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MOVERS & SHAKERS // Cards count on new G forces

Over his past five seasons, Ron Gant has averaged 29 home runs and 94 RBI and batted .273. He thinks he can do even better over the next five.

Gant signed a five-year, $25-million contract that made him the foundation of the St. Louis Cardinals' massive reconstruction.

And having endured some tremendous adversity _ a 1989 demotion from Atlanta to Class A to learn to play the outfield and a severely broken leg that forced him to miss the entire 1994 season _ Gant says he is looking forward to this new challenge.

"I've been through a lot of stuff in my career," Gant said. "This is the first opportunity where I can just relax and not worry about anything and be able to play and have fun. For that reason I think I will produce in these five years and possibly beyond that. I'm becoming a better hitter, better person and better player all around.

"I feel like my full potential hasn't been unleashed yet."

The Cardinals certainly hope that is true. After finishing last in the major leagues in 1995 in batting average and runs scored and second to last in home runs, the Cardinals are counting on Gant, and fellow free agent Gary Gaetti, to provide some power.

"We had the worst offense in the National League last season, and one of our goals was to improve it," general manager Walt Jocketty said.

Gant, 30, completes an outfield that includes Ray Lankford and Brian Jordan and is now considered among the National League's best. Gaetti, 37, takes over at third base, a position where the Cardinals used seven players last season. He also may be used occasionally at first base.

Gant and Gaetti combined for 64 home runs, 184 RBI and a .267 average last season. Toss in their winning backgrounds and the potential for leadership and the Cardinals are excited about their new additions.

"Ron Gant is a winner. He's a clutch producer. You can label him anything you want to," St. Louis manager Tony La Russa said.

"Gaetti brings outstanding experience. Going back to his days with Minnesota, you're talking about a guy who really understood teamwork and played to win. And he is a legitimate extra-base hitter."

Gaetti, 37, experienced somewhat of a rebirth last season in Kansas City. After going six straight seasons without hitting more than 19 homers, he exploded for 35.

"I had done it before, but I guess I was somewhat surprised," Gaetti said. "You get into a situation where you feel like you can consistently do those things. It didn't happen in California, but I came to Kansas City and the situation changed. I felt like I could do it, and I still think I can do it."

The Cards are expecting a lot from Gant, too.

"A guy like Gant not only produces a long-ball threat and run production but he also brings up everybody else in the lineup," Jocketty said. "He has the ability to do that. He's a guy we think will be the foundation, a guy we can build around for a number of years."

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