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And just when I thought I was done blogging for the year, another United Cardinal Bloggers project deadline is approaching.  This one is the Top 5 Cardinal Stories for 2010.

United Cardinal Bloggers Year in Review

Before I get to my selections, a quick note about a great piece of work some of the UCB contributors have put together.   Ten of our favorite writers have collaborated and put together a single documents titled “The Year in Cardinals Baseball.”    What I like about it is that each of the contributors looks at what happened from a different perspective and there is very little overlap, making it a thoroughly enjoying read.    You can read about the project (including the list of writers) at this United Cardinal Bloggers article, or just download the Year in Review.

Now for the stories.

#1 Yadi the Enforcer

 

Yadi the Enforcer

OK, this is really just another excuse to post my favorite picture from the 2010 season.   Looking at it still puts a smile on my face and makes me sit up just a bit taller.   What a great moment for Yadier Molina, and the rest of the Cardinals organization.   While they did not achieve their goal for the season, they did send a loud and unambiguous message on this particular occasion.

Instead of trying to describe this story (which all of you know so well by now), let’s just watch it.  Again and again and again.

It was one thing for Molina to get in Phillips’ face, after all he was wearing the armor.   It’s what he did after the brawl that makes this the top story for the year: calming down rookie starter Jaime Garcia and allowing the young man to get back into the game plus all of his offensive contributions (home run, game winning RBI, stolen base).

If you want to read more, here are a couple of articles from back in August

Yadi the Enforcer

The Day the Designated Hitter Died

 

#2 Bruised, Broken and then Ultimately Beaten

May 21 was the day that the Cincinnati Reds won the NL Central, it just took a few months for everybody to realize it.  That was the day that Brad Penny’s grand slam swing put the big right-hander on on the disabled list.   For the rest of the season.  Up to that point, everything in 2010 was going according to plan.   David Freese had shaken off his early season (and pre-season) troubles and was settling in as a productive third baseman.  Jaime Garcia was beginning to look like the big league pitcher that we had seen the previous fall in Memphis.  Until Penny did his best Mark McGwire impression and end his season with a pulled muscle.

The next day, another Cardinals starter went down to injury.  Kyle Lohse also left his game early due to arm troubles.  Unlike Penny, Lohse did return but to less than stellar results.

The final weight to drop (ok, that was a painful pun – ok, that was another – I’ll stop now) was on June 5 when David Freese had to be removed from a game against Milwaukee after sliding into second base awkwardly.   He would return to the lineup and struggle until running out an infield grounder in Kansas City on June 27.   His minor league rehab came to an abrupt end and he would soon have surgery to repair both ankles.   He has also managed to drop a weight on his foot, breaking his big toe and narrowly missed getting hit in the head with a puck while attending a St. Louis Blues hockey game.

Injuries are a part of the game and championship teams are expected to overcome them, even if they happen to the star players.   Either the farm system is expected to replace them or the front office must find players by way of trades.   This is where the Cardinals season ended, because neither happened – at least immediately.   Maybe if the Jake Westbrook deal was done shortly after Lyle Lohse *OR* Brad Penny went on the disabled list, but it happened at the trade deadline when it was too late.  Instead of retooling with energetic minor league talent wanting to make a name for themselves in the big leagues, retreads that had been released by other clubs were signed and they filled the roster spots with little fanfare.

The impact of these injuries wasn’t obvious in the beginning.   Like Whitey Herzog’s managerial miracle in 1987, the 2010 Cardinals initially played well, even building a small lead in the NL Central.     At the same time, they were playing lots of hard innings, using up whatever reserves they had.    Unlike Herzog’s team, the injured players didn’t return and carry the team when the others ran out of gas.  The 2010 Cardinals all ran down together on a brutal road trip in August with one embarrassing loss after another.

#3 The Emergence of Jaime Garcia

Jaime Garcia was supposed to spend 2010 in AAA at Memphis, building up strength for his surgically repaired left elbow.   Somebody forgot to tell the rookie left-hander.

Just like Garcia was supposed to take it easy last fall when he returned from Tommy John surgery.   He was just there to throw a few innings to get his mechanics back into form.   What he did was pitch his team to the AAA World Series, throwing inning after inning of brilliant shutout baseball.   Anybody who followed him at the end of the the Memphis 2009 season already had him inked in as the 5th starter when the Cardinals would break camp in 2010, no matter what the coaches or sports writers said.

