save against the Astros. Boxscore

Johnson followed that with a pair of wins _ one against the Braves Boxscore and the other versus the Pirates. Boxscore

In seven appearances, Johnson was 2-0 with a save and 3.18 ERA.

Sent packing

The Cardinals were in Houston on May 19 when Johnson went to a movie theater to see a western, “Barquero,” starring Lee Van Cleef and Warren Oates. When he returned to the hotel that night, coach Dick Sisler approached Johnson in the lobby and informed him he’d been traded to the Giants for reliever Frank Linzy.

“I’m shocked,” Johnson said. “I can’t believe it.”

The Cardinals wanted an experienced late-inning reliever and liked Linzy, a sinkerball specialist, for the AstroTurf at Busch Memorial Stadium. Linzy was 9-3 with 20 saves and a 1.43 ERA for the Giants in 1965 and had 17 saves and a 1.51 ERA in 1967. His ERA for the 1970 Giants was 7.01, but the Cardinals were convinced Linzy, 29, could return to form.

The next year, with Johnson as their closer, the Giants won the National League West Division title. He led the team in saves (18) and games pitched (67), and was third in wins (12).

“Jerry always had smoke on his fastball. Now he has the poise to go with it,” The Sporting News observed.

Linzy was 4-3 with six saves and a 2.12 ERA for the 1971 Cardinals.

The 1971 season was Johnson’s career highlight. In 10 years in the majors with the Phillies, Cardinals, Giants, Indians, Astros, Padres and Blue Jays, Johnson was 48-51 with 41 saves and a 4.31 ERA.

In 1975, when Johnson pitched for minor-league Hawaii, a bullpen teammate was Frank Linzy.

When the Blue Jays entered the American League as an expansion team, they selected Hawaii manager Roy Hartsfield to be their manager. Hartsfield gave Johnson a spot on the Blue Jays’ Opening Day roster. Johnson was the winning pitcher in their first regular-season game on April 7, 1977. Boxscore

Two years after Mike Flanagan won the American League Cy Young Award, the Orioles were willing to trade him to the Cardinals.

The Orioles made Flanagan the centerpiece of a package they offered to the Cardinals in 1981. In exchange, the Orioles wanted two players the Cardinals were willing to trade, outfielder Sixto Lezcano and shortstop Garry Templeton.

The trade talks between the Cardinals and Orioles began in November 1981 and extended to the baseball winter meetings in December, but despite several attempts to structure a deal, the two sides couldn’t reach an agreement.

Neither club regretted the outcome. The Cardinals traded Templeton and Lezcano to the Padres for a future Hall of Famer, Ozzie Smith, who helped them win the World Series championship in 1982.

Rather than have Templeton at shortstop, the Orioles turned to an internal candidate, Cal Ripken, who, like Smith, developed into a Hall of Famer and helped them win the World Series championship in 1983.

Trade chip

A durable left-hander, Flanagan was 23-9 in 1979 when the Orioles won the American League pennant. Flanagan received 26 of 28 first-place votes in the Cy Young Award balloting.

In September 1981, Flanagan developed tendinitis in his left elbow and missed a turn in the rotation, ending a streak of 157 consecutive starts since 1977. “It’s just an oil change and a 30,000-inning checkup,” he told The Sporting News.

With Flanagan eligible to become a free agent after the 1982 season, the Orioles wanted to get him signed to a multiyear contract in November 1981. When he wouldn’t commit, the Orioles let it be known they were willing to deal him.

As the Baltimore Evening Sun noted, “Rather than take a chance on losing a pitcher of Flanagan’s caliber as a free agent, it is preferable to trade him.”

A player the Orioles wanted was outfielder Sixto Lezcano. Acquired by the Cardinals from the Brewers in December 1980, Lezcano asked to be traded after the 1981 season.

When he was with the Brewers, then an American League team, Lezcano had a .378 on-base percentage in games against the Orioles.

“The Orioles have coveted Lezcano almost since the day he broke in with Milwaukee,” The Sporting News reported, also noting that Orioles manager Earl Weaver “long has been a fan of Lezcano.”

Whitey Herzog, who had the dual role of Cardinals manager and general manager, wanted a pitcher in exchange for Lezcano. Orioles general manager Hank Peters “apparently is willing to part with Mike Flanagan,” according to The Sporting News.

