Jerry Buchek: Perfect in the World Series


 

Jerry Buchek made it to the majors in time to play for one World Series champion, and narrowly missed playing for two more in a 421-game career that spanned sometimes miniscule parts of seven seasons. Buchek, who played most of the infield but rarely regularly, died last week at age 76. A native of St. Louis, Buchek debuted as a teenager for his hometown Cardinals in 1961, playing 31 games and batting .133, and returned for three games in 1963. Buchek was batting .138 after his first two cameos, though he had hit .287 with 54 extra-base hits for the Atlanta Crackers, the Cardinals' AAA farm team. Buchek and the Crackers were managed by Harry Walker, who was to hitters in the '60s what Charlie Lau was a generation later (as Pirates manager, Walker was credited for helping Matty Alou becoming a batting champ). Buchek made the '64 Cardinals and backed up two All-Stars -- MVP third baseman Ken Boyer and shortstop Dick Groat -- and second baseman Julian Javier, a 1963 All-Star. Buchek played only 35 games and made only 33 plate appearances, though one of them, a leadoff triple against Art Mahaffey, started a two-run fifth inning in a 4-1 win over the Phillies, completing a July 26 doubleheader sweep. From Buchek's bio at sabr,org: “We won (the pennant) by one game, and I helped us win a game. So I helped (win the pennant).” Fair enough. Buchek didn't bat after Aug. 21, but he made the World Series roster, played in four of the seven games, and singled off future Ball Four author Jim Bouton in the ninth inning of Bouton's and the Yankees' 8-3 win. It was Buchek's only World Series at-bat -- he retired with a 1.000 average. Buchek's playing team increased enough over the next two seasons for him to gain two trivial distinctions: he was the last base runner at Sportsman's Park (he walked in the ninth of a 10-5 loss to the Giants on May 8, 1966) and he was the first to score a run in the new Busch Stadium (he singled and came around on Mike Shannon's triple in a 4-3 12-inning win over the Braves on May 12; Buchek's two-out single tied the game in the ninth). Buchek played 100 games for the '66 Cards, who added Orlando Cepeda the day Sportsman's Park closed. Cepeda stayed with the Cards and became the MVP of the '67 Cardinals World Series champs. Buchek wasn't on the '67 team, having been traded with Mahaffey (he had come to St. Louis when the Cardinals broke up their '64 champs by trading Groat and Bill White to the Phillies). Buchek had his best season for the '67 Mets, hitting 14 of his career 22 homers. Many of them were key: he hit a ninth-inning walkoff off Claude Raymond in a 3-2 Mets win on May 5; he hit one off Cardinals' ace Bob Gibson in a 3-1 May 14 win (Buchek from hii bio at sabr.org: “'I can still remember Tim McCarver saying, ‘Oh (bleep).’”); he hit one for the only run of the game off Ken Johnson in a 1-0 Mets win on May 26; he hit a pinch game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth of a 5-4 win over the Braves on July 9; and he hit two in consecutive at-bats against the Astros on Sept. 22, the first to with two on to give the Mets a 5-4 lead in the eighth and the second to give the Mets an 8-5 win with two on in the 10th after the Astros tied it. It was Buchek's second two-homer game of September, after he had gone from July 17 to Sept. 2 without homering. A year later Buchek lost the second base job to Ken Boswell, batted .182, homered just once and after the season was traded back to the Cardinals, who moved him on to the Phillies before the start of the next one. As the Miracle Mets won the 1969 World Series, Buchek was back in the minors, helping the Eugene Emeralds win the Pacific Coast League. Buchek, only 27, retired after that season -- his sabr.org bio says he asked the Phillies to release him so he could sign with the Braves, but the Phils refused. Career numbers: .220 average (.364, 8-for-22, vs. Hall of Famer Juan Marichal), 22 homers, 108 RBIs, .593 OPS, 35 doubles, 11 triples, 259 hits, 96 runs, 5-16 stealing, -1.3 WAR (1.6 for the '65 Cards and 0.6 for the '67 Mets).

