Tag Archive | "Ted Williams"

The Royals And Latin America

As we all know, Kansas City has carried a dismal baseball franchise since 1985. But as spring training rolls around, we have to again acknowledge how well the Royals have done in the Latin American talent market.


Everyone who pays very much attention to the Royals will directly turn there heads up to the sky and wink at their mental image of Salvador Perez, the Royals’ up and coming catcher. The Royals, though, have made some fantastic signings from Latin America. There are also some tremendous advantages to scouting in Latin America. Some of those will follow.

When you are hunting the streets of some small town in the midwest looking for the high school stadium to try to find the next Hank Aaron, you have to wait until he is 18. When you go to Latin America to try to find the future face of your franchise, the face can be younger. You can sign a 16 year old to a major league contract. So your Latin Mike Trout is more likely to begin his career just as Mike Trout did, under the age of 20.

If there is a tremendous amount of talent in some random high school in America, you probably wouldn’t be the only one to see it. Chances are, if he really is the next Ted Williams, there will be you and 29 other major league scouts sitting in the stands. The more scouts, the more money. No matter how humble a high school kid is, he will go to the highest bidder, which is generally a lot of money. In Latin America, roughly 28% of the people are in poverty. More will go for smaller amounts of money. This allows small market teams, like the Royals, to upgrade their minor league talent.

It isn’t just the Royals that do this though. On Opening Day 2012, 27.3 percent of players on Major League rosters were Latino. Teams are rightly buying into this gigantic talent base, and the Royals are very good at identifying talent in Latin America. This is why we get to have that mental image of Salvador Perez winking at us. The Major Leagues, and the Royals, have been, and will be, greatly enhanced by this pool of talent staring at us in the face. We would be idiots to ignore it.

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Is .390 the greatest Royals record?

As it becomes more and more apparent that Billy Butler will not be breaking the most embarrassing record in Kansas City Royals history I thought it would be a good time to look at the opposite side of the spectrum. More specifically, if Steve Balboni’s 36 home runs are the most embarrassing, then what single season record is the greatest in Royals history? Greatest can mean a lot of things, and I’m talking about all of them; least likely to be broken, most impressive in its time, and most indicative of a great season. I know a lot of you have probably already thought that this has to end with .390, so instead, I’m going to start there.

The Record: George Brett’s .390 batting average in 1980

Likelihood of being broken: Highly unlikely. Ichiro is the only hitter in the major leagues to come within 20 points of .390 in the last ten years and Tony Gwynn (.394) is the only player to top .390 since Brett did 32 years ago.

How impressive was it in its time: Brett’s .390 was the best batting average in the majors since Ted Williams famously topped .400 in 1941, so yeah, it was pretty impressive. What was really more impressive was how long he flirted with .400, though. Looking at strictly in terms of where he finished the season, he was only .002 higher than Rod Carew hit in 1977.

Indication of great season: Make no mistake; Brett’s 1980 season was by all statistical accounts the greatest of his career. His 203 OPS+ ranks as the 43rd best season in the history of the game and there have only been nine better in the last 32 years…six of those nine were Barry Bonds.

Final judgment: This is clearly the standard by which all Royals records are measured, but is it the greatest? Let’s take a look at the challengers…

The Record: Willie Wilson’s 230 hits in 1980

Likelihood of being broken: In the last 25 years the Royals have had three hitters (Johnny Damon, Kevin Seitzer, and Joe Randa) top 200 hits so this one certainly seems possible. Ichiro is the only major leaguer to top 230 since 2000, but since Wilson did it there have been five American League hitters top the mark.

How impressive was it in its time: Other than Rod Carew Wilson was the first American League player with 230 hits since 1932 (Earl Averill). Of course, the fact that Rod Carew had 239 hits and Brett was making a run at .400 certainly took away from the accomplishment.

Indication of great season: More than anything it was an indication of great stamina. Wilson also set the club record with 705 at bats in 1980. It was a good year for Wilson, and great if you consider his gold glove and 79 stolen bases, but it wasn’t even the best offensive year of his career.

Final judgment: A great record, but when you’re overshadowed the year of the accomplishment, you can’t be the greatest

The Record: Mike Sweeney’s 144 RBI in 1980

Likelihood of being broken: During the steroid era, 144 RBI really wasn’t that big of a deal, but no one in baseball has done it for four years now. In fact, no one in the American League has even gotten within 10% of that number. When you factor in Kauffman Stadium and the contributions you need from those in front of you in the order, this at least seems less likely than Wilson’s to be broken.

