November 18, 1985: Willie McGee is named National League MVP

In the midst of his remarkable 1985 season, Willie McGee was invited to a Kiwanis luncheon where he was going to be honored for his humility. When the Cardinals outfielder arrived, there was a line at the door, so instead of stepping in front of those awaiting tickets, he joined the line. When he got to the front, he sheepishly said, “I’m Willie McGee. This luncheon’s for me.”[1]

McGee’s penchant for avoiding the spotlight never wavered, even after he was voted the National League MVP that fall.

“I’m not going to look at it as making me a better person or another person,” said McGee, whose father Hurdice spent four decades as a machinist at the Oakland Naval Yard and worked additional jobs to make ends meet, including stints as a janitor.[2] “I’m going to come out next year and just try to do better. Hopefully, I’m not going to let it affect my life.”[3]

McGee’s .353 batting average that season won the National League batting title, easily eclipsing the .320 average shared by the Dodgers’ Pedro Guerrero and the Expos’ Tim Raines. He also posted league highs in hits (216) and triples (18) while adding 10 homers, 82 RBIs, and 56 stolen bases. Along the way, McGee went on two 11-game hit streaks and combined with Vince Coleman to set a record for the most stolen bases in a season by two teammates (166).

His breakout season – and 17 game-winning RBIs – were a big reason why the Cardinals won the National League pennant that season.

McGee’s batting average was the highest by a switch hitter in National League history, beating the .348 averages posted by Frankie Frisch with the Giants in 1923 and Pete Rose with the Reds in 1969. He became the fourth switch hitter to win the NL MVP, joining Rose, Maury Wills, and Frisch. [4]

“I don’t know what I’m capable of doing, but this gives me an idea,” McGee said. “If someone asked me at the start of the year if this was going to happen, I wouldn’t have thought I was at that stage yet.”[5]

McGee’s accolade marked the 17th time a Cardinal had won the MVP Award. Previous award winners included Rogers Hornsby, 1925; Bob O’Farrell, 1926; Jim Bottomley, 1928; Frisch, 1931; Dizzy Dean, 1934; Joe Medwick, 1937; Mort Cooper, 1942; Stan Musial in 1946, 1946, and 1948; Marty Marion, 1948; Ken Boyer, 1964; Orlando Cepeda, 1967; Bob Gibson, 1968; Joe Torre, 1971; and Keith Hernandez, 1979.

“The award shows that I put everything together,” McGee said. “Everything I did worked.”[6]

McGee received 14 of 24 first-place votes to finish with 280 points. The Reds’ Dave Parker placed second with six first-place votes and 220 points. The Cardinals’ Tom Herr placed fifth, John Tudor finished ninth, Jack Clark was 10th, and Vince Coleman was 11th. Ozzie Smith also received five points in the voting.

“It would be interesting to me, if the St. Louis Cardinals took a 25-man vote, who they would pick as their most valuable player – Vince Coleman, Willie McGee, Tommy Herr, or Jack Clark,” said Rose, Parker’s manager in Cincinnati. “Not to take anything away from Willie McGee because he had a great year, but I think the Cardinals still would have done well without him in the lineup. But we could not have done the job we did if Dave Parker would have been out for any length of time.”

Parker finished the year with a .312 batting average, 34 homers, and 125 RBIs. Guerrero, who placed third in the voting, hit .320 with 33 homers and 87 RBIs and Dwight Gooden placed fourth after going 24-4 with a 1.53 ERA and 268 strikeouts over 276 2/3 innings.

“With the type of year he had, Willie should have been a unanimous choice for MVP,” Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog said. “He keeps working at it. He’s never satisfied. He’s a very humble young man and he wants to do better.”[7]

With Coleman batting leadoff and stealing 110 bases, McGee batting second, Herr batting third and driving in 110 runs, and Clark batting cleanup and hitting 22 home runs, the Cardinals’ first four hitters each finished in the top 11 in the MVP voting.

“He was definitely a plus,” McGee said of batting behind Coleman. “Just like Vince helped me, I helped Tommy Herr and Tommy helped Jack Clark. But also I helped Vince Coleman a lot too. I think I put myself in the hole a lot by taking a lot of first pitches.”[8]

McGee also gave credit to Smith, who welcomed McGee into his home when McGee first came up to the big leagues.

“He led me right,” McGee said of Smith. “He made my transition to the big leagues a lot easier. I wasn’t going into anything blind. Ozzie definitely was the biggest contributor in my career.”[9]

“I told you in spring training that he was ready to blossom,” Smith said. “I knew the only thing that would hold him back were injuries.”[10]

McGee’s 1985 season proved to be the best of his career, as he posted highs in batting average, hits, runs, triples, and stolen bases. In 1990, he won a second batting title, hitting .335 with the Cardinals before he was traded to the Athletics.

