Joaquin Andujar

Why the Cardinals traded Joaquin Andujar in 1985

Joaquin Andujar always felt like a ticking time bomb. Even when he won 15 regular-season games and two World Series contests to help the Cardinals win their first world championship in 15 years in 1982. Especially when he won a combined 41 games in 1984 and 1985, placing fourth in the Cy Young Award voting in both seasons.

In Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, that bomb finally detonated. Pitching in relief with the Cardinals trailing 9-0, Andujar blew up at home plate umpire Don Denkinger, who one night earlier had missed a crucial call in the Cardinals’ 2-1 Game 6 loss. Andujar was ejected from the game, fined by the commissioner and – less than two months later – traded to the Athletics for catcher Mike Heath and pitcher Tim Conroy.

Even before they obtained Andujar in a trade with the Astros in 1981, the Cardinals had been warned that Andujar could be a one-of-a-kind personality. In a pre-trade discussion with Whitey Herzog, Houston manager Bill Virdon had shared a story from earlier that season, when Andujar took his turn in the rotation and then, after the next two games were rained out, insisted that he should start the next game.

Virdon, whose staff also included Nolan Ryan, Vern Ruhle, J.R. Richard, and Joe Niekro, was flabbergasted. “The other four guys ain’t even been out to the mound yet and he thinks it’s his turn!” Virdon told Herzog. “Whitey, I’m telling you. This guy is out of his mind.”[1]

Andujar was no easier for Herzog to manage, but the Cardinals manager found ways to satisfy his high-strung ace.




“He’d steam through the clubhouse: “I’m pissed, Whitey, I’m pissed!” Sonofagun was always worked up about something,” Herzog wrote in 1999. “I almost never knew why he was pissed and mostly had no desire to find out. I’d say, ‘Pissed, huh, Goombah? Come on by my office at five o’clock, and we’ll talk about it.’

“‘Okay, Whitey,” he’d say, and he’d stomp off mumbling to himself en Español. Well, five o’clock would roll around, and I’d see him on his way out the door. I’d buttonhole him: ‘Hey Goombah, wanna talk?’ He’d look at me like he barely knew who I was, think for a second, then remember. ‘Oh, no thanks, Skip,’ he’d say. ‘I’m not mad anymore!’ And happy as a lark, he’d go home. … If I just showed him I noticed, let him blow off steam and waited for him to cool down, we made a hell of a pair.”[2]

Herzog found that a similar strategy helped him overcome one of Andujar’s greatest pet peeves – being removed from a game.

“When he’d lost his stuff, I’d go to the hill, put my hand right on his shoulder and say, ‘Hey, Goombah, great job. Gimme the ball, and I’ll see you Tuesday,’” Herzog recalled. “‘Okay, Whitey,” he’d say with a big smile. ‘See you Tuesday!’ And he’d stride off to the showers like a proud son. It wasn’t logical. Joaquin already knew he was pitching Tuesday. He knew he’d pitched great. But he like to hear me tell him when he was pitching again. He liked to hear me tell him how good he was.”[3]

Under Herzog’s guidance, the mercurial pitcher certainly was good. Andujar won 15 games in his first full season in St. Louis in 1982, then won two more in the World Series – including Game 7 – to help the Cardinals win the championship. Andujar suffered through a 6-16 season in 1983 but he bounced back in style, leading the league in wins (20), innings pitched (261 1/3), and shutouts (four) in 1984. It could have been termed a career year, but he was just as good in 1985, going 21-12 with a 3.40 ERA over 269 2/3 innings.




 

ANDUJAR EXPLODES IN GAME 7

As Andujar emerged as one of the National League’s best pitchers, however, his temper once again sabotaged him. Just one day after umpire Don Denkinger missed a key call at first base in a 2-1 Royals Game 6 win, Denkinger was behind the plate and the Cardinals were getting blown out, 9-0. With his bullpen running on fumes, Herzog called on Andujar to pitch in relief. He never recorded an out.

Denkinger called Andujar’s first pitch a ball, and the pitcher gestured with his hand, either indicating that he believed the pitch was high or, as Herzog suggested, asking whether the pitch was high.[4] Either way, Denkinger said something to Andujar, prompting Herzog to jump out of the dugout to defend his pitcher and get himself ejected in the process. Andujar threw one more pitch, Denkinger called it a ball, and Andujar charged the umpire.

