Lankford, Ray 1967–
Ray Lankford 1967–
Professional baseball player
Ray Lankford, center fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, at times seemed to be overlooked in the 1998 and 1999 Major League home run race. Teammate and prolific home run slugger Mark McGwire tended to command attention on the team, yet Lank-ford proved himself a solid and valuable ball player. And at a time when athletes seem to want nothing more than a larger paycheck, at contract negotiation time Lankford chose to remain in the Cardinals organization rather than leave for more money, citing his loyalty to the club that gave him his start.
Raymond Lewis Lankford was born June 5, 1967 in Modesto, California. He attended Grace Davis High School in Modesto, and while there he played both football and baseball. He went on to Modesto Junior College, again playing football and baseball. He was the first running back in the college’s history to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, but baseball became his true passion.
After passing up the opportunity to play for the Chicago Cubs, Lankford signed with the St. Louis Cardinals in June of 1987, after being selected in the third round of the free-agent draft. Starting in the minors, he established him-self as a key player in the Appalachian League and tied second in the lead for doubles, and third for hits. He led the league’s outfielders in total chances, tied for lead in assists, and was fifth overall in the league with a batting average of .308. He also was selected as an outfielder for the Appalachian League All-Star team that same year, and played for the Cardinals in the Florida Winter Instructional League as well. In that league he appeared in 33 games and led the team in hitting with .407.
Lankford had a solid year in 1988 and was among the Cardinals’ minor league leaders in all of the major categories. He led all of minor league baseball with 16 triples, a number that had not been posted by any Cardinal player since 1967 when the Cardinals’ Willie Montanez hit 17 triples. During this season he led the Midwest League as well as the Cardinal minor leaguers in total bases.
In 1989 Lankford moved up to the AA team and was named Texas League MVP. He led the league in hits, triples, and games and was fourth among the leaders in
Born Raymond lewis Lankford, June 5, 1967, in Modesto, CA; wife’s name Yolanda; children: Raquel and Danielle, Education: attended Modesto Junior College.
Career: Baseball player. Drafted in third round by St. Louis Cardinals, 1987; made professional debut in Major League baseball, 1990.
Awards: Midwest League’s #6 prospect by Baseball America, 1988; Texas League MVP, 1989; # 1 prospect in Texas League by Baseball America, 1989; named to Texas All-Star team, 1989; named to Topps/National Association AA All-Star team, 1989; selected third-best prospect in the American Association by Baseball America, 1990; National League Player-of-the-Week September 4-10, 1995; National League outfield fielding champion, 1996; National League All-Star team, 1997.
Addresses: Business —c/o St. Louis Cardinals, 250 Stadium Plaza, St. Louis, MO 63102.
batting average. He was rated as consistent all year and did not hit below .280. In centerfield, he played very well, exhibiting outstanding range with 367 putouts, which was 74 more than any other outfielder. Lankford was named the number-one prospect in the Texas League by Baseball America, and was named to the Texas League All-Star team. He was also named to the Topps-National Association AA All-Star team. In the off-season he played in the Puerto Rican league.
The following year Lankford’s solid play paid off. He moved to the AAA team in Louisville, Kentucky, and hit. 260, showing solid numbers all around. Lankford led the American Association outfielders in total chances and putouts with 352 and 333, respectively. On August 21, 1990 he was called up to the big leagues, starting in center field for the Cardinals under manager Joe Torre. He hit his first major league home run less than a month later. He was selected as the third-best prospect in the American Association by Baseball America.
In 1991, Lankford enjoyed one of the best Cardinal rookie seasons in recent years. Despite having hurt his wrist at the end of spring training, he started ten times in two weeks. He enjoyed a 12-game hitting streak in August of that year and gave his team a single-game multi-homer tandem, the last accomplished in 1950. His two-run homer in September of 1991 won the game against New York, the first time in 73 years the Cardinals won a game with one hit. He set new rookie records in the club for most runs batted in (RBIs) since 1976. He was the first Cardinals rookie since 1899 to total sixty RBIs and forty stolen bases, and he broke the 1916 record with 15 triples. He was also the first rookie since 1984 to lead the major league in triples, and he tied for the National League in total outfield chances. Lankford finished third in National Rookie of the Year voting and was named to Major League all-rookie teams by Baseball Digest.
Lankford was on the verge of becoming one of the premier players in the league in 1992. He continued to break records that had stood for many years, and finished in the National League top ten in hits, total bases, multi-hit games, doubles, stolen bases, slugging percentage, and extra-base hits. He hit twenty home runs and was among the top leaders in, or led, the National League in fielding, and had just two errors in 445 chances. He also hit his first career grand slam in September.
Injuries slowed Lankford down in 1993 and he was not able to show the numbers and performance of the year before. He injured his shoulder in April, and was on the disabled list for three weeks in June and July because of an injured right wrist. In August he separated that previously-injured shoulder when he hit the outfield wall in Los Angeles. Despite those injuries and resulting low numbers in all-around performance, he had the top fielding percentage among Cardinals outfielders.
Lankford came back strong in 1994, and was a crucial player early in the season. He tied for the club high with 19 homers, which was just one under his career high of twenty set the year before. He also led the club in runs scored, walks, and total bases. He had a career-best 15-game hitting streak in April to May, and scored in 13-straight games in that same period.
