With three of the key players from the St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 World Series Championship team (Albert Pujols, David Freese, Fernando Salas) currently playing for the Los Angeles Angels, the connection between the two teams is obvious, but the connection between the two teams runs deeper than you might think.
You may know that Yadier Molina, perhaps the Cardinals’ best current player, is the younger brother of two former Angels backstops, Jose and Bengie Molina, but do you remember that Jered Weaver’s brother Jeff played a crucial role in the World Series the Cardinals won in 2006 against the Detroit Tigers? And did you remember that it was the Angels who traded Jeff Weaver to the Cardinals in July of 2006 (for minor league outfielder Terry Evans)? Weaver had a miserable 3-10 record and 6.29 ERA for the Angels in 2006, but Cardinals starting pitcher Mark Mulder was having shoulder problems and his spot in their rotation needed to be replaced, so the Cards made the deal with the Angels for Weaver. Jeff was hit and miss in his starts for St. Louis, but when the playoffs began, the tall right-hander caught lightning in a bottle. He won a game in each round of the playoffs and had a 2.52 ERA in five 2006 playoff starts. Jeff Weaver even out-pitched Justin Verlander in Game 5 of the World Series to win the clinching game of the series.
Jeff Weaver was not the only former Angel getting doused with champagne in the Cardinals’ 2006 World Series clubhouse celebration. There was also David Eckstein, who was that year’s WS MVP, Scott Spiezio, and Jim Edmonds. And how did former Angels center fielder Jim Edmonds find his way to the Cardinals? He was traded in March of 2000 for pitcher Kent Bottenfield and second baseman Adam Kennedy. This was a trade that helped both teams win a World Series Championship — the Cardinals in 2006 and the Angels in 2002.
But Adam Kennedy wasn’t the only former Cardinal who helped the 2002 Angels win the World Series. That championship probably never would have happened without the help of Cardinals Hall of Fame manager Whitey Herzog. The skipper had just retired from a successful managing career. He had taken the Cardinals to the World Series three times in the 1980′s, winning the whole thing in 1982. One of his first coaching jobs was with the Angels in 1974. He even served as interim manager for four games when Bobby Winkles got sacked half way through the season. So when Gene Autry called him up to ask him if he would consider coming out of retirement to help the Angels turn into a contender, Herzog agreed.
In 1991, Whitey Herzog was named the Angels’ senior vice president in charge of player personnel. In his autobiography, White Rat: A Life in Baseball, Herzog said, “The thing was, ever since I’d gotten to Anaheim, all I heard was how horseshit our farm system was. ‘Cupboard’s bare, Rat,’ everybody said. ‘Big trouble down there. We got nothing in the pipeline.’”
Does that sound familiar?
Well, Herzog wanted to see for himself, so when the Angels went on road trips, Herzog visited all of the Angels’ minor league teams. He made sure to see all of the pitchers at least twice in games. When he was ready to make his own evaluation of the Angels’ farm system, he disagreed with the general opinion. He saw players he knew would one day help the Angels win. He began to champion players like Tim Salmon (“He’s no good,” people told Whitey. “He strikes out too much.”), Garret Anderson, Gary DiSarcina, Damion Easley, Jim Edmonds, and Jorge Fabregas. When Herzog left the Angels in 1994 (by this time he was serving as their general manager), he told the Autrys that if they stuck with their young players, they would have a winner.
Fortunately for those of us in Angeltown, the organization heeded Herzog’s advice and held on to its young talent.
But we can go even farther back to see the Angels-Cardinals connection. One of the early voices of Angels baseball was the radio play-by-play man, Buddy Blattner. He was a former Redbird second baseman who had been calling Cardinal games in 1960 and 1961. At the end of the ’61 season, Angels owner Gene Autry offered him the Angels job, which he accepted. Blattner called Angels games on the Autry-owned KMPC from 1962 to 1968.
Why was the old cowboy interested in having Blattner call Angels games? One reason is that Gene Autry’s favorite team growing up was the St. Louis Cardinals. Autry grew up in north Texas and southern Oklahoma, and the closest Major League team to those parts in the 1920′s was the Cardinals. Having Rogers Hornsby as their second baseman and winning the 1926 World Series also made it easy for a teenage boy in Oklahoma to choose them as his favorite team.
When Autry was a teenager, he had a job as a telegraph operator at a St. Louis-San Francisco Railway station in Tulsa, Oklahoma. In his spare time, he would play his guitar and sing at dances, and he would play shortstop on a local baseball team. Gene became close friends with one of his teammates, a teenage pitcher named Jay Dean, later to be known to all of America as Dizzy Dean, one of the all-time great St. Louis Cardinals pitchers. Much later, in 1962, Gene had Dizzy Dean join an Angels special advisory committee, which also included Walt Disney and William Frawley.
So decades before the Angels existed, there fomented a connection between them and the St. Louis Cardinals, a connection that is going strong still today.