Archive for the ‘Unforgotten Cardinals’ Category

Silvio Martinez

As I was enjoying Chris Reed’s inaugural article for I-70 Baseball, When Will David Freese Run Out Of Chances?, I couldn’t help but think back of another player from the late 70’s that had a similar run-in with bad karma. That young man was Silvio Martinez, a little right-hander that looked like a slight breeze might blow off the mound, but possessed one of the liveliest arms of his era. Before reading any farther, place a pillow under your chin.  When you hear what he did in his rookie season, I wouldn’t want you to get hurt when your jaw drops all the way to the floor.

Looking for an ace

With the departure of Steve Carlton (make sure and read Christine Coleman’s Baseball Digest birthday article) and the decline and subsequent retirement of Bob Gibson, the Cardinals were seeking some new arms to take them back to post-season.   They would start with a pair of hurlers they picked up in a trade with the Boston Red Sox during the winter meetings of 1973.  The Cardinals sent pitchers Reggie Cleveland and Diego Segui along with a backup third baseman named Terry Hughes to Boston for pitchers Lynn McGlothen, John Curtis and Mike Garman.   Cleveland was sort of a Kyle Lohse hurler, never over-powering but could eat lots of innings.  He’d had a couple of good years with the Cardinals but it was clear that he was never going to be anything more than a 4th or 5th starter.  Segui was a veteran that had pitched out of the bullpen and the Cardinals had used him as a closer.  With a young Al Hrabosky over-matching National League hitters, Segui became expendable.

McGlothen was the real prize, and we were surprised the Red Sox parted with him quite so easily.  When he broke into the major leagues, he had struggled at first but had also shown some overpowering stuff.   We believed a year or two under the guidance of Bob Gibson might turn McGlothen into a genuine ace of the staff.   He started off the 1974 season on fire, pitching just as we’d hoped.   A fade during the summer plus some some injury troubles soon sent McGlothen off to another team.   Lefty John Curtis had a similar fate.   After a decent season in 1974, a rough stretch in June 1975 sent the portsider to the bullpen.   He’d actually pitched well, and this move might not have happened on a better Cardinals team, but it did make room for some more starters to audition for staff ace.

Bob Forsch and a young tall right-hander named John Denny would be the next to try.  At first it looked like the Cardinals had hit pay dirt with those two.  Forsch would start eating up lots of innings, but Denny was the head turner.  He would lead the league in ERA with a miniscule 2.52 in 1976, but an injury suffered in a game in June 1977 interrupted his progress.   He would return with a vengeance in 1978, shutting down the opposition with another  sub-3.00 ERA.   He would be dealt to the Cleveland Indians prior to the start of the 1980 season, but would eventually return to the National League and haunt his old ball club, winning the NL Cy Young award with Philadelphia in 1983.

A pair of aces

1978 produced a pair of pleasant surprises for the Cardinals, and a third that help propel them to the World Series.   The first was a big hard throwing right hander named Pete Vukovich.   He’d come up through the White Sox organization, finally dominating the American Association (AAA) in 1975.  To add a bit of irony, one of Vukovich’s teammates was future Cardinals manager Tony La Russa.  Vukovich started in the bullpen and got the occasional spot start for the White Sox in 1976.  He was selected by Toronto in the 1977 expansion draft, and pitched in a similar capacity for the Blue Jays.    The Cardinals made a deal for Vukovich during the winter meetings in 1977 and became a stud in the Cardinals rotation.   His mediocre record did not reflect the way he was starting to dominate National League hitters aided by an all star infield of Ken Reitz, Garry Templeton, Mike Tyson and Keith Hernandez.  Vukovich would continue to improve, especially after the 1980 trade that sent him, Rollie Fingers and Ted Simmons to the Milwaukee Brewers.  For two years, Vukovich would be the best pitcher in either league, turning in a combined record of 32-10.   Where the infield helped Pete in St. Louis, the gargantuan bats of the Brewers turned him into a Cy Young Award winner in 1982.

The bigger pitching surprise was a young right hander that pitched the game of his life as the Cardinals were making a deal to acquire right fielder, George Hendrick.   The trade sent struggling starter Eric Rasmussen to the Padres, which opened up a spot for Silvio Martinez.  In his final minor league start before being called up, Martinez throws a no hitter against the Omaha Royals.   We didn’t actually learn this until much later, which makes what happens next even more amazing.

Impressive Debut

On May 30, 1978, Martinez would make his Cardinals debut against one of the better left handers in the league, Jerry Koosman.  After winning 21 games in 1976, Koosman’s fortunes with the Mets had taken a severe downturn, in spite of him pitching well.   Koosman would be traded for future closer Jesse Orosco following the 1978 season, but he still had some baseball left to pitch.   For the next two hours, nobody paid any attention to Koosman.  Martinez would be the man of the hour(s).

Generally a rookie’s debut, even if he had spent a small bit of time in the majors previously, doesn’t make news.  It still doesn’t prevent us fans from taking a keen interest, hoping this might be the start of a bright future.  As Martinez gets through the Mets lineup the first time without a hit, our interest became more than just curiosity.   As each inning passed, our ears got closer and closer to the radio and we found ourselves hanging on every pitch.  Had we known what had happened four days earlier against the Royals AAA farm team, we might have gone crazy with each pitch.

The second time through the Mets order, and still nothing in the hit column.   The pressure on Martinez was mounting as he kept the ball on the corner of the plate, occasionally missing just a bit too far.   The Mets had some base runners via the walk, but all were erased by double plays or happened with two outs.  Meanwhile, Koosman was struggling mightily, and the Cardinals had a big 4-0 lead.   It could have been much bigger as some bad base running had ended a potentially wicked sixth inning rally.

Perhaps the worst thing for Martinez happened in the top of the 7th inning.  A monstrously long inning as the Cardinals sent 8 men to the plate against reliever Butch Metzger, including newcomer George Hendrick’s first home run as a Cardinal, extended the Cardinals lead to 8-0.   When Martinez took the mound for the seventh inning, he grooved a pitch to Mets cleanup hitter Steve Henderson and the big left fielder deposited the ball over the fence for a solo home run.   Martinez had lost the no-hitter and the shutout on that one pitch.    It clearly rattled Martinez and he walked the next batter, former Cardinals prospect, Willie Montanez.  He regained his composure and finished the inning with a pair of harmless fly outs and a ground ball out.

Martinez would retire the side in order in the 8th inning.  All that stood between him and a complete game, and his first career win was the heart of the Mets order.   And Steve Henderson.   With one out, Martinez keeps the ball away from the only man that had a hit on him, and he ended up walking the Mets left fielder.  Tiring, he gets a little bit wild, and a pitch that got past catcher Ted Simmons allowed Henderson to advance to second.  This turned out to be a big play because Willie Montanez followed that with what would have been the game ending double play if Henderson was still on first base.   The Cardinals would only get the batter out  and Henderson would advance to third on the play.   Another wild pitch allowed Henderson to score the second run of the game.   Martinez would finally get out of the inning without surrendering any more hits or runs.

A complete game 1 hitter is a pretty good way to start off a career.   But it gets so much better.

Apparently, one is not the loneliest number

Martinez’s next start in Houston was another solid outing.  Not quite the one hitter as his first start, but in 6 2/3 innings, he allowed just 2 runs and Buddy Schultz would finish the game for a long save, preserving the win for Martinez.  Unfortunately, Martinez would struggle in his next 6 starts, but the Cardinals would manage to go 2-4, coming from behind in one game, and just not bailing Martinez out of a good start in another.

That brings us to July 8, and a Saturday night game in Pittsburgh.  Pirates shortstop Frank Taveras leads off the game with a comebacker to Martinez that he cleanly fields for the first out.   The next man, Omar Moreno – who was only hitting .224 at the time, singles up the middle.   At this point, Martinez’s recent struggles were more in our minds than the masterful debut in New York.   That would all change as Martinez rolled through the rest of the Pittsburgh batting order, not allowing another hit.   Like Ray Washburn’s no-hitter in 1968, Martinez nibbled rather than giving into the Pirates hitters and walked more batters than you would like to see, but none of them managed to cross the plate.   The Cardinals would win the game, 4-0 giving Martinez his third career win and second complete game 1-hitter.

