August 2, 2001: Cardinals trade Ray Lankford for Woody Williams

As a veteran who had been with the club since making his debut in August 1990, Ray Lankford wasn’t ready to become the Cardinals’ fourth outfielder.

Instead, following a reduction of playing time and a war of words between Lankford’s agent and manager Tony La Russa, the Cardinals sent the 34-year-old Lankford and $2.8 million to San Diego for Woody Williams, a 34-year-old right-hander who became a key part of the Cardinals’ rotation.

At the time of the trade, Lankford was batting .235/.345/.496 with 15 homers and 39 RBIs. Though his on-base and slugging percentages remained strong, Lankford had 105 strikeouts in 264 at-bats, and with Jim Edmonds in center field, J.D. Drew in right, and rookie Albert Pujols earning at-bats in left, Lankford was beginning to see others cut into his playing time.

“It doesn’t matter if you’re struggling or not. I don’t think I get the respect around here that I deserve,” Lankford said. “Whatever goes on around here, nobody tells me. I’ve been here 11 years and people around here should respect that and understand that and pay me the respect of letting me know what’s going on. That’s all I ask. If they can’t do that, then it’s time to go. That’s the bottom line.”[1]

Lankford had arguably been the Cardinals’ best player of the ’90s. In 1991, he led the majors with 15 triples, drove in 69 runs, and stole 44 bases to place third in the National League Rookie of the Year voting. The following season was a breakout year, as Lankford hit .293/.371/.480 with 20 homers, 86 RBIs, and 42 stolen bases.

In 1997, Lankford was named an all-star on his way to a .295/.411/.585 batting line with 31 homers, 98 RBIs, and 21 stolen bases. He followed that season with a .306/.380/.493 campaign in which he hit 31 homers, had a career-high 105 RBIs, and stole 26 bases. Between the two seasons, Lankford provided 11.5 wins above replacement (WAR).

At the time of the trade, Lankford was the Cardinals’ longest-tenured player and his 222 home runs ranked third in team history behind Stan Musial (475) and Ken Boyer (255).

“I’ve been with three teams in four years and he’s been with one team for 12 years,” relief pitcher Steve Kline said. “It has to be hard for him to leave St. Louis, and this is probably a tough team to leave.”[2]

Despite rumors that the Cardinals would send Lankford to the Padres in advance of the trade deadline, no deal was completed, meaning that any players exchanged would need to clear waivers. Lankford’s agent, Stanley King, made it clear that he hoped a trade could still be completed. He placed the blame for Lankford’s discontent at La Russa’s feet.

“Ray’s a big boy,” King said. “He can understand that it’s a baseball decision. I just don’t think there’s any excuse for not communicating with your players. That’s part of managing. The respectful thing is to call him in and sit him down.”[3]

“We have been talking,” La Russa said in response. “I felt like I had made it clear. If it isn’t quite clear, I look forward to explaining it all over again. I’d love to get into a debate with him about respect and about all the ways we respected him, including his contract, and all the ways we didn’t. There’s only one thing I can look at – it’s that nobody gave him a definite take on what was going to happen (with a trade).”[4]

La Russa also disputed King’s accusation that the reason for his decreased playing time was unclear.

“The need for putting the ball in play – that was told to everybody,” La Russa said. “Playing with intensity, making sure our fans see we’re not giving in to our struggles, and the importance of defense. Those are all things we’ve told everyone. It’s possible a guy like (Padres manager) Bruce Bochy can get through to him, but he’s got to improve his production. Maybe a guy like Tony Gwynn can get through to him.”[5]

Despite Lankford’s differences with La Russa, his teammates were sad to see him go. Mike Eisenbath of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that while several were willing to comment, others were visibly upset declined to talk on the record.[6]

“He treated everyone the same,” said second baseman Fernando Vina. “Even though he had been here for so many years, he didn’t have any favorites. He was kind to everyone, a very down-to-earth person.”[7]

Andy Benes, who had played his entire career with the Padres before they traded him to St. Louis, said it would be an emotional move for Lankford, but could also be for the best.

