Monday, September 14, 2015

Joaquin Andujar and Moses Malone: Gone Too Soon

Posted By on Mon, Sep 14, 2015 at 9:25 AM

Joaquin Andujar died last week, and a slice of my childhood died with him. Andujar was a very good — not great — pitcher for 12 major-league seasons, most notably five with the St. Louis Cardinals. He won Games 3 and 7 of the 1982 World Series to help St. Louis to its first championship in 15 years. (My mom and I watched Andujar help the Cardinals clinch the National League pennant in Game 3 of that year’s National League Championship Series in Atlanta.) He won 20 games for the Cardinals in both 1984 and 1985, becoming only the second Cardinal pitcher (after Bob Gibson) to win 20 games and a Gold Glove in the same season.

But Andujar is best remembered — by baseball fans of a certain age or interest level — for the character he played as “One Tough Dominican,” a nickname he gave himself, and one of the best self-applied tags in the sport’s history. Andujar would point his finger — in the form of a pistol — at a hitter after striking him out. He was as emotive on the mound as Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor was on the gridiron. Andujar played angry. And at times, a little crazy. A switch-hitter (at least, he claimed), Andujar would bat right-handed against righties and vice versa, with no consistency. He famously said the game of baseball could be summarized with one word: “Youneverknow.”

Andujar’s final act with the Cardinals is likely the picture most casual fans had in their minds last Tuesday when his death — at age 62 from complications caused by diabetes — was announced. Called on by Cardinal manager Whitey Herzog to pitch in relief during Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, Andujar personified his team’s — and a fan base’s — meltdown in the aftermath of an umpire’s blown call that impacted the previous game. With that very umpire (Don Denkinger) behind the plate, Andujar was a lit fuse, and shortly after taking the hill, charged the plate, ready to fight Denkinger and any Kansas City Royal interested in joining the fray. It was ugly, and Herzog should be blamed, to this day, every bit as much as Andujar. Fiercely devoted to his manager, Andujar would not go quietly. Herzog knew this. The pitcher was traded to Oakland less than two months later and won a total of 17 games over his last three seasons.

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Andujar’s passing reminds me how precious the memories of our favorite teams become, and how those memories keep the teams alive in our hearts long after the athletes who made them have moved on. Andujar’s catcher in 1982, Darrell Porter, died in 2002. His partner in the Cardinals’ starting rotation, Bob Forsch, died shortly after throwing out a first pitch at the 2011 World Series in St. Louis. These losses grow heavy on a fan’s heart. Not just sorrow for the loss of life, but for the further distance from memories cherished — and still very much alive — in a fan’s heart.

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• Long before LeBron James joined Dwyane Wade in South Beach for a championship quest, Moses Malone left Houston for Philadelphia to join Dr. J and create one of the NBA’s most memorable one-season champions. The great Malone — among my Rushmore of NBA centers, along with Bill Russell, Wilt Chamberlain, and Kareem Abdul-Jabbar — died Sunday in Virginia at the age of 60. (The cause of death has yet to be determined.) When he left Houston for Philly in 1982, Malone was already a two-time MVP and the 76ers had reached the Finals three times with the legendary Julius Erving, only to fall short each time.

In 1983, they won 65 games and went 12-1 in the playoffs, sweeping the Lakers in the Finals (the very team that had beaten the Sixers in 1980 and ’82), and very nearly fulfilling Malone’s famous prediction of three straight Philly sweeps (“Fo, fo, fo.”). I’m not sure any major American team championship can be connected more directly to a single human being than that ’83 NBA title and Moses Malone. The finest compliment I can pay a current Memphis Grizzly is to say there are times Zach Randolph reminds me of Moses Malone. May the Chairman of the Boards rest in peace.

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