January 29, 2002: Cardinals sign their first Japanese-born player, So Taguchi

Walt Jocketty wasn’t quite sure what he was purchasing when the Cardinals announced the signing of their first Japanese-born player, 32-year-old outfielder So Taguchi, to a three-year contract in January 2002.

After all, Jocketty had never even seen the 10-year veteran of the Japan Pacific League play. Neither had Tony La Russa. Instead, the Cardinals were relying on the expertise of scouts Joe Sparks and Marty Keough, who had watched Taguchi work out at Arizona State University.[1]

The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that the contract was worth an estimated $1 million per year with the opportunity to reach $2 million per year with incentives[2] and a $600,000 signing bonus.[3] If Taguchi did not make the major-league roster, the contract gave him the freedom to decline the assignment and continue his playing career in Japan. The Cardinals won Taguchi’s services over offers from the New York Yankees, Texas Rangers, and Arizona Diamondbacks, and multiyear offers in Japan that would have paid between $10 and $12 million.[4]

As a member of the Orix Blue Wave in Japan, where he had played alongside 2001 American League MVP Ichiro Suzuki. Taguchi brought a .277 career batting average and five Japanese Gold Glove awards, and hit .280/.343/.406 with eight homers and 42 RBIs in 134 games in 2001. Jocketty suggested that Taguchi was in the mix to be the Cardinals’ starting left fielder that season. Prior to signing Taguchi, the Cardinals planned to move Placido Polanco to left field after Albert Pujols had taken over third base the previous season.

“We’ll see where he fits in the mix,” La Russa said.[5]

Upon his arrival to the United States, Taguchi spoke little English and was assigned an interpreter.

In Japan, he had worn No. 6, but the Cardinals already had retired that number in honor of Stan Musial. Taguchi then requested No. 9, but that had been retired in honor of Enos Slaughter and Joe Medwick. Instead, Taguchi settled for his third choice, No. 99.[6]

Almost three weeks after the Cardinals announced Taguchi’s signing, he arrived in St. Louis to officially sign the contract. At a press conference with owner Bill DeWitt Jr. in attendance, the Cardinals presented Taguchi with a Cardinals cap and jersey. Taguchi read a statement to the press in English.

“I’m So Taguchi, and I’m very happy to join the great history of the St. Louis Cardinals,” he said. “I want to thank the fans for being so kind to me. I am very excited about this new challenge, but they have been very nice. The St. Louis fans have been a great help in making me feel comfortable. I have been here only a few days, and already I love this city.”[7]

He then thanked the audience for “listening to my poor English” and said he hoped to speak next year without the assistance of a written statement.

Just a few days earlier, Taguchi had been in the lobby of the Millenium Hotel when some fans recognized him and asked for his autograph. His wife Emiko, who lived in Irvine California, for two years and spoke English fluently, asked the fans to come to the Winter Warmup for more autographs so that Taguchi would have someone in his line.[8]

She needn’t have worried.

The following afternoon, Taguchi’s line was as long as those for Matt Morris, Jim Edmonds, and Ozzie Smith. When an announcement came over the PA system cautioning fans that the signing sessions would end before newcomers to the lines could get their items signed, Emiko cried.

“It was awesome,” she said. “He looked out there and all he could say was, ‘Wow.’ He had four offers from teams in the United States and two from Japanese teams. The fans were a very big factor (in his decision) to play in St. Louis.”[9]

While Cardinals fans were happy to welcome Taguchi to the United States, opposing pitchers were not so friendly. Taguchi went just 6 for 41 (.140) in spring training and appeared overmatched at times. Prior to the Cardinals’ March 23 spring training game against the Orioles, La Russa sat down with Taguchi in the dugout and explained that his future with the club would have to come through Triple-A Memphis.

“I explained the situation to him,” La Russa said. “I wanted to let him know where he stood.”[10]

For his part, Taguchi was not surprised. “What everyone suspected,” he said.[11]

While Taguchi had the opportunity to earn more money by returning to Japan, he told the Cardinals that he would accept the option to Memphis.

“I am going to stay to see this through,” he said through an interpreter. “I want to play in St. Louis. I want to play for this organization. I want to play for Tony La Russa.”[12]

Jocketty recommended patience, noting that both Suzuki and Tsujoshi Shinjo, the first two Japanese position players to make major league rosters, also struggled early in spring training the previous year.

“I think it’s too early to pass judgment,” Jocketty said. “I don’t know if we’ve actually seen what he can do yet. I think that’s why it’s more important to give him more time to show whether he can hit. He may not, but we’ve at least got to give him that opportunity.”[13]

The 2002 season was all about making adjustments for Taguchi, who widened his stance and shortened his stroke.[14] In Triple-A Memphis, he hit .247 with five homers and 36 RBIs in 304 at-bats. In Double-A New Haven, he hit .308 in 120 at-bats.

In June, he was briefly called up after Jim Edmonds was injured. After going 0-for-3 in his debut, he was used as a defensive replacement in three other games. He returned to the majors as a September call-up on September 7 and got his first major-league hit while pinch-hitting for Yadier Molina in a 6-5 win over the Cubs. Used primarily as a late-inning replacement, Taguchi went 6-for-11 that September.

