Carlos Beltran (right) is off to one of the best starts by a newly acquired Cardinal in team history. Matt Holliday (left) knows what that feels like.
The St. Louis Cardinals have a knack for turning journeymen into superstars.
"Welcome to Baseball Heaven," read signs posted all over the third edition of Busch Stadium. While the signs are meant as a marketing message to fans, players must feel included by the slogan as well.
Baseball heaven is often where new life begins for aging stars. The saints just keep marching in. Careers are resurrected—born again, so to speak—on a seemingly annual basis. Just ask Will "The Thrill" Clark, Mark McGwire, Larry Walker, Dennis Eckersley, Lance Berkman and now Carlos Beltran.
Is it something in the water? Perhaps playing in front of the renowned fanbase "Cardinal Nation" does the trick. Coaching seems like a probable answer, but staffs change all the time.
Whatever it is, St. Louis boasts a long history of hot starts by new acquisitions. Here is a look back through time, in chronological order, of the best.
Lou Broc was traded on June 15, 1964 by the Chicago Cubs to St. Louis in 1964 with Jack Spring and Paul Toth for Ernie Broglio, Doug Clemens and Bobby Shantz. The lopsided deal is now a key piece in the historic rivalry between the two ball clubs.
It's only fitting that this legendary speedster leads off a list of fast starts in Cardinal history.
In his 16-year Cardinal career, Broc batted .297/.347/.414 with 888 stolen bases, 1,427 runs, 814 runs batted in and 129 home runs. The six-time All-Star led the National League in stolen bases eight years out of a nine-year stretch from 1966-74.
It didn't take long for Broc to be off and running once he arrived in St. Louis. During his first six games as a Cardinal he batted 25-for-64 with 10 runs, six runs batted in and seven steals.
He finished the season with a .348/.387/.527 slash line and totals of 44 RBI, 81 runs, 12 home runs and 33 steals in 103 games for the Redbirds.
The 11-time All-Star was traded on May 8, 1966 by the San Francisco Giants to the St. Louis Cardinals for Ray Sadecki. In 123 games for St. Louis that season, he batted .303/.362/.469 with 17 home runs. In the following year, he batted .325/.399/.524 with 25 homers and 91 runs while leading the National League with 111 runs batted in.
Fun fact: Pitcher Adam Wainwright also homered in his first game as a Cardinal after he was traded by the Atlanta Braves with Ray King and Jason Marquis to the St. Louis Cardinals for J.D. Drew and Eli Marrero in 2005.
Bruce Sutter was one of several players obtained in winter trades by Whitey Herzog. He too fits nicely into Cardinals/Cubs rivalry history.
The six-time All-Star was traded on December 9, 1980 by the Chicago Cubs to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later, Leon Durham and Ken Reitz. The Cardinals sent Ty Waller to the Cubs to complete the trade on December 22, 1980.
Two years removed from winning the Cy Young Award, Sutter won the Rolaids Relief Man Award—his second of four—while saving 25 games in his first season as a Redbird with a 2.62 ERA and 1.069 WHIP.
The future Hall of Famer saved the first three games he pitched with eight strikeouts in 7.2 innings of work. He allowed no runs, one hit and two walks for four saves in his first five games (10.2 IP) wearing Cardinal red.
Sutter went on to set a National League record (tied for the major league record) for saves in a season (45) and was Fireman of the Year in 1984. He had a hand in almost half of the team's victories in 1982 as the Cardinals won the World Series.
He stole four bases in his first two games as a Cardinal to pace his only All-Star season in 1982.
Smith was traded on November 20, 1981 as part of a three-team trade by the Philadelphia Phillies to the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cleveland Indians sent Bo Diaz to the Phillies. The Phillies sent a player to be named later to the Indians. The Cardinals sent Silvio Martinez and Lary Sorensen to the Indians. The Phillies sent Scott Munninghoff to the Indians to complete the trade on December 9, 1981.
Lonnie Smith completed his All-Star campaign with 120 run, 68 steals, 69 RBI, eight triples and eight home runs with a .307/.434/.815 slash line. He batted .353/.431/.569 with 10 steals, two home runs, 12 runs and nine RBI (five in one game) in his first 12 games as a Cardinal.
