Tuesday, March 31, 2015

March 31, 1993: The Cardinals Acquire Mark Whiten

     On March 31, 1993, the Cardinals sent pitcher Mark Clark, and a minor league shortstop by the name of Juan Andujar to Cleveland in exchange for an outfielder that became known as "Hard Hittin" Mark Whiten.

     The deal was not one that the Cleveland organization expected to be making, however, they found themselves in desperate need of pitching due to a tragic accident that took the life of two members of their bullpen. It was a trade of necessity. At 25, Whiten was still finding his way in the big leagues. He had to compete for playing time in Cleveland, but in St. Louis he was plugged into right field immediately. He enjoyed a power surge during that '93 campaign, as he parked a career high 25 big blasts in the seats.

     His greatest day with a Cardinals uniform on came on September 7th 1993, as he blasted four home runs, and drove in 12 ribbies at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. Both of the feats tied previously set records. To date, he is the only Cardinals player to accomplish hitting four big blasts in one game. The 12 runs batted in is a record that Whiten only shares with Cardinals legend "Sunny" Jim Bottomley who had knocked in 12 in 1924. Unfortunately, Whiten ran into injury issues in 1994, which led to him becoming expendable after the strike-shortened season came to a close. He was traded to the Red Sox in the Spring of '95. His days in Cardinal Nation were over, but they were not forgotten.

Following his departure, Whiten played briefly with the Red Sox, before being shipped to Philly. He also spent time with the Braves, Mariners, and Yankees, then returned to Cleveland where he spent the last three years of career. You can check out his stats here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/w/whitema01.shtml

Watch Whiten's four home run performance: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=KlZNCjURSWk

Friday, March 20, 2015

March 20, 1917: Branch Rickey Lands In The Cardinals Roost

     On March 20, 1917, the Cardinals hired Branch Rickey to run the franchise. Rickey had been a part of the St. Louis Browns front office, however, when the opportunity came to jump over to the Cardinals it was an opportunity that he would not pass up. The hiring of Rickey is perhaps the most monumental move that the club made during the early 1900's. He built a farm system that revolutionized baseball, and turned the National League club that called St. Louis home into a dynasty that had success stretch across decades.

     The hiring of Rickey came after the team was sold by Helene Britton earlier in the month to James C. Jones, who had worked as Mrs. Britton's lawyer. She had been advised to sell the team because she did not have the financial means to turn them into a contender. World War I, as well as, competition from the Federal League helped force Britton's hand. The Cardinals skipper Miller Huggins also attempted to buy the club. However, Jones and future majority owner Sam Breadon moved fast to insure the team would not be moved out of the city.

    The investment group paid $375,000 for the team, which would be nearly $7 million today. He rounded up 1200 investors in a rather extraordinary way by allowing them to purchase shares for $25 apiece, with a maximum of $10,000 invested. He added an incentive for stockholders, which was the right to give a season pass to underprivileged youths in the city. That was how the knothole gang was born, and it turned many children into fans of the Cardinals for the rest of their lives.

     Jones was not a baseball man, so that led him to asking civic leaders, as well as some local sportswriters who he should hire to run the club. The name that stood above the rest was Branch Rickey. He had played for the Browns and the Yankees from 1905 to 1907. After a bout of tuberculosis knocked him down in 1908, Rickey went onto obtain a degree in law, before returning to St. Louis as an assistant for the Browns in 1912. In 1913, Rickey took over as the Browns manager, and helped the club improve in 1914 by using statistical analysis, as well as forming relationships with his players. The team ended up taking a step back in 1915, which led to him relinquishing his duties as field manager to Fielder Jones. The Browns' new skipper was brought in by the club's new owner Phil Ball, which spelled the beginning of the end Rickey's time with the Browns organization.

     When the Cardinals were sold in 1917, Rickey found a new opportunity. Although, he had just been extended by Ball. The Cardinals making a play for him led to a short legal dispute, which was solved with some dollars passing hands before Rickey could move his things into a new office. Once those dollars passed hands a new era began in Cardinal Nation.

     Rickey did part ways with the club, and headed for Brooklyn in 1942, but even then the groundwork he had laid continued for several more years, which can be seen with those flags that have the numbers 1944 and 1946 on them waving in the wind at the ballpark. During his lengthy tenure Rickey helped bring the Cardinals nine National League Pennants, and six World Championships that came between 1926 and 1946. He did return to the offices of the Cardinals as a senior consultant in 1964. While the Cardinals did go onto win their first championship since 1946 that season he was let go at year's end. A little over a year later Branch Rickey passed away at the age of 83. The man who may be best known for helping break through the color barrier by bringing in Jackie Robinson to play in Brooklyn, is also a man who should forever be remembered in Cardinal Nation. In my humble opinion the "Cardinal Way" started with Branch Rickey.