And he did not disappoint.   We hadn’t seen a rookie pitcher like this since Steve Carlton’s breakthrough season in 1967.    Consider the following three pitchers rookie seasons (ok, I threw in a 4th because it’s still an amazing story).

Age W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO IP WHIP SO/BB
Pitcher A 22 11 5 .688 3.26 21 6 5 151 2/3 1.114 2.04
Pitcher B 22 14 9 .609 2.98 28 11 2 193 1.218 2.71
Pitcher C 23 13 8 .619 2.70 28 1 1 163 1/3 1.316 2.06
Pitcher D 29 16 7 .727 2.67 27 12 3 222 1/3 0.954 3.35

Here are the pitchers.

Larry Jaster in 1969

Pitcher A is Larry Jaster (1966).   He reminds me the most of Garcia with an upright stance and the ball disappearing behind his head, keeping his shoulders up and level.   When he was pitching well, he kept his front shoulder from flying open, and the result was four effective pitches to both right handers as well as lefties.

Pitcher B is Steve Carlton (1967).   Although he looked nothing like Garcia on the mound, “Lefty’s” rookie campaign was a lot like Garcia’s in 2010.   The two differences were in the number of complete games – more of a sign of the times and the number of strikeouts.   Carlton was still a work in progress at this point in his career, and had yet to master the slider which would serve him well in his Hall of Fame career, but even early in his career, he was a strikeout machine.

Pitcher C is Jaime Garcia (2010).   His line is still impressive some 3 months after his season ended.   As we marvel at his rookie record, a bit of praise should be given to Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa, neither of whom are generally associated with rookie success stories.    Not only did they keep him in the rotation, but they carefully managed his innings and made his outings as positive an experience as they could.

The mystery pitcher D is the only right-hander in the bunch.   It is Dick Hughes (1967).   I only included him in this discussion to point out how dominating he was – especially since he wasn’t even in the rotation at the start of the season.    Hughes had one of the nastiest sliders in the game and his sub-1 WHIP shows that he was relatively unhittable.

Let’s hope that Garcia builds on an amazing rookie season and has an even stronger sophomore year.   Jaster and Carlton both made improvements in their second year, and it took a torn rotator cuff to keep Hughes from being one of the best pitchers of his era.

#4 Aligning the Major and Minor League philosophy

Perhaps this will also be a top story for 2011, but the promotion of John Vuch to Director of the Farm System, overseeing all of the player development throughout the minor league program, should give Cardinals fans reason to be optimistic about the future.  Vuch is an old-school Cardinal with ties to George Kissell and Dave Ricketts, and this should bode well for a minor league system that will focus on development at least as much as they have the draft.   One of the first things that Vuch did in his new capacity was to reach out to the major league coaches to insure that both parts of the organization are working to a common goal.

#5 Pardon Me, There’s a New Ace in Town

Adam Wainwright’s continued development into a bona fide ace is one of the best stories in 2010, to be filed right next to Garcia’s rookie season.   Since the first time he took the mound as a September callup in 2005, we knew he was going to be something special.   Interestingly, his major league debut came in relief of the last apprentice to become a staff ace, Matt Morris.

I remember flying into St. Louis on business, just before the 2005 season, and listening to a radio show where they were introducing the team.  One of those youngsters was Adam Wainwright, and even then, he was being praised as a future top of the rotation type pitcher.

If there was still any doubt about Wainwright, that should have come to an end on September 24, when he earned his 20th win of the season.   As if scripted, that victory was against the Chicago Cubs.

Wainwright became just the 11th Cardinals pitcher since 1960 to win 20 or more games.   Barring injury, there is no reason to suspect that he will not repeat that in 2011 or 2012, making him the only Cardinals pitcher to do that since Joaquin Andujar in 1984 and 1985.   Considering that Bob Gibson was 29 when he had the first of his five 20 win seasons, maybe even that record will be in jeopardy before Wainwright’s career is over.

Rather than go on more about Wainwright, feel free to take a peek at these articles in the archive to get more perspective on just how unique the young right-hander’s career has been.

