The Cardinals during the first half of the 1990s were able to bring two pretty good outfield prospects, in the persons of Bernard Gilkey and Ray Lankford, up from the Minors to replace the Vince Coleman and Willie McGee. The pair were pretty exciting to watch and were branded as the future of the franchise.
However, the team did not have a long-term third outfielder. The team had Felix Jose for a few years, he was traded to the Cardinals from the A's for Willie McGee, but he was not a very consistent player. Jose also had some unique antics, conversations with the Gatorade come to mind. The Cardinals shipped Felix to the Royals prior to the 1993 in exchange for Gregg Jefferies, and then picked up Mark Whiten from Cleveland for Mark Clark.
Whiten spent two seasons with the Cardinals. If you look at his back of the baseball card stats from 1993 you could easily get the impression that the guy was a good hitter. That season he hit 25 home runs, drove in 99 runs, stole 15 bases, and scored more than 80 runs. Not bad numbers considering the early part of the 1990s were not the most talented Cardinals teams.
In 1994, Whiten hit some more. If you look at his splits though, month to month, he was rather streaky and inconsistent, which is sort of how I remember him. Sure, he could get into one every once in awhile, but ask any Cardinals fan from the 1990s about him, and once they get past the four home run game they will probably tell you all about his defense. More specifically, he limited base runners to one base at a time. There were not a lot of first to third base runners on balls hit to right field the two years he was on the Cardinals.
A pair of former Pirates coaches and a former Cardinals manager spent time raving about Mark Whiten's throwing arm back in a 1994 Los Angeles Times article about the former right fielder. Two of them compared his arm to a certain strong armed outfielder.
Pirates coach Rich Donnelly:
"We were in St. Petersburg in spring training, and he went into the corner for a ball and made a 300-foot throw, no hops, and nailed Carlos Garcia at third. He eggs you on. He'll lope after a ball to see if he can get you to run, picks it up . . . and bam, you're dead."
Another Pirates coach in the mid 1990s, Tommy Sandt, said:
"If (Roberto) Clemente had a better arm than his, I'd like to have seen it. I mean, how good can you throw it?"
and former Cardinals manager Red Schoendienst, who worked as a part-time coach with the Cardinals throughout the 1990s, agreed with Sandt's evaluation of Whiten's throwing arm:
"As far as arm strength goes . . . it's a tough call between Clemente and Whiten."
Onto the baseball cards.
Since I got the 4 home run game out of the way at the top of the post, mentioned it again somewhere under the first baseball card, I will visit the topic once more with the first of my favorite Whiten Cardinals cards.
Whiten was on the Red Sox during the 1995 season, but Upper Deck gave him a Cardinals card in their Collectors Choice set. If you weren't around for the 1990s, it was the company's inexpensive card brand, generally sold at retail stores. Surprisingly, Whiten does not have a ton of cards that celebrate his four home run game against the Reds.
The highlight type cards in this Collector's Choice set celebrated the big moments and achievements from the first half of the decade, which included Whiten's 4 home run game. Did Topps ever make a highlight card for Whiten? Can't remember every seeing one, but I know that as soon as I typed that and hit publish, I would probably be proven wrong.
There are dozens of non-descript Mark Whiten cards from the mid 1990s. Many of them do little to distinguish themselves from the rest. Whiten's one well known feat was not enough to push him into many of the nice premium products, but Topps did put him into the 1994 Finest set. While he was not an All-Star, more like the third best outfielder on the team, he was still a better option for Topps than Todd Zeile or Luis Alicea.
Not into the Christmas look either, but the green border actually looks good on this card with the red border, and the red on Whiten's Cardinals uniform.
Finally a card with a picture of Mark Whiten playing defense. The best part of this card is the fact that it not only shows Whiten making a nice catch in front of an outfield wall, but flip the card over to the back and.....
we've got some base runner who is about to get thrown out. I specifically tried to find a card of Whiten playing in the field, it took awhile to find, should have just gone straight to the Upper Deck cards. I knew I was going to find one there.
I leave you some homework:
Repeat after me: Mark Whiten had a great arm. One of the best ever.
The next time some baseball fan mentions the fact that he hit four home runs in a game, cut them off, and start talking about him holding base runners to single bases.
A song from 1995 on my IPod, it's not a Kurt Cobain cover, other way around....