Two can be as good as one

Three weeks later, on a getaway afternoon game in San Francisco, Martinez would throw another gem.   He would hold the Giants hitless until the bottom of the sixth inning.   Terry Whitfield and Darrell Evans would hit doubles in the inning for the only Giants hits in the game.  With the score tied at one run apiece, Martinez helped his own cause by laying down a nice sacrifice bunt after Ken Oberkfell had reached base on an error.  Lou Brock would drive in Oberkfell for the winning run as Martinez held on to complete the 2-hitter.

Martinez would continue to be Jekyll and Hyde for the remainder of the season, including two horrific blowouts in late August and early September where he didn’t even get out of the second inning.  Even with these troubles, Martinez saved his best for his last start of the season.  Ironically, it would be against the Mets, whom he had one-hit earlier in the season.    When catcher John Stearns singled in the second inning, we didn’t think anything of it.   We thought even less when he was erased on a failed hit-and-run.   That all ended when the Cardinals got to starter Kevin Kobel in the seventh inning.  Who should relieve Kobel ???  That’s when things got weird as Jerry Koosman came into the game, the starter in Martinez’s earlier one-hitter.    Just like before, late in the game, Steve Henderson managed a single off Martinez, although this one stayed in the park.   He would be retired on a nice double play with no more damage done.   When the game was over, Martinez had completed a nifty 2-hit shutout for his 9th win on the season.

Let’s put all of this together.   In four complete games, Martinez allowed just a total of six hits (2 one-hitters and 2 two-hitters).  On one other complete game, he was hit hard, but a huge offensive showing by the Cardinals kept him in the game for the win.

With the emergence of Pete Vukovich and this remarkable rookie season from Martinez, the fortunes of the Cardinals looked very bright.

He wouldn’t do it again, would he ?

A confident and improved Silvio Martinez took the mound for the Cardinals in 1979.   And the results were most impressive.   No longer was Martinez nibbling on the corners, he was going right after hitters.  And retiring them.  Just ask the Montreal Expos, who fell to Martinez on June 27.   When Duffy Dyer stepped into the plate with 2 outs in the 8th inning, he looked up at the scoreboard and saw a 0 in the hit column.  The Expos had only managed a single base runner, Andre Dawson when Lou Brock misplayed a fly ball into a 2 base error in the first inning.   Martinez had flirted with a no hitter several times in his career, but none as close as this – and we were all holding our breath.   That’s when Dyer would lift a bloop over the head of Keith Hernandez, ending the no-hitter.   Martinez retired the next four batters to complete his 3rd one-hitter, in just over a year of pitching.

Martinez would finish his 1979 season on a strong note.  He would put up a 15-8 record with career lows in ERA and walks per nine innings.    We could not wait to see what he was going to do in 1980.

Bad karma, circa 1980

This is where the David Freese comparison comes into play.

Silvio Martinez 1981

One look at this 1981 photo of Silvio Martinez will tell you all you need to know about the young pitcher.

After every season, he would return to his home in the Dominican Republic.   That’s when bad things would happen to him, and it started prior to the 1980 season.   He would report to spring training, and then lose two weeks suffering from pneumonia.   Not only did it affect his spring training, he struggled early in the season.   Martinez just did not look right when he pitched, and even though he turned in a couple of great outings, he would be moved to the bullpen in May, hoping that the reduced workload might help him get back into shape.   Things took a turn for the worse when he went back into the rotation and struggled, eventually missing a month and a half on the disabled list with arm and back troubles.    He never got back on track, and his August was just awful.   The season would end on a low note, with a 5-10 record and an ERA approaching 5 runs per game.   Does this sound familiar —- Kyle Lohse-like ?

Sadly, his troubles continued in 1981.   Here’s an excerpt from a New York Times article on March 2, 1981

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla., March 1— Silvio Martinez, maintaining he is “healthy now” following a 1980 season during which the right-hander was plagued by injuries, reported two days late today to the training camp of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Martinez, whose arrival was delayed by passport problems in his homeland, the Dominican Republic, was slowed last spring by pneumonia upon arriving at camp. The illness kept him out of action for nearly two weeks. Afterward, Martinez was bothered during the season by elbow and back ailments. “I didn’t feel good all year,” the 25-year-old hurler said today.

Martinez would struggle in 1981, just as he had most of 1980.  Just as it looked like he was turning a corner, more bad luck for the little right-hander.   After a quality start against San Diego on June 4, Martinez would take the mound against the Dodgers on June 11.   In the seventh inning, a single by Dusty Baker (oh, the irony of Dusty Baker mentioned with a struggling pitcher) caused Whitey Herzog to go to his bullpen.   Bruce Sutter would preserve the win for Martinez, but after battling sickness, injury and immigration troubles, baseball would become his foe.  The long stoppage due to the players strike couldn’t have come at a worse time, and it really impacted  Martinez’s progress.   He would start just six more games in his career, and while the Cardinals would bail him out 4 times, he would not record another win.   He would finish the year with a disappointing 2-5 record and an ERA of almost 4 runs per game.

Following the 1981 season, the 26 year old pitcher would be part of a three team deal that brought Lonnie Smith the Cardinals.   Martinez would end up with the Cleveland Indians, but would never make it back to the big leagues.    After just 4 starts in AAA, Martinez would be out of baseball.

While it is a sad ending to a promising career, we still have to remember that in his short time in St. Louis, he excited crowds as he flirted with several no-hitters, coming agonizingly close in 1979.   Silvio Martinez should always be remembered as a little guy with a big arm.   And some really bad luck.


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Not Crosby and Hope, although perhaps they should have made one last Road movie: The Road to Cooperstown.    I am referring to Bing Devine and Bob Howsam who were both general managers during some of the Cardinals most successful years.   With Pat Gillick’s recent election into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee, it makes you wonder why neither of these great executives have been inducted yet.   Not to take anything away from Gillick’s long career and success with Toronto, Baltimore and Philadelpha, the Veterans Committee should really take a long look at both Devine and Howsam and quit messing around with Marvin Miller and George Steinbrenner.

I’ve already hit some of the highlights of Bob Howsam’s time in St. Louis and his subsequent raiding of the Cardinals system after his move to Cincinnati.   Bing Devine’s career is even more fascinating, perhaps rivaling that of his mentor, Branch Rickey (who is in the Hall of Fame).   Rather than go into a long description, here are the high points and you can make up your own mind.

Bing Devine

  • Manager of the Rochester Redwings (1949 – 1953) – AAA affiliate of the St. Louis Cardinals (International League)
  • Architect of Cardinals Championship teams of the 60’s
  • Drafted or promoted from the farm system Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, Mike Shannon, Ray Sadecki, Ray Washburn, Dal Maxvill
  • Traded for Dick Groat, Bill White, Julian Javier, Curt Flood
  • One of the greatest dumpster dives in baseball history – Curt Simmons
  • Pulled off one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history – Ernie Broglio for Lou Brock in 1964
  • Pretenders to contenders in seven years, champions the following year
  • Devine’s core of players went to 2 more World Series, winning in 1967 and losing in 7 games to Detroit in 1968
  • After an unfortunate termination in St. Louis, rebuilt the Mets organization as he had done with the Cardinals
  • Drafted Tom Seaver, Nolan Ryan
  • Came back to St. Louis in 1969 and added Richie Allen and Joe Torre
  • If not forced to trade Steve Carlton, might have had post-season baseball again in St. Louis
  • General Manager for the St. Louis Football Cardinals (1981-1986)
  • Finished out his career as a scout and advisor to Walt Jocketty

