Archive for the ‘St. Louis Cardinals’ Category


Rick Reuschel and Al Hrabosky

October 9, 2015

Rick Reuschel 77 HraboskyNLDS Preview, part one

Style is a mode of conflict. It doesn’t seem that way to most individuals, I don’t think, but whenever style choices are made—clothing, hairstyle, behavior—they are made within the context of the surrounding society and are therefore always capable of cutting against the norms of the society. In other words, for example, Jonathan Papelbon is going to occasionally strangle Bryce Harper.

The two men shown here offer a contrast not only in style but in the approach to style. One stoically avoided throughout his long career any style choices that would have made him stand out from the prevailing norms, while the other, at an early, tenuous stage of his own much more mercurial career, adopted a strikingly unusual style on the mound, not out of a desire to set himself apart from his peers but out of desperation. Al Hrabosky, dubbed the Mad Hungarian after he began instituting a mid-crisis routine of stalking behind the mound, taking a few cartoonishly deep heaving breaths, slamming the ball into his glove, and spinning back around to face the batter with a menacing, Fu Manchu-enhanced sneer, reflected on the genesis of his routine in a 1986 Sun-Sentinel article entitled “Hrabosky Hreflects”:

“What people forget is that originally, the Mad Hungarian started when I couldn’t get anybody out. I had a 7.00 ERA with no saves. It was a last-ditch effort to gain my concentration.”

It worked—for a while in the mid-1970s Hrabosky was among the best and arguably the most famous reliever in the league—but the style also rubbed opponents the wrong way. I urge you to read Dayn Perry’s recap of the following brawl—which was sparked, predictably, by a batter who also had a nickname starting with “Mad” (Bill “Mad Dog” Madlock) taking exception to the Mad Hungarian pre-pitch ministrations:

1974 Cubs-Cardinals brawl

Hrabosky’s catcher, Ted Simmons, “won” the brawl by landing a Varitekian blow to the face of Mad Dog, and Hrabosky was credited with the win as the Cardinals forged a game and a half lead in their division with eight games to play. A week later, however, the Cubs managed some measure of revenge by winning 8-3 to knock the Cardinals out of first place, and three games later St. Louis would finish the season separated from the playoffs by that one-game margin.

You wouldn’t notice at a glance that the other player shown at the top of this page contributed to that Cubs win, much in the way that the world didn’t really notice that Rick Reuschel, for nearly two decades, was one of the best pitchers on the planet. He’s been handicapped in the traditional estimation of starting pitchers by a wins total that is not as impressive—i.e., decidedly short of the 300 threshold—as some others in the Hall of Fame, and in this his team’s 1974 revenge win is a bit of a microcosm. Reuschel started the game and pitched well for seven innings, having by more modern standards the greatest positive impact on the game, but because the game was decided after he left with a blister on his finger, Reuschel didn’t get the win.

I doubt he complained. It wasn’t his style.

Edge: Cubs


Jack Heidemann

February 28, 2011

According to the Gods: a 2011 Team-By-Team Preview

St. Louis Cardinals

Today I’m going to begin counting down the days until the opening of the 2011 baseball season by predicting the fortunes of each major league team on the basis of a card chosen at random from that team’s rubber-band-wrapped pack in my shoebox of baseball cards.

First up, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, a team whose season already seems to be in big trouble, what with an all-world slugger seemingly eying the exits and a top-flight pitching ace out for the year and beyond. What information can a 1975 Jack Heidemann card add to our understanding of the seemingly perilous season to come for the Redbirds?

First, the last name: I’m guessing it is pronounced, more or less, as “hide a man.” This does not seem to be a good omen for abundant success, instead suggesting the 2011 Cardinals will spend the year either fading into invisibility against their will or purposefully courting it, fugitive style, in order to avoid being apprehended, found guilty, and punished. Also, Albert Pujols is sometimes referred to as El Hombre, i.e., The Man, so maybe there’s a third interpretation of this harbinger: the Cardinals and their fans trying (impossibly, like a little boy attempting to turn invisible by clamping  his eyelids shut) to hide a man from the outside interests that will, it seems, swoop in and take him away. For his part, Albert Pujols has said that he doesn’t like the nickname El Hombre, believing that there is only one Man in St. Louis, Stan “The Man” Musial, now in his tenth decade, arguably the greatest hitter still walking the planet (in terms of the adjusted statistic best able to provide a mathematical way of comparing hitters across eras, Stan Musial ranks behind only three other men still alive in career OPS+; two are the players most commonly and scornfully associated with the dubiously inflated stats of the steroid-era, Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, and the third is Albert Pujols).

