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UCB Project: Favorite "Obscure" Cardinal

Posted on July 27, 2012 at 11:19 AM
Filed Under: St. Louis Cardinals | United Cardinal Bloggers
We all know and love Stan Musial.  We flip over Ozzie Smith.  We rhapsodize about Bob Gibson's fastball or Lou Brock's speed.  There are the obvious favorites for our favorite Cardinals of all-time.

But what about the guys that weren't so dominant?  The guys that may have not necessarily made their indelible mark on a franchise that is so deep in characters and memorable players.  There are guys that may have been big when they were here, but have faded in popular memory. Or perhaps they were guys that weren't ever a "name" guy, just a bit player that captured an imagination or two.

Today, the United Cardinal Bloggers are talking about some of their favorite players that don't reside in Cooperstown or resonate throughout the ages with Cardinal fans.  You'll find no Red Schoendiensts or Dizzy Deans in this group.  Hopefully, though, you'll find players that you remember hearing about, remember watching, or players that you need to read up on a little more to deepen your knowledge of Cardinal history.  One way or another, it's going to be a wonderful treat.

After the jump, I'll talk about my selection, a pitcher that was indispensable for the Redbirds after the turn of the century but one we don't talk much about these days.

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In the summer of 2001, Cardinal Nation was having to face a bit of mortality.  Ray Lankford, the homegrown star that was the face of the franchise, had started slowing down.  His bat still had some pop--he had 15 home runs at the beginning of August--but he was hitting .235 and Tony La Russa had resorted to using players such as Craig Paquette and Kerry Robinson in the starting lineup, putting Lankford on the bench and not in the best of moods.  You wonder if the organization had been more open to deeper statistics, such as Lankford's 115 OPS+, Ray might have been spared.  Then again, he had slipped defensively according to some metrics, so extra knowledge may have been a double-edged sword.

So, on August 2, 2001, the Cardinals made a waiver deal, shipping Lankford off to the Padres for right-handed pitcher Woody Williams.  That was my 26th birthday, which probably is one of the reasons the trade sticks with me.  It was also one of the first deals I remember finding out about via the internet.  (Though not the very first--I remember being on a message board and seeing Dustin Hermanson report his own trade from Montreal to St. Louis in December of 2000, coming to St. Louis with Steve Kline for Fernando Tatis and Britt Reames.  I wondered who would cover third--I knew we had some guy named Pujols in the minors, but surely he wouldn't be ready.)

Williams was damaged goods as well, at least from an output standpoint.  In his third season in San Diego after six with the Blue Jays, Williams had a .500 record and a 4.97 ERA through the first four months of the season, sporting a very ugly 1.43 WHIP in the process.  For all intents and purposes, this was a problem trade, as in, "We'll take your problem and you take ours."

While Lankford had a good rest of 2001 with the Padres, he scuffled in 2002 and then, after a year out of the game, he returned to St. Louis as a favorite son in 2004, coming off the bench and contributing six home runs and a .255 average.  Lankford even went out with a bang, hitting a two-run home run in his last official at-bat (he drew a walk in his final plate appearance).  As tough as it had to be, Walt Jocketty sold at the right time when it came to Ray Ray.

Williams, though, made an immediate impact.  Two days after the trade, he faced off against Florida and threw six scoreless innings.  He was a bit erratic after that, with rough starts mixed in with stellar ones, but finished August with a four-hit, one-run complete game against the Dodgers.  That was a preview of just what to expect from this Texan.

His last five starts--which of course were interrupted when baseball stopped due to the attacks of September 11--totaled a beautiful line.  An ERA under 1.00.  Opponents slugged .200.  A 3-to-1 K/BB ratio.  You have to figure the Padres looked at that and said, "Wait, who is that guy?  Because we'd have kept that guy."

He got a win over the eventual World Champion Diamondbacks in the 2001 NLDS, giving up just one run in seven.  The Cards lost the series in five games, but Williams was just getting started in Cardinal red.

2002 didn't get off to the greatest of starts for Woody, though.  He only pitched two innings in his first start against his hometown Astros, leaving with a strained oblique muscle.  He returned in mid-May, but strained it again in July, forcing him to miss six weeks.  Even with all of that, the only bad game he had all season was his return in August, when he allowed five runs in four innings.  In no other game that season did he allow more than three runs.  His injury was just part of what that team had to overcome and what made it one of the most special teams in Cardinal history.

Due to the sweep of the Diamondbacks, Williams didn't pitch until the NLCS that season.  He gave up three runs in six innings and took the loss in Game 2.  The Giants took the series in five games, keeping Williams from returning to the mound.

He put together another fine season in 2003, going to the All-Star Game and winning 18 games.  He slipped a bit in 2004, posting his first over-4 ERA with the Redbirds while still winning 11 games.  He was strong in the NLDS and NLCS that season, but wound up getting blasted in Game 1 of the World Series, giving more runs up in those 2.1 innings than he had in 19 innings in the first two playoff rounds.

After that, his time with the Cards was at an end.  He went back to San Diego, just like Lankford had returned to Baseball Heaven, and threw a couple more seasons there.  He even faced St. Louis in the playoffs in both 2005 and 2006, but neither of those experiences were pleasant for him as the Cardinals beat him around.  After a year with the Astros, Williams called it quits.

Many thought of him as one of Dave Duncan's finest projects and there's a strong case for that.  His time in St. Louis produced a 3.53 ERA, a .672 winning percentage, and a WHIP just over 1.2.  Those numbers easily best what he put up for any other squad and his only postseason success also came with St. Louis.

What I remember most about Williams, though, was his consistency.  You always knew he was going to go out there and pitch a smart game.  He wasn't coming at you with blazing speed, but he used movement and a good curveball to get his share of strikeouts.  (He could handle the bat as well, IIRC.)  In some ways, he was the forerunner to Chris Carpenter, a guy nobody necessarily expected anything from when he was acquired but quickly became an ace.

Williams isn't that obscure--most of the fanbase still fondly remembers his time with the Birds on the Bat--but when great Cardinal pitchers are mentioned, he doesn't often come up.  Of course, he only spent three-plus seasons with the team, which plays into it, and was also overshadowed by another homegrown guy, Matt Morris, for a lot of that stretch.

So a hat tip to Gregory Scott Williams.  May your time in St. Louis always be remembered fondly and may you make a visit up that way soon, so we can see you on Fox Sports Midwest!


4 Comments | Leave a comment

Ah, Woody ... I remember that trade, and not just because it was on our birthday! And I remember Woody fondly as well. Like you said, he was always consistently good. Plus I liked him because he was my age. (As was Larry Walker.)

I was leaving age out of this, Christine.... ;)

It was interesting to see two deals made in August after the waiver complication (Williams and Walker) have such a positive impact not only on that season but seasons afterwards.

What about Moe Thacker?

That would have counted, no doubt! 5 plate appearances, 4 at-bats for the Redbirds after a few years in purgatory--um, I mean, Chicago.

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