I was born in 1982 and became baseball aware sometime around the 1986, 1987 season. As such, it was never a major concern of mine that Steve Carlton won a whole lot of games for teams not in St. Louis, however as someone who laments watching our players star for other teams, I've often wondered at the pain some of those 1970s fans felt.
This year, we get to live that distinctive pleasure twice. We get to watch both Albert Pujols and possibly Colby Rasmus lead their teams and get cheered on by other adoring fans. I know many people have the ability to move on and get over things, but this isn't for you. This is for all of us that use Facebook to look up our pre-school girlfriend and wonder what could have been had we only shared the Legos. These are the former Cardinals who have caused me some amount of pain watching them for some other franchise during my lifetime, 1982-present (I am still alive).
1. Keith Hernandez Pain level: low
I hated Keith Hernandez far before I ever knew he was a Cardinal. I knew he was a Met, which in the late 80s was reason enough to hate someone. He seemed cocky before I ever knew what cocky was.
But when I found out that he was a Cardinal, an MVP Cardinal nonetheless, and that we voluntarily traded him to the Mets for 2 players I had never heard of, well, I was one pissed of Kindergartner. His statistics—high average, low power—were in the perfect mode of Cardinaldom. Not to mention his defensive reputation. The pain was lessened by the fact that Jack Clark was a Man-God, but Jack could have played the outfield. Keith could have been our 1st baseman right up until we gave it to Pedro Guerrero. Lord knows that would have saved me from rooting for Bob Horner.
Now Keith, who played better with the Cardinals, as well as more years, will always be remembered as a Met. What’s worse, it seems he couldn’t be happier about it.
2. Andy Van Slyke (and Mike Lavalliere) Pain level: high
I knew that Andy Van Slyke was a star for the Pittsburgh Pirates. However, when I saw this baseball card:
and realized he used to be a Cardinal, boy was I upset. I watched Van Slyke put up gold glove year after gold glove year for a Pirates team that went to the playoffs twice, and with offensive numbers that would have starred for our late 80s early 90s teams.
Here is a quick run through of his OPS+ from 1987-1993: 127,144,97,132,126,151,116
Go ahead and try to tell me that wouldn’t have been nice to see for the Cardinals.
And try convincing this 5 year old that he wouldn’t have made the difference in 1987. ( Also felt the same about 1991, because I was a moron.)
Couple this with the fact that he never really got a full season in with the Cardinals (I never knew why this was, but always assumed because management was stupid) and that it seemed to me that Mike Lavalliere outplayed Tony Pena all by himself, and that trade will go down in the Mark Mulder Hall of Shame for what could have been.
3. Jack Clark Pain level: medium
Chicks love the long ball, and so do little kids. For a kid growing up as a Cardinals fan, where a longball could be defined as a two-hopper to the wall, Jack Clark was God. The eye-black, the home runs, the fear and excitement he generated, and that massive 1987 season. Wow.
Then, in the days before the Internet, he was gone. I didn’t know until the season had started. I had no idea why the Cardinals lost their superstar, I just knew that my next Jack Clark baseball card had him in a Yankees uniform. I also knew that Bob Horner and Tom Brunanski were not Jack Clark, and that the Cardinals were not in 1st place.
I always loved Jack and followed him through the Sunday paper as he went on to San Diego and then Boston, but the pain has a special added value now knowing that we ended up losing him to the Yankees for money, and as Sabermetrics and On Base Percentage have shown us how undervalued he was as a player. I would have enjoyed a few more years of Jack the Ripper’s ugly mug.
4. Willie McGee Pain level: low
Willie was, of course, a beloved Cardinal. In some ways I think it’s because he gave everyone hope in much the same way that John Lennon loved Buddy Holly because he wore glasses, Willie McGee showed that you could be a great ballplayer while being outrageously ugly and swinging at every slider in the dirt that comes your way. I used to wonder why pitchers just didn’t throw the ball in the dirt every time. Willie would have been doomed.
I don’t remember his great 1985 season, but I do remember on the 1990 Cardinals Willie was pretty much the only thing worth following. Then they took him away. Watching him go to the mighty A’s was no fun at all, but what’s worse is that I saw a hero preform admirably for the next few years in a Giants uniform. Whitey had taught me to hate the Giants. The pain was lessened by the fact that McGee never did have another truly amazing season, and the Cardinals brought him back for the end of his career, which included his 2000th hit. A fitting tribute to the fans after Ozzie’s unhappy departure. Even with the goodbye, I always wished he had been a Cardinal throughout, and I can’t get that Green uniform out of my head.