“Willie should hit for a high average most of his life,” Herzog said after McGee was named MVP. “I would say that for the next five, six, seven years that he should hit .330 all the time. If you put him in another ballpark, he’d probably hit 15 home runs, but I’d rather have him hit 10 home runs and 20 triples.”[11]

“I’d rather be known as an all-around player who can help a team win in several different ways, not just a one-dimensional player like a home run hitter,” McGee said.[12]

As McGee played through his age-40 season, he remained a multi-dimensional player. Through 18 seasons, he compiled 2,254 hits, a .295 batting average, and 352 stolen bases. Along the way, he was selected for four all-star games and won three Gold Glove Awards.

“He could do everything,” Bob Forsch said, “and he never said anything boastful. It was like he was surprised he was that good.”[13]


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[1] Gregorian, Vahe. “The Humble Hero.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 16 Aug. 1998.

[2] Gregorian, Vahe. “The Humble Hero.” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, 16 Aug. 1998.

[3] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[4] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[5] Ross McKeon, “McGee takes it in stride,” San Francisco Examiner, November 19, 1985.

[6] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[7] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[8] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[9] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[10] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[11] Rick Hummel, “McGee is 17th MVP For Cards,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 19, 1985.

[12] Ross McKeon, “McGee takes it in stride,” San Francisco Examiner, November 19, 1985.

[13] Rob Rains and Alvin A. Reid (2002), Whitey’s Boys: A Celebration of the ’82 Cards World Championship, Chicago; Triumph Books, 76.

November 17, 2014: Cardinals trade for Jason Heyward following Oscar Taveras’s passing

Just 22 days after outfielder Oscar Taveras passed away in an alcohol-related car accident in his native Puerto Plata, Dominican Republic, the Cardinals traded away two young pitchers to obtain the player they hoped would take Taveras’s place as their right fielder of the future.

On November 17, 2014, the Cardinals traded pitchers Shelby Miller and Tyrell Jenkins to the Braves for outfielder Jason Heyward and relief pitcher Jordan Walden. It was an out-of-character trade for the Cardinals, who had long hoarded young pitchers like a dragon protecting its gold. Coming on the heels of Taveras’s untimely passing, however, these were unusual times.

“We’ve always talked about development. We’ve talked about controlling our own players and having that cost certainty moving forward,” Cardinals general manager John Mozeliak said. “We did feel after the events of this offseason that we had to do something different, that we had to look at a way to add an impact player to our club. We really felt that this would be the best way to improve our team and make a change on how you think about the St. Louis Cardinals for 2015. We’ve said all along we’re focused on 2015.”[1]

Heading into the offseason, Mozeliak said the Cardinals planned for Taveras to be their everyday right fielder in 2015. [2] Before Taveras homered in his major-league debut that spring, he had been considered one of the top prospects in all of baseball, ranking as high as No. 2 with Baseball Prospectus[3] and No. 3 with MLB.com.[4]

Now the Cardinals found themselves with a significant hole in their lineup on a team that was expected to contend for a National League pennant. To fill that hole, the Cardinals moved outside of their standard comfort zone.

“If only for a brief time, one season, Heyward will not only stabilize the outfield, but he’ll also help calm the rolling emotions that unsettled this organization in the aftermath of Oscar’s shocking death,” wrote St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz. “And if we’re trying to assess every aspect of the trade’s value, that’s a consideration that shouldn’t be minimized.”

The 6-foot-5, 240-pound Heyward was drafted 14th overall by the Braves in 2007 out of Henry County High School in McDonough, Georgia. He made an auspicious debut in 2010, batting .277/.393/.849 in his rookie season with 18 homers and 72 RBIs. Along the way, he was named to the all-star game, placed second in the Rookie of the Year Award balloting, and even received 11 points in the MVP voting.

During his five seasons in Atlanta, Heyward established himself as a premier defender in right field, winning Gold Glove Awards in 2012 and 2014. In his final season in Atlanta, however, Heyward’s slugging percentage had dropped to .384, down from a high of .479 when he hit 27 homers in 2012. The Cardinals believed Heyward’s decrease in power could be attributed to a change in approach after moving to the leadoff position in the Braves’ lineup.

“I do know a leadoff hitter is not one that’s looked at to strike out a lot,” Heyward said. “They’re supposed to attempt to get on base every at-bat. Regardless of how it gets done, you’re just trying to set the table. That was new to the season. I wasn’t developed with that mindset.”[5]

Heyward was entering the final season of a two-year contract that would pay him $7.8 million in 2015 before he entered free agency.[6] In trading Heyward, the Braves were seeking compensation for a player they didn’t believe they would be able to re-sign.

“It’s very difficult to trade Jason Heyward,” Braves general manager John Hart said, “but the deal was made to help us not only in the short term but the long term.”[7]

For his part, Heyward said he never had an extension offer on the table.