How impressive was it in its time: Sweeney’s 144 RBI didn’t even lead the league that season, he finished season to Edgar Martinez. The year before Manny Ramirez drove in 165 runs, the year after Sammy Sosa drove in 160.

Indication of great season: Sweeney had a great year in 2000, his greatest in terms of cumulative statistics but a lot of that was because he stayed healthy and had an incredible offense around him. In terms of OPS+ it was his third best year.

Final judgment: Maybe the greatest record in the last thirty years, but the era takes away from so much of it.

The Record: Bret Saberhagen’s 23 wins in 1989

Likelihood of being broken: By a Royals pitcher? Ha! No Royals pitcher has come within six wins of the mark in the last ten years, and no one has come within 20% since Saberhagen set the record. Justin Verlander is the only pitcher in the majors to win more than 23 in the last ten years.

How impressive was it in its time: Frank Viola won 24 in ’88 and Bob Welch won 27 in ’90, so not that impressive right? Well, except for the fact that Sabes’ 23 wins accounted for 25% of all the clubs wins that year, yeah that’s pretty impressive.

Indication of great season: It’s become very fashionable as of late to argue against wins as a barometer of a pitcher’s success, but it’s pretty hard to argue against Saberhagen’s 1989 season. He led the league in innings pitched (262.1), complete games (12), ERA (2.16), WHIP (0.961), and K/BB ratio (4.49). It was easily his greatest season and arguably the greatest season by any Royals pitcher.

Final Judgment: If only it had been in something less arbitrary than wins.

It’s pretty clear at this point that .390 is still the greatest Royals single season record, and probably always will be. None of the four records above are likely to be broken by a Royal any time soon, it’s not often that we see (positive) records broken by Royals players these days, not even franchise records.

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George Brett and Bernie Williams to Manage SiriusXM All-Star Futures Teams

Hall of Fame third baseman George Brett, who spent his entire 21-year career with the Kansas City Royals, will manage the U.S. Team and five-time American League All-Star outfielder Bernie Williams will lead the World Team in the 2012 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on Sunday, July 8th at Kauffman Stadium in Kansas City.

The SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game, which is now in its 14th year, features the top Minor League prospects competing in a nine-inning contest as part of Taco Bell All-Star Sunday.  The game will begin at 5:00 p.m. (ET)/4:00 p.m. (CT) and can be viewed live on ESPN2, ESPN2 HD and MLB.com.  SiriusXM, the Official Satellite Radio Partner of Major League Baseball, will provide play-by-play coverage of the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game on MLB Network Radio (XM channel 89) in addition to SiriusXM’s other comprehensive live coverage from Kansas City.  The game will also be available to SiriusXM subscribers on the SiriusXM Internet Radio App for smart phones and mobile devices and online at SiriusXM.com.  Taco Bell All-Star Sunday is the first of three days of All-Star events at Kauffman Stadium, culminating with the 83rd All-Star Game on Tuesday, July 10th.

Brett, who was inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1999, is the only Royal who is enshrined in Cooperstown.  A second round pick in the 1971 First-Year Player Draft, Brett hit .305 with 317 home runs, 1,595 RBI and 665 doubles while leading the Royals’ 1985 World Series Championship squad.  He was the A.L. Most Valuable Player in 1980 after after winning a batting title with a .390 average, which was the highest in Baseball since Ted Williams hit .406 in 1941.  Brett, who also posted 24 home runs and a career-high 118 RBI in 1980, finished in the top three in MVP voting three additional times.  He was a 13-time A.L. All-Star, representing the Royals in the Midsummer Classic each year from 1976-1988.  Brett was a three-time A.L. batting champion (1976, 1980, 1990), becoming the first player to win the batting title in three different decades.  He is one of 28 members of baseball’s 3,000 hit club, and his 3,154 hits rank 15th all-time.  Brett hit .340 with nine home runs and 19 RBI in six League Championship Series and hit .373 in his two World Series.  He won the Gold Glove for A.L. third basemen in 1985.  George is now in his 19th year as Vice President of Baseball Operations with the Royals, and his number 5 was retired by the club in 1994, when he entered the club’s Hall of Fame.

