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On this date in Cardinals history: April 1, 1987

A mega trade between the Cardinals and Pirates on this date in 1987 was met by disbelief as much because of its April Fools Day date as because of the big names that were involved.

The Birds landed 30-year-old Pittsburgh catcher Tony Pena, then a five-time All-Star with three Gold Gloves. They paid a high price when they sent promising young outfielder Andy Van Slyke, who many thought would be the next in a long line of world class St. Louis slugging flychasers, catcher Mike "Spanky" LaValliere and pitcher Mike Dunne.

A lot of Cardinals fans think of the trade as a bust because Pena, who hit .286 with the Pirates, broke his a bone when hit by a pitch shortly after the deal and struggled at the plate afterward to a .214 batting average with five home runs in 116 games. Meanwhile, Van Slyke was at the center of a Pittsburgh resurgence. He starred for the Pirates for eight years, collecting Gold Gloves and All-Star berths.

But Pena did manage the St. Louis pitching staff to the 1987 National League pennant and appeared in the All-Star game as a Cardinal in 1989.

While Van Slyke was a very good player, he couldn't play his natural position in centerfield because it was manned by another All-Star and Gold Glove collector and 1985 National League MVP Willie McGee.

What the Cardinals really needed, according to manager Whitey Herzog, was to be as strong as possible at the key defensive positions up the middle. Pena was the last piece of the puzzle to go along with McGee, Ozzie Smith and Tom Herr. He probably would have enjoyed more success in St. Louis had the Birds not let the team erode after 1988 starting with Jack Clark headed out of town via free agency.

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