Gary Gaetti

How the Cardinals signed Gary Gaetti 17 years after drafting him

Seventeen years after the Cardinals drafted Gary Gaetti, they finally signed him on December 18, 1995.

The native of Centralia, Illinois, was the Cardinals’ fourth-round selection out of Lake Land College in the January 1978 draft, but he chose to transfer to continue his collegiate career after the Cardinals offered him just a $500 bonus to go pro.

“Five hundred dollars didn’t look like a great deal to me,” Gaetti said. “That’s probably the overriding reason why I didn’t sign.”[1]

A year and a half after the Cardinals drafted him, the Twins made Gaetti the 11th overall pick in the June 1979 draft. In 10 years in Minnesota, Gaetti won four Gold Glove awards and was selected to two all-star games. In 1987, he was part of the Twins team that defeated the Cardinals in a seven-game World Series.




After 201 home runs and 758 RBIs in a Twins uniform, Gaetti signed with the Angels ahead of the 1991 season. In California, injuries took their toll, and the Angels released Gaetti in June 1993.

A couple of weeks later, Gaetti signed with Kansas City, where he resurrected his career. Healthy for a full season for the first time in years, Gaetti hit .261 with 35 homers, 96 RBIs, and an .846 OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) in 1995. He finished 10th in the American League MVP voting that season and won a Silver Slugger Award as the AL’s top-hitting third baseman.

After he led their team in home runs, RBIs, and runs scored, the Royals offered Gaetti a one-year deal for about $1 million.[2]

“Their offer was what I considered to be light considering what I did for them,” he said. “It made me feel like I was demanding, and had I got what I thought I was worth, would have been pulling their teeth out.”[3]




Instead, the Cardinals, who had Scott Cooper penciled in at third base following a disappointing 1995 campaign in which he hit .230 with three homers and 40 RBIs in 430 plate appearances, signed Gaetti to a $2 million deal.

“I think this guy will have more power and drive in more runs,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said. “He’s a winner, a champion, a legitimate blue-collar guy.”[4]

“All the Cardinals had to do was give Gary Gaetti 4,000 times more than they offered him the first time (in 1978),” veteran sportswriter Rick Hummel wrote in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch.[5]

The Cardinals were more than happy to add Gaetti to a lineup that also had Brian Jordan and Ray Lankford, had just added Royce Clayton at shortstop, and would soon sign Ron Gant.




“We needed to add some offensive pop to our infield,” Jocketty said. “Gary gives us a proven long-ball threat, and I like the fact that we now have four or five players in our lineup who have the ability to hit 15 to 20 home runs.”[6]

Gaetti arrived in St. Louis just eight homers shy of 300 for his career.

“I feel as good as I did when I was 36,” he joked.[7]

More seriously, Gaetti shared his memories of going to Cardinals games as a young boy and even receiving a broken bat from Angels shortstop Dick Schofield.[8]




“This is something I have dreamed of since I was a young boy,” he said, adding that he used to play in his backyard, pretending to be Cardinals legends such as Bob Gibson, Tim McCarver, Mike Shannon, Julian Javier, Orlando Cepeda, and Lou Brock. “I look at this as a good opportunity and a chance to come home. Last night, when I was doing some Christmas shopping, I stopped by a sporting goods store to see what I looked like in a Cardinals cap, and it looked just right.”[9]

Fifteen years into his big-league career, Gaetti was about to face his first season in the National League.

“I’d be dishonest if I said I wasn’t a little bit nervous,” he said. “There will be times when I’ll look really dumb and other times when it looks like I actually know what I’m doing.”[10]

Fortunately for the Cardinals, it was largely the latter. Despite a slow start, Gaetti hit .274 with 23 homers, 80 RBIs, and a .799 OPS in his first season in St. Louis. He also demonstrated a penchant for dramatic home runs, including a blast in his first at-bat as a Cardinal at Busch Stadium.




That fall, Gaetti hit a three-run homer in Game 1 of the NLDS against the Padres and launched a grand slam in Game 2 off the Braves’ Greg Maddux in Game 2 of the NLCS.

“He’s just a dead-game competitor and he’s just great in the clubhouse,” Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said after Gaetti’s NLCS grand slam. “He’s loose. He has fun with the guys, but when you get into the competition, he’s real serious. If he sees someone falling short of the standard, he tells them. He’s a great teammate.”[11]

In 1997, Gaetti collected his 2,00th career hit with a line drive off Maddux’s ankle. At age 38, he hit .251 with 17 homers, 69 RBIs, and a .710 OPS.

“I feel not only geographically that I’m home, but I feel well-received in St. Louis,” he said that June. “Even in the short time I was there, I feel like I’ve been able to become a Cardinals player, and that really is something special.




“There are times when I’ll be standing out there warming up for the game, and I will sense the smell of the stadium. The wind is wafting through the stadium just the right way, and I will smell the same smell that I used to love as a kid coming over to watch the Cardinals. The hot dogs and the beer and the popcorn, it just wafts in the air. I used to just love that as a kid because, you know, going to the ballpark is a special time. Times like that, I think I really am blessed to be in the position I’m in.”[12]

Gaetti continued to be productive in 91 games for the Cardinals in 1998, batting .265 with 11 homers, 43 RBIs, and a .793 OPS. However, at the trade deadline, the Cardinals sent Royce Clayton and Todd Stottlemyre to Texas in a deal that brought Fernando Tatis to St. Louis. Tatis became the Cardinals’ new starting third baseman, and on August 14, the Cardinals released Gaetti.

In three seasons for the Cardinals, Gaetti compiled 51 homers, 192 RBIs, and a .764 OPS. He quickly signed with the Cubs and went on to play the remainder of that season as well as 1999 in Chicago before briefly concluding his career with the Red Sox in 2000. Over the course of his 20-year career, Gaetti hit .255 with 2,280 hits, 360 homers, and 1,341 RBIs.





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[1] Rick Hummel, “Gaetti Finally A Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1995.

[2] “Gaetti signs deal with Cardinals,” The Kansas City Star, December 19, 1995.

[3] R.B. Fallstrom (Associated Press), “Cards Sign Gaetti To Fill Third Base, Daily American Republic, December 19, 1995.

[4] Rick Hummel, “Gaetti Finally A Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1995.

[5] Rick Hummel, “Gaetti Finally A Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1995.

[6] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards sign Gaetti to 1-year pact,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1995.

[7] Rick Hummel, “Gaetti Finally A Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1995.

[8] Rick Hummel, “Gaetti Finally A Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1995.

[9] R.B. Fallstrom (Associated Press), “Cards Sign Gaetti To Fill Third Base, Daily American Republic, December 19, 1995.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Gaetti Finally A Cardinal,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, December 19, 1995.

[11] Bernie Miklasz, “‘The Rat’ May Be Old, But He Puts Bite On Braves,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, October 11, 1996.

[12] Jim Souhan, “Gaetti feeling right at home in St. Louis,” Minneapolis Star-Tribune, June 30, 1997.

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