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'Hall of Shamer' Pagnozzi has a place in Cardinals history alongside Gibby and Yadi

'Hall of Shamer' Pagnozzi has a place in Cardinals history alongside Gibby and Yadi

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This is something of a trick question, but who are the top three on the Cardinals’ list of players for appearing in most consecutive seasons with them from the start of his career without ever playing for another big-league team?

The tricky part comes when we throw out Hall of Famer Stan Musial, who played a record 22 seasons with the team but didn’t play for the Cardinals in 1945 when he was in the Navy. Musial, of course, did have 18 in a row later on in his career from 1946-63.

And also thrown out is pitcher Adam Wainwright, who has been here since 2005 but didn’t play in 2011 after having Tommy John elbow surgery in spring training.

That leaves at the top Hall of Famer Bob Gibson with 17 seasons (1959-75), current Cardinals star Yadier Molina at 16 seasons and holding (2004-19) and ... Tom Pagnozzi?

“That’s crazy. Those guys are Hall of Famers. I’m a ‘Hall of Shamer,’” Pagnozzi said, laughing.

Pagnozzi spent 12 consecutive years with the Cardinals from 1987-98 and never played for another major league team, although he was with the New York Yankees in spring training of 1999.

He retired as a .253 hitter with three Gold Gloves and now runs a T-shirt emporium in Fayetteville, Arkansas, where he lives.

“I never thought of myself as really a good player,” said the 57-year-old Pagnozzi. “I was average at everything. I could throw, but to play as long as I did … I tell people that if I went to a tryout camp now, I would get cut. I didn’t run well. No power. I would have been sent away.”

These days, besides operating his T-shirt store called Southern Trend, Pagnozzi tries to help his wife, Colleen, fight her latest of three cancers (colon, liver, lung) that has caused her to have some 60 chemotherapy treatments in under four years.

In mid-May, she will go to Houston for an examination that ultimately may result in double lung surgery.

“She’s already had 60% of her liver taken out,” said Pagnozzi.

“And they have a surgery where they basically split her open, take every organ out, wash it, inspect it and fill her up with chemo for about an hour then drain it and then staple her back up.”

The couple goes to Houston every three months to the MD Anderson Cancer Center “and maybe for a lifetime,” Pagnozzi said.

The coronavirus outbreak has added another potential complication, Pagnozzi admits. “They’re going to have to open her up again,” he said. “One of the spots is sitting right against the esophagus.

“She’s had three major surgeries,” Pagnozzi said of his wife. “But she’s an incredible fighter. This story should be on her and not about me.”

Pagnozzi played for four Hall of Fame managers, three in the same year, in Whitey Herzog, Red Schoendienst (interim), Joe Torre and Tony La Russa. Herzog seems to be Pagnozzi’s favorite.

“Whitey was hands-down the best game manager, anticipating what would happen,” said Pagnozzi.

“Johnny Morris and Jim Lindeman and Curt Ford and I were kind of laughing at the end of the bench one day when we’re playing the Mets. Whitey came down and looked right at me and said, ‘You’re going to be hitting against (John) Franco in the ninth.’

“It was the second inning. And you know what happened? It happened. I said, ‘This guy is pretty smart.’

“But, as you got to know him, he was an open book. You could be standing next to him during a game and ask him a question and he would answer it.

“When Whitey resigned, Red was a great stabilization guy. He said, ‘Let’s just play. Play together. Play for your jobs.’

“Then Joe came in. They dismantled that club. They were cutting payroll.

“People didn’t think Joe could manage, But then he goes to the Yankees and wins what, four World Series? You’ve got to have the talent. You look at our pitching staff when Joe was there. We traded Bob Tewksbury to Minnesota. Tewks was our ace and he goes over there and he’s their No. 4 guy. No disrespect to Bob Tewksbury.

“Joe communicated well. He was short-handed in St. Louis. And he let you play, too.

“Then you had Tony, who was more of a controller. He liked more of a veteran-type team. I don’t think he communicated as well or managed as well as Whitey did. But I just have so much respect for what he did. There’s a lot of different ways to win — and he’s won.

“Whitey was a little calmer. Tony was a lot more intense. If you got on Tony’s bad side, there was no way out.

“But where I give Tony more credit is that he knows how to work the owners. Wherever he’s been, he’s been really tight with those owners and he gets what he needs. Minor league systems have got mortgaged a little. The job is to win at the next level. He wanted to win today. And that’s the way it’s supposed to be.”

As an alternate player representative, Pagnozzi had a first-hand look at the last labor stoppage in 1994. When it became apparent that the players’ strike would start after games on Aug. 11, Cardinals management made it clear that the players were not allowed on the plane home from Miami, where the Cardinals were finishing up a series.

But manager Torre long had been active in the players’ association and alternative player rep Pagnozzi said that Torre and traveling secretary C.J. Cherre did all they could to help the players.

“There might have been some pieces of paper on your chair or dropped on the floor near your chair, with the numbers of TWA and the trucking company,” said Pagnozzi.

Along with Todd Zeile, the player rep, Pagnozzi arranged for a chartered flight for players and a couple of wives for the next night at a cost of $18,000, which the players’ union eventually picked up.

When the players arrived at the airport to board their plane, the regular Cardinals chartered aircraft with staff and broadcasters was just leaving.

“I actually went up and offered the pilot some cash to beat them home,” said Pagnozzi. “You know me.

“He wouldn’t take the money. He was afraid someone would say, ‘Yeah, we paid him and he beat the other plane.’ The FAA probably wouldn’t have liked that.”

Base stealing wasn’t one of the things Pagnozzi specialized in. But in 1991, the Cardinals already had nine players with 10 or more stolen bases and Pagnozzi had nine with a week to go. Ten players with double-figure steals would set a major league record.

Pagnozzi still had nine with a weekend to go when he got to Chicago and was thrown out three times in succession trying to steal second.

On the final attempt, as a pinch runner, Pagnozzi’s slide took him short of the bag and second-base umpire John McSherry was laughing as he called Pagnozzi out. Pagnozzi claimed the defender missed the tag and that he got his foot on the bag in time.

Pagnozzi said that being used as a pinch runner took away the element of surprise.

“Let me steal by sneak attack,” he said. “Everybody knew I was going for my 10th. I can’t remember who the pitcher was (Greg Maddux) but he threw over to first like five times.

“There was a little note in the paper that if I got the 10th, we would set a major league record … that didn’t help. When you’re pinch running me, that’s not good. Even Hector Villanueva threw me out (three times). I couldn’t get a walking lead. I was just uncomfortable. I think I was pinch running for somebody who was faster than me — which was everybody.”

Asked his best memories of playing with the Cardinals, Pagnozzi said, “St Louis … what a great baseball town. They showed up even when we weren’t very good. What I liked was that they rewarded effort. Even in times when I struggled and was really bad, they could have been a lot harder on me. But I was hustling.”

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