Rule 5 & the Cards: A Historical View – Pt. 1

In the first of a three-part series, our resident historian Jerry Modene looks back at St. Louis Cardinals players lost in past Rule 5 drafts. Part two will look at the best players taken and the third will recap the club's entire Rule 5 history.

With Rule 5 outfielder Brian Barton having a solid spring these first several days of the exhibition season, the forums are abuzz with discussion about Rule 5 – what can the St. Louis Cardinals do with Barton, what can't they do with Barton, what they've done before with other Rule 5's?

Many fans are already familiar with the situations of Hector Luna (right), Juan Mateo, and Tyler Johnson – Luna was selected in the 2003 Rule 5 draft from Cleveland, stuck with the big club for a couple of years, and was eventually traded back to Cleveland in the Ron Belliard trade in 2006. Mateo was picked by the Cardinals in 2005 but didn't get much of a chance to pitch in the spring due to visa issues and was returned to the Cubs in the spring of '06; Johnson was taken by Oakland in 2004 but returned to St. Louis in the spring of 2005.

A look at the historical transaction lists shows that the Cards have had a long history of dealing with Rule 5, both in terms of drafting players and having players taken away.

It should be noted that the Cards – and most major league teams – used to utilize Rule 5 on a regular basis, taking two or three players each winter and giving them a spring look-see. Players were cheaper then, of course, but still, the Cards drafted 14 players via Rule 5 between 1955 and 1969, but only four players during the 1970's, four more in the 1980's, and only three in the 1990's. Likewise, the Cards lost 21 players to Rule 5 between 1955 and 1969, but only six in the 1970's, six more in the 1980's, and five more in the 1990's.

What do Billy Muffett, Karl Spooner, Darrell Johnson, Joe Hoerner, Jimy Williams, Bo Belinsky, Milt Ramirez, Cecil Cooper, Doug Capilla, Roger Freed, Orlando Sanchez, Kurt Kepshire, Clint Hurdle, Rich DeLucia, Miguel Mejia, and Alberto Castillo have in common?

They're all players who were drafted by the Cards in the Rule 5 draft, and most of them actually stuck with the big club – Muffett was taken in the winter of 1955 and was on the mound when Henry Aaron hit his pennant-winning homer against the Cards in 1957. Hoerner emerged as the ace of the bullpen in the latter half of the 1960's; Freed was the club's top pinch-hitter for a few years in the late 70's (and is fondly remembered for his pinch-grand slam against the Astros in 1979).

Others were fairly inconsequential – Williams only got into 13 games for the Cards in 1966 as a backup infielder and was sent down in 1967 before being traded to the Reds (along with Pat Corrales) prior to the 1968 season for catcher Johnny Edwards. Ramirez played in 62 games for the Cards in 1970 as he stayed with the team all season, but only batted .190 in 79 at-bats; after a few more AB's in 1971, he was sent down and traded prior to 1973 in the Ray Busse deal with Houston. Ramirez eventually resurfaced in 1979, playing in 28 games with the Oakland A's.

Some of the draftees didn't make it at all – Spooner, the kid who struck out 15 Giants in his first major league start for the Dodgers, got hurt and never made it past spring training with the Cards in 1958. Likewise, Belinsky (right) – who, when he was with the Angels in the early 1960's was Joe Namath before Namath got his party-hearty fame – never made it out of spring training with the Cards in 1969.

Near as I can tell, only two draftees over the years – Cooper and Mateo – were returned to their original club. The Cooper situation was particularly galling, as the Cards decided to go with Joe Hague at first base in the spring of 1971 (this was after they'd traded Richie Allen to the Dodgers). Hague had had a decent rookie season in 1970, but hit only .226 in 1971 and by mid-1972 was traded to the Reds in the Bernie Carbo deal. Cooper – who hadn't played above the A-ball level prior to the Cards drafting him - went to Boston's AAA club at Pawtucket and was a September call-up that year, beginning a long and meritorious major league career.

Technically speaking, Miguel Mejia wasn't a Rule 5 acquisition on the Cards' part. He had actually been drafted by Kansas City, but was then traded to St. Louis (along with infielder Luis Ordaz) in a three-way deal with the Royals and Cincinnati. KC got Mike Remlinger; the Reds received outfielder Andre King.

Mejia would spend the entire 1996 season with the Cards, batting just 23 times and getting just two hits. He did score 10 runs, though, including the winning run in a 1-0 win at Dodger Stadium. I was at that September game and was amazed as Mejia scored that run from second base on a bunt by Mike Gallego. He was gone by the following season, though.

How about the opposite side? Who are some of the "big names" the Cardinals lost in the Rule 5 draft?

Well, looking at the list, we see names such as Ozzie Virgil, Gordie Richardson, Nate Colbert, Moe Drabowsky, Willie Montanez, Bill Plummer, Ed Sprague, Pedro Borbon Sr., Larry Milbourne, Jody Davis, Jim Gott, Orlando Sanchez, Mark Salas, Jeff Fassero and Allen Battle, among others.

One player – Gary Geiger – the Cards actually lost twice in Rule 5, once in 1957 (Cleveland took him) and again in 1968 (Houston this time). Note that several other of those players also eventually returned to the Cards. Like Tyler Johnson in more recent history, the Angels didn't keep Richardson and a few years later, the Angels didn't keep Montanez (who instead wound up going to the Phillies in 1970 after Curt Flood refused to report to Philadelphia).

Drabowsky – who the Cards had bought from Kansas City in October 1965 but who they didn't protect – was grabbed by Baltimore a month later in the Rule 5 draft but eventually joined the Cards for the 1971 season. Drabowsky wound up a key member of the Orioles bullpen in 1966 and set a record in the World Series when he struck out six consecutive Dodgers in Game One.

Borbon returned to the Cards in 1980 for a few games; Fassero was back after a trade with the Cubs in 2002. Orlando Sanchez was a strange example. The Cards selected him via Rule 5 from the Phillies in the winter of 1981 and he was with the team for the first couple of months of the 1982 season as the third-string catcher. They must have made a deal with the Phillies to keep him as he was sent down when Glenn Brummer was called up. Sanchez spent the remainder of the 1982 and 1983 seasons in AAA but was off the 40-man roster by the winter of '83 when he was taken in the Rule 5 draft by Kansas City.

Probably the best players the Cards lost in Rule 5, though, were:

Native St. Louisan Nate Colbert – a slugging first baseman who had several good seasons for the Padres before being traded to Detroit in 1975. He was out of the game within a couple of years after that but still wound up with 173 major league home runs, including a career-high 38 in both 1970 and 1972.

Catcher Jody Davis (right) was taken by the Cubs in the winter of 1980. He spent the next eight seasons in a Cubs uniform, including six as their fulltime catcher, before wearing out and being sold to Atlanta on the final day of the 1988 season.

Reliever Jim Gott, taken by the Blue Jays in the winter of 1981, would spend 14 years in the major leagues with Toronto, San Francisco, Pittsburgh, and Los Angeles, saving 91 games including a career-high 34 with the 1988 Pirates.

And, of course, there is pitcher Jeff Fassero, taken by the White Sox in the winter of 1989. He didn't make it with the Sox, either – they released him on April 3, 1990. For some reason, the Cards didn't take him back and he spent that season in the Indians' minor-league system, before signing with Montreal that winter as a minor-league free agent. Something clicked, and Fassero would spend the next 16 years in the major leagues, winning career-high 16 games with the 1997 Seattle Mariners, before rejoining the Cards in mid-2002.

In part two of this series, we will look at the best players the Cardinals took in the Rule 5 drafts of years gone past.

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