The 1988-1995 era was not the best time to be a Cardinals fan. Whiteyball transitioned to the perfectly mediocre Joe Torre years. The Cardinals never won more than 87 games in a season (1993), and never finished within seven games of a playoff berth (1989). They endured their only last place finish (1990) since 1918. And overall they went 601-628 (.489) - 20th best in all of baseball. If during those eight years baseball was just one long season with one singular division, they would have finished 70.5 games behind the first place Oakland Athletics. See, the current 10-game deficit to the Cubs isn't so bad.
And you know what? Everything was fine. Going to old Busch was still a blast. Ozzie Smith was a loyal, dependable presence. We got to see promising rookies like Ray Lankford, Bernard Gilkey, and Todd Zeile graduate to the big leagues after making the climb all the way from the old Springfield (IL) Cardinals. There were great moments. On one night in September of 1993, Mark Whiten hit four home runs (and 12 RBIs!) against the Cincinnati Reds, which brought him to 22 on the season. It was completely ludicrous. Not just the four home runs part but the fact that they were clubbed by a Cardinal, a team which hadn't had a true home run threat since Jack Clark left after the '87 season. To wit, those four home runs would have accounted for about 6% of the entire team's total in 1991.
There were also enjoyable players who came and went so quickly they're almost nothing more than a footnote between Whiteyball and the current Cardinals era. They weren't on winning teams and they didn't stick around long enough to have lasting legacies in St. Louis. Take Felix Andujar Jose, who showed up on August 31, 1990, from the Athletics, via a trade in which the Cardinals departed with Willie McGee, one of the most beloved players in recent memory.
McGee was in his age-31 season and in the last year of his contract, but hitting like he could require a hefty contract once goodwill was factored in. When traded, McGee was second in the National League in hitting (.335) behind Lenny Dykstra (.340) and had amassed enough plate appearances to qualify for the batting title, which he would go on to win as his preserved .335 average stood just out of reach of Eddie Murray's .330. Dyskstra slipped to .325. At the time of the trade, a neighbor told me McGee could become the first player to win the batting titles in both leagues for the same year. While absurdly untrue I believed it - I was eleven - but it was a moot point anyway as McGee hit just .274 in Oakland for the remainder of the year.
So why trade a player who was universally popular and still hitting? Well, as mentioned above, the Cardinals were in the middle of a dreadful season. Moreover, when Jose arrived he was in his age-25 season, and while he had yet to blossom in Oakland (he hit just .255/.298/.351 in 432 plate appearances with the A's), the muscular, light on his feet outfielder still had the stink of potential. If at the time of the trade you had his 1989 Upper Deck card in a plastic case it would have seemed a bit excessive, but you wouldn't have been laughed out of the room.
Jose seemed to immediately find his place in St. Louis. He finished the 1990 season with a respectable .271/.333/.447 line in 93 plate appearances with the Cardinals, but it was the following year when everything came together. Initially, at least. Jose got off to a blazing start and after the first two months of the season was hitting .339/.421/.497 with a 160 wRC+ in 197 plate appearances. The local paper had a daily listing of the batting leaders for all of the traditional stats and Jose was a constant presence at or near the top. He cooled down and by the time he was making his only All-Star game appearance that July, his numbers had dipped to .313/.376/.435 with a 130 wRC+.
The numbers kept sliding but Felix ended the season with a solid line of .305/.360/.438 with a 125 wRC+ and worth three wins by FanGraphs WAR. He finished fifth in the league in batting, behind former Cardinals Terry Pendleton, who won the title at .319 and, coincidentally, McGee, who had signed with the Giants as a free agent in the offseason and hit .312.
The following season, in 1992, Jose's success continued and he hit .295/.347/.432 with a 121 wRC+, good for a 2.3 fWAR. Here he is in May of that year hitting a home run to help complete a comeback from a 9-0 deficit to beat the Atlanta Braves.
He would never see this sort of success in MLB again. Heading into the '93 season the Cardinals flipped him to the Royals in exchange for Gregg Jefferies, another player whose two best seasons of a decently long career were with the Cardinals. (Jefferies headed to the Phillies via free agency before the '95 season.)
After three unremarkable years with the Royals, Jose bounced around all over the globe playing in leagues in Mexico and as far as Korea before resurfacing in 2000 to see 32 plate appearances with the champion Yankees. He last saw MLB action as a Diamondback in 2003 when he made a pinch-hit appearance in late September against the Cardinals.
Jose kept playing baseball though. As recently as 2009, at the age of 44, he was still seeing action in various independent leagues for teams like the Calgary Vipers and the Schaumburg Flyers. And like plenty of baseball lifers before him, it seems to run in the family. His son, Dominic, is a current prospect in the Yankees' system.
That is the quick story of Felix Jose - a player who was good and then gone. I had intended for all of this to wrap up nicely with a screenshot of me purchasing a Jose Cardinals shirsey but there isn't one to be found online and that's a shame. So instead, enjoy this video of him drawing a walk versus the Gary Railcats in August of 2009 during his days with Schaumburg, and be sure to remember him from time to time.