- August Busch III sold the Cardinals to current Cardinals owner Bill DeWitt. Busch had a tight wallet and only spent money when he absolutely had to spend it. Basically, they were a part of Anheuser-Busch and made a good marketing tool.
- New owner Bill DeWitt hired former A's manager Tony LaRussa to manage the team.
- DeWitt signs free agents Ron Gant, Gary Gaetti, and Andy Benes, traded for Dennis Eckersley, Todd Stottlemyre, and a bunch of other players.
The Cardinals went from a 62-81 record in 1995 to a 88-74 record in 1996. The team won the National League Central edging the Astros and Reds making the playoffs for the first time since 1987. In the playoffs, the Cardinals beat the Padres in the Divisional round, before falling to the Braves in Game 7 of the National League Championship Series.
In summation, the 1996 season was the end of the pain and suffering that Cardinals fans experienced during the first half of the 1990s and began the Tony LaRussa era which yielded the Cardinals 2 World Series titles, 3 National League pennants, 7 National League Central crowns, and 2 Wild Card appearances. Sure, the Cardinals still had some rough seasons in 1997, 1998, and 1999, but the teams were at least exciting with Mark McGwire, Ray Lankford, Edgar Renteria, and others.
So, for this week's Venerable Old Card I am going to go with one of the least popular Cardinals of the past two decades: Ron Gant.
Here's the card I am picking:
Two things to talk about here:
1. Ron Gant had a bad falling out with the Cardinals at the end of the 1998 season. There was a lot of back and forth with LaRussa and Gant, some name calling, failure to live up to his contract, etc. The Cardinals ended up trading him to the Phillies for closer Ricky Bottalico and Garrett Stephenson in an effort to fix the team's bullpen. Botallico flopped as the team's closer, but Gant was done as a full time player two years later.
2. Way back in the mid 1990s there were some card products that there inexpensive and still fun to collect. Upper Deck's Collectors Choice product was always a good cheap pack, a pretty good sized set that was a little bit of a challenge to put together, and they had some good promotions inside the packs. The "You Crash The Game" cards featured power hitters along with a date on the card. If the player hit a home run in that time period you could mail the card in and get a prize card. I never redeemed my Gant card, but this was a winner with two homers against the Cubs....
While the teenage version of myself did not find the effort to mail in this contest card to Upper Deck, years later I found the exchange card cheap on COMC. Here's a look at the exchange....