Sunday, September 7, 2014

Happy Mark Whiten Day!

The Cardinals had some lean years in the early and mid 90s.  The end of the Whiteyball era in St. Louis meant no more teams built on disrupting speed and defense.  The ownership of the team passed on from Gussie Busch to his son who decided to run the team on the cheap.  Like with any rebuilding process in baseball, the Cardinals went young and brought up young players like Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey, Brian Jordan, Todd Zeile, Geronimo Pena, and the list could go on....

Each young player naturally had some faults that irritated a Cardinals fan base that was accustomed to winning teams.... Todd Zeile always took the first pitch and then played with his batting gloves, Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan struck out frequently, Geronimo Pena was always hurt.

Worse than the frustration with the young players was the ownerships refusal to spend any money to fill holes on the roster.  For example, in 1993 the Cardinals were within striking distance of the first place Phillies, but the team decided the best route to improve the team was to trade for Todd Burns.  Burns was not a good relief pitcher with the Rangers that season, but sported an ERA over 6 down the stretch for the Cardinals.  Fans heaped blame on manager Joe Torre, but in retrospect, the ownership of the team was squarely responsible.

Another one of the Cardinals budget cutting maneuvers during the 1993 season was to trade pitching prospect Mark Clark to the Cleveland Indians for outfielder Mark Whiten.  The Cardinals had gotten inconsistent play out of the young outfielders, so naturally the owners added another young and inconsistent player (read cheap) to the mix.

Whiten had some raw power in his bat, but he was really a defensive whiz in the outfield.  Nobody took an extra base on Whiten.  Nobody.  He is probably one of the top 5 outfield arms I have ever seen in person along with Rick Ankiel, Vladimir Guerrero, Jose Guillen, and Larry Walker.  Whiten had a pretty good first year as a Cardinals posting 25 home runs and 99 RBIs.  A big chunk of that damage came in one night in Cincinnati twenty-one years ago.......

It was a pretty incredible feat at the time.  I realize a few players pulled this off during the steroid era, but at the time Whiten hit his four runs, he was just the 12th players to reach that plateau in a single game, and the first since Bob Horner in 1986.  The moment made Whiten a bit of a cult hero amongst Cardinals fans.  Fan favorite might be too far with Whiten, but definitely beloved.  

The Cardinals traded him to the Red Sox after the 1994 season for St. Louis native, Scott Cooper, hoping to fill the void the team had at third base.  Whiten's career floundered after St. Louis and he became a fourth outfielder bouncing around the league and up and down between the minors.  As a fan I ran into Whiten several times after his Cardinals years and always wished him well.  I actually got to see him playing for the Buffalo Bisons in 2000, against the Ottawa Lynx, after he had been demoted by the Indians for the final time.  He had a huge swing, a bad attitude, and a cannon of an arm.  

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