Go crazy for this one, folks. Just don't try Ozzie Smith's trademark back flip at home.
"The Wizard" was traded on December 10, 1981 by the San Diego Padres with a player to be named later and Steve Mura to the St. Louis Cardinals for a player to be named later, Sixto Lezcano and Garry Templeton. The Padres sent Al Olmsted to the Cardinals for Luis DeLeon to complete the trade on February 19, 1982.
The trade to acquire Smith was somewhat controversial in St. Louis, as the outgoing shortstop, Gary Templeton, was a popular player. It worked out just fine for the Cardinals.
The 15-time All-Star was known more for his 13 Golden Gloves than his bat during his Hall-of-Fame career.
While he only finished one full season with a batting average over .300 (.303 in 1987), Smith batted .341/.391/.471 for 12 runs, seven runs batted in and two home runs in first 23 games as a Cardinal. He stole a base (four) more times than he struck out (three) during that stretch.
He of course worked his magic in the field as well, earning his third of 13 Gold Glove awards that year.
Smith hit a walk-off home run to win Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS against the Los Angeles Dodgers. A switch-hitter, Smith hit the home run from the left side of the plate for the first time in his career. The blast sparked Jack Buck's famous call: "Go crazy, folks! Go crazy!"
He went on to lead the National League in strikeouts the following year with 201.
Do you still think "Smith" is just an average last name?
Now the third Smith of the last four entries on this list, Lee Smith saved 27 games in his first season with the St. Louis Cardinals before leading the National League in saves the next two years with 47 and 43. He then followed that up with save totals of 46 and 43.
He posted a 2.10 ERA, 1.136 WHIP and strikeout rate of 9.2 Ks per nine innings that year as a Redbird.
The seven-time All-Star became the MLB career saves leader (478) in April of 1993 and set a Cardinal record for career saves (160). He is now third all time behind Mariano Rivera (608) and Trevor Hoffman (601).
Gregg Jefferies finished third in the National League batting race at .342/.408/.485 during his first year as a Cardinal to earn his first of two All-Star appearances.
He also swiped 46 bases, the most ever by a Cardinal first baseman and fourth most in the league that year. His season ended with 16 home runs, 83 RBI and 89 runs.
Dennis Eckersley saved 30 games in 34 tries during his first of two seasons as a Cardinal at the end of his illustrious career. He did not allow an earned run in his first 11 appearances.
He ended his Hall-of-Fame career as a six-time All-Star with an American League MVP award and Cy Young award in 1992.
Mark McGwire takes the cake—er, Big Mac—for hottest start by a Cardinal acquisition.
He hit 24 home runs after joining the club on August 1, 1997 with 15 in September and 13 over a 19-game span from August 28 to September 19. For an encore, he then blasted a home run in each of his first four games the following season for 12 RBI on 7-for-12 hitting.
Everyone knows what happened next.
McGwire finished the 1998 season with a MLB-record 70 home runs (now second behind Barry Bond's 73). He turned in a mind-boggling .299/.470/.752 slash line with 147 RBI and 130 runs.
In 1999 he hit 65 homers with 147 RBI, 118 runs and a .278/.424/.697 line.
According to the official St. Louis Cardinals website, his total of 110 homers in 1996 and '97 are the most ever in back-to-back seasons by a right-handed hitter. He finished 1998 by homering in 12 consecutive series. His 517-foot blast in his first at-bat on September 16 came on the day he announced his multi-year contract with St. Louis.
Breaking Roger Maris' 1961 single-season record of 61 homers
- McGwire broke the long-standing record with his 62nd homer at 8:18 p.m. Central Time on Tuesday, September 8, 1998.
- Unlike many of his towering home runs, the record-breaking blast came with two outs in the fourth inning on a frozen rope that barely zipped over the left field wall.
- Adding to one of the game's best rivalries, the shot came against Chicago Cubs' right-hander Steve Trachsel.