I can’t say for sure if this Jack Hide-A-Man card is trying to tell us something about Stan the Man or El Hombre, but I can say that the 1970s, when this card came out, were a rare decade of Cardinals irrelevance, the first decade since the 1930s to not feature Stan the Man and the first since the 1910s that didn’t include at least one pennant winner [update: see comments below for correction of this latter point]. Is the second decade of the 21st Century going to be the first since the Jack Heidemann era to feature this kind of prolonged hiding? I know from my mid- to late 1970s Cardinals cards that though the team had some stars—Lou Brock; Ted Simmons; Reggie Smith, briefly—it more generally was made up of a generally drab collection of guys just kind of passing through, holding bats on their shoulders and gazing off into the distance, vaguely distracted.

Jack Heidemann certainly fit this bill of a typical 1970s Cardinal journeyman, at least as I understood the nature of things from gazing at baseball cards. He had had just one season as a regular, years before displaying an admirably flashy droopy mustache/bushy sideburns combo as a Cardinal in this 1975 card (he, for one, wasn’t trying to hide). His one full season had been in 1970 for the mediocre Indians, when he was only 21. He led the league in sacrifice flies despite tallying only 37 total RBI for the year. Was this oddly skewed sacrifice flies to RBI ratio evidence of a job well done, or of a job that could have been done better?

I don’t know, but the next season, during a game in May, reigning Sacrifice Fly King Jack Heidemann raced into the outfield in an attempt to chase down a blooping popup hit by Tom McCraw of the Washington Senators, showing an admirable hustle that was, unfortunately (considering the troublesome trajectory of the blooper), being duplicated with mathematically exact precision in terms of the end point of each player’s sprint, by both left-fielder John Lowenstein and centerfielder Vada Pinson. All three Indians came together in a chain-reaction collision: Heidemann kicking into and tripping over the diving Lowenstein (who would have to be carried from the field on a stretcher), Heidemann then flipping end-over-end into the air, his metal cleats gashing the jaw of Pinson (who would require eight stitches), the timidly struck ball bounding a little ways on into the outfield and dying, no one vertical anywhere near it. McCraw clambered all the way around the bases for one of the shortest home runs ever hit in major league history, his manager in the Senators’ dugout, Ted Williams, presumably looking on with at least a hint of derision for McCraw’s hitting effort amounting to the same as one of Williams’ own bygone heroic fence-clearing laser shots of yore. There are men and there are men: Ted Williams, Albert Pujols, Stan Musial on one side, the rest of us connecting less completely and less forcefully in our endeavors and thus forced to just reach and lurch and hope for the best. I see Jack Heidemann, and, by extension, the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals, as among the latter group. I see Jack Heidemann coming up onto his elbows on the outfield grass just after windmilling through the air. He’s dazed and disoriented. Who am I? Where am I? What’s this blood? And why is everyone screaming?


How to enjoy the 2011 baseball season, part 1 of 30: Read the recent soulful book on baseball and family ties by Cardinals fan Will Leitch, Are We Winning?: Fathers and Sons in the New Golden Age of Baseball


Harry Rasmussen

March 23, 2010

I’m drawn to insignificant moments in my past, when I was neither here nor there. Empty afternoons in childhood, leafing through my cards. Shooting baskets as a teenager on the hoop at my grandfather’s house. Sitting on a bench in Tompkins Square Park, the sun shining down, nothing to do, nowhere to go. I don’t really have moments like that anymore, except when I dig around through my cards.