“I’m not surprised at all about the possibility that a team would look to trade if they didn’t think they were going to get something done long term,” Heyward said. “I wasn’t necessarily saying I was gone to free agency. We just never had any talks, to be honest. Nothing longer than a five-minute conversation after the 2012 season.”[8]

Heyward’s impending free agency made the trade risky for the Cardinals, though the team would receive a compensation draft pick were he to sign elsewhere.

“Our strategy in the past has been to bring players in here, let them get a feel for what this is about, and if they like it we tend to find ways to make them stay,” Mozeliak said. “If they don’t, then they move on.”[9]

“Change of scenery can be very refreshing in a lot of ways,” Heyward said. “As far as going forward, I want to take things one step at a time, get acclimated to my new teammates, get acclimated with the new organization and put my best foot forward for 2015. Everything else after that will take care of itself.”[10]

In Walden, the Cardinals obtained a 6-foot-5 right-handed reliever who had proven that he could pitch in the back end of a bullpen. As a rookie in 2011, Walden saved 32 games for the Angels, earning an all-star nod and placing seventh in the Rookie of the Year voting.

In 2014 with the Braves, he posted a 2.88 ERA and struck out 62 batters over 50 innings. For his career, he had 254 strikeouts in 211 innings, good for a 28.6% strikeout rate. Just as importantly, Walden’s addition allowed Carlos Martinez to compete with Marco Gonzalez for the fifth spot in the starting rotation.[11]

To obtain Heyward and Walden, the Cardinals were giving up a lot of young potential. Miller, the Cardinals’ first-round pick in 2009 (19th overall), had just completed his second full season in St. Louis. As a rookie in 2013, he went 15-9 with a 3.06 ERA, striking out 169 batters over 173 1/3 innings. In his sophomore campaign in 2014, Miller went 10-9 with a 3.74 ERA and 127 strikeouts in 183 innings.

“You never really know where this game is going to take you,” Miller said. “It’s hard leaving the good people and good teammates I had there. At the same time, they traded me for Heyward, an extremely talented outfielder, so it’s exciting to go to a team that wanted me. It’s a new opportunity.”[12]

Jenkins, a 6-foot-4 right-hander, had been the Cardinals’ 2010 first-round pick out of Henderson High School in Texas. He had spent the 2014 season in High-A Palm Beach, where he went 6-5 with a 3.28 ERA in 74 innings.

“The Braves have always been a pitching organization,” Hart said. “We have the makings of a quality young rotation.”[13]

As Miklasz wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was a steep – yet understandable – price for the Cardinals to pay.

“I’d like this trade a lot better if we knew that Heyward would stay in St. Louis beyond 2015,” Miklasz wrote. “But these are not normal times. The tragic death of right fielder Oscar Taveras put Mozeliak in an urgent – if not desperate – frame of mind. And in that context it isn’t surprising to see the GM take a substantial risk here. … Putting Heyward in place, if only for one season, provides a quick solution and give Mozeliak a better chance to determine exactly what the Cardinals have in Grichuk and corner-outfield prospect Stephen Piscotty. This move buys some time, but the cost is expensive.”[14]

After Heyward’s 2015 season in which he hit .293/.359/.439 with 13 homers and 60 RBIs for the Cardinals, he proved even more expensive, as the Cubs signed him to an eight-year, $184 million contract. Heyward said he was attracted by the Cubs’ young core, which included Anthony Rizzo, Addison Russell, Kris Bryant, and Javier Baez. The Cubs had beaten the Cardinals in a four-game NLDS the previous fall.

“Being 26 and knowing my contract would probably put me in any clubhouse longer than most people there, you have to look at age, you have to look at how fast the team is changing and how soon those changes may come about,” he said. “You have (Yadier Molina), who is going to be done in two years maybe. You have Matt Holliday, who is probably going to be done soon. There were already moves with Jon Jay gone, and then Tony Cruz, and (Adam Wainwright) is probably going to be done in three or four years. … I felt like if I was to look up in three years and see a completely different team, that would kind of be difficult.”[15]

As compensation for Heyward, the Cardinals received the 34th overall pick in the 2016 draft and selected right-handed pitcher Dakota Hudson from Mississippi State University.

Walden pitched one injury-plagued season in St. Louis. After allowing just one earned run in 10 1/3 innings, Walden suffered a shoulder injury and was placed on the disabled list on May 6. He never pitched in the majors again.

Miller had mixed results with the Braves in 2015. He posted a 3.02 ERA over 205 1/3 innings and was selected for the all-star game, but he also led the league with 17 losses. After the season, the Braves traded Miller and Gabe Speier to the Diamondbacks for Aaron Blair, Ender Inciarte, and Dansby Swanson. Miller went 5-18 with a 6.35 ERA in three seasons in Arizona.