Records set by McGwire during 1998
- 162 walks—National League record
- Average of one home run every 7.27 at-bats—MLB record
- 38 home runs at home—National League record
- First player to hit at least 50 homers in three consecutive seasons
- 16 home runs in May—Cardinal record
- First Cardinal to hit a grand slam on Opening Day
- Longest home run in Busch Stadium history (an estimated 545 feet on May 16)
- Oldest player (34 years, 324 days) in major league history to hit 50 homers in a season
Mark McGwire followed his record-setting 70-homer season of 1998 with a 65-homer campaign in 1999 when he led the league with 147 RBI.
McGwire climbed 10 spots on the all-time home run list while extending his of consecutive 50-homer seasons to a record of four. This moved him into 10th place with 522 career blasts. He hit No. 500 on August 5 off San Diego's Andy Ashby to reach the plateau in the fewest at-bats (5,487) in big-league history.
Darryl Kile became the first piece in a series of moves that earned Cardinals general manager Walt Jockety Executive of the Year honors from both Baseball America and The Sporting News, according to the St. Louis Cardinals official website.
Jockety helped the Cardinals become the first club in baseball history to acquire a 20-game winner (Kile) and 40-homer player (Jim Edmonds) in the same offseason.
He finished his first season as a Cardinal with a 20-9 record to finish second in the National League in victories while becoming the Cardinals' first 20-game winner since 1985. He went 6-1 in his first seven starts to help earn his third and final All-Star appearance.
Matheny was a controlling factor in the success of the Cardinals pitching staff, according to the St. Louis Cardinals official website. He established career highs in nearly every offensive category, but it was his defense that was most noticeable.
Matheny threw out a remarkable 51 percent (46-for-90) of opposing base stealers, which ranked first in the major leagues and helped earn him his first of four Gold Glove awards. At the plate he batted .261/.317/.362 with 47 RBI and 43 runs in 128 games.
Center fielder Jim Edmonds came as the centerpiece of Walt Jockety's award-winning moves.
Edmonds started his first Cardinal season batting .419/.567/.930 with six home runs, 15 RBI and 15 runs in his first 13 games. He finished the season at .295/.411/.583 with 108 RBI, 42 homers, 129 runs and 10 steals to finish fourth in National League MVP voting. In the field, Edmonds earned his third of eight Gold Glove awards with his spectacular defensive play.
For an encore, Edmonds batted .304/.410/.564 with 30 home runs, 110 RBI and 95 runs in 2001. He raised his batting average to .311 in 2002 and blasted 39 and 42 homers in each of the following years. In 2004 he finished fifth in league MVP voting and won the NL Silver Slugger award with the second most extra-base hits (83) in the league.
Edmonds' extra-innings home run in Game 6 of the 2004 NLCS sent the Cardinals to Game 7 against the Houston Astros. There, Edmonds made an amazing diving grab simply known as "The Catch" at the center-field wall to help St. Louis reach the World Series.
Will "The Thrill" Clark doubled in first at-bat as a St. Louis Cardinal. He then homered in the next four games to open his Redbird career 9-for-14, thrilling Cardinal Nation with six runs, seven RBI and five extra base hits. Clark finished the season batting .345/.426/.655 with 12 home runs, 42 RBI and 29 runs in 51 games.
The brief thrill ride came to St. Louis when Clark was traded on July 31, 2000 by the Baltimore Orioles with cash to the St. Louis Cardinals for Jose Leon. This completed Walt Jockety's series of award-winning moves before and during the 2000 season.
Coming four years after the Dennis Eckersley acquisition, it also seemed to continue a growing trend of aging stars coming to St. Louis to find their old form in the twilight of their careers.
Williams then turned in a 7-1 record as a Cardinal with a 2.28 ERA and 0.973 WHIP down the stretch run. He did not yield any earned run while competing in a Cardinal uniform for the first time.
Williams was named the National League Pitcher of the Month for September, according to the St. Louis Cardinals official website. He tossed a two-hit shutout on September 5 to complete a three-game sweep of his former team, which triggered an 18-3 run to bring the Cardinals into a tie for first place with the Houston Astros at 93-69. Losing the season series, however, gave the Redbirds the wild-card spot in the playoffs.