Williams, who spent his entire 16-year career with the Yankees, hit .297 with 287 home runs and 1,257 RBI, and was a member of four World Series Championship teams (1996, 1998-2000).  The San Juan, Puerto Rico native signed with the Yankees in 1985 at age 17, and made his Major League debut in 1991.  Williams, who won the A.L. batting title in 1998 after hitting .339, posted six straight seasons of at least 20 home runs from 1996-2001, including a career-best 30 home runs and 121 RBI in 2000.  The switch-hitter hit .321 during 41 League Championship Series games and he was named the 1996 ALCS MVP after batting .474 with two home runs, three doubles and six RBI in the five-game series.  He is a four-time A.L. Gold Glove winner (1997-2000) and he won a Silver Slugger Award in 2002.  Bernie ranks first all-time in the Postseason with 80 RBI, second with 128 hits, 22 home runs, 29 doubles and 83 runs, and third with 121 games played.  In Yankees history, Williams ranks third in doubles (449), fifth in hits (2,336), sixth in runs (1,366), games played (2,076) and RBI (1,257), and seventh in home runs (287).

Rosters for the 2012 SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game will be announced on Thursday afternoon.  Coaches for the U.S. and World Team are as follows:

U.S. Team Coaches
Duane Espy Manager, Tulsa Drillers Colorado Rockies Texas League / AA
Tom Filer Pitching Coach, Indianapolis Indians Pittsburgh Pirates International League / AAA
Tony Franklin Manager, Trenton Thunder New York Yankees Eastern League / AA
Mike Jirschele Manager, Omaha Storm Chasers Kansas City Royals Pacific Coast League / AAA
Jim Pankovits Manager, Jackson Generals Seattle Mariners Southern League / AA
John Wathan Special Assistant, Player Dev. & Scouting Kansas City Royals
Chris DeLucia Medical Operations Coordinator Kansas City Royals
World Team Coaches
Arnie Beyeler Manager, Pawtucket Red Sox Boston Red Sox International League / AAA
Steve Buechele Manager, Frisco RoughRiders Texas Rangers Texas League / AA
Darren Bush Manager, Sacramento River Cats Oakland Athletics Pacific Coast League / AAA
Rouglas Odor Hitting Coach, Akron Aeros Cleveland Indians Eastern League / AA
Turner Ward Manager, Mobile BayBears Arizona Diamondbacks Southern League / AA
Ruben Niebla Pitching Coach, Columbus Clippers Cleveland Indians International League / AAA
Jeff Paxson Athletic Trainer, Wisconsin Timber Rattlers Milwaukee Brewers Midwest League / A

The Minor League Baseball Umpires who will work the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game are Kolin Kline (home plate) of the Southern League, Tom Woodring (first base) of the Eastern League, Nick Bailey (second base) of the Pacific Coast League and Spencer Flynn (third base) of the Southern League.

Tickets are still available for purchase for the SiriusXM All-Star Futures Game and Taco Bell All-Star Legends and Celebrity Softball Game by visiting www.allstargame.com, calling 1-888-326-3378 or visiting the Royals box office at Kauffman Stadium.

The 2012 All-Star Game will be played at Kauffman Stadium on Tuesday, July 10th.  The 83rd All-Star Game will be televised nationally by FOX Sports; in Canada by Rogers Sportsnet and RDS; and worldwide by partners in more than 200 countries via MLB International’s independent feed.  Pregame ceremonies will begin at 7:30 p.m. (EDT)/6:30 p.m. (CDT).  ESPN Radio and ESPN Radio Deportes will provide exclusive national radio coverage of the All-Star Game.  MLB Network, MLB.com and SiriusXM also will provide comprehensive All-Star Week coverage.  For more information, please visit allstargame.com or royals.com/asg.

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The Day .400 Slipped Away

It was the hottest summer on record, if I remember right. It sure felt like it when I was out delivering newspapers.

I was 10 years old, walking to the city pool every day and playing little league baseball in the evenings. Most of my free time was spent poring over baseball cards and throwing a tennis ball against the brick school wall.

The broiling heat of 1980 finally subsided, but not before school started in the fall. As August rolled into September and football season kicked off, things finally cooled.

Everything that is, except George Brett.

The Royals were steamrolling toward a playoff berth, and back then, people paid attention to the team even in September. KU and K-State were both bottom feeders in football, and the Chiefs weren’t much better.

That was the season that George Brett transitioned from all-star to legend, and in September he became a statistical standard.