Move over, there’s a new ACE in town

Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright are among the elite pitchers in the game

Passing the Baton

There were many other great stories, but the rules say I have to stop at five.   I thank you for taking the time to read mine, now tell me some of yours.

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It is the time of year when we all reflect on the last 12 months of our lives and take stock of where we are.   We then, with all good intenti0ns, outline several life changes that we will make, and maybe they will last until the final college football game is played.   I see no reason why an obsessive Cardinals blogger shouldn’t do exactly the same thing.

So here are my New Years Resolutions for 2011

1. Learn to love the designated hitter

Yeah, I’ve been so close minded on this topic, going all the way back to when it was first proposed in 1966.   Pretty much all of my notions about baseball go back to that period, and that’s just wrong.  What does a 6 year old know about anything ?   I didn’t realize that the Lance Berkman signing was John Mozeliak’s way of getting me to change my mind about the most divisive rule difference in baseball.  Thanks, John.  All I needed was a little push, and I am so grateful that he did that just for me.

Yes !!!! Edgar Martinez for the Hall of Fame – and I can’t wait for David Ortiz to become Hall eligible!

2. When using Cub as a noun, don’t automatically follow with the verb Suck

It is time to put all of the animosity towards the Cubs in the past and bury it forever.   Time to admit that you love Cubbie Blue and you really wished the Cardinals outfield consisted of Alfonso Soriano, Kosuke Fukudome and Milton Bradley (oh why oh why did my new beloved team trade away Milton Bradley – he was so close to becoming my new favorite player).    It is time to embrace the Zambrano and admit that your legs twinge every time Ryan Dempster does that little glove flick in his delivery.   And finally, you have to admit that you miss Thom Brenneman, Bob Brenley, Dewayne Staats and Steve Stone – and you would love it if they brought back Chip Caray, just so you could hear another round of “fisted into left field” – that’s music to my ears.

I might even get carried away and start a Cubs historical blog, just to show my appreciation for a team that has given me so many wonderful memories.

Once again, a big thanks to John Mozeliak for working so hard during the winter meetings, acquiring a former Cub, Ryan Theriot, so that I have a reminder every day of how much I love the Cubs and what a fool I have been this last half century.

3. Learn to love the long ball

We all know the phrase “chicks dig the long ball”.  Well, maybe it’s time that we dudes do the same thing.   Nothing says baseball like watching a muscle-bound Michelin Man hit a baseball into the night sky and watch it vanish into nothingness.   Oooooh ahhhhhh, that’s baseball.

That form is so .... 2011

Kevin Costner’s character in Bull Durham got it right when he said, “strikeouts are boring.  Besides that, they’re fascist.” And with the new infield the Cardinals will be sporting in 2011, we will all fall in love with the ground ball, nearly as much as the Adam Dunn moonshot.  All of those years when we could have appreciated his at-bats in Cincinnati and Washington, now he will play with the White Sox and we’ll never get to see him swinging for the fences again.

2011 will be a new year where we will all eschew the 1-0 pitchers dual.   Those are boring, like watching paint dry.   We’re going to fall in love with the 4 hour entertainment extravaganza that only the Red Sox and Yankees can deliver with regularity.   We will yearn for the 12-10 blast-a-thon, hanging on to every pitch hoping that someone hits it to that little vanishing point in the darkened skies.

4. Embrace SABR advanced statistics

After all, baseball is best played on a calculator and spreadsheet and not in the neighborhood playground.   Fantasy baseball is so much better than the boring thing that the National League calls a game.   I just can’t wait until the random number generator comes up 0.9821024084389481985912385308 and my simulated cleanup hitter hits the simulated ball out of the simulated park.   That’s what makes fantasy baseball -e i * pi.   I think I’ll call my new simulated team the Euler’s  (ok, if you aren’t a mathematician, you might have to look that one up).

Bwahahahahahahahahahahaha

Yeah, right – like any of these are going to happen ????  Not a chance.

Some time for some real resolutions – ones that I might actually have a chance at keeping.

