The Cardinals have a long and glorious history, but when it comes to rookie second basemen, their history lacks substance. Recent history has not been lacking in style as long as Joe McEwing and Bo Hart are your cup of tea, but few players have made significant contributions during their rookie seasons at second. Expected to be given everyday playing time, Kolten Wong will have the opportunity to be the second best rookie second baseman in Cardinals' history, and should easily be the best rookie at second since Ken Oberkfell in 1979. No matter how he performs, he is unlikely to reach the heights of Lou Klein.
In 1943, with the nation at war, the Cardinals gave the second base job to twenty-four year old Lou Klein. He did not disappoint, playing in every single game for the pennant-winning Cardinals. He hit .287/.342/.410 for a wRC+ of 114 to go along with excellent defense. His 6.1 fWAR was more than two wins greater than the second best rookie that year, Dick Wakefield.
Klein was unable to continue his success after his stellar rookie year. He missed 1944 and some of 1945 due to the war. When he returned to full-time duty in 1946, his job as second baseman had been taken by a young Red Schoendienst. With a lack of playing time apparent, Klein was among those who signed with the Mexican League in 1946 and was subsequently banned from baseball until 1949. (Click here for an interesting article on the Mexican League). He played sparingly in 1949 and then again in 1951 before ending his playing career.
Klein's 1943 season is arguably the second greatest rookie performance ever by a Cardinals player. Albert Pujols' 2001 tops the list, but Klein equalled the 1942 rookie year of Stan Musial in fWAR and was actually half a win better according to rWAR. Not to diminish Klein's season, but given his reliance on defensive numbers, Musial's season is the more impressive between the two.
Returning to rookie second baseman, fifteen Cardinals rookies have registered at least 300 plate appearances and played at least 50% of their games at second base. While Klein had the best season, Luis Alicea and Chappy Charles battled for the worst. In 1908, Chappy Charles had a -1.3 bWAR to go along with a -1.1 fWAR compared to Alicea's 1988 and his -1.3 bWAR and -0.8 fWAR. See the chart below for a comparison of rookie Cardinals second basemen.
Wong can break the rookie second baseman record for home runs if he gets into double digits. While Bo Hart and Joe McEwing had their admirers, Ken Oberkfell's rookie year provided the biggest impact of recent players. In 1979, Oberkfell hit .301 with a very high .396 on base percentage on his way to a three-win season. If Wong is able to produce a three-win season, the Cardinals and their fans are likely to be pleased with one of the better rookie seasons in Cardinals history.