Few and Chosen Cardinals: Defining Cardinal Greatness Across the Erasby Tim McCarver, Phil Pepe, Joe Buck (Foreword by)
Part historical catalog, part biography, and part baseball primer for beginners and experts alike, this account lists the arguably best five players at each position by one of the best players in St. Louis history—Tim McCarver. The book is ideal for any baseball fan who wants to learn more about the game and includes immortals such as Cy Young, Stan
Part historical catalog, part biography, and part baseball primer for beginners and experts alike, this account lists the arguably best five players at each position by one of the best players in St. Louis history—Tim McCarver. The book is ideal for any baseball fan who wants to learn more about the game and includes immortals such as Cy Young, Stan Musial, Ozzie Smith, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Leo Durocher, Steve Carlton, and Mark McGwire.
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Few and Chosen
Defining Cardinal Greatness Across the Eras
By Tim McCarver, Phil Pepe
Triumph BooksCopyright © 2003 Tim McCarver Phil Pepe
All rights reserved.
1. TED SIMMONS
2. WALKER COOPER
3. HAL SMITH
4. TOM PAGNOZZI
5. DEL RICE
I think I'm safe in saying I was part of the most important trade in baseball history. I don't say this out of vanity, although getting traded, especially the first time, is a trauma that hits an athlete personally and with a profound impact.
The reason this trade between the St. Louis Cardinals and the Philadelphia Phillies on October 7, 1969, was so historic is that one of the players traded was Curt Flood, who had been a standout center fielder for the Cardinals for 12 seasons. This was the trade that opened the eyes of the baseball world to the primitive nature of baseball's sanctified reserve clause and set in motion the whole concept of free agency.
Flood refused to report to Philadelphia and though he lost his case in the Supreme Court, a year later the Players Association ultimately won in binding arbitration its contention that players should not be confined to one team in perpetuity. And, perhaps because of that courageous stand, 31 years later, Alex Rodriguez was able to sign with the Texas Rangers for more than $250 million for 10 years.
I'll discuss Flood, his extraordinary stand, and his place in baseball history in the chapter dealing with center fielders. For now, back to this trade. I was packaged by the Cardinals with Flood, left-handed reliever Joe Hoerner, and outfielder Byron Browne and dealt to the Phillies in exchange for the great Dick Allen, veteran infielder Cookie Rojas, and a right-handed pitcher, Jerry Johnson.
As I said, the trade hit me hard, since I had signed with the Cardinals, and had played in St. Louis for 10 seasons. The Cardinals were the only organization I knew.
There were several reasons, I believe, for the Cardinals trading me after I had come off a decent year in which I caught 136 games, and more important, had played in three World Series before my 28 birthday.
One reason for the trade, I'm convinced, is that I had begun to get active with the Players' Association. I was the Cardinals' player representative, and I had a few run-ins with the brewery that owned the team (Anheuser-Busch) over things like players getting paid for appearances. I was stirring the waters. The Cardinals are a very close-knit organization and very conservative, and they didn't like having players around who caused turbulence, so I'm sure that's one reason they got rid of me.
"In 1973, I swear Simmons hit 400 balls right on the screws. It seemed everything he hit was a line drive, even his outs."
Another reason was that they had a young catcher coming through their system who they thought was going to be a star, and they wanted to make room for him. The catcher's name was Ted Simmons. He was a "can't miss" prospect, a switch-hitter and, man, could he hit.
The first time I can remember seeing Simmons was when he came up to the Cardinals at the end of the 1969 season. He got into five games, had 14 at bats, and three hits, including a game-winning hit. The Cardinals were convinced he was ready to take over the catching job, so while my union activities might have been a reason for the Cardinals trading me, Simmons was the main reason for the trade.
Teddy took over as the Cards' regular catcher in 1970 and almost immediately began showing the promise the Cardinals saw in him by batting over .300 in 1971 and 1972. When I returned to St. Louis in 1973 I saw firsthand what a terrific hitter he was.
Defensively, he wasn't a great technician, but he was very intelligent and a good handler of pitchers. It was his bat that set him apart. In 1973, I swear Simmons hit 400 balls right on the screws. It seemed everything he hit was a line drive, even his outs. He had 619 at-bats and 192 hits, and he batted .310, but I believe with luck, he could have had 300 hits that year. That's how hard he hit the ball all year.