I was digging around in my cards yesterday, empty of ideas, when I came upon this Harry Rasmussen card. There was something about it, some trace that I couldn’t identify or place, something more than just the faintly melancholy aura of the player and his droopy eyes and droopy mustache and apprehensive skyward gaze. I couldn’t put my finger on it. I don’t want to be erased. But there are times when I come upon evidence that this is bound to happen. Some flicker of that eventuality emanates from Harry Rasmussen.

I searched for more traces of Harry Rasmussen and discovered that if you search for Harry Rasmussen, you won’t find him. He’s the only cardboard god you can say that about, the only one able to exist and then disappear without leaving a trace, except for this one card from 1976.

This card relates that Harry Rasmussen was born in Racine, Wisconsin. As of 1976 he still resided in Racine. On one of the empty afternoons in my childhood, when I sat around on the floor of my room and leafed through my cards, I must have noticed that a player in cards I owned from 1978 and 1980 looked a lot like Harry Rasmussen but wasn’t named Harry Rasmussen. The later figure, Eric Rasmussen, was born in Racine but had moved on to reside in St. Louis.

I’ve never lived in St. Louis, but there were a few months in my life when I lived in Racine. I stayed with my future wife at her parents’ house. We had decided to set out for a new life together, but we didn’t have jobs or a place of our own to live. We took turns looking for work on the computer. Every afternoon I went over to the public library and then to a driving range and bought a bucket of balls. I’d never done much golfing before. I drove the golf balls one by one out into a stubbly field. Eventually I stared down at the empty bucket and wondered who I was.

Eventually I found some temp work in Chicago, and we moved to an apartment in that city. After some months as a temp I was hired on a more official basis and a placard with my name on it appeared outside my cubicle. There are these placards outside everyone’s cube. Occasionally the placards are removed and the cubicles are emptied. Sometimes a placard with a different name appears. You walk by the cubicle and feel a flicker of an eventuality.

You may already know all this. After the 1976 season, Harry Rasmussen decided he no longer wanted to be Harry Rasmussen. Harry Rasmussen will not come up in a search on The person he became, the one on the 1978 and 1980 cards in my shoebox, Eric Rasmussen, is there, and he inherited the losing records Harry compiled in 1975 and 1976. Eric Rasmussen lasted several more years in the majors, including stints both before and after a two-year detour to the Mexican Leagues, then he went into coaching. Harry Rasmussen? Harry Rasmussen looked up into the sky above the stands in a bright red cap and disappeared.


Jim Dwyer

January 25, 2010

Jim Dwyer spent most of the 1970s bouncing around the National League, never really getting the hang of things in any one place before being swapped for Larry Lintz or shipped across the border with Pepe Mangual or, in his most pornographic-sounding transaction, clustered into a three-way featuring Peter LaCock. By 1978, when this card came out, Jim Dwyer would have been a very unlikely candidate for lasting 18 seasons in the major leagues. If you go on the evidence provided by this card, he was dangerously close to disappearing altogether. Since entering the league in 1973, he had produced just one passable season, and that was in very limited action (a .279 average in 86 at-bats in 1974), and other than that had as many seasons below the Mendoza Line as above it. His existence in cardboard form at this stage was, in fact, bordering on the inexplicable. He was not a slick-fielding infielder or a squat, cannon-armed backup catcher, the two most likely species of position players to persist in the majors despite being unable to hit. Dwyer logged innings in centerfield, but he was basically a corner outfielder, a would-be left-handed hitting specialist, at least until the inevitable moment when someone connected with whatever team he was on noticed his anemic batting stats and wondered why this guy was on the payroll. At that point, Dwyer was then swapped or, as in the case of the late-season transaction that led to this hasty, nausea-inducing job of card-doctoring, simply released.

And isn’t this everyone’s fear? That one day someone will tap you on the shoulder, you will turn, and the question you’ve long been dreading will be asked of you. So, uh, why are you here? And that the stammering answer to this question will be followed by your release?

But Jim Dwyer seems unmarked by any such dread in his 1978 card. Let the world go through its changes, morphing from one thing to the next. What can you do but smile beneath your droopy caterpillar of a mustache and keep swinging?