Bob Howsam

  • Helped found the American Football League (Denver Broncos)
  • Built a baseball stadium that eventually became Mile High
  • Helped force NL expansion by organizing a third MLB League (never took off, but MLB quickly expanded in reaction)
  • Took over as Cardinals GM (from Bing Devine) in August 1964
  • Engineered retooling of the Cardinals in 1965 and 1966
  • Obtained through trade Orlando Cepeda (1967 NL MVP) and Roger Maris
  • Promoted Steve Carlton and found Dick Hughes struggling in the system (1967 co-Rookie of the Year)
  • Drafted Pedro Borbon, Wayne Granger and Willie Montanez (lost in the Curt Flood debacle)
  • Promoted Bobby Tolan
  • NL Pennant Winners in 1967 and 1968.  World Series champs in 1967 (under Stan Musial, but the players were all Howsam’s)
  • Took over as General Manager of the Cincinnati Reds in 1967 and built the last NL pre-Free Agency dynasty: the Big Red Machine
  • Drafted or developed hard thowing Gary Nolan, Don Gullett, Dave Concepcion, Ken Griffey (Sr)
  • Big trades to obtain George Foster and future Hall of Famer Joe Morgan
  • Boldly promoted future Hall of Fame Manager Sparky Anderson
  • Member of the Cincinnati Reds Hall of Fame
  • Helped get expansion team in Colorado
  • Member of the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame
  • 5 times in post-season with the Reds, 3 NL Pennants, 2 World Series Championships

I don’t want to take anything away from the career of Pat Gillick.   We wish him congratulations on being elected into Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.   At the same time, it makes you wonder why Bing Devine and Bob Howsam still remain on the outside looking in (figuratively).

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Trade Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday ?   Are you crazy ?

That is exactly what General Manager  Bob Howsam did, or at least he did to their early 60’s counterparts (Ken Boyer and Bill White).

Who is Bob Howsam, you ask ?  Ask a Cincinnati Reds fan and they will tell you.  It was Bob Howsam that put the final pieces in place for the Big Red Machine dynasty in the 1970s.  His predecessor, Bill DeWitt (father of current Cardinals owner, Bill DeWitt, Jr.) drafted and developed the core players, but it was Howsam that put the finishing touches on one of the most ferocious teams of the era.  It is not a coincidence that many of those players got their start in St. Louis.

Taking Over

Before his time with the Reds, Howsam served as General Manager for the Cardinals, taking over from Bing Devine in August 1964.  In a surprise move, largely orchestrated by the legendary Branch Rickey,  owner August Busch replaced Devine out of frustration that the team was falling farther and farther behind the league leading Phillies.   It was Devine that had transformed the Cardinals from a middle of the pack team to legitimate contender,  but because of the impatience of the owner, he would not be able to enjoy the championship that he built for St. Louis.

After winning the 1964 World Series, the first challenge confronting Howsam was replacing manager, Johnny Keane.   Leo Durocher was the name being thrown around, but Howsam went with the local hero, Red Schoendienst.   Looking back at his decision, he couldn’t have chosen a better manager.  By keeping it in the family, so to speak, the fans and media warmed up to the new skipper, which would be very important as his first two years were pretty rough.


The next task was to retool the ’65 Cardinals.  Baseball was very quickly becoming a pitching dominated game, and all it took was a look to the West Coast and the two-headed monster of Don Drysdale and Sandy Koufax to tell you what you need to improve if you wanted to compete.  Pitching, pitching and more pitching.

Howsam’s first big trade was with the New York Mets.  He sent Gordie Richardson and Johnny Lewis to the Mets for Tracy Stallard.   Richardson had been one of the bullpen heroes for the Cardinals as they chased Philadelphia down the stretch in 1964 and Lewis was a promising young outfielder, but with the addition of Mike Shannon, the Cardinals outfield was getting a bit crowded.  Stallard was a big right hander that had developed into an inning eating starter for the Mets.  In spite of losing 20 games in 1964, he had a respectable ERA of 3.79.   Stallard would be inserted into the Cardinals rotation to start the 1965 season, and he would turn in a career year, posting an 11-8 record with a 3.38 ERA.  Stallard would start the 1966 season in the bullpen, being bumped by a couple of young lefties, Larry Jaster and former Mets teammate, Al Jackson.  Stallard did not pitch well in relief – May was a complete disaster for the right hander.  He would get a few turns in the rotation as the temperatures starting going up in June, but didn’t fare much better.   He would be sent back to the bullpen, but after a terrible outing, and a bit of complaining about his new role, he was sent back to Tulsa (AAA) and would never pitch in the major leagues again.

Howsam would continue to try improving the pitching staff by sending Roger Craig and outfielder Charlie James to the Cincinnati Reds for veteran Bob Purkey.   Roger Craig was a hard luck pitcher for the Cardinals in 1964,  ending the season with a losing record in spite of a very good ERA.  All of that was forgotten when he turned in a brilliant performance in Game 4 of the World Series, in relief of a faltering Ray Sadecki.  James had been the every day left fielder, but lost his job when the Cardinals acquired Lou Brock in June 1964.  Purkey was a knuckleballer, and one of the better ones in the early part of the 60s.  He twice won 17 games for the Reds and had a career year in 1962 with a 23-5 record, a 2.81 ERA and an an incredible 288 1/3 innings.   He would split time between the rotation and the bullpen for the Cardinals in 1965, butneither very successfully.   His knuckler was starting to get hit with regularity and his ERA ballooned up to over 5.  He would be traded to the Pirates prior to the start of the 1966 season, where he would finish his career.

Lost in all of this were three key amateur signings.

Pedro Borbon – one that got away.  Howsam took Borbon with him to Cincinnati and he became of the best rubber arms out of the bullpen.   Lots of appearances, gobs of innings and an ERA that floated between 2.00 and 3.00

Wayne Granger – a hard throwing right hander that developed into one of the best closers in the game.  The Cardinals failed to invest in him, and Howsam stole him for the Big Red Machine.

Willie Montanez – became the top prospect in the Cardinals farm system.  Taken by the Phillies when Curt Flood refused to report after being traded.  Oh, how the 70s might have been different for the Cardinals if Montanez had worn a Redbird uniform.

Howsam made one more big trade in 1965 that worked out well for the Cardinals in the short term (1966) but was a total disaster when you look back at it.  He sent hard throwing left hander, Mike Cuellar to the Astros for veteran lefty, Hal Woodeshick.  Woodeshick took over the closer role with the Cardinals and was spectacular, turning in an ERA under 2.00.  He was just as good in 1966, but lost his closer role to the hard throwing Joe Hoerner, another Houston Astros castoff.  A tired arm troubled Hoodeshick through the 1967 season, but he would earn a World Series ring for his efforts.  Cuellar became one of Houstons’ better starters, but when he mastered the screwball and went to Baltimore in 1969, he became one of the games best.  He would win 20 or more games 4 different times, and 18 games twice more.  He won one Cy Young award (1969), but could easily have won as many as four.

OK, so that trade does not get a gold star.


So what’s all this about trading Albert Pujols and Matt Holliday ?

That would come next, in a span of just one week.   Before looking at those deals, it is important to remember that Howsam was taught by Branch Rickey, who once said,

“Trade a player a year too early rather than a year too late.”

And that’s exactly what he did.

The 80-81 7th place finish in 1965 was disappointing, coming off consecutive 93 win seasons and a World Series Championship.  Not only was more pitching needed, more offense would be required to keep pace with the Dodgers.  Pitching help would come in the first trade following the 1965 season.

If you ask a fan of the early 60s who their favorite Cardinal was, the answer is likely to be Ken Boyer.  Boyer was the Albert Pujols of that team.  The veteran third baseman had come up through the Cardinals farm system, had been a perennial All Star and won the 1964 National League Most Valuable Player.  He was an exceptional defender, earning 5 gold gloves in his career.  If there is one thing you must know about Ken Boyer, he had a reputation of getting the big hit when needed.

Following Rickey’s guidance, Howsam traded the long time Cardinal favorite to New York for left handed starter, Al Jackson.  While Boyer’s best year were behind him, he still had plenty of gas in the tank, and Howsam used that to obtain one of the most underrated pitchers in the game.

