Once Andy Benes signed with the St. Louis Cardinals prior to the 1996 season, it was never his intention to leave.
The Evansville, Ind., native signed a five-year, $30 million extension with the Cardinals following the 1997 season, only to have it denied by Major League Baseball’s Player Relations Committee because it came after the deadline for which players could re-sign with their 1997 teams.
“That was devastating to me, my wife and kids because St. Louis was home and we didn’t want to leave,” Benes said.
Missing the 1997 deadline meant he would have to wait until May 1 of 1998 to re-sign with the Cardinals. Instead of missing all of Spring Training and a month of the regular season, Benes opted to pursue other opportunities and became one of the first players to sign with the Arizona Diamondbacks. He had the honor of throwing the first pitch in franchise history and went on to put together two good, very similar seasons over his two years there.
He went 14-13 in 1998 with a 3.97 ERA and 164 strikeouts, then followed that up with a 13-12 record in 1999 with a 4.81 ERA and 141 strikeouts.
But Benes’ heart was still in the Midwest, and in particular St. Louis. He declined the option on his contract following the 1999 season and left Arizona to become a free agent with the hope of returning to St. Louis.
“I really wanted an opportunity to play for the Cards again,” he said. “I didn’t know if that was a possibility before turning down my option, but wanted to explore that. I’m a Midwest guy and family is in the Midwest. St. Louis was home beginning in 1996 and I wanted to finish my career here. My in-laws were in Evansville and that obviously made it easier for us to see them as well as other family.”
The Cardinals, in dire need to bolster their pitching rotation, brought Benes back prior to the 2000 season. He played his final three seasons with the Cardinals before retiring following the 2002 season.
“We ended up in a good spot, Arizona,” Benes said of his departure from St. Louis. “I have great memories from my Diamondback days, but I was happy to end my career with the Birds.”
Now Benes makes his home in St. Louis where he’s become a mainstay on television for Fox Sports Midwest. He co-hosts a kids TV show called “Cardinals Kids” with Fredbird. The show, which has won an Emmy, is now in its 12th year.
“I enjoy doing it and many people recognize me more now for that show and appearances around town with Fredbird than for playing,” he said.
Benes’ career is just one example of many former Cardinals players who stay close to the organization after their playing days are over.
Benes was the No. 1 overall draft pick in the 1988 MLB Draft by the San Diego Padres and played six-and-a-half seasons there, where he put up some really good numbers.
He finished fifth in the National League Rookie of the Year voting in 1989 but was given the honor by Sporting News. His only All-Star selection came in 1993 as a Padre where he finished 15-15 with a 3.78 ERA.
He was then traded to the Seattle Mariners to finish the 1995 season, where he started one game in the American League Division Series and one in the American League Championship Series.
But Benes is a Cardinal at heart, and he was no slouch while wearing the Birds on the Bat either. He won at least 10 games in three of his five years in St. Louis and finished third in the Cy Young voting in 1996 after posting an 18-10 record, 3.83 ERA over 230.1 innings pitched.
On top of that, some of Benes’ best memories as a player came in St. Louis. The pinnacle, he said, was pitching in the playoffs for the Cardinals in front of friends and family who made the trip over from Evansville.
One memory that stood out in particular, however, was getting to play with his brother, Alan, for four seasons. Alan later moved on to the Chicago Cubs and the two brothers pitched against each other on Sept. 6, 2002, in St. Louis. Only eight times in MLB history have two brothers faced one another.
In front of his family and the home crowd, Andy pitched a complete game, giving up just two earned runs and striking out six to earn the win over his brother.
He also won his 100th game while in St. Louis, then capped off his playing career with an exclamation point.
“I got a standing ovation for my 2,000th MLB strikeout, which was the last batter I faced in my last ever regular season game in 2002,” he said. “Amazing.”
Benes hasn’t moved from St. Louis since then. On top of his “Cardinals Kids” duties, Benes does about 15 pre and postgame shows for Fox Sports Midwest and helps coach at Westminster Christian Academy, a St. Louis area high school where his son Shane plays and where he coached Mike Matheny‘s boys.
Benes said he has no interest in getting back into professional baseball, be it a coaching or administrative role, even for the Cardinals. After traveling for his entire career, he’s enjoyed just being able to be home with his family.
That includes his Cardinals family.
“Mike Shannon was speaking of that when he was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame this weekend,” he said. “It’s family. Hard to explain, but we were treated so well here by the organization and the city, we wanted to stay here and have an impact on this community beyond our playing days. Many former Cardinals have done the same. A great number of Cardinals alumni make their home here as we like to be close to our Cardinal family. There’s a very special bond between those who have worn the Birds on the Bat.”