Terry Pendleton (THE TOPPS COMPANY)

Terry Pendleton

This article was written by Zac Petrillo

[A glue guy] is a guy who’s unselfish and who’s a good teammate… A guy who communicates well and who’s honest with his teammates and himself. Somebody the other guys can count on to offer advice or encouragement. He keeps everybody loose, but at the same time, focused… It’s a guy who — in baseball clubhouses that often have age gaps, varying talent levels and even language barriers — just sort of keeps everything together. You know, like glue. — David Ross (a glue guy), The Players’ Tribune1

 

Terry Pendleton (THE TOPPS COMPANY)To take Ross further, for a player to be an elite glue guy they need to win. Nobody exemplified this concept better than Terry Pendleton, and if there’s one thing Pendleton knew how to do it was win … until he got to the World Series. But for a player who one scout called an “average to below Major League player”2 and who, after winning the National League MVP, was as surprised as anyone, saying, “I was shocked. The biggest part of my MVP award was my teammates,”3 being the glue for great teams was just right.

Terry Lee Pendleton was born on July 16, 1960, in Los Angeles, California, to Alfred Donahue and Ella Elizabeth (Fuller) Pendleton. Alfred was a truck driver who hauled produce up and down the West Coast.4 As a teen, Alfred played for a summer baseball team out of Dallas. In one game he took on Satchel Paige and the Kansas City Monarchs. Paige struck Alfred out, and it remained one of his favorite stories to tell. “I didn’t know what happened,” Alfred Pendleton told the Los Angeles Times in 1988. “The dude was swift. He had a side-arm that looked like it was coming from third base. I closed my eyes, I think. I did manage to get a foul. Then I said to myself, I’m not getting that close again.”

As much as Alfred liked to tell of his matchup with Paige, more than anything, he glowed about his son, and Terry credited Alfred with being the one who pushed him. “I told him one time,” Alfred recalled, “he had satisfied my ego more than I could have ever dreamed.”5

Growing up around bigger and tougher kids in his South Central neighborhood, Terry developed a chip on his shoulder. “I was always the smallest kid on the block, Pendleton said. “I was always the last guy picked to play basketball or the last picked to play kickball or whatever it was.”6 When he was nine, Terry’s parents moved him and his sister, Debra, up north to Oxnard where his path to the MVP started inauspiciously in Eastside Little League.7 “I was the worst,” Pendleton said. “I was the kid playing right field for two innings.” Ella Pendleton remembered, “He would come home crying. Oh, would he cry. And there was nothing you could do about it, just let him cry it out.” Pendleton spent all his free time bouncing balls off brick walls and coaxing anybody into throwing him pitches. By the time he returned to Little League, he made himself an All-Star shortstop.8

A natural righty, as Pendleton became a better hitter, he worked on learning how to bat from the left side. Coaches discouraged him, believing his best option was to stick with what he knew. Pendleton went on to play for Oxnard’s Channel Islands High School baseball team, where once again he was relegated to the bench as a freshman, seeing time only in meaningless innings. By the time he was a senior, Pendleton had used his desire to be better to become a starter who batted nearly .500.9 Nonetheless, he stood 5-foot-7, was thick-legged, and not perceived as an exceptional athlete. Few colleges came calling.

He chose to attend nearby Oxnard College, a community school that didn’t have a baseball team until Pendleton arrived. The Oxnard athletic facilities were all but non-existent, as the campus itself was only three years old. “You talk about sandlot baseball,” Pendleton’s former coach, Jerry White said, “that’s what we were doing. We were practicing anywhere where we could hit and take ground balls.”10 His Oxnard teammate, Jerry Willard, played with him on the Atlanta Braves in 1991 and part of 1992. With Pendleton in the center of the lineup, Oxnard reached the state tournament for the first time.11

After two years in junior college, Pendleton transferred to Fresno State. He spent his first year, feeling lonely and out of place. “Basically, I was a black man living in a white man’s world at Fresno State…” Pendleton said, “and there were times when I was really down.”12

Enter Mike Rupcich, an assistant coach who took Terry under his wing. “He kept me sane,” Pendleton said. “Coach Rupcich always had something to say, always tried to pep me up and get me rolling again.” He also helped Pendleton develop the thing he’d always wanted: switch-hitting. Terry told Rupcich he had been working on hitting lefty but neglected to tell him it was in Little League. “Practice started at 2:15. So every day the entire winter, he and I were in the cage. Every single day,” Pendleton recalled.