At the end of the 1969 season, one of the writers traveling with the Cardinals wrote an article criticizing my dress and hairstyle. Maybe he was talked into writing the article by Cardinals management to justify getting rid of me. The article wondered whatever happened to that crew cut kid who came up to the Cardinals at the age of 17. Well, times and styles were changing in the sixties. The Vietnam War had changed a nation. We were wearing Nehru jackets and wearing our hair longer. On a dare from Dal Maxvill I had grown long sideburns promoting the style of the day. The article pointed out all of this as an indication that I had changed and was becoming somewhat rebellious.
When Simmons reported to spring training in 1970, he had his hair in a ponytail. It was so long, he needed a rubber band to bind it. I couldn't resist seeking out the writer who had written the article about me, Neal Russo of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and telling him, "If you can hit, you can wear your hair down to the ground. And you should know that!"
No knock on Teddy's mane — we called him "Simba," which means "lion" in Swahili — for whom I have the greatest respect. He was a very bright guy. Still is. The Pirates made him their general manager. He played at 5'11", 193 pounds, but he was one of the physically toughest human beings I've ever known. But he never flaunted his strength.
Simmons played 21 seasons in the major leagues, 13 with the Cardinals, five with the Brewers, and three with the Braves. He finished with 2,472 hits, 248 home runs, 1,389 RBIs, and a lifetime average of .285. He caught more games than any catcher in Cardinals history and is in their top ten in at-bats, hits, total bases, doubles, home runs, RBIs, and walks. That's why he's number one on my list of Cardinals catchers and, in my view, the catcher on the all-time switch-hitters team.
I met Walker Cooper (my old teammate Don Blasingame married his daughter), but I never saw him play. I have heard enough about him, though, and I am impressed enough by his record to make him number two on my list of all-time Cardinals catchers. Walker was a big bear of a man out of Atherton, Missouri, 6'3", 210 pounds, and a strong hitter in the Ernie Lombardi mold, meaning he couldn't run, but he always hit the ball hard.
He was the catcher on those great Cardinals teams of the forties that won three National League pennants and two World Series in three years, 1942–43–44, and might have won more if World War II hadn't come along. Walker and his brother, Mort, formed what may be the greatest brother battery in baseball history, although there aren't many of them. I can think of Rick and Wes Ferrell, Larry and Norm Sherry, Bobby and Wilmer Shantz.
Big Coop, as he was called, batted .318 with the Cardinals in 1943 and .317 in 1944. He had his biggest year with the Giants in 1947, when he teamed with another ex-Cardinal, Johnny Mize, and helped the Giants set the then National League record for home runs with 221. Cooper batted .305 that season, was fourth in the league with 35 home runs, and was third with 122 RBIs.
Third on my list is Hal Smith, who preceded me as the Cardinals' regular catcher. Hal probably would have delayed my promotion to the major leagues, but he suffered a heart attack in 1961 and that accelerated my career and helped me become the Cards' regular catcher in 1963, at the age of 21.
I should point out that there were two Hal Smiths who were contemporaries in the major leagues, both catchers. The other Hal Smith played with five teams, Baltimore, Kansas City, Pittsburgh, Houston, and Cincinnati, and gained a measure of fame with the Pirates in the 1960 World Series against the Yankees. He hit the three-run homer in the bottom of the eighth inning of the seventh game that enabled the Pirates to take the lead. Then, after the Yankees tied the game, they won it in the bottom of the ninth on Bill Mazeroski's sudden-death home run, one of the most famous home runs in baseball history.
That wasn't our Hal Smith. Our Hal Smith hit only 23 home runs in a major league career that spanned 570 games. He drove in only 172 runs and had a lifetime batting average of .258. That may raise some eyebrows among people who might wonder how I could put someone with those offensive numbers third on the Cardinals' all-time list of catchers. The reason is, as a catcher myself, I have a great appreciation of the defensive skills required in the job, and behind the plate Hal was as good as they come. He could catch. He could really catch, with soft, pliable hands, and he could throw lasers. He was a lot like Jerry Grote of the Mets, who was the best defensive catcher I ever saw. Hal Smith was on a par with Grote, and the pitchers loved to pitch to him. Not enough is made, I don't believe, about what a catcher does for a pitcher. All pitchers loved Hal Smith.
