Two of the most discussed attendees at the Cardinals Winter Warm Up have been Daniel Descalso and Matt Carpenter, and their respective places on the team…which happens to potentially be one in the same. While there is no question that with good health, both will break camp in March as members of the Opening Day roster, but in what capacity is up in the air.
The second base spot has been the really the only debatable position within in the starting lineup, sparked by the desire to find more at bats for Carpenter , although Descalso is the incumbent starter from a year ago. While general manager John Mozeliak and manager Mike Matheny have both given votes of confidence to Descalso for the starting role, neither has disqualified Carpenter from being in the fold for time at the spot either. Both players have shown up in full awareness of the situation at hand, and the opportunity within their reach.
On one hand, there is Descalso, who has a season of starting at the position and makes the team much stronger defensively than any other option in the organization. Of his 96 games played last summer, 74 were played at second, and all but eight were starts. In that time, he established himself as a plus defender, committing only five errors. In regards to his defensive effort, he has worked steadily at improving his output the last few years. “It was one of my weaker parts of my game coming into pro baseball” he said over the weekend “I’ve worked hard on my defense the last couple of years”.
For Carpenter, that has also been the new found focus of his winter as well. After a rookie season that saw him play over 20 games in the outfield, first and third base, respectively, his homework for the winter was to adjust to yet another role. His focus on being ready to get time at second base, a position he played only five games at a year ago, sparingly. It was a decision made mostly to get his bat in the lineup on a more regular basis, partly due to his .294 average and 46 RBI effort a year ago, but also due to Descalso regressing to a .232 clip in his second full season.
It has been a crash course for Carpenter to get acclimated to the role, which has included as much scenario work as he can possibly due at the position. Working on the different scenario plays around the diamond, such as double plays and ground ball simulations hasn’t truly given him an “off” season. “I’ve been pretty encouraged with how it’s going”, he says. “Regardless of how it goes, it won’t affect me and Daniel’s relationship. He’s been a good friend of mine, and we both know it’s just part of the business.”
August 10, 2010 was Jason LaRue‘s last day on a Major League field.
Most know the story: a fight that was incited by comments from Brandon Phillips the night before led to an all-out brawl that caused the mob of red-clad ballplayers-turned-fighters to crash into the backstop. One of the first ones to hit the wall was the Reds’ starter in last night’s game, Johnny Cueto.
Cueto started kicking–with his spikes on–at the two people closest to him: last night’s Cards starter Chris Carpenter and backup catcher LaRue. Carp got scratches on his back. LaRue got concussed and was rendered unable to play pro baseball ever again.
Cueto was suspended for seven games. One start.
The next time he was due to pitch against the Cardinals, he conveniently had family matters to attend to. But he made an appearance in St. Louis tonight. God knows what was going through the Cardinals players’ heads.
Carpenter remembered. He probably still has the scars Cueto gave him on that August afternoon in Cincinnati. He does remember what kind of impact Cueto had that day. After all, he had a front row seat to it all.
Maybe he was just carrying over his recent success. Maybe he was filled with the desire to beat that guy pitching the other halves of innings. Probably both. But he matched him for seven innings. Seven innings of shutout ball from each starter. There were close calls and amazing plays on both sides, but the score remained stagnant for both sides for seven long innings.
As the game progressed into the Fourth of July night, you got that tightness in your gut of pure excitement every time someone on either team made it on base. Both pitchers seemed extremely vulnerable and unstoppable at the same time. But one of them would stand, and one would fall. The one that would make it through had to be Carp. He couldn’t let that dirtbag shove gis team into a deficit in the NL Central standings. Not this time.
Carpenter finished off the Reds again in the eighth inning with 119 pitches right after his longest Cardinals outing ever four days ago; the score still 0-0. Then Cueto became the one who fell.
Colby Rasmus led off with a single. After Yadier Molina finally got a bunt down after five pitches, Cueto bobbled it and was forced to throw to first instead of getting Razz out at second. Skip Schumaker flew out to get him to third, bringing in Mark Hamilton who was hitting for Carp. With two outs, Mark hit a grounder to Scott Rolen at third, who slid to catch the ball and fire it to first in what is being called one of the best plays all year. One problem: Hamilton beat the throw. 1-0 Cardinals.
