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A brief history of short Cardinals

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I present to you the All-Short Cardinals team.

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Last night's 4-1 loss meant a two game sweep of the Cardinals by the Houston Astros, even though the Cardinals got seven shutout innings from Adam Wainwright. Wainwright, unbeknownst to hardly anyone, stands at 6-7, which makes him the second tallest player in Cardinals history behind Lee Guetterman and Mike Naymick, who were each an inch taller.

On the other end of the spectrum, the Astros employ pesky second baseman Jose Altuve, who is only 5-6 but is one of the better offensive second basemen in baseball. For reasons unknown, "pesky" is the go-to adjective for any athlete who happens to be on average shorter than his peers. Yesterday August Fagerstrom of FanGraphs compared Altuve and his questionable base-running to the little league kid who gets a hit and runs the bases until he's tagged out or reaches home. That's pretty pesky.

St. Louis has a colorful history with short baseball players.  Most notable is Eddie Gaedel who had dwarfism and made one of the more unusual pinch-hit appearances in baseball in 1951. Of course, this stunt actually happened with the St. Louis Browns, but - and perhaps this was common knowledge to the faithful but I didn't learn this fact until recently when I read Howard Megdal's The Cardinals Way - Gaedel's uniform actually came from Cardinals' Chairman Bill DeWitt, Jr., who was nine-years old at the time and a batboy for the Browns.

Using Baseball-Reference's Play Index, I searched for Cardinals since 1966 (a good cutoff because it goes back a clean 50 years and that's also when height for Americans basically stabilized), who were worth at least 0 wins above replacement and sorted by height. If two guys played the same position yet were the same height I sorted by WAR. So, because everyone has been clamoring for it, I present the All-Short Cardinals team:

Catcher - Mike LaValliere 5-10

Believe it or not, since 1966 the Cardinals haven't had a single catcher shorter than 5-11 other than old Spanky LaValliere. Spanky only saw a total of 394 plate appearances with the Cardinals (1.5 WAR) in the mid-80s before he was shipped out on April 1, 1987, along with Andy Van Slyke and Mike Dunne to the Pirates for Tony Pena, who somehow actually stands at an even six feet tall.

1B - Gregg Jefferies 5-11

We're off to a bad start because we've hardly hit a truly short guy yet, but Jefferies 6.9 WAR with the Cardinals edges out other 5-11 first baseman Dick Allen (2.3) and Pedro Guerrero (1.6). Jefferies had a perfectly fine career, banged out 1,593 career hits, yet never quite lived up to the hype that came with his 1988 Donruss Rated Rookie card, except for the two years he spent in St. Louis - the only two years he was an All-Star. During those two seasons he hit .335/.401/.487 in 1,059 plate appearances before departing for Philadelphia via free agency.

2B - Aaron Miles 5-8

Second base is the position short guys were born to play. HOF second baseman Joe Morgan is likely the greatest little guy to ever play the game. At only 5-7, he finished his career with a 98.8 fWAR, including a five-year stretch (1972-1976) where he put up an astounding 47.3 fWAR, which was easily the best in all of baseball. His teammate Johnny Bench was second with 33.7.

Miles (2.0 WAR with the Cardinals) is the shortest Cardinal second baseman since 1966 but they've had nine guys man the position at exactly 5-9: Mike Tyson, Luis Alicea, Shawn Gilbert, Fernando Vina, Tony Womack, Ronnie Belliard, Jarrett Hoffpauir, Nick Punto, and Kolten Wong.

3B - Terry Pendleton 5-9

Pendleton is the only Cardinals third baseman since 1966 to be under 5-10. Worth 15 wins during his time with the Cardinals, he was on several memorable Whiteyball teams and stepped up big late in the 1987 season:

SS - David Eckstein 5-6

Well, of course. Eckstein (5.3 WAR with the Cardinals), who looks eye-to-eye with Altuve, is actually the shortest player the Cardinals have had since 1966, and he's two inches taller than Pat Ankenman, the shortest Cardinal ever, who saw four plate appearances with the team in 1936. Eckstein was pesky in the truest sense of the word, which earned him a prominent place in television, and his World Series heroics in 2006 earned him a prominent place in my den.

LF - Lonnie Smith 5-9

Because of this baseball card, for a short time when I was younger I thought Lonnie was Ozzie Smith's brother. He's not, but he did lead the National League in runs in 1982 and helped the Cardinals win the World Series. He was worth a total of 11.6 wins with the Cardinals. He also lived a pretty erratic (and well-documented) life during his playing days, told best here by Jon Bois:

CF - Curt Flood 5-9

There hasn't been a shorter centerfielder since Curt Flood left the team after the 1969 season. He was worth 42.2 wins for the Cardinals, and, of course, is one of the most culturally important players in the history of the sport. His inclusion here gives this team merit.

RF - Bernie Carbo 5-11

Only two right fielders for the Cardinals have been under six feet tall since 1966 and Carbo's 4.1 WAR with the team edges out Vada Pinson's 0.6. Carbo had two stints with the Cardinals (1972-1973 and 1979-1980), but is best known for his time with the Red Sox, particularly for hitting a three-run home run in the bottom of the 8th of Game 6 of the 1975 World Series to tie the game which set the table for Carlton Fisk's much more famous home run off the foul pole in the 12th.

P - Al Jackson 5-10

From 1966-1957, Jackson was worth 2.5 wins for the Cardinals which bested other 5-10 starters Silvio Martinez (2.0), and Rheal Cormier (1.3). The Cardinals acquired Al Jackson from the Mets in October 1965 in exchange for an aging Ken Boyer. He had a very successful 1966 season - his 2.51 ERA was the sixth best in the NL - but he struggled in 1967 and was relegated to the bullpen. Although he was on the 1967 World Series team, he didn't pitch during the series. In an excellent interview with Mark Tomasik of Retro Simba, Jackson had this to say:

Q: Why didn't you get an opportunity to pitch in the World Series against the Red Sox?

Al Jackson: I never did ask Red (Schoendienst) about it. I found out earlier that in the middle of the season I already was traded back to the Mets when the Cardinals got Jack Lamabe for a player to be named later. The Mets told the Cardinals they could keep me until the end of the season. That was the deal that they had.

RP - Seung-Hwan Oh 5-10

Since we probably shouldn't count Aaron Miles, believe it or not the Oh is smallest relief pitcher to take the mound for the Cardinals since 1966 and his 1.1 WAR is tied with other 5-10er middle innings guy Frank DiPino. But the Final Boss has put up these numbers in 145 less innings pitched so he gets the nod.

*****

There you go, the All-Short Cardinals team, only two of whom would most of us actually consider to be all that short but that's beside the point. We're finally privy to this information and that's what's important.