Obituary: David Green (1960-2022)

RIP to David Green, part of the 1982 World Champion Cardinals teams and the first major-league Nicaraguan position player.. He died on January 25 at the age of 61. The St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that he died of respiratory failure in Christian Northeast Hospital in St. Louis. He suffered from a choking incident about a week prior and had two heart attacks while he was transferred to the hospital, his wife Georgia told La Presna. Green played for the St. Louis Cardinals (1981-84, 1987) and San Francisco Giants (1985).

David Alejandro Green Casaya was born in Managua, Nicaragua, on December 4, 1960. His SABR biography, written by Rory Costello, gives an excellent look into his early years. It is one of several sources that question the true year of his birth — Costello write that Green was born in 1959, and people in baseball while he was an active player thought he was even a couple of years older than that. His father, Eduardo Green, was a ballplayer on Nicaragua’s National Team, and several of his children followed him in athletics. Two of his daughters were excellent basketball players, as well. Green played soccer and also represented his country in the 1977 Central American Games in El Salvador. He set a long jump record of 7.12 meters at the Games.

Green began his baseball career as a batboy for a team that his father coached in 1975. He began playing in 1976, and it took a couple of years for the potential to really emerge. La Presna, a Nicaraguan newspaper, reported that he batted .394 in 1978 with 20 home runs. A performance like that gets a player noticed by the major leagues, and he signed with the Milwaukee Brewers through scouts Ray Pointevint and Julio Blanco Herrera. The team sent him to Central Arizona College to work with coach Kenny Richardson, so that he could brush up on both his English and baseball.

Green debuted in the United States in 1979 with the Stockton Ports of the Class-A California League. The 18-year-old turned in a very impressive season, hitting .262 with 9 triples, 8 home runs and 20 stolen bases. He was even better in 1980 with the Double-A Holyoke Millers, hitting .292 with 19 triples and 27 stolen bases. That December, he was part of a massive trade between the Brewers and St. Louis Cardinals. Green, pitchers Dave LaPoint and Lary Sorensen and outfielder Sixto Lezcano were sent to St. Louis for catcher Ted Simmons, closer Rollie Fingers and starter Pete Vuckovich.

The Cardinals had been in a trade frenzy in the 1980 offseason. Days before, the team had acquired Fingers from the San Diego Padres as part of an 11-player trade. Then they got closer Bruce Sutter from the Chicago Cubs for Ken Reitz and Leon Durham. This trade was made because the Cardinals had signed catcher Darrell Porter, and Simmons refused to move to first base. Moving to the Brewers gave the veteran Simmons a chance to stay as a catcher and also be a designated hitter. Brewers General Manager Harry Dalton was ecstatic about the deal but added, “The deal is not as one-sided as some people think.” He was referring to David Green. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog concurred. “[W]e don’t make the deal without David Green. He is the best prospect in the minor leagues,” he said. With Durham moving to the Cubs, Green immediately became the Cardinals’ top prospect.

Green, who had turned 20 about a week before the trade, was already being hyped to the heavens with incredible comparisons. He was like Roberto Clemente or Willie Mays, scouts said. He had wrist speed like Dick Allen or Reggie Jackson. The Clemente comparison was frequently used, because they were both Latin American ballplayers. It was also a fitting one, because Green had tried to emulate the Hall of Famer.

“I saw Clemente in 1972 before he died,” Green said in a 1981 interview. “He was playing in a tournament in Nicaragua, and I saw him take infield practice and hit five balls out. Way out. A few years later, I saw him on some tapes. He and Willie Mays. Those are the only two players I like. I try to play like Clemente.”

Green evades Braves catcher Alex Trevino to score an inside-the-park home run. Source: The Greenville News, August 20, 1984.

Eduardo Green never got to see his son reach the major leagues. He died in the fall of 1980. In 1981, Green’s first year in the Cardinals organization, he hit .270 with 10 homers for Triple-A Springfield. He again put his speed on display, with 23 stolen bases in 32 attempts. Herzog watched him play in an exhibition game against St. Louis and reiterated that the Cardinals saw him as the best prospect in baseball. “When you see him in a uniform, he’s got baseball written all over him, when he throws, when he runs or when he’s swinging a bat,” he said.

The Cardinals brought him to the big leagues that September. Green struggled, starting his career with an 0-for-15 streak. His first hit came against the Pittsburgh Pirates on September 26, 1981, and it was an RBI single off Luis Tiant. He finished the year with a .147 batting average in 40 plate appearances.