1. Tweetups

I have to make it to some more tweetups or other social media gatherings.   It’s been a blast meeting some interesting folks on Twitter, but it is time to turn more of those into real friendships and sit around a real table having a real discussion.   In the last year or so, I’ve only met a few tweeps and I cherish the times we’ve been in the same room, and the subsequent conversations.   They take on a different dynamic when you know there is a real person behind the avatar.

A good start will be the Writer’s Conference that Bill Ivie from I-70 Baseball (and Baseball Digest) will be putting on in February.   I hope to meet many of you at that event.

Quite frequently, business takes me to St. Louis and I get a chance to take in a Cardinals game or two.   Maybe with a little bit better planning, we can do some additional tweetups, battl or some other social gathering.

2. Attend a Spring Training game

Last year I came close to pulling this off, but close doesn’t count.  This year it will be different.  Somehow, someway, I will find my way to Jupiter or some other neighboring planet to catch a spring training game.

3. Read at least one non-Cardinals baseball book per month

This will start with Roger Maris: Baseball’s Reluctant Hero – that counts, right ????   OK, at least let me ease into this one.

4. Don’t add to the Cuss Jar

I’m glad there isn’t an August resolutions tradition – this one would have been broken immediately.   My daughter has asked me to do this frequently, and in her honor, I shall.   Fortunately, this one is a lot easier to do today than before the Insight Bowl game last night (the jar runneth over in the last five minutes) !

5. Hit blogging deadlines and learn to be brief

I have to give a big thanks to Bill Ivie for giving me an opportunity to contribute at I-70 Baseball.   I love the work that the other contributors do, and I’m proud to be a tiny little part of that.   I also have to give Bill a huge thanks for being so understanding when I don’t hit deadlines – which seems to be about every week.   For a historical writer, there’s absolutely no excuse – it’s not like these things just happened !   Oddly enough, it is frequently something in the news that triggers an idea, but there’s no reason not to have a cornucopia of articles ready to go, so Bill doesn’t have to stay up late and do his editorial things to my work.   After all, he has an infant and sleep might be somewhat high on the priority list for the new mom and dad.

Another thing I’m trying to learn is brevity, and it’s hard.   There is always so much context that you want to share, but too often it gets in the way of the actual story you are trying to tell.   I know from my own experience that I’m less likely to read a blog that goes on and on and on (sort of like this one, at almost 1200 words right now).  So I’ll start this resolution now and close.

But before I do, I want to thank all of you that take the time to read the material here and over at I-70 Baseball.   It means a lot, and I do appreciate it. I am even more grateful for those of you that take the time to leave a comment, especially one that kicks off a discussion here or someplace else like Twitter or the Google Wave.

And now, my final three words for 2010 ……

Happy New Year


As I was researching my latest article for I-70 Baseball (yes, I really do research when I write – lots of it), I found a most unexpected trend in the number of batters that were hit by a pitch.    In fact, it was the exact opposite of what I would have expected, so I had to dig in a little bit more and see if I could come up with an explanation.

Here is a chart showing the average number of NL batters hit by a pitch between 1960 and 2010.   For the two strike shortened seasons, 1981 and 1994, I extrapolated the numbers to a full 162 game schedule.   I did the same for 1960 and 1961 when the NL only played 154 games.

HBP data courtesy of Baseball-Reference.com

 

Let’s take a look at the assumptions that I had as I started this little project.

More players were hit in the 60s than now

Well, clearly from the data, that is not true.   There was a little bit of a blip in the early 60s that I will write off to the impact of expansion, but generally there is a downward trend in the data until the early 80s when the numbers started steadily rising.   I am not going to argue with the data, but there is no question that pitchers used to throw a lot more inside than they do now.   If you even looked like you were thinking about reaching towards the outside corner then guys like Don Drysdale and Bob Gibson would soon test your reflexes, and courage.   Surprisingly, for all of those pitches that were thrown inside, not many of them made contact with the batter.

Expansion means more AAA pitchers

I expected to see a much larger increase shortly after the league expanded in 1962, 1969 and again in 1993.  Each time the league added two teams, and that meant that about 25 pitchers would be throwing in the major leagues that wouldn’t have been the year before.  Maybe it is worth looking at strikeout rates and k/bb ratios to see more of an impact, but there is nothing in the data to suggest that expansion lead to more batters being hit, immediately or over the next few years.