In 2003, Taguchi again split time between St. Louis and Memphis. In 43 major-league games, he went 14-for-59 for a .259 batting average with three homers and 13 RBIs. On September 12, Taguchi hit his first career home run in a 14-5 loss to the Astros.

On the final day of the season, Taguchi hit a three-run home run 414 feet[15] in a 9-5 win over the Diamondbacks.

For the next four seasons, Taguchi would prove a valuable outfielder off the bench for the Cardinals. In 2004, he hit .291/.337/.419 in 206 plate appearances. In 2005, he enjoyed his best major-league season with a .288/.322/.412 line with eight homers and 53 RBIs in 424 plate appearances. In a June 24 game against the Pittsburgh Pirates, Taguchi homered twice to drive in three runs in an 8-1 Cardinals win.

Taguchi helped the Cardinals win their 10th world championship in 2006. In Game 3 of the NLDS, Taguchi accounted for St. Louis’s only run when he hit a pinch-hit home run in the eighth inning off Scott Linebrink.

Taguchi had an even bigger impact in the NLCS against the Mets. In Game 2, he entered the game as a defensive replacement in the eighth inning. With the score tied 6-6, he hit a leadoff home run against Mets closer Billy Wagner. Later in the inning, Scott Spiezio hit an RBI double and Juan Encarnacion added an RBI single in a 9-6 victory.

“He’s not a big home run hitter, but I’m serious when I tell you: give him a clutch at-bat and he’ll give you a real good effort,” La Russa said. “You’re expecting a single or double, not a home run, especially off Billy Wagner. You can tell the experience. He was a big-time player and he’s not intimidated by it.”[16]

In Game 6, Taguchi came through against Wagner once again, this time with a two-run double in the ninth inning of a 4-2 loss.

He went 2-for-11 with a walk and three runs scored in the Cardinals’ World Series win over the Detroit Tigers, starting three games. In the third inning of Game 1, Molina led off with a single and La Russa called a hit-and-run. Desperate to reach an outside pitch from Justin Verlander, Taguchi threw the bat at the ball, getting just enough of the ball to stay alive. Though he wound up grounding out, he advanced Molina to second on the play and kept the inning alive for a three run rally as Chris Duncan doubled to right field and Pujols hit a two-out, two-run homer.

After batting .290 with a .350 on-base percentage in 2007, including a .406 batting average as a pinch hitter, the Cardinals declined Taguchi’s $1.1 million option for the 2008 season. Rather than engage in arbitration, the team released Taguchi at his agent’s request.

Taguchi signed a one-year, $1.05 million deal with the Phillies that included a club option for 2009 and performance bonuses. In his lone season in Philadelphia, he hit .220 in 91 at-bats and won his second World Series ring as the Phillies defeated the Tampa Bay Rays in five games.

In 2009, he signed a minor-league deal with the Cubs and spent most of the season in Triple-A. Taguchi played two more seasons in Japan before retiring in 2012. That fall, he began broadcasting Major League Baseball games in Japan. In 2016, he returned to Orix (now nicknamed the Buffaloes) as a member of the coaching staff. He now serves as the team’s hitting coach.[17]


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals take gamble on outfielder from Japan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 2002: Page D1.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals take gamble on outfielder from Japan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 2002: Page D1.

[3] Joe Strauss, “Taguchi is told by Cardinals that he’s probably headed to Memphis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 24, 2002: Page D1.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals take gamble on outfielder from Japan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 2002: Page D2.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals take gamble on outfielder from Japan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 2002: Page D2.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals take gamble on outfielder from Japan,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 2002: Page D2.

[7] Mike Eisenbath, “Warm welcome from fans has Taguchi saying ‘Wow’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 22, 2002: Page C5.

[8] Mike Eisenbath, “Warm welcome from fans has Taguchi saying ‘Wow’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 22, 2002: Page C5.

[9] Mike Eisenbath, “Warm welcome from fans has Taguchi saying ‘Wow’” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 22, 2002: Page C5.

[10] Joe Strauss, “Taguchi is told by Cardinals that he’s probably headed to Memphis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 24, 2002: Page D1.

[11] Joe Strauss, “Taguchi is told by Cardinals that he’s probably headed to Memphis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 24, 2002: Page D1.

[12] Joe Strauss, “Taguchi is told by Cardinals that he’s probably headed to Memphis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 24, 2002: Page D15.

[13] Joe Strauss, “Taguchi is told by Cardinals that he’s probably headed to Memphis,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 24, 2002: Page D15.

[14] Joe Strauss, “Williams is uncertain for next start in Houston,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 13, 2002: Page B5.

[15] Joe Strauss, “Pujols’ batting title is highlight of finale,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 29, 2003: Page D5.

[16] Joe Strauss, “Cardinals save their best for last,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 15, 2006: Page C9.

[17] Orix Buffaloes Player Directory 2021, https://www.buffaloes.co.jp/team/player/detail/2021_81.html.

January 9, 1996: Cardinals acquire Todd Stottlemyre in trade with Athletics

It turned out that the Cardinals weren’t quite done with their Christmas shopping.