The little lefty had an abysmal win-loss record with the Mets, twice losing 20 games in a season.  The Cardinals had seen something in Jackson, and indeed he almost cost the Cardinals the 1964 pennant,  and Howsam thought he would fit well into the rotation.  He would have a career year in 1966, besting nearly all of his pitching statistics, but still posted a losing record.  That was not Jackson’s fault, and help would soon be on the way.  1967 would be something altogether different for Jackson as he split time in the bullpen and in the rotation.  His greatest performance as a Cardinal came on April 25, 1967 when he took a no hitter into the 8th inning.  He would finish with a 1 hit shutout – the best game of his career.  Jackson would also post the only full season winning record in his career, going 9-4 for the soon-to-be World Champion.

Another part of the Boyer deal was third baseman, Charlie Smith.  He would take over for Boyer, but his greatest value would come a year later when he was traded to the Yankees for Roger Maris.   That was the final piece in another World Championship team, but that is another story.

To bolster the offense, Howsam sent the 60’s equivalent of Matt Holliday, Bill White, along with Dick Groat and Bob Uecker to the Philadelphia Phillies for Alex Johnson (outfield), Pat Corrales (backup catcher) and Art Mahaffey (pitcher).  Johnson was the player that Howsam wanted, and on paper it was a brilliant move.  Johnson was an amazingly talented player but had a reputation of having a poor work ethic and not being a good team player.  Howsam took the chance that this would change in St. Louis.  If it did, the outfield of Brock, Flood and Johnson would be one of the best in the game.  As fast as Brock and Flood were, Johnson could leave them in his dust.  It was worth the gamble, but unfortunately it would not work out for the Cardinals.  Johnson was a flop and would be traded to the Reds (where Howsam happened to be as the new GM) prior to the 1968 season for another outfield prospect, Dick Simpson.  Simpson would not do any better and in June 1968 would be traded to the Astros for Ron Davis.  Johnson would find his motivation with the Reds and finally became the impact player that Howsam knew he would would be – just one team too late for the Cardinals.

With the Cardinals off to a terrible start in 1966, Howsam made one last big move.   A sudden surplus of pitchers gave the GM a chance to improve the offense by sending Ray Sackecki to the San Francisco Giants for slugger Orlando Cepeda.  The deal was good for both clubs.  The Cardinals had pitchers but needed offense.  The Giants had an excess of outfielders and needed pitching.  Both players had worn out their welcome with their respective clubs and could use a fresh start.  Sadecki struggled immediately after the trade, but then gave the Giants two very good years in the rotation – his best since his enigmatic 20 win season in 1964.  In return, Cepeda would earn the NL MVP award in 1967 and helped  the Cardinals advance to the World Series twice, and if that wasn’t enough, was then traded to Atlanta for future MVP, Joe Torre.

Yes, this deal more than makes up for the Alex Johnson boo boo.  Gold star for this one.

While all of this is going on, Howsam also continued retooling the starting rotation.  With the emergence of lefties Steve Carlton and Larry Jaster, plus right handers Nelson Briles, Jim Cosman and Dick Hughes, Howsam released Barney Schultz and sent veteran Curt Simmons to the Cubs.  These last two moves severed the ties with the 1964 team he inherited.  It was now his team, win lose or draw.

Another amateur free agent signing that happened at this time was Jose Cruz.  Cruz was a pure hitter.  He would eventually accumulate over 2,000 hits, many of them for extra bases.  Unfortunately he would do most of this while wearing the Astros uniform, but it was Howsam’s scouting team that found Cruz and put him in the Cardinals system.

The last deal that Howsam would make brought the final piece to the 1967 Cardinals Championship team.  In December 1966, he sent Charlie Smith, obtained in the Ken Boyer trade a year earlier, to the Yankees for Roger Maris.   The Yankees were glad to get rid of Maris and the Cardinals couldn’t be happier to have the former 2 time AL MVP.   While his best years were clearly behind him, Maris helped transform the ’67 team into a disciplined group of team players, bringing that Yankee know-how to go along with Orlando Cepeda’s Cha-Cha-Cha.  The result was two trips to the World Series, winning in 1967 and coming within a couple of innings of another in’68.

Putting it all in Perspective

History has not judged Howsam’s contributions to the Cardinals organization in a favorable light.  Two lackluster seasons, 80-81 and 83-79, tell only part of the story.  It is true that the Bing Devine’s firing in August 1964 was a poor decision, made in frustration and haste.  It is also true that Howsam stepped in and put the final pieces in place to complement Devine’s core players, resulting in  two NL Pennants and another World Series Championship.   It is no fluke that he repeated that feat in the 1970s with the Cincinnati Reds, using many of the players he drafted and developed while running the Cardinals system.

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Much has been written about the 2010 non-waiver deadline trade where the Cardinals sent fan favorite Ryan Ludwick to the San Diego Padres in exchange for Cleveland starter Jake Westbrook. As each of the players settle in with their new teams, I suspect that more will be written. Rather than compete with the Sabrmetricians and scribes, I thought I’d take another path and look at one of the trades in Cardinals history that didn’t happen – and how that saved the 1967 World Series.

Hal Woodeshick started his career as a spot starter, bouncing around in the American League. Like a lot of the young men that were signed in the early 50s, his initial development was interrupted by two years of military service.  Once he returned from the Korean War, he big lefty saw limited action with Detroit and Cleveland before  settling in with the Washington Senators in 1959. In one of the more interesting baseball stories, Woodeshick was taken by the new Washington Senators in the 1961 expansion draft, keeping him from moving to Minnesota with the rest of his former Washington Senator teammates.

Woodeshick’s big break would come in 1962 when he was taken by the Houston Colt 45s in the next expansion draft. Out of necessity, Woodeshick was thrown into the starting rotation. He started off the Colt 45s inaugural campaign on fire, winning two of his first three starts.  That all came to an abrupt end in May when he left a game with an injury and spent a few weeks on the disabled list.  He would finish the season 5-16 with a 4.39 ERA. The .238 winning percentage masqueraded a very solid performance, but his innings pitched total suggested that he might be more effective out of the bullpen. That’s where Woodeshick found himself at the start of the 1963 season. He responded with with an 11-9 record with an eye popping 1.97 ERA. He would be rewarded for his early season success with an invitation to the 1963 All Star Game – and he was brilliant. Entering the game in the 6th inning with a slim 4-3 lead, the big lefty pitched 2 scoreless innings while facing Bobby Richardson, Brooks Robinson, Bobby Allison, Joe Pepitone and Harmon Killebrew. Talk about a highly leveraged appearance. Wow.

Woodeshick would build on that in the 1964 season, becoming one of the first real closers in the National League. He would lead the league in saves with 23, a huge number for the day. His 2.76 ERA hid a suspect defense that played behind him and led to a rather unimpressive 2-9 record. This caught the eye of the Cardinals scouts when in 1965, the Redbirds needed some help in the bullpen. In June, they sent pitching prospect Mike Cuellar and reliever Ron Taylor to the now Houston Astros for Woodeshick and minor league pitcher Chuck Taylor. Ron Taylor had been a valuable arm out of the bullpen in the 1964 World Champion team. While he didn’t have much success in Houston, he would re-emerge a couple of years later as a big arm out of the bullpen for the Mets in their amazing 1969 season.

In retrospect, the trade seemed to favor Houston by quite a bit, but Woodeshick was just what the Cardinals needed – a steady left handed arm out of the bullpen. As a bonus, Chuck Taylor would progress and eventually give the Cardinals several good years out of the bullpen and as a spot starter. But it was Woodeshick that the Cardinals wanted, and he was a good one. He would be used extensively after the trade, appearing in 51 games, posting a 3-2 record and a mind boggling 1.81 ERA. Woodeshick followed that up in 1966 with another great year, going 2-1 in 59 appearances with a 1.92 ERA, although the emergence of Joe Hoerner as the new Cardinals closer changed Woodeshick’s role to that of a setup man.