Maybe I’m looking at this from the wrong direction.   Maybe these 25 AAA pitchers couldn’t hit a batter with any more regularity than they could the strike zone.   Nah – there may be something in expansion, but not the big trend shift that was expecting to see.

Umpires taking control

This is the one that gave me a huge chuckle because I generally dislike rule changes “to make the game better.”   The league started phasing in warnings when pitchers were throwing at batters in the early part of the 1980’s, reaching the mandatory state we have today in 1994.   It clearly has had the desired effect – ABSOLUTELY NOT!   I love it !!!!

The average number of batters being hit by a pitch had been steadily decreasing since a high of 40 in 1965 to a low of 21 in 1984.   After the rule changes, the numbers started going up year after year, with the rate significantly increasing after the mandatory warnings were instigated.

Equipment changes – the batting helmet

Improvements in protective equipment has led to a more ferocious game in hockey and football, so why not baseball ?   Well, mainly because there just isn’t that much protective equipment.   The league made batting helmets mandatory in 1971, but most players were either using them already or wore small protective inserts under their regular cap.   The rules changed again in 1983, requiring the use of batting helmets with ear flaps.

Perhaps if we stretch a bit, the ear flaps might have some impact (ok, that was a pun).   But we’re not buying this, are we ?   No, this is like the classic marketing data example of correlating diapers and beer, drawing the conclusion that babies drink beer.  No, ear flaps did not lead to an increase in HBP rates.   Maybe all of the arm, elbow, knee, shin and foot protection some of these modern day gladiators wear might make them less able to get out of the way of an inside pitch, but that is largely moot because the pitchers just don’t throw inside like they used to.

What is it, then ?

One possibility is that pitchers today just don’t have the control as those that played the game before them.   I’m willing to give this some merit.   I’ve seen Mitch Williams pitch, and while Al Hrabosky used a similar Tasmanian Devil windup, the results were remarkably different.  Hrabosky could paint the corner with just about every one of his pitches, and all you could say about Williams is that the ball was generally headed in the direction of home plate.

There’s another more plausible explanation.   What started appearing in baseball in the early 90s, got real popular after about 1998 and then fell off sharply after 2005 ?

I’ll give you a clue.   It’s an 8 letter word that rhymes with spairoids (if that were an actual word).

It might be just as simple as that.   It might be simple retaliation for batters hitting some moonshots that they weren’t capable of in prior seasons.   Maybe just a little bit of chemically induced rage might make a pitcher throw at a batter in anger when he wouldn’t have under different circumstances.

We will never know, but it is fun to try to speculate the cause behind the effect.


As one of the new members of the Baseball Bloggers Alliance, I don’t want to get off to a bad start by missing out on one of the group projects.   The first of these is the 2011 Hall of Fame balloting, and here’s my vote.   In a couple of cases, the choices are making me scratch my head, and I’ve noted a few of these.

If you have a strong opinion and think I’m totally missing something, please let me know in the comments.

The Yay’s

Roberto Alomar – Last year, I would have been a no, but after reading a number of articles about Alomar in the last year, I’ve come around to being in the “yes” camp.   2,724 hits, 474 stolen bases and all of those gold gloves from a typically defensive only position makes me a believer.

Don Mattingly – 9 Gold Gloves, a career .307 batting average, and offensive numbers in  1984 and 1986 that were even better than the year he won the AL MVP award.  Yeah, I think I can live with that.

Lee Smith – 478 career saves !  Yeah, I’m a sucker for closers and Lee Smith was one of the best.   And for an amazingly long time.  Before there was Trevor Hoffman and Mariano Rivera, there was Big Lee and his agonizingly slow walk in from the bullpen.  We hated it when he was in Chicago but loved every minute of his time in St. Louis.

Larry Walker – one of the greatest hitter’s I’ve ever seen play the game.  Yes, his numbers may have been inflated a bit by the thin air in Denver, but that doesn’t explain his production in Montreal.   7 gold gloves and 4 times hitting .350 or better.  Can’t argue with that .313 career batting average.

Barry Larkin – the only problem in Barry Larkin’s resume is that he played the bulk of his career in the shadow of Ozzie Smith (hey, can we say Vada Pinson – isn’t it time that we took another look at his career??????).   Let’s fix that by putting him in the Hall.