Nearly every season, some hitter gets off to a torrid start and sustains an abnormally high batting average for a few weeks. A special hitter might keep it up for a couple of months.

But the grind, the sample size and human limitations always win out. By mid summer, fights for the batting title are waged in the .320 to .350 range.

But in 1980, George Brett continued to blaze even when the sun finally relented.

By the time school started, “George Brett for President” bumper stickers had appeared, and the nightly newscasts lead off with reports of Brett’s up-to-the-minute batting average.

Tragically, my local cable station decided not to carry many of KC’s games that season. What turned out to be a magical season for Royals’ fans had to be followed by a central-Kansas 5th grader via radio, newspaper, and nightly TV newscast.

On Sept. 4, Brett’s average stood at .401, and the buzz around the nation was whether he could become the first man since Ted Williams in 1941 to finish the season above the .400 mark.

American League pitchers couldn’t stop Brett, but sadly his own health did. After going 1-7 over the next two games and watching his average drop to .396, Brett went to the bench for the next nine games.

When he finally returned to the field, 11 days later, he made history. On Sept. 17, he went 4-8 against California to lift his average to .398. Roughly two weeks of the season remained.

Brett added a 2-3 night on Sept. 18, to reach .398.

The magic culminated on Sept. 19.

In his first at-bat that day against the A’s Brian Kingman, Brett lofted a sacrifice fly to center, driving in the first run of the game, but avoiding an out against his batting average.

In his second trip to the plate, Brett singled in the 3rd inning off Kingman to drive in the second run of the game.

Brett also singled to lead off the 5th inning, this time against Dave Beard. At that moment his average was firmly established over .400.

Even though he flied out in the 6th and struck out in the 7th, Brett finished the night with his season average at .400. The team improved to 92-56 and the only thing left to be decided was Brett’s pursuit of the illustrious mark.

During his chase of .400, Brett held a press conference before and after every game. The nation’s focus on Kansas City ratcheted up to a fever-pitch. Brett tried to be accommodating, but the media pressure wore on him.

The next day, Brett and the Royals finally cooled off.

On Sept. 20, Brett went 0-4 to dip to .396. That began a plummet unlike any he’d seen all season. It saw him go 4-27 and sink all the way to .384. The team dropped eight straight. The media all went away to leave Brett and the Royals to play out the rest of the season.

Finally out of the spotlight, Brett surged back to .391 on Oct. 1 – mathematically, at least, there was still a chance. But when the Royals entered their final game on Oct. 5 with Brett sitting at .390, their focus turned to the playoffs.

Brett recounted recently that he wanted to play that final game in 1980, confident that he could put together one more of those special games that could raise his average back to .400. He would have needed to go 5 for 5 that day – something he said he’d done several times in the past.

But manager Jim Frey, aware of Brett’s ultra-competitive nature, feared an injury to his star would doom their playoff chances. So at .390 Brett would stay, just short of the .400 mark but well rooted in history.

Since 1941, only Tony Gwynn has topped Brett’s .390 (.394 in 1994). Only one other player has even topped .380 (Rod Carew batted .388 in 1977).

Fans were left to wonder what might have been, if Brett hadn’t been so plagued by injuries during the season. Could the injuries have turned five hits, somewhere during the season, into outs?

The Royals’ third baseman wasn’t the only Brett who recognized just how close he’d come to the illustrious mark. George Brett recently told Ryan Lefebvre that when he visited his parents’ house in California that winter, the first thing his father asked was “Are you telling me you couldn’t have got five more (expletive) hits?”

Sept. 19, 1980 still holds great significance to Royals fans because it is the latest any player sat over at or above .400, by a long shot. The closest since was John Olerud, who in 1993 was over .400 as late as Aug. 2. That’s much more than a month shy of Brett. In 2000, Todd Helton sat at .399 on Aug. 18, so Brett outlasted him by a month. None other made a serious push into August.

To put it in modern perspective, consider the stellar season Alex Gordon has had. Good as he has been, Gordon’s average is nearly 100 points below Brett’s at this same point in the season.

I can still remember the famous photo of Brett standing on second base, arms held aloft, celebrating one of the many hits that put him at .400. As a 10-year-old, I was too young to fully grasp how long it had been since Williams achieved the mark. But I can now fully appreciate that in 31 years since Brett made his bid, no one has done it. That means it’s now been 70 years since anyone accomplished what Brett almost did.

