The Fall of Joaquin Andujar
Last week, we took a look at the Rise of Joaquin Andujar. After the talented and often temperamental hurler wore out his welcome in Houston, he became something of an overnight sensation in St. Louis. He almost pitched the Cardinals into postseason in the strike shortened 1981 season, and did that and more the following year, including a gutsy performance in Game Seven of the World Series.
As did many of the Cardinals, Andujar struggled through the all of the transitions in 1983, but emerged as a stronger and more capable pitcher in 1984. Surrounded by a bunch of kids, just getting started in their major league careers, Andujar was totally dominating in 1984. He went deep into games, completing 12, including 5 shutouts. His command seemed to be much better as well, not that he was getting any more strikeouts, but he just wasn’t walking batters. The result was the first 20 win season of his career. If Andujar could keep this up, and the kids could mature a little, 1985 might be a very good year.
There is really no other way to describe the start to Andujar’s 1985 season. After a shaky start to the season, the ace of the staff would win his remaining 4 starts in April, allowing just 7 runs in those 4 games. He would lose his first start in May, but then win the next five, running his record to an amazing 9-1 as the calendar turned over into June. He would win his next three starts before losing a pair of heart breakers to the Philadelphia Phillies, 1-0 and 3-1. It’s sort of hard to win when your team is scoring half a run in your starts. Unphased, he would win his next three allowing just three runs in 27 dominating innings.
As the Cardinals were preparing for the All Star break, Andujar’s 15-3 record started whispers of a possible 30 game winner across the national sports media. His record was being compared to that of Denny McLain, the last pitcher to win 30 games in the Major Leagues. And that brings us to the first four events that converge like a perfect storm to destroy the career of one of the best pitchers in baseball.
July 12 and the All Star Fiasco
The 1985 All Star Game would be held on July 16, in the Metrodome in Minneapolis. The manager of the National League, Dick Williams of the San Diego Padres, was about to announce his pitching selections, including his choice as a starter. Without question, everybody expected Andujar to get the start in the mid-season classic – well, everybody but Andujar. As it turned out, the second best pitcher in the National League was LaMarr Hoyt, who happened to pitch for the San Diego Padres. He had just come over from the American League, pitching for Tony La Russa’s Chicago White Sox. His 11-4 record was impressive, to be sure, but it was well short of Andujar’s 15-4, and Andujar’s ERA was a half a run better.
But this is Joaquin Andujar, and crazy things seemed to follow the Cardinals hurler.
In a stroke of luck, the two pitchers would face each other, just 4 days from the All Star Game. It was perfect – let the two men give it their best, and let the winner start the All Star Game.
But Andujar couldn’t just let that happen. No, he had to do something unexpected. Prior to the game, he announced that he would not be playing in the All Star Game. He took the decision right out of Dick Williams hands.
It didn’t lessen the drama from the game on July 12. In fact, it magnified it significantly. In the game, Andujar was good. The Padres had their chances, but Andujar limited the damage. They managed just two runs, both after a little bit of small ball, and key singles. Unfortunately for Andujar, Hoyt was brilliant. In 7 innings of work, Hoyt would allow just 2 Cardinal hits. Goose Gossage was just as stingy in his 2 innings of relief. The Padres would win 2-0, and Andujar would take the tough loss.
There is still much more to this part of the story. LaMarr Hoyt would indeed start the 1985 All Star Game. Hoyt, Nolan Ryan, Fernando Valenzuela, Jeff Reardon and Goose Gossage would totally dominate the American League batters, and the NL won 6-1. Hoyt would pitch three innings, earn the win and was chosen as the Most Valuable Player for the game.
The Rise of John Tudor
A large part of Andujar’s success in St. Louis was undisputed role as ace of the pitching staff. He took over the day he arrived in St. Louis, and hadn’t been questioned since. Until early June when a left hander named John Tudor started turning heads.
Tudor had been acquired during the 1984 Winter Meetings in an effort to improve the pitching staff. With all of the young arms on the roster, it was thought that a veteran like Tudor, especially since he was a lefty, could turn the staff into something special. The coaches had noticed that Tudor was an effective pitch-to-contact hurler that could benefit from playing in front of an All Star caliber infield. Through May, that hadn’t happened, and Tudor was struggling badly.
Things turned around for Tudor on June 3 when he combined with Ken Dayley for just his second win on the season, to go with seven losses. It wasn’t a particularly good pitching performance, it was largely his team beating up on Houston starter Nolan Ryan. Tudor pitched just well enough to win. But his next start on June 8 was a real eye-popper. A 3 hit shutout against the New York Mets, in New York. The game was won on a solo home run by Tommy Herr in the ninth inning, but what everybody noticed was the cool domination of the Cardinals left hander. Including Joaquin Andujar.
As June went on, Tudor become the talk around town, and by the All Star Break, the national sports media had caught wind of his amazing turnaround.
For the first time since J. R. Richard and Nolan Ryan, there was a challenger to Andujar’s spot as ace of the staff.