After his junior year, Fresno coach, Bob Bennett, thought Pendleton wasn’t hustling, so his partial scholarship wasn’t renewed. Terry considered walking away. “My dad said, ‘You are going to work and pay your way through school,’ ” Pendleton said.13 Just like the boy 10 years earlier, Pendleton accepted the challenge. The next season, he batted .397, setting a program record with 98 hits, and earning third-team All-American honors as the Bulldogs won their fourth straight conference title.14

The St. Louis Cardinals selected Pendleton in the 7th round (179th overall) of the 1982 amateur draft. Frustrated by the $2,000 signing bonus offered by scout Steve Flores, Pendleton considered looking for opportunities other than the game. “My dad pulled me aside and said, ‘What’s the difference? This opportunity is what you’ve wanted,’” Pendleton said. “So, I told the scout, ‘I’m going to show you I am a better player than that.’”15 He signed for $5,000.

St. Louis assigned Pendleton to the Johnson City (Tennessee) Cardinals of the Appalachian League. It was his first taste traveling through the South, and he faced racism he had only heard about from his older relatives. “They’d scream at us, call us all kind of ‘N’ words just going across the street. Some of them would speed up to try to run over us. It was crazy,” Pendleton said.16

On the field, he made an immediate impact by flashing good defense and both power and speed. He was promoted after 43 games to Class A St. Petersburg of the Florida State League but still managed to lead the Appalachian League lead in triples and finish top-five in doubles and slugging percentage. Over 20 games with St. Petersburg, Pendleton gathered 18 hits.

The following season, he was promoted to Double-A Arkansas. He played 48 games with the Travelers before his second fractured wrist in three months abruptly ended his season. He batted .276 with 10 doubles and 29 runs, good enough to make the Texas League All-Star team. He was promoted to the Triple-A Louisville Redbirds to start the 1984 season, where his productivity increased significantly. He batted .297/.342/.433 with four homers and six steals in 91 games. Suddenly he was knocking on the door of the big leagues.

The Cardinals called Pendleton up when Willie McGee went down with a hamstring injury. Cardinals manager Whitey Herzog told Pendleton, “Even if you go back down, don’t worry. You’ll be back.”17 He never went back down. He made his debut against the San Francisco Giants on July 18, 1984, two days after his 24 th birthday. Batting sixth, he recorded a base hit off Atlee Hammaker in his first at-bat and went 3-5 with an RBI and a walk on the day, helping the Cardinals to an 8-4 victory.

Over the next 22 days, Pendleton batted .422, a record for the highest batting average to start a career over that span that stood until Yasiel Puig broke it in 2013. A month into his career, he was named National League Player of the Week. The Cardinals spent most of the year near the bottom of the division until a late-season surge finished them in third place. Pendleton remained with the club, batting .324 with 20 stolen bases and a .357 OBP to go with stellar defense at third base. He finished seventh in Rookie of the Year voting.

With a crop of young players to complement quality veterans, the Cardinals entered 1985 expecting to compete. By July, the team was locked in a two-horse race with the upstart New York Mets. Pendleton remained a fixture in the lineup, starting 145 games at third base. His numbers weren’t spectacular (.240/.285/.306), but his 69 RBIs were the most by a Cardinals third baseman in six seasons. He also established himself as an elite defender and managed two grand slams. One, on June 9, was an inside the park homer that resulted from two Mets outfielders colliding. As late as September 19, St. Louis clung to a one-game lead, but a seven-game winning streak propelled them to the division crown.