Tom Pagnozzi, fourth on my list, was a lot like an umpire. A good umpire is one you hardly notice is on the field. Pagnozzi wasn't great at any one thing, but he was good at a lot of things. A decent hitter and a good receiver, Pagnozzi was good enough to spend 12 seasons with the Cardinals, most of them as their number one catcher. And good enough to have caught 827 games for the Cards, just behind me in fourth place on their all-time list.
Del Rice is fifth on my list. He was an excellent receiver and thrower who had a little pop in his bat and was capable enough to spend 17 years in the major leagues, 11 of them with the Cardinals. But he was miscast. He should have been a cowboy actor. He was tall and rugged, Jack Palance with an Alan Ladd face. The original Marlboro Man. He reminded me of Gary Cooper or Randolph Scott, with his weather-beaten face and rugged good looks. Later, he became a manager for the Angels and a major league scout. I'd run into him often and he was a joy to be around.
We were teammates briefly in 1960. Del was 37 years old and at the end of his career. I was just 18 and had come up to the Cardinals late in the season. Del taught me a valuable lesson that I never forgot. We came out of a meeting one day and Del sat me down and said, "I saw you in there and you looked like you didn't agree with some things. My opinion about meetings is you should sit there, nod your head, and then go out and do what your gut tells you to do. Solly Hemus [our manager] never caught. Johnny Keane never caught. They've never been behind the plate. They haven't seen what you've seen. They don't know what you know. So, just listen to what they say, then go do what you think is right."
It was a credo, learned from Del Rice, that I used throughout my career.
I would be remiss if I didn't include in a discussion of Cardinals catchers one Bill DeLancey. He doesn't make my list of all-time Cardinals catchers, nor should he. He was a Cardinal for only parts of four seasons.
I mention DeLancey because when I first came up, one of the veteran writers told me I reminded him of Bill DeLancey. The reason, I guess, is that we were about the same size — DeLancey 5'11", 185 pounds, me 6', 183 pounds — and we were both left-handed-hitting catchers.
One day this writer asked me, "Son, how does it feel to be compared to Bill DeLancey?" I just looked at him with a blank stare. I had no idea who he was talking about.
Later, I looked up DeLancey in the Baseball Encyclopedia and no wonder I didn't know anything about him. He played his last season with the Cardinals in 1940, the year before I was born. And he died in 1946, when I was five years old. And he was hardly a prominent player.
I mean no disrespect to Bill DeLancey. I have the utmost respect for anyone who makes it to the big leagues. I know how difficult it is to get there, especially for a catcher, the most demanding position on the field. I'm sure the writer who compared me to Bill DeLancey meant it as a compliment. But am I supposed to be flattered being compared to someone who caught only 180 major league games, a little more than one full season?CHAPTER 2
1. MARK MCGWIRE
2. KEITH HERNANDEZ
3. "SUNNY" JIM BOTTOMLEY
4. JOHNNY MIZE
5. BILL WHITE
When I heard that Mark McGwire had decided to retire, I was dumbfounded. I was disappointed and confused. This was October of 2001, and I wondered why Mark wouldn't announce his retirement during the World Series. But vintage McGwire reared his humble head once more.
Baseball would have brought Mark to the World Series and had him make his announcement on a national stage; or at least they would have brought him to New York where he could state to the national media his intention to leave baseball. This would have been done had Commissioner Bud Selig and baseball's hierarchy known of McGwire's surprising plans. They didn't; thus, McGwire's retirement came as a strange footnote after a staggering World Series that thrust baseball back into the nation's consciousness.
This odd announcement was in stark contrast to just three years earlier when McGwire captured the imagination of a nation by hitting 70 home runs, bringing hundreds of thousands of fans out to ballparks all across the country and creating countless numbers of new fans.
If Babe Ruth had announced his retirement similarly in 1930, three years after setting a new home-run record, would that announcement have been dismissed in such a somber fashion? McGwire's 70 home runs at least matched the enormity of Ruth's 60 home runs 71 years earlier. That's how big Mark McGwire was — as big as Babe Ruth was in his day. That's how monumental his achievement was in 1998. It was Ruthian. Or, put another way, Ruth's achievement was McGwirean.