Williams went on to win his Game 2 start of the National League Division Series against the Arizona Diamondbacks.
Isringhausen signed as a free agent with the Cardinals on December 10, 2001.
He went on to lead the National League with 47 saves in 2004.
Larry Walker batted 30-for-95 with eight home runs, 22 RBI and 23 runs in first 27 games as a St. Louis Cardinal. All four of his stolen bases in a Cardinal uniform that season came over an early four-game stretch.
Walker was traded on August 6, 2004 by the Colorado Rockies to the St. Louis Cardinals for players to be named later and Jason Burch (minors). The St. Louis Cardinals sent Luis Martinez and Chris Narveson to the Colorado Rockies on August 11, 2004 to complete the trade.
Walker came to St. Louis as a five-time All-Star. He won the National League MVP award in 1997. Like Will Clark, he too seemed to turn back the clock as a Cardinal.
Matt Holliday quickly endeared himself to St. Louis Cardinal fans with a 4-for-5 performance in his first game as a Redbird on July 24, 2009 against the Philadelphia Phillies. He finished the game with a double, run and a run batted in.
Holliday finished the series 7-for-11 with two runs, three runs batted in and four doubles. His Cardinal career began with a nine-game hitting streak that produced five doubles in his first four games with the club.
A regular staple in the heart of St. Louis' batting order, Holliday hit .353/.419/.604 with 13 home runs, 55 RBI and 42 runs in his first 63 games. He batted .312/.390/.532 with 28 home runs, 95 runs and 103 RBI in his first full season as a Cardinal.
For an encore, Holliday earned a spot on the National League All-Star roster during his next two seasons in St. Louis. He helped the Cardinals win their league-leading 11th World Series title in 2011.
St. Louis had fallen 10 games behind the Milwaukee Brewers in the NL Central standings and 10.5 games behind the Atlanta Braves in the NL Wild Card standings on August 24. The team rallied to earn a playoff spot on the final game of the regular season and stayed hot to finish as world champions.
Once a Cardinal killer as a member of the Houston Astros' "Killer B's," Berkman became a driving force in the Redbirds' 2011 run to an 11th World Series title.
He signed as a free agent with St. Louis on December 4, 2010 and batted .301/.412/.547 with 31 home runs, 94 RBI and 90 runs in his first full season wearing red and white to win the National League Comeback Player of the Year award. It earned him his sixth trip to the All-Star game.
Berkman broke out with six home runs in five games from April 11-15, including two against the Arizona Diamondbacks on April 11. The outburst powered a .410/.467/.795 slash line in first 22 games with the Cardinals. He hit six homers over a nine-game span from June 3-14.
He always knew Beltran was a great talent and could help his club. What he didn't know, however, was if he could act fast enough to sign him—or that Beltran would start the season this fast once he did.
While speaking at the "Business of St. Louis Sports" breakfast presentation on Thursday, May 30, 2012, Mozeliak explained that Beltran works with the same agent as former St. Louis star Albert Pujols. This made pursuing Beltran somewhat tricky once Pujols decided to take his talents to Los Angeles.
Mozeliak said he waited 48-72 hours before contacting Beltran's new agent, Dan Lozano. He didn't know how long he needed to wait, but he did know the market for Beltran was heating up. He also knew the Cardinals suddenly had a lot more cash to spend and a lot of offense to replace.
Beltran signed with the Cardinals as a free agent on December 23, 2011. Mozeliak's early Christmas present then followed the footsteps of former teammate and fellow "Killer B" Lance Berkman, turning back the clock for one of the hottest starts in Cardinal acquisition history.
He batted .347/.448/.653 with five home runs, 13 runs, eight RBI and three stolen bases in his first 13 games as a Cardinal. Six home runs over a six-game span from May 7-13 helped pace his National League leading total of 15 and boosted his OPS to 1.058. Ten of Beltran's 15 round trips were taken in May alone.
Is St. Louis baseball heaven? For Beltran and many others, the answer is a resounding "yes."