Having already obtained Royce Clayton, Ron Gant, Andy Benes, Willie McGee, and Gary Gaetti ahead of the 1996 season, the Cardinals added yet another newcomer when they traded outfielder Allen Battle and pitchers Jay Witasick, Carl Dale, and Bret Wagner to the Athletics for Todd Stottlemyre.

After seven years with the Blue Jays, Stottlemyre had signed with the Oakland Athletics the previous April. Under Tony La Russa and Dave Duncan, the 30-year-old Stottlemyre went 14-7 with a 4.55 ERA, ranking second in the American League in strikeouts with 205.

“With Tony coming over to St. Louis and Duncan and the rest of the staff, I was hoping to come there,” Stottlemyre said. “I felt that last year I took another step toward being able to pitch to my capability.

“I feel I’ve got a lot of room for improvement, but I feel I got a lot closer last year. I felt I was more in control of myself throughout more ballgames. There are still lapses here and there, but I’ve been able to get control of my curveball and changeup and offspeed pitches instead of just being a fastball, slideball (slider) pitcher.”[1]

Despite his success in Oakland, Stottlemyre was due for arbitration after earning $1.8 million the previous season. With a pay raise looming, the Athletics chose to trade him for prospects.

“I knew it was in the works,” said Athletics manager Art Howe, who had taken the place of La Russa in Oakland. “Obviously, he’s a quality pitcher and I would’ve loved to have had him, but that’s out of our control.”[2]

In exchange, the Athletics obtained Battle, a 27-year-old, former 10th-round pick in the 1991 draft, and three pitching prospects who had yet to appear in the majors. In 1994, Battle hit .313 with six homers, 69 RBIs, and 23 stolen bases for the Cardinals’ Triple-A club in Louisville. The following year, he split time between Louisville and St. Louis, batting .271 with three stolen bases and just five extra-base hits in 118 at-bats with the big-league club.

“He plays center field, runs real good, and has some pop in his bat, but didn’t get much of a chance to play,” Howe said. “He could be the sleeper in this deal.”[3]

Witasick, a 6-foot-4, 22-year-old right-hander, was the Cardinals’ second-round pick out of the University of Maryland in 1993. He opened the 1995 season with the Cardinals’ high Class A affiliate in St. Petersburg, where he went 7-7 with a 2.74 ERA and 109 strikeouts in 105 innings. He was then promoted to Double-A Arkansas, where went 2-4 with a 6.88 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 34 innings.

Wagner, 22, was the Cardinals’ 1994 first-round draft choice out of Wake Forest University. Like Witasick, the left-hander split his 1995 season between high Class A affiliate St. Petersburg and Double-A Arkansas. In 93 1/3 innings in St. Petersburg, Wagner went 5-4 with a 2.12 ERA and 59 strikeouts. In Arkansas, he went 1-2 with a 3.19 ERA and 31 strikeouts over 36 2/3 innings.

Dale, 23, was the Cardinals’ second-round pick in the 1994 draft. A right-hander out of Winthrop University, Dale had spent the 1995 season at the Cardinals’ Class A affiliate in Peoria, where he went 9-9 with a 2.94 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 143 2/3 innings.

“When you go shopping in the high-rent district, you know it’s going to be expensive,” said Cardinals director of player development Mike Jorgensen, noting that all three pitchers were considered major-league prospects. “We’re still pitching-rich. People are always talking about our pitchers.”[4]

They were beginning to talk about the Cardinals’ major-league rotation as well, where Stottlemyre was joining a rotation that already included Andy Benes, Alan Benes, Danny Jackson, Donovan Osborne, and Mike Morgan. The Cardinals expected him to fill the No. 2 slot in the rotation behind fellow newcomer Benes.

“It’s a good problem to have too much pitching,” Stottlemyre said.[5]

The son of Yankees pitching legend Mel Stottlemyre and the brother of Mel Stottlemyre Jr., who pitched eight seasons with the Astros and Royals, Stottlemyre had originally been drafted by the Yankees in the fifth round of the 1983 draft. He didn’t sign, and instead continuing his playing career at Yakima Valley Community College. The Cardinals drafted him in the secondary phase of the 1985 draft, but he was battling arm troubles at the time and did not sign. Finally, the Blue Jays took him third overall in the June 1985 draft.

In seven seasons with the Blue Jays, he went 69-70 with a 4.39 ERA and was part of the Blue Jays’ world championship teams in 1992 and 1993. His 1995 season with Oakland had been his best season since he went 15-8 for the Blue Jays in 1991.

“He won 14 games and struck out a lot of people last year, but that’s still not a true measurement of what kind of season he had,” Duncan said. “He could have won five or six more if he had been on a better team. I’m excited because we know Todd, his makeup, his competitive intensity. We feel his best years are ahead of him.”[6]

One of the first phone calls Stottlemyre received after the trade was from his father Mel, who had pitched against the Cardinals in the 1964 World Series. Mel Stottlemyre matched up against Bob Gibson in both his starts, a Game 2 Yankees win and a Game 7 Cardinals win.

“He spoke of the tradition of this club and its history of winning pennants and World Series and … the way this city backs its baseball team,” Todd Stottlemyre said.[7]

Though he was coming to St. Louis with two World Series rings already in tow, Stottlemyre said he wanted an opportunity to play a leadership role on a championship team.

