Q: I just realized that Jose Oquendo is no longer coaching third base for the St. Louis Cardinals. What happened?
S.D., of Millstadt
A: I have to admit I’m a little surprised it took you so long to notice he has been MIA for nearly two years. Ala Simon and Garfunkel, even I, a rather fair-weather baseball fan, have been singing “Where have you gone, Jose Oquendo?” as I suffer through the lousy defense and sloppy base-running that the fundamentals-minded Puerto Rican seemed good at correcting.
The official story began March 26, 2016, when, one week before the season opener, Oquendo announced he was taking a medical leave of absence. In the span of just a few months, Oquendo, who had played all nine positions as a Cardinal for 10 seasons, had had two surgeries on his ailing right knee, forcing him to use crutches or carts to hobble around training camp. He spent the rest of the 2016 season rehabilitating in Florida.
By the time the current season neared, fans were eager for Oquendo’s return to help fix the team’s defensive nosedive. But instead of resuming his familiar spot in the third-base coaching box, Oquendo took a job as an assistant to John Mozeliak, the team’s general manager. Oquendo said he wanted to stay closer to his home in Stuart, Fla., so a major part of his new job is teaching minor league players for the Cardinal Florida State and Gulf Coast league affiliates in Jupiter.
Some, however, think there’s more to the story, News-Democrat Sports Editor Todd Eschman told me. They point to a disagreement between Oquendo and Manager Mike Matheny, the severity of which is fodder for rampant speculation.
“Back in the day, they used to have daily infield practice,” Eschman said. “It was dropped pretty much with the agreement of everybody. But when the defense went into the tank, Oquendo said, ‘We’ve got to get this going again.’ And Matheny said, ‘No, we had talked about keeping everybody’s legs fresh, so we’re not going to reinstitute that.’ The speculation is that it apparently pissed off Oquendo sufficiently enough that he felt undervalued and said, ‘The heck with you and the heck with this.’”
Eschman says the story sounds like hyperbole to him, but we may find out more after the season.
“I think we’ll know for sure how deep this chasm is if in fact Matheny isn’t brought back for next season. If that job comes open and Oquendo emerges as a contender, then we’ll know how deep the rift is.”
What college once moved its commencement up a day because of a solar eclipse?
Answer to Friday’s trivia: It’s often noted that author Mark Twain was born and died shortly after successive appearances of Halley’s Comet. But here’s something even stranger: Pope John Paul II was the only known pope to be born during a solar eclipse (May 18, 1920) and buried during another (April 8, 2005). Some even say the unique occurrence was prophesied by the 12th century Irish St. Malachy, who predicted a pope arising from “the labor (eclipse) of the sun.” But historians generally think the prophecies, which predicted the next 112 popes, are a fabrication, written long after Malachy’s death. Good thing. According to the legend, the current Pope Francis will be the final pope, a false prophet who will spark Armaggedon and the end of the world.