When faced with a page of nine cards from which to choose, it may seem odd that I went with Jose Cardenal. Here were my choices:
- Milt Wilcox – Indians
- Jose Cardenal – Cubs
- Frank Tanana – Angels
- Dave Concepcion – Reds
- Detroit Tigers team card
- Jerry Koosman – Mets
- Thurman Munson – Yankees
- Rollie Fingers – A’s
- Dave Cash – Phillies
An up and coming Frank Tanana is certainly intriguing, and of course the dastardly villain-looking Rollie Fingers could be a lot of fun. My fondness and admiration for Thurman Munson has been well documented.
Yet I went with Cardenal.
Jose Rosario Domec Cardenal.
I think it may have something to do with the fact that after doing a little research on his career, Cardenal ultimately reminds me of an earlier version of our local Cuban star in the making, Yasiel Puig, who plays here for the Dodgers when he is not injured. Cardenal, of course like Puig is Cuban and was one of the final players Castro allowed off the island without restriction. He signed with the San Francisco Giants in 1960 as an amateur free agent and the future certainly looked bright.
Upon reflection, Cardenal had a career that he can certainly be proud of.
His playing career spanned 18 seasons, from 1963 to 1980, and because he was blessed with amazing speed, teams could use him to steal bases and track down fly balls into the gap that many others could not get to. A career .275 hitter, Cardenal stole more than 300 bases, and during a four-year stretch from 1972-1975 he OPS’d at better than .800 while playing steady and sometimes spectacular defense in the outfield. A skilled bunter and aggressive baserunner, it seems odd in retrospect that Cardenal had difficulty hanging on for very long with teams, his 6-season stretch with the Cubs being the best time of his career.
But consider this: Cardenal played for nine different teams – Giants, Angels, Indians, Cardinals, Brewers, Cubs, Phillies, Mets and Royals – in 18 seasons. Hardly what you would consider stable.
So what gives? Why would such a talented and versatile player get traded six different times and released outright by two teams?
Well, a little research into the career of Jose Cardenal reveals that like his fellow Cubano Puig, it would seem that Cardenal may have been a bit temperamental at times. A bit of a hot head. A little bit of a flake. A teammate who was difficult to get close to.
Sounds familiar to most Dodgers fans who are hoping that Puig can get his act together soon.
Still, a quick glance into the baseball antics of Jose Cardenal is nothing if not humorously fascinating.
Some things about Jose Cardenal I did not know until recently:
- While playing for the Giants’ minor league affiliate in the 60s, Cardenal was under the impression that pitchers were throwing at him because of the color of his skin. How did he handle this? By carrying a switchblade knife in his socks of course, and after getting knocked down by a pitch again, Cardenal charged the mound one time with knife in hand and chased the frightened pitcher right out of the ballpark.
- His cousin is Bert Campaneris, most famously of the Oakland A’s dynasty of the 1970s, and Cardenal actually had an at bat against his cousin in 1965 during a game in which Campaneris played all nine positions in nine innings.
- Cardenal sported a nice afro hairstyle for most of his career and was well-known for removing his batting helmet once he reached base and then pulling his well-worn cap out of his back pocket while touring the bases.
- He once missed a game in 1974 because he insisted that his eyes were stuck open and he could not blink.
- Cardenal also missed a game in 1972 claiming that he was kept awake all night because of chirping crickets.
- And last, but certainly not least, he did this in 1975:
Ladies and gents, I give you the one, the only, Jose Cardenal.