November 20, 1996: Cardinals sign Delino DeShields

As he started preparing for the 1997 season, Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty was looking for a second baseman who could hit for power or inherit the top spot in the St. Louis lineup.

On November 20, 1996, he opted for the latter, signing Delino DeShields to a one-year contract with a team option for a second year. At the time the signing was announced, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that DeShields would earn more than $1.5 million in 1997 and the option for 1998 would earn him almost $2 million.[1] Later, the paper reported that DeShields’ deal was for $1 million with a $3 million option.[2]

Regardless of the exact figures, the second baseman proved to be a valuable addition to the Cardinals’ lineup.

Jocketty had explored the possibility of trading for Pirates infielder Jeff King, who hit 30 homers and drove in 111 runs in 1996, but found that Pittsburgh wanted too much young talent. The Cardinals also explored adding Ryne Sandberg, but the 37-year-old wanted a two-year contract. Instead, St. Louis signed DeShields despite his struggles the two previous seasons with the Dodgers.[3]

The Cardinals did not pursue Luis Alicea, who started 104 games at second base the previous season.[4]

“We felt we needed a leadoff hitter,” Jocketty said. “We feel DeShields solves this problem. Obviously, he hasn’t played well the last couple of years, but he didn’t like the situation in L.A. He didn’t like (Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda). This will be a much better environment for him. … (Tony La Russa) is very good at working with players like this and getting the most out of them.”[5]

A baseball and basketball star at his Delaware high school, DeShields received a scholarship to play basketball at Villanova. Opting instead to sign with the Expos after he was selected 12th overall in 1987, DeShields made his major-league debut against the Cardinals in 1990 and collected four hits in his first game en route to a second-place finish in the Rookie of the Year balloting.




In four seasons with the Expos, DeShields hit .277/.367/.373 with 309 runs scored and 187 stolen bases. After the 1993 season, the Expos traded DeShields to the Dodgers for Pedro Martinez. The Dodgers and their fans came to rue that decision.

While Martinez launched a Hall of Fame career in Montreal, DeShields struggled in three seasons with the Dodgers, batting .241/.326/.327. In 1996, he hit just .224 and struck out 124 times, seventh-most in the National League. He hit just .184 after the all-star break and was pulled from the Dodgers’ starting lineup in their final two playoff games.

“Getting out of L.A. is going to have a big impact on him,” said catcher Tom Pagnozzi. “I think he’s got to be excited about being out of there. He’s a perfect fit for the Cardinals.”[6]

DeShields said his struggles weren’t related to friction in Los Angeles, but instead were caused by nagging injuries – particularly a sore hip that limited his mobility.

“I probably shouldn’t have even been playing a lot of days, but I played,” he said. “I’m just that kind of guy. It might not have been smart of me, going out there and continuing to try and play through it, but that’s the only way I knew to go about it. I took a lot of heat, but I know I’m not a .230 hitter. I know I’m no .250 hitter. So it’s up to me to go out there and silence all this stuff.”[7]

Despite his offensive struggles, DeShields had multiple suitors, including the Yankees, Padres, Cubs, and Reds.[8] On November 14, the Los Angeles Times reported that DeShields would sign with the Reds the next day. To make space for him, the paper reported, the Reds planned to trade second baseman Bret Boone.[9]

However, that report was refuted by DeShields’ agent. Less than a week later, the Cardinals announced that DeShields had chosen to sign with the club.

“There’s a good group of guys on the team and it’s a good situation. I have a lot of respect for guys like Pagnozzi, Ray (Lankford), and Brian (Jordan),” DeShields said.[10]

“I think he can be at the top of the lineup,” La Russa said. “He’s exciting. You look at his stolen bases, and he wasn’t all that healthy all the time. I really believe that if he plays like he can, he could be somebody who could score a ton of runs. For a good part of his career, he’s been regarded as a multi-threat to win a game – with his glove, his legs, his bat. In Montreal, he did it beyond a couple of months or a year. That proves to me he can do it. He’s entering the prime years of his career, and he can be right in the middle of the success we can have the next few years. The problems that have developed we can identify and work on while at the same time looking at the pluses he brings.”[11]

DeShields predicted that if he returned to the batting averages he posted in Montreal, he could be an impact bat for the Cardinals.

“If I hit .270, I’ll score 120 runs and steal 70 bases,” DeShields said. “I’ve never felt I needed a spark.”[12]

DeShields may not have posted 120 runs or 70 stolen bases in either of his two seasons in St. Louis, but the Cardinals certainly couldn’t complain after he hit a career-high .295 with a .357 on-base percentage and slugged .448, another career high. His 14 triples led all of baseball, and he added 11 homers, 58 RBIs, 92 runs scored, and 55 stolen bases. According to Baseball-Reference.com, he ranked third on the Cardinals in wins above replacement, trailing only Lankford and Andy Benes.

In 1998, DeShields hit .290/.371/.429 with 74 runs scored, seven homers, 44 RBIs, and 26 stolen bases. Though the Cardinals sought to bring him back for the 1999 season, he signed a three-year, $12.5 million contract with the Orioles that December.





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[1] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[2] Mike Eisenbath, “DeShields signs 3-year deal with Orioles,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 5, 1998.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[6] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[7] Bernie Miklasz, “DeShields Is A Historical Significance,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 22, 1996.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[9] “DeShields Will Move From Dodgers to Reds,” Los Angeles Times, November 14, 1996.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[11] Rick Hummel, “Cards Sign DeShields As New 2nd Baseman,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 21, 1996.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Orioles Players Throwing Quite A Pitch At Pagnozzi,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, November 24, 1996.