Also, Jim Dwyer must have believed that, contrary to the evidence on his baseball card, he had what it took to stick in the majors. His itinerant journey through the 1970s had taken him to several minor league towns, too, and in those towns he had been The Man (career minor league average: .334).

But I wonder if his smile finally started to falter in 1978. Halfway through that season, while struggling once again (his batting average at .215), his litany of transactions hit a new low as he became, for the first time, The Player to be Named Later. Thusly completing an earlier deal for someone named Frank Ricelli (who by then had already been dumped by the Cardinals for the immortal Bob Coluccio), Dwyer joined the Giants for their improbable 1978 pennant drive and “hit” .225 as they faded from contention.

By that point I had not paid a moment of attention to Jim Dwyer, except for possibly being briefly hypnotized by the blobs of colors that comprised the cap in this 1978 card. I wasn’t even aware that the Giants were in a pennant race that season, focusing instead on the dire collapse of my own team, the Red Sox, who died at the hands of the Yankees in a one-game playoff at year’s end for many, many reasons, including the absence of both God and Bernie Carbo. Late in the game, when someone needed to come off the bench and get a hit off of Goose Gossage, the best the Red Sox had to offer was a corroded right-handed-hitting statue named Bob Bailey. Nothing against Bob Bailey, who definitely had some fine moments in a long career, but at that place and time he was never going to get a hit off of Goose Gossage. No, what the Red Sox needed at that moment was Bernie Carbo, left-handed hitting specialist and undying hero of just such a moment three years earlier, when his three-run homer had revived the cemetery-bound Red Sox in the 8th inning of Game Six of the 1975 World Series; unfortunately, Carbo had been sold midway through the season by the geniuses running the team. (In case you’re wondering, Goose fanned Bob Bailey on three pitches, ending the latter’s career.)

Perhaps reacting to this need for a left-handed hitting replacement for Bernie Carbo, the Red Sox purchased Jim Dwyer for the 1979 season. His arrival and two-year stay with the team could not stem a descent into relative irrelevancy by the franchise. That descent coincided for me with the first notes of that disorienting atonal symphony, puberty, and I associate my entry into the world of frustration and loneliness with Red Sox teams that carried an autumnal aura of trauma and doom. They were haunted. But despite that, or maybe because of it, I formed an attachment to Jim Dwyer. He was new to the team and so had not been a part of the failures I wanted to think as little about as possible, and also he was, suddenly, a pretty good hitter.

Back then I loved studying the Red Sox stats in the Sunday Boston Globe. Jim Dwyer’s name was always somehow comforting to me in that context. He wasn’t ever right at the top of the list of names that were ranked according to batting average, but he was always far from the bottom. He hit .265 in 1979 and .285 in 1980. I don’t know why, but I loved that latter mark. It wasn’t volatile and rare like, say, .337, and it wasn’t a stinker like .229. It was right there in the B+ range. Solid. If .285 was a person it would be someone you could rely on to come over and help you move a couch. Though I didn’t think it through to this extent at the time, this kind of unassuming .285 steadiness was just what I needed as I turned 12 and started noticing how distant I was from that which I desired. Without even really realizing I was doing it, I leaned on Jim Dwyer.   

And then he was gone, off to Baltimore. But everyone else was gone, too. Fisk, Lynn, Hobson, Burleson. I’m sure it was several weeks into the 1981 season before I even noticed that the stinging mist of absence hovering over the team included the lack of my old reliable .285-hitting pal Jim Dwyer, and then before I could form any thoughts about this development the lengthy 1981 strike occurred, and puberty really took over, and baseball suddenly didn’t seem to mean as much.

As it turned out, Dwyer’s two seasons with Boston proved to be a turning point not just for me but for Jim Dwyer, too, the moment he changed from subpar 1970s National League wanderer to capable 1980s American League left-handed hitting specialist. From the Red Sox he went to the platoon-crazy Baltimore Orioles, peaking with a Lowensteinian effort (.286/.382/.505 in 229 at-bats) for the 1983 champions. He posted his career high in homers (15) four years later, at the age of 37, and avoided his final release all the way until 1990.


(Love versus Hate update: Jim Dwyer’s back-of-the-card “Play Ball” result has been added to the ongoing contest.)