Jerry Buchek made it to the majors in time to play for one World Series champion, and narrowly missed playing for two more in a 421-game career that spanned sometimes miniscule parts of seven seasons. Buchek, who played most of the infield but rarely regularly, died last week at age 76. A native of St. Louis, Buchek debuted as a teenager for his hometown Cardinals in 1961, playing 31 games and batting .133, and returned for three games in 1963. Buchek was batting .138 after his first two cameos, though he had hit .287 with 54 extra-base hits for the Atlanta Crackers, the Cardinals’ AAA farm team. Buchek and the Crackers were managed by Harry Walker, who was to hitters in the ’60s what Charley Lau was a generation later (as Pirates manager, Walker was credited with helping Matty Alou becoming a batting champ). Buchek made the ’64 Cardinals and backed up two All-Stars — MVP third baseman Ken Boyer and shortstop Dick Groat — and second baseman Julian Javier, a 1963 All-Star. Buchek played only 35 games and made only 33 plate appearances, though one of them, a leadoff triple against Art Mahaffey, started a two-run fifth inning in a 4-1 win over the first-place Phillies, completing a July 26 doubleheader sweep. From Buchek’s bio at sabr.org: “We won (the pennant) by one game, and I helped us win a game. So I helped (win the pennant).” Fair enough. Buchek didn’t bat after Aug. 21, but he made the World Series roster, played in four of the seven games, and singled off future Ball Four author Jim Bouton in the ninth inning of Bouton’s and the Yankees’ 8-3 Game 6 win. It was Buchek’s only World Series at-bat — he retired with a 1.000 average. Buchek’s playing team increased enough over the next two seasons for him to gain two trivial distinctions: he was the last base runner at Sportsman’s Park (he walked in the ninth inning of a 10-5 loss to the Giants on May 8, 1966) and he was the first to score a run in the new Busch Stadium (he singled and came around on Mike Shannon’s triple in a 4-3 12-inning win over the Braves on May 12; Buchek’s two-out single tied the game in the ninth). Buchek played 100 games for the ’66 Cards, who added Orlando Cepeda the day Sportsman’s Park closed. Cepeda stayed with the Cards and became the MVP of the ’67 Cardinals World Series champs; Buchek left, having been traded to the Mets with Mahaffey (he had come to St. Louis when the Cardinals broke up their ’64 champs by trading Groat and Bill White to the Phillies). Buchek had his best season for the ’67 Mets, hitting 14 of his career 22 homers. Many of them were key: he hit a ninth-inning walkoff off Claude Raymond in a 3-2 Mets win on May 5; he hit one off Cardinals’ ace Bob Gibson in a 3-1 May 14 win (Buchek from his bio at sabr.org: “’I can still remember Tim McCarver saying, ‘Oh (bleep).’”); he hit one for the only run of the game off Ken Johnson in a 1-0 Mets win on May 26; he hit a pinch game-tying homer with two outs in the ninth of a 5-4 win over the Braves on July 9; and he hit two in consecutive at-bats against the Astros on Sept. 22, the first  with two on to give the Mets a 5-4 lead in the eighth and the second to give the Mets an 8-5 win with two on in the 10th after the Astros tied it. The six RBIs in the game were a Mets record for a shortstop. It was Buchek’s second two-homer game of September, after he had gone from July 17 to Sept. 2 without homering. A year later Buchek lost the second base job to Ken Boswell, batted .182, homered just once and after the season was traded back to the Cardinals, who moved him on to the Phillies before the start of the next one. As the Miracle Mets won the 1969 World Series, Buchek was back in the minors, at third base next to shortstop Larry Bowa, helping the Eugene Emeralds win a Pacific Coast League division title (the Emeralds lost the finals after leading 2-0; here’s guessing Bowa, then 23, diodn’t take it well). Buchek, only 27, retired after that season — his sabr.org bio says he asked the Phillies to release him so he could sign with the Braves, but the Phils refused. Career numbers: .220 average (.364, 8-for-22, vs. Hall of Famer Juan Marichal), 22 homers, 108 RBIs, .325 slugging percentage, .593 OPS, 35 doubles, 11 triples, 259 hits, 96 runs, 5-16 stealing, -1.3 WAR (1.6 for the ’65 Cards and 0.6 for the ’67 Mets).

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