Jenkins spent the 2015 season in the Braves’ minor-league system. In 2016, he went 9-3 with a 2.47 ERA for Triple-A Gwinnett to earn a promotion to the majors, where he went 2-4 with a 5.88 ERA in 52 innings. That December, the Braves traded him and prospect Brady Feigl to the Rangers for Luke Jackson and was soon claimed off waivers by the Reds. The following month, the Padres claimed him off waivers. San Diego released him in July 2017, marking the end of his baseball career.


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[1] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[2] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[3] Jason Parks and Staff, “Prospects Will Break Your Heart: Top 101 Prospects,” Baseball Prospectus, January 27, 2014, https://www.baseballprospectus.com/prospects/article/22670/prospects-will-break-your-heart-top-101-prospects/.

[4] Jennifer Langosch, “Taveras ranks third among top 100 prospects,” MLB.com, January 23, 2014, https://www.mlb.com/news/oscar-taveras-of-st-louis-cardinals-third-in-top-100-prospect-rankings/c-66987862.

[5] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[6] Paul Newberry, “Atlanta to ‘move on’ without Heyward,” The Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2014.

[7] Paul Newberry, “Atlanta to ‘move on’ without Heyward,” The Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2014.

[8] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[9] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[10] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[11] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[12] Derrick Goold, “Deal sends Miller to Braves, brings Heyward to play RF,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[13] Paul Newberry, “Atlanta to ‘move on’ without Heyward,” The Macon Telegraph, November 18, 2014.

[14] Bernie Miklasz, “Cards are taking a big risk, but they were forced into it,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 18, 2014.

[15] Paul Sullivan, “A card-carrying Cub,” Chicago Tribune, December 16, 2015.

November 14, 2011: Cardinals name Mike Matheny manager

Just 15 days after Tony La Russa announced his retirement, the St. Louis Cardinals named Mike Matheny the 49th manager in franchise history.

The hire represented a stark shift for the Cardinals less than a month after they won their 11th World Series championship. La Russa had retired with 2,728 career wins, just 35 behind John McGraw for the second most in modern-day baseball history. That total included 1,408 wins with the Cardinals, more than any other manager in St. Louis history.

In Matheny, the Cardinals were hiring a man who had no professional coaching or managerial experience. So what did team chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. and general manager John Mozeliak see in the former Cardinals catcher?

“A lot of people have been asking that question,” Mozeliak said. “He is a student of the game. He knows what’s going on. Now, when he steps in that dugout the first time, there’s no doubt things are going to be moving a little quicker than even he anticipated, but with a supporting cast that we’re going to put around him, with how smart he is, how intelligent he is in his ability to adapt and adjust, he can handle that.”[1]

DeWitt said that in choosing La Russa’s replacement, the Cardinals were seeking attributes over experience.

“All great managers started somewhere. I think the lack of experience is there. Any time you do something new, it’s an unknown. What we were looking for are characteristics that would make a manager successful, and he’s got those.”[2]

Matheny had been a four-time Gold Glove Award winner during his 13-year major league career. Three of those Gold Gloves came during his five seasons with the Cardinals from 2000 until 2004. Over that span, Matheny played 622 games for the Cardinals, developing a reputation as a man whose toughness and leadership could lead to a future as a big-league manager.

“I kept hearing that throughout my career,” Matheny said. “It was pretty consistent that people saw things that would lead me to this position, and pretty soon I began to embrace it.” [3]

Under managers like La Russa in St. Louis and Felipe Alou in San Francisco, Matheny made a conscious effort to question them to understand the countless choices they made over the course of each game.

“I told them, ‘I don’t want to second-guess you, but let’s talk about that decision,’” he said. “I told them, ‘I want to learn.’”[4]

Matheny retired in 2006 at age 35 after concussions limited him to 47 games that season. In 2009, Mozeliak convinced him to return to the Cardinals as a roving instructor and consultant. The role allowed Matheny to familiarize himself with the Cardinals’ minor league talent, and led to additional work as a special assistant to player development and even work as a TV analyst. [5]

In announcing Matheny’s hire, Mozeliak said that Matheny established himself as the leading candidate with his interview on November 4. [6]

“He understands our philosophies, he understands our (minor-league) talent level, and he also has a great understanding of our talent at the major-league level so there’s no learning curve there,” Mozeliak said. “The key thing for him will be the adaptation level in the dugout. But all those other things? You can make the check marks. We chose someone we respect, admire, and want to hear from. This was not an easy job to fill, but in the end, he was the right person at the right time.”[7]

La Russa had informed Mozeliak of his retirement in August, though he didn’t tell his players until after the team’s World Series parade. Upon learning of La Russa’s plans, Mozeliak said he began to develop a list that included as many as 35 names. In addition to Matheny, the Cardinals interviewed Terry Francona, who led the Red Sox to World Series titles in 2004 and 2007; Cardinals third base coach Jose Oquendo; Phillies minor league manager and former Cubs star Ryne Sandberg; Memphis Redbirds manager Chris Maloney; and White Sox coach and former Cardinal Joe McEwing. [8]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011

“I think a lot of people would have said the simpler choice would have been to go with someone with experience,” Mozeiak said. “We looked at this as someone who could have short-term success with this current club but also someone we believe in for long-term success. When we tried to balance that we really felt comfortable with Mike taking over.”[9]

The decision was a popular one in the Cardinals clubhouse.

