The Greater St. Louis Cardinals of All Time

Hot Stove fatigue should be hitting you guys about now—it has certainly hit me—and instead of rehashing the latest non-news for today's notes I thought it was high time for something frivolous.

It starts like this: Everyone who has read me long enough for me to run out of material and start over from the beginning probably knows that my favorite player ever is Ray Lankford, the Cardinal of the Nineties and the focus of all of St. Louis's strikeout angst starting the moment Ron Gant was traded. I liked him because other people hated him, in spite of his numbers, and my desire to defend his value to the team led me directly to OPS and Baseball Prospectus and blogging. But even I won't try to make a Ray Lankford Hall of Fame case. He's a classic Hall of Very Good member, so prototypical that Beyond the Box Score has given him his own wing.

I love these players. Don't get me wrong, I love Hall of Famers, too, but I've always tried to appreciate the players who quietly add a lot to the team—whose value is most often realized after they've left, and a bunch of replacement-level types cycle through their position. So with that in mind I wondered: who would make the Ray Lankford team on the Cardinals? 

This is a completely unscientific exercise, but it still needs some rules, and they are, listed as arbitrarily as they were constructed, as follows:

  1. The players can't be in the Hall of Fame. Obviously.
  2. There can't be a well-regarded Hall of Fame case for the player. The Ken Boyer Exception.
  3. No MVP Awards. Winning an MVP makes you a superstar, and being a superstar means you'll never get booed for striking out in the fourth inning of a game in the middle of May. The Keith Hernandez Exception. 
Without further ado, the All-HoVG team. Or, as I like to call them, The Greater St. Louis Cardinals of All Time.  

1965 113 409 113 17 2 11 .276 .327 .408
1966 150 543 149 19 13 12 .274 .319 .424
1967 138 471 139 26 3 14 .295 .369 .452
12 Years 1181 3780 1029 154 43 66 .272 .329 .388
Honorable Mentions: Darrell Porter, Del Rice

Poor Ted Simmons, who just can't get considered for anything, is Boyer-exceptioned out of the running for the HoVG battery. McCarver nearly gets the Keith Hernandez exception, having finished second in MVP voting in 1967, but in dodging that bullet he becomes the prototypical Greater Cardinal. He was with the team a long time, he was a good player, and nobody is going to regale their grandchildren with Tim McCarver stories any time soon. At least, not Tim McCarver-the-player stories—his long discourses on Derek Jeter's Eyes of Leadership will always be memorable. 

By the way, 13 triples? I might have torn Yadier Molina's hamstrings just typing that into the table. The 2B/3B/HR distribution in that year, divorced from the stolen bases, looks like a Jose Reyes line. 

1933 132 493 153 26 7 10 .310 .363 .452
1934 154 600 200 40 12 35 .333 .393 .615
1935 150 578 181 36 10 23 .313 .385 .529
6 Years 777 2776 852 165 50 106 .307 .370 .517
Honorable Mentions: Jack Clark, Gregg Jefferies

Not a lot of choices here—the Cardinals have played too many HoF-caliber first basemen over the years to develop a lot of HoVG candidates. You have no idea how much I wanted to give this to Gregg Jefferies, one of my favorite failed prospects of all time, but he only had the two years. Clark only had three years, and anyway might have been a little too fearsome for this exercise.

Ripper Collins has a poor man's Hack Wilson thing going. He's got the brutal-sounding nickname, he was way undersized for a slugger—5'9", 165—and he had a short career, although his was less the product of years of alcohol abuse and more the result of a late start. (He didn't hit the majors until 27, and didn't start until 28.) 

I think it's fair to say he might have been a well-placed humorous anecdote away from lasting Cardinals fame; he seems underappreciated as a Gas House Gang alumnus mainly because he didn't do anything funny. The Deans, Pepper Martin, Ducky Joe... Ripper Collins was about as valuable as all of them in 1934, and he has a nickname first-name, which seems to have been a requirement, but there aren't any Ripper Collins stories to tell. With the goal of righting this historical wrong, I will now fabricate a Ripper Collins anecdote. 
In 1934 a reporter from up east was sent down to St. Louis to interview Dizzy Dean, who was fast approaching thirty victories. His train's delayed, and he doesn't get to his hotel until late at night—he misses the interview completely. 

So the next morning he heads down to the ballpark in the suit he came in on, looking the worse for wear, and stumbles up to Diz's locker. "Mr. Dean," he says to the man in front of it, "I wonder if I could have a few words." 

Ripper Collins, pulling a sandwich from a brown bag with DEAN written on it in black marker, turns around. He takes a big bite. "Look, Mac," he says, "If you'll vouch that you saw Dizzy Dean eat this sandwich you can have as many words from him as you want."
I hope to see it in a book of Great St. Louis Sports Stories by 2012, and from there I figure Ripper Collins should be voted into the Hall of Fame around 2030. Do your work, internet. 

1984 145 558 154 23 2 4 .276 .335 .346
1985 159 596 180 38 3 8 .302 .379 .416
1986 152 559 141 30 4 2 .252 .342 .331
10 Years 1029 3722 1021 179 31 19 .274 .349 .354
Honorable Mentions: Jose Oquendo

Well, he's at least Hall of Good. The Cardinals have had three Hall of Fame second basemen, Hornsby, Frisch, and Schoendienst, and a lot of really terrible ones. And lately they've hardly had a second baseman at all. Oquendo would have been a fine choice, but Herr actually played one position, which is helpful in exercises like this, and he had the 100 RBI season, which is really cool. Most importantly, in true Cardinals Gritty Second Base fashion, he's got a serious case of the James Stewart Effect: his grit and sticktoitiveness cause people to instinctively use the diminutive form of his name, even though he is rarely credited as such.

