St. Louis Cardinals: Joaquin Andujar — Colorful, combative, unforgettable
By Bill Dawson
The St. Louis Cardinals most flamboyant 1980s hurler left a legacy that still simmers. Remember the career and fire of Joaquin Andujar.
Thirty years ago, one of the most colorful of all St. Louis Cardinals pitchers concluded a sometimes stormy, sometimes stellar 13-year career. At 37 in 1990, Joaquin Andujar earned a last-chance shot with the Montreal Expos after going 5-0 with a 1.31 ERA for the Gold Coast Suns of the Senior Professional Baseball Association, but he was released on April 3rd, just six days before a season-opening series against his old team at Busch Stadium.
That was the last rodeo for Andujar, self-described as “one tough Dominican.” There would be no going to the minors and hoping for a call-up. He’d told Ed Giuliotti of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel on Jan. 28, “The only way I’ll play in the minor leagues is when I go to heaven or hell.”
Andujar had a way with words. Maybe not a smooth way, but a way that made you smile. Some of his most memorable quips:
• “You know, I am very proud to stand here and talk to you in English, a language I don’t even know.”
• “You can’t worry if it’s cold; you can’t worry if it’s hot; you only worry if you get sick. Because then if you don’t get well, you die.”
• “It’s great to be alive because when you’re dead, you can’t drink beer.”
• “That’s why I don’t talk. Because I talk too much.”
• “How can I play baseball if I’m stupid? If I was stupid I wouldn’t have pitched in the World Series. I’d be playing ball in Mexico or Yugoslavia or on Pluto.”
• “My favorite word in English, and I love this word, is ‘youneverknow.’”
Many remember Andujar as the pitcher who went berserk in Game 7 of the 1985 World Series, going after home-plate umpire Don Denkinger in the fifth inning of a game the Cardinals trailed 10-0. Denkinger had blown a first-base call in Game 6 that contributed to a Royals victory and extended the Series to a seventh game. Andujar had to be restrained by several teammates and never pitched for the Cardinals again.
Andujar was often described as “volatile” — and worse. Whitey Herzog in the documentary “Birds of a Different Game: The ’80s Cardinals” recalled Houston manager Bill Virdon said, “Whitey, he’s got a live arm, but let me tell you something, this guy’s out of his mind.” Herzog later told the Associated Press, “Everybody knew he didn’t operate with a full deck most of the time, but when you had Joaquin on your ballclub, you were sitting on a firecracker every day.”
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Andujar defended himself, sort of, by saying, “People think I’m crazy, but I’m smart. Who made televisions? Crazy people. Who made telephones? Crazy people. Who made rockets and planes? Crazy people. We think they are crazy but they are … what do you call them? …. Inventors.”
What older folks may have forgotten, and what younger folks may never have known, is how much Andujar meant to the 1982 Cardinals world championship. The team’s best pitcher, he went 15-10 with a 2.47 ERA during the regular season — only Lonnie Smith’s 6.2 Wins Above Replacement was higher than Andujar’s 5.5. The right-hander was 2-0 with 1.35 ERA in that year’s World Series against the hard-hitting Brewers, winning Game 7.
I liked Andujar long before he joined the Cardinals. As an ex-Red farmhand with the Astros in 1976, he’d gotten a rise out of Cincy manager Sparky Anderson by beating the powerhouse Reds, who were on their way to a 102-win season and a World Series sweep of the Yankees. “Every dog has his day,” Sparky said after Andujar first vanquished the Big Red Machine.
While no Astros fan, I enjoyed the tale of the young cast-off biting his former employer. I liked it even better when three of the rookie pitcher’s first four wins came against Cincinnati. Sports Illustrated reported, “After beating Cincy again, Andujar was dubbed Poochie by Astro fans. Following his latest triumph, one Red said, ‘He treats us like a fire hydrant.’”
Once, on a non-graded high-school assignment, I signed my name “Joaquin Andujar.” Attempting to hand the paper back, my Spanish-challenged government teacher said, “Um, who is Joe-a-quin And-uh-jar?”
I was delighted when the Cardinals acquired Andujar (pronounced wah-KEEN ahn-DOO-har) from the Astros for outfielder Tony Scott in June of 1981, but I had no idea how well he’d do — for all his early success against the Reds, he’d been 44-53 with a 3.67 ERA in seven Houston seasons, and just 2-3 with a 4.94 ERA in the spring of ’81.
The Dominican hurler turned it around in St. Louis, going 6-1 with a 3.74 ERA after the trade. He followed with his terrific ’82 season, slumped to 6-16 with a 4.16 ERA in ’83, then won 20 and 21 games in ’84 and ’85, finishing fourth in Cy Young Award voting both years.
Baseball analyst Bill James, writing in 1997’s The Bill James Guide to Baseball Managers praised Herzog for his handling of Andujar. “Herzog understood something about Andujar that Bill Virdon had never been able to take in: The less he pitched, the crazier he acted. The worst thing you could do to Joaquin Andujar was to stop pitching him,” James wrote.
For Houston, Joaquin would have a bad outing or two, then he would do or say something inappropriate, and Virdon would send him to the bullpen to get straightened out. This remedy was 100% certain to make Joaquin do or say something even more inappropriate …
“In St. Louis, Andujar would have a bad outing, and then he would do or say something different, and Herzog would send him back to the mound and he would pitch a three-hit shutout.”
But Herzog didn’t handle the 1985 Game 7 situation as well as he could have.
John Tudor had been hit hard early, giving up five earned runs in two-and-a-third innings. Three relievers — Bill Campbell, Jeff Lahti, and Ricky Horton — had come and gone in the fifth, and the score was 9-0 when Herzog called on Andujar. “The one decision that Whitey made in his career that I question a little bit is bringing Joaquin into that environment,” Tudor said on the “Birds of a Different Game” documentary.
Six weeks later, Andujar was traded to the Oakland A’s, a move that apparently brought more relief than sadness to St. Louis. “The clubhouse is so quiet, it’s refreshing just to walk in there,” Willie McGee said in a Los Angeles Times story from April of 1986. “God knows what it’s like in Oakland. You know how he is. He’d come in here after a game screaming and yelling, calling us Punch and Judys, or something. We didn’t need that. After a while, that becomes pretty old.”
The Cards discarding Andujar should have been a bummer for me, but a job opportunity took me to a California town just 48 minutes northeast of Oakland. I’d never seen Andujar pitch in person, but on June 10, 1987, I got my chance.
Andujar started against winless (0-2) Neil Allen and the White Sox, but lasted less than two innings. I think he got hurt. He’d surrendered two runs before leaving the game. Dennis Eckersley, not yet a closer, threw five shutout innings in relief and got the win in a 5-2 A’s victory.
Andujar’s often-turbulent career came to a quiet close. He finished 3-5 with a 6.08 ERA for the ’87 A’s and 2-5 with a 4.00 ERA for the ’88 Astros before his failed 1990 comeback with the Expos.
Less than five years ago, Andujar, 62, died from complications from diabetes. While many fans remember him as the 1980s Cardinals crazy man, others fondly recalled his fierce fighting spirit.
“Everyone called him crazy because of his way on the mound,” fellow Dominican and contemporary Mario Soto said. “He was a great competitor and above all, very courageous.” Pedro Martinez said, “Andujar was in the middle of every dream I had because he was one of the best pitchers we ever had in the Dominican Republic., right along with Juan Marichal.”
He was a character, that’s for sure. But he was more than that. The Cardinals wouldn’t have won the 1982 World Series without Joaquin Andujar. When you remember him — if you remember him — don’t forget that.