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Cardinals Sign Free Agents Andy Benes, Ron Gant

December 24, 1995

ST. LOUIS (AP) _ One day after Anheuser-Busch announced it was selling the franchise for $150 million, the St. Louis Cardinals filled glaring needs for a front line starting pitcher and a power hitter Saturday, signing free agents Andy Benes and Ron Gant.

Benes, 28, signed a two-year, $8.1 million deal with a club option for 1998 that, if exercised, would make the pact worth $11.5 million for three years. Terms of Gant’s five-year contract weren’t immediately available.

``You have to stop the other club to win and you have to score to win and with Andy and Ron we have both of these elements,″ Cardinals manager Tony La Russa said. ``Andy is a reliable pitcher in the prime of his career and Ron is an outstanding player and run producer who brings with him a leadership quality of championship caliber.″

The 6-foot-6, 240-pound Benes was a combined 11-9 with a 4.76 ERA and 171 strikeouts with San Diego and Seattle last season. He was traded to the Mariners at the end of July and helped them to the American League championship series, going 7-2 in 12 starts.

Benes will join his brother, Alan Benes, 23, who is considered the Cardinals’ best young pitcher. Their other brother, Adam Benes, 22, pitches for the team’s New Jersey Class-A affiliate.

Benes, a native of Evansville, Ind., said he grew up wanting to play for St. Louis.

``I can’t tell you how happy I am to finally be a Cardinal,″ he said. ``I’m really excited to have the opportunity to work with (pitching coach) Dave Duncan and to be part of a team under Tony La Russa.″

Gant, 30, was the National League’s Comeback Player of the Year last season, batting .276 with 29 home runs, 88 RBIs and 23 stolen bases in the strike-shortened season.

The Cardinals ranked among the worst run-producing teams in baseball in 1995, and no starting pitcher won in double figures. The team finished a distant fourth in the NL Central.

``I see the possibility of this team making a total 360 right away,″ Gant said. ``That did play probably the biggest role in my decision. I see good things in the future for the St. Louis Cardinals.″

Benes led the National League in strikeouts in 1994 with 189 and has 1,081 strikeouts in six-plus seasons in the major leagues. He has a career record of 76-77 with a 3.61 ERA in 199 games.

Gant is one of only three players in baseball history to record consecutive seasons with 30 homers and 30 stolen bases. He did it in 1990 and 1991 for the Braves.

The two-time NL All Star has had 80 or more RBIs in each of the past five seasons in which he has played. He missed the 1994 season after injuring his leg in a motorcycle accident. Gant has topped 100 RBIs twice in his career.

The Benes-Gant deals followed the signing earlier this week of free agent third baseman Gary Gaetti to a one-year contract. The Cardinals also acquired shortstop Royce Clayton from San Francisco for three young pitchers, and pitcher Rick Honeycutt from the New York Yankees for cash.

The team’s new ownership group, headed by St. Louis attorney Fred Hanser, has supported the team’s efforts to sign free agents.

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