Joe McEwing

Why the Cardinals traded Super Joe McEwing

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa had so much respect for reserve infielder Joe McEwing that when the Cardinals traded him to the Mets for Jesse Orosco on March 18, 2000, the Cardinals manager grabbed a pair of McEwing’s Cardinals-red cleats to keep in his office and “remind me of what a professional ballplayer is supposed to be.”[1]

The Cardinals drafted McEwing almost eight years earlier in the 28th round of the 1992 draft. The 783rd player selected, McEwing had a long road to the majors and didn’t make his MLB debut until 1998, when he appeared in 10 games. He had just four hits that season, but one of those hits came on September 28, just before Mark McGwire hit his 70th home run of the season.

In 1999, McEwing opened the year on the Cardinals’ big-league roster and appeared in each of their first 27 games, playing primarily second base but also appearing at third base, center field, right field, and even first base. In June, he began a 25-game hit streak and was hitting above .300 as late as July 28. He finished the year with a .275 average, nine homers, 44 RBIs, and seven stolen bases.

Even as the Cardinals finished fourth in the NL Central, St. Louis fans embraced McEwing. He garnered the nicknames “Super Joe” and “Little Mac,” and Busch Stadium even had a “Little Mac” section in the lower left-field seats early in the season, similar to the “Big Mac” section above it on the upper deck.




“McEwing represented what baseball players used to be – or at least our romanticized ideal of what we think they should be,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch columnist Bernie Miklasz wrote. “He was honored to wear the uniform. He would have paid the Cardinals to let him play. In this era of cynicism and greed, we embrace a Joe McEwing and his old-school values.”[2]

Heading into the 2000 season, however, McEwing appeared destined to return to the minor leagues. With six bench spots available, outfielders Craig Paquette and Thomas Howard appeared to be locks alongside the backup catcher. With Shawon Dunston, Brian McRae, Eduardo Perez, Placido Polanco, and Larry Sutton also angling for jobs, it looked as though McEwing was headed to Triple-A Memphis.

“We had a meeting this morning with (manager Tony La Russa) and his staff and it would have been tough for Joe to make the club based on what we’ve seen this spring and the other candidates,” Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty said.[3]

As the Cardinals eyed a crowded bench, they found themselves short of lefthanded relief when Scott Radinsky suffered setback in his return from elbow surgery. With Radinsky unable to start the season, the Cardinals set their sights on 42-year-old Jesse Orosco.




The Mets first asked for starting pitcher Garrett Stephenson in return, but Jocketty was unwilling to deal the 28-year-old righthander. The Mets countered by asking for McEwing, and said that if he wasn’t available either, they would deal Orosco someplace else.[4] Jocketty opted to make the deal.

“I told Joe one of the toughest parts of this job was to tell a player he’s been traded, especially someone … who’s so well-liked and been a Cardinal his whole career,” Jocketty said. “But we needed a lefthander. With the uncertainty of Radinsky, we had to act quickly.”[5]

“Part of the – I use the word joy – that you have coming to the ballpark is you know you’re going to watch Joe come into the clubhouse, and interact in here, and do what he does out there,” La Russa said. “And you just lost part of why you enjoy your day. What you have to weigh against it is when we play the game, we don’t enjoy getting beat because we have a need we could address. So that’s what it came down to.”[6]

“It’s one of the hardest (trades) I’ve ever had to deal with,” said Buddy Bates, who had been the team’s equipment manager since 1983 and a batboy before that. “Keith Hernandez, Bob Forsch, those were tough. But this one is right there.”[7]




McEwing was expected to begin the season in the Mets’ minor-league system, then play a utility role when called up.

“I’m going to a good situation,” McEwing said. “We have a very good chance to play in October and I’ve got to take advantage of it.”[8]

Meanwhile, the Cardinals were obtaining a veteran reliever who debuted in 1979 and was set to pitch in his fourth decade. St. Louis had drafted Orosco in the seventh round of the January 1977 draft out of Santa Barbara City College, but were unable to sign him.

Orosco’s best seasons had come in the 1980s during his first stint with the Mets. In 1983, he placed third in the Cy Young Award voting with a 1.47 ERA and 17 saves over 110 innings. He was named an all-star in 1983 and 1984 and threw the final pitch of the Mets’ 1986 World Series championship. He also was on the mound when Tom Herr hit his game-winning grand slam on Seat Cushion Night in 1987.




With 1,090 appearances, he had pitched in more major-league games than anyone in baseball history and had never been sent to the disabled list.