Mark McGwire – yes, I forgive Big Mac.   Yes, he cheated although I don’t think as much as some (oh, Barry – gonna got a big ol’ no when you’re eligible).   He, along with Cal Ripkin and Sammy Sosa, also saved baseball after the players and owners gave the fans the finger in 1994.   I am not going to apologize for my vote on this one.

The Bubble

Here are three players who clearly are first ballot inductees into the Hall of Very Good.  At this point, I’m struggling with all three for being worthy of Hall of Fame.

Jeff Bagwell
Fred McGriff
John Franco

Of the three, John Franco’s save totals are impressive enough, and I am a fan of the closer.   Depending on the class of ’12, I might change my mind.

The tough calls, but no

Bert Blyleven – OK, I get it.   Over 3,700 strikeouts, 278 wins and the huge long career (22 years).   As much as it’s going to upset his fans, I think of Blyleven as just kind of good, never dominating.  He had a couple of good years, to be sure.   Now, he did give up over 400 home runs, so maybe that’s a back door we can use.   Ummm, no.   I’m also still fumed over his pitching in the 1987 World Series when he was getting away with quick pitching that teammate Les Straker did not.

Edgar Martinez – I have a big problem with the DH, which I suppose is a bit inconsistent with my fascination with closers, but the position simply should not exist and I cannot in good conscience vote for a player who played the bulk of their career as a designated hitter.

Rafeal Palmeiro – While I forgive McGwire, I’m not so ready to do so with Palmeiro.   He had an amazing career, but it’s hard to know what of that was Palmeiro and what were performance enhancing substances.

And the “Nay’s”

Harold Baines
Bret Boone
Marquis Grissom
Jack Morris
Dale Murphy
Dave Parker
Tim Raines
Benito Santiago
Alan Trammell

Dave Parker, Dale Murphy and Jack Morris make a good litmus test.  All three get my “Hall of Very Good” vote, but still come up short for Hall of Fame.

And finally, the “are you flippin’ kidding me????”

Juan Gonzalez
Kevin Brown
Carlos Baerga
Bobby Higginson – really ???? Really ????  REALLY ?????
Charles Johnson – somebody please tell me what am I missing here ?
Tino Martinez – the stinkin’ egg he laid in St. Louis should be enough to remove him from future ballots.
Raul Mondesi – about half again Candy Maldonado, but still half a career short.
John Olerud – a long career, one super monster year does not a HOF make.    To be fair, he did have a second good year, but that’s not the point.
BJ Surhoff

And two pitchers that give Kyle Lohse a bit of optimism about his possible consideration when he’s done with his career:

Kirk Rueter
Al Leiter

I’ve come clean with my votes, so let me know what I’ve missed (except for slagging on Mark McGwire – I get that some people really dislike him).   Any Keith Law moments in my ballot ?

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.


Or somebody to play like him.

When Whitey Herzog retooled the 1981 St. Louis Cardinals, he built the team around speed and defense.  Thanks to the addition of Ozzie Smith, there was not a better infield anywhere in baseball and it gave the Cardinals a significant advantage when they played on the fast turf in St. Louis.  Just as important, he put together a strong outfield although the missing piece didn’t come along until a mid-season injury to David Green in 1982  introduced Willie McGee to the National League.  Their impact to the game is very hard to see in the box scores, but one quick look at the 1982 World Series statistics tell you all you need to know – they reduced the stress on the pitching staff, and allowed some good pitchers to become great, and mediocre ones to be winners.

When we fast forward to 1985, a number of new faces show up on the Cardinals roster.

Jack Clark had taken over from perennial Gold Glove for former NL Most Valuable Player winner, Keith Hernandez.   While our first base defense took a major step backwards, Clark more than made up for any loss with his ferocious bat – the archetype for a Herzog cleanup hitter.

Veterans John Tudor, Bob Forsch and Joaquin Andujar mentored a pair of young right-handers: Danny Cox and Kurt Kepshire.   They would make all but five starts in the season.  One was a gamble as Whitey Herzog and Dal Maxvill shopped Neil Allen, desperately hoping to find somebody that would take him.  He didn’t make it out of the 3rd inning a 13-2 blowout in Pittsburgh – one of the ugliest games I’ve ever seen.   The other four were a spot start by Matt Keough and then three from Ricky Horton in September when the struggling Kurt Kepshire lost his spot in the rotation.

