The St. Louis Cardinals' all-time home run record didn't fall quite like we expected it to. Which records will be on the way out?
When I started writing The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book in the middle of the 2011 season the St. Louis Cardinals' all-time home run record was within a year of being broken. By the time it came out the next March, their active leader had 63, which was good for 37th on the team's all-time list. Matt Holliday added 27 more in 2012, which pushed him past Ryan Ludwick and just behind J.D. Drew for 22nd, and a reasonable finish to his contract will push him into the Top 10. But the gap between San Musial, Albert Pujols, and everybody else isn't temporary--it's built into the very idea of a team record.
This post is (probably the final) part of a Christmas-inspired series of posts inspired by The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book, which is a Very Reasonably Priced Christmas Gift for any fan of the Cardinals, history, or trade paperbacks in your life. Thanks!
Here's what the gap between those two lists--active and all-time--looks like right now.
|1.||Stan Musial||475||(22)||Matt Holliday||90|
|2.||Albert Pujols||445||(29)||Yadier Molina||77|
|3.||Ken Boyer||255||(69)||Allen Craig||37|
|4.||Jim Edmonds||241||(76)||David Freese||35|
|5.||Ray Lankford||228||(85)||Carlos Beltran||32|
|6.||Mark McGwire||220||(131)||Jon Jay||18|
|7.||Rogers Hornsby||193||(182)||Rafael Furcal||12|
|8.||Jim Bottomley||181||(T-287)||Matt Carpenter
God bless Play Index--without it we would never know that Shane Robinson (not pictured) is currently tied with Randy Winn on the Cardinals' all-time home run leaderboard.
This chart illustrates, nicely, the two things that make breaking team records difficult. For one thing:
Very few players are competing for any record at any given moment
It surprised me, looking at this, to realize that only 18 people hit home runs for the Cardinals last season. Three of those people--Matt Adams, Pete Kozma, and (No. 111 in Cardinals history, one behind Hall of Famer Jesse "Crab" Burkett) Skip Schumaker--hit two, and four of them--Skip Schumaker, Tony Cruz, Adam Wainwright, and Jaime Garcia--hit one.
Five of them hit 20--put themselves within eight seasons of the Cardinals' Top 10--and that was a lot. One of them was 35 and in his first season with the club.
All-time records are much higher off the ground, but they're also open to every prospect who comes through every farm system. The Cardinals didn't develop any power hitters for most of the 1980s and 1990s? Well, that's good news for Jim Bottomley.
Contract status is as worrying as age
One of the things that makes Bill James's "Favorite Toy" career forecasting method so fun to play with is that it dramatizes the one conflict created by a baseball player's pursuit of an all-time record: His performance vs. his age. A player will hit home runs at a certain diminishing rate until he's ground down by time. All right!
Chasing a team record is much more ambiguous. Some challengers, like Holliday or Mark McGwire, arrive too late to do any damage; others, like Pujols, are pulled away by free agency.
With all that in mind, then, which Cardinals records are in any danger of falling?
Almost none of them.
Thanks, Stan Musial. The Cardinals' patron saint was good at almost everything, and did all of those things for 20 years, give or take. Anyone who wants to break one of his offensive records will have to play 1000 games more than Ozzie Smith; score 500 more runs than Lou Brock; rap 1600 more hits than Albert Pujols; hit twice as many doubles as Ray Lankford; average nine triples a year for 20 years; drive in 2000 runs; or, and this is the easy one, hit 500 home runs in the same uniform.
Even Albert Pujols was not in realistic contention for all of those records, and he was a best-player-of-his-generation candidate who stayed pretty healthy and reached his prime at 21 years old.
The Cardinals also have Lou Brock more or less set at stolen bases, in case anybody gets any ideas. Ray Lankford came within 20 of Brock's team strikeout record, but Woody Williams and then Larry Walker got in the way.
As we discussed while constructing our all-time 25-man roster, things are a little easier on the pitching side, but only inasmuch as Bob Gibson is a little worse than Stan Musial. His 251 wins are a little more approachable than 3630 hits, then, but only a little. His 3117 strikeouts could be threatened by a great pitcher on a long-term contract thanks to changing strikeout rates. (Chris Carpenter is about to pass Dizzy Dean for second place.)
But the Cardinals' most approachable name-brand record is probably saves, which Jason Isringhausen pushed from 160 (Lee Smith) to 217 before losing all the feeling in his right arm. Shelf-lives for great closers are shorter than for great starters, because they're mostly just good pitchers in small doses, and Izzy pitched in a basically comparable save environment to our own.
But he suffered from the most common team-record-confounders--a late start to his Cardinals career--and still managed to take the record between his age-29 and age-34 seasons. Jason Motte, at 54 going into his age-31 season, would have been a much stronger candidate if he hadn't been tackled to the ground by Ryan Franklin in 2009, but he's already just five behind Al Hrabosky for a place in this still-immature Top 10--
Motte has the good fortune of competing in a category that effectively turns the Cardinals into an expansion team; he's not competing with Bob Gibson's contemporaries, let alone Cy Young's.
Which is what makes it so difficult to break a record--any record--in St. Louis. We've already had a few lifetimes' worth of once-in-a-lifetime players.