Lankford was again one of the club’s top performers in 1995. He met or set records once more, being just the seventh Cardinal since 1966 to hit 25 or more home runs, and they were the most ever by a Cardinals center fielder, surpassing the 1952 record of 21 belonging to Stan Musial. He topped his career-best in hitting streaks with 16 hits in August and September, and hit home runs in four straight games, which was one short of tying the club record for consecutive home run games. He topped the Cardinals outfielders in both putouts and total chances, and had the second-best fielding percentage of his career at .990. He was chosen National League Player-of-the-Week for September 4-10. The Cardinals manager Joe Torre was fired that year.
Lankford’s solid performance and growth continued in 1996 despite injury and the tragedy of his daughter’s severe burning in an accident. Still, he led the club with 100 runs, 265 total bases, 79 walks, 35 steals, and eight triples. He hit more than twenty home runs for the third time in his career, finishing the year with 21. He was a National League outfield fielding champion with .997 percentage, having one error in 366 chances. He got a National League Player-of-the-Week award again, and scored his 500th career run in August.
In September of that year, Lankford made a diving catch and suffered a torn rotator cuff in his left shoulder. He missed several postseason games. “That was the part that really hurt,” he told The Sporting News. “You’re there cheering for your team, but you can’t be a part of it physically. You can’t go out there and produce and be a part of the glory on the field.” He only got one hit in his 15 postseason at-bats. He later had surgery to repair his shoulder.
Lankford began the 1997 season on the disabled list while recovering from his shoulder surgery, missing spring training and the first three weeks of play. But he made a strong return and had his most productive offensive year. He led the team and set a new career high with 31 home runs, joining only 16 other Cardinals in the club’s history to hit thirty homers in a season; it was the most home runs by a Cardinal in a season since Jack Clark hit 35 in 1987. He also led the team in RBIs, runs scored, walks, slugging average, and on-base average. He finished in the top ten in the National League for home runs in a season. He hit two upper-deck home runs in July at Cincinnati’s Riverfront Stadium-now called Cinergy Field-and became the first player in that stadium’s history to reach the upper deck twice in one game.
Lankford was named to the National League All-Star game for the first time in his career in 1997 and was the first Cardinals outfielder to start in an All-Star game in nine years. Bobby Cox, manager of the All-Star team, said of Lankford to the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “He’s a great center fielder. I know he’s hurt (shoulder surgery) but he’s having a great year with the bat, he can steal bases, and he can go get the ball. When Joe Torre was managing St. Louis, he said Ray Lankford could be an MVP and he’s getting close to that now.”
Lankford had been with the Cardinals club eleven years in 1998 when he signed a five-year contract extension worth $34 million, with a club option for 2003. His contract stipulated that he would contribute $75,000 each year to Cardinals Care, the club’s charitable foundation. Lankford is the only primary player of the Cardinals to live year-round in St. Louis, and appears to like the city and its people. He also seems content to live out his baseball career with one club. “A lot of guys go other places,” he told the Evansville Courier & Press. “But I don’t think I could play for a better organization, for a better crowd. Why leave?”
That same year, he hit 31 home runs for the second year in a row and led the club with 37 doubles. He became the third Cardinals player to hit more than thirty home runs twice, joining Stan Musial, who had done it six times, and Rogers Hornsby, two. He hit his fifth career grand slam in July. He also hit a three-run home run, his 18th, to win a game against Atlanta 3-2 in July of 1998. He showed that he, too, could be a superstar when he hit a game-tying home run in the llth inning in an August game against Chicago and then an RBI single in the 13th inning to win the game; he had struck out in his first five at-bats of the game. He was also linked with teammate Mark McGwire’s phenomenal race for a new home run record.
Lankford had surgery on his left knee in the off season but by spring training in 1999 he was still having trouble with it. In addition, his right knee began to hurt because he favored the injured knee. He started only 13 of the first 36 games. Manager Tony La Russa switched him from center field to left field, a position that requires less running. In September the knees were still aching. “If I had my choice, I’d like to stay there,” a smiling Lankford told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “Let those young guys run around.”
Despite his aching knees Lankford was connecting with the ball as clean-up hitter for Mark McGwire. In a May 1999 game against the Dodgers, home run champion McGwire was walked in the ninth inning, raising loud protests from the packed stadium in St. Louis, Missouri. The opposing team obviously felt McGwire’s ability to hit home runs was a threat. But according to Bernie Miklasz of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, it was not the proper time to boo. “Not with Ray Lankford coming up…. Walking Mac is not necessarily a bad thing. It sets up a promising situation. It gives Lankford a chance to…make us remember just how truly valuable No. 16 is to the Cardinals.” Lankford had already hit a home run earlier in the game, but expectations of McGwire made the fans overlook Lankford’s own abilities. He told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I’ve gotten used to seeing him walked in front of me. It’s still motivation. I want to go out there and earn some respect.” His two-run homer gave the Cardinals the victory, and for Lankford, no doubt quite a bit of respect.
Evansville Courier & Press, April 16, 1998.
The Sporting News, August 4, 1997.
St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 8, 1997; May 17, 1999; September 5, 1999.
Additional material for this profile was obtained from the St. Louis Cardinals web site at http://www.stlcardinals.com/1999MediaGuide/Bios/Lankford.html.
—Sandy J. Stiefer
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