As interesting as these changes are, none compare to the youngster that took over for Lonnie Smith as the catalyst at the top of the batting order.   That young man was Vince Coleman.

If you’ve ever seen a military fighter jet take off, you can appreciate what Coleman meant to that team.   Just like an afterburner, when Coleman got on base, things started happening very quickly.  Coleman would only hit .267 for the season.   If you do that math, that’s only 1 hit in every 4 at-bats – but hitting in the lead-off spot, that meant Coleman came up at least 4 times per game.   We learned to love those odds.   If you add 50 walks to his 170 hits, that’s 220 times on base.   Almost half of those resulted in a stolen base or two as he tallied 115 swipes in his rookie season.  Willie McGee would add 54 steals, many of them at the same time as Vince Coleman – they worked the double steal to perfection.  With Coleman, and often McGee, it was not if or when they would steal, but how many bases would they eventually get before scoring.  Tommy Herr and Jack Clark’s offensive statistics from the 1985 season are bloated thanks to Coleman and McGee.

While the Cardinals speed on the defensive side of the game helped take stress off the pitching staff, Coleman became a one man wrecking crew to the opposing arms.   Pitchers would start paying more attention to Coleman on base than than Willie McGee or Tommy Herr in the batters box, and both would take advantage.  Willie McGee would earn the NL Most Valuable Player award as he led the league in hits (217), triples (18) and batting average (.353), many of those being a quick pitch or due to lack of focus from the pitcher.  His 82 RBI’s, mostly from the second spot in the order, were thanks to Coleman flying around the bases.  What McGee didn’t drive in became easy prey for Tommy Herr as he joined an elite list of players with over 100 RBIs in a season (110) with 10 home runs or less (8).

To understand this just a bit better, let’s take a look at the game on September 13 when the Cardinals visited the Chicago Cubs.  Steve Trout, a tall left-hander started for the Cubs and poor Jody Davis was behind the plate.  Remember that it’s supposed to be harder to steal on a left-handed pitcher.  Yeah, right.

Vince Coleman leads off the game with one of those 50 walks he’d tally in 1985.  He immediately steals second base cleanly.   Willie McGee follows that with a single, easily scoring Coleman.  McGee then proceeds to steal second base.   Getting a bit frazzled, Trout walks Tommy Herr which turned out to be a big mistake.  Cesar Cedeno follows with an RBI single, scoring McGee easily.  Both Herr and Cedeno take an extra base when center-fielder Bob Dornier bobbles the ball – apparently team speed affects defenders as much as it does pitchers.   Tito Landrum drives in Herr with a swinging safety squeeze grounder for the first out of the inning.    Terry Pendleton would make the second out of the inning with a strikeout.  Ozzie Smith would walk and then get into the larceny as he swipes second base for the third steal of the inning.  Unfortunately Bob Forsch would end the inning with a harmless groundout, but the Cardinals had just sent nine men to the plate and totally demoralized the Cubbies, even though no ball was hit hard.

Things wouldn’t get any better for Cubs in the second inning.  With one out, Willie McGee would walk.  He would advance to third base on a single by Tommy Herr, who would be caught in a run-down, trying to turn the single into a double.  Cesar Cedeno would come through for the second time in as many innings with another RBI single.

In the fifth inning, some more Redbirds would get into the action.  Andy van Slyke would lead off with a bunt single and steal second base.  Terry Pendleton singles him home, and then proceeds to swipe second base himself.   Reliever George Frazier wasn’t having any more success than Steve Trout.  Neither would his successor, Jon Perlman who would walk Willie McGee in the sixth inning.  McGee would steal second and advance to third on a wild pitch.   A harmless fly ball from Andy van Slyke would score McGee with the sixth Cardinal run.