Fernando Salas had a one-two-three ninth, ensuring Cueto’s defeat as news poured in that the Brewers had blown yet another game, this time in Arizona. The Cards were now alone in first place while the Reds stood at 43-43 and a game and a half behind the Pittsburgh Pirates.
But most importantly, Johnny Cueto lost. He didn’t get throttled, chewed up and spit out in the first inning. No, he pitched a great game, got so close to beating Cincinnati nemesis Chris Carpenter. But he fell about one foot short. That was probably the best revenge of all.
The 1945 Monarchs were far from being one of the best Monarchs squads put together, but their historical significance is great thanks to the impact their shortstop would soon have on baseball and America itself. Below is a look at the pre-season and first half of the season that Jackie Robinson spent with the Kansas City Monarchs.
Pre-Season: March 20—May 5
The Monarchs began convening in Houston on Tuesday, March 20th. Players trickled in over the next several days. Jackie had to conclude his basketball coaching duties at Samuel Houston College in Austin before making his way to Houston on the 27th. The Chicago Defender reported that Jackie “looked good” in his first workouts. According to Arnold Rampersand’s biography, Jackie was dismayed that “Spring training consisted of actually playing baseball games rather than getting prepared for the coming season.” He only had five days to shake off the rust before competing in the Monarchs’ first pre-season exhibition on April 1, an Easter contest in San Antonio against the mysterious Engle’s Minor League All-Stars. According to the Defender, Jackie “showed up well at shortstop, accepting nine chances with but one error and figuring in three fast double plays.” The teams dueled for 14 innings before ending the game in a 4-4 tie. The Monarchs stuck to the South during the pre-season, playing games in San Antonio, Houston, Ft. Worth, Dallas, Birmingham, Montgomery, Atlanta, Memphis, Little Rock, New Orleans, Waco and Oklahoma City. Their opposition was usually the Chicago American Giants, Memphis Red Sox or Cincinnati-Indianapolis Clowns.
Just 21 days after joining pro baseball, Jackie was in Fenway Park trying out for the Boston Red Sox—sort of. Politicians and sportswriters were holding the Red Sox brass’s feet to the fire on integration, and basically forced them to hold the tryout that also included Negro Leaguers Sam Jethroe and Marvin Williams. (Jethroe went on to be NL rookie of the year in 1950.) Boston coaches said the right things after the tryout, that they were “impressed” and the players “looked good,” but to no one’s surprise, none of them were pursued by the Red Sox. But Jackie’s name was already in the mix of potential players to integrate MLB.
The pre-season exhibition schedule lasted over a month, and in the few game results I’ve scraped together, the Monarchs went 6-6. Jackie hit 4-for-7 in the two games for which I’ve seen box scores.
First Half: May 6—July 4
The Negro American League season was split into halves, with the winners of each half to face each other in a league championship. The first half kicked off in Kansas City’s Ruppert (or Blues) Stadium at 22nd & Brooklyn. The Monarchs faced a familiar foe in the Chicago American Giants. Pregame activities commenced at 2:00, and the first pitch was scheduled for 3:00. The Monarchs batting order looked like this:
1. Jesse Williams, 2B
2. Walter Thomas, RF
3. Jackie Robinson, SS
4. John Scott, CF
5. Herbert Souell, 3B
6. Othello Renfro, LF
7. Lee Moody, 1B
8. Frank Duncan, C
9. Booker McDaniels, P
The Monarchs cruised to a 6-2 victory, and Jackie had a fine debut with an RBI double, stolen base, and a run scored. Jackie continued tearing the cover off the ball throughout the first half—he hit .481 in the 12 games I have his numbers for in the first half.
Future Hall-of-Famer Hilton Smith had a day to remember on May 13 when he pitched a complete game victory in addition to going 2-for-3 at the plate with a double, run scored and three RBI. The third Hall-of-Famer from the ’45 squad, Satchel Paige, debuted with the team on May 30 in Chicago. Satch gave up two runs on three hits and a walk in six innings of work, and struck out six. Jackie had a banner day at the plate that day: he was perfect with three walks, two singles, a double and a triple in seven plate appearances combined in the doubleheader. The Monarchs first eastern swing of the year started on June 17 with a game in Yankee Stadium against the Philadelphia Stars. Jackie started the Monarchs winning rally with a single.
