I can’t say why, but this week, I seem to be fixated on the middle infield. Of Tony La Russa and his top coaches, do you know how many are former middle infielders?
Can you believe the number is four of seven?
Along with La Russa, Dave McKay, Jose Oquendo (pictured making the turn in a 2007 minor league spring training workout) and Joe Pettini, ex-middle infielders all, the Cardinals staff includes one ex-catcher in Dave Duncan, a pitcher in bullpen coach Marty Mason and of course, the new hitting coach and former first baseman in Mark McGwire.
La Russa, 65, signed his first pro contract with the Kansas City Athletics on the night he graduated from high school in 1962. He made his major league debut with Kansas City just one year later. La Russa did not return to the majors again until 1968, this time with the Oakland A’s.
Tony went on to play parts of four seasons in Oakland before concluding his big-league playing career with Atlanta and the Chicago Cubs. Overall, his professional career spanned 16 seasons as he finished, ironically, as a player/coach with the Cardinals Triple-A affiliate in New Orleans in 1977.
La Russa played at second base in 786 of his 1,028 minor league games and 63 of his 83 major league contests at second.
First base coach McKay, who turns 60 next month, was originally signed by the Minnesota Twins in 1971 and spent four seasons in the minor leagues after breaking in during August 1975. After the 1976 season, McKay moved to Toronto in the expansion draft, where he was in the lineup for the first game in Blue Jays franchise history.
After splitting time between Toronto and Triple-A Syracuse in 1979, McKay signed with the A’s in 1980. He played for Oakland through 1982 and returned to the minor leagues as a player-coach for the 1983 season before becoming La Russa’s bench coach in 1984.
McKay was primarily a second baseman in the majors, playing 385 of his 653 games there, also spending time at third and shortstop.
As a major league infielder, third base coach Oquendo is the most-known of the bunch for his playing exploits. Now 46, “Secret Weapon’s” professional playing career spanned 17 seasons, including big league time with the New York Mets (1983-84) and Cardinals (1986-95).
In 1990, Oquendo established single-season major league records for the highest fielding percentage (.996) and fewest errors by a second baseman (three). He also led the league in fielding in 1989 and compiled a .992 fielding average at second base for his career.
While Oquendo is famed for having played every position on the diamond as a Cardinal, his primary home as a major leaguer was second base. He played 649 of his 1163 career MLB games there.
Pettini’s professional career began when he signed with the Montreal Expos as a non-drafted free agent in 1977. In 1980, he was traded to the San Francisco Giants, where he played for four seasons. He was signed by the Cardinals and played for Triple-A Louisville from 1984 through 1986.
The Cardinals current bench coach breaks the mold as he was a shortstop, having played there in 106 of his 180 major league contests.
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