No, the Cardinals were not done.  Not by a long shot.   In the ninth inning, after the Cubs had gotten a couple of the runs back,  Andy van Slyke leads off the inning with a single.   Terry Pendleton would follow that with a single.   Andy van Slyke would then steal third base as the Cubs weren’t paying enough attention to him.  Ozzie Smith would follow that with a single, scoring van Slyke.  Smith would be thrown out at second base trying to advance to second on the throw to third, which was too late to get Pendleton.    Darrell Porter would be intentionally walked to get to the pitcher, a young flame thrower named Todd Worrell.  Worrell would be an easy strikeout victim, which was unfortunate for the Cubs.    Now it’s Porter’s turn, and he steals second for the 8th Cardinal swipe on the day.   Poor Jody Davis.   Pendleton and Porter would score on a Vince Coleman single – his only hit on the day.

The point to this story – Coleman would go just 1-4 on the day, but he set the pace early in the game and threw out whatever playbook the Cubs had put together.    Five other Cardinals would follow Coleman’s lead by stealing bases, McGee and van Slyke with two each.

And that would not be the only time they would steal 8 bases.    The 1985 Cardinals stole 3 bases or more 55 times in the season.  That’s over 1/3 of the games they played.

The 2011 St. Louis Cardinals are starting to resemble more of an Earl Weaver “we love the 3 run homer” Orioles of the 70’s, rather than that of Herzog’s Whiteyball, but if you dig back into those great Baltimore teams you will find a youngster named Don Baylor that stole more than a few bases in his day.   If the 2011 Cardinals are going to make it to the post-season, they will have to do something other than stand around and wait for Lance Berkman, Albert Pujols or Matt Holliday to hit a three run homer.   They will have to play with the aggressiveness of Herzog’s (or even Weaver’s) teams and quit acting like a base runner is a precious commodity.  Put runners in motion and good things will happen.  Suddenly holes will open up in the infield, pitchers will start pitching quickly and groove a pitch or two.   You might even find out that not many teams have a catcher like Yadier Molina.   If they don’t, then I’ll be looking forward to House Season 8 in October instead of Cardinals baseball.


Before you all give me a big “DUH”, let me explain.

Earlier today, Steve Lombardi posted an interesting piece of research over at baseball-reference.com.   Using ERA+, which takes into consideration runs scored in the home ballpark plus the ERA of the other pitchers in the league, Steve lists the top pitchers since 2005.  Note that a higher ERA+ number is better, unlike the real ERA.    The list is fascinating and it helps put a few pitcher’s careers in perspective.   As you glance down the list, a few names might surprise you (Roy Oswalt – wish the Cardinals had picked him up last season).   A few will certainly make you grrrrrr (Dan Haren – yeah, that Mark Mulder trade just keeps on giving).   And like him or not, Carlos Zambrano is among the top pitchers.

What you will not find are the names Chris Carpenter or Adam Wainwright.   The highest rated Cardinal pitchers were Jason Marquis and Jeff Suppan.   Steve’s cutoff was 1,000 innings pitched and neither Carpenter nor Wainwright met that criteria.   Let’s do our own research and see how far they missed, and where they might have finished had they made it.

Pitcher W L W-L% ERA GS CG SHO SV IP ERA+ WHIP
Chris Carpenter 69 28 .711 2.88 132 16 8 0 912 1/3 145 1.088
Adam Wainwright 66 35 .653 2.97 119 8 2 3 874 1/3 140 1.202

The 21 1/3 innings Carpenter could only manage in 2007 and 2008 combined kept him off the list.   Even missing most of 2 years, Carpenter almost logged enough innings to qualify.   If he did, his 145 ERA+ would have put him in 3rd place, just 1 behind Johan Santana at 146.

Adam Wainwright only got a tiny look in 2005 and spent his 2006 season in the bullpen.   Had he not missed 14 or more starts in 2008, he might have been able to accumulate enough innings to make the list.  If he had, his 140 ERA+ would put him right there behind Chris Carpenter and well ahead of the next pitcher on the list, CC Sabathia at 133.

I know that this falls into the category of “tell me something I don’t already know”, but now you have one more piece of data to support the claim that we in Cardinals Nation are fortunate because we get to enjoy watching two of the best pitchers in the game.

If you want to see the complete line on Chris Carpenter and Adam Wainwright to compare to the others on Steve’s list, click the links in the table.   That will take you right to the summary data.