In Game Three of the NLCS, down two games to the Dodgers, Pendleton flashed his glove twice. First, he made a back-to-the-infield catch on a popup off the bat of Greg Brock while racing into the bullpen. Next, in the ninth inning, he snagged a laser by Candy Maldonado and threw him out, saving a potentially game and series-altering extra base hit. When Ozzie Smith hit a Game Six walk-off home run, the Cardinals won the series.

Terry Pendleton (THE TOPPS COMPANY)After taking Game One of the World Series against the Kansas City Royals, Pendleton came to bat with two men on base in the ninth inning of Game Two. He roped a go-ahead double. The lead stuck, and the Cardinals were ahead two games to none heading back to St. Louis. After losing Game Three, the Cardinals took a commanding 3-1 series lead with a 3-0 win in Game Four. The Royals came back to stun the Cardinals, winning the final three games and taking the series. Pendleton did his part, batting .261 with a double, a triple, and three RBIs. It wouldn’t be the last time he’d find himself in the seventh game of a World Series.

The Cards got off to a 7-1 start in 1986, but seven straight losses wiped away the early success and, before they knew it, they were treading water the rest of the way. The Mets took the East easily, en route to a World Series win over Boston. Pendleton was even more woeful at the plate than the year before, batting .239 with just one home run and a .279 OBP. His only bright spots on offense were 26 doubles and 24 steals. Once again, he shined in the field. He led all National League third baseman with 371 assists, and sportswriter Bill Conlin called him, “the league’s best third baseman with the glove.”18

The bat finally started to catch up in 1987. He opened the season with 59 hits before June and entered the All-Star break batting .315 with a robust .374 OBP. The Cardinals were again locked in a battle for the division with the Mets. The team’s success seemed to go hand in hand with Pendleton’s as he batted .314/10/69 when his team won against .243/2/27 when they lost. On September 11, with the Cardinals ahead of the Mets by 1.5 games, the teams tangled in a pivotal late-season matchup. The Mets clung to a 4-2 ninth inning lead when Pendleton stepped to the plate with McGee on-base. He crushed a two-out homer, tying the game and preventing the Mets from closing the gap when St. Louis won in extra innings. The Cards soon pulled away and headed back to the playoffs. Pendleton led the league in assists (369) for the second consecutive year and won his first Gold Glove award.

After besting the Giants in another seven-game series, Herzog announced a rib cage injury would prevent Pendleton from playing third base, if at all, against the Minnesota Twins in the World Series.19 Confined to DH duties, Pendleton played in three out of four away games. The injury didn’t seem to hold him back. He batted .429 with a .500 OBP in nine plate appearances. He went 3-for-7 with a walk and a sacrifice bunt. Nonetheless, the Cardinals lost to the Twins in seven games, the second time in three seasons Pendleton’s team went the distance only to come up short.

Pendleton went into 1988 with a sore arm that left him in a limited role through spring training. Early in the season, he pulled his hamstring, and then, coming back after two weeks off, he tore the hamstring muscle, forcing him to miss a large chunk of games into the summer. All told, he played 110 games, his numbers fell across the board, especially his power (6 homers) and speed (3 stolen bases). The Cardinals ended the season in fifth place, their worst result in over a decade.

In 1989, Pendleton appeared in 162 games and lifted his offense across the board. It wasn’t enough to lead the Cardinals back to the playoffs as they finished 10 games over .500 but didn’t keep pace with the New York Mets or the division-winning Chicago Cubs. Pendleton led National League third basemen in assists (career-best, 392) once again and led in fielding percentage (.971). He won his second Gold Glove.

The following season was Pendleton’s contract year and it went as badly as possible. He struggled through a hamstring injury in April and ultimately played just 121 games. He batted a career-low .230, including a 102 at-bat stretch where he had just 10 hits. Even his usually steady defense took a step back as his leg injuries affected his range.20

When Pendleton became a free agent, the Cardinals didn’t make a push to keep him because they had a catching prospect, Todd Zeile, who they intended to move to the hot corner. Despite injuries and declining production, the Atlanta Braves extended a contract for four years and $10.2 million. Pendleton fielded an even higher offer from the New York Yankees. Pendleton told his wife Catherine, “’Well, here’s our two choices: We’ve got New York … and we’ve got Atlanta.” Catherine responded, “I’m going to tell you, you go to New York, you’re going by yourself.’ ” That sealed the deal.