“In 1992, I came out of the bullpen and the next year I made only one start and that game was 15-14,” he said. “I want to be able to make a real contribution to the club and to the city.”

Stottlemyre wouldn’t reach the World Series in his three seasons with the Cardinals, but he did enjoy three strong seasons in St. Louis and helped the Cardinals reach the NLCS in 1996. That year, Stottlemyre went 14-11 with a 3.87 ERA over 223 1/3 innings, walking 93 and striking out 194.

In the postseason, he won Game 1 of the NLDS against the Padres, allowing one earned run over 6 2/3 innings. He walked two and struck out seven in earning the first postseason win of his career.

Facing Greg Maddux and the Braves in Game 2 the NLCS, Stottlemyre allowed three runs in six innings to earn the win. In Game 5, however, he lasted just one inning, allowing seven runs in a 14-0 loss.

Stottlemyre went 12-9 with a 3.88 ERA in 1997 and was 9-9 with a 3.51 ERA in 1998 when the Cardinals traded him and Royce Clayton to the Texas Rangers for Darren Oliver, Fernando Tatis, and a player to be named later. A little more than a week after the trade, the Rangers sent Mark Little to the Cardinals to complete the deal.

Across three seasons, Stottlemyre’s Cardinals career included a 35-29 record and 3.77 ERA.

Battle played one major-league season with Oakland, batting .192 with 10 stolen bases in 151 plate appearances. He played in the White Sox, Expos, and Cubs organizations and played one season in the Mexican League before retiring after the 1999 season.

Dale made four major-league appearances with the Brewers in 1999. Wagner never appeared in the majors.

Though Howe predicted that Battle could be the hidden gem in the deal, it was Witasick who put together a 12-year major league career, primarily as a reliever. Witasick pitched two three-year stints in Oakland in a career that included four seasons in San Diego, two seasons in Kansas City and stops in Tampa Bay, Colorado, San Francisco, and the New York Yankees. He finished his career with a 32-41 record and 4.64 ERA.


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre Joins Cards’ Arm Force,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 1996: Page D6.

[2] “A’s trade Stottlemyre to Cardinals,” San Francisco Examiner, January 9, 1996: Page D5.

[3] “A’s trade Stottlemyre to Cardinals,” San Francisco Examiner, January 9, 1996: Page D5.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre Joins Cards’ Arm Force,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 1996: Page D1.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre Joins Cards’ Arm Force,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 1996: Page D1.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Stottlemyre Joins Cards’ Arm Force,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, January 10, 1996: Page D6.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Batting Practice Is On Agenda For Lankford,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 2, 1996: Page D5.

April 18, 1987: Tom Herr’s 10th-inning grand slam lifts Cardinals over the Mets on Seat Cushion Night

For decades afterwards, Cardinals fans would simply remember the game as “Seat Cushion Night.”

The Cardinals and Mets game on April 18, 1987, appeared on the schedule to be an ordinary April ballgame. It was just the 10th game of the season for both teams, and while the St. Louis and New York ballclubs were considered the leading contenders for the National League East championship, it was too early in the season for the game to have a significant impact on the pennant race.

Then things got weird.

Danny Cox, the 6-foot-4 right-hander from Northampton, United Kingdom, had pitched well in his first two starts of the season and entered with a 2-0 record and 2.84 ERA. However, after working around two hits in the first inning, the Mets took the lead in the second with an RBI single by Lenny Dykstra.

In the third, Cox gave up a double to Darryl Strawberry and walked Kevin McReynolds. Howard Johnson followed with a three-run homer to right field.

“I don’t even feel like I pitched,” said Cox after allowing four runs in three innings. “The game was a lot better after I got out. It couldn’t have got any worse. They hit my good pitches and they hit my bad pitches.”[1]

With Pat Perry pitching in the fourth, Keith Hernandez added a sacrifice fly that gave the Mets a 5-0 lead.

Mets starting pitcher Ron Darling allowed just one hit through the first three innings, but the Cardinals’ offense awoke in a crazy fourth inning. Tom Herr and Jack Clark led off with singles, and Willie McGee was credited with a single after he hit a hard ground ball up the middle. Mets second baseman Wally Backman got to the ball but dropped it as Herr scored.

Jim Lindeman followed with a two-run double in the right-field gap that scored Clark and McGee. After Terry Pendleton grounded out, the Cardinals attempted a suicide squeeze. Steve Lake bunted it foul, and Hernandez, the former Cardinals all-star, kicked the ball into the Cardinals dugout. Annoyed, Pendleton threw the ball back in Hernandez’s direction.

“It was two competitors,” Hernandez said. “It was the heat of battle. We had words in the middle innings, but when he got that hit in the last inning, we made up.

“Terry’s a good kid. I shouldn’t have kicked the ball in the dugout. I was wrong.”[2]

With the squeeze called off, Lake hit a ground ball up the middle that Backman fielded and threw home. Lindeman scored easily and Lake was credited with a single.

Darling struck out Perry for the second out of the inning before Vince Coleman singled and Ozzie Smith drew a four-pitch walk that loaded the bases. Darling then walked Herr on four pitches, tying the score 5-5. Mets manager Davey Johnson replaced Darling with David Cone, who struck out Clark to end the inning.

