George Hendrick

May 26, 1978: Cardinals bolster lineup with trade for George Hendrick

If the 1978 Cardinals needed any additional evidence that they needed a bat (or two) in the outfield, they got it in a 6-0 loss to the Cubs on May 26, 1978. Just hours after obtaining outfielder George Hendrick from the Padres for starting pitcher Eric Rasmussen, the Cardinals managed just seven singles against Chicago pitcher Dave Roberts.

By the time the game was over, left fielder Jim Dwyer was batting .255 with a .689 on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS). Right fielder Jerry Morales was batting .212 with a .598 OPS, center fielder Jerry Mumphrey was hitting just .167 with a .419 OPS, and center fielder Tony Scott was batting .234 with a .549 OPS. Even Lou Brock, now 39 years old and in his 18th major-league season, had seen his batting average fall to .252 and had an even .600 OPS (for reference, the major league average OPS that season was .702).

With the offense relying almost entirely on Ted Simmons, Garry Templeton, and the still unproven Keith Hernandez, it was no surprise the Cardinals were just 15-29 and mired in last place in the National League East, 9 ½ games behind the division-leading Cubs.

In Hendrick, Cardinals general manager Bing Devine had found his new center fielder, a 28-year-old right-hander in his eighth major league season. Like many of his new teammates, Hendrick was off to a slow start, batting just .243 with three homers and eight RBIs in 36 games with the Padres.

Hendrick had been frustrated with his playing time in San Diego, where manager Roger Craig was juggling Gene Richard between left field and first base, Hendrick between center field and left field, Oscar Gamble between the bench and left field, and Gene Tenace between catcher and first base. The time share came one season after Hendrick led the Padres with a .311 batting average to go along with 23 homers, 81 RBIs, and 11 stolen bases.

Hendrick and Gamble were so frustrated that they had gotten together and studied the rosters of teams that might acquire them.[1]

“I hope this stabilizes things,” Craig said after the trade was completed. “We won’t have to make a whole lot of changes anymore.”[2]

In St. Louis, manager Ken Boyer said he planned to use Hendrick or the left-handed hitting Hernandez in the No. 3 spot in the lineup, depending on whether the Cardinals were facing a left-handed or right-handed pitcher. Whoever didn’t bat third would instead bat after the clean-up hitter, Simmons.[3]

“When I played against the Cardinals my observation was that if they had someone in the lineup who could protect Ted Simmons and hit 20 home runs and drive in 80 or 90 runs, I thought they could contend,” said Hendrick, who granted a rare interview following his Cardinals debut. “I’m not saying I’m that guy, but I’m going to try to be.”[4]

A native of Los Angeles, Hendrick had been the first overall pick in the 1968 January draft by the Oakland Athletics. To that point in his career, his best seasons had been in Cleveland, where he made the American League all-star team in 1974 and 1975. In reporting on the trade, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Neal Russo noted that Hendrick “has been accused of not going all-out in his play. He has been known not to run out a grounder at times.” He added that Hendrick “is an excellent base runner and probably could steal a fair number of bases if turned loose, and as an NL coach said, ‘if he desires to.’”[5]

To acquire Hendrick, the Cardinals agreed to absorb the remainder of a three-year, $500,000 contract that ran through the 1979 season. Devine denied that the trade had been stalled by contract renegotiations,[6] but Hendrick’s agent, Ed Keating, told the Los Angeles Times that Hendrick had a no-trade clause in his contract and that he and Hendrick had worked out “special considerations” prior to approving the deal.[7]

The Cardinals also gave up the 26-year-old Rasmussen, who had debuted with the club in 1975. Despite an unsightly 11-17 record in 1977, Rasmussen had pitched well, posting a 3.48 ERA over 233 innings. Craig pointed out that Rasmussen’s ERA had been identical to that of teammate Bob Forsch, who had gone 20-7 that season.

“I think he will help us in the long run,” said Padres pitcher John D’Acquisto, a former Cardinal who had played alongside Rasmussen with the Redbirds. “He’s a fierce competitor who has good control and keeps the ball low. You’ve got to think about what he’s going to do for us in the future.”[8]

Through his first 10 starts of the 1978 season, Rasmussen was 2-5 with a 4.18 ERA. In discussing the trade, he made a futile effort to hold back tears.

“I hate to leave all my friends in the clubhouse,” he said. “I have been with them a long, long time, but then I figured that San Diego is a good place to go.”[9]

A couple weeks earlier, when the Cardinals were in San Diego for a May 15-17 series, Rasmussen noticed Craig observing him as he threw on the side.

“That got me to wondering,” Rasmussen said, “and when I was on the field during practice and Boyer came walking toward me in the outfield (to inform him of the trade), I yelled out, ‘Goodbye, Forschie.’”

