Like so many other unsung role players of World Series past, Tito Landrum of the St. Louis Cardinals has exploded upon the scene to outshine most of the big names in this year's fall classic. Pressed into regular service when soon-to-be-confirmed National League Rookie of the Year Vince Coleman was involved in a freak tarpaulin accident, the 31-year-old reserve outfielder has come through beyond all expectations.
Landrum doubled and scored what proved to be the winning run in the Cardinals' opening-game victory, then doubled and again scored the winning run in the four-run ninth-inning rally that pulled out Game 2. Even in Game 3, he got one of the six hits St. Louis managed in a losing cause. Then in Game 4, he homered in his first at-bat to give left-hander John Tudor the only run he needed in the 3-0 victory that lifted the Redbirds to the brink of their second world championship in four years.
For those first four games Tito's statistics showed six hits including two doubles and a home run, three runs scored (the actual winner, amazingly, in each of the St. Louis victories), a game-winning RBI, and a .400 batting average that led all players on both clubs. He was also a busy man in left field, leading all outfielders with 10 putouts including a couple of outstanding run-saving catches in Game One, and throwing out Buddy Biancalana at the plate in a key play in Game 2.
While St. Louis fans are not yet petitioning for the removal of Stan Musial's statue from Busch Stadium to be replaced by one of Tito, the value of his bubble-gum cards has tripled in value overnight!
Even though he hit .280 in just 116 at-bats for the Cardinals during the regular season, including two game-winning hits, he did it so quietly that only the most dyed-in-the-wool baseball fans were even aware of him before the current World Series. And yet he is no stranger to postseason action.
Tito earned a World Series ring for his regular-season contributions to the 1982 Cardinals even he was not on the postseason roster and thus did not appear in either their playoff or Series victories. The next year, however, after being traded to Baltimore late in the regular season, , he hit the 10th-inning home run off the Chicago White Sox' Britt Burns that broke a 0-0 tie and lifted the Orioles to the American League pennant, then got his second straight ring after appearing in three World Series g ames for the victorious O's in a utility role.
During the press conference here after his Game 4 heroics, Landrum displayed a smile of immense face value, the patience to handle repeat questions, and just enough humility to please even the most discerning of grandmothers. A grinning poster of him is selling in St. Louis like Mickey Mouse hats in Disneyland.
Asked if his new-found success hadn't unlocked a desire in him to want to play regulary, Landrum replied that he has always wanted to play regularly.
``I have always thought I could play every day and do well, but I have never been one to question a manager's decision,'' Tito explained. ``If [manager] Whitey Herzog wants to continue to use me as a role player, then I'll accept that. I won't make waves and I won't ask to be traded.
``I think the reason I have done so well in the World Series is because I have become more aggressive at the plate,'' he continued. ``I try to hit the ball, not kill it. When I do connect for a home run, I never think it's going to have enough legs to get out of the ballpark. But mostly I'm just trying to make contact. If I do that well enough, then the hits are bound to come.''
While I didn't actually see the Kansas City scouting report on Tito, I was told that it had him tabbed as a right-handed batter who took too many good pitches for strikes and had no opposite-field power. However, Landum did get high marks for his glove work and for having a better-than-average throwing arm.
In this series, though, Tito has justified all the positive comments while making a mockery of the negative ones. He has been up there swinging, and he showed the Royals all the opposite-field power they cared to see when he mashed a Bud Black fastball into the right field stands for that home run in Game 4.
Less than an hour before he became the first batter in 68 innings of postseason action to hit a home run off Kansas City's vaunted pitching, however, he was as relaxed as a pile of pillows. He was playing with an expensive network TV camera that had been mounted near the Redbirds' dugout. While the camera crew laughed its approval, Landrum began turning the lens this way and that to catch not only the crowd but also most of his teammates.
The feeling here was that Tito was so loose mentally that he probably could have hit Walter Johnson or Christy Mathewson safely with a stalk of sugar cane.
After his stint in Baltimore in 1983, Landrum was reacquired by the Cardinals, filling a utility role in '84 and again this season. Because St. Louis started its '85 pennant drive almost without any help from Tito, no wonder most of baseball lost track of him.
But to Tito, who could probably wake up on Jan. 1 and hit a double, hitting is like getting back on a bicycle.