(The newspaper article in the picture above appeared in the St. Joseph Gazette the following day)

If you would like to read more about the life and times of Branch Rickey check out his SABR bio here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/6d0ab8f3


Sunday, March 15, 2015

March 15, 1961: Red Comes Home

     According to http://www.baseball-reference.com/ Red Schoendienst inked a deal with the Cardinals on March 15, 1961. The 38-year-old second baseman had parted ways with the club in the Summer of 1956 after spending more than 10 years with the Birds on the Bat across his chest. While researching the deal that put those birds across his chest once again I found stories that had Red signing with the club on March 7th rather than the 15th, however, the deal could have been held up by physicals and things of that nature, so the ink may have dried completely on the 15th. Regardless, the deal made Red a Cardinal once again, and even at the age of 38 he still had spring in his step. The Redbirds skipper Solly Hemus called him "the youngest looking, youngest acting guy on his squad." The article featured with today's fact was published on March 29, 1961. I chose it because it shows that Red was not in it for the money. He could have taken a far more lucrative deal to play with the Angels, but St. Louis was his home, and home was where he wanted to be.

If you would like to learn more about Red's career that has included more than 50 years in St. Louis, I urge you to read his SABR bio here: http://sabr.org/bioproj/person/1dd15231

Stats of a legend: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/schoere01.shtml


Monday, March 9, 2015

March 9, 2005; Rick Ankiel Heads To The Outfield

      On March 9, 2005, Cardinals pitcher Rick Ankiel announced that his days on the bump were over. However, his days on the diamond were far from it, as the former Rookie of The Year candidate told the media that he would be switching to the outfield.

      The switch was not an easy one. It was coming after a well-documented meltdown that came at the end of his rookie campaign. He had posted an 11-7 record during the regular season, and hopes were high he could pitch well in the playoffs. That hope disappeared fast. The 20-year-old lost his control in what would be considered an epic proportion. It began with a Game 1 start against the Braves in the NLDS. He looked like he was sailing until the third when he threw five wild pitches in a single frame. He was removed from the game with two outs, and before the inning was over there were four runs on the board, It was the first time since 1890 a pitcher had thrown five wild pitches in an inning. Despite those facts the Birds rallied to win the game 7-5, and the hurler looked to bounce back in Game 2 of the NLCS. However, he could not get out of the first inning of that contest, as the ball sailed past Eli Marrero five times before he was sent to the showers. Luckily for him only two of those were considered wild pitches. Otherwise, he would have eclipsed the mark two games in a row. Nobody knew why this happened to him, He appeared to be okay physically. He just lost it. The control that led to 11 wins was gone.

      The following season the control issues persisted, which led to the minor leagues. In the years that followed he struggled with control, and injuries as well. With that said, he did work his way back up to the major league level in 2004, and it looked like he had harnessed his control. He then pitched successfully in Puerto Rico during the offseason, which made the announcement that he wanted to play in the outfield a bit surprising. He had to work his way through Single and Double A affiliates, before getting an invite to Spring Training in 2006, and even then he suffered a seasoning ending injury before the calender turned to April. However, there was no giving up. He worked his way back from the injury, then moved up to the Triple A affiliate in Memphis in 2007. Cracking the Cardinals roster after a World Series run in 2006 would be a tough one, but he would get the call. It just took awhile.

     That call came in August. Scott Spezio had ran into personal issues, which led to an unexpected opportunity for Ankiel. All of the work and perseverance had paid off. The date was of his triumphant return was August 9th. The Birds were hosting the Padres. When Ankiel arrived at the ballpark he found that he was penciled in at number two, and would be playing right field. It was going to be a special one from beginning to end. The crowd of more than 40,000 gave him a standing ovation before he even swung the stick in the first. When he did swing it the ball landed in the glove of the opposition. He followed that up with a strikeout in the third, and another strikeout in the fifth. The tide shifted in the seventh, and it shifted in a big way, as he came to the plate with two on and two out, and the Cards hanging on to a 2-0 lead. He then worked the count to 2-1 before taking a Doug Brocail pitch deep to right. The three-run shot led to a curtain call for the pitcher turned outfielder, and a 5-0 win on what proved to be a very memorable night in the life of Rick Ankiel and in Cardinal Nation as well.

     Rick hit a total of 11 home runs in just 47 game in 2007, then blasted a career high in 2008 with 25, before adding 11 more to his Cardinals totals by putting 11 more in the seats in 2009. All the while he was flashing the leather in the outfield, as  he made spectacular plays with his glove and arm. That was the last season he spent with two birds on a bat across his chest. He would go onto play for the Royals, Braves, Nationals, Astros, and Mets before hanging up the cleats at the end of the 2014 season. After retiring he took a job with the Washington Nationals to help mentor their young prospects as they try to make their way through the world of professional baseball.

     The story of Rick Ankiel is one to be admired. He was knocked down time and time again, and he picked himself up time and time again. Sometimes we as fans take players for granted in many ways. They are often looked at as larger than life figures, and we often forget they have trials and tribulations just like you and me, It is safe to say Ankiel faced his fair share of personal struggle along with the physical struggles that may have affected him when he was trying to make his way. Whether you are an athlete, or an everyday Joe like you and me, one of the keys to life is how we face those trials. Do we give up? Or do we pick ourselves up and get back to work? We all know the answer, and so did Rick.

Don't ever give up.

Check Ankiel's stats out here: http://www.baseball-reference.com/players/a/ankieri01.shtml

I dedicate this blog to the memory of my friend and brother James Dennis Hanlon II. I have not written much since he passed away, and by doing so I am picking myself up and getting back to work. Life will knock us down. We must get back up. No matter what. We must get back up.