When the dust settled, Andujar was ejected as well and found himself in the clubhouse with Herzog. “I’m in the clubhouse minding my own business, having a nice cold Michelob, when who should come huffing and puffing in the door but Goombah himself. Denkinger threw him out too!” Herzog recalled. “That was the only time I ever had a beer with one of my pitchers before the game was over.”[5]

Major League Baseball was embarrassed by the scene, as Andujar became the first player kicked out of a World Series game since Reds pitcher Clay Carroll in 1970. In response, commissioner Peter Ueberroth gave Andujar a 10-game suspension to be served at the beginning of the 1986 season.

“The brewery was embarrassed, too,” Herzog wrote. “It’s been reported that (general manager Dal Maxvill) and I were ordered to trade Joaquin, and I won’t deny that. I will say, though, that he might well have been traded anyway. The other players were tired of his griping and his bitching, and it had gotten to the point where he was dividing the clubhouse.”[6]

Adding to Andujar’s troubles, he faced even more severe potential punishment after former Cardinal Lonnie Smith identified him as a cocaine user during that summer’s drug trials in Pittsburgh.




 

CARDINALS TRY TO STRIKE A DEAL WITH BOSTON

At the 1985 winter meetings, the Cardinals proposed a trade with Boston that would have sent four Redbird pitchers to the Red Sox for lefthander Bruce Hurst.

Hurst, 27, was coming off his third consecutive season of double-digit wins, going 11-13 with a 4.51 ERA over 229 1/3 innings. His 189 strikeouts that season ranked second in the American League, and he was considered to have one of the circuit’s best curveballs.

In exchange, the Cardinals offered the Red Sox Andujar, Jeff Lahti, Rick Horton, and Kurt Kepshire.

“It was a typical Whitey Herzog deal,” Red Sox general manager Lou Gorman said. “It was more than legitimate and almost overwhelming. But there were so many considerations involved that you couldn’t do it in a matter of a few hours.”[7]




In the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, reporter Rick Hummel outlined just a few of the considerations Gorman and the Red Sox likely were considering.

“If the offer of Andujar, Jeff Lahti, Rick Horton, and Kurt Kepshire for Hurst can be believed, it was a substantial one,” Hummel wrote. “However, some of those pitchers may not have particularly strengthened the Red Sox, who already have a righthanded reliever they are paying $1 million a year in Bob Stanley and a righthanded starter, Al Nipper, who probably is at least the equal of Kepshire. It was conceivable the Red Sox thought that Andujar might not win any more games pitching for them than Hurst, who was 11-13 last season.”[8]

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were declining trade proposals for their own. Though they needed a starting catcher after Darrell Porter left via free agency, they declined Philadelphia’s offer of Ozzie Virgil for Van Slyke and Horton, then turned down another proposal that called for St. Louis to send Van Slyke, Horton, and Lahti to Philadelphia for Virgil and former Cardinals pitcher John Denny.[9]

Instead, in their trade with the A’s, the Cardinals found another answer to their need for catching – one that didn’t require them to give up Van Slyke or any additional pitching. On December 10, 1985, the Cardinals traded Andujar to the Athletics for catcher Mike Heath and pitcher Tim Conroy.




Heath had been a second-round draft pick of the Dodgers out of his Tampa, Florida, high school in 1973. Now heading into his age-31 season, Heath had spent the past seven years with the A’s. In addition to catching, he also played third base and the outfield.

“Heath was the only front-line catcher we could get without giving up any of our front-line outfielders,” Herzog said. “Now I like our lineup, I like our bench, and I feel we have enough pitching depth to overcome the loss of Andujar.”[10]

Heath hit .250/.313/.408 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs in 1985 and threw out 35% of would-be base stealers in 1985 (by comparison, Cardinals catchers threw out 23%). The year before, he posted career highs with 13 homers and 64 RBIs.

By the end of the season, however, Heath’s relationship with the A’s had run its course. That summer, controversy had ensued when Heath failed to run out a ground ball. The catcher attributed the incident to a sore foot, but A’s management didn’t seem convinced. The Oakland Tribune also reported that A’s pitchers complained of Heath’s game calling.[11]




The charges of a lack of hustle were ironic, given that Heath had built his career around his reputation as a fearless and emotional competitor.