On December 3, Pendleton signed the largest free agent contract in Braves history,21 becoming just the second Braves player to be paid more than $2 million per season.22 “On cold statistics, there might be some concern,” Braves’ brand new GM John Schuerholz said of the questionable signing. “He’s a good, solid ballplayer who makes us a much better team. He plays a position we felt was very important to strengthen ourselves.”23 Pendleton proved him correct; the signing kick-started a decade of Braves dominance.

Pendleton went from an understudy amongst the likes of Jack Clark, Ozzie Smith, and Tom Herr to a veteran leader on an Atlanta team which had just finished last in the East Division three straight times. “I knew I had leadership skills. I knew I had to be selfless,” Pendleton said. “The times to teach were rewarding. And the things I learned in St. Louis were what helped me in Atlanta.”24

With Pendleton anchoring the heart of the lineup, the Braves entered June turning heads. They were five games above .500 and, thanks to a huge May, Pendleton was putting together his best season yet. By September, Atlanta was deadlocked with the Dodgers for first place in the West. From there, Pendleton hit .336 with six homers and 19 RBIs, improbably leading his team to its first division title in 10 seasons. Pendleton led the league in hits (187), batting average (.319), and tied for the lead in total bases (303).

“It was something that was unbelievable,” Pendleton said of the Braves going worst to first in 1991. “To watch us start a season and 10 or 15 thousand fans at games in the first couple of months, unsure of what we might do, and then the last two months, you can’t find a seat outside the stadium, let alone inside.”25

After beating the Pirates in a pitching clinic in the NLCS, the Braves became the second team to ever reach the World Series after finishing last the season before. The first to do it? Their opponent, the Minnesota Twins. In the World Series, the home team won each time, including the Twins in Game Seven on the back of Jack Morris’ 10-inning shutout. Pendleton had eleven hits, including two home runs, in the best postseason of his career, but he suffered his third World Series loss in seven seasons.

Despite the defeat, Pendleton won the NL MVP and Comeback Player of the Year. “If you look at Pendleton’s numbers, they may not have been the best in the National League, but he got the award because the writers perceived he was the glue of that team,” baseball historian John Thorn said. “And I think that’s correct.”26

In early 1992, Terry and his wife Catherine were expecting twins when they learned that one of them wouldn’t survive. The other twin, their first son Terry Jr., was delivered almost two months premature. Admiring a Polaroid of his healthy son above his locker, Terry told reporters, “I would say it’s the toughest thing I’ve ever been through and now it’s big sigh of relief and serious happiness… It comes from deep within.”27

Personal tragedy didn’t slow Pendleton on the field, even as he also played through a severe abdominal injury. Starting 158 games, Pendleton made his only All-Star team. He led the league in hits (199) for the second consecutive season (tied with Andy Van Slyke) and finished in the top 10 in doubles (39), runs, RBIs (105), and batting average (.311) with doubles and RBIs being career-highs. In MVP voting, he finished second behind Barry Bonds. “Terry, we knew he played hurt,” teammate Tom Glavine said. “We also knew that he was going to go out there every day… to have that presence on the field offensively and defensively was huge for us, even if it was at only 80 percent.”28

The Braves held a commanding lead over the West by August. They rode that success into a second-straight seven-game NLCS victory over the Pirates, this time winning when Sid Bream barely beat a throw at home plate. In the World Series, the Braves played the Toronto Blue Jays. For the first time in Pendleton’s career, he didn’t get to a Game Seven. Instead, the Braves lost in six. Pendleton struggled to get on-base all series, batting just .240 with a .259 OBP.

Over the next two seasons, injuries took their toll and Pendleton’s numbers fell back to earth. Chipper Jones, a rookie in 1993, had to help Pendleton take off his cleats because his back was so sore. During his Hall of Fame speech, Jones singled out Pendleton for showing him how to play the game the proper way. After the 1994 season, when Jones was ready to take over third base, the Braves didn’t try to re-sign Pendleton. Instead, he signed with the Florida Marlins.