As July turned to August, Tudor continued to collect win after win. 2 shutouts in June, 3 in July, 1 in August and an amazing 4 in September, including three in a row to start the month. While the talk in July was comparing Andujar to Denny McLain, now the comparisons were John Tudor to Gibson’s shutout record in 1968. From June 3 to the end of the season, Tudor would turn in an unbelievable 19-1 record, finishing the season 21-8.
For Andujar, the second half of the season wouldn’t be nearly as kind. With 15 wins at the All Star break, 20 wins was a given. The question was whether he would win 25, or maybe as many as 30. As it turned out, Andujar would win only 6 games in the second half. One of those games was the 3rd event that conspired too bring down the big right hander.
July 26, 1985 – St. Louis at San Diego
This would be Joaquin Andujar’s revenge game, to make up for the disappointing loss to LaMarr Hoyt just before the All Star break. Instead of facing Hoyt, Andujar drew Dave Dravecky, a left hander that would just give the Cardinals fits. Dravecky was just as good as Hoyt was two weeks earlier, so if Andujar was to get his revenge, he’d have to pitch one of the best games of his career. And he did. This was about the most determined we’d seen Andujar since postseason in 1982.
A little bit of small ball would give the Cardinals a 1-0 lead in the first inning. Some small ball, including a double off the bat of former Cardinal Garry Templeton, tied the game in the fifth inning. While both sides battled, neither were able to get the key hit to take a lead. Dravecky turned the game over to the bullpen after 9 regulation innings, but Andujar continued to pitch until his team could rally. Which they would do in the 12th inning, giving him a 2-1 lead. Ken Dayley would come in and totally overpower the Padres to earn the save. Andujar got his revenge, but those 11 innings he pitched would end up costing him dearly.
Andujar would leave that game with a record of 17-4 and an ERA of 2.31. In his remaining 15 starts, he would win 4, lose 8 and his ERA over the period would skyrocket to 5.46. This was not a single bad game, something was seriously wrong with the Cardinals ace. His velocity was down, his control was inconsistent (a 1:1 k/bb ratio), 4 hit batsman and 9 home runs – this was not the work of an ace. Andujar should have gone on the disabled list and rested his ailing shoulder. But he didn’t, and things did not get better.
The Pittsburgh Drug Trials
The final blow for Andujar would come in September, 1985. A Grand Jury would be assembled in Pittsburgh to look into illegal narcotics use that was running wild in baseball. One of the players being investigated was Joaquin Andujar. He would join former Cardinals Lonnie Smith and Keith Hernandez, as they testified in front of the Grand Jury. In exchange for their testimony, all of the players were granted immunity from prosecution, but not from the wrath of commissioner Peter Ueberroth, who had been very vocal about his disapproval of drugs in baseball. Lengthy suspensions were expected, but the players would not learn of their fate until the next spring.
All of this proved to be too much for the Cardinals star, and his on the field performance continued slipping. Whether it was pitching while hurt to take his mind off the upcoming verdict, or just trying to out-duel Tudor to maintain his position as the ace of the staff, things fell apart for Andujar in September. His sole win in the month would be more the result of an offensive explosion from the Cardinals bats than good pitching. Ironic, as that’s how the Tudor turnaround started. He would lose his last three starts and pitch ineffectively in 2 starts against the Dodgers in the National League Championship Series.
Andujar would make two more appearances as a Cardinal in the World Series. He didn’t pitch poorly, but would take the loss in Game Three. His final Cardinal appearance would be in relief in Game Seven, as the Cardinals unraveled in front of the huge Kansas City crowd. The volatile right hander would get into a shouting match with Don Denkinger, eventually being ejected from the game.
For a pitcher that had been dominating for most of five seasons, the end came so quickly, we didn’t really have time to take it all in.
As rumors of a year long suspension started floating around the Major League, the Cardinals acted quickly and traded Andujar to the Oakland Athletics for a backup catcher. Before the start of the 1986 season, Commissioner Ueberroth ruled on the punishment for the players involved in the drug scandal. All would be suspended for one year, but in a surprise act of compassion, the commissioner gave each of the players a choice of serving the suspension or donating ten percent of their salary to a drug prevention program. All of the players chose the donation, and all of them continued their careers.
For Andujar that meant starting over in Oakland. He never managed to get back on track, but would post a respectible 12-7 record in 1986. But the strangeness that was Andujar would continue. Even though the Athletics play in the American League where the designated hitter is used, Andujar insisted on taking batting practice. And he would be injured doing so.
A trip back to Houston in 1988 would end things right where they started. Somehow, that seems an appropriate end to his major league career.
Looking back at those four events in the summer of 1985, if any one of them didn’t happen, maybe the Andujar story ends differently. A lot happened to the tough right-hander, and in a very short time. Even considering how things ended, Andujar still gave Cardinals fans five of the best years we’d seen out of a pitcher since Bob Gibson. It would take a decade and couple of guys named Kile and Morris to rival them, but that’s a story for another day.
2 thoughts on “The Fall of Joaquin Andujar”
Great pieces on Andujar. One minor point: he wasn’t exactly traded “for a backup catcher”. Mike Heath was touted as the solution to the Cardinals’ instability at catcher. But that’s a whole other flameout story.