5. Terry Pendleton Pain level: High
From as far back as I remember, I was taught to love Terry Pendleton. I was definitely under the impression that he was a star. However as the years went on, this doubt crept into my mind that maybe Terry wasn’t all that awesome. Pretty much any Cardinal that could hit 10 home runs in a season seemed otherworldly to me, but Terry, well…he sucked. Do we all agree on this? Terry Pendleton sucked. I didn’t even mention above that Andy Van Slyke could play a bit of 3rd base, man how much better THAT would have been. All I know is that Terry was a pitiful hitter, and he could have been a GREAT fielder, however with the wizard next to you, did we really need a great fielder at 3rd? When Terry signed with the Atlanta Braves, I was happy. I also pities the Braves, which happened to be my new home town. The Braves sucked, and they got a new sucky player.
Then he won the MVP, finished 2nd the next year, and the Braves were in the playoffs for the next 75 years in a row.
I don’t know what happened to TP to make him a star, but if I were ever to accuse a player of roiding up with absolutely no evidence whatsoever except for their statistics, I’d say there had to have been some HGH in that belly fat. I hate the Atlanta Braves. I hate Terry Pendleton. I hate all of the fair weather fans I met that didn’t have one clue where he played before. I hate that I spent years watching him be average at best only to have him absolutely blow up.
6. Ken Hill Pain level: Medium
Ken Hill was the 1st pitching prospect I remember being told to be excited about. I don’t remember anything about his scouting report, just that he was going to be young, and good. He wasn’t. His 1st full season with the Cardinals he led the league in walks, and losses (back when we thought that meant something). His next year he split between being dazzling at AAA (6-1 1.79 11K/9) and horrid in the majors (5-6 5.49 6.6K/9). His final year with the team he posted league average numbers, though he was probably better than the results.
After that, he was traded to the Expos where he was 41-21 with a 3.04 ERA (trying to stick with the stats that caused me pain back then). He capped it off by leading the league in wins, becoming an All Star, and finishing 2nd in the Cy Young voting.
But wait….there’s more. That off season we Cardinals fans had something to get excited about. We had resigned Ken Hill!!! Who then reverted back to his Cardinals form. A 6-7 record with an ERA over 5 (and a WHIP over 1.5) Ken was once again a disaster in St. Louis. Cleveland decided to try him out and acquired him at the trading deadline.
Where he became good Ken Hill again! His ERA+ for the Cardinals? 83. For the Indians? 118. It must be tougher to pitch in a giant stadium and without the DH. Ken helped the Indians reach the playoffs, where he pitched quite well of course, and got an appearance in the World Series. The next year he signed with Texas and finished 6th in the Cy Young voting. Had he ever reappeared in a Cardinals uniform I would have torched a small village.
The worst part of the Ken Hill fiasco is all of the parts involved in trading for him. We first acquired him by giving up Mike Heath to the Tigers, who provided league average offense at the Catchers position during years in which Tony Pena was a butcher with the bat. The last time we traded for him we gave up David Bell who also became a solid player after being abysmal with the Cardinals. But the worst one by far is that we let Ken Hill have his peak in Montreal when we decided to trade him for…
7. Andres Galaragga Pain level: Medium
Andres Galaragga was a horrible Cardinal. In his one year he posted a line of .243/.282/.391, which is solid for a backup catcher. The years since Jack Clark had witnessed the Bob Horner Debacle, the brief renaissance of Pedro Guerrero which turned into sad and aging Pedro Guerrero, which peaked with Andres Galaragga. At this point as a Cardinals fan it was pretty easy to assume that we could turn any solid first baseman into a beer league bench player.
I think everyone knows what happened after Andres went to Colorado. He thin-aired himself to a .370 average (the man never walked, but I had no idea that was a bad thing back then), won the comeback player of the year, received MVP votes in the next 6 seasons, became a 5 time All-Star, hit over 40 home runs 3 times, and came back from cancer to become a heroic story.
The pain level would be higher, except Gregg Jeffries came along to steal my heart, and other 1B were on the way to overshadow him. Not to mention he is just darn likable. But as a Cardinal, that was a time to forget.
8. Lee Smith Pain level: Low
Yeah, yeah, closers are overrated. I know that now, thank you. But when Lee Smith was pitching for the Cardinals he gave the Cardinals an attitude. When he was called in the 9th, you had complete faith in him coming into the game. It was fantastic watching his 3 hour walk to the mound as though he hadn’t a care in the world. He was awesome. Not to mention he racked up the saves. 3 seasons of over 40 for the Cardinals. 3 All Star appearances. 2 of the least deserving top 5 Cy Young finishes ever. I loved watching Lee Smith.
Then, when pitching for a pretty good Cardinals team in 1993 he was traded. To the Yankees. For Rich Batchelor. Woo. Lee was perfect for the Yankees down the stretch, and proceeded to have 2 more All Star appearances in his career, and another top 5 Cy finish.
And who did the Cardinals have to replace Lee? Mike Perez. In 1994, trusted as the closer of the Cardinals, his ERA was 8.71. Holy Ryan Franklin. Watching pitchers like him, and Rich Sutcliffe sure made the news of the strike a lot easier to handle.
