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Ex-Cardinals: Where are they now? Tom Nieto and Floyd Rayford

With the Rochester Red Wings being the off-the-field parent of the Cardinals’ New York-Penn League club, the Batavia Muckdogs, I pay a bit more attention to the affairs of the Triple-A team despite its on-field affiliation with the Minnesota Twins.

The Wings, who say they are the longest continuously-operating minor league club in existence, 122 seasons, announced their new field staff for 2010. A couple of former Cardinals are in prominent roles. One is more likely to have been remembered than the other.

Former catcher Tom Nieto is the new manager of the International League club while Floyd “Sugar Bear” Rayford will be the Red Wings’ hitting coach (left and right respectively in the photo).

The 49-year-old Nieto is taking his first Triple-A managerial job after having led the Double-A New Britain Rock Cats for the Twins in 2009. He was the New York Mets’ first base coach under Willie Randolph for part of the 2008 season after having been the organization’s catching instructor the previous three seasons.

Nieto has nine prior seasons of minor league managerial experience, including seven winning campaigns and has spent the last 18 seasons in some coaching role. The clubs he led posted an aggregate 642-609 (.513) record, including three playoff appearances.

Nieto’s Twins ties are important as he was a member of their 1987 World Championship team, appearing in 41 games. Of course, we all know who they defeated in that World Series. He was also with Minnesota in 1988.

The third round pick of the Cardinals in 1981 from Oral Roberts University, Nieto first came up with the 1984 big-league club on May 10 and also played for the 1985 National League champs. The defensive specialist had five World Series at-bats with one RBI in two starts for the Cardinals versus Kansas City in 1985 before moving on to the Montreal Expos (1986), Twins and Philadelphia Phillies (1989 and 1990). His career batting average over seven partial Major League seasons was .205 with five home runs and 69 RBI in 251 games.

The Land O’Lakes, Florida resident concluded his playing days with the organization that drafted him, the Cardinals. At the age of 30, coming off rotator cuff surgery, Nieto finished with the 1991 Triple-A Louisville Redbirds, where he batted .263 in just 19 games.

Nieto began his coaching career in the Cincinnati Reds system in 1992 and spent eight years with the Yankees organization. He first returned to the bigs in 2001 when he was selected by the New York Yankees to be their Major League catching coach, serving under manager Joe Torre through the 2002 season.

At that point, Nieto returned to the Cardinals organization, managing the A-Advanced Palm Beach Cardinals of the Florida State League in 2003 and 2004. His first club limped home with a 54-84 (.391) record, worst in the 12-team league. They improved markedly the next season, finishing 73-61 (.545) in third place, four games out of first place in their division.

Rayford is moving up with Nieto from New Britain, where he was also hitting coach in 2009. As a player, his ties are deepest with the Baltimore Orioles organization, but 2010 will be his 11th season as a coach in the Twins system.

The 52-year-old made two past stops in towns that are now Cardinal country. Rayford coached for Quad City in 2000-2003 and was Batavia’s manager back in 1996 after having coached there from 1993-1995.

As a player, the third baseman/catcher came up with the Orioles in 1980 and also played there in 1982 and from 1984-1987. His best season was in 1985 when he batted .306 with 18 home runs and 48 RBI in 105 games with Baltimore. He also played parts of seven seasons in Rochester, then the O’s Triple-A home.

His Cardinals connection was a brief interruption to his otherwise entire Orioles career. Rayford’s diversion to St. Louis occurred when he was acquired in a trade for outfielder Tito Landrum in June, 1983.

Sugar Bear saw part-time duty at third base for Whitey Herzog’s Cards during the latter part of the 1983 season. He batted just .212 with three home runs and 14 RBI in 104 at-bats.

Rayford was then sold back to the O’s at the end of March, 1984, so likely his only overlap with Nieto as a player would have been during Cardinals Spring Training in 1984 before Nieto was sent down to Louisville. As coaches, 2010 will mark their second season together.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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