“We gave them five outs,” Davey Johnson said.[3]

Two innings later, the Cardinals took their first lead of the evening. Cone retired the first two batters he faced, but walked Smith. Herr followed with a double to right field that scored Smith from first base, giving the Cardinals a 6-5 lead and inspiring hundreds of the more than 48,000 St. Louis fans to throw that night’s promotional seat cushions onto the field. The game was delayed for six minutes while stadium personnel removed the cushions.[4]

Perry’s pitching had given the Cardinals a chance to erase the Mets’ early lead, but after he allowed a single to Strawberry to open the eighth, Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog brought Todd Worrell into the game. Prior to the game, Worrell was recognized as the 1986 National League Rookie of the Year and Fireman of the Year Award winner. During the game, however, Worrell was unable to find the strike zone. After Strawberry was caught stealing, Worrell walked three batters before finally retiring Dykstra on a fly ball to shallow left field.

The Cardinals carried their one-run lead into the ninth, but Worrell’s wildness continued. After Worrell walked Backman and Hernandez, giving him five walks in an inning of work, Herzog called on Bill Dawley, a 6-foot-5, 235-pound right-hander whom the Cardinals had acquired the previous offseason from the White Sox in a trade for Fred Manrique.

Dawley retired Carter and Strawberry on fly balls (Vince Coleman made a leaping catch of Strawberry’s fly to rob him of extra bases), but McReynolds singled into left field to score Backman and Howard Johnson followed with a line-drive single to right. Hernandez scored, giving the Mets a 7-6 lead, but Tito Landrum, who had replaced Lindeman in right field after Lindeman pulled his right hamstring, threw McReynolds out at the plate to end the inning. That proved to be a crucial play.

To save the game, Davey Johnson turned to Jesse Orosco, a left-hander from Santa Barbara, California, who was drafted by the Cardinals in the seventh round of the 1977 draft but didn’t sign. Smith, reaching base for the third time in the game, drew a leadoff walk and Herr sacrificed him to second base. With Clark at the plate, Smith stole third base and scored on a throwing error by Mets catcher Gary Carter.

The Mets regained the lead in the top of the 10th. Al Pedrique, who entered the game at shortstop after Rafael Santana was lifted for a pinch hitter, drew a walk to lead off the inning and advanced to second base on a sacrifice bunt by Dave Magadan. With Dave LaPoint in the game in place of Dawley, Dykstra advanced Pedrique to third base with a ground ball to first base, putting Pedrique in position to score when LaPoint uncorked a wild pitch. After walking Tim Teufel, LaPoint retired Hernandez on a ground ball to end the inning.

For the third time in the game, the Cardinals rallied back. Orosco retired Landrum to open the inning, but Pendleton and Lake singled. Herzog inserted rookie catcher Tom Pagnozzi in the game to bat for Curt Flood and replaced Lake on the base paths with Tom Lawless.

Pagnozzi was up to the task, lashing his first big-league hit to right field to tie the score. Coleman grounded to first base for the second out of the inning, but advanced Lawless to third and Pagnozzi to second. The Mets chose to walk Smith to load the bases and pitch to Herr, who already had reached base four times in the game and had driven in the winning run in three of the Cardinals’ five previous victories that season.

It proved to be a poor decision. Orosco threw a first-pitch fastball and Herr turned on it, depositing the ball over the left-field wall for a 12-8 victory.

“As a hitter, that’s a perfect situation to be in because there was nowhere to put me,” Herr said in 2020. “(Orosco) had to get ahead and he had no command of his breaking ball that night. That’s what made him great – he was a slider pitcher – but he got in trouble with his slider so he couldn’t throw that. I was just sitting on a fastball, hopefully something up in the zone that I could hit a sacrifice fly. That was all we needed. That fly ball just happened to go out of the ballpark.”[5]

Orosco knew it was headed over the wall as soon as it was hit.

“I was hoping it would hit a bird or something,” he said.[6]

As Herr circled the bases, hundreds more of the promotional seat cushions were tossed onto the field, so many that when the Cardinals and Mets arrived at the stadium the following day, the grounds crew was still picking them up.[7]

“I knew it was out when I hit it,” Herr said. “It was a great feeling seeing everybody waiting at home plate and going a little crazy.”[8]

After the game, an usher brought Herr the game-winning home run ball.

“Is it dented on the side?” Herr asked.[9]

Herr finished the game 3-for-3 with two walks, two runs scored, and six RBIs. Smith drew four walks in the game and stole two bases, and McGee, Pendleton, and Lake finished with two hits apiece. LaPoint was credited with the win, while Orosco took the loss for the Mets.

“Our guys showed a lot of guts,” Cox said. “Down 5-0 in the fourth inning and we come back and win … that shows what this club is made of.”[10]


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Cox Marvels At Cards’ Saturday Night Special,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 20, 1987: Page 6C.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Slam Stuns Mets 12-8,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 1987: Page F1.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Slam Stuns Mets 12-8,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 1987: Page F1.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Slam Stuns Mets 12-8,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 1987: Page F1.

[5] KSDK Interview, “Tommy Herr talks about the famous ‘seat cushion night’ at Busch Stadium in 1987,” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C49qoyikhyo, May 27, 2020.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Slam Stuns Mets 12-8,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 1987: Page F1.

[7] Rick Hummel, “What a wild ride the Cards took in ’87,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 13, 2007: Page B5.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Herr’s Slam Stuns Mets 12-8,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 19, 1987: Page F1.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Cox Marvels At Cards’ Saturday Night Special,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 20, 1987: Page 6C.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Cox Marvels At Cards’ Saturday Night Special,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 20, 1987: Page 6C.

December 23, 1995: Cardinals sign Ron Gant and Andy Benes

When the ownership group led by Bill DeWitt Jr., Andrew Baur, and Frederick O. Hanser announced just before Christmas 1995 that they had purchased the St. Louis Cardinals for $150 million, they were under no illusions – the Redbirds weren’t very good.

The team had just completed a 62-81 strike-shortened season in which Joe Torre was fired after 47 games and Mike Jorgensen managed the club the remainder of the season.

“We want to win now,” new Cardinals chairman Frederick O. Hanswer said. “The fans deserve to see some more World Series and some championships.”[1]

Of course, the new owners recognized that a lot of work remained before the Cardinals would be ready to compete for such prizes.

“I’d have to say that last year’s Cardinals team was the worst I’d ever seen,” Baur said.[2]

“I second that,” agreed Hanser. “We went to fewer games than we had in a long time.”[3]

The new owners didn’t wait long to attempt to rectify the situation. On December 23, 1995, the same day that many Cardinals fans were reading about the new ownership group in the local paper, the Cardinals spent $33 million to sign outfielder Ron Gant and starting pitcher Andy Benes.

Gant, who signed a five-year deal worth an estimated $25 million,[4] was coming off an all-star season with the Reds in which he hit 29 homers, drove in 88 runs, and stole 23 bases with a .276 batting average, .386 on-base percentage, and .554 slugging percentage.

Gant had played his first seven seasons with the Braves, totaling 147 homers, 480 RBIs, and 157 stolen bases. After he broke his left leg in a dirt bike accident that forced him to miss the 1994 season, the Braves released Gant and he played his 1995 campaign with the Reds.

“It’s been a long time coming,” Gant said of his contract with the Cardinals. “I’ve put up a lot of good numbers in the major leagues. I’ve always heard good things about playing St. Louis and the new ownership is ready to do something. They’re ready to win.”

Reds general manager Jim Bowden had talked to Gant’s agents after Gant declined arbitration, but said that with the team’s salary commitments and their unwillingness to increase payroll, bringing the National League Comeback Player of the Year back to Cincinnati would be impossible.

“Obviously it’s a shame, but there’s no economic way we could have kept Ron Gant,” Bowden said. “Even if we were to move a couple of starting pitchers, it wouldn’t have freed up enough money to sign Ron. It would have taken a miracle.”[5]

Reds manager Ray Knight said, “That’s 25-plus home runs per year that will be hard to make up.”[6]

Before signing Gant, the Cardinals pursued Astros second baseman Craig Biggio, who returned to the Astros on a four-year, $22.6 million contract. Gant said his talks with the Cardinals only became serious after Biggio was taken off the board.[7]

The Padres and White Sox had also been in the hunt for Gant’s services. The Padres initially offered Gant a three-year, $15 million contract, then upped the proposal to four years and approximately $20 million.[8] Instead, after talking to the Cardinals’ new manager, Tony La Russa, and former Cardinal Terry Pendleton, Gant opted for St. Louis’s offer.[9]

“St. Louis and Walt Jocketty were more aggressive than other ballclubs were toward me,” Gant said.[10]

Padres general manager Kevin Towers said that five years was a longer contract than he was comfortable with.

“A lot of things could happen to a guy in that time,” he said. “To me, locking up a guy that long is too long.”[11]

Just as the Cardinals were looking to slot Gant into the cleanup spot in the order, they looked to Benes to serve as the new ace of the staff. Benes, whose brother Alan had pitched his first three major-league games for the Cardinals in 1995, signed a two-year contract worth $8.1 million with a $3.4 million club option for the 1998 season.[12]

“St. Louis is the place I wanted to play,” Benes said. “I have a lot of admiration for the Cardinals. I grew up watching the Cardinals play and having my brother there makes it really special. I couldn’t be more happy.”[13]

Benes grew up in Lake Forest, Illinois, and Evansville, Indiana, and pitched for the University of Evansville before the Padres made him the No. 1 choice in the 1988 draft.

“I was excited when the Cardinals began to show interest, but when it was getting closer and closer, I began to think something was going to happen to not get this done,” Benes said. “My brothers are excited and my parents are very proud. To play for a team that has someone with the respect of a Dave Duncan and Tony La Russa … any pitcher would be excited. I think by the Cardinals getting La Russa to be manager shows a commitment to getting things turned around. This team will be very good and have the opportunity to go to the playoffs every year.”[14]

In seven seasons with the Padres, Benes went 69-75 with a 3.57 ERA and an all-star appearance in 1993. At the previous trade deadline, the Padres dealt Benes to Seattle, where he went 7-2 with a 5.86 ERA to help the Mariners reach the ALCS.

Benes admitted that he may have worn out his welcome in San Diego, where he wasn’t afraid to criticize the team.

“I took it personally when they traded guys,” Benes said. “I kind of tried to carry too much of the burden, and then I was the player rep.

“This has renewed my enthusiasm and love for the game that I had kind of lost. I’d be lying to you if I didn’t say that St. Louis was my first choice. When the Cardinals drafted Alan, I was a bit envious.”[15]

 The new signings were just the latest moves for a Cardinals team that had already traded for shortstop Royce Clayton and pitcher Rick Honeycutt and signed third baseman Gary Gaetti.

“I think the St. Louis fans should be excited about the type of team we’re going to put out there,” Gant said. “I think we’ve got just as good a chance to win as any team I’ve played for.”[16]

Gant pointed to the presence of both Benes brothers, Clayton, Ozzie Smith, and Ray Lankford as key factors in his decision to come to St. Louis.

“I see the possibility of this team making a total 180 right away and that played probably the biggest role in my decision,” he said.[17]

Gant’s prediction proved accurate. Behind 18 wins from Andy Benes and 30 home runs from Gant, the Cardinals won the National League Central Division in 1996 with an 88-74 record.

Benes finished the regular season 18-10 with a 3.83 ERA over 230 1/3 innings. Gant hit .246/.359/.504 and drove in 82 runs. Facing the Padres in Game 2 of the NLDS, Benes struck out nine batters in seven innings. He received a no-decision as the Cardinals won, 5-4. In the NLCS against the Braves, he appeared in three games, including two starts. He posted a 5.28 ERA across 15 1/3 innings and did not receive a decision.

Gant played an equally important role in the postseason, batting .400 in the NLDS against the Padres with one home run and four RBIs. Against the Braves, he hit .240 and hit two home runs in Game 3, lifting the Cardinals to a 3-2 win.

Benes had another strong season in 1997, lowering his ERA to 3.10 and finishing the year with a 10-7 record. Gant, however, took a step back that season, hitting .229/.310/.388 with 17 homers and 62 RBIs. The Cardinals fell to fourth place in the division.

That offseason, Benes signed with the Mariners, though he would return to St. Louis in 2000 and pitched the final three years of his career with the Cardinals.

Gant got his power stroke back in 1998, batting .240/.331/.493 with 26 homers and 67 RBIs. After the season, the Cardinals traded him, alongside Jeff Brantley and Cliff Politte, to the Phillies for Garrett Stephenson and Ricky Bottalico.


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[1] Rick Hummel, “New Cards Owners Ready to Play,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page A1.

[2] Rick Hummel, “New Cards Owners Ready to Play,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page A1.

[3] Rick Hummel, “New Cards Owners Ready to Play,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page A1.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F1.

[5] Tom Groeschen, “Gant gets $25M,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 24, 1995: Page C1.

[6] Tom Groeschen, “Gant gets $25M,” Cincinnati Enquirer, December 24, 1995: Page C1.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F7.

[8] John Schlegel, “Frustrated Padres lose Gant to the Cardinals,” North County (Calif.) Times, December 24, 1995: Page C7.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F7.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F7.

[11] John Schlegel, “Frustrated Padres lose Gant to the Cardinals,” North County (Calif.) Times, December 24, 1995: Page C7.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F1.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F7.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F7.

[15] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F7.

[16] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F1.

[17] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals Sign Gant And Benes,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 24, 1995: Page F7.

September 2, 1996: Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee spark Cardinals’ comeback

For the first time since the Whitey Herzog days of the 1980s, the Cardinals were in the thick of a pennant race. So it was fitting that two stars of the 1980s, Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, led the Cardinals to an extra-inning victory over the Astros on September 2, 1996.

The Cardinals entered the day with a 72-65 record, trailing the National League Central Division leaders, the Astros, by 1 ½ games and leading the third-place Cubs by three games. St. Louis had been streaky during the first half of a 12-game home stand, dropping three straight to the Marlins before sweeping the Rockies in three games.

Heading into the contest, the biggest news wasn’t in relation to the game itself, but two attendees in the stands – Republican Party presidential candidate Bob Dole and his running mate, Jack Kemp.

Left-hander Donovan Osborne, a 1990 first-round draft pick who entered the game with an 11-8 record and a 3.14 ERA, was starting the game for the Cardinals. Osborne’s 11 wins matched the career high he had set as a rookie in 1992, when he placed fifth in the Rookie of the Year voting. The Astros were countering with Darryl Kile, who entered with a 10-8 record and 4.17 ERA.

Neither pitcher would last deep into the game.

The Astros jumped on Osborne from the start. Brian Hunter led off the game with a line-drive single to left and Jeff Bagwell pulled a double into left field to drive him home. With two outs, third baseman Sean Berry doubled down the left-field line to score Bagwell and James Mouton hit an RBI single to right to make the score 3-0.

Smith and McGee would get the Cardinals on the scoreboard in the bottom half of the inning. Smith led off with a double to left field and Ray Lankford laid down a sacrifice bunt to advance Smith to third. McGee, starting in place of the injured Ron Gant, followed with an RBI single to left that scored Smith and cut the Astros’ lead to 3-1.

