Thursday, August 18, 2005

Rodriguez Has Potential to Strike Like a Hurricane

Of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch
Wednesday, Jul. 20 2005

Cardinals Hall of Famer Red Schoendienst surveyed first-time major leaguer John Rodriguez on Monday. He came away impressed by the 27-year-old's presence at bat and in the field, even though Rodriguez, taking over for the injured Reggie Sanders, had never risen above Class AAA until that night. "He just might do a real good job," Schoendienst said. "We could use a hurricane right now."

Now, before you meteorologists rebuke the Redhead for not knowing a tornado from a hurricane, or for stating that he wants one - there hasn't been a hurricane in Missouri in a very long time - consider that Schoendienst does have experience with the matter.

He was a star on the Milwaukee Braves team that won the world championship in 1957, helped in no small measure by the surprising July recall of outfielder Bob "Hurricane" Hazle. Hazle, a South Carolina native, was so named for the famous Hurricane Hazel that ravaged the coast in that state in 1954, but he could have earned that monicker for what he did in the final two months of the 1957 season.

When Milwaukee center fielder Billy Bruton was hurt, Hazle, a 26-old-outfielder hitting a modest .270, was recalled from Class AAA Wichita. Expectations were low, but production turned out to be high.

As the Braves won their first and only world title in Milwaukee, Hazle hit an astonishing .403 in 134 at-bats with a slugging percentage of .649. Schoendienst, the Braves second baseman that year, said: "(Hazle) wasn't highly regarded.

But every time he swung the bat, it went in there. If he hit it hard or if he didn't hit it hard, he was getting base hits. Everything he did was right. "He even made some pretty good defensive plays and he wasn't considered at all a good outfielder. He was a hurricane for those two months. "He wouldn't catch your eye coming to a ball club. But you looked at him for the first week and you'd say, 'Where the hell has he been?' I don't care what club you're talking about, I've never seen a guy like that."

The next year, Hurricane Hazle wasn't even a soft breeze. "He went south," Schoendienst said. The lefthanded hitter batted .179 before being dealt to Detroit, which also found him wanting after 58 at-bats and sent him back to the minors. He would never return to the majors. "I don't know if he was in over his head," Schoendienst said. "Any time you have a go like that, it's terrific. But he just didn't do it the next year."

As for Rodriguez, he did something at Memphis that is rarely achieved at any level, hitting 17 home runs and driving in 47 runs in just 34 games. "I don't think I've ever seen anybody have that kind of month," Memphis manager Danny Sheaffer said. Also strange but true is the fact that the Cardinals acquired Rodriguez at the minor league level not because they needed an outfielder, but because they needed to get rid of a catcher.

Mike Mahoney had come down from St. Louis and Brad Cresse had come off the disabled list. This left little room for Javier Cardona, who had been acquired in an earlier minor league deal with Colorado. "We were within 10 minutes of releasing Cardona when (player development director) Bruce Manno made the trade," Sheaffer said. Manno said the deal actually had been Cardona for a "player to be named." Then John Farrell, Manno's counterpart with Cleveland, called a couple of days later and asked him if the Cardinals would accept Rodriguez as that player.

Scott Schumaker had just been called up for a brief trial with the Cardinals and Scott Seabol would come up later, so there was an opening for Rodriguez, who wasn't playing every day at Buffalo, where he was hitting .247. "You wish all your deals would work that way," Manno said.

Sheaffer has seen enough of Rodriguez to believe the remarkable power surge is for real. "It wasn't a fluke," Sheaffer said. "He hit two grand slams off lefthanders and the last game he played here he hit a three-run homer off a lefthander. Going on the past 34 games, I've never seen anything like it. "He's an average outfielder with a decent arm and he runs above average. It looks like he's got the tools to play in the big leagues every day. I'm looking forward to him putting some balls out of that ball park."

Cardinals manager Tony La Russa has his own experience with a career minor leaguer getting a callup and succeeding. In 1994, when Athletics first baseman Mark McGwire missed much of the season due to injury, Geronimo Berroa, 29, a designated hitter-outfielder, was summoned to Oakland. Berroa hit 13 homers, batted .308 and drove in 65 runs in less than a full season. But he didn't flame out as quickly as Hazle.

Berroa banged out 22 homers and drove in 88 runs the next year and then hit 38 homers and knocked in 108 for the A's in 1996, the season La Russa came to St. Louis. But Berroa drifted to five other big- league clubs without ever really finding another home.

La Russa would settle for Rodriguez being a Berroa in the long term or anything even resembling Hazle in the short term. Schoendienst shook his head and smiled at mention of the last name. "He was just like a flower," Schoendienst said. "It lasts for two months. And then it fades out."

Courtesy of St. Louis Post Dispatch

No comments: