No Joke for Van Slyke

Last year on April Fool’s Day, one might recall the prank resulting in AJ Burnett having the resin bag burst open all over him on the pitcher’s mound. And there’s the all-time classic from Sports Illustrated about Sidd Finch—the Mets prospect who could throw over 160mph.

But on April 1, 1987 it was no joke for Andy Van Slyke—who found out he had been traded from the St. Louis Cardinals to the Pittsburgh Pirates.

“It all started that morning at the ballpark,” recalled Van Slyke, who is now the first base coach with the Seattle Mariners. “I was hitting third just about every day in Spring Training and was having a terrific spring and I got to the clubhouse and at the top it said McGee, Smith, and there was a blank, and then it was Clark, and I don’t remember who was batting sixth and seventh.”

“It was one of the last games of Spring Training and I thought ‘why isn’t my name up there?’ So, I looked at the bottom where they put the extra guys and I didn’t see my name. I thought maybe they were playing a trick on me.”

A trick or practical joke, yes—but a trade? Even with rumors of the Cardinals desire to find a role for prospect Jim Lindeman, the idea of being moved to another team never crossed Van Slyke’s mind.

“I thought there was no way they were going to trade me,” said Van Slyke. “I was just about getting to the apex of my career and was ready to be playing every day…so, when it did happen and Whitey brought me in the office, the general manager was there and Whitey said ‘Slick, I hate to do this’. I knew he wasn’t kidding.”

Van Slyke, along with pitcher Mike Dunne and catcher Mike LaValliere, went to Pittsburgh in exchange for catcher Tony Pena.

As it turns out, Andy had the last laugh. Though the Cardinals made it the World Series in 1987, it would be their last post season appearance until 1996. Meanwhile, Van Slyke was a three-time All-Star and won five Gold Gloves as a key contributor to the Pirates winning three straight National League East titles from 1990-1992.

“I always envisioned what it would’ve been like though if I had stayed,” commented Van Slyke, who still lives and raised his family in St. Louis. “Could I have had an impact with the Cardinals organization like I did the Pirates organization?”

As for Jim Lindeman, he hit .203 in 184 games over four seasons in St. Louis before moving on to Detroit, Philadelphia, Houston, and the New York Mets for five more years.

photo credit: Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

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