“I consider him a friend, and a lot of guys feel that way,” pitcher Kyle McClellan said. “He has so much respect already that guys reach out to him for advice, trust his opinion, and I think that’s why it’s going to work. He’s told me things I didn’t want to hear before. That’s part of it. … A lot of us have wanted to mold ourselves after him, and now he’s our manager. He’s the leader of our team. How could it be better?”[10]

Adam Wainwright, who made his major-league debut in 2005, Matheny’s first season in San Francisco, said, “Here’s this great guy, fun to be around, as we all know, but he can be intense when he needs to be. He’s one of those friends who has authority. If he needs to get in your face, we’ve all seen him do that too.”[11]

“I thought this might happen someday,” Matt Holliday said. “The presence that Mike brings is obvious. The way they talked about him. He brings qualities that are more important than managing experience. He’s a guy who people will follow. … I don’t think he’s going to be overwhelmed. He’s been looking at the game like a manager does his entire career. Mike has been preparing himself for this day, just in a different way.”[12]

La Russa also approved of the hire.

“They made a terrific choice,” he said. “I’m at such peace with turning the page. You needed a fresh look there. It’s time for the organization to have a different appeal to it. I’m wishing it well. They’ve got a real good club with real good leadership.”[13]

In Matheny’s first season at the helm, he guided the Cardinals to 88 wins and a second-place finish in the National League Central. In the playoffs, the Cardinals beat the Braves in the new one-game wild card, then topped the Nationals in a five-game NLDS before falling to the Giants in Game 7 of the NLCS.

The following season was even better as the Cardinals won 97 games and advanced to the World Series, where they fell to the Red Sox in six games. After a 90-win 2014 campaign in which the Cardinals reached the NLCS again, the Cardinals won 100 games in 2015, though they lost to the Cubs in the NLDS.

In 2016, the Cardinals slipped to 86-76, and the day after the Cubs won the World Series, the team announced that it had awarded Matheny a three-year contract extension. He never got the opportunity to complete that contract.

In 2017, the Cardinals fell to third place in the NL Central with an 83-79 mark. After the team got off to a 47-46 start in 2018 and weathered a series of clubhouse controversies, the Cardinals fired Matheny one game before the all-star break and named Mike Shildt the interim manager.

“I don’t feel like our trend line was taking us in that (positive) direction anymore,” Mozeliak said. “Even if it’s just slowly decaying, you’re going to wake up at some point and find yourself in a bad spot. You could say, ‘You’re already there, chief.’ The point is, we felt we couldn’t wait any longer.”[14]

SI.com’s Emma Baccellieri described the move as unsurprising.

The last few weeks have brought several reports that can be read most charitably as unflattering to the manager and most critically as signs that he’s losing the clubhouse. First, there was the news of Matheny’s breakdown in communication with outfielder Dexter Fowler. Then, The Athletic published a report on veteran Bud Norris “mercilessly riding” rookie Jordan Hicks.

When asked if he thought that the youngster might eventually appreciate the harsh treatment from his teammate, Matheny replied, “Probably not. But Bud’s going to continue to do what he thinks is right as a veteran, so you respect that.”

A few decades ago, that answer would have been completely unremarkable from a manager—but not so much anymore, not in a game that banned rookie bullying and hazing in its most recent collective bargaining agreement.[15]

Matheny’s tenure as Cardinals manager resulted in four playoff appearances and one National League pennant in six full seasons. In each season, the Cardinals posted a winning record, and even had a winning mark at the time of his firing. His 591-474 record gave him a .555 winning percentage and placed him behind only La Russa (1,408), Red Schoendienst (1,041), Whitey Herzog (822), and Billy Southworth (620) in Cardinals managerial wins.

Nonetheless, despite 6 ½ seasons as manager, Matheny’s bullpen management and reluctance to embrace defensive shifts left questions regarding his on-field strategies. As Baccellieri wrote:

It doesn’t seem ridiculous to wonder how much of his winning record has come despite his on-field decisions, rather than because of them. … There is, of course, far more to managing than on-field tactics. But the recent reports don’t seem to indicate that he’s done much to establish a stellar clubhouse environment lately, either. Combine that with Matheny’s lack of tactical genius, and the team’s decision to cut him loose looks clear.[16]

Following the 2019 season, the Royals named Matheny their manager. In the COVID-shortened 2020 campaign, he led the team to a 26-34 record, and followed that up with a 74-88 record in 2021.