After Osborne retired the side in order in the top of the second, the Cardinals rallied to tie the game. Gary Gaetti and Luis Alicea each singled before Osborne hit an RBI double and Smith brought home a run on an RBI groundout.

However, Osborne would run into trouble again in the fourth inning. Berry led off the inning with a solo home run to left field, and after Mouton reached on an infield single and stole third base, Ricky Gutierrez brought him home with a single to left. Two batters later, Cardinals manager Tony La Russa brought in Mark Petkovsek, who walked Hunter to load the bases.

After Petkovsek struck out Craig Biggio for the second out of the inning, Bagwell hit a two-run single to left to give the Astros a 7-3 lead.

“You knock Donovan out and you’re up 7-3 in the fourth, you feel things are going your way,” Bagwell said. “It seemed like we’d get a nice, easy win but it didn’t work out that way.”[1]

The 41-year-old Smith once again answered in the bottom half of the inning, this time with a two-run home run to right field that made the score 7-5.

Rich Batchelor held the Astros scoreless in the fifth and sixth innings. With one out in the bottom of the sixth, Smith walked and Lankford, who had been batting just .198 against left-handers,[2] singled into left. McGee then followed with a single of his own, scoring Smith and pulling the Cardinals back within a run.

La Russa turned to T.J. Mathews, who struck out three while holding the Astros scoreless in the seventh and eighth innings.

In the bottom of the eighth, the Cardinals tied the score once again on an RBI double by Lankford. Dennis Eckersley worked around a leadoff single by Hunter for a scoreless ninth inning, and after Tony Fossas got the first two outs in the 10th, La Russa called on Alan Benes to record the final out. The last time Benes had come out of the bullpen, he was pitching at Creighton University.

“It’s just a great feeling being able to be part of a big win like that,” Benes said. “I was told that if we happened to get into a situation where we played a couple of extra innings or we used a lot of pitchers, it was possible I would have to get in there. I had a couple of days before my next start.”[3]

With Doug Brocail on the mound for the Astros in the bottom half of the inning, Alicea led off the inning with a single. Danny Schaeffer tried to bunt Alicea to second base, but Bagwell pounced on the bunt and threw out the lead runner. La Russa then called upon Miguel Mejia to pinch run. With Smith at the plate, Mejia stole second to get into scoring position with one out. Smith came through with a single into left, but Mouton threw Mejia out at the plate to keep the Astros’ hopes alive.

“He took a hellaciously wide turn (around third base),” La Russa said of Mejia. “I guarantee you that tomorrow afternoon about 4 o’clock, he’ll be working on his turns. He was probably closer to the guys in the third-base dugout than he was to the third-base coach. Mouton made a great play and a great throw, but on a ground-ball single a guy who runs like the wind should score.”[4]

Smith advanced to second on the play, so the Cardinals still had a runner in scoring position.

“When we were losing early, Willie and Ozzie kept telling us to keep fighting and keep competing,” right fielder Brian Jordan said. “They said it would boil down to the last inning. … When I saw Ozzie get to second base, I had a feeling someone was going to be a hero.”[5]

That someone would be McGee. With two outs in the inning, Brocail intentionally walked Lankford to face the 37-year-old veteran even though he already had three hits on the day. That proved to be a mistake.

As McGee stepped to the plate, Lankford saw McGee scratch his head. Then he scratched his head again. Lankford smiled.

“Any time Willie scratches his head, he’s locked in,” Lankford explained. “When I saw him scratch his head a second time, I knew he was going to come through.”[6]

McGee lined a single into left that scored Smith and gave the Cardinals the 8-7 victory. It was McGee’s fourth single and third RBI of the day. For Smith, it was the fourth time he had scored that day; including the three times McGee drove him home.

“It was outstanding competition,” La Russa said. “We’ve played this club five times with first place at stake. There hasn’t been a bad game yet.”[7]

At the end of the game, Smith was batting .294 with a .368 on-base percentage (OBP) for the season. McGee was batting .302 with a .342 OBP.

“I’m going out, hopefully the way I came in,” Smith said. “I’ve always tried to respect this game. I’ve given my all each and every day.

“Given the opportunity, I could probably still play another two or three years – given the opportunity. All I can ask for is the opportunity. Willie and I are doing what we know we can do and have been asked to do.”[8]

With the win, the Cardinals pulled within half a game of the Astros. They went on to sweep the three-game series as part of an eight-game win streak that catapulted the team into first place.

September proved a month to forget for the Astros, as a nine-game losing streak that ran September 13-24 allowed the Cardinals to open a lead that reached as many as seven games in the final days of the season.

After capturing the National League Central Division crown, the Cardinals swept the National League West champion Padres before falling to the Braves in a seven-game National League Championship Series.


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Another Benes Plays Both Ends,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C5.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Another Benes Plays Both Ends,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C5.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Another Benes Plays Both Ends,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C5.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Another Benes Plays Both Ends,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C5.

[5] Mike Eisenbath, “McGee Can Run (& Hit) But He Can’t Hide,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C5.

[6] Mike Eisenbath, “McGee Can Run (& Hit) But He Can’t Hide,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C5.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Golden Oldies,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C1.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Golden Oldies,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, September 3, 1996: Page C1.