Jose Cardenal as a San Francisco Giant who played in San Francisco during the 1963 and 1964 seasons (Amazon file photo)
HE WAS A GIANT?
JOSE CARDENAL – OF – 1963-64 – # 10
By Tony the Tiger Hayes
If you collected baseball cards as a kid in the 1970s there were three givens: “bubblegum” that crumbled into brittle shards the moment you touched it; hideous air-brush art work, and, finally, the incremental Chia-Pet like growth of Jose Cardenal’s unwieldy Afro. (Think TV artist Bob Ross.)
A fiery competitor with a stylish hairdo, Cardenal was a career .275 hitter and a familiar presence on the MLB scene for parts of five decades as both a player and coach.
But before the Cuban fly chaser picked his hair out to resemble a spinning classroom world globe, Cardenal broke in with the Giants, appearing in 29 games over 1963-64.
Why Was He a Giant?
Cardenal was one of the last ball players to escape Cuba before Fidel Castro shut the island’s borders. He was just 17 when the Giants paid him $200 to sign with the organization in 1960.
Though off the field he struggled with assimilation process – fueled by being cut off from family back in Cuba – Cardenal had no such issues in the batters box and produced gaudy minor league numbers.
Cardenal was just 19 when he broke camp with SF in 1963. He came and went a few times over the next couple of seasons but never could crack SF’s All-Star studded lineup.
Before & After
Despite great reviews for his on field play in the Giants farm system – hitting for power and stealing bases like a bandit – Cardenal developed a reputation of being a bit of a scoundrel.
As a young man he got into scrapes and arguments with teammates and ran afoul of team management and opposing clubs.
In one 1962 incident, when he was with the El Paso Sun Kings, Cardenal menaced the opposing Austin Senators dugout with a letter opener.
Mouthy bench jockeys had gotten under the young Cuban’s skin by calling him a “Castro Lover” and a “Communist.”
Cardenal became so enraged he considered skinning an entire minor league club. He was stopped however before he could initiate his Davy Crockett routine.
“There’s a lot behind the boy’s flare up,” said El Paso manager George Genovese after Cardenal was placed on Texas League probation. “He is immature all right but he hasn’t been home in a long time and hasn’t seen his family in two years. And there’s a language problem.”
Due to his hair-trigger temper and the fact that the Orange & Black were already brimming with talented OF prospects, the club moved on from Cardenal after the 1964 campaign, trading him to the Angels in a swap for C Jack Hiatt.
Cardenal jumped from team to team for awhile before finding a home with the Cubs for much of the ’70s. He later appeared in the 1980 World Series with Kansas City.
From 1993-2003 Cardenal was a major league coach for several teams including the 1996 World Series Champion Yankees.
He Didn’t Get His Own Bobblehead Doll (Or Chia-Pet). But…
Cardenal smacked the only hit of his Giants career in his second MLB at bat, lining a two-run, pinch hit single to left off the Cardinals Curt Simmons. Cardenal was then nabbed however trying to steal second base in a weekday afternoon 4-3 home loss (4/24/63).
It was against the Giants that Cardenal assembled a career best six- hit game at Candlestick Park (5/2/76), batting 6-for-7 with four RBIs in a 6-5, 14-inning Chicago win at Candlestick in the matinee of a double header.
The last several innings of that game can be viewed on You Tube – providing a good look at Cardenal’s glorious Afro in action and a rare look at the Giants much maligned mid-1970s AstroTurf era.
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