Statistics have little importance in Instructional League play and are not part of a player's career averages. Sam Mele, the former Twins manager who is now a scout and instructor for the Red Sox, says, "We feel that the pressure of a batting average or an earned-run average should be removed. Sure, good players want to do well wherever they play, but they don't have to worry here if they have a couple of 0-for-4 days in a row. The purpose is to teach the good things and remove as many of the bad ones as possible."
The team that enjoyed this year's fine performances in the biggest clusters was the St. Louis Cardinals. In the '60s the Cardinals were dread birds, but recently they have become dead birds. Now chirps are being heard again. Probably no pitching staff in recent seasons in any professional league has been as impressive as that of the 1972 Florida Instructional League Cardinals, who won 26 of their last 32 games. In 11 of the last 13 games the young Cardinal pitchers allowed a single run or none. In the other two games the Cards gave up three earned runs and two unearned runs.
Names? Ray Bare and Rich Folkers are only slightly known, and an emerging group of Bob Forsch, Greg Terlecky, Tom Mitchell and Burt Nordstrom is currently no more than caption material for photographers who shoot pictures for bubble-gum cards. The combined record of this group, however, was an amazing 23-4.
Any St. Louis team seems to produce a batting star. The new one is a San Franciscan, Keith Hernandez, who is 19 years old, bats and throws left-handed and was signed for a reported $135,000 as a combination pitcher-hitter. He hits line drives and has a fine laugh, humility and good eyes. Hernandez' father once played in the Cardinal organization.
Since Hernandez has now moved to first base, St. Louis may eventually have quite a crowd at that corner—or, more likely, the makings of some trades. Simmons has been working out there. Slugger Joe Torre is moving over from third base. Tim McCarver has been reacquired and he seems to be heading firstward. Then there is Ed Kurpiel, the Cards' first-round draft choice of 1971. St. Louis is also well stocked at catcher and third, positions where most teams are short.
In any case, Hernandez is bound to play somewhere. " Hernandez has the type of swing you don't touch," says Harry Walker, the new St. Louis batting instructor. "You just put him out there and let him play. He looks like Musial when he first came up, only he isn't quite as fast."
The Cardinals had six hitters on their Instructional League roster with batting averages over .300. Hernandez was the most impressive, and he played first base like a young master. When he injured his wrist late in the season he voluntarily spent the final days serving as the team's bat-and-ball boy. "If everything goes well for me," he says, "I believe I can get to the major leagues in two years. The Instructional League has helped me in every aspect of the game. Now the rest is up to me."