BY FRANK MURTAUGH | JUNE 18, 2007
If theres a better way for a sportswriter to spend an afternoon than talking baseball with a former big-leaguer, I have yet to discover it. I recently had the chance to visit with 1983 Cy Young Award winner John Denny. The winner of 123 games over a 13-year career spent primarily with St. Louis and Philadelphia, Denny now calls Memphis his home and teaches private pitching lessons from his backyard. Dennys reflections were as crisp as a fastball on the outside corner.
In the fall of 1968, I was ready as a [high school] junior to play my first year of varsity basketball. But one day, as I was leaving class, the basketball coach came up to me and asked if I was planning on going out for the basketball team. He said, Dont bother, because you wont make the team. And it was because he didnt like me playing football!
My feeling is that one sport complements another, and that what you learn in one sport can help you in another. Especially in terms of eye-hand coordination.
Marc Hill was an excellent defensive catcher, and there were some rumors that he might push Simmons out. But his hitting just wasnt there. [Hill became a longtime backup catcher with the Giants and White Sox.]
I was doing so-so. Wasnt knocking them dead. I was just 22 years old. It got late into spring training, and I was going to have to start doing something. I no-hit the Red Sox through six innings, pitched really well. The next day, I got to the park early. Gibson was always there, this time getting a rubdown in the trainers room. He came out and found me, and he goes, Kid, I heard you pitched pretty good yesterday. For him to say that to me . . . that was Bob Gibson! He said, We may think about taking you north with us.
As the story got back to me -- and I wound up in the starting rotation -- Gibson went to [Cardinal general manager] Bing Devine and [manager] Red Schoendienst and volunteered to go into the bullpen. [1975 was Gibsons final year in the majors.]
In school, I never raised my hand, but for some reason, up it went this time. I said, You know, there are times I feel really good in the bullpen before the game, but then I take the mound and lose it. Can you tell me anything I can do about that?
Gibson looked down at me, and scratched his head. Well, kid, he said, theres a direct line from here [pointing to his rear end] to here [pointing to his head] to here [pointing to his right arm]. And when this thing [his rear end] tightens up, you cant get anything over the plate! I wanted to dig a hole into that concrete and hide.
If there's been a worse month in St. Louis Cardinals history than April 2007, describe it to a member of Cardinal Nation at your peril. From the mere disappointment of opening a title defense with weaknesses galore to the unspeakable tragedy of a player's sudden death, the 30 days after St. Louis beat Cleveland at AutoZone Park in the Civil Rights Game were among the worst the team has -- or will ever -- experience.