“When Mike Heath steps onto the field, his No. 1 objective is to win,” Heath said, speaking of himself in the third person. “No. 2 is to win and No. 3 is to win. With the A’s, No. 1 was being compatible and No. 2 was winning. When I joined the A’s from the Yankees, it seemed like they were going through the motions. I don’t want to hear after games that old pat-on-the-back stuff, that ‘we’ll get them tomorrow.’ Bull. I say we should get them today.”[12]

With Mickey Tettleton deemed ready to play a larger role after playing 78 games in 1985, the A’s told Heath that he would be the short side of a catching platoon in the upcoming season, getting his starts against lefthanded pitchers. In turn, Heath told the A’s that he wanted to be traded.

“I felt I was an everyday player and I felt I wouldn’t be happy there,” Heath said.[13]




Heath penciled in as the Cardinals’ new starting catcher ahead of the light-hitting Tom Nieto.

“This is probably the happiest day in my career, except for the first day when I signed with the Yankees out of high school,” Heath said. “It’s overwhelming to have the opportunity to play for a team like the Cardinals and I’m really honored to see that Andujar was the one traded for me. I’d like to have had a chance to work with him, but it makes me feel good that the Cardinals felt I was important enough to do something like that. They wanted to improve the position they felt they were weak in, and I know I’ll be able to do it.”[14]

In the 25-year-old Conroy, the Cardinals were getting a wild card. In 1983, Conroy started 18 of his 39 appearances, going 7-10 with a 3.94 ERA over 162 1/3 innings. While his stuff was impressive, he walked 98 batters compared to 112 strikeouts that season, and he had spent much of the past two seasons in the minors. In Triple-A Tacoma, Conroy went 11-3 and struck out 167 batters in 129 1/3 innings.

“He’s sneaky fast with a good breaking ball,” said Maxvill, who also indicated that the inclusion of Conroy had helped seal the deal for the Cardinals. “Anybody who strikes out 167 in that many innings has to be either sneaky or have a trick pitch.”[15]




When reporters reached Andujar in the Dominican Republic for his reaction to the trade, he expressed frustration with the St. Louis media and said they had made it impossible for him to continue playing with the Cardinals.

“I hope the change will be good for me,” he said. “I make my living in baseball, and I’ll go wherever they send me. I’m a competitor, and the proof is that I won 20 games the past two years. I’m very satisfied with the trade. There’s no problem.”[16]

In a column following the trade, Kevin Horrigan of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote that while he would treasure the memories of Andujar’s highs with the Cardinals, the relationship had run its course.

“Clearly, it was time to trade him in, and the suspicion here is that someone down at Anheuser-Busch made that perfectly clear,” Horrigan wrote. “The people at the World’s Largest Brewery were not willing to abide the World’s Goofiest Pitcher, and who could blame them? Andujar is an all-time front-runner. When he pitched well, he was the greatest, the Cardinals were the greatest, St. Louis was the greatest, you were the greatest. When things went badly, he still was the greatest but you and everything else – particularly you – were horse manure.”[17]




For the Athletics, who were desperate for pitching, Andujar represented a risk worth taking, even if he already was suspended for 10 games and could face even greater punishment in the wake of the drug trials.

“We came in with the purpose of adding a pitcher at the top of our rotation,” A’s general manager Sandy Alderson said. “We lost Don Sutton and felt we needed a pitcher who could pitch a substantial number of innings. We are fully aware of the 10-day suspension at the beginning of the season and it is not something we are happy with. We have made inquiries both with St. Louis, other administrative elements of major league baseball, and resources close to Joaquin. And if there is a suspension of more than 10 days, that is a risk we have to assume.”[18]

There was an argument to be made that Oakland was the perfect place for Andujar, whose next-door neighbor in the Dominican Republic, Alfredo Griffin, was the A’s shortstop. Athletics coach Ron Plaza, who spoke fluent Spanish, knew Andujar from their days in the Reds’ organization, and Andujar’s childhood hero, Juan Marichal, was an instructor in the A’s system.[19]

Oakland Tribune columnist Dave Newhouse wasn’t convinced, arguing that whatever the A’s issues were with Heath, those difficulties would be tenfold with Andujar.




“Heath’s only serious problem is that he wants to win,” Newhouse wrote. “Maybe he didn’t run out a ground ball, maybe he’s not alone. But no A’s player ever gave more to this team, day in and day out, in heart and dedication. … I want the A’s to win as much as anyone, but I suspect this trade may not work out – for Oakland. I sense that Whitey Herzog knows exactly what he has done in unloading Andujar, and that he feels he has outfoxed the A’s. He may be right.”[20]

Years later, Cardinals shortstop Ozzie Smith wrote in his autobiography that even as he expected the trade, he felt that it was a mistake.

