RIP to Jerry Buchek, a St. Louis native who went on to play the infield for his hometown Cardinals and helped the team inaugurate Busch Stadium with a win. He died on January 2, 2019 at the age of 76. He was an infielder for the St. Louis Cardinals (1961, 1963-66) and New York Mets (1967-68).
Buchek was born on May 9, 1942 and attended McKinley High School in St. Louis before signing with the Cardinals prior to the 1959 season. According to his SABR biography, Buchek received a $65,000 signing bonus from the Redbirds. He excelled in the Florida Instructional League and started 1960 in AA Tulsa. He was quickly promoted to AAA Rochester and struggled but ended the season with a combined .261 average.
Buchek spent most of 1961 with the AAA Portland Beavers and played well enough there to earn a promotion. The 19-year-old was pretty badly overmatched by MLB pitching, lodging a mere .133 batting average over 31 games. He also set a record at the time for position players by striking out 28 times without a getting single base on balls. Buchek spent all of 1962 and most of the next couple seasons in the minors, getting just 4 at-bats with the Cardinals in 1963 and 30 in ’64. He also made a few appearances in the 1964 World Series against the New York Yankees. He got into 4 games and singled in his only plate appearance, leaving him a perfect 1.000 in the postseason.
Buchek’s playing time started to increase in 1965, where he hit .247 with the Cardinals in 55 games. He hit his first career home run on the Fourth of July in a game against the Mets. His playing time increased in 1966 as a second baseman and shortstop, though his batting average dipped to .236. He was part of the heroics at the first game ever played at Busch Stadium on May 12, 1966. He scored on a triple by Mike Shannon in the 3rd inning to score the first run ever at the stadium. With the Cardinals trailing 3-2 in the bottom of the 9th, Buchek hit a blooper to right on a 2-2 count and scored Alex Johnson, tying the game. The Cardinals went on to win the Busch Stadium opener in 12 innings, 4-3.
The Cardinals traded Buchek and a couple other players to the Mets on April 1, 1967. He played in a career-high 124 games for the Mets that year and produced highs in pretty much every offensive category. Playing primarily at second base, Buchek hit 14 homers and drove in 41 RBIs for a .236/.283/.375 slash line. As Keith Olbermann noted on Twitter, Buchek was a particularly clutch slugger that season. He his two walk-off homers, a game-tying pinch homer and five others that puts the Mets ahead.
His playing time dropped in 1968, as he failed to hit over .200. The Mets traded him back to the Cardinals in the offseason, who in turn sent him to the Phillies for Bill White. After a year in the Phillies’ minors, Buchek’s career came to an end after 1969. His lifetime stats in the majors include a .220 batting average, with 259 hits, 22 home runs and 108 RBIs over 7 seasons. He played 198 games at 2B, 127 at SS and 60 at 3B, along with the odd game in the outfield.
Buchek worked at a meat-cutter for 25 years and was a car salesman for 10 years before retiring in 2004 (again, per his SABR bio).
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