"I don't think what Mark did was fully appreciated because he spoiled people."
But, then, grandstanding, posturing, and bravado never have been what Mark McGwire is about. He was the game's biggest star, but he never was its highest paid player. Not that McGwire was deprived. He made $15 million a year, but he could have demanded more, and the Cardinals would have had to pay him. They could have paid him much, much more, and still he would have been a bargain. He was satisfied with what he made, and he genuinely put playing in St. Louis above signing for millions more elsewhere.
The Cardinals have had a few great first basemen, and McGwire was a Cardinal for only four-and-a-half seasons, but he belongs on the top of the list by the sheer magnitude of his accomplishments. What he did was the stuff of legends. He was the essence of power, one of the great home-run hitters of all time.
I don't think what Mark did was fully appreciated because he spoiled people. In 1998, when he and Sammy Sosa were chasing Roger Maris' home-run record, Mark hit four home runs the last two days of the season. He made it look so easy that some might not have fully appreciated the degree of difficulty of hitting 70 home runs. Even today, when home runs are more plentiful than ever, his feat will endure as one of the greatest in the history of American sports.
The same goes for Barry Bonds. What Bonds did in 2001, hitting 73 home runs, was truly electrifying. Add to that an all-time record for slugging average at .863, an all-time record for walks with 177, which he broke the following season, a .515 on-base percentage, and a .328 batting average, all at the age of 37. It's mind-boggling.
The only other player to have a slugging average higher than .800, an on-base percentage higher than .500, more than 150 walks, and more than 50 home runs in the same season was Babe Ruth. And he did that 80 years before Bonds did.
Think of it. Bonds had 476 official at-bats in 2001, not counting walks, sacrifice flies, and hit-by-pitches, and hit 73 home runs. That's one home run for every six-and-a-half at-bats. Unbelievable! In 1927, when he hit 60 home runs, Ruth had one home run for every nine at-bats. McGwire, when he hit 70 homers in 1998, had one for every 7.3 at-bats. Bobby Valentine has said, and I agree, that you can make a case that in 2001, Barry Bonds had the greatest offensive season in the history of baseball.
Bonds stands alone with his 73 home runs, but people took that for granted because it came only three years after McGwire broke the record. Don't forget, McGwire broke Maris' record 37 years after Maris broke Babe Ruth's record. And Ruth's record lasted 34 years before Maris broke it.
The fact that Bonds broke the record only three years after McGwire set it does not diminish what Bonds did. It points more to the achievement of Bonds. Just as McGwire's breaking Maris' record does not diminish what Maris did, and Maris' breaking Ruth's record does not diminish what Ruth did.
"I saw Vic Power. I saw Wes Parker, Ron Fairly, Don Mattingly, and J. T. Snow. They all were outstanding defensive first basemen. Hernandez was better. No contest."
What McGwire did was awesome. In four years, from 1996 to 1999, he averaged 61 home runs a year. Until Mark came along, only one player in the history of baseball had ever hit 61 home runs in one year.
At 6'5", 250 pounds, McGwire exuded power. He had this royal bearing at the plate. Even his retirement announcement was regal. Low-key and humble. No big fanfare. It wasn't like him to call attention to himself, make himself out to be bigger than the game. Although I was disappointed at his bowing out in such stealthy understatement, the more I thought about it, the more I understood it. It wasn't his style to overshadow anybody else.
Excerpted from Few and Chosen by Tim McCarver, Phil Pepe. Copyright © 2003 Tim McCarver Phil Pepe. Excerpted by permission of Triumph Books.
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Meet the Author
Tim McCarver is a former Cardinal who was a member of two world championship teams in St. Louis. During his 21-year MLB career on four teams, he played in two All-Star games and three league championships series. He is the lead game analyst for Fox Sports and calls Yankees games on Fox 5 in New York. He won an Emmy Award in 2000 for Outstanding Sports Event Analyst and is the only network baseball analyst to cover the last 11 regular and postseasons. Phil Pepe is the author of more than 40 books on sports, including collaborations with Yankees legends Mickey Mantle, Billy Martin, and Whitey Ford. He is a former Yankees beat writer for the New York Daily News and a former president of the Baseball Writers Association of America. Joe Buck is a play-by-play sportscaster for Fox who has won numerous Sports Emmy Awards.
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