A week later, the Monarchs faced a stacked Homestead Grays team in Washington D.C. Seven future Hall-of-Famers took the field that day. In addition to three Monarchs (Jackie, Hilton & Satchel) the Grays featured Jud Wilson, Cool Papa Bell, Buck Leonard and Josh Gibson. Jackie had another perfect day, this time reaching base safely in all eight plate appearances over the doubleheader.
The team had a hot start to the year and was 14-5 through June 17. Things fell apart from there however, and they dropped eight of their last nine games to finish third in the Negro American League. They would have to take the second half if they wanted a shot at the league championship.
Final first half standings from the July 6 Kansas City Call:
Birmingham Black Barons
Kansas City Monarchs
Chicago American Giants
Memphis Red Sox
I’ll cover the second half soon here at i70baseball.com. I’ve relived the 1945 Monarchs season in depth at my blog Jackie With The Monarchs.
The Kansas City Royals must have thought they were pretty well set at the shortstop position on the eve of the 1982 MLB Daft.
Fred Patek, part of a strong double-play combination with former second baseman Cookie Rojas, was out of baseball, but his in-house replacements seemed promising. U L Washington, the toothpick-sporting middle infielder, seemed poised to take over the position as a starter. And waiting in the wings were Onix Concepcion, a young Puerto Rican speedster, and Buddy Biancalana, a rookie defensive specialist with a lot of promise.
That must be why they drafted an outfielder, John Morris, in the first round, and waited until the seventh round to select a shortstop: Auburn University’s Doug Gilcrease.
You’ve probably never heard of Gilcrease, since he didn’t make it past AA ball. But of course you’ve heard of the second shortstop the Royals drafted in 1982, all the way down in the 19th round.
It was Bret Saberhagen.
The young star from Grover Cleveland High School in Reseda, Calif., didn’t stay a shortstop for long. The Royals pictured his tall, lanky body on the mound. In 1983, his first season in pro baseball and his first year out of high school, Saberhagen dominated A ball, compiling a 10-5 record with a 2.30 ERA in 16 starts before a quick promotion to AA, where he played out the rest of the season.
The next year – 1984 – Saberhagen, a mere 20 years old, started the season on the big league team.
Talk about skyrocketing through the minor leagues.
The Royals were in a period of transition. New manager Dick Howser promised a rebuilding year. Although the team had had success in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s, even making it to the World Series against the Phillies in 1980, the Royals had only gone as far as offensive phenom George Brett could carry them. Their pitching staff was getting older; they lost the brilliant Steve Busby to a career-ending injury in 1980, Dennis Leonard was coming to the end of the line, and 1984 proved to be Paul Splittorff’s last season. Future Hall of Famer Gaylord Perry had been brought in for the 1983 campaign, but he retired at the end of that season.
To fill in the gaps, the Royals brought in Charlie Leibrandt, who had seen some success with the Cincinnati Reds, and Danny Jackson was a promising young starter. Bud Black was there, too, perhaps the most solid pitcher of the bunch at the time, and a rookie named Mark Gubicza was there. Dan Quisenberry was holding down the last innings as well as or better than any closer in baseball.
But they were missing one final piece.
In walks Bret Saberhagen.
Sabes started out the season in the bullpen in 1984, but he quickly impressed Howser and was inserted into the rotation, making 18 starts before the end of the season and compiling 10 wins and a 3.48 ERA. The Royals made it to the ALCS, and Saberhagen started one game, earning a no decision. Kansas City lost to Detroit, the eventual World Series champ.
He was a lock to be a part of the rotation in 1985. And the 21-year-old was nothing short of spectacular. Saberhagen won 20 games and had a 2.87 ERA, striking out 158 batters. His WHIP was a sterling 1.058, the best in the league that season. He won the Cy Young Award for his efforts. And he helped propel the Kansas City Royals to the World Series.