Nelson Briles was an immensely talented young right hander that flew through the Cardinals minor league system. Signed as a free agent in 1963, Briles spent just one season in the minors with the Cardinals AA affiliate in Tulsa. As the Cardinals broke camp to start the 1965 season, Briles found himself in the bullpen, although his future was clearly in the rotation. The 21 year old Briles had a good rookie season, finishing 3-3 with 4 saves. His ERA would climb to 3.50, which was a bit high to be put into the rotation. But he was still young and could learn. Maybe.

While Woodeshick enjoyed great success in 1966, it was much different for Briles. He would bounce back and forth between the rotation and the bullpen, never sticking in one spot for too long. He didn’t pitch poorly. In fact, he only had one really bad outing, but he wasn’t going deep into his starts and couldn’t hold a lead in the bullpen.

This brings us to the start of the 1967 season. The Cardinals had nearly all of the pieces in place for another run at the World Series. The middle infield was one of the best in the game. The corner infielders were a bit of a question – would Orlando Cepeda’s health hold up and could Mike Shannon make the transition from right field to third base ? Nobody questioned the outfield – it was a dream team. Lou Brock and Curt Flood were dual threats and newcomer Roger Maris added some of that Yankee swagger. If Maris couldn’t handle the St. Louis summer, youngster Bobby Tolan was ready to take over. Add veteran backstop, Tim McCarver and the starting 8 looked ready to go.

There were questions and concerns. If the 1967 Cardinals had a weakness it starting pitching. The Cardinals began the season with a rotation of Bob Gibson, Ray Washburn, Al Jackson, Larry Jaster and Steve Carlton. With Ray Washburn, health was always a concern, and Washburn would lose a month later in year to an injury. Jackson always seemed to rise to the occasion, but the veteral left hander seemed more suited to the bullpen at this point in his career. So General Manager Stan Musial went in search of starting pitching and was offering up a package deal of Woodeshick (the veteran) and Briles (the prospect). It seems that every team was looking for starting pitching, so Musial was not able to make a deal before the rosters were reduced in May.  Woodeshick and Briles would remain Cardinals – the deal that didn’t happen.

How did the non-trade turn out for the Cardinals ? For Hal Woodeshick, not so good. He struggled through most of the season, seeing less and less action as the year went on. He struggled with his control and just wasn’t getting batters out often enough to be successful. In another time, he might have been more effective as a left handed specialist, but this was 1967 and those roles didn’t exist.

It was quite the opposite for Nelson Briles. New pitching coach, and former Cardinals hurler, Billy Muffett did a Dave Duncan and completely turned around the young right hander’s career. And it was such a simple thing. Muffett convinced Briles to quit trying to strike out every batter he faced. Muffett pointed out that that nearly every defensive position was manned by a gold glove caliber player and that he should let them retire the batter. And this worked better than anybody could have imagined. Once Briles relaxed and let the hitters get themselves out, everything fell into place. His WHIP fell through the floor, his ERA dropped similarly and the wins started piling up. Most interesting, his strikeout rate remained nearly the same – but he got there in a completely different way. When Bob Gibson went down with a broken leg in July and missed two months of the season, it was the newly retooled Nelson Briles that picked up the slack and carried the team to the finish line. He finished the season with a 14-5 record and would go on to win 19 games in 1968. He was also brilliant in the 1967 World Series with a dominating complete game victory in game 3.

Would the Cardinals have been able to withstand the loss of Bob Gibson if they had dealt Briles and Woodeshick at the start of the season as they had hoped to do ? Perhaps not. Without those 19 wins, could the Cardinals have made a second trip to the fall classic in 1969 ? Hard to tell, but not very likely.  The trade that didn’t happen may have been the best thing that happened to the Cardinals in the last half of the decade.

Oh, but what about the rotation help that Musial was looking for ? He had it all along, just didn’t know it at the the time. It was the co-Rookie of the Year for 1967,  Dick Hughes.

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With the 2010 non-waiver trade deadline approaching in just a few days, sports radio talk shows and blogs are filling up with wild speculations about last minute deals that are sure to catapult the home team into postseason and beyond. All that’s missing from some of them is a photo of Buzz Lightyear. I think my favorite was a St. Louis personality that suggested a bunch of players we don’t want for Dan Haren. What it lacked in reality, it more than made up in unintended humor (we’re not laughing with you, we were in fact laughing at you).

Now that Dan Haren has been traded to Los Angeles (AL), all eyes are looking in the direction of Houston to see what happens to Roy Oswalt. The name Shelby Miller keeps coming up in rumors and speculations, and that has strongly polarized the fans. I tried to make the case that can’t miss pitching prospects are like a free lunch – there is no such thing, but the fear is what happens if we do let Shelby Miller get away. We have no way of knowing, unless one of you happens to have a time machine and is willing to make a jump about 4 years in the future and report back on what you learned. What we can do is take a look at some of the prospects that recently got away and see if that changes your opinion on whether or not Shelby Miller is untouchable.

I will admit to starting this research with a great deal of trepidation, as my own history with the Cardinals is haunted by names like Steve Carlton, Richie Allen, Andy van Slyke, Jose Cruz, Willie Montanez, Bobby Tolan and Lance Johnson. Putting aside my fears, I spent several hours  going  over lists of trades, waiver claims and free agency filings since the start of the 2000 season. The results were not nearly as bad as I expected.  Here is what I found.

Jack Wilson to Pittsburgh for Jason Christiansen (2000)

Wilson was a 9th round draft choice by the Cardinals in 1998. He progressed through the Cardinals system, demonstrating that he could hit. I supposed the 2000 Cardinals felt they needed a big left handed pitcher more than a top shortstop prospect, so Wilson was sent to the Pirates, where he would soon start a rather nice career, including an All Star Game invitation in 2004. Christianson was a high number of appearances but low innings reliever with the Pirates, and he would be the same in St. Louis. A year later, Christianson would be traded to the Giants where he would have about the same success. A career .500 pitcher, Christianson would be out of baseball after the 2005 season.

Interestingly, Jack Wilson’s name came up frequently prior to being traded to the Seattle Mariners in 2009 as a possibility to anchor the left side of the Cardinals infield.

Coco Crisp to Cleveland for Chuck Finley (2002)

Other than having one of the best names in sports, Crisp had all the makings of one that got away. He was drafted in the 7th round in 1999 and had progressed to New Haven (AA) prior to the trade. He had great speed and was showing that he knew how to handle the bat. After the trade, Cleveland promoted him to AAA and he adjusted to the higher league rather quickly, becoming a solid major leaguer shortly after. From 2004 to 2008, it looked like Crisp was one that got away. A near .300 hitter that could be counted on for 20-25 stolen bases, and at least an average glove in center field would have been nice in a Cardinals lineup. Except that we had a pretty good center fielder at the time in Jim Edmonds. In return for Crisp, we received a veteran lefty that at age 39, still had some fire in the furnace. Finley would go 7-4 for the Cardinals in the regular season and pitch well against the Padres and Giants in the playoffs. In addition to being a much needed lefty in the rotation, Finley entertained fans with his off the field exploits with his soon to be ex-wife, Tawny Kitaen. Cue a Whitesnake power ballad – ahhhh, good times.

Chris Narveson to Colorado for Larry Walker (2004)

This is one of the greatest post-waiver trades in Cardinals history, and if we gave up a huge major league talent to make it happen, so be it. Players like Larry Walker don’t pass through an organization very often, and while we only had him for a short time late in his career, the Cardinals were better as a result of his presence. It did not appear at first that Narveson would make it to the major leagues. After a short time in the Rockies farm system, Narveson would be traded to Boston where the Cardinals would claim him off waivers just a few months later. The Cardinals did not resign Narveson at the end of the 2007 season and Milwaukee would take a chance on the big lefty. In 2009, Narveson posted a solid 2-0 record in 21 appearances as a reliever and spot starter for the Brewers. He had the makings of being one that got away until a disappointing start to his 2010 season. At present he is 8-6 with an ERA near 6.

