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St. Louis Cardinals MARKED FOR GREATNESS

TANNED, FOCUSED AND LOADED/NL CENTRAL

Owners chafe at the idea of making a millionaire out of a bench
player, but Cardinals general manager Walt Jocketty considers
himself fortunate to have a boss who "understands the game and
the importance of role players." General partner Bill DeWitt has
known since he was nine years old the value of contributions
from the little guy. That's when, as a batboy for the St. Louis
Browns, he surrendered his uniform to Eddie Gaedel, the 3'7"
pinch hitter made famous by impresario owner Bill Veeck.

"They turned my number 6 into a one eighth," says DeWitt, whose
father worked in Veeck's front office and later had similar jobs
with other clubs. "The uniform was still a little big on Eddie."

DeWitt's not the type to mimic Veeck's shenanigans, but he does
bring rare perspective to the owner's box. "I grew up around the
game," he says. Such credentials make him the antithesis of his
predecessor in St. Louis, August A. Busch III, whose dislike of
baseball prompted his selling of a family heirloom.

In his third year of ownership, DeWitt has turned the Cardinals
into the free-spending gorilla of the National League Central.
Last season he took a gamble by trading three young pitchers for
Mark McGwire (page 76), knowing the big first baseman was
eligible to flee after two months, as a free agent. He then
signed McGwire to a three-year, $30 million deal. He also gave a
second-round draft pick, high school pitcher Richard Ankiel, a
$2.5 million bonus. "We can't match offers with the large-market
teams for free agents," DeWitt says. "But we're prepared to
compete for amateur players."

Says Jocketty, "Ownership has been willing to stretch things to
make the ball club better. It paid dividends in '96 [when the
Cards won the NL Central], and I believe it would have paid
dividends last year if not for a lot of injuries."

This season DeWitt has spent $50 million on a deep, experienced
team. The Cardinals brought 29 players with at least two years
of major league service to camp. Outfielder Willie McGee ($1.4
million) and catcher Tom Pagnozzi ($2.1 million), for instance,
figure to be largely bench-bound investments. But DeWitt admits
he so far exceeded his budget that he will ask some players to
restructure their contracts to pull the payroll down to $47
million. That total might have been higher if St. Louis had
succeeded in retaining righthander Andy Benes (10-7, 3.10 ERA in
'97).

The Cardinals offered him $32 million over five years after
initially saying they would not guarantee more than three. But
Benes's agent, Scott Boras, demanded an extra $500,000. The
Cards eventually acceded, though only after missing a Dec. 7
deadline for clubs to sign their own free agents. The deal was
voided, and Benes signed with the Diamondbacks. St. Louis sunk
only a fraction of that money into replacing him with lefthander
Kent Mercker. "I wish Andy were still here," McGwire says. "But
there's no reason why an agent should allow a deal like that to
come down to the last minute. They had months to work something
out."

DeWitt admits that St. Louis's famously loyal fan base allows
him to spend more freely than most teams, though he says, "We
need the postseason to make money. Our goal is to run a viable
business--to make money in the good years to carry us in the bad
years."

Despite losing 89 games last season, the Cardinals drew 2.6
million fans--more than four of the eight postseason clubs. This
season DeWitt thinks the club might reach three million for the
third time in franchise history. Baseball thrives in St. Louis
even in lean years, because it remains largely unchallenged at
the forefront of the city's sports consciousness. The city
hasn't fielded an NBA team in 30 years, and its NFL teams have
never played for a league championship.

The appeal of playing in St. Louis will be tested after this
season, when Pagnozzi, outfielder Brian Jordan, infielders Gary
Gaetti, Delino DeShields and Royce Clayton, and pitcher Todd
Stottlemyre are all eligible for free agency. "What I tell free
agents," Jocketty says, "is that we're not going to be the high
bidders, but we can be competitive and offer other things
players are looking for."

To get a peek at their owner's boyhood uniform, however, will
require a trip out of town. DeWitt loaned out his famous threads
a second time--to the Hall of Fame.

--T.V.

COLOR PHOTO: BILL FRAKES HIGH-FLYIN' BIRDS Things are looking up for DeShields and the Cardinals--if their sluggers and starters stay healthy. [Delino DeShields]

COLOR PHOTO: TOM DIPACE [Jeff Brantley]

BY THE NUMBERS

1997 Team Statistics (NL Rank)
1997 record: 73-89 (fourth in NL Central)

BATTING AVERAGE .255(3) OPP. BATTING AVG. .259(7)
RUNS SCORED 689(11) ERA 3.88(5)
HOME RUNS 144(8) FIELDING PCT. .980(9)

OFF-SEASON MOVES

WHAT THEY NEEDED: They lost their ace when Andy Benes signed
with Arizona, and the bullpen was a concern.

WHAT THEY GOT: Pitchers Jeff Brantley, Kent Mercker, Rusty
Meacham and Kent Bottenfield, outfielder Wayne Kirby, utilityman
Craig Shipley.

WHAT IT ALL MEANS: Replacing Benes with Mercker is like
replacing Dustin Hoffman with Todd Bridges. Simply put, the
Cards didn't get the ace they needed to challenge for an NL
title. On the bright side, Brantley could regain his '96 form
(44 saves), and journeyman Meacham may help in middle relief.

THE X-FACTOR

The Cardinals have been blessed with several impressive
closers--Bruce Sutter, Lee Smith, Dennis Eckersley--and all came
to St. Louis as proven commodities. But even though Jeff
Brantley was a savior for the Reds two years ago, he hasn't yet
established himself as a consistent door-slammer. He missed most
of '97 with a bum right shoulder, and at 34, full recovery is
not a lock. Manager Tony La Russa tends to work his bullpen aces
hard, so if Brantley can equal the 44 saves he notched in '96,
it'll mean he's healthy and St. Louis is winning. If not, it
could mean the Cards will fold.

Projected Roster With 1997 Statistics
Manager: Tony La Russa (third season with St. Louis)

BATTING ORDER B/T BA HRs RBIs SBs

2B Delino DeShields L/R .295 11 58 55
RF Brian Jordan R .234 0 10 6
CF Ray Lankford L .295 31 98 21
1B Mark McGwire* R .274 58 123 3
LF Ron Gant R .229 17 62 14
3B John Mabry L/R .284 5 36 0
C Tom Lampkin L/R .245 7 22 2
SS Royce Clayton R .266 9 61 30

BENCH

C Tom Pagnozzi R .222 1 8 0
IF Gary Gaetti R .251 17 69 7
OF Willie McGee S/R .300 3 38 8
C Danny Sheaffer R .250 0 11 1
IF David Howard[***] S/R .241 1 13 2

STARTERS
W L IPS BR ERA

RH Todd Stottlemyre 12 9 6.5 1.28 3.88
RH Matt Morris 12 9 6.6 1.31 3.19
LH Donovan Osborne 3 7 5.7 1.34 4.93
RH Mark Petkovsek 4 7 4.7 1.52 5.06
RH Alan Benes** 9 9 7.0 1.24 2.89

RELIEVERS W L S BR ERA

RH Jeff Brantley[***] 1 1 1 1.54 3.86
RH John Frascatore 5 2 0 1.41 2.48
LH Rigo Beltran 1 2 1 1.18 3.48
RH Kent Bottenfield[***] 2 3 2 1.42 3.86
LH Lance Painter 1 1 0 1.24 4.76
LH Kent Mercker**[***] 8 11 0 1.38 3.92

[***]New acquisition (R) Rookie B/T: Bats/throws
IPS: Innings pitched per start BR: Base runners per inning
pitched
*Combined AL and NL stats **Will begin season on DL