Today, the eight finalists for the fan vote portion of the Cardinals Hall of Fame's Class of 2016 were announced. Two of the eight, as determined by online voting, will be inducted, joining previous fan inductees Jim Edmonds, Willie McGee, Bob Forsch, and Ted Simmons.
Last Friday, I wrote an exhaustive piece projecting the next 20 years of the Cardinals Hall of Fame under current rules. A truncated summary is that unless the induction rate is scaled back, anybody remotely worth their salt will be in the Hall of Fame soon enough. But as it stands, there are plenty of worthy candidates to be found.
Here is how I would rank the eight. Objections to the absence of Ray Lankford have been temporarily set aside.
1. Chris Carpenter
197 GS, 95-44 W-L, 3.07 ERA, 296 BB, 1085 K, 3.28 FIP, 27.8 WAR
Unlike the National Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, there is little definition of what is or is not a Cardinals Hall of Famer. And I don't necessarily think the two needs to be structured the same way.
In my idealized Hall of Fame (though I do understand the argument for the way Cooperstown evaluates candidates), the story of the Cardinals would be told through the players. Sure, the museum houses memorabilia independent of the enshrined players, but the players are the integral part of the story of the franchise.
A large percentage of Cooperstown voters default to what is essentially voting for the highest Wins Above Replacement totals. And on a national level, this makes some sense, since what the story is for fans varies heavily depending on where given fans are located. But for Cardinals fans, it's a bit easier to narrow down.
Chris Carpenter was the best pitcher on three pennant winners and two World Series champions. He won a Cy Young in 2005 and finished second in 2009. For many seasons, he was the best pitcher on a very good team, and his performance in Game 5 of the 2011 NLDS alone cemented his place in Cardinals lore.
Perhaps the best player on the current Cardinals, Matt Carpenter, is still called "Marp" by many fans because "Carp" is already reserved. Chris should coast into the Hall.
2. Mark McGwire
545 G, 2251 PA, 220 HR, 473 RBI, .270 AVG, .427 OBP, .683 SLG, 19.2 WAR
The arguments against Mark McGwire are numerous. He was only a Cardinal for a little over four seasons, and he was hurt for a substantial part of the final two. His postseason legacy with the franchise is minimal. His defining accomplishment in St. Louis was a record that many consider tainted and which only stood for three seasons.
But Mark McGwire was the most important Cardinal of the 90s. Now, he wasn't the best Cardinal of the 90s: he didn't play long enough to enter that conversation. But Big Mac led to a groundswell of international interest in the Cardinals that not even Albert Pujols could touch. I've met numerous people turned on to baseball by his 1998 home run chase with Sammy Sosa. And it doesn't hurt that McGwire helped rehabilitate his image with a successful tenure as Cardinals hitting coach.
3. Keith Hernandez
1165 G, 4724 PA, 81 HR, 595 RBI, .299 AVG, .385 OBP, .448 SLG, 34.3 WAR
In nearly a decade in St. Louis, Hernandez won an MVP, a World Series title, a batting title, a Silver Slugger, and five Gold Gloves (he won a sixth in 1983, the season in which he was traded to the Mets). In many ways, he was the opposite of McGwire: he had a contact-heavy offensive profile and was renowned for his defensive abilities. He is the franchise WAR leader among those on the ballot and although he falls short for me, I can't muster much of an argument against him.
4. Scott Rolen
661 G, 2737 PA, 111 HR, 453 RBI, .286 AVG, .370 OBP, .510 SLG, 25.8 WAR
It isn't happening for two years, but I'm already bracing myself for the appallingly low number of Cooperstown votes that Scott Rolen will receive. Rolen, a Cardinal for five full seasons plus a stretch run in 2002, was a superb all-around third baseman: he is the fifth best defensive third baseman ever by Defensive Runs Saved, and no player above him in that ranks higher than him in Weighted Runs Created, at which Rolen ranks 18th. He was an MVP candidate in 2004, tallying 9.1 WAR, and he contributed significantly in 2006 to a World Series winner a year after being plagued by injuries.
5. Joe Torre
918 G, 3909 PA, 98 HR, 558 RBI, .308 AVG, .382 OBP, .458 SLG, 22.4 WAR
Torre was a four-time All-Star and the 1971 NL MVP in St. Louis. Additionally, the affable Torre served as manager from 1990 to 1995 before moving on to the New York Yankees in 1996, where he proceeded to win four of the next five World Series titles and cement his legend status across Major League Baseball. Although St. Louis may be considered a footnote to some, his time should not be forgotten.
6. Jason Isringhausen
401 G, 217 SV, 2.98 ERA, 174 BB, 373 K, 3.59 FIP, 6.8 WAR
By the modern definition of the word, Jason Isringhausen is perhaps the best closer in Cardinals history. Lee Smith, Bruce Sutter, and Dennis Eckersley may have had stops in St. Louis, and Trevor Rosenthal could eclipse Izzy in time, but for now, Isringhausen stands out. He was a Cardinal from 2002 through 2008, leading the NL in saves in 2004, and he was named an All-Star in 2005.
7. Matt Morris
206 GS, 101-62 W-L, 4 SV, 3.61 ERA, 378 BB, 986 K, 3.77 FIP, 18.7 WAR
Morris pitched eight seasons over nine years for the Cardinals. He led the NL in wins in 2001 and finished 3rd in Cy Young voting. And although Morris had become a relative afterthought in the rotation by the pennant-winning 2004 and 100-win 2005 seasons, after which he signed as a free agent with the Giants, he was a strong pitcher for 2000-2002 teams which each made the postseason.
8. Edgar Renteria
903 G, 3759 PA, 71 HR, 451 RBI, .290 AVG, .347 OBP, .420 SLG, 16.5 WAR
A steady performer from 1999 to 2004, Renteria was especially strong in 2002 and 2003, in which he won both the Silver Slugger and Gold Glove at shortstop in the NL, receiving MVP votes each year. His 2004 was somewhat of a step back, though still respectable, and his departure to the Red Sox not long after turning 29 minimized his raw numbers as a Cardinal, but Renteria's production at shortstop would not be duplicated until the arrival of Jhonny Peralta.
These rankings aside, as I said on Friday, this hall belongs to the fans. It has not been co-opted as a morality test. Players need not meet a certain threshold. Anybody who wishes to vote should do exactly as they please, and not be expected to cater to the desires of anybody else.