Someone may actually hit .400 someday. But until then it’s a joy to those of us who remember that it was the Royals’ own Brett who came the closest.

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The Ultimate Price

There’s nothing like lots of business travel to allow one an opportunity to catch up on some baseball reading. Recently I’ve been working through Bill Nowlin’s ‘Ted Williams at War’, which looks at the Boston legend’s military service years. Not from the perspective of what his statistics might have been had he played the 4.5 seasons he lost, but a chronicle of his day-to-day life while in the United States Marine Corps.

Williams trained in WWII but never saw combat. He saw lots of combat, however, during the Korean War. He had a one narrow escape from death on his third combat mission, and he returned to play almost 8 full seasons in Boston. No player with major league service time died in Korea, but some with minor league service did. As the book finished its ramp up to Williams’ 6 months in-theater, it listed a few of the many who gave their lives in defense of South Korea. Three of those men had ties to St Louis baseball, two to the Cardinals.

John Lazar was a pitcher in the St Louis Browns organization who joined the US Army. He died in Korea on 7 September 1951. I was not able to find any information regarding the circumstances of his death, and no statistical information for his playing days is contained on Baseball-Reference’s minor league page.

Edwin Adamcewicz was born in Norwich CT on 8 November 1929. He was signed by the Cardinals as an outfielder in 1947 at the age of 17, and played 4 minor league seasons for the organization; 3 in class D-ball, one at class C. He entered the US Army sometime during 1951 and was eventually assigned to 45th infantry division, 179th infantry regiment. On 5 May 1952 Corporal Adamceiwcz was severely wounded in action against North Korea (this website offers some details). He survived that day and was evacuated stateside, where he was brought to the military hospital at Fort Devens Massachusetts. Sadly he did not recover from his wounds, passing away on 21 November 52.

Raymond Jankowski was born in Locust Township (northeastern Pennsylvania, near Wilkes-Barre) on 23 June 1929. He was a left-handed pitcher and was signed by the Cardinals as a 19-year old in 1948, and played two seasons for the Cardinals in Class D. Minor league baseball was a lot different in the 1940s and 1950s than it is today. The Cardinals had multiple teams playing in at the D level; Jankowski and Adamcewicz did not play together. It appears he either joined the military in 1950 or had washed out of the Cardinal system in 1950, the data is somewhat sketchy. Jankowski joined the US Army and became an Aviation Engineer, meaning he was to help in the construction of airfields overseas where they were needed to support combat operations (it would seem these troops provided a service for the Army much like what Navy Seabees did during the Pacific island-hopping campaign in WWII). He was stationed at Fort Huachuca in 1951, but was involved in a training accident while at the Fort and died from his injuries on 5 November 1951.

The Major League players who served in the armed forces during WWII and Korea are well-known. Minor-league ballplayers that did the same are less so. I found some great websites beyond those linked above attempting the tough job of listing these men by name and what happened to them. Veteran’s Day is the Country’s way of formally recognizing the sacrifice our servicemen and women have made over the years, but remembering them doesn’t need to be limited to one day.

I’m sure there are other men who played for the Cardinal organization that did not return from the wars of 1941-1953. These men’s names happened to cross my path, and I thought they should be remembered.

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Time Marches On

My son is 10. He’s just getting to the age that he knows anything about sports, and, frankly, he doesn’t care.

We have gone to several Royals games together. I have taken him to meet Zack Grienke and Billy Butler on the Royals Caravan. But as much as I try to make those things matter to him, they don’t matter as much as Legos or Mario Brothers.

I’m 40. I grew up idolizing Willie Wilson, Frank White, Dennis Leonard and other Royals of the late 70s and early 80s.

If I’m going to raise (read “brainwash”) my children into being Royals fans, and since the Royals have given us so little to be excited about, I felt it might be necessary to let the kids know that the Royals have a history to be proud of. So I decided recently that it was important for my son to know about the greatest Royal of all, the only Royal to be inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame – George Brett.

But then I realized something. Something that made my insides ache. Something that made my heart hurt. George Brett has been retired for not just 10 years. Not just 15 years. George Brett has been retired 17 years. That’s 7 years longer than my son has been alive.

When I started to do some quick calculations, I realized that George Brett is to my son what Ted Williams is to me. I was born at the end of 1969. Ted Williams played his last season in 1960. By the time I was old enough to know anything about baseball history, Ted Williams seemed to me like a dinosaur. Grainy videos and black and white photos.

