On Monday Baseball Nation ran a feature about NL Central cult heroes that's definitely worth checking out in its entirety, but people who have heard me repeat myself long enough probably know my cult hero without clicking through: Ray Lankford, the official internet-sabermetric-movement martyr of the St. Louis Cardinals. Excerpt:
My certainty that he was being undervalued by the drunks behind us at Busch eventually led me to a Rob Neyer article about his surprisingly solid OPS, which led me to be very interested in what OPS was, which led me to sabermetrics and blogging and everything else I've done for the last 12 years or so.
I think every team had this kind of player at some point between 1998 and 2004, before we started worrying about defense and the pendulum swung back, a little, toward more conventional-looking stars. Having finished the New Historical Baseball Abstract or picked up a Baseball Prospectus or just read a Rob Neyer article on ESPN, we accepted the gospel of OPS and looked for a local cause to take up. (Charlie Wilmouth of Bucs Dugout, for instance, chose Ken Phelps all-star and indifferent catcher Craig Wilson as his cult favorite.)
For me it was Ray Lankford, who I'd loved to watch well before I knew what OPS stood for. As he slowed down and bulked up and people started to notice the strikeouts I felt intuitively like there was something missing from the way he was evaluated.
Luckily for me, even after the internet baseball fandom got defensive religion Lankford looks like one of the most underrated players of his era. For five years between 1994 and 1998 Lankford hit .282/.378/.523 and averaged 25 home runs and 23 stolen bases a season, all while playing an above-average center field.
His Cardinals career ended after a mostly successful comeback season (I'll never get over Tony La Russa's fascination with Roger Cedeño) with 35.7 rWAR, just outside the Top 10 in franchise history, and 18.6 WAA. I will go to my grave arguing futilely about how his number should be retired before Willie McGee's while Bryan Anderson continues to wear it, because that's the kind of thing you do for your cult-hero.
So that's my story; you can read the rest of it at Baseball Nation. What's yours?