Rasmussen spent three seasons in San Diego, posting a 22-30 record with a 3.84 ERA, before returning to the Cardinals. He split time between St. Louis, Triple-A Louisville, and the Mexican League in 1982. In 1983, he pitched in six games for the Cardinals before being purchased by the Royals. He made his final major league appearances with Kansas City that season, though he continued to pitch in the minors through 1987.

Hendrick, who had stopped granting interviews to the media during his days with the Indians, quickly became a cornerstone of the Cardinals’ offense. In 102 games through the remainder of 1978, he hit 17 homers and drove in 67 runs.

In 1980, Whitey Herzog arrived and Hendrick reached career highs with 25 homers and 109 RBIs, earning an all-star nod and a Silver Slugger Award. He placed eighth in that year’s National League MVP voting. Herzog had never spoken to Hendrick before arriving in St. Louis, but did recall watching one of his games while scouting for the Mets, who held the No. 2 overall pick in the 1968 draft, one spot behind the Athletics. It didn’t take long for Herzog to realize that Hendrick did things his own way.

“Here he was performing in front of major league scouts, and George wasn’t even in uniform for the game: he had on a pair of Levis and a white T-shirt,” Herzog recalled in his 1999 book, You’re Missin’ a Great Game. “He was a center fielder and there was no fence out there, and instead of coming in with his teammates in between innings, if he wasn’t due to bat he’d just wander out and lay in the grass in deep center field, or out on the foul line and take a nap. Who knows what the hell was going on in his head?”[10]

By 1982, Hendrick had become an elder statesman on the Cardinals roster, and the role seemed to fit. He again eclipsed 100 RBIs, hitting 19 homers and driving in 104 to help St. Louis win the National League East. In the Cardinals’ three-game sweep of the Braves in the National League Championship Series, Hendrick hit .308 with a pair of RBIs.

“George kept everybody loose,” Forsch said. “When things were tight, George was calm. It helped us all just stay relaxed.”[11]

In the seven-game World Series against the Brewers, he hit .321 and drove in five runs. With the Cardinals’ backs against the wall in Games 6 and 7, Hendrick went 2-for-5 with an RBI in each game. In Game 7, Hendrick, now a right fielder, threw out Robin Yount at third base in the fourth inning and hit an RBI single in the sixth to give the Cardinals the lead.

After the last out of Game 7, rather than join the celebration in the clubhouse, he exited through the gate in right field, went under the stands, and drove home. The next day, Forsch called to ask where he had gone.

“I just wanted you guys to enjoy it,” Hendrick explained. “I was listening to the celebration in my car while I was driving home.”[12]

Hendrick played two more seasons in St. Louis, earning all-star honors in 1983. After the 1984 season, the Cardinals traded the 35-year-old Hendrick and Steve Barnard to the Pirates for left-handed pitcher John Tudor and catcher Brian Harper. Eight months later, the Pirates sent Hendrick to the Angels as part of a six-player swap. Hendrick remained with the Angels until he retired following the 1988 season.

Hendrick’s 18-year career included a .278 batting average, 267 home runs, and 1,111 RBIs. In seven seasons with the Cardinals, he hit .294 with 122 homers and 582 RBIs.

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[1] Dave Distel, “Hendrick Traded to St. Louis,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1978.

[2] Dave Distel, “Hendrick Traded to St. Louis,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1978.

[3] Neal Russo, “Cards Lose, Wait For Hendrick,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 1978.

[4] Neal Russo, “Ex-Padre Hendrick Answers Cardinals’ Prayer,” The Sporting News, June 17, 1978.

[5] Neal Russo, “Cards Lose, Wait For Hendrick,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 1978.

[6] Neal Russo, “Cards Lose, Wait For Hendrick,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 1978.

[7] Dave Distel, “Hendrick Traded to St. Louis,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1978.

[8] Dave Distel, “Hendrick Traded to St. Louis,” Los Angeles Times, May 27, 1978.

[9] Neal Russo, “Cards Lose, Wait For Hendrick,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, May 27, 1978.

[10] Whitey Herzog and Jonathan Pitts (1999), You’re Missin’ a Great Game: From Casey to Ozzie, the Magic of Baseball and How to Get it Back, New York; Berkley Books: Page 160.

[11] Rob Rains and Alvin A. Reid (2002), Whitey’s Boys: A Celebration of the ’82 Cards World Championship,” Chicago; Triumph Books: Page 27.

[12] Bob Forsch with Tom Wheatley (2013), Tales from the St. Louis Cardinals Dugout, New York; Sports Publishing: Page 31.

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