April 2, 1985: Cardinals trade for ‘Secret Weapon’ Jose Oquendo

With no guarantees that they would be able to re-sign all-star shortstop Ozzie Smith before the end of the season, the Cardinals needed a secret weapon. They got exactly that on April 2, 1985, when they traded shortstop Angel Salazar and minor-league pitcher John Young to the Mets for shortstop Jose Oquendo and minor-league reliever Mark Davis.

The trade marked Dal Maxvill’s first as the Cardinals’ general manager. Hired on Feb. 25 to replace Joe McDonald, Maxvill inherited a standoff between Smith and the Cardinals heading into the final year of Smith’s contract. The same day that the Oquendo trade appeared in papers, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Smith and the Cardinals were as much as $800,000 per year apart in their negotiations. The Cardinals were believed to be offering $1.7 million per year over four years while Smith was asking for at least $2.5 million annually.[1]

“That’s part of it,” manager Whitey Herzog said in explaining the trade. “Not that I hope we don’t sign Ozzie.”[2]

The Cardinals originally intended for Angel Salazar to serve as Smith’s backup. The Cardinals drafted the 23-year-old from the Expos in January as compensation for losing Bruce Sutter to free agency. Salazar had played 80 games for the Expos in 1984 but hit just .155 with 12 RBIs in 184 plate appearances.

“He’s got a better opportunity with the Mets than he had with us,” Herzog said. “He might end up being the Mets’ shortstop this year.”[3]

Salazar had been the Cardinals’ leading hitter in spring training, batting .421 at the time of the trade.[4]

“Salazar’s not a bad ballplayer,” Herzog said, “but I thought (Oquendo) was the second-best shortstop in the National League when we saw him.”[5]

After Salazar spent one minor-league season for the Mets in 1985, the team traded him to Kansas City, where he played two seasons before playing with the Cubs in 1988. He finished his five-year major-league career with a .212 batting average in 383 games.

Oquendo made his major-league debut as a 19-year-old in 1983, batting .213/.260/.244 in 353 plate appearances. He opened 1984 as the Mets’ starting shortstop but yielded playing time to Ron Gardenhire and Rafael Santana after batting .222/.284/.249 in 81 games.

“I’m sure you know we didn’t get him for his bat,” Herzog said, but “I haven’t seen him play badly. Salazar’s not a bad ballplayer, but everybody in our organization thought Oquendo was better, and he’s 21, two years younger than Salazar.”[6]

“I read in the paper that they might trade Ozzie Smith,” Oquendo said. “I hope this means I get a chance. I think I can hit. I know I’m a better hitter than the last couple of years. When they put so much pressure on you it makes it hard on you.”[7]

Oquendo was out of options and the Cardinals planned to assign him immediately to the minors, allowing them to bring him up one time without placing him on waivers.[8] Herzog said the Cardinals might experiment with Oquendo as a switch hitter, something the Mets tried but abandoned.[9]

“I don’t think this deal would have been made if he wasn’t out of options,” Herzog said.[10]

Davis, the other player the Cardinals acquired in the deal, was a 26th-round pick out of California State University Sacramento in the 1984 draft. Playing for Little Falls in the New York-Penn League, he saved 22 games with a 2.54 ERA as a 21-year-old in 1985.

Davis played one season in the Cardinals’ minor-league system, posting a 3.98 ERA and 10 saves in 83 2/3 innings in 1985, before concluding his baseball career.

Four days after acquiring Oquendo, the Cardinals made another trade for a shortstop, sending left-handed pitcher Dave Rucker to the Phillies for shortstop Ivan DeJesus and veteran pitcher Bill Campbell.

“DeJesus is capable of playing every day right now,” Maxvill said. “He provides us a great backup to Ozzie and protection in case the negotiations do not prove fruitful. The fact that we picked up two shortstops in four days means something, but in Oquendo’s case, it’s downstream somewhere.”[11]

DeJesus’s arrival and Smith’s signing of a new four-year, $8.7 million contract relegated Oquendo to the minors for the entire 1985 season. Though he hit just .211/.264/.245 for Triple-A Louisville, Oquendo returned to switch-hitting and batted .360 in the final month of the season.

“We had to make him pinch-hit,” Herzog said. “It was his only chance. He wasn’t going to make it in the big leagues as a .200, right-handed hitter. Switch-hitting would enable him to take advantage of his speed and give him another dimension. And he was young enough to still do it.”[12]

Oquendo continued to hit well in spring training and opened the 1986 season in the majors.

“He’s always had that good glove, and with Ozzie having shoulder problems we wanted Oquendo around just in case,” Herzog said. “I always felt that with the Mets, he was second only to Ozzie as a fielding shortstop.”[13]

Though the Cardinals slumped in 1986, Oquendo enjoyed an offensive breakout, hitting .297/.359/.341 in 158 plate appearances. In addition to playing at both second base and shortstop, Oquendo became a valuable pinch-hitter off the bench.

“Who thought you’d ever see him sent up to pinch-hit in the biggies?” Herzog asked.

Oquendo appeared in 116 games in 1987, batting .286 with a .409 on-base percentage. After primarily playing the middle infield throughout his career, Oquendo made 46 appearances in the outfield, prompting Herzog to begin calling him the “secret weapon.” In addition to playing first base, second base, third base, shortstop, and left, center, and right fields, Oquendo even pitched an inning for the Cardinals. Over the course of his career, he played all nine positions.

In Game 7 of the NLCS, with the Cardinals leading 1-0 in the second, Oquendo hit the third home run of his career, a three-run shot off Atlee Hammaker that helped the Cardinals win 6-0 and advance to the World Series.

With the trade of Tom Herr to the Twins early in the 1988 season, Oquendo became a regular in the Cardinals’ infield, particularly at second base, through the 1991 season. In the first game of the 1992 season, Oquendo suffered a hamstring injury that limited him to just 13 more games that year. He played a reserve role the remainder of his career.

After failing to make the club out of spring training in 1996, Oquendo retired, ending a 12-year major-league career that included 10 seasons in St. Louis. During his tenure with the Cardinals, he hit .264 with a .359 on-base percentage.

Despite his retirement, Oquendo didn’t stay out of baseball for long. In 1997, the Cardinals made him the manager of the New Jersey Cardinals in the New York-Penn League, beginning a coaching career that is entering its 26th season in 2022. Oquendo is currently the Cardinals’ coordinator of instruction.[14]


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[1] Rick Hummel, “Ozzie, Cards At Odds On A New Contract,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[2] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get Oquendo From N.Y.,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 3, 1985.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Cards Get DeJesus For Rucker,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, April 7, 1985.

[12] Bernie Miklasz, “In A Pinch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1986.

[13] Bernie Miklasz, “In A Pinch,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, June 8, 1986.

[14] “Cardinals announce minor league coaching staffs and player development assignments for 2022,” MLB.com, https://www.mlb.com/press-release/press-release-cardinals-announce-minor-league-coaching-staffs-and-player-develop.