Keith Hernandez

November 23, 2009

This is what it looks like to want the ball to be hit to you. I have never been able to strike a similar attitude of passionate readiness and willingness to engage, either in baseball or any other sport or life itself. I do come to the desk pretty much every day to write or try to write, but even a good writing day starts out with me taking my position with trepidation, afraid that the ball is going to take a bad bounce and punch me in the mouth.

This photo is no fluke, either. Keith Hernandez played first base as well as anyone ever has, and a key part of that excellence was his unusually aggressive style of manning what has for most of baseball history been the most passive position on the field, the place where large, slow sluggers are pastured to stand around until it’s time to lumber a few feet to their left to catch throws from other more able fielders. By contrast, Hernandez, as can be seen here, played first with an itchy impatience, as if he wanted to sprint forward and throw himself on line drives fresh off the bat like a Green Beret hurling himself on the barrel of a grenade launcher.

The odd thing about this card is that, absent the crackling aura of intense attack-readiness, I’d be tempted to theorize that the Topps people put the wrong player photo on Keith Hernandez’ card. The iconically mustachioed future household figure (“I’m Keith Hernandez”) seems to have nothing to do with the lean-faced thin-lipped mouth-breather here. If his shoulder-length hair and vaguely neanderthalic features had been presented in a pose less suggestive of the spectacular fielding talents of Keith Hernandez, I would have wondered if the otherwise drab mid-1970s Cardinals had embarked on some sort of experiment to clone their top player, Ted Simmons, the lank-haired catcher who throughout the 1970s looked like he’d come for his Topps baseball card photo shoot directly from huffing carbona and listening to Black Sabbath eight-tracks out by the abandoned paper mill, if not from killing a saber tooth tiger with a spear.

If the Cardinals did try such an ungodly experiment, they abandoned it by the early 1980s, not only ridding themselves of the thick-browed (but highly able and surprisingly erudite) Simmons and his somewhat suspect glove but also stripping Keith Hernandez and the rest of the team of any physical attributes that would have made them seem at home in animal-skin togas in a natural history museum diorama. Thusly purged, the Cardinals became one of the great fielding teams of all time, anchored by the man shown here.

Would it be stretching things too much to say that Hernandez was an innovator at first base? My sense is that some other earlier players manned the position with great quickness and agility (Hal Chase, Vic Power, Wes Parker, etc.), and they may have even shared Hernandez’ aggressive strategy of attacking grounders. But since I’ve been paying attention, Hernandez certainly stands out (though during Hernandez’ career Don Mattingly eventually joined him as a slick, attacking first baseman).

I think that a lot of the greatest fielders have been innovators, playing the position a different way than it had been previously played. The innovation most often seems to be to play the position less passively than whatever norm was current. To charge forward and attack rather than waiting and reacting. I can think of three other all-time great fielders who also are considered to have brought something unusual to the playing of their position, and the innovation was always aimed at getting to the action quicker. Anybody got any thoughts about these initial choices for the all-innovator team? Anybody got any other choices for other positions? Think of somebody who not only played the position better than most, but played it differently than it had previously been played. (Players in italics have been suggested by readers in the comments below.)

C-Johnny Bench; Tony Pena
1B-Keith Hernandez
2B-Frank White
SS-Dave Concepcion; Cal Ripken; Rey Ordonez
3B-Jimmy Collins. Regarded as the first guy to start charging bunts; Brooks Robinson; Graig Nettles
LF-Carl Yastrzemski. Before him, it was unusual for an outfielder to charge in and grab grounders with just the glove (i.e., not with two hands).
CF-Tris Speaker. Positioned himself very shallow, daring hitters to try to hit it over his head; Willie Mays