“Joaquin got a bad rap from a lot of people, but it was his reputation that allowed him to be as good as he was,” the future Hall of Famer wrote. “When you come right down to it, he had a decent fastball, but not a great fastball. He had a decent slider, but not a great slider. His advantage was the threat he posed to hitters; here was this pitcher on the mound who could sometimes be wild, and it was that image that helped him succeed. We missed his talent and his demeanor in the clubhouse.”[21]




 

WHO WON THE TRADE?

The A’s caught a break when Andujar and six other players named in the Pittsburgh drug trials received season-long suspensions that were reduced to anti-drug donations and community service.

That season, Andujar went 12-7 with a 3.82 ERA over 155 1/3 innings. His 12 wins ranked second on the team to Curt Young, who posted a 13-9 record. In 1987, injuries limited Andujar to just 13 starts and he finished the season with a career-worst 6.08 ERA.

That offseason, Andujar returned to the Astros as a free agent, where he was slated to pitch out of the bullpen. Due to injuries in the rotation, he made 10 starts and finished the year with a 4.08 ERA over 78 2/3 innings.

It proved to be his final major league campaign. Across 13 big-league seasons, Andujar compiled a 127-118 record with a 3.58 ERA. In his five seasons with the Cardinals, he went 68-53 with a 3.33 ERA.




Andujar’s time in Oakland was relatively subdued compared to Heath’s tenure in St. Louis. Heath opened the season with a 4-for-56 slump, then flipped the bird to fans at Busch Stadium and got into an altercation with another set of fans in San Diego. He also had an incident in the Busch Stadium parking lot in which he argued with an attendant until the police got involved. By July, Mike LaValliere had claimed the starting job.

“I’m trying to get my stuff together,” Heath said. “I’m out here taking extra batting practice every day. Think you’d read about that? No. I’m just buried every day in the papers here. I let the organization and the fans down, I know that. But it’s not like I haven’t tried.”[22]

In August, the Cardinals traded Heath to the Tigers for Ken Hill and a player to be named later. In September, the Tigers sent Mike Laga to St. Louis to complete the trade.

“He had a good spring training and then he didn’t hit anything down there in the last week,” Herzog said. “Then he got off to that 4-for-56 start. And then a lot of things happened and the fans wouldn’t let him forget it.”[23]

Conroy pitched two seasons for the Cardinals, going 8-13 with a 5.31 ERA over that span. He spent the entire 1988 season in Triple-A Louisville before he was released. He played one more season with the Pirates’ Double-A and Triple-A clubs before retiring.





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[1] 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 156.

[2] 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, Berkley Books, Pages 157-158.

[3] 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, Berkley Books, Page 158.

[4] 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, Berkley Books, Pages 176-177.

[5] 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, Berkley Books, Pages 176-177.

[6] Whitey Herzog and Kevin Horrigan (1987), White Rat: A Life in Baseball, Harper & Row Publishers, Page 186.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deal Andujar To A’s For Heath,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1985.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Winter Meetings End; Rosters of 24 Likely,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1985.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deal Andujar To A’s For Heath,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1985.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deal Andujar To A’s For Heath,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1985.

[11] Kit Stier, “A’s obtain Andujar from Cards,” Oakland Tribune, December 11, 1985.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Heath Happy To Leave A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1985.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Heath Happy To Leave A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1985.

[14] Rick Hummel, “Heath Happy To Leave A’s,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1985.

[15] Rick Hummel, “Cards Deal Andujar To A’s For Heath,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 11, 1985.

[16] “Andujar Rips Sportswriters,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1985.

[17] Kevin Horrigan, “Trade-In Time,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1985.

[18] Kit Stier, “A’s obtain Andujar from Cards,” Oakland Tribune, December 11, 1985.

[19] Rick Hummel, “Winter Meetings End; Rosters of 24 Likely,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 13, 1985.

[20] Dave Newhouse, “A’s a contradiction,” Oakland Tribune, December 12, 1985.

[21] Ozzie Smith and Rob Rains (1988), Wizard, Contemporary Books, Page 144.

[22] John Sonderegger, “Cardinals Notebook,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 11, 1986.

[23] John Sonderegger, “Cardinals Notebook,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, August 11, 1986.

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