“I think it will be good for him,” Benes said. “Change is good a lot of times. Sometimes a change of scenery is good to get the juices going. It will be good for Ray – and I think it will be good for us to get a guy who can throw.”[8]

In Williams, the Cardinals were getting a veteran pitcher with a reputation as an innings eater. In both 1998 and 1999 he had pitched more than 200 innings, and added 168 in 2000 despite missing two months due to an aneurysm under his right arm. Over nine seasons with the Blue Jays and Padres, Williams had gone 58-62 with a 4.32 ERA.

He was 8-8 with a 4.97 ERA at the time of the trade.

“I’m going to use this as a steppingstone that will allow me to get back to where I want to be,” Williams said. “Hopefully, I’ll give them the kind of performance they want.”[9]

Like Lankford, Williams was a popular teammate in San Diego.

“There isn’t a guy in this clubhouse who doesn’t love Woody,” first baseman Ryan Klesko said.[10]

That included Padres general manager Kevin Towers, who unsuccessfully negotiated with Williams on a three-year contract the previous winter.

“If I didn’t believe in our young pitching, I wouldn’t have done this,” he said.[11]

Lankford played in 40 games through the remainder of the 2001 season, batting .288/.386/.480 with four homers, 19 RBIs, and six stolen bases the rest of the way. In 2002, injuries limited him to just 81 games and his numbers fell to .224/.326/.356 with six homers and 26 RBIs.

Lankford missed the 2003 season with a hamstring, then re-signed with the Cardinals, where he played his final 92 games. After the acquisition of Larry Walker, Lankford’s playing time dipped again and he did not make the team’s playoff roster. He retired after the season with a career .272/.365/.481 batting line to go with 238 homers, 874 RBIs, and 258 stolen bases. He was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2018.

Williams pitched 3 ½ seasons in St. Louis. Under Dave Duncan’s tutelage, Williams thrived, going 45-22 with a 3.53 ERA. In the 2001 NLDS against the Diamondbacks, Williams earned the Game 2 win against Randy Johnson, allowing just one run over seven innings.

In 2003, Williams the best season of his career and was named to the all-star team. He finished the year with an 18-9 record and 3.87 ERA over 220 2/3 innings.

In the 2004 National League championship season, Williams went 11-8, then held the Dodgers to two runs over six innings in Game 1 of the NLDS. He won Game 1 of the NLCS against the Astros, then threw seven shutout innings in Game 5, though he earned no decision in the Cardinals’ loss. Williams had a forgettable outing in Game 1 of the World Series, allowing seven earned runs in 2 1/3 innings.

That offseason, Williams returned to San Diego, where he went 19-17 over two seasons before playing his final season with the Astros at age 40. He retired after 15 seasons with a 132-116 record and a 4.19 career ERA.


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August 21, 1990: Ray Lankford provides spark in his big-league debut

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September 3, 2001: Rookie Bud Smith throws a no-hitter

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[1] Rick Hummel, “Lankford says he won’t stand in the way of a trade,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 30, 2001.

[2] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals reflect on Lankford’s situation,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2001.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Lankford’s agent says deal still is possible, criticizes La Russa,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 2001.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Lankford’s agent says deal still is possible, criticizes La Russa,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 2, 2001.

[5] Mike Eisenbath, “Cards send Lankford to Padres,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2001.

[6] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals reflect on Lankford’s situation,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2001.

[7] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals reflect on Lankford’s situation,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2001.

[8] Mike Eisenbath, “Cardinals reflect on Lankford’s situation,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2001.

[9] Mike Eisenbath, “Cards send Lankford to Padres,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 3, 2001.

[10] Shaun O’Neill, “Williams bound for St. Louis,” North County Times, August 3, 2001.

[11] Shaun O’Neill, “Williams bound for St. Louis,” North County Times, August 3, 2001.

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