Pedro Guerrero

November 13, 2009

Pedro Guerrerro 92

I found another card on the street yesterday, my second in the last week. What is the universe trying to tell me? Now I walk around staring at the ground, looking for more cards. Maybe I’ll quit my job and take up card-scavenging full-time. Maybe then I could figure out what this life is all about. My thinning wiry hair would grow long and unruly, and because of poverty I’d lose the couch-and-beer ten pounds that settled upon me in recent years as I neared forty. Forty! Last night as I walked home from the train, this card in my backpack along with several notebooks from work and my work laptop and some health plan information that baffles and overwhelms me, I kept hearing footsteps behind me, scuttling through the fallen leaves on the sidewalk. But when I finally snuck a look back there was no one. Then I started imagining a scenario in which my ten-year-old self was following me around. Eventually I’d catch a glimpse of him when I looked back, and then I’d ask him why he was here, and he wouldn’t really know but would start asking me about my life, i.e., his future, and I’d frighten and sadden him with a droning report of tedium, uncertainty, frustration, diminishment. I’m always ten, looking at myself with ever-growing disbelief. And I’m the person causing the disbelief, a pale cipher searching for messages in street detritus.

The message lately, judging by the two cards I’ve most recently found, seems to be something about highly accomplished Latin players who seem to have a lower general historical profile than they deserve. First it was long-time effective reliever Roberto Hernandez. Now it’s Pedro Guerrero. Judging by the statistic of OPS+, which in adjusting for historical context is the most accurate single measure of a player’s relative worth as a hitter, Pedro Guerrero was a more potent offensive force throughout his career than, among many others, George Brett, Al Simmons, Ken Griffey, Jr., David Ortiz, and Joe Morgan. He didn’t stick around long enough to rack up Hall of Fame-caliber career counting stats such as home runs and hits, and he also had an iron glove at all of the many fielding positions where teams tried to hide him. But he could hit like few have.

I don’t know how this could relate to my own life, but I do know that in the moments after I find a card on the ground I feel lucky. It’s a buzzing feeling in my head and limbs, like I just connected with a pitch. Yesterday I had been rushing to catch the bus up Western to start my long commute to work, but with the card the moment opened up a little. I started looking everywhere for more treasures where before I hadn’t really been looking at anything. I hadn’t been listening. I hadn’t been anything. For a second I could see. Next time I hear footsteps behind me, I’ll try to remember this feeling.


Lynn McGlothen

June 1, 2009

Lynn McGlothen 75

I’m still working on my book, so I’ve got to make this quick. (I begged and wheedled for an extension on my original June 1 deadline.) But, since I set today as the end of my suspension from the playing field of Cardboard Gods, here are four quick things about Lynn McGlothen, more or less:

1. I thought Lynn was a girl’s name. The first girl who ever liked me was named Lynn. I didn’t like her. I liked a girl I thought was prettier. Her name was Kim. Kim didn’t like me but liked a boy she thought was cuter named Jamie. I found it confusing that there was a male quarterback (Lynn Dickey) and a male pitcher (Lynn McGlothen) named Lynn and that the bionic woman was a woman named Jamie. And wasn’t there a basketball playing dude named Kim? Or am I imagining it? I don’t have time to investigate.

2. Lynn McGlothen is happy. Who wouldn’t be? Your picture on a baseball card! Not only that, the back of the card tells a happy tale, a long gradual climb through the minors, a taste of the majors with one team, then a midseason trade to another team and finally, a staff-leading 16 wins in the season just concluded.

3. I’ve been working hard on my book in an attempt to trace the path of my own happiness or lack therof by using baseball cards as markers. It’s the same thing I’ve been doing on this site for quite a while, but I guess I’m sort of trying to add up all the numbers on the back of my own card. What’s it all add up to? Does it add up to happiness? While doing some research on the book, trying to make sure I had some facts straight, I came across some sobering news about a Cardboard God I’d yet to write about, Lynn McGlothen. (See below.) What’s it all mean in the end?

4. Lynn McGlothen died in a fire. He was only 34. I’ve lived a few years past that and I’m still waiting for someone to say “On your mark.” Just yesterday I heard a fire truck close by and wondered if maybe my building was on fire. I was wearing boxer shorts. Would I have time to throw on pants? What else would I have time for? First, before the pants, I’d grab the cats. If I still had time to grab one more thing after the cats were safe and I had pants on, or maybe even before the pants, I’d grab the box that I’ve carried with me so far, the one that contains this picture of Lynn McGlothen happy.


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