Dan Haren, Kiko Calero and Daric Barton for Mark Mulder (2004)

There is no point in going into detail on Dan Haren’s major league career, he is clearly one that got away. Even as a youngster getting his first few major league starts, it was clear that Haren had talent. Whether he could put it all together into a dominating top of the rotation guy remained a question, but there was a lot to like in the 23 year old. Haren did develop into that type of pitcher as he put together five impressive seasons, going 76-60 with an ERA that has been working its way into the low 3’s. Even more impressive is that he has made every one of his starts and has thrown for over 200 innings each of those five seasons. He has also developed into a Greg Maddux like control pitcher with a strikeout to walk ratio as high as 5.87 in 2009.

Before we breakout the violins and start playing a sad tune, it’s not like the Cardinals didn’t get fair value at the time. It’s easy to second guess a trade after one of the principles suffers a career ending injury – but this was no Steve Carlton for Rick Wise deal. The Cardinals got one of the best left handed starters in the game, and in the prime of his career. Mulder’s 16-8 record in 2005 helped the Cardinals secure their second consecutive 100 win season and a deep run into postseason. If not for an Astros team that refused to be beaten, the Cardinals might have gone to three consecutive World Series. Taking this a bit farther, the thought of a rotation with Chris Carpenter and Mark Mulder at the top brought back memories of Joaquin Andujar and John Tudor and maybe even Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton (Carpenter certainly has the Gibson part down).

Kiko Calero is also one that got away. Signed as a six year minor league free agent in 2002, Calero became a very valuable arm out of the bullpen for the Cardinals in 2003 and 2004. Every successful championship team has a core of hold ’em guys in the bullpen, and you can easily spot them in the statistics. They have low ERAs and a lopsided win/loss ratio. In 2004, Calero went 3-1 with an ERA of 2.78. That’s the kind of pitcher you want late in the game – keep the other team from scoring long enough to come back and win. The 2004 Cardinals had three such relievers: Calero, Julian Tavarez and Ray King. The Cardinals would have a similar bullpen in 2005, but things would deteriorate in 2006. It has taken until 2010 for the Cardinals to develop a bullpen to rival that 2004 team. Calero pitched well for the Oakland Athletics until arm troubles cut his season short in 2008. After a lengthy rehab, Calero surfaced again in 2009 with the Florida Marlins, performing just has he had in St. Louis and Oakland.

It will be interesting to look back on Daric Barton in a couple of years to see if he was one that got away. Barton was a first round draft choice in 2003 and projected to be a good hitting left handed corner infielder, most likely at first base. We already had a pretty good one in Albert Pujols, so Barton’s future would have to be elsewhere. Injuries in 2008 (neck) and 2009 (hamstring) slowed his progress at the major league level, but the 24 year old has finally settled in as every day first baseman for the Athletics. He has a good eye at the plate and leads the American League in walks to go with a .279 batting average.

Luke Gregerson to San Diego for Khalil Greene (2008)

Left handers that can throw strikes tend to have long major league careers, and Gregerson happens to be one of those. He was a late round draft choice in 2006 and flew through the low minors. The Cardinals had high hopes when they send Mark Worrell to the Padres for the struggling shortstop. Gregerson was the player to be named later in the deal, and the Padres got a good one. He was immediately put into the Padres bullpen and put together quite a season, finishing with 72 appearances and a 3.24 ERA to go with a 2-4 record. Even more impressive is his 11.2 strikeouts per 9 innings – more than one per inning. Couple that with a low walk and home run rate, Gregerson is the kind of setup guy every manager and pitching coach dreams about. He’s maintained the strikeout rate in 2010 but has cut the walk in half, posting a mind boggling K/BB ratio of 6.56 and a microscopic WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched) of 0.683. Wow. Yes, Gregerson is one that we wish we had back.

Jess Todd and Chris Perez to Cleveland for Mark DeRosa (2009)

The Cardinals had an awkard situation heading into the 2009 season with two rookie closer candidates, Jason Motte and Chris Perez. Motte was a converted catcher that uses a short arm delivery to throw the baseball past just about every hitter. The younger Perez was a first round draft choice in 2006 and has absolutely electric stuff including a lively fastball in the mid-90s with a lot of movement. Before Jason Motte was called up in September 2008, Perez was the heir apparent for the closer slot in 2009. Motte’s 16 strikeouts in 11 innings with an ERA of 0.82 changed all of that.

In 2009, Perez and Motte settled into setup guys for Ryan Franklin, each having success mixed with long spells of inconsistency. As the trade deadline approached, the Cardinals sent Perez to the Indians along with Jess Todd for utility player Mark DeRosa. DeRosa was one of the bigger names being thrown around before the trade deadline, and the Cardinals moved quickly to take him off the market.

Perez got off to a rough start in Cleveland but settled in and finished the season on a positive note. Still only 24 years old, Perez was expected to be a setup for the Cleveland closer, Kerry Wood, but another in a long line of injuries to the veteran right hander has put Perez back into the closer role and he is meeting the challenge. Perez has already appeared in 40 games and has recorded 9 saves to go along with a team low ERA of 2.35. His strikeouts are down and walks are up, but more important is that his home run allowed rate is significantly down from 2009. Instead of trying to strike everybody out, Perez has learned how to let the batters get themselves out, and as a result he’s a bona fide closer in the major leagues. Is Perez one that got away, or just a case of having to give up something to get something ? Either way, it is nice to see Perez being successful in the major leagues.

Jess Todd may be the one we look back at in a few years and lament as the one that got away. Todd was a second round draft choice in 2007 and saw his first action in 2009 after terrorizing every level of the minor leagues. He has a strikeout rate slightly better than Chris Perez, but significantly better control. He has continued to put up similar numbers in the Cleveland minor league system. He has been recently called up, taking the spot that opened up when Kerry Wood went on the disabled list. I look forward to watching the young right hander, now that he has made it to the major leagues.

Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson and Clayton Mortenson to Oakland for Matt Holliday (2009)

When the Cardinals acquired Matt Holliday, many experts warned that the Cardinals had just emptied their farm system. With two top prospects already gone to Cleveland (Perez, Todd), the Holliday deal cost the Cardinals their first (Brett Wallace) and second (Shane Petersen) draft choices from 2008 as well as their first rounder from 2007 (Clayton Mortenson). It is way too early to classify any of these players as ones that got away. Brett Wallace is still in AAA, now in the Toronto Blue Jays system. The power numbers that we all heard about are finally starting to happen for young first baseman/DH and he should be in the major leagues soon. Mortenson, projected as a starter, has been lights out in Sacramento (AAA) and has seen some action in the major leagues. Like Wallace, he should be a regular in the major leagues soon. Peterson has not progressed as quickly and is still at the AA level with Midland in the Athletics farm system.

Wallace and Mortenson appear to be legitimate major league players. Even so, there are no regrets as Matt Holliday is an elite player in the major leagues, and now we know he will be a Cardinal for a long time. Hopefully a long and prosperous time.

Jarrett Hoffpauir – claimed off waivers by the Toronto Blue Jays (2009)

The Cardinals took a chance when they took the scrappy infielder off the 40 man roster following the 2009 season. The Toronto Blue Jays immediately snapped him up and put him to work at their AAA affiliate in Las Vegas. Hoffpauir isn’t a high average hitter, nor does he possess a lot of pop in his bat, but he is a reliable contact hitter. He strikes out less than he walks, something he has done in all of his professional seasons. Hoffpauir gained some national attention when he hit for the cycle at Las Vegas (AAA), not once but twice. More heads were turned when he was called up to replace struggling third baseman Edwin Encarnacion. It has not gone well for Hoffpauir and he may be back in Las Vegas before the end of the season.  One that got away ?  Not really, but it is a shame to lose a scrappy good contact middle infielder and get nothing in return.   Maybe the Blue Jays will leave him unprotected soon as we can get him back.  OK, probably not.


With memories of Lance Johnson (who we traded away to get Jose DeLeon) and Andy van Slyke (Tony Pena), I was worried that I might stumble across a formidable major league roster in the players we have traded away recently. Surprisingly, that was not the case. Quite the opposite, in fact. We have surely traded away some talented young players, and the name Dan Haren will haunt the franchise long after he has retired, but largely we have gotten good value in our trades and haven’t let too many get away under the radar. We have to give a lot of credit to Walt Jocketty and John Mozeliak for managing these important assets with a great deal of care.