Through absolutely no fault of his own, Green had a difficult time staying in the Cardinals’ lineup in 1982. Herzog tried to find room for outfielders Lonnie Smith, Dane Iorg, Tito Landrum, George Hendrick and Green. Green had limited chances to be a starting center fielder but made the most of them. A 2-for-4 day against the Reds on April 30 left him with a .381 batting average. Unfortunately, he tore his hamstring and was placed on the disabled list in early May. His replacement, another speedy rookie making his major-league debut, was Willie McGee. McGee played so well that Herzog couldn’t take him out of the lineup, even when Green was healthy enough to return. In fact, Green was sent to the minor leagues in June — with a .325 batting average, no less — just so he could play everyday. He came back to the majors in August and played all over the outfield, and he continued to hit well. His first major-league homer came on August 15 against the Pittsburgh Pirates and pitcher Randy Niemann. He finished the year with a .283 batting average and 11 stolen bases. St. Louis won 92 games and finished in first place in the NL East.

Green had a limited role in the 1982 postseason, again because of the Cardinals’ crowded outfield. He appeared in two games in the NL Championship Series against Atlanta and had a hit in his only at-bat. He played in all seven games of the World Series against Milwaukee but had 2 hits — a double and triple — in 11 plate appearances. St. Louis won the Series in 7 games, which could theoretically make them the “winners” of the big Cardinals-Brewers trade that brought Green to St. Louis in the first place.

“I think we’ve got to find a place to play David Green every day,” Herzog said in the offseason. “If you can’t let Green play every day, you’re in bad shape. But look at who we’ve got.” The team eventually figured it out but it took a mid-season trade of first baseman Keith Hernandez to free up the outfield logjam. Hendrick moved to first base, leaving the Cardinals with the speedy outfield of Green in right field, McGee in center and Lonnie Smith in left. All three hit over .280 with at least 30 stolen bases in 1983. Green played in a career-high 146 games and slashed .286/.314/.374. He had 10 triples and 8 home runs while scoring 52 runs and stealing 34 bases.

Green played under a lot of stress that season. He was trying to save enough money to bring his mother, Bertha, and family to the United States. His brother Eduardo Jr. had been thrown in jail in Nicaragua for writing a bad check, and given the level of corruption in the Nicaraguan government, there was no telling how long he’d stay in prison, or if he’d ever leave. “I’ve got a lawyer working on it and hopefully, it will be only six months,” Green said after the news of his brother went public. “But a lot of people who have been thrown into jail get killed and nobody knows about it.”

The Nicaraguan government, reportedly because of Green’s celebrity status in the United States, made things difficult for him and his family. His mother and 19-year-old brother Enrique finally were allowed to move to the U.S. in September of 1983. Sadly, Bertha Green died in St. Louis in early 1984, while Green was away playing winter ball in Mexico.

Green had an uneven year in ’84. He was moved to first base, where he was a below-average defender, in order to put Hendrick in his preferred position of right field. He didn’t field the position well, had several injuries and reacted badly to balls hit his way. He was mired in a 4-for-41 slump when he was placed on the disabled list, and Herzog fueled speculation on what was wrong when he said, “The toughest thing is to get them to realize they need help. You could tell something was wrong. I don’t know if it is alcohol or what. He hasn’t been reacting well on grounders, and he hasn’t been hitting at all.”

Green was in fact being treated for alcoholism. He was away from the team for three weeks to be at a treatment facility and was put right back in the starting lineup when his time was over. He hit better upon his return, and he hit with more power. His 15 home runs led the team, and 13 of them came after he returned from rehab. His batting average dipped to .268, and he struck out over 100 times.

Looking at it now, it’s odd that his alcoholism was treated by the team the same way as a pulled hamstring or sore shoulder. He was put on the disabled list, treated, re-activated and put back on the field as if nothing had happened. It worked for 1984, at least, as he had a decent season. But clearly there was something more going wrong, and the Cardinals seemed ill-equipped to deal with it. Whether it was due to the untimely deaths of his parents, the political strife in his home country or the stress of being a baseball player compared to legendary Hall of Famers, Green was a player in distress. The Cardinals treated the alcoholism — the effect — but they didn’t seem to care much about the cause. One would hope that if the situation happens to a ballplayer today, his team would care more about his long-term health instead of how quickly he could be “fixed” and able to play.

The Cardinals traded Green to the San Francisco Giants in February of 1985. He was one of four players sent to San Francisco, and not only did the Cardinals get slugging first baseman Jack Clark, they got rid of Green’s baggage. Green, installed at first base as Clark’s replacement, got off to a miserable start. His batting average didn’t top .100 until May 12. Giants manager Jim Davenport acknowledged that Green was drinking again, though he had never seen the player drunk. Green was reportedly friendly with his teammates and had a good attitude, but he refused to talk to the media, so it’s difficult to say just what he was feeling that year. He eventually raised his average to .248, but his slugging percentage was just .347, and he just stole 6 bases and was caught 5 times.