“I’m very fortunate,” Orosco said.[9]

“Maybe he’s just got elastic bands for rotator cuffs,” said lefthander Paul Spoljaric.[10]

In 1999 with the Orioles, he threw 32 innings, posting a 5.34 ERA. That December, the Orioles traded him to the Mets for Chuck McElroy, but as the spring progressed, there didn’t appear to be space for Orosco in the New York bullpen.




“We feel he can be an effective pitcher against a left-handed hitter, and we really don’t have that specialist right now,” pitching coach Dave Duncan said. “I know our left-handed hitters don’t like to hit off him, never have, and that’s a good way to measure a guy.”[11]

Cardinals outfielder Eric Davis had played alongside Orosco in 1998 with the Orioles.

“You don’t pitch as long as he’s pitched without being consistent,” Davis said. “He’s a tremendous competitor as well as a teacher. And he can pitch as long as he wants because he has the ability to pitch. That’s what he does. He’s amazing.”[12]

Several teams had been interested in acquiring Orosco, Jocketty said. In particular, there were rumors that Orosco might go the Dodgers, whose manager, Davey Johnson, and general manager, Kevin Malone, were with Orosco in Baltimore.[13]




“Jesse is a guy who has great experience, and despite his age, is still very productive,” Jocketty said. “We jumped at the opportunity to get him. Jesse was being sought after by several clubs and we felt this was a good way to add quality depth to our bullpen.”[14]

Orosco said he had heard that he might be dealt to the Tigers.

“It got narrowed down to certain teams,” he said. “Then I heard Detroit and said, ‘Oh, no, I don’t want to go there.’”[15]

Orosco was, however, excited to pitch in St. Louis.




“When you’re traded from one contending team, you hope to fall into another contending team and I think this has worked out,” he said. “Any time you have a chance to go to a contender, you have to be happy about that. Hopefully, I’m the piece to that puzzle that they needed in the bullpen.”[16]

Unfortunately, Orosco’s streak of 21 big-league seasons without an appearance on the disabled list came to an end on April 9, when he went down with an elbow sprain. The injury plagued Orosco throughout the season and he threw just 2 1/3 innings for the Cardinals. He signed with the Dodgers ahead of the 2001 season.

McEwing spent five years with the Mets on his way to a nine-year major-league career. Though he was never penciled into a starting job, he played at least 75 games each season, and in 2001 he hit .283 with eight homers, 30 RBIs, and eight stolen bases in just 283 at-bats.

After brief stints with the Royals and Astros and a season in the Red Sox minor-league system, McEwing retired in 2008 with a .251 career batting average. Later that year, he was hired as a hitting coach for the Charlotte Knights, the White Sox Triple-A team. Eventually, he climbed through the ranks to become the White Sox bench coach. In 2023, he returned to the Cardinals as the bench coach under manager Oliver Marmol. In November 2023, the Cardinals announced that he would become a special assistant to John Mozeliak.





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[1] Bernie Miklasz, “Though unpopular, trade of McEwing does make sense,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

[2] Bernie Miklasz, “Though unpopular, trade of McEwing does make sense,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

[3] Rick Hummel, “Cardinals’ need for a bullpen lefthander makes McEwing expendable,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 2000.

[4] Rick Hummel, “McEwing is traded to the Mets for veteran lefthander Orosco,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 2000.

[5] Rick Hummel, “McEwing is traded to the Mets for veteran lefthander Orosco,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 19, 2000.

[6] Joe Ostermeier, “Things won’t be the same without ‘original Cardinal’ Little Mac,” Belleville News-Democrat, March 19, 2000.

[7] Joe Ostermeier, “Things won’t be the same without ‘original Cardinal’ Little Mac,” Belleville News-Democrat, March 19, 2000.

[8] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards trade McEwing to Mets,” Belleville News-Democrat, March 19, 2000.

[9] Rick Hummel, “Orosco brings consistency to Cardinals bullpen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

[10] Rick Hummel, “Orosco brings consistency to Cardinals bullpen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

[11] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards trade McEwing to Mets,” Belleville News-Democrat, March 19, 2000.

[12] Rick Hummel, “Orosco brings consistency to Cardinals bullpen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

[13] Rick Hummel, “Orosco brings consistency to Cardinals bullpen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

[14] Joe Ostermeier, “Cards trade McEwing to Mets,” Belleville News-Democrat, March 19, 2000.

[15] Rick Hummel, “Orosco brings consistency to Cardinals bullpen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

[16] Rick Hummel, “Orosco brings consistency to Cardinals bullpen,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, March 20, 2000.

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