Countdown To Opening Night: Now 24

The days are just flying by now, aren’t they?

Yeah, I know. They’re not. But we’re only 24 days until the beginning of the regular season on April 5 at Wrigley Field. And, since it’s Thursday, here are four quick Throwback Thursday looks at past 24s to get us through another day.

24-6

No. 24 was retired by the Cardinals in 2010, when Whitey Herzog was elected to the Hall of Fame. Herzog led the Cards to one official World Series championship in 1982, what should have been another championship in 1985 and to another National League pennant in 1987.

I know many long-time Cards fans speak glowingly of Herzog and “Whiteyball” and his success during the 1980s. But, hey, I was a Cubs fan in the ’80s. My favorite Herzog moment was him leaving Bruce Sutter in during a particular game on a Saturday afternoon in June 1984 …

Moving on, the final player to wear No. 24 before it was retired was Rick Ankiel, who wore the number during his return to the Cardinals as an outfielder in 2007 to 2009.

24-2

For more on Ankiel, check out this Throwback Thursday post from a year ago when he officially announced his retirement as a player. It includes video of his home run during his return to the majors as an outfielder, plus clips of those amazing throws he made to third base when the Cards played the Rockies at Coors Field on May 6, 2008. 

Next up: Dick Groat, Cardinals shortstop from 1963 to 1965.

24-5

Did you know that Groat and his partner in celebrating Bob Gibson were both college basketball stars too? (And both were National League MVPs also — Groat for the Pirates in 1960, Gibson of course in 1968.) For more on their college days, check out a Throwback Thursday post from NCAA tourney time last March.

And one more No. 24.

24

Bobby Bonilla played the final season of his 16-year major league career, 2001, in Cardinal red, appearing in just 93 games (but also making his first-ever pitching appearance. And Aaron Miles, he was not). Of course, Bonilla is most famously known for something else in his Cardinals career: straining a hamstring and starting that season on the disabled list — which allowed a particular rookie to make the team. Here’s yesterday’s Countdown spotlight player describing it in a New York Times story from October 2011:

McGwire’s last season was Pujols’s first. McGwire said he had never heard of Pujols in spring training 2001, when Pujols had played only briefly above Class A. But McGwire said he could tell, instantly, that Pujols was destined for stardom. He understood the strike zone, hit for power to all fields, and did it with a demeanor that belied his 21 years.

The Cardinals did not plan to put Pujols on the roster, but McGwire was adamant. He told La Russa that if Pujols was sent to the minors, it might be the worst decision of La Russa’s career. An injury to Bobby Bonilla cleared a roster spot.

“Albert was put on, and history is history,” McGwire said. “A guy like Albert only comes around probably every 25 years. It’s not that hard to see greatness.”

So what if Tony La Russa now says this:

La Russa later recounted the “myth” that Pujols only made the Opening Day roster in 2001 because Bobby Bonilla was injured. According to La Russa, he and the rest of Cardinals management were impressed enough by Pujols that they decided to promote him to the big league club even before Bonilla’s injury.

Hey, what’s wrong with keeping the myth about the injury alive? Bobby Bonilla needs some kind of positive in Cardinals history to go along with that 18.00 career ERA. Right?

Just 24 more days!

 

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