The Cardinals boast one of the most far reaching fan bases in Major League Baseball. Most of us already know the reasons as to why this is, but in the spirit of an inflated word count let’s go over them again.
First, they’re an old team. They’ve been in the same city longer or as long as any other franchise with the exception of the Chicago Cubs (measuring by when the Cardinals became a founding member of the American Association and not when they joined the National League in 1892). Also, in the early days there were a lot of open spaces where they planted their flag. Before the Dodgers made their pilgrimage out west in 1958, the Cardinals were the only team on the left side of the Mississippi River and on a latitude line south of Cincinnati (other than their less-popular bunk-mate the St. Louis Browns who fled to Baltimore in 1953). And there’s the KMOX factor, which in its heyday had a radio signal that I once heard could be picked up in Sicily if you climbed to the summit of Mount Etna and stood on your tippy-toes.
The result? Say hello to a large contingent of fans in places like Iowa, Kentucky, Arkansas, Tennessee, and Oklahoma to name a few. However, ground zero of Cardinals fandom remains in Missouri and to a slightly lesser extent, Illinois. In fact, here’s one of those fun Facebook maps to “prove” it.
The Cardinals are a natural bond shared by so many from these two neighboring states. They bring us together. Last night’s annual Braggin’ Rights basketball game between the two respective flagship universities - a game which is played in St. Louis - helps tear some of us back apart. (For those who still care about this game anyway, and judging by last night’s attendance that remains only a few of us.)
Nevertheless, to throw down a few more dividing lines between the two states, here are the two best teams position by position from each state based on: 1) place of birth; and 2) highest bWAR as a Cardinal. For example, by bWAR Gary Gaetti was worth 42 wins in his career and was born in Centralia, Illinois, but since his time with the Redbirds was pretty brief he’s not going to show up below. And again, this is based on where a player was born and not where they grew up. David Freese is known as a hometown hero in St. Louis but he was born in Corpus Christi, Texas, and is therefore ineligible.
Without further ado, let’s get pointless.
C - Bob O’Farrell
Born: Waukegan, Illinois (pop: 88, 862); bWAR: 4.7 (Cardinal from 1925-1928)
Other notables: Gene Oliver (Moline), Joe Girardi (Peoria), and walkoff home-stealing Glenn Brummer (Olney). And Carson Kelly was born in Chicago so in an ideal world O’Farrell’s 4.7 WAR won’t stand atop this list forever.
1B - Jim Bottomley
Born: Oglesby, Illinois (pop: 3,791); bWAR: 33.5 (Cardinal from 1922-1932)
If you go to the Cardinals’ Baseball-Reference page, you’ll see Bottomley and his 33.5 WAR as the 20th and last person pictured in the B-Ref Team Wall of Fame. Yadier Molina (33.3 bWAR) will likely pass him this next year so if you want to get a good look at Bottomley while he’s still up on the wall, time may be limited. Other notables: Gene Paulette (Centralia)
2B - Red Schoendienst
Born: Germantown, Illinois (pop: 1,269); bWAR: 33.1 (Cardinal from 1945 until the end of time)
The always dependable Red. Second on this list is Emil Verban, who played second base for the Cardinals from 1944 through 1946 and was worth 2.5 wins. Verban was born in Lincoln, Illinois, which is where I was born and raised, it’s not a large town, and I had no idea it was the birthplace of Verban. Anyway, go Railsplitters. Other notables: Tim Hulett (Springfield)
3B - Ken Oberkfell
Born: Highland, Illinois (pop: 9,919); bWAR: 17.1 (Cardinal from 1977-1984)
Other notables/80-grade names: Milt Stock (Chicago), Otto Krueger (Chicago), Ray Jablonski (Chicago)
SS - Dal Maxvill
Born: Granite City, Illlinois (pop: 29,849); bWAR: 7.5 (Cardinal from 1962-1972)
Maxvill not only won a Gold Glove for the Cardinals in the 1968 pennant year, but he preceded Walt Jocketty as the team’s General Manager from 1984 through 1994. Other notables: No one after 1913.