Thanks largely to Bret Saberhagen, they won the series in seven games. Two of their four wins were Saberhagen complete-game victories: a one-run, six-hitter in Game 3, and a brilliant shutout in decisive Game 7. Saberhagen was the World Series MVP, and even got to speak with the president:
But Saberhagen is also remembered for one more thing during the 1985 World Series. He became a father. His son was born during Game 6, which means Drew Saberhagen’s 25th birthday will be this coming Tuesday.
After ’85, Saberhagen slipped into an unusual pattern: he only pitched well in odd-numbered years. In 1986 he went 7-12 with a 4.15 ERA and was even demoted to the bullpen at one point. In 1987, he was back to form, winning 18 games with a 3.36 ERA – such an impressive bounce-back that he won the TSN Comeback Player of the Year award. Saberhagen wasn’t terrible in 1988, but he lost 16 games (compared to 14 wins) and his ERA hitched up to 3.80.
Then came 1989.
Saberhagen pitched, arguably, the best season in Royals franchise history, beating even his 1985 totals. His 23 wins, .793 win percentage, 2.16 ERA, 262.1 innings pitched, 180 strikeouts, 12 complete games and 0.961 WHIP were the best in the league. He was awarded a second Cy Young Award, and we’ll come back to the significance of that later.
Here’s a little-known fact: after the 1989 season, the Royals gave Saberhagen a 3-year, $8.9 million contract, making him the highest-paid player in baseball. It’s little-known because his reign only lasted for five days, when the Minnesota Twins gave Kirby Puckett a 3-year, $9 million deal. The big contracts kept rolling in. By the end of the week, Saberhagen wasn’t even the highest paid player on the team; the Royals gave Mark Davis, the 1989 NL Cy Young Award winner, a 4-year, $13 million contract.
The Royals’ plan to dominate the world with two Cy Young winners failed. Davis was a bust, and in 1990 Saberhagen was brought down by injuries – perhaps caused by three straight seasons throwing more than 250 innings – and he appeared in only 20 games, collecting a 5-9 record.
He still fought the injury bug in ’91, but again he found a winning form, and sketched a 13-8 record and a 3.07 ERA. That year was more memorable for Saberhagen, though, because he pitched a no-hitter at Kauffman Stadium, on Aug. 26 against the Chicago White Sox. No Royals pitcher has thrown a no-hitter since.
To reward him for a strong season and a great career, the Royals traded Saberhagen in the winter of 1991, along with Bill Pecota, to the New York Mets for Gregg Jefferies, Kevin McReynolds and Keith Miller.
Perhaps the Royals were trying to sell high, a sentiment fans are coming to understand more and more. And perhaps they were hoping to unload him before another even-numbered collapse. Either way, the Mets got a proven starter, and the Royals some much-needed offense.
Neither gamble turned out the way the teams hoped – at least not right away. McReynolds, the most promising of the bunch sent to Kansas City, batted in the .245 range over two seasons, but he did smash 24 home runs over 229 games. In 1994, he was traded back to the Mets in exchange for Vince Coleman, the former Cardinals sensation. Coleman stole 50 bases for the Royals in 1994. Keith Miller played for the Royals longer than any of the trio, until 1995. He played in 106 games in ’92, compliling a .284 average, but he was a bench player during the rest of his tenure. Gregg Jeffries only played for Kansas City one season; in 1992, he batted .285 as a full-time third baseman, knocking in 75 runs and contributing 10 round-trippers. He was traded to the Cardinals after the season for Felix Jose, who played in Kansas City until 1995.
What did the Mets get out of the trade? As expected, Saberhagen busted in even-numbered 1992, winning only three games over 15 starts. The next year wasn’t much better: Saberhagen, still fighting nagging injuries, was 7-7 but posted a solid 3.29 ERA.
In 1994, Saberhagen broke his streak of odd-numbered success and put up some remarkable numbers. Of course, 1994 was the year of the baseball strike, and Saberhagen’s historic season was shortened.
What did he accomplish that season? To begin with, a record of 14-4 with a 2.74 ERA and 143 strikeouts. Here’s where he made history: Saberhagen walked only 13 batters the whole season. That’s a rate of 0.7 walks per nine innings. Saberhagen had fewer walks than wins – the only time that’s ever happened in the modern era. Despite the strike-shortened year and a canceled World Series, Major League Baseball still gave out post-season awards, and Saberhagen finished third in NL Cy Young voting.