Thoughts flooded my mind. Has it really been 17 years since George Brett graced the K? Has it been more than half of my lifetime that the Royals have been shut out of the playoffs? Have we Royals fans just been clinging to the smoldering embers of a few good years that occurred before the franchise was even half its current age?

Could I really be old enough to be father to a 10 year old? Am I really closer to retirement than to the Royals’ only championship?

Watching the memories of the great Royals fade in the rearview mirror is like calculating how quickly life is passing.

The story of the Royals is sad not so much because no one under 30 considers them a quality franchise, but because those of us over 40 are clutching those memories like a memento from a past friendship or a deceased relative.

Overly dramatic? Maybe so. But for my childrens’ sake, I keep believing that the Royals will yet field a team that is significant, competitive, worth sharing as a family. I remember how much fun that was. I want for my family to have now what we had back then.

It is a great pleasure to be a new writer for I70baseball.com, writing about the only baseball team that I truly care about. But I don’t want to only write about the glory days that happened when I was a kid. I want my children and I to make new memories at Kauffman Stadium, watching truly good players in games that actually matter.

I didn’t tell my son about George Brett. I just couldn’t.

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25th ANNIVERSARY: The White Rat

The man at the helm for St. Louis in 1985 was the inestimable Dorrel Norman Elvert “Whitey” Herzog, AKA ‘The White Rat,’ and inventor of ‘Whiteyball.’ Herzog had ties to Kansas City as well, having managed the Royals from 1975-1979, winning consecutive AL West titles from 76-78 but losing to the Yankees each year in the ALCS.

Who is Whitey Herzog? He was a left-handed outfielder and first baseman drafted by the Yankees in 1949. He never played for New York, but he did appear in parts of eight seasons for the Washington Senators (now Minnesota Twins), Kansas City (now Oakland) A’s, Baltimore, and Detroit. He was a career .257 hitter with 25 HR. After leaving the game as a player Herzog became a coach, first with the A’s, then with the Mets.

He was the third base coach for the 1966 Mets, but after that season he moved into player development and became very successful, feeding young talent to the Mets for their 1969 and 1973 NL Champion teams. He thought he had a shot at becoming the Mets manager in 1972, but was passed over by Mets chairman of the board M. Donald Grant; Yogi Berra was hired instead. Herzog left the team, signing a 2-year contract to manage the Texas Rangers.

His time with the Rangers is rather hilariously recounted in Seasons In Hell by Mike Shropshire, a former beat writer for the Fort Worth Press and Star-Telegram. Herzog replaced Ted Williams at the helm and presided over most of the 1973 season, watching the worst Texas Ranger team to play at Arlington (57-105, of which he saw all but the last 24 games). Herzog was unceremoniously dumped in favor of Billy Martin.

He managed the California Angels for 6 games in 1974 on an interim basis before being hired by the Royals for the 1975 season. After the 1979 season, he was offered the Cardinals job, replacing Kenny Boyer. Herzog managed the 1980 team for 73 games before turning it over to Red Schoendienst so Herzog could become the General Manager.

As GM he completely re-did the Cardinal roster. He jettisioned Ted Simmons, Ken Reitz and Bobby Bonds, replacing them with Darrell Porter, Tommy Herr, and Dane Iorg. He moved Ken Oberkfell from second to third. He kept Bob Forsch and Silvio Martinez but revamped the rest of the Cardinal starting rotation. The team responded, going from 74-88 in 1980 to 59-43 in 1981. One of the great injustices of the last 30 years was that ‘split season’. St Louis and Cincinnati finished the entire schedule with the best records in their respective divisions, yet neither team qualified for that year’s post-season tournament.

Following the 1981 season Herzog made his signature trade as GM in St Louis. He acquired Ozzie Smith from San Diego for Garry Templeton. Templeton had hit first or second in the lineup in 1981, and had been a major cog in the Cardinal attack for years, but was also charitably called a ‘head case.’ Ozzie had no bat whatsoever, but boy, could he play shortstop. With Smith in the fold, the Cardinals became the best team in the National League. After losing 3 of their first 4 games, the Cardinals ripped off 12 straight wins and were on their way to the World Series championship.

