One of the beloved players that helped the awful 1970’s St. Louis’ Cardinals evolved into the 1980’s World Champions was their second/third baseman Ken Oberkfell. The now 56-year-old has remained in the game ever since, having spent many years coaching and managing.
For 2013, Oberkfell is moving far off the beaten path, having accepted the job as the manager of the Lincoln (Neb.) Saltdogs of the independent American Association. Cardinals fans may remember the Saltdogs as the home of infielder Vance Albitz before he joined the Cardinals organization in 2011.
It is quite a contrast from where Obie’s career was just two years ago. Having managed the New York Mets’ Triple-A affiliate for the past six seasons, (except for a brief stint as first base coach for the major league team in the second half of the 2008 season), he was among the contenders for the Mets’ managerial job.
Oberkfell was named the major league club’s bench coach under Collins for 2011 but was fired after one season. He then managed the Newark Bears in the independent Can-Am League in 2012 before resigning in August with a 22-50 record.
As a player, Oberkfell was a free agent signing by the Cards in 1975 and remained in the organization for almost the next ten years. He made his major league debut via a brief cup of coffee at the age of 21 in 1977. In two more seasons, the Highland, IL native had taken over at second base before moving over to third in 1981 when Tommy Herr came onto the scene.
Obie, who never hit more than three home runs nor drove in as many as 50 in a single season during his time with the Cardinals, was known most for his solid fundamental play and especially, his glove. He led the NL in fielding percentage as a second baseman in 1979 and at third both in 1982 and 1983.
In June, 1984, the Cards traded Oberkfell to the Atlanta Braves. He then moved on to the Pirates, Giants, Astros and Angels. Oberkfell was a member of the 1989 NL champions from San Francisco that fell to Tony La Russa’s Oakland A’s in the infamous “Earthquake Series”. He ended his playing days with the then-California Angels at the conclusion of the 1992 season.
Oberkfell has 15 seasons of experience as a minor league manager in affiliated ball including six leading the Mets’ Triple-A team, first in Norfolk, then in New Orleans and Buffalo.
He is also a veteran of winter ball managing, currently with Leones del Escogido in the Dominican Republic. He has two Caribbean Series titles, in 2010 and 2012. Among his current players are Cardinals farmhands Keith Butler, Juan Castillo and Starlin Rodriguez.
Indy ball is familiar to him as he began his managing career in the Northern League in 1995 and 1996 before joining the Philadelphia Phillies the next season. Obie skippered Phils farmhands in the Sally and Florida State Leagues from 1997 through 2000.
The Mets hired Obie in 2001 and he first led the Capitol City Bombers of the Sally League. In the second of his two seasons with St. Lucie club of the FSL, his 2003 team was the league champion. An assignment up the ladder to Double-A Binghamton for the 2004 season ensued.
Oberkfell was recognized as Baseball America’s Minor League Manager of the Year in 2005 when he was leading the Norfolk Tides, but he has never received the call to manage in the big leagues. He interviewed for the top job with the Mets several times, including when Willie Randolph was hired prior to the 2005 season. Previously, he had also been passed over for at least two other coaching spots on the big league club in Flushing.
Obie is now back for another year at the level at which he began his coaching odyssey.
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