(By the way, the other piece of the trade, Bill Pecota, batted .227 over 269 at-bats for the Mets in 1992 and was quietly ushered out the back door after the season.)
At the trade deadline in 1995, the Mets decided to part ways with Saberhagen, sending him to the Colorado Rockies, who were in the middle of a playoff hunt, for Juan Acevedo and Arnold Gooch. The Rockies, a high-altitude team, had never had a successful starting pitcher. Saberhagen and the Rockies were hopeful he would break that mold. But he didn’t. He only started nine games for the Rockies down the stretch, compiling a 2-1 record with a 6.28 ERA. The Rockies, however, made it to the playoffs, and Saberhagen returned to postseason pitching for the first time since 1985, getting the ball in Game 4. But he only lasted four innings, and the Rockies lost the game – and the series – to the Braves.
Saberhagen missed the entire 1996 season due to injury, and after the season the Rockies cut ties with him. Saberhagen was signed to a small-money contract with the Boston Red Sox, and still he missed much of the year.
The former Royals ace had one last blast in 1998. He was a part of the Boston rotation for almost the entire season, and Saberhagen, rebuilt shoulder and all, compiled a 15-8 record with a 3.96 ERA. Once again, he won the TSN Comeback Player of the Year Award, becoming one of only six players to win twice. He also pitched well in 1999, with a 10-6 record and a 2.95 ERA over 22 starts. He pitched for the Red Sox in the postseason both years, but never got another playoff victory – and he never made it back to the World Series.
After missing all of 2000, Sabes tried once again to pitch in ’01, but his comeback lasted only three starts. At the end of the 2001 season, he called it quits.
What do we make of Bret Saberhagen’s career?
Saberhagen is not in the Baseball Hall of Fame, and he received only a handful of Hall of Fame votes, not even enough to keep him on the ballot a second year. Clearly, he wasn’t good enough to warrant Hall of Fame consideration.
Let’s take a look at a couple things. First off, hardware. Saberhagen is one of only 14 pitchers in the history of baseball to win two Cy Young Awards. If you remove from that list all the players who are either still active (Johan Santana and Tim Lincecum) and those not yet eligible for Hall of Fame consideration (Roger Clemens, Randy Johnson, Pedro Martinez, Greg Maddux and Tom Glavine), you have the following list:
Out of that list, only two players are not in the Hall of Fame: Saberhagen and Denny McClain, famous for being the last pitcher to win 30 games in a single season. Of the players who are retired from baseball but not yet eligible for Hall of Fame consideration, it seems like all of them should be locks for the Hall of Fame – if the Steroid Era doesn’t keep some of them out.
But hardware measurements can be deceiving; after all, Bob Hamelin won the Rookie of the Year Award. So let’s look at something more measurable: WHIP.
Sabremetricians consider WHIP to be one of the best statistics for measuring the quality of a pitcher, much better than ERA or wins or strikeouts. WHIP stands for “Walks plus Hits per Inning Pitched.” A player who gives up five hits and three walks (5+3=8) over eight innings will have a WHIP of 1.0.
A good pitcher usually has a WHIP of between 1.25 and 1.5. Great pitchers live under 1.25, and often lower. Only one pitcher, Addie Joss, has a career WHIP under 1.
Bret Saberhagen’s career WHIP is 1.14, which ranks him 30th on the all-time list, tied with pitchers like Fergie Jenkins, Greg Maddux and Curt Schilling. Here are a few pitchers with career WHIPs worse than Saberhagen’s: Bob Gibson, Gaylord Perry, John Smoltz, Whitey Ford, Roger Clemens, Dennis Eckersley, Don Drysdale, Warren Spahn, Carl Hubbell and Roy Halladay, the active WHIP leader.
Saberhagen probably doesn’t have enough wins (167) or strikeouts (1,715) to make it into the Hall of Fame.
But perhaps 20 years from now, when statisticians re-examine players from the 80s and 90s, someone will uncover Saberhagen’s numbers, and they’ll realize this guy was special.