He played well during his only full season with the Marlins, but the still-fledgling team finished near the bottom of the division. Midway through his second year in South Florida, the Marlins traded Pendleton back to the Braves for outfielder Roosevelt Brown. Atlanta hoped Pendleton could spark their playoff drive. Inserted into the starting lineup, Pendleton didn’t do much. Over 42 games, he hit just .204 with 4 homers and 17 RBIs. Still, he added a veteran presence as once again the Braves marched to the World Series, this time to face an underdog Yankees team.

Two games into the Series it seemed Pendleton would finally get his ring. The heavily-favored Braves won Game One in a blowout and took Game Two nearly as easily. The Yankees then stunned the Braves by winning four straight. As in his very first World Series, Pendleton watched an insurmountable lead evaporate when his team went back home. Moved to the bench, Pendleton appeared in four games but had little effect, grabbing just two hits in nine at-bats and being gunned down in his attempt for a stolen base.

Pendleton struggled through two more seasons with nagging injuries. In 1997, the Cincinnati Reds brought him on to influence the younger players — Pendleton’s locker was frequently placed next to the youngest rookies on the roster — but he played just 50 ineffectual games before being released in July.29 In 1998, he managed to play 79 games for Kansas City, splitting time between pinch-hitter, DH, and third base, but did not fare much better (.257 and three homers). That offseason, the Royals didn’t offer Pendleton arbitration. In early December 1998, he officially retired, “It’s time for me to be home with my family. I think it’s where the good Lord wants me.”30 For his career, Pendleton batted .270 with 140 home runs, 946 RBIs, and 127 steals over 1,893 games.

In 2001, Bobby Cox, hoping to tap Pendleton’s leadership skills, pulled his former player out of retirement by naming him the Braves hitting coach, a role he served until 2010. Buzz persisted throughout the decade about Pendleton landing a managerial job. He interviewed with other teams, including the Dodgers in 2005, but ultimately moved over to become the first base coach when Fredi Gonzalez replaced Bobby Cox in 2010. When Brian Snitker took the reins in 2016, Pendleton became his bench coach. In 2017, Snitker revamped his coaching staff and Pendleton slid into another role within the organization, as a minor league hitting instructor.

Pendleton’s name was on the Baseball Hall of Fame ballot in 2004; he received just a single vote. However, his impact is felt by his induction in three other Halls of Fame, including the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, the Atlanta Braves Hall of Fame, and the Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame. Fresno State retired his number in 2007. Terry married his high school sweetheart, Catherine Marquez. The couple have two daughters, Stephanie and Destiny, and their son, Terry Jr. The couple resided in Duluth, Georgia, as of 2021.

In his first eight seasons, Pendleton appeared in four World Series, playing a critical role in each of them. His team lost them all. In 1995, the year he left Atlanta for the Florida Marlins, the Braves finally won their championship. His last chance, in 1996, fell short as well. As of 2021, he was the only player in the Expansion Era (and one of three all time) to appear in five World Series without winning a ring.31

The losses don’t take away from his unexpected success, so Pendleton pays it forward by helping youngsters find their way. In his role with the Braves, he travels between Georgia, Mississippi, Virginia, and Florida, helping individual players. “To watch these kids grow and have fun,” Pendleton said. “It’s a great feeling. You know you’re doing something positive in their lives.”32

“I think most people in life have setbacks. It’s a fact of life and you can’t use that as an excuse. Terry seems to have worked out of most of them,” Alfred Pendleton said.33 Terry was never the biggest guy on a ballfield. He used what skills he did have — mainly a sterling glove, self-taught switch-hitting, and preternatural leadership — to get to the majors. Once there, he collected individual accolades, but above all, he became the glue who compelled his teams to make like the Little Leaguer bouncing balls against brick walls and never quit.

