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Cardinals Managerial Debuts: A Retrospective

St Louis Cardinals v Tampa Bay Rays Photo by Brian Blanco/Getty Images

(Editor’s note: Michael Nowlin reached out earlier this week with a story idea, relating to the Cardinals’ managers. Michael researched and typed up a story, and I think you’ll enjoy what he came up with. - Josey)

A look at St. Louis’s managerial debuts since 1978:

Mike Matheny (April 4, 2012; 4-1 win at Miami): World Series MVP David Freese, in his first at bat of the season, singles in Carlos Beltran (also making his Cards debut) and Lance Berkman in the top of the first. The Cardinals never trailed, Kyle Lohse got the win and Jason Motte the save, as the Cardinals spoiled the opening of Marlins Park. (And the season didn’t really get better for Miami.)

Tony La Russa (April 1, 1996; 7-6 loss vs. New York Mets): The joke was on the Cardinals as the completely revamped team opened up a 6-0 lead…and then coughed it back up. Opening day starter and new Cardinal Andy Benes was fair, but the bullpen was especially bad, as three relievers were touched for four runs in a disastrous seventh. Bright spots: John Mabry, who started his career with two .300+ seasons, hit the first home run of the LaRussa era with one out in the fourth. Willie McGee, wearing the birds on the bat for the first time in over five years, hits a three-run homer in the same inning to give the Cards a 6-0 lead. (Who knew it would be the last highlight all day?)

Mike Jorgensen (June 16, 1995; 6-5 win vs. San Francisco): Some great names from the past—and present—in this contest. Also a huge day for Cardinals moves: the Redbirds traded Todd Zeile to the Cubs and fired Joe Torre—for whom Jorgensen played in his time on the Mets and the Braves—on the same afternoon. Interim skipper Mike Jorgensen made his Cardinals managerial debut 11 years to the day after his Cardinals playing debut.

With two outs and the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the fifth, Ray Lankford reached on a throwing error by Giants SS Royce Clayton; Jose Oquendo and Tripp Cromer scored. Brian Jordan then scored on a liner to center by Chris “Spuds” Sabo. To cap off the scoring, with Scott Cooper at bat, Ray Lankford swipes home on the front end of a double steal. The Giants immediately make things interesting in the top of the sixth, but relievers Jeff Parrett and Tom Henke hold on for a 6-5 Cards victory.

Joe Torre (August 2, 1990; 4-3 win at Philadelphia): Taking the reins from interim Red Schoendienst in an utterly miserable season for the Cardinals, former Cardinals MVP Joe Torre leads the team to a 4-3 victory at Veterans Stadium.

Ozzie Smith scored on an error in the top of the first, but the Phillies tied it in the bottom of the first on a single by Tom Herr and went ahead when John Kruk drive in Darren Daulton with single two batters later. The Cardinals went ahead to stay on a bases-loaded double by Vince Coleman in the top of the sixth; Todd Zeile, Milt Thompson, and Jose Oquendo scored. Bob Tewksbury got the win and Lee Smith took the save, with two innings by Ken Dayley (acquired in the trade with Mike Jorgensen) in between.

Whitey Herzog (June 9, 1980 at Atlanta; 8-5 win in 10 innings): In a game that would begin one of the most cherished eras in Cardinals history, a very un-Whiteyball team squanders a 5-0 lead before winning on a three-run homer by George Hendrick in the extra frame. The opposing manager, incidentally, was 39-year-old Bobby Cox, in his first go-around with the Braves.

The Redbirds scored in each of the first three innings for 41-year-old Jim Kaat, making just his third start after being moved into the rotation. George Hendrick singled in Garry Templeton (who had stolen second) in the first, Templeton singled in Ken Reitz in the second, and Ted Simmons homered in the third. Three innings later Hendrick would double Simmons in, advance to third on a wild pitch, and then score on a sacrifice fly by Bobby Bonds. The floodgates basically opened after that, as the Braves got to Kaat while a parade of Braves relievers—led by Al Hrabosky (who had just pitched for Herzog for two full seasons in Kansas City)—shut down the Cardinals for the rest of regulation.

Glenn Hubbard drove in Larvell Blanks with one out in the bottom of the ninth, then was erased when Dale Murphy struck out and Hubbard was caught stealing. The Cardinals wasted no little time in the 10th, as Keith Hernandez walked with one out, Simmons singled, and George Hendrick went deep. The Braves threatened in the bottom of the 10th by putting the first two on, but George Frazier induced future Cardinal Bob Horner to hit into a 5-4-3 double play, then struck out Jeff Burroughs looking to seal the win.

(For historical purists, this didn’t exactly start an uninterrupted run for Whitey, as he temporarily surrendered the managerial post to Red Schoendienst later that year and focused on GM duties; he picked the job back up in 1981 for a long and mostly happy run in the position.)

Ken Boyer (April 29, 1978 vs. Los Angeles; 1-0 win): After a stellar playing career that began with the Cardinals and ended with the Dodgers, Boyer returned to the St. Louis organization in 1970 and served as a minor league manager and coach until, in 1978, he was promoted to manage the major league team—which included a number of key players he’d helped develop.

It was a thoroughly unimpressive offensive display by the Cardinals, who would manage only two hits against eventual NL Cy Young runner-up Burt Hooton. They didn’t even have a baserunner until Ted Simmons led off the fifth with a double, but it was their other hit that redeemed the day. Keith Hernandez, a Boyer protégé, led off the bottom of the seventh with a single, moved to second on Hooton’s wild pitch, advanced to third when Simmons grounded out (4-3), and then scored on Ken Reitz’s fly ball to center. Meanwhile, 26-year-old Eric Rasmussen was matching up with Hooton quite well, scattering four singles in a four-hit, complete game shutout; he struck out only two, but he also walked only two, and was never in any serious trouble—no Dodger reached third base. This would be Rasmussen’s last win as a Cardinal in his first go-around, as he would lose his next three decisions and would—within a month of Boyer’s debut—be traded to the Padres for future World Champion cornerstone George Hendrick.

Not much went right for Boyer in 1978 following his debut, but it’s easy to forget that he led the team to a good 1979 campaign—especially Hernandez and Garry Templeton. A horrid start in 1980 (18-33) led to him being fired in the middle of a Sunday doubleheader in Montreal. The team had already hired Herzog, who met them the next day in Atlanta (see Herzog’s debut).