For a team that currently employs a player so gritty he almost demands that "Aary" be considered a valid nickname, this sort of thing is vitally important.

1945 133 511 165 27 3 21 .323 .383 .511
1946 142 519 156 32 5 14 .301 .391 .462
1947 146 513 159 27 6 27 .310 .420 .544
9 Years 916 3229 925 162 32 106 .286 .366 .445
Honorable Mentions: Todd ZeileArlie "The Freshest Man on Earth" Latham

Whitey is a member of the National Polish-American Hall of Fame, and normally we're very strict on Rule 1, but pending further review by the Rules Committee I'm going to let this slide.

Between 1943 and 1958 Kurowski is the only player not named Stan Musial to lead the Cardinals in OPS. At 29, with the War players coming back and competition returning to its pre-war level, he was still setting career highs when arm problems basically ended his career. After 1947, in which he finished third in the league in OPS, he played just 87 more games. But if you're going to have a career shortened by injuries you could do worse than to spend your full seasons with the Cardinals of the 1940s. 

2002 152 544 166 36 2 11 .305 .364 .439
2003 157 587 194 47 1 13 .330 .394 .480
2004 149 586 168 37 0 10 .287 .327 .401
6 Years 903 3357 973 207 9 71 .290 .347 .420
Honorable Mentions: Uh, David Eckstein?

I'd have loved to give this one to Marty "Slats" "The Octopus" Marion, who has the nicknames, the alliteration, and the defense to make a great Hall of Very Good teammate, but the voters just had to go and give him that MVP, and then Brian Walton just had to go and make a very strange Hall of Fame case for him.

So here we have Edgar Renteria, a guy who, with 2070 hits now, might make life very difficult for sportswriters if he drags himself to 3000. Should that contingency arise a change will be necessary, but until then he's firmly ensconced as a Greater Cardinal. 

1996 149 545 150 36 8 21 .275 .366 .486
1997 133 465 137 36 3 31 .295 .411 .585
1998 154 533 156 37 1 31 .293 .391 .540
13 Years 1580 5417 1479 339 52 228 .273 .365 .481
Honorable Mentions: Vince Coleman, Bernard Gilkey

I've said this before, but if Colby Rasmus turns out to be 80% of the player Ray Lankford was—and they have similar skillsets—he will be a great, great asset. If Lankford's peak had started in 1996, instead of 1992, he'd be remembered as fondly as anybody, but he had the misfortune of coming through the pike to star on a terrible team for a few years, and then played second banana to Mark McGwire through his very best seasons.

By the time the Cardinals were regularly contending again he was probably the least popular player to ever carry a 114 OPS+ into the day he was traded. Now, with the sulking and recriminations from all directions mostly forgotten, is a good time to take another look at his career and remember how good he was for ten solid years.

He'd be in center, of course, but he's graciously agreed to move over for this guy... 

1941 122 493 145 26 4 6 .294 .364 .400
1942 130 489 141 26 3 6 .288 .364 .391
1943-45 0 0 0 0 0 0 .000 .000 .000
11 Years 1298 4700 1318 263 28 80 .280 .340 .399
Honorable Mentions: Curt Flood

Flood would have been just as good a pick, but Terry Moore doesn't get as many chances to appear in frivolous blog entries, which is an important Greater St. Louis Cardinals of All Time tiebreaker. A center fielder par excellence, Moore was named an all-star four consecutive years from 1939 to 1942 and then spent the next three fighting in World War II. Losing your gradual decline phase is hell on your career stats, but with his well-rounded hitting and smooth defensive skills he is classic underrated outfielder material. 

1920 137 504 142 19 11 10 .282 .316 .423
1921 152 574 201 37 8 17 .350 .393 .531
1922 64 238 72 18 3 5 .303 .344 .466
5 Years 543 1959 592 105 39 34 .302 .343 .448
Honorable Mentions: J.D. Drew, George Hendrick

All other things being equal J.D. Drew might be the pick here, but I'm only allowed to wax rhapsodic about one displaced, lefty center fielder with power and speed who's underrated by the press per calendar month. And anyway, Mac's story, which I had never heard until I began researching this piece, is far more interesting. 

McHenry, a farmhand who came highly touted by Branch Rickey himself, played his way into a full-time job by 1920 and in 1921 was among the very best hitters in the National League, one of the top home run hitters at the dawn of the live ball era. 

But in 1922 his fielding deteriorated rapidly, and soon he began to complain about his vision. Rickey sent him first home and eventually to the doctors, who discovered a brain tumor. He played his last game in July; they operated in October; he died in November. Google coughed up this excellent article about McHenry from, bizarrely enough, two weeks ago, which is a required read. 

So there it is: the imaginary ballots have been cast, the arbitrary rules have been followed to the letter, and the team is ready to take on any imaginary comers. Here they are, your Greater Cardinals of All Time:
  1. Terry Moore, CF
  2. Ray Lankford, LF
  3. Ripper Collins, 1B
  4. Austin McHenry, Tragic RF
  5. Whitey Kurowski, Less Tragic But Still A Little Tragic 3B
  6. Edgar Renteria, Not at all Tragic SS
  7. Tim McCarver, C
  8. Tom Herr, 2B
  9. Pitcher
I'd take it. Of course, this leads us to another frivolous question: who'd be in the Greater Cardinal Rotation of All Time? And so on and so on. The good thing about baseball history, as opposed to worrying which free agent will end up where, is that when you run out of the things you've intended to say there' s still so much more to talk about. 
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