Will Shelby Miller be the next Dan Haren or will he stand beside Jaime Garcia in the Cardinals rotation ?  Who knows.  What I do know is that the last week before the trade deadline is going to be a lot of fun.

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Speculation over possible trades before the July 31 non-waiver deadline is a fun part of the baseball season. Teams with a chance to play in post-season may become buyers and their fans salivate over the possible acquisition of Cliff Lee (Seattle), Roy Oswalt (Houston) or Dan Haren (Arizona). Teams that are falling out of contention can become sellers and possibly stock their farm system with prospects that can help the team in the future. Teams on the bubble, like the Chicago White Sox, have a difficult decision to make – and even that can lead to some wild speculation. Yes, this is like taking the entire hot stove season and compressing it into a single month of rabid speculation and debate. The best part is that everybody gets to play.

This brings me to the hottest debate in Cardinals Nation – Cliff Lee or Dan Haren ? I’ll leave it up to the experts with their walls of charts and statistics to debate which of the two would be the better fit. Instead, I want to look at what the Cardinals will be asked to give up, just to start the discussions for either of these top of the rotation guys. The negotiations will begin with Shelby Miller and go from there. Would you trade Shelby Miller and the six years of team control that comes with him for either three months of Cliff Lee or the salary burden of Dan Haren for the next two seasons ?

Our friend and baseball historian, Bill Ivie, said “… give me a known major league arm over a hot ‘can’t miss’ prospect. I’ll take my chances.” OK, let’s put Bill’s statement to the test and see what we can learn.

Since 1980, the Cardinals have drafted 23 pitchers in the first round.  Of these, the last four are still developing and there is not enough information to form any conclusions, although I suspect that if somebody suggested Adam Ottavino straight up for Cliff Lee,  the excitement in Cardinals Nation could not be contained. The four “too early to tell” pitchers are

Seth Blair (2010) – RHP

Tyrell Jenkins (2010) – RHP

Shelby Miller (2009) – RHP

Adam Ottavino (2006) – RHP

The remaining 19 have played out their professional careers, although one of them is still lurking in the shadows, hoping to be called into action soon.  This gives us a chance to see what happens when a pitcher is drafted in the first round, and how often that player helps a team get into post-season.

Chris Lambert (2004) – RHP – After an impressive start in A ball, Lambert failed to develop in AA.  He was eventually the player to be named later in the Mike Maroth deal, and I think that says enough about his contributions to the Cardinals.  He did play in 14 major league games for Detroit and Baltimore.  Lambert is currently out of baseball.

Justin Pope (2001) – RHP – After an impressive year with Peoria in the Midwest League (A), Pope ran into trouble in AA and soon became a Yankee where he bounced back and forth between AA and AAA.  Pope is out of baseball.

Blake Williams (2001) – RHP – never made it beyond A ball.

Chance Caple (1999) – RHP – A tall right hander, every scout’s dream.  He never made it past A ball.

Braden Looper (1996) – RHP – An example of the new pitcher of this century: a frighteningly high ERA, never dominating but somehow just good enough to hang on until his team can come back and win.    Looper had some success as a closer and turned his career around and had some success as a starter.   72-65 career, 103 saves.   The Cardinals had their choice of Jeff Suppan and Braden Looper when Kyle Loshe went on the disabled list and chose Suppan.  I think that says it all.    Currently out of baseball.

Matt Morris (1995) – RHP – 11 big league seasons with a 121-92 career record.  Came in second to Scott Rolen for Rookie of the Year in 1997.  Lost some time due to injury but came back as the ace that we always hoped he would be be.  Morris was the Adam Wainwright of his era – the guy you wanted on the mound if you needed a big win.  Morris never had a losing season in St. Louis.

Bret Wagner (1994) – LHP – At one time,  ranked by Baseball America as the #84 prospect.  Wagner never made it past AA.

Alan Benes (1993) – RHP – Younger brother of two time Cardinal, Andy Benes.  He was supposed to be the better of the two Benes brothers, but arm troubles ended his career before we could find out.  A short major league career with flashes of brilliance.   The Cardinals also had a third Benes brother  in their system for a while.   Adam did not make it past AA.

Sean Lowe (1992) – RHP – A local kid from Mesquite, Tx.  He never developed in the Cardinals system and was eventually traded to the White Sox for a minor league pitcher that hit his ceiling at AAA .  Seven big league seasons with a career record of 23-15.  His best years were with the White Sox in long relief and as a spot starter.

Allen Watson (1991) – LHP – A tall lefty that was supposed to be the next Joe Magrane.  Baseball America ranked him as high as #9 in 1993.  Watson gave the Cardinals 4 years as a starter and was a better hitter than pitcher.  We heard all about his development through the farm system, but he turned out to be a left handed Todd Wellemeyer.  An 8 year major league career with 6 different teams.  Finished with a 51-55 record and 5.03 ERA.

Brian Barber (1991) – RHP – Ranked in the top 100 by Baseball America for three different seasons and as high as #30 in 1994.  Barber was a strikeout pitcher, averaging over a strikeout per inning several times in his minor league career.  He did make it to the majors and played in 26 games.  Over 4 seasons with St. Louis and Kansas City, Barber had a career record of 5-8, mostly as a starter.

Donovan Osborne (1990) – LHP – Another “can’t miss” prospect.  Osborne was twice ranked by Baseball America in the top 50.  Osborne did have a long major league career, mostly because tall lefties that can throw strikes are always in demand.  He compiled a record of 49-46 record over those 9 years.  His best year was 1996 when he went 13-9 with a 3.53 ERA (a career best).  A high WHIP (walks and hits per inning pitched)  and inability to keep the ball in the park (over 1 home run per game allowed) kept Osborne as a back of the rotation hurler for most of his career.

John Ericks (1998) – RHP – Gargantuan super hard throwing right hander.  A can’t miss prospect, if there ever was one.  Ericks washed out in the Cardinals system.  The Pittsburgh Pirates tried him as a starter and then as a closer – neither worked.  3 major league seasons in Pittsburgh with an 8-14 record.

Brad DuVall (1988) – RHP – never made it out of A ball.

Cris Carpenter (1987) – RHP – Not that Chris Carpenter, but was supposed to be that Chris Carpenter.  Arm troubles plagued his career, but he did play in 8 major league seasons, compiling a 27-22 record, mostly out of the bullpen in long relief.   This Cris Carpenter was more Brad Thompson than that Chris Carpenter.  In one of those “you can’t make this stuff up” coincidences, Cris was originally drafted by the Toronto Blue Jays, the same team that drafted that Chris Carpenter in 1993.

Joe Magrane (1985) – LHP – Injuries cut short a very promising career.   Magrane was part of the 1987 Port Siders Club when the Cardinals  had three, and sometimes four, lefties in the rotation (John Tudor, Greg Mathews plus  spot starts from Rick Horton, Dave LaPoint and Tim Conroy). Big Joe came in third in Rookie of the Year voting.  Followed up his rookie campaign with an incredible ’88 and ’89 season. Lost a year due to injury and never recovered.  8 big league seasons and a career mark of  57-67 with 3 different teams.

Mike Dunne (1984) – RHP – Traded to Pittsburgh as part of the  Andy van Slyke for Tony Pena deal. One monster year in 1987.  Dunne came in second in Rookie of the Year voting behind Benito Santiago.  Joe Magrane would come in third and Greg Mathews would finish sixth.  After his sensational rookie season, things fell apart.  5 major league seasons and a 25-30 record, mostly as a starter.

Todd Worrell (1982) – RHP – Broke onto the scene in late 1985 and solidified a bullpen that helped the Cardinals finish one of the best pennant runs in their history.  Worrell was the National League Rookie of the Year in 1986.   The big right hander had an electric fastball, a devastating slider and became one of the best closers in the game.  Worrell developed serious arm trouble and it cost him 2 years out of what would have been the prime of his career.  It took him a while, but he reinvented himself and had further success as a closer with the Dodgers.  256 career saves, twice led the league (once with Cards and once with the Dodgers).  He had 30 or more saves in six different seasons.

