Originally trained to play second base, the switch-hitting Pendleton moved to third in the Cardinals organization, and became a highly touted prospect for his slick fielding. Though he won his share of Gold Gloves, he matured into a talented hitter as well, becoming the catalyst in the Braves’ offense in the early 1990s that began their dominance throughout the decade. He played through hamstring pulls and injuries, but twists and bruises to other parts of his body would slow him down significantly. He never earned a World Series ring despite making it to the Fall Classic five times.
The St. Louis Cardinals were so impressed by the young Pendleton before the 1984 season that they traded Ken Oberkfell, the incumbent third baseman, and temporarily tried outfielder Andy Van Slyke at the hot corner while their prospect got some Double-A experience. But when Van Slyke made seven errors in 30 games at the hot corner, the Redbirds promoted Pendleton to the bigs. He secured the job by batting .324 over 67 games for the Cards, taking advantage of Busch’s spacious outfield with his sharp line drives.
St. Louis began to sour on Pendleton after the 1986 campaign, when he batted a sluggish .239 and hit just one home run in 578 at-bats. But manager Whitey Herzog pointed out to the Cardinal brass that it was Pendleton’s great range, lightning reflexes, and a rifle arm at third that the team needed — indeed, he was the National League leader in chances, putouts, and assists in ’86. His defense, combined with a blossoming basepath savvy (24 stolen bases that year), kept him in the lineup the following season.
Pendleton rewarded his manager’s loyalty by placing second on the team in homers, third on the team in RBIs, tying for third in stolen bases, and winning his first of three Gold Gloves. But though he helped the Cards move into the World Series for the second time in three years, Pendleton was hampered by a rib injury in the playoffs. He only got seven at-bats in the championship, though he totaled three hits and a pair of runs in the losing effort to the Minnesota Twins.
Over the next three years, Pendleton’s production tailed off. Along with extended stints on the disabled list in both 1988 and 1990, the team began to platoon him with Todd Zeile and Denny Walling when his play declined. Over the three-year span, the third baseman hit just .251 with 25 homers, and recorded an on-base percentage below .300 in two of the seasons.
Pendleton signed a free-agent deal with the Atlanta Braves in December 1990, and exploded, leading the cellar-dwelling team from a sixth-place finish the year before to the NL pennant in ’91. Igniting the Braves’ offense, Pendleton hit a league-leading .319, and notched 34 doubles, eight triples, and 22 homers. In the seven-game losing effort against the Minnesota Twins in the World Series, he contributed two homers and a .367 average. And though he didn’t even make the All-Star team, the third baseman took home the Most Valuable Player Award at the end of the year.
Pendleton’s Braves would eventually dominate the 1990s, but the stout third baseman enjoyed the ride for just a couple of years. Pendleton possibly bettered his MVP year with his ’92 campaign, leading the Braves in most offensive categories. He matched his 303 total bases from ’91, and set career highs of 105 RBIs and 22 homers while winning his third Gold Glove.
Over the next two years Pendleton remained a clubhouse leader, but his production dropped significantly. Spasms in his neck and back forced him to the DL in ’94, and at the end of the season, with a .252 average and seven homers in 77 games, he opted for free agency.
Pendleton signed on with the Florida Marlins in April 1995, raising his average to .290, but missed time during the year for his first career suspension, sentenced after he bumped an umpire in May. Suffering through a .251 average and just seven homers the following year, the Marlins sent the slumping Pendleton back to the Braves in August 1996 in exchange for prospect Roosevelt Brown.
Happy to be playing for the city where his family had lived since he first signed in Atlanta, Pendleton became the Braves’ starting third baseman for the team, when Chipper Jones moved to shortstop to compensate for an injury to Jeff Blauser. But for the fifth time, Pendleton would be denied a World Series ring as the New York Yankees bested the Braves in the championship.
Pendleton moved to the Cincinnati Reds in January 1997, but was released in July after three stints on the disabled list, and spent the rest of the year recuperating. He signed with the Kansas City Royals in January 1998 when the club sought to provide some leadership for their younger players. As a part-time designated hitter and backup third baseman to Dean Palmer, Pendleton batted .257 over 79 games. However, when a strained ribcage sidelined him in June, it was clear that his optimal health and playing days were over.
Amidst little fanfare, Pendleton retired in December 1998. “It’s time for me to be home with my family,” the pudgy third baseman said. “I think it’s where the good Lord wants me.”