By the time the twelfth round of the baseball draft rolls around, there usually is not much intrigue left. The casual fan moved on after five or six rounds, and the only ones that are still watching the draft boards closely are the die-hard fans, the scribes and bloggers, and all the high school and college players still waiting for their name to be called. Yet many in Cardinal Nation can name the twelfth round choice like they are already reading the back of his baseball card:
When I was doing research on the draft over at Cardinal Diamond Diaries, it surprised me how much information I could find about the high school senior. At the time I noted the following:
We actually know more about this kid than any other in the draft. He was ranked 27th overall by Baseball America, but he’s committed to Stanford, which is why he fell 350 places below his projected value. He has got raw power and looks to be a very good outfielder. He also has all the little intangibles – you know, work ethic, drive, character – that make him a very desirable guy to have in your system.
People loved the move. The Cardinals had drafted a first round-worthy player in round twelve. That just does not happen very often. It seemed ridiculously unlikely that the Cardinals would have a chance of signing the kid. His pedigree is amazing: parents attended MIT, strong value on education, and he has a free ride to Stanford himself. When he was drafted, Future Redbirds noted that it was not about the money. Whether or not he signed a contract to join the St. Louis farm system would depend first and foremost on his education. Would he go to Stanford or play pro baseball?
As a teacher, I should tell you that I want this obviously bright young man to go to college. A Stanford education is without question something that many desire and few actually acquire. I feel like I would lose my teaching certificate if I did not say that without a shadow of a doubt Austin should go to college. He would go to school, get a top-notch education, and then re-enter the draft, knowledge in hand. He then holds a plan for his future that extends beyond the life-span of your average baseball player.
For those of you that don’t know, Allen Craig has just earned his own college degree from the University of California-Berkeley. For the past year he has been just one class short of graduating, but then (per this article in the Post-Dispatch) Craig spent his free time in spring training studying up on his Spanish. He scheduled his test in St. Louis, then had to scramble to find a way to take the test in Memphis after getting demoted back to AAA. After an assist from a University of Memphis proctor, Craig got in, took his test, and is now a college graduate.
That impresses me. I wish that every college athlete that leaves school early to go pro would still care enough to get their degree. There are not many stories out there like Craig’s. For NFL players that have to be in college for two years before turning pro, at least I can take solace that they are finding some higher education, despite the fact that many of these players are not necessarily held to the same standards as you and I would be. I am not standing up here and saying college is the only way to go. I am saying that few people are able to be employed by professional teams for the entirety of their careers.
The fan in me wants the Cardinals to do everything they can to sign Austin, even if it does involve that proverbial kitchen sink. He wants to be a major league ballplayer. He knows he has the skills, going so far as to call himself the five tool player. He knows that people will question his decision, some asking how on earth he could pass up Stanford, and the rest wanting to know how he could walk away from guaranteed millions and the chance to go pro at such a young age.
Cardinals VP of scouting and player development Jeff Luhnow admitted on draft day that signing the prep star would be difficult, and that it was a shot in the dark. But negotiations have not closed off between the team and Wilson’s family. In fact, the family made the trek to St. Louis very recently to basically go on what I can only call a recruiting trip. He was impressive to everyone that watched him; from manager Tony LaRussa, who marveled at his already refined skills with a wooden bat, to general manager John Mozeliak, who is pleased that he and the team have been able to form some rapport with the Wilson family.
Honestly, I have no idea where I stand. The two parts of me have been torn for weeks trying to decide whether or not I want Austin Wilson to be the player many feel like he could be in a Cardinal uniform, starting immediately. There are so many unknowns. No great pick is a sure thing. No one knows what injury could befall him in college or in the minors that would derail a possibly brilliant career. In the end I suppose I have to point to the fact that a college degree is a sure thing and that there is a life waiting for him after baseball. But at the same time, millions of dollars and the chance to be the next big thing are also a big possibility.
How about I just end with this: I do not envy his decision. Good luck, Austin, in whichever path you choose.
Angela Weinhold covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com, BaseballDigest.com and writes at Cardinal Diamond Diaries. You may follow her on Twitter here or follow Cardinal Diamond Diaries here.