Alan Benes, the Cardinals’ top draft pick in 1993 out of Creighton was a little bit Jack Flaherty and a little Miles Mikolas, too.
Benes had shoulder problems, as Flaherty has now, but those for big right-hander Benes forced an early end to his career while Flaherty’s future doesn’t seem quite that drastic yet.
Like Mikolas this year, Benes had a no-hitter until there were two outs in the ninth inning in a game at Atlanta on May 16, 1997. Like Mikolas, he didn’t get it as Atlanta’s Michael Tucker doubled. Unlike Mikolas, Benes didn’t even win the game because the Cardinals lost 1-0 in 13 innings when neither Atlanta Hall of Famer Greg Maddux nor Benes still was around. It was also Maddux, who outdueled Benes 3-1 in Game 6 of the National League Championship Series the year before when the Cardinals were one win from going to a World Series they did not reach.
“I did run up against a buzz saw in Greg Maddux,” said Benes. “If there was anybody to pitch those two games against, he might have been the last guy that you would have wanted to have faced in all of baseball,” said Benes.
“The playoff game in ’96, I was young (24) and really didn’t understand the magnitude of it,” Benes said. “I did what I could. I would have loved to win that game. That would have been a big career moment.”
“I was thinking about my near no-hitter when Mikolas went 8 2/3. He gave up his hit with two strikes. I gave up my hit with one strike. He got one strike closer … but same result.”
Now the operator of a concrete leveling company, Benes lives in Town and Country with Mary Beth, his wife of 22 years who is heavily involved with real estate and they’re the parents of three college-age boys. Benes has had his company for nine years but, before that, he had been in the Cardinals’ front office for seven years scouting and delving into analytics regarding mechanics but also traveling a lot.
Reluctantly, he gave up that job because he wanted to spend more time with his sons, Sean, Zack and Ryan, as they played spring and summer baseball among other sports.
“It was time for me to take some time away (from his baseball job) and spend some time coaching their teams,” Benes said.
“Not that I was the greatest coach.
“But from 12 to 20 is a really important time for any child and I’m grateful I made the decision I made and that I could be around them.
“I do miss (being employed in) baseball. It’s hard to get away from it. When it’s something you’ve always done. Between the ages of 18 to 41-42 years old, that’s all I did.”
Benes said he had enjoyed working with Gary LaRocque, the head of player development for the Cardinals, and front office executives John Mozeliak and Michael Girsch, who have been the recent constants in the Cardinals’ string of contending seasons.
“I’m proud that I was a part of some of that,” Benes said.
The younger brother of Andy Benes, who was a Cardinals pitching teammate in 1996-97, Alan Benes had been hopeful of a career as long and as successful as his older brother. Alan Benes won 13 games as a rookie in 1996 as the Cardinals won a division title. He was 9-9 with a 2.89 earned run average the next year but then was waylaid with the shoulder problem that caused him to undergo surgery in August 1997.
He never was the same afterward.
He wonders what would have been the outcome of his career if the information on treating shoulders 25 years later had been available in the ’90s. “Quite often, I do (wonder),” he said. “The procedure I had was called ‘the shrink.’ They tried to shrink the capsule (in the shoulder). In medicine, it’s all about trial and error sometimes. Some things work and others don’t. That procedure (done by Dr. James Andrews) was done for only about a five-year period. I was in Year Two.
“The success rate just wasn’t very good with it. A number of guys like myself had it done and just never recovered back to the same level.”
Benes said the best way to explain the surgery was that a pitcher needed a “loose joint” in the shoulder. “You have to be able to have flexibility,” he said “But when you have a lot of flexibility you create problems for your joint — that laxity in the joint. At the time, the theory was that if we tighten that capsule and tighten the joint a little, that should help stabilize everything and get the joint back to where it can function more properly.
“It just never did pan out to be a good solution,” said Benes.
“Now they concentrate more on strengthening the areas around the joint rather than strengthening the actual joint.”
Benes noted that when he played, weightlifting for the upper body — especially for pitchers — was frowned upon.
“Yeah, it’s frustrating when I look back and think if I could have gotten healthy, I probably could have done some special things,” he said.
“But sometimes the body can be a challenging thing. I know I’m not the only guy that ever got derailed by shoulder issues.”
Benes says he has been monitoring Flaherty’s progress, or recently, lack of same. Flaherty, now 26, has won 32 big-league games. Benes had won 27 when he got hurt.
“Maybe he got a year or two deeper into this career than I did but … very similar,” the 50-year-old Benes said.
“I’ve thought a lot about him. I know it’s a lot of work and it can be extremely frustrating. You just have to trust you’re doing everything you can.
“You have this talent and then it’s taken away from you and it’s not necessarily something that you do. To have that taken away — and through no fault of anyone — it’s just frustrating and can be really demoralizing.
“Sometimes, you say, ‘Why is this happening to me?’”
Andy Benes and Alan Benes several times pitched in the same game.
“I know there have been a lot of siblings that have played. But there’s a lot of things that he and I did that I’m not sure have ever been done,” said Alan Benes.
For instance, 2011 World Series champion Lance Berkman once reminded Alan Benes that he not only had homered off Alan but he also had homered off Andy Benes in the same game on July 23, 2000, when Andy Benes was in his second tour with the Cardinals and Alan Benes was trying to make it back as a reliever. Andy was tagged in the second inning and Alan in the seventh of a 15-7 drubbing by the Houston Astros.
On another occasion, in San Diego, Alan Benes directly relieved Andy Benes. “He was on the mound and I took the ball from him,” recalled Alan Benes. “I’m not sure that’s happened before.
They, of course, were in the same rotation in 1996-97. And then there was the game Alan Benes started for the Chicago Cubs against Andy here on Sept. 6, 2002.
The game was scoreless until the home third when the Cardinals scored 11 runs. Eight of them were charged to Alan Benes, who faced 10 hitters in the inning. One of them led off the inning with a single and, in his second appearance in the inning, chased Alan Benes with a two-run single.
That hitter was Andy Benes, who forever will have the bragging rights in the family, which includes Andy’s son, Drew a former Cardinals farmhand who is pitching coach in the minors for the Class AA Altoona Curve, a Pittsburgh Pirates’ farm team.
Alan Benes’ career was over at age 31 in 2003 when he pitched briefly with Texas.
“I still can remember things like it was yesterday,” said Benes. “Time goes by, but those great memories seem to never fade.”
The best memories were with the Cardinals.
“The big difference is that I went through two spring trainings with the Cubs … we never really talked about winning a world championship,” said Alan Benes.
“When you go into spring training with the St. Louis Cardinals, from the meeting on the first day of camp, it’s always discussed that we’re all here for one reason and that’s to go out and win a championship. It’s talked about on a weekly basis, a daily basis. And that’s what’s so special about the St. Louis Cardinals. Every year the goal was the same.
“And if you’re not on board, you’re in the wrong place.”
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