The Giants traded him back to Milwaukee that December for a minor-leaguer. He opened up once he left San Francisco, and it was clear he didn’t like his time there. “I don’t think that ball park [Candlestick Park] is fit to play baseball in. And I’m just glad to be back in Milwaukee,” he told the Post-Crescent of Appleton, Wis. Green never played with the Brewers. Despite a good spring, the team decided he wasn’t going to be in the starting lineup and had too high a salary to be sitting on the bench. He was loaned to a team in Monterry, Mexico, and played there briefly before signing a contract with the Osaka Kintetsu Buffaloes. Green returned to the U.S. in 1987 after signing back with the Cardinals. He spent most of the season in the minors but returned to St. Louis in September, where he hit .267 with a home run in 14 games. He was not a part of the Cardinal’s postseason roster as they lost in the World Series to the Minnesota Twins. Green bounced around between Mexico and a few different organizations — St. Louis, Atlanta, Texas — but he never made it out of the minor leagues. He retired after the 1991 season at the age of 30.

Source: The Post-Crescent (Appleson, Wis.), March 23, 1986.

Green played in the majors for parts of 6 seasons. He had a slash line of .268/.308/.394, with 374 hits that included 48 doubles, 18 triples and 31 home runs. He stole 68 bases and was caught 35 times, and he had a career OPS+ of 96. Baseball Reference credits him with 4.2 Wins Above Replacement.

Shortly after departing to play in Japan, Lee Thomas, Cardinals director of player development, said that Green’s chances of returning to the majors were slim and none. “It’s a shame, because he should have been a superstar. If you wanted to build a ballplayer, you’d say let’s give him David Green’s arm, let’s give him David Green’s legs, let’s give him David Green’s power.”

Thomas than followed that quote up with a cruel remark about Green’s brain, and that’s how baseball wrote off one of the most hyped prospects of the 1980s. He was just a head case. Certainly calling him the next Clemente when he was 19 years old didn’t cause any stress or increased expectations. Certainly having his home country fall into strife under a brutal regime that imprisoned his brother didn’t affect him. Certainly the deaths of his parents didn’t affect him. It’s far easier to dismiss him as a flake and an alcoholic rather than look into what really happened with Green. Clearly, he made some really bad choices along the way, and he would make some really bad and tragic choices later. But when baseball looks at a young, talented, out-of-his-element ballplayer as a commodity to be exploited instead of a person to be nurtured, it’s easier to pin the failure on the person instead of the system.

Green acknowledged his alcoholism in 1988 when he was trying to make the Cardinals out of spring training. “Whenever I had a problem, I’d go to alcohol. I have to deal with it the rest of my life. You have to learn to live without it. I’m just doing my best,” he said.

Green would later deny that he needed to go to alcohol treatment in 1984. He argued that he was picked out as the problematic person, even though others on the team had their own problems. He also acknowledged the rumors that he was a drug user as well, a charge he flatly denied.

On January 29, 1995, Green, then working as a security guard, crashed his 1988 Mazda into a 1983 Pontiac, driven by Byron Yount. His wife, Gladys Yount, 85, suffered a broken pelvis in the accident. Two hours later, she died of a heart attack. Green had a blood alcohol level of 0.18 percent, or nearly double the legal limit of 0.10. He said he had drank six beers but denied he was drunk. He was charged with assault and found guilty on August 7, 1986. Jurors recommended he serve six months in prison and pay a fine. I was unable to determine if he served any time in prison.

Since that incident, Green seemed to lead a quiet, private life. In his passing, many of his teammates have paid tribute to him. Lee Sigman, one of his early minor-league managers, said this, per La Presnia: “He was an exceptional talent. I have not seen another prospect in my more than 50 years associated with baseball like David. Unfortunately, the death of his father had a terrible impact on him and it could not have been what he thought, but I have the memory of having managed a player of great quality and an even better person.”

David Green at Baseball Almanac

For more information: St. Louis Post Dispatch

Follow me on Twitter: @rip_mlb

Follow me on Instagram: @rip_mlb

Follow me on Facebook: ripbaseball

Support RIP Baseball


2 thoughts on “Obituary: David Green (1960-2022)

  1. It is sad that happened to David Green in his career. I remember him getting some praise as a strong young hitter from Tom Seaver in “The Art of Pitching,” and he had homered in Steve Carlton‘s milestone 300th win.

    I did get to meet David Green when I went to a game at Busch Stadium in 2018. I asked him how he felt about homering off Lefty. He said something along the lines of “It was cool.”

    May he Rest In Peace.

    Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s