Yes, the last few months have been something of a roller coaster for the emotions of Cardinals fans. The final resolution of the Colby Rasmus drama, the disillusion of early August, the hope of September and awe of October. Throw in Tony La Russa’s surprise retirement, the hiring of Mike Matheny as his replacement. There was one more thing – now, what was it ? ……. Oh, yeah, Albert Pujols is now a member of the Angels.
Over the course of the coming days, we are likely to learn more about this, and some of it might not be to our liking. It may significantly alter our perceptions of people, for the good or bad. But, historically speaking, what Albert Pujols just did to the Cardinals and their fans is nothing compared to what the organization has done to players in the past.
Before I get started, some of this happened during the reserve clause era, when owners essentially had complete control over a player’s career. If a player was injured, in a prolonged slump or just fell out of favor for whatever reason, they could be shipped off in the dead of night to team, not of their choosing. It was a different time and most of our Cardinals heroes played under those rules. We need to bear that in mind when we think of Albert Pujols in the future.
Let’s take a look at some of these and perhaps we will feel a bit better about what just happened.
Ken Boyer – All Ken Boyer did for the Cardinals was be the second best player to Stan Musial throughout his career. Boyer was to the 60’s Cardinals what Scott Rolen was to the MV3 era (Bill White completing that MV3). Over 11 seasons, he collected 1,855 hits, 255 home runs, 1,001 RBIs, won 5 Gold Gloves, one league MVP and hit a game winning grand slam in the World Series. Back problems started interfering with his production in 1965 and following the disappointing season, he was sent off to the New York Mets. In those days, that was the baseball equivalent of being sent to Siberia – cold, dark, hostile, nobody wanted to play there. Way to treat a Cardinals legend, Mr. Howsam. His power numbers dropped off, but he still had a couple of good season before retiring in 1969.
Sure, Boyer’s offensive numbers started to decline following the historic 1964 season, but let’s keep in perspective that an injured Boyer was a lot better than any of the healthy alternatives, including Mike Shannon. What the Cardinals did to Boyer was embarrassing, he should have retired a Cardinal, with one more World Series ring.
Jack Clark – There was no more feared hitter in the National League than Jack Clark when he played in St. Louis. He was the lone power bat in the lineup, but his skills matched perfectly with the speed ahead of him in the batting order. How many times did we see a first inning that went walk, stolen base, bunt and sac fly or RBI single from The Ripper ? Let’s also not forget his offensive assault in 1987. He put up steroids era power numbers in that ghastly home run grave yard at old Busch Stadium, and it was just amazing. The only other player to do that was Richie Allen, who we will get to later.
Even though Clark missed the last month of the 1987 season, and all of the postseason, he still came in third in MVP voting. He also led the league in on-base percentage (.459), slugging (.597), OPS (1.055) and OPS+ 176. Yes, this is Jack Clark, not Albert Pujols. Clark was also in the final year of his contract and was rewarded by the sounds of crickets from the Cardinals front office.
He made $1.3M in 1987 and the Cardinals just let him walk away, rather than giving him the contract he deserved. The winter meetings had passed and Clark finally signed a contract with the Yankees for $1.5M in early January. Hardly bolting to sunny California for millions of dollars.
Surprisingly, Clark proved to be somewhat more durable in his final years with New York, San Diego and Boston. His production was not up to his St. Louis levels, but he still managed 111 home runs, 369 RBIs and an OPS+ of 133 (let’s say he was well above average).
The Cardinals were rewarded for the treatment of Jack Clark by some of the worst and most uninspired baseball in franchise history. It wasn’t just Clark, the team ran off every player as they approached a big pay day. Terry Pendleton, Gregg Jefferies, Milt Thompson. I guess you could put Todd Zeile in this group, but the front office might have actually gotten that one right.
Orlando Cepeda – Cha Cha, or Baby Bull if you prefer, was just as popular in St. Louis during the 1967 and 1968 seasons as Albert Pujols has been in the last decade. In 1967, his production was just as impressive. Although he faded at the end of the season, Cepeda put up some monstrous numbers and slugged his way to the NL MVP. The Red Sox did a good job containing him in the World Series, but Cepeda was a big reason they were in the fall classic.
Following the 1968 World Series, Cepeda was traded to Atlanta for Joe Torre. Cepeda struggled a bit in his first season with the Braves, but returned to nearly his 1967 form the following year. Injuries cut short his 1971 and 1972 seasons, but he roared back with another solid year in 1973. Cepeda’s career was far from over and the Cardinals were foolish for sending him away after the 1968 season. Like with Clark, a number of dark years followed his departure.