Last revised: July 8, 2021

 

Acknowledgments

This biography was reviewed by Paul Proia and David Bilmes and fact-checked by Bob Boehme.

 

Sources

In addition to the sources cited in the Notes, the author consulted Baseball-Reference.com, Retrosheet.org, and Shrpsports.com.

 

Notes

1 David Ross, “Elite ‘Glue Guys’ 101,” Players’ Tribune, https://www.theplayerstribune.com/articles/david-ross-mlb-elite-glue-guys-101, July 19, 2020.

2 Larry Monroe, Chicago Cubs Scouting Report on Terry Pendleton, Summer, 1985.

3 “Worst to First: Terry Pendleton’s out-of-nowhere 1991 NL MVP season,” Youtube, uploaded by Bally Sports South, September 20, 2018, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZKBMQbTT-k.

4 Mark Bradley, “The Cornerstone,” The Atlanta Constitution, July 11, 1992: D1

5 Tim Brown, “Oxnard Monitors Progress of Local Hero Pendleton,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1988.

6 David O’Brien, “Braves Hall of Fame inductee Terry Pendleton reflects on legendary career, pays it forward,” The Athletic, January 18, 2019.

7 Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame, Terry Lee Pendleton, https://venturacountysportshalloffame.org/inductee/terry-lee-pendleton/.

8 “Oxnard Monitors Progress of Local Hero Pendleton.”

9 “Oxnard Monitors Progress of Local Hero Pendleton.”

10 Joe Curley, “Pendleton Remembers Oxnard College’s First Teams,” Ventura County Star, February 4, 2016.

11 Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame.

12 “Braves Hall of Fame inductee Terry Pendleton reflects on legendary career, pays it forward.”

13 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame, Terry Pendleton, http://mosportshalloffame.com/inductees/terry-pendleton/, 2020.

14 Ventura County Sports Hall of Fame.

15 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

16 “Braves Hall of Fame inductee Terry Pendleton reflects on legendary career, pays it forward.”

17 “The Cornerstone. “

18 Bob McCarthy, “Close those polls,” The Fresno Bee, July 6, 1986: 27.

19 Murray Chass, “World Series ’87; Cardinals Won’t Have Pendleton at Third for Series,” The New York Times, October 16, 1987.

20 According to his Baseball-Reference data, his dWAR value fell by a full point.

21 David O’Brien, “Signing Terry Pendleton helped change the course of Braves baseball,” The Athletic, June 15, 2020.

22 Dale Murphy was the first.

23 Daryl Potter, “Braves Throwback Thursday: Terry Pendleton & 9 other moves that shaped Atlanta’s worst-to-first turnaround,” Talking Chop, https://www.talkingchop.com/2020/7/16/21326704/braves-throwback-thursday-terry-pendleton-9-other-moves-that-shaped-atlantas-worst-to-first, July 20, 2020.

24 Missouri Sports Hall of Fame.

25 “Signing Terry Pendleton helped change the course of Braves baseball.”

26 “Worst to First: Terry Pendleton’s out-of-nowhere 1991 NL MVP season.”

27 I.J. Rosenberg, “Bittersweet Delivery for Pendleton’s Family,” The Atlanta Constitution, March 26, 1992: 33.

28 “Signing Terry Pendleton helped change the course of Braves baseball.”

29 Rick Bozich, “Pendleton still ranks as best of ex-Birds,” Louisville Courier-Journal, July 27, 1997: C1.

30 CBS Sportsline, “Terry Hangs It Up After 15 Years,” CBS News, December 12, 1998.

31 Rube Marquard and Fred Merkle are the others.

32 “Braves Hall of Fame inductee Terry Pendleton reflects on legendary career, pays it forward.”

33 Tim Brown, “Oxnard Monitors Progress of Local Hero Pendleton,” Los Angeles Times, July 14, 1988, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1988-07-14-ve-8682-story.html, accessed April 21, 2021.

Full Name

Terry Lee Pendleton

Born

July 16, 1960 at Los Angeles, CA (USA)

If you can help us improve this player’s biography, contact us.

Tags

© SABR. All Rights Reserved