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[1] Bryan Burwell, “Matheny’s moves all look good on his opening day,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[2] Joe Strauss, “Matheny’s hiring shows the Cardinals’ priorities,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[3] Bryan Burwell, “Matheny’s moves all look good on his opening day,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[4] Bryan Burwell, “Matheny’s moves all look good on his opening day,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[5] Joe Strauss, “Matheny’s hiring shows the Cardinals’ priorities,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[6] Joe Strauss, “Matheny’s hiring shows the Cardinals’ priorities,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[7] Bryan Burwell, “Matheny’s moves all look good on his opening day,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[8] Joe Strauss, “Matheny’s hiring shows the Cardinals’ priorities,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[9] Joe Strauss, “Matheny’s hiring shows the Cardinals’ priorities,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[10] Derrick Goold, “New manager is close to many of the players,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[11] Derrick Goold, “New manager is close to many of the players,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[12] Derrick Goold, “New manager is close to many of the players,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 15, 2011.

[13] Joe Strauss, “Matheny steps into spotlight in Cards’ camp,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, February 17, 2012.

[14] Derrick Goold, “Mozeliak says firings were inevitable with team faltering,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 16, 2018.

[15] Emma Baccellieri, “Poor On-Field Decisions, Clubhouse Issues Led Cardinals to Change Course From Mike Matheny,” SI.com, https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/07/15/cardinals-fire-mike-matheny-tactical-errors-clubhouse.

[16] Emma Baccellieri, “Poor On-Field Decisions, Clubhouse Issues Led Cardinals to Change Course From Mike Matheny,” SI.com, https://www.si.com/mlb/2018/07/15/cardinals-fire-mike-matheny-tactical-errors-clubhouse.

November 13, 1968: Bob Gibson named National League MVP

In Bob Gibson’s autobiography, Stranger to the Game, he summarized his historic 1968 season simply: “In the summer of 1968, I mastered my craft,” he wrote.[1]

That mastery was rewarded with both the National League Cy Young and Most Valuable Player awards. On November 13, 1968, Gibson became the 14th Cardinal in franchise history to win the MVP Award since it had been established 44 years earlier.[2] In doing so, he became the third Cardinal in five seasons to win the MVP, joining Ken Boyer, who won the award in 1964, and Orlando Cepeda, who was a unanimous selection in 1967.

Of those 14 Cardinals MVPs, Gibson was just the third pitcher to win the MVP, joining Dizzy Dean and Mort Cooper.

“It’s great,” Gibson said from Matsuyama, Japan, where he and the Cardinals were participating in a goodwill tour. “It’s just great because pitchers usually don’t win MVP awards. I’ve got to thank everyone on the team because they all helped me have a good year.”[3]

Cepeda and Brock were with Gibson when he learned by phone that he had won the award.

“Now you’ll have to win it next year,” Cepeda said to Brock.[4]

Meanwhile, Gibson’s first response was, “You’re kidding,” the same thing he said two weeks earlier when told he had won the Cy Young Award.[5]

Gibson received 14 first-place votes to finish with 242 points while Cincinnati’s Pete Rose, who led the league with a .335 batting average, received the other six and placed second with 205 total points. Willie McCovey was third with 135 points, Curt Flood was fourth with 116, and Juan Marichal was fifth with 93. Brock placed sixth with 73 points and Mike Shannon was seventh with 55.

Gibson’s 24-10 record for the season failed to capture how dominant he was throughout the season. Over 304 2/3 innings, Gibson posted a 1.12 ERA while striking out 268 batters. Along the way, he threw a franchise-record 13 shutouts and posted a 15-game win streak, the longest ever by a Cardinals pitcher.

The top four hitters in the league – Rose (0-for-8), Matty Alou (2-for-14), Felipe Alou (2-for-15), and Alex Johnson (1-for-8) hit just .111 against him, and league-wide, batters hit just .184 against Gibson.[6]

While Gibson had already appeared in four all-star games heading into the 1968 season, he reached a new level that year due to improved command and the emergence of his slider as a dominant pitch.

“In spring training that year, Tim (McCarver) had encouraged me to throw it,” Gibson wrote in 2015. “I’d always had difficulty controlling my breaking pitches on the arm side of the plate, which is outside to a left-handed hitter, and was reluctant to throw a slider that I was afraid might sweep right into the sweet spot over the middle. But McCarver convinced me that my control had improved enough that I could now deliver that pitch with conviction. He was right, and it made a profound difference. Left-handers were still the batters that most threatened me, as a rule, but in 1968 I felt that I’d finally grabbed the upper hand against them.”[7]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968

Heading into June, Gibson was just 3-5 despite a 1.52 ERA. He received no decision in his first two starts and was just 1-1 at the end of April. In May, he won his first two games, but then lost his next four starts despite allowing just seven earned runs over 33 2/3 innings (a 1.87 ERA).