9.Todd Zeile Pain Level: Medium
When the hey days of the 80s were winding down, Todd Zeile was the reason to be optimistic as a Cardinals fan. I have no idea what the hype was around baseball, but for us he was THE prospect. A catcher with power. We never had power, let alone a catcher who possessed it. Watching Todd was like knowing at any moment you could watch greatness emerge.
It never quite turned out that way, but he was a good player who seemed like a nice enough guy. I wouldn’t have called him a star Cardinal, but he did offer somewhat of a middle of the order presence, and in 1993 he drove in over 100 runs, which is all I needed.
For an awful 1995 team he was one of the few things worth watching, and he was having his best season yet. Then the Cardinals traded him. To the Cubs.
I was 13, and I couldn’t think of anything worse. WGN was on all of the time, and I was forced to watch Mr. Zeile, who was supposed to be my hope, in Cubby blue. I was talking to a Cubs fan the other day who told me they hated watching Cory Patterson win a ring with the Cardinals. I knew what he was talking about (on multiple levels, I wasn’t thrilled Cory was there either).
What helped in the Zeile situation was that Mike Morgan, whom we got in return, was pretty good for us. Zeile was an awful Cub. Perhaps a double agent?
What hurt was that immediately afterward Zeile found the power I had only heard rumor of, and became a very good hitter for the next decade. He topped 20 home runs 4 times, never doing so with the Cards, and retired as a fan favorite…for the Mets. Argh.
10.Dan Haren and friends Pain level: Steve Carlton
There is nothing I need to say about this right? We all remember it like it was yesterday. Mark Mulder. Well, he had one pretty good year. Kiko Calero. He was great, hardly a throw in, continued to pitch solidly. Daric Barton. The prospect of his time. Became a bust, but also a walk machine, and might still continue to add value against us. And of course, Dan Haren. Dan Haren is now going on his 8th year in which I wish he was still a Cardinal. Dan Haren was every bit as good as Mulder was in that 1st year, and has been awesome ever since. Dan Haren could be pitching next to Carp…and Adam…and Jaime…oh what could have been. Damn you Billy Bean. Excuse me, I need to be by myself for a few minutes….something in my eye.
The most painful part of this trade was that I supported it.
11.Jim Edmonds Pain Level: Medium
I am willing to bet you can’t find 5 Cardinals fans from the last 12 years that aren’t absolutely in love with Jim Edmonds. The glove, the bat, there isn’t really anything needed to be said to anyone here to explain his greatness. 2007 was a bad year for him. He was aging, and Mo needed to do something. He traded Jim to the Padres. It was painful to watch him go, but felt O.K. when it became apparent that his career was over. He proved in San Diego that he had nothing left in the tank. They even, sadly, released him.
Then he signed with the Cubs. And was awesome again. And got in fights with Tony Larussa. And made the playoffs. There was a brief time when I realized that I might actually watch Jim Edmonds celebrate a World’s Championship in a Cubs uniform. The chill that runs through my veins even today just thinking about it. Jim was a great Cub, and what’s worse, I couldn’t help but root for him still. I saw a replay of a diving catch he made with the Cubs recently, and man did it feel wrong. Jim was a Cardinal. Disgusting.
Then he retired, and this entire matter could be put to rest.
For one year. Then he came back, intent on being a Cardinal, but we had no room for him. Thus he continued his quest to play for every team we didn’t want him to play for. He was very good as a Brewer, and even late in the season as a now hated Cincinnati Red. I figured this was all my fault. I wanted Jim to keep playing, and never knew the possible negative consequences of my wishes.
Finally, he came back home. He signed with the Cardinals and went to try to make the team in Spring Training. I bought my tickets. This could be my last chance to see him in a Cardinals uniform ever again, and I wasn’t going to miss it.
It didn’t happen. He was hurt, and he retired.
It’s not all bad. It was always great to see Jim play, and he is back with the organization now. Oh, David Freese.
There are certainly others that almost made this list for me. Gary Gaetti becoming Mr. Cub and helping them to the playoffs after we released him…Bernard Gilkey putting it all together for the Mets…the year after we got rid of him. Paying Tino Martinez to find a 2nd life in Tampa after 2 lackluster seasons in St. Louis, JD Drew stepping into Atlanta and becoming Mickey Mantle. Chris Perez and Brett Wallace could certainly wind up on this list. For that matter, Ryan Ludwick as a Red has a chance. Ryan Theriot might boost the Giants (I kid; I kid).
The good news is, looking over the Cardinals history, a companion list for the pain we have caused to other franchises would wipe this one out. The Cardinals in their Dave Duncanesque ways have collected multitudes of star players from other franchises who have become fan favorites, and even world Champions in our jersey. It is no wonder plenty of fans hate the Cardinals.
However, this year we are going to have to get used to Albert and Colby, who were supposed to lead the Cardinals over the next half decade at least, trying their hardest to deny us #12. The better the season the Cards produce, the easier it will be to handle. A few injuries here and there, and it could be a long year of wondering what could have been.