Mix and match

A trade of Lezcano for Flanagan likely would have been made, but the Orioles opted to expand the deal to include Templeton.

Herzog wanted to trade Templeton, who was unhappy in St. Louis, and sought a shortstop in return. The shortstops the Orioles offered were veteran backup Lenn Sakata and rookie Bobby Bonner.

Jim Russo, who resided in St. Louis and scouted the National League for the Orioles, recommended Lezcano and Templeton. Russo was “instrumental in these discussions from the beginning,” the Baltimore Evening Sun reported.

In November 1981, the Baltimore Sun reported the proposed deal was Flanagan, outfielder Gary Roenicke and either Sakata or Bonner for Lezcano and Templeton.

Both sides were intrigued but agreed to suspend talks until the December baseball winter meetings in Hollywood, Fla.

At those meetings, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, Orioles third baseman Doug DeCinces was added to the offer. The proposed trade was Flanagan, DeCinces, Roenicke and either Sakata or Bonner for Lezcano and Templeton.

The Orioles were willing to include DeCinces because they projected Cal Ripken, who debuted with them in August 1981, to be their third baseman, with either Sakata or Bonner playing shortstop.

The Cardinals, though, were not sold on having either Sakata or Bonner as their replacement for Templeton. A shortstop Herzog liked was Ivan DeJesus of the Cubs. Herzog also asked the Orioles for pitcher Sammy Stewart as a substitute for Flanagan. A right-hander who could start and relieve, Stewart had a 2.32 ERA for the 1981 Orioles. In 26 relief appearances that year, his ERA was 1.58.

“Herzog has a high regard for Flanagan,” the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, “but the pitcher he coveted most … was Sammy Stewart.”

Eager to make a deal, the Orioles tried to accommodate Herzog and the Cardinals. According to the Baltimore Sun, the Orioles, Cardinals and Cubs discussed a three-way trade. The Orioles would send Flanagan, DeCinces and Bonner to the Cubs for DeJesus and pitchers Mike Krukow and Lee Smith. Then the Orioles would swap DeJesus and Sammy Stewart to the Cardinals for Templeton, Lezcano and pitcher Bob Shirley.

“We’ve talked to the Cubs extensively, very extensively,” Hank Peters told the Baltimore Sun.

The Cubs, though, foiled the plan, trading Krukow to the Phillies on Dec. 8 for Keith Moreland, Dickie Noles and Dan Larson.

The Cardinals and Orioles continued to try to find the right combination of players to complete a deal. The Cardinals asked for outfielder John Shelby instead of Roenicke, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, and the Orioles asked for outfielder Gene Roof.

According to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “one possible combination would have had Templeton and Lezcano going to the Orioles for pitchers Flanagan and Steve Stone and either Bonner or DeCinces.”

“Whatever the other teams offer St. Louis, we’ll make a better offer,” Earl Weaver said to the Baltimore Sun. “I’m definitely not against overloading the deal with pitchers if we can get a shortstop who bats .300 and a man who can go get fly balls like Sixto.”

On Dec. 10, the Baltimore Evening Sun reported, “The trade has been restructured so many times that the two teams have talked nine times in the last two days.”

Change in plans

By then, the Padres had entered the picture, and the Cardinals’ interest in the Orioles cooled considerably.

Before the winter meetings ended, the Padres agreed to trade Ozzie Smith and pitchers Steve Mura and Al Olmsted to the Cardinals for Templeton, Lezcano and pitcher Luis DeLeon.

A month later, in January 1982, the Cubs traded Ivan DeJesus to the Phillies for Ryne Sandberg and Larry Bowa, and the Orioles dealt DeCinces to the Angels for outfielder Dan Ford.

Ford became the Orioles’ right fielder in 1982, filling the role the team had envisioned for Sixto Lezcano.

The Orioles opened the 1982 season with Cal Ripken at third base and Lenn Sakata at shortstop. Ripken shifted to shortstop in July.

Mike Flanagan earned 15 wins for the 1982 Orioles.

In 18 seasons in the majors with the Orioles and Blue Jays, Flanagan had a record of 167-143.