With the beginning of June, however, he began to roll, winning all six of his starts that month. In each of his last five starts, he threw complete game shutouts as part of 47 2/3 consecutive innings in which he did not allow a run.

Then he won all six July starts. After a no-decision against the Cubs on August 4, Gibson picked up three more wins to improve to 18-5 before he finally lost to the Pirates, allowing three earned runs over nine innings while striking out 15. The loss increased his ERA to 1.07.

Throughout the entire season, Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst never came to the mound to take the ball from Gibson in the middle of an inning. In fact, Gibson completed 28 of his 34 starts and only failed to get to the eighth inning twice.

“He carried the whole team,” Cepeda said. “He should get all the awards that are presented.”[8]

With Gibson leading the way, the Cardinals won the National League pennant with a 97-65 record.

Though award voting took place before the postseason, Gibson added two more wins in the World Series, defeating American League Cy Young and MVP Award winner Denny McLain in Games 1 and 4 while striking out a record 17 batters in the opener. In Game 7, Gibson struck out eight in a complete-game effort, but was out-pitched by Mickey Lolich, who allowed one run over nine innings.

With the announcement of the Cy Young and MVP awards, Gibson joined Don Newcombe, Sandy Koufax, and McLain as the only pitchers to win the MVP and Cy Young awards in the same year.[9]

In St. Louis, the Post-Dispatch quoted Rose arguing that his role as an everyday player made him the more valuable player.

“With all due respect to Gibson, he won 22 (actually 24) games for the Cardinals while I might have won 50 for the Reds,” Rose said.[10]

In the Cincinnati Enquirer, however, Rose was far more gracious, saying, “I couldn’t have picked a better man to finish second to.”[11]

“I think I knew all along I wasn’t going to win it,” Rose said. “I was just happy I came as close as I did. I’m just glad I made the showing I did. I got a lot more votes than any regular player.”[12]

After the season, with offense down league-wide, Major League Baseball made changes designed to generate more offense, including lowering the mound and – probably more importantly – warning pitchers who brushed back hitters. Sportswriters and others referred to these as the “Gibson Rules.”

“I can assure you I was not consulted,” Gibson wrote. “Nor was I flattered, much preferring not to be associated, in any fashion, with legislation that would diminish the power of the pitcher.”[13]

Gibson went on to win the Cy Young Award again in 1970 and placed fourth in the MVP voting that year. He retired after the 1975 season with 251 wins, 3,117 strikeouts, and a career 2.91 ERA, and was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1981.

Years later, Doug Rader, a former Astros third baseman and a manager with the Rangers, White Sox, and Angels, was asked the names of the five toughest pitchers he ever faced.

“That’s easy,” he said. “Bob Gibson in 1968.” He paused for a moment, then rounded out his list. “Bob Gibson in 1969, Bob Gibson in 1970, Bob Gibson in 1971, and Bob Gibson in 1972. No one else was even close.”[14]


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[1] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, Penguin Books USA, New York, N.Y., Page 1.

[2] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[3] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[4] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[5] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[6] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[7] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (2015), Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android Version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 13.

[8] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[9] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[10] Neal Russo, “Gibson Wins MVP to Complete ’68 Sweep,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 1968.

[11] Jim Schottelkotte, “Rose Happy To Come As Close As He Did,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1968.

[12] Jim Schottelkotte, “Rose Happy To Come As Close As He Did,” Cincinnati Enquirer, November 14, 1968.

[13] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (2015), Pitch by Pitch: My View of One Unforgettable Game, Kindle Android Version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 13.

[14] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, Penguin Books USA, New York, XIV-XV.

November 12, 2001: Albert Pujols is unanimous Rookie of the Year selection

At spring training, Tony La Russa found that he had no choice – he had to put Albert Pujols in the lineup. By the end of the season, voters saw the same – and unanimously named him the 2001 National League Rookie of the Year.

Pujols received all 32 votes (two voters from each National League city) after a rookie season in which he batted .329 with 37 home runs, 112 runs scored, and a rookie record 130 RBIs. Only four rookies in baseball history had hit better than .300 with more than 30 homers, 100 runs scored, and 100 RBIs.[1]

“St. Louis is a great franchise with great performances and it would be interesting to rank his season with the great ones the franchise has had,” manager Tony La Russa said.[2]

Pujols’ professional career got off to a rocky start when they drafted him in the 13th round out of Metropolitan Community College-Maple Woods in 1999. The 19-year-old Pujols was disappointed to be selected so late after batting .466 with 22 homers and 76 RBIs in 193 at-bats that season.[3]

“I was crying like crazy,” Pujols said. “I felt like I did so much and I didn’t get selected in the draft where I knew I could go. I felt all the work I did hadn’t paid off.”[4]

That didn’t mean Pujols was ready to stop working. He opened the 2000 season in Class A Peoria, where he hit .324 with 17 homers and 84 RBIs in 395 at-bats before he was promoted to High-A Potomac. Pujols played 21 games in Potomac and his final three games of the season in Triple-A.