LF - Ray Blades
Born: Mount Vernon, Illinois (pop: 15,277); bWAR: 15.1 (Cardinal from 1922-1932)
Just as Verban was born in Lincoln, Illinois, Blades died in Lincoln, and again I had no idea. And speaking of, a Team Illinois vs. Team Missouri only comprised of players who died in each state would be slightly morbid but also include the team’s top two players by WAR as Rogers Hornsby was living in Chicago at the time of his death, and, of course, Stan Musial lived in St. Louis area until the end. Other notables: Lonnie Smith (Chicago)
CF - Al Shaw
Born: Toledo, Illinois (pop: 1,238); bWAR: 2.0 (Cardinal from 1907-1909)
I was not personally familiar with Toledo, Illinois, but knowing Illinois Shaw’s birthplace is likely pronounced toe-lay-doo. Other notables: Peter Bourjos (Park Ridge)
RF - Max Flack
Born: Belleville, Illinois (pop: 43,765); bWAR: 0.1 (Cardinal from 1922-1925)
Right field was pretty light. Other notables: Mark Little (Edwardsville)
SP - Bill McGee
Born: Batchtown, Illinois (pop: 214); bWAR: 9.1 (Cardinal from 1935-1941)
Other notables/80-grade names: Mark Mulder (South Holland), Bugs Raymond (Chicago), Chappie McFarland (White Hall)
RP - Jason Isringhausen
Born: Brighton, Illinois (pop: 2,254); bWAR: 6.8 (Cardinal from 2002-2008)
Other notables: T.J. Matthews (Belleville), Ray King (Chicago), Jeff Fassero (Springfield)
MGR - Whitey Herzog
Born: New Athens, Illinois (pop: 1,981); (Managed the Cardinals from 1980-1990)
This job could have been given to Red Schoendienst but there’s no need to opt for a player/manager when a guy like Herzog is available.
C - Darrell Porter
Born: Joplin, Missouri (pop: 50,150); bWAR: 11.6 (Cardinal from 1981-1985)
Team Missouri is off to a good start with the 1982 World Series MVP on the hook. Other notables: Joe Garagiola (St. Louis), Walker Cooper (Atherton)
1B - Ray Sanders
Born: Bonne Terre, Missouri (pop: 6,864); bWAR: 9.3 (Cardinal from 1942-1945)
Only two people made Bonne Terre’s “Notable People” section on Wikipedia and Sanders is not one of them which is a shame because he had a solid, albeit brief, career. Other notables: Jake Beckley (Hannibal)
2B - (brace yourself)...Creepy Crespi
Born: St. Louis, Missouri (pop: 319,294); bWAR: 2.6 (Cardinal from 1938-1942)
Creepy’s real name was Frank Angelo Joseph Crespi and according to his wiki bio he got the nickname “Creepy” from the way he stayed low on ground balls. Fair enough. Other notables: Tom Heintzelman (St. Charles)
3B - Ken Boyer
Born: Liberty, Missouri (pop: 29,149); bWAR: 58.0 (Cardinal from 1955-1965)
Team Illinois has the only Hall of Famer (Schoendienst, CORRECTION: Jim Bottomley was also elected into the Hall of Fame in 1974) not including managers, but Team Missouri likely has the best player in Boyer, who, for what it’s worth, should probably also be in the Hall of Fame. Other notables: Mike Shannon (St. Louis) - another big point for Team Missouri.
SS - Rudy Kling
Born: St. Louis, Missouri (pop: 319,294); bWAR: 0.0 (Cardinal in 1902)
Quite the slim pickings at shortstop. Other notables: Jerry Buchek (St. Louis)
LF - Bernard Gilkey
Born: St. Louis, Missouri (pop: 319,294); bWAR: 12.2 (Cardinal from 1990-1995)
Only one other person has been born in Missouri and played left field for the Cardinals and that was Ted Menze in 1918. Regardless, it would have been hard to find a better representative than Gilkey.
CF - Bake McBride
Born: Fulton, Missouri (pop: 12,790); bWAR: 10.5 (Cardinal from 1973-1976)
Real name Arnold McBride, the former All-Star had some of the best hair in baseball. Other notables: Scarborough Green (Creve Coeur)
RF - Wally Roettger
Born: St. Louis, Missouri (pop: 319,294); bWAR: -0.1 (Cardinal from 1927-1929)
Roettger was the only player born in Missouri to play left field for the Cardinals. According to Wikipedia, Following his playing days he was the head baseball coach at the University of Illinois, his alma mater, from 1935 to 1951.
SP - Mort Cooper
Born: Atherton, Missouri (there is no population listed for Atherton, Missouri because it is an unincorporated town in Jackson County yet this is the second time it has come up); bWAR: 28.9 (Cardinal from 1938-1945)
Other notables: Murray Dickson (Tracy), Kyle McClellan (Florissant), Darren Oliver (Kansas City)
RP - Trevor Rosenthal
Born: Lee’s Summit, Missouri (pop: 91,364); bWAR: 5.3 (Cardinal from 2012-present)
Other notables: Tom Henke (Kansas City)
MGR - Vern Rapp
Born: St. Louis, Missouri (pop: 319,294); (Managed the Cardinals from 1977-1978)
Ken Boyer could have gotten this gig but since he’s already at third base it’s going to Rapp.
There you go, those are the teams. If curious, Team Missouri outpaces Team Illinois in WAR 138.3 to 129, and boasts the overall best player. On the other hand, Team Illinois has a pretty solid infield and it’s hard to pick against a team with Red and Whitey. So which team do you like better?
As always, thanks to the incomparable Baseball-Reference Play Index for making it easier for such a column to exist.