Cepeda should have retired a Cardinal and maybe then his Hall of Fame plaque would have the Birds on the Bat instead of the Giants logo.
Jerry Reuss – this one really boggles the mind. Here you have a hometown kid, grew up watching the Cardinals play, is a 6ft 6in lefty that looks like he can throw a billion innings, and he gets run out of town because of a little bit of facial hair ? Gussie’s vision had to be a lot better than mine, because I had a hard time seeing it.
That decision cost the Cardinals 198 wins over the next 19 seasons, over 3,000 innings pitched, some great post-season games and a no-hitter. The Cardinals lost the NL East by 1 game in 1974. Jerry Reuss won 16 games FOR THE TEAM THAT BEAT THE CARDINALS.
Steve Carlton – do I really need to mention this ? Just thinking about it makes me want to go into a corner and cry. 252 wins, nearly 4,000 innings pitched, over 3,000 strikeouts – and that’s after Lefty was run out of town. Steve Carlton should have retired a Cardinal and have his statue right beside Bob Gibson’s. Albert Pujols will earn more with each base hit than what Carlton was paid in St. Louis. One of the greatest left handers of the era, run out of town. Mr. Pujols, I think we’re even on this one alone.
Mike Torrez – Now here’s a guy you don’t hear much about, but he was quite an impressive prospect. One of the hardest thrower’s I’ve ever seen (or heard). Even Bob Gibson would turn his head when Torrez threw a bullpen.
After being traded away, Torrez turned in 7 15+ win seasons, including one 20 game with Baltimore in 1975. Torrez and Reuss should have been the next Gibson and Carlton. Both, maybe either, could have brought postseason back to St. Louis long before 1982.
Jose Cruz – a .291 batting average, 1,953 hits, 139 home runs and 949 RBIs over the 14 years after he was sold SOLD to the Houston Astros. We didn’t even get a player in return for Cruz, just cash to keep the Brewery in operation.
At one time, all three Cruz brothers (Jose, Tommy and Hector) were on the Cardinals roster. It was late in the 1973 season. Although his hitting was still a bit inconsistent, Jose had become an every day outfielder. Tommy and Hector were both called up to join their older brother. Tommy’s major league career was brief, but Hector went on to have a good 9 year career. If you are wondering, no – the three of them never played in the same game.
The problem came when Cruz was due a big pay day in 1975. The Cardinals were a bit cash strapped, so off to Houston went the elder Cruz and bye bye went the playoff chances for the Cardinals.
Scott Rolen – all he did was play hard for the Cardinals. It was a run in with Hee Sop Choi that led to later run ins with Tony La Russa, and the fan favorite was shipped out of town. Rolen is another player that should have retired a Cardinal (like Ken Boyer). For all that I love about Tony La Russa’s time in St. Louis, the Rolen fiasco is not one of them.
This is just the tip of the iceberg. We could go on about Richie Allen, Reggie Smith, Lance Johnson, Willie McGee, Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey, Terry Pendleton, Tim McCarver, Curt Flood, John Tudor, Andy Benes, Todd Worrell, Ted Simmons, Andy van Slyke, Tommy Herr.
Try to come up with a list of similar players that have walked away from the Cardinals organization, as Albert Pujols just did. I’ll wait……. No, go on, it’s OK, we have time. I could come up with 2, and one of them is marginal. Bruce Sutter left St. Louis after a monster 1984 season, just days into the free agency season. That actually hurt a lot more than what Pujols just did because he totally blind-sided the Cardinals and left them without a closer.
The other name that you might come up with is Edgar Renteria, following the 2004 World Series. He didn’t leave for a huge amount of money ($8M vs $7.25 in 2004), so I really put Renteria in with the others, pushed out in favor of a lower cost ($2.3M) option in David Eckstein.
Players like Bob Gibson and Stan Musial did not have much of an option, playing their entire career under the rules of the reserve clause. There were two others though that could have opted for free agency, but chose to stay in St. Louis – Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith. Brock was at the end of his career, and free agency had not reached the insanity that we see today, but it certainly was in full force during Ozzie Smith’s playing time. So if you ask the question, yes, there are examples of players choosing to stay in St. Louis for the remainder of their career. If you did a little deeper though, you may find out that the Cardinals have given the proverbial “finger” to far more players than have done that to St. Louis.
Just a thought to help you feel better about a Post-Pujols world.