Herzog’s Cardinals hiccuped in 1983. By this time he had returned to the dugout full time. They were leading the NL East on 15 June when the other signature trade of his time in St. Louis occurred. The Cardinals shipped Keith Hernandez to the Mets for Neil Allen and Rick Ownbey. This one did not work out nearly as well as the Smith/Templeton trade. St Louis stumbled down the stretch, finishing under .500. They were 6 games better in 1984, but still finished in third place.

Two things happened that off-season that directly aided St Louis’ resurgence. The team traded for Jack Clark, giving them a legitimate power threat in the middle of the order. They also traded for John Tudor. Both the Cardinals and Tudor survived a slow start to become the best team (and second best pitcher) in the National League.

The 1985 team epitomized what became known as ‘Whiteyball’ – teams built on solid defense, speed, pitching, and just enough power. St. Louis led the National League in stolen bases as a team from 1982-1988. They barely hit more home runs than Roger Maris most of those same seasons (67-83-75-87-58-94-71, respectively), but won 3 NL Pennants and 1 World Series. Rival clubs would routinely water down the infield in a vain attempt to slow down the Cardinal running game; St. Louis usually responded by running over those teams.

Herzog would return the the World Series in 1987 but lose again in 7 games, a Series notable as the first one in which the home team won every game. His last hurrah as the Cardinal manager was the 1989 season. That team scratched and clawed all season, rising to within a 1/2 game of the East-leading Cubs on September 8 1989. The following day they could not protect a 2-1 lead in the eighth (aided by a Lonnie Smith error in left field on Dwight Smith’s single), lost 3-2 in 10 innings, then went 0-5-1 in their next six games to fall out of contention for good. Herzog resigned as manager a third of the way through the 1990 season.

Many in St Louis still look back fondly at those 1980s teams, teams Herzog put together and managed. It was the best period of sustained Cardinal excellence (in terms of NL Pennants) since the 1960s, but done in a way that reminded many an older fan of the 1940s ‘Swifties’ teams. Whitey Herzog casts a long shadow around the Gateway City, as every manager (including Tony LaRussa) has discovered.

Herzog was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2010, and his number retired by the Club following his induction.

For more on Whitey Herzog we suggest You’re Missin’ a Great Game by Herzog and Jonathan Pitts, and Peter Golenbock’s The Spirit of St. Louis.

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Pujols Makes History Once Again

With two outs in the bottom of the first inning, and Ryan Dempster on the mound, Albert Pujols promptly lifted a solo home run over the fence in right center. It was Pujols’ 30th home run of the season and his 396th of his career.

The blast extended his own Major League record of consecutive 30 home run seasons to begin a career. It was Pujols’ tenth straight season of 30 home runs, and I’ll venture to say it won’t be the last.

In seven of Pujols’ ten seasons in the bigs, he has hit his 30th home run in August. It has certainly been his best month over the course of his excellent career. In 258 games and 988 at bats in August, Pujols has hit .347/.429/.667 with 220 runs, 76 home runs, and 206 RBI. In 2010, Albert has raised his average from .295 to .316 and has hit six home runs in 12 August games.

The Machine is on pace to hit 42 home runs and 120 RBI in what some people have called an “off” year. If his numbers at the end of the season are close to what he is projected for, we could be talking about the first Triple Crown winner since Carl Yastrzemski did it in 1967. Pujols is second in the league in home runs (Adam Dunn – 31), he leads the league in RBI with 86, and is only eight points behind the league leader in average (Carlos Gonzalez – .322).

Regardless of how the season ends and where the three-time MVP finds himself among the league leaders, nobody in the history of the game has ever done what Pujols has been able to do. Not Barry Bonds, not Ken Griffey Jr., not Hank Aaron, not Alex Rodriguez, not Babe Ruth, not Ted Williams, not Jimmie Foxx, not Lou Gehrig. Nobody. He’s as good as it gets and as good of a hitter you will ever see. Have fun building an argument against that, because you simply can’t.

Even Cardinal fans take him for granted. I have been very hesitant to say this, but it is the truth. When Albert Pujols retires, barring a major injury, he will go down as the greatest hitter of all time. People do not understand how good he is, and maybe they never will.

Like the “Beyond Baseball” commercial puts so perfectly, I can’t wait to look back and say, “I saw Albert Pujols do… everything.”

Justin Hulsey covers the Cardinals for i70baseball.com and his blog, Cardinals Front Office, that is also dedicated to Cardinal baseball.You may follow him on Twitter @JayHulsey by clicking here.

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