As the Salt Lake Stingers swarm into AutoZone Park to face the Redbirds this weekend, longtime St. Louis Cardinal fans will notice a familiar face in the opponents dugout. If you had asked anyone remotely familiar with Cardinal baseball during the late Seventies what the future had in store for the denizens of Busch Stadium, the answer may have been one name: Garry Lewis Templeton. An electrifying young shortstop a quarter century ago, Templeton is now managing the Stingers, top farm club of the Anaheim Angels and leaders of the Pacific Coast Leagues Central division. Considering Tempys rocky playing career, a managers seat is about the last place Cardinal fans would expect to find him.
Templeton broke into the big leagues in 1976 as a flashy, 20-year-old speed demon with an electrifying bat and a rally-killing glove at shortstop. He racked up 200 hits in only his second season, batting .322 and leading the National League in triples for the first of three consecutive years. He and catcher Ted Simmons provided St. Louis with a more-than-adequate representation at the 1977 All-Star Game.
In 1979 Templeton became the first player ever to accumulate 100 hits from each side of the plate (he remains one of only two to have pulled the trick). He hit .314 that year and followed up with a near-miss for the 1980 batting title, finishing third in the league behind Bill Buckner and teammate Keith Hernandez. All the while his glovework was astonishing fans. While he might botch a routine grounder, Templeton was capable of the kind of spectacular play matched at the time only by a soft-hitting kid trying to make a name for himself in San Diego.
As dynamic as Templeton was on the field, he was just as combustible in the clubhouse. He became famous for his retort in refusing to play in the 1980 All-Star Game, declaring, If I aint startin, I aint departin. His antics boiled over, though, on a hot summer day at Busch during the strike-shortened 1981 season. Cardinal fans -- among the most loyal in professional sports -- booed Templeton for failing to run out a routine grounder, the kind of lackadaisical play that seemed to be this mercurial stars only hurdle on his way to Cooperstown. As Templeton turned and walked slowly back to the Cardinals bench, he threw an obscene gesture toward the Ladies Day crowd. St. Louis manager Whitey Herzog blew a fuse, leaped to the top of the dugout stairs, and literally pulled Templeton into the dugout. Only the interference of Templetons teammates prevented what might have been the most lopsided fight in baseball annals.
Upon his immediate suspension, Templeton came to grips with some demons and entered drug rehabilitation. He returned later that year and managed to hit .288 for a Cardinal team that contended for its division title through the last week of the season. It wasnt enough to keep him in St. Louis.
Amid a flurry of trades during the 81 winter meetings, Herzog sent Templeton to San Diego for that light-hitting shortstop, another player who happened to wear the number one: Ozzie Smith. Had you asked most experts at the time of the deal, you would have heard that St. Louis got the short end of the stick. (As a 12-year-old Cardinal devotee, I for one was crushed.) Eleven gold gloves, three pennants, and a world championship later, though, the Wizard of Oz had reduced Garry Templeton to merely a blip on the radar screen of Cardinals history.
Templeton went on to have a reasonably productive career with the Padres. He helped San Diego to the 1984 pennant and remains second on the Padres all-time hit list. (He happens to be about 2,000 behind Tony Gwynn.) Last year -- his first managing at the Triple-A level -- Templetons Edmonton Trappers struggled to a third-place finish in the PCLs Northern division with a record of 63-78. Anaheim stuck with Templeton as their affiliate moved to Salt Lake for the 2001 campaign. He now leads his Stingers into a first-place showdown with the Redbirds.
Twenty years ago, who would have imagined? Needless to say, that Cardinal on the Memphis jersey should look familiar to the Salt Lake skipper. If Garry Templeton represents nothing else in the world of baseball, he has to be the standard-bearer for second chances.
[Frank Murtaugh is the managing editor of Memphis magazine.]