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There is perhaps no other active player more appreciative of
Jackie Robinson's breaking of the major league color barrier 50
years ago than Delino DeShields. He is a dedicated student of
African-American history and a Negro leagues baseball buff. He
wears his uniform socks high with the stripes showing, as did
his heroes in the Negro leagues, and whenever he has an
opportunity to meet an icon like Max Manning, Buck O'Neil or Ted
(Double Duty) Radcliffe he thanks him for paving the way to the
big leagues for players like himself. "If you don't know your
history," DeShields says, "you can't know where you're going."

DeShields, a second baseman starting his eighth season in the
big leagues, has learned some difficult lessons from his own
recent history. Last year with the Dodgers he hit .224 with 124
strikeouts, a measly .288 on-base percentage and a feeble .298
slugging percentage. In September he suffered through a 3-for-50
slump, which he blames on a hip injury that prevented him from
properly turning on pitches. "I know that in a lot of games last
year I should never have been on the field," says DeShields, who
nonetheless played 154 games, "but it isn't my nature to sit out."

That choice was taken away from him when Los Angeles reached the
playoffs. Manager Bill Russell benched DeShields for Games 2 and
3 of the Division Series against Atlanta in favor of Juan
Castro, a utility infielder who hit just .197. DeShields calls
that demotion the lowest point of his three forgettable seasons
in Los Angeles, during which he batted just .241. Those
ineffective years came after four seasons in Montreal in which
he averaged .277 and 47 stolen bases. "You couldn't have told me
three years ago that I wouldn't go out to L.A. and tear it up,"
he says. "Maybe I needed to be humbled. Now I'm the underdog
again, I have to prove myself. I like that challenge."

This spring the 28-year-old DeShields, who joined the Cardinals
during the off-season as a free agent, has shown the form that
once made him one of the game's rising stars. "He's a proud
player who was among the elite second basemen in baseball for a
while, and now he's fighting to get back there," St. Louis
manager Tony La Russa says. "If he plays half as well this
season as he did in the spring, he'll be an All-Star."

The Cards were willing to take a one-year, $1.9 million gamble
on DeShields because their best leadoff man last season was
41-year-old Ozzie Smith, who has since retired. "Delino fills
our need for a table-setter," says St. Louis general manager
Walt Jocketty. "This team hasn't had somebody like him since
Vince Coleman played here in the 1980s."

DeShields understands that to be the catalyst he must not only
hit for a higher average than he did in Los Angeles, but he must
also draw more than the 53 walks he had in 1996. He is confident
he can attain his goal of scoring 100 runs for the first time in
his career. "I've taken a lot of heat the last few years, but I
know I'm not a .220 hitter," DeShields says. "Now it's up to me
to go out on the field and silence all the doubters."




2B Delino DeShields
Has averaged 43 steals per season in his career

SS Royce Clayton
Should flourish now that Ozzie Smith has retired

LF Ron Gant
30 homers in '96, most by a Cards LF since Musial in 1951

RF Brian Jordan
Hit league-best .422 with runners in scoring position in '96

CF Ray Lankford
Willie McGee and Dmitri Young fill in until he returns in May

1B John Mabry
Last year batted .331 on the road, .260 at home

3B Gary Gaetti
56 home runs from '91 though '94; 58 last two years combined

C Tom Pagnozzi
Career-high 13 homers in just 119 games last season

Ace Andy Benes
After May 19 last year went 17-3 with a 3.11 ERA

Closer Dennis Eckersley
Should pass Jeff Reardon to become No. 2 in career saves


The Cardinals were the most improved team in the major leagues
last season, raising their winning percentage by more than 100
points (from .434 to .543) over 1995. Since 1900, 160 teams have
improved their records by 100 percentage points or more from one
year to the next. Only 50 of those teams further improved their
records the season after that big jump, three had the same
records, and 107 suffered a decline.