Don Collins (1980) – RHP – never made it out of A ball.

What have we learned from all of this ?  Of the 19 pitchers drafted in the first round, only two of them were long term contributors to the big club.  Todd Worrell was instrumental in two different postseason runs for the Cardinals and one more later in career with the Dodgers.  Matt Morris was one of the best right handed pitchers in the last 15 years and helped the Cardinals get into postseason five different times,  including the 2004 World Series.  Two more helped the Cardinals get to postseason, although their contributions were rather short lived.   Joe Magrane pitched in some big games  in 1987 and if we really broaden the definition of “help”, Braden Looper contributed in 2006 as a setup guy to Jason Isringhausen and Adam Wainwright.

Although my initial reaction was quite different, I have now come to agree with Bill.  Only 1 in 10 pitchers drafted in the first round have had any long term contributions to the major league club.   Maybe Shelby Miller is another Todd Worrell or Matt Morris, but the odds are significantly against that.   We know what a Dan Haren or Cliff Lee would mean to a late postseason run.  A 1 in 10 bet versus a sure thing (as much as a sure thing can be for a major league pitcher) ?  I’ll take the sure thing any day.

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Jack Lamabe was a journeyman right handed reliever and his arrival in St. Louis couldn’t have come under more difficult circumstances. After a couple of rough appearances, he turned into one of the most dependable arms in the Cardinals bullpen as they chased the 1967 National League Pennant and another trip to the fall classic.

Lamabe was originally signed by the Philadelphia Phillies in 1956. After a disappointing season in the low minors, he was released and subsequently signed by the Pittsburgh Pirates. He continued to struggle with his control but made steady progress. Things started falling into place for the right hander after moving to the bullpen for AAA Columbus in 1961. That would earn him an invitation to spring training with the Pirates and he would make the big club as they broke camp for the 1962 season.

After a solid rookie year, Lamabe would be sent to the Red Sox where he would put in another strong year out of the pen, doubling his innings pitched and posting a respectable 7-4 record.
The Red Sox would try to move Lamabe to the starting rotation in 1964 and he would not fare as well, finishing the season with 9-13 record with a soaring ERA of 5.89. Lamabe would return to the bullpen in 1965, but would get off to a terrible start. His ERA would balloon to as high as 12.51 in late May and by the end of June he would be demoted to their AAA affiliate in Toronto. While there he would terrorize the International League posting some of the best numbers of his career. Clearly Lamabe belonged in the major leagues.

In September, Lamabe would return to the majors but this time as a member of the Houston Astros. He would only appear in 3 games for the Astros, but 2 innings of scoreless relief against the Cardinals on October 2 might have been a sign of things to come.

Lamabe would be traded to the Chicago White Sox after the 1965 season. Splitting time between the bullpen and rotation, Lamabe would improve in 1966, lowering his ERA to 3.93 in 121 1/3 innings. As a starter he would throw three complete games, two of them being shutouts.

Lamabe would return to the White Sox for the start of the 1967 season and get off to a good start, allowing only one earned run in three relief appearances. At the end of April he would be traded to the Mets where he would settle into the role of a long reliever. Although used sparingly, Lamabe would would face his future teammates four times, albeit with mixed results.  Yet another sign of things to come.

When Bob Gibson went down with a broken leg on July 15, the Cardinals front office moved quickly to find somebody they could drop into the rotation. Jim Cosman, who had been called up to replace Ray Washburn a month earlier, had pitched well on two occasions, but was starting to suffer some severe control problems. Within a week, Cosman would be sent back to Tulsa to work on his control, but he would not return to the big leagues as a Cardinal. A young prospect named Mike Torrez was dominating hitters in AAA, but was not yet ready to face major league hitters, especially in the heat of a pennant race.

Manager Red Schoendienst had two relievers with starting experience, Al Jackson (lefty) and a newly retooled Nelson Briles (righty). Jackson had been a member of the starting rotation earlier in the season, but had been replaced by another left hander, Larry Jaster. In spite of throwing a brilliant one hitter on April 25, Jackson’s inability to get into the late innings prompted his reassignment to the bullpen. Since the change, Jackson had done well as both a long reliever and lefty specialist. That left Briles to fill the void in the starting rotation.

With the Mets coming into town, a deal was put together quickly to secure a right handed arm to replace Briles in the bullpen. The Mets would send Jack Lamabe to the Cardinals for a player to be named later. For Lamabe, it meant not only reporting to the opposing clubhouse but his first assignment would be against his former teammates.

First impressions of the new hurler were not good. In his first action as a Cardinal, he would give up seven hits and five runs in just two innings of work. He would also take the loss as the Mets beat the Cardinals, 8-5. Two days later he would suffer his second loss as a Cardinal, but this one was the fault of Joe Hoerner who allowed five runs to score without recording a single out. Not a good start at all.

Things would turn around on July 19 when Lamabe would pitch a scoreless inning in relief of Ron Willis in an exciting extra inning game, earning his first save as a Redbird. Both Lamabe and rookie reliever Ron Willis would become the right handed version of Hal Woodeshick and Joe Hoerner out of the Cardinals bullpen, giving Schoendienst a lot of flexibility when needed.

That brings us to August, when Jack Lamabe would deliver the best pitching of his career. In 8 relief appearances, Lamabe would hold the opponents scoreless. Over 16 innings, he would only allow seven hits, striking out 14 while walking only 3 batters.   Remember, Lamabe was a pitcher that battled control problems early in his career.  His best relief appearance was an amazing seven innings on August 12 when he would take over for an ineffective Steve Carlton. In those seven innings, Lamabe would only allow three hits while striking out six and walking none.

As impressive as that was, Lamabe saved his best for last. The Cardinal arms were starting to wear out as complete games started to disappear. Help was just a few days away as the September callups would provide some much needed relief. Even more help would be coming as Bob Gibson had started throwing batting practice to anybody who would pick up a bat and his return to the rotation was also just a few days away. Before that happened, the Cardinals still had one hurdle to clear: a double header on August 28 against the New York Mets.

The Mets won the opener, 4-2. For the nightcap, Schoendienst would give the ball to Lamabe for a start against his former club. Lamabe would keep his perfect month of August in tact, going the distance in a 6-0 complete game shutout. He would allow six hits while striking out five and walking one. What an amazing month and what a turnaround for the right hander.

For his efforts, Lamabe would come in second in National League Player of the Month honors, behind teammate Orlando Cepeda. The effervescent leader of the Cardinals would maintain his .340 batting average and drive in 25 runs for the month. Cepeda would be further honored by receiving the National League Most Valuable Player Award for 1967. As impressive as that was, the pitching of Lamabe was the real story of August 1967.

Lamabe would get shelled in his first appearance in September, giving up 5 runs in 2 1/3 innings against the Pirates. After that it was back to nearly his August performance as Lamabe would appear six more times and allow just one run.

Lamabe would get the ball three times in the World Series. In games 2 and 5 he would pitch 2 1/3 innings of scoreless relief, striking out four and no walks. This is lost in the box scores as he would take the loss in game 6, allowing two runs in just 1/3 of an inning.

At the end of the season, the Cardinals would send veteran left hander Al Jackson to the Mets to complete the deal back in July, signifying their intent to keep Lamabe in the picture for 1968. As the Cardinals broke camp the next spring, a sudden excess of quality pitchers meant there wasn’t room for Lamabe, so the Cardinals traded him to the Cubs just before the rosters had to be trimmed down. He would see frequent action with his new club, appearing 42 times, all in relief. That would also be the end of his major league career.

After his playing days were over, Lamabe would stay involved with baseball. He would coach college baseball at LSU and serve as a minor league pitching instructor and talent scout for both the San Diego Padres and Colorado Rockies. Lamabe would pass away at the age of 71 on December 21, 2007.

His time was brief in St. Louis, but his impact was significant. For an amazing three months of wearing the Birds on a Bat, Jack Lamabe should always be remembered as a winner. Another Unforgotten Cardinal.

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