25th ANNIVERSARY: Tito Landrum, The Cardinals’ Most Valuable Substitute

Terry Lee (Tito) Landrum was a utility outfielder, born in Joplin, Missouri. I make this point because a lot of visiting sports reporters would get confused between him and teammate David Green. It was tall and muscular Green who was from Nicaragua, not Landrum.

Tito Landrum

Landrum signed with the Cardinals right out of high school in 1972. He progressed slowly through the minor league system, eventually breaking in with the big club in the middle of the 1980 season. He would play well enough to earn a spot as a reserve outfielder in 1981. His playing time went down with the additions of Lonnie Smith and Willie McGee, and Landrum found himself bouncing between Louisville (AAA) and St. Louis before getting a short chance at fame with the Baltimore Orioles in 1983. In the decisive Game Seven of the ALCS, Landrum would hit the game winning home run in the 10th inning, sending Baltimore to the World Series. Baltimore would go on to win the World Series, but Landrum would play sparingly and finish the series without a hit. Regardless, Landrum had his fifteen minutes of fame, or so he thought.

The Cardinals would reacquire Landrum prior the start of the 1984 season. He would get more playing time, subbing at all three outfield positions. He would finish the season with a respectable .272 batting average.

The outfield was very crowded to start the 1985 season, and Landrum would enter it nursing a pretty bad leg injury. When Willie McGee also went down with an injury, Landrum would go on the disabled list to make room for a young speedster named Vince Coleman. Coleman was only supposed to be with the big club for a few days, but as Landrum’s injury took longer to heal, Coleman cemented his position in left field. All of a sudden, the outfield was a lot more crowded.

With Vince Coleman and Willie McGee set in left and center field respectively, manager Whitey Herzog had to figure out what to do with his right field situation. Andy van Slyke was a future Gold Glover, but had a hard time hitting left handed pitching. Lonnie Smith was an offensive catalyst, but his defense could sometimes be an adventure – and those were his good days. This was all resolved when Lonnie Smith was traded to the Kansas City Royals, leaving Landrum and van Slyke as a platoon pair for the final outfield spot. The right handed hitting Landrum would play against left handed pitching, and the left handed van Slyke would get the bulk of the playing time against right handers.

This arrangement worked out quite well for Herzog as both Landrum and van Slyke played well in their respective roles. Cardinals fans might be surprised to learn that Landrum was actually more productive, hitting for a higher average than van Slyke. What he could not do is play defense like the younger van Slyke, who could produce a highlight reel that would make Jim Edmonds blush.

Things changed for Landrum when the Cardinals acquired Cesar Cedeno at the postseason eligibility deadline on August 29. Cedeno would initially play first base, taking over for the injured Jack Clark. At the same time, Andy van Slyke would get more playing time, even against left handed pitching. Landrum found himself as a late inning pinch hitter, and his batting average finally dipped below .300, finishing at .280 by year’s end.

As well as Cedeno had played down the stretch for the Cardinals, he became the platoon partner for Andy van Slyke in the NLCS instead of Landrum. That is until Game Four, when Vince Coleman would be caught under the automatic tarp system, severely injuring his leg. With Coleman out for the rest of the postseason, Landrum would take over in left field.

Always on base

In his first game, Landrum would go 4-5, all singles. He would also drive in 3 of the Cardinals 12 runs on the evening. Maybe not the speedster at the top of the order, but 4-5 hitting behind Jack Clark and Cesar Cedeno will do very nicely. Landrum would wear the collar in the next game against Fernando Valenzuela, but would steal second base after a late inning walk, putting himself in scoring position for the go ahead run. He would not score, but Ozzie Smith would send the huge crowd back home happy in a few minutes with the now famous “Go Crazy Folks” home run.

In the decisive Game Six, Landrum would collect another hit, but not figure in the scoring. He would finish the NLCS going 6-14 (.429) with 4 RBIs and a stolen base. Only NLCS MVP Ozzie Smith had a higher batting average (.435) than Landrum and only Tommy Herr drove in more runs (6). Not bad for a guy that only expected a few pinch hitting opportunities.

Tito Landrum would come up big again in the World Series, one of the few Cardinals to do so. Off a very tough left hander, Danny Jackson, Landrum would double and score the go-ahead run when Cesar Cedeno would drive him in with a single. Landrum would also get a hit off the nearly unhittable Dan Quisenberry, whose submarine style of delivery was especially tough on right handed batters.

In nearly a replay of Game One, it was a Tito Landrum double off Charlie Liebrandt in the 9th that set up Terry Pendleton’s bases clearing double to give the Cardinals the victory.

Landrum would extend his World Series hitting streak to three games with a single off Bret Saberhagen, one of the few that the Cardinals would get a hit against the eventual World Series MVP. He would extend that to four games when he hit a solo home run off Bud Black in the second inning of Game Four. That run would be the only one the Cardinals needed as John Tudor would pitch a brilliant complete game shutout.

Three Cardinals victories, and it was Landrum that scored the winning run in each of them. Unfortunately for St. Louis, he would not do that again for the rest of the World Series.

Landrum would collect a hit in each of the three remaining games, making him the only Cardinals player to get a hit in each game. He would lead the Cardinals in every offensive category except for RBIs (Jack Clark would have 4). Yes, the lineup was completely different without Vince Coleman in the leadoff spot. Willie McGee had a good, but not great World Series. The problem was that most of the rest of the batting order was one or two positions out of their regular spot, and they were never able to get in sync against the tough Royals pitching. Even though he had been thrust into the spotlight without much warning, Tito Landrum was the best player on the Cardinals roster for the last two weeks of the 1985 season. In a losing effort, the kid from Joplin should be remembered as the Cardinals’ Most Valuable Player.

Bob Netherton covers Cardinals history for i70baseball.com and writes at Throatwarbler’s Blog. You may follow Bob on Twitter here or on Facebook here.

3 thoughts on “25th ANNIVERSARY: Tito Landrum, The Cardinals’ Most Valuable Substitute

  1. To the author, Bob Netherton.

    With respect to your journalistic integrity, it is imperative to correct the circumstances surrounding Mr. Landrum’s heroics in the 1983 American League Championship Series. His game winning, tenth inning home run occurred in Game Four of a series that, at the time, was played in a best-of-five format.

    Thinking back, the shot in Old Comiskey was truly memorable for two related reasons. It effectively erased a brilliant nine-plus inning shutout performance from Sox starter, Britt Burns, as well as assured that the Orioles would not have to face ChiSox ace and ’83 Cy Young winner, LaMarr Hoyt, in a decisive Game Five.

  2. I saw him in Denver when he played for Louisville Redbirds against the Denver Bears or Zephyrs. He hit a ground rule double and after the game we went down by the dugout and I got his autograph. The next time I saw him was when he hit that home run for the Orioles. He was always one of my heros.

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