By: Jim Tsapelas
With apologies to Kermit the Frog and the Muppets, my title is wordplay on the 1979 song The Rainbow Connection, which happens to be one of my most favorite songs; and causes me to pause and wonder of the effect the absence of Jose Oquendo is having on the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals season.
With a tad bit less of one-fourth of the 2016 MLB season out of the way, the St. Louis Cardinals have twenty wins and nineteen losses. They are one game above .500; and are eight games behind the NL Central Division leading Chicago Cubs.
So far this season, little if any has been said in relation to the possible impact of the absence of the Cardinals’ “Secret Weapon”, as dub by the Redbirds legendary announcer, Mike Shannon, Jose Oquendo. Cardinal Nation knows the historicity and relationship of Oquendo and the Cardinals. Oquendo was never, as a player, viewed as a defensive threat, although he has a .256 Batting average, collected eight hundred twenty-one Hits, two hundred fifty-four Runs Batted In, and slugged fourteen Home Runs; in twelve MLB seasons. The first two campaigns were laboring for the New York Mets, his last ten years wearing the Birds on the Bat. As an emergency pitcher, Oquendo is 0-1, with a 12.00 ERA, over six innings.
What made Oquendo the Cardinals “Secret Weapon” is his lifetime .983 Fielding Percentage, for all nine positions (during his MLB career, Oquendo preformed at one point in time at all nine defensive positions) and an outstanding .992 Fielding Percentage at Second Base.
Oquendo retired as a player following the 1995 season, although Oquendo appeared as a pinch hitter on April 4, 2009 in a Spring Training game against AAA-Memphis; where Oquendo was issued a walk. Oquendo was hired as a MiLB coach by the Cardinals in 1997. He moved to a minor league managerial position in the Cardinal organization in 1998. Oquendo became the St. Louis Cardinals bench coach in 1999, and in 2000, became the big club’s third base and infield coach. Oquendo, who had knee surgery in 2016, is currently on medical leave, to better address his knee issues and concerns.
Through thirty-nine games in the 2016 MLB season, the Cardinals have committed thirty-five errors and lead MLB in that category.
It is my position and belief there is a strong correlation between the shelving of Oquendo and the un-characteristically high number of Cardinal errors, this season! The breakdown of errors by position: 1st base-3, 2nd base-5, 3rd base-8, shortstop-14, leftfield-0, centerfield-2, rightfield-1, pitchers-2, catchers-0. Most alarming are the high number of errors committed by Cardinal infielders, in Oquendo’s absence. Of note, rookie Aledmys Diaz is responsible for nine of the infield error total and Matt Carpenter is responsible for six.
As the Redbirds’ infielder’s coach, Oquendo developed “speed-feed” drills for the infielders. Besides lobbing the standard ground balls, Oquendo had third basemen Matt Carpenter and then catching prospect Carson Kelly standing in foul territory about three paces away, bowling baseballs at a rapid pace until they grew tired and increased their endurance in and improved footwork and positioning.
Oquendo was the prototypical “Utility Infielder”. His grasp and knowledge of the game of baseball is extraordinary. He is an outstanding third base coach, and his understanding of the field positioning and nuance of the game of middle infielders are without compare.
As we systematically view the performance of the 2016 St. Louis Cardinals, thus far, we must not discount the value of Jose Oquendo to the recent success of the Cardinals in recent years. Everybody wishes to be leading their Division, League, or MLB, in one category or more. Leading MLB in the committing of errors, is not a category lead of which to be proud. For the Cardinals to be successful this season, they must get a handle on the overly high number of errors. Get well Jose! Cardinal Nation misses you and, in my opinion, needs you.
Thanks for reading!