The following spring, Pujols was expected to return to Triple-A, but his spring training at-bats made it clear he was ready for the majors. Familiar with countless prospects who flamed out once they were challenged, La Russa set out to test the rookie.

“I challenged Albert more than any young player I had ever coached,” La Russa wrote in One Last Strike in 2012. “The challenges I gave Albert were tough enough that some of our staff and veteran players felt I was looking to make him fail to justify sending him out.”[5]

One moment in particular stood out to La Russa: a spring training game against the Expos and right-hander Javier Vasquez, who went on to win 16 games that season.

“I put Albert in the cleanup spot to see what he would do,” La Russa wrote. “First time up, he flails at a Vazquez slider well off the plate—looking just terrible—and I think, Aha. Got you. In my mind, Albert needs some additional seasoning, he has to work on that small thing—seeing the ball and being better disciplined at the plate. Next time up, Vazquez throws him that same slider and Albert hits a bullet to right-center. I think, Holy crap, what an adjustment.”[6]

Pujols was so impressive that La Russa planned to find a roster spot for Pujols even before Bobby Bonilla, who had been signed during the offseason to play first base, third base, and the outfield, injured his hamstring.[7]

“By the time we got to the last week (in the spring), his playing time increased,” La Russa said. “He had played almost every day and there was no way you could tell your club you’re taking the best 25 players if Pujols wasn’t one of them. If you don’t, your club doesn’t think you’re trying to win. You had to take the best player in spring training.”[8]

Despite his strong spring, Pujols went just 1-for-9 in the Cardinals’ season-opening series against the Rockies at Coors Field. Veterans like Mark McGwire and Jim Edmonds helped keep the 20-year-old centered.

“At first, I thought ‘I don’t know if I’m ready,’” Pujols said, “but some of my teammates like Mark and Jimmy said, ‘Don’t put too much pressure on yourself. Just go have fun. Just think of it as the minor leagues.’”[9]

On April 6, Pujols hit his first major league home run, a two-run shot that proved his biggest blast in a three-hit, three-RBI day. In the next game, Pujols went 2-for-4 with a three-run double and three RBIs to raise his season average to .333.

“He sent a real message,” La Russa said. “Phoenix was the first shot he fired, but he had a lot more to do and he did it.”[10]

Astros pitcher Roy Oswalt finished second in the Rookie of the Year race with 25 second-place votes and seven third-place votes. Phillies shortstop Jimmy Rollins placed third with seven second-place votes and 23 third-place votes. Cardinals pitcher Bud Smith and Reds outfielder Adam Dunn each received one third-place vote apiece.

“There was pretty good competition with Jimmy Rollins and Roy Oswalt,” Pujols said. “It was a blessed year. This is a pretty good honor and you only get it one year.”[11]

Said La Russa, “There are a lot of impressive things about (Pujols) winning the award. One is the legitimate competition with the shortstop in Philadelphia and the pitcher in Houston, but I don’t know how he could have helped but be unanimous.”[12]

Pujols was the ninth player in National League history to be a unanimous Rookie of the Year selection, following Frank Robinson (1956), Orlando Cepeda (1958), Willie McCovey (1959), Vince Coleman (1985), Benito Santiago (1987), Mike Piazza (1993), Raul Mondesi (1994), and Scott Rolen (1997).[13]

“I just put my numbers out there and (the writers) took care of it,” Pujols said.[14]

Along the way, Pujols moved all around the diamond, appearing in 55 games at third base, 42 at first base, and 39 apiece in left and right field.

“That makes it even more impressive what he did this year,” Walt Jocketty said. “He played positions he’d never played before. He’d always been a third baseman. To do what he did and play all those positions is remarkable.”[15]

St. Louis Post-Dispatch newspaper clipping declaring Albert Pujols the NL Rookie of the Year.

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[1] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[3] Albert Pujols Bio, NJCAA Region 16, https://njcaaregion16.org/Hall_of_Fame/Albert_Pujols.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[5] Tony La Russa (2012), One Last Strike, Kindle Android version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 63.

[6] Tony La Russa (2012), One Last Strike, Kindle Android version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 64.

[7] Tony La Russa (2012), One Last Strike, Kindle Android version, Retrieved from Amazon.com, Page 64.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[13] Associated Press, “Suzuki, Pujols are top rookies in a landslide,” Sacramento Bee, November 13, 2001.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.

[15] Rick Hummel, “Pujols is NL’s top rookie,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 13, 2001.