Although it technically began last night and continues tonight, tomorrow marks the in-earnest beginning of the NCAA Division I Men’s Basketball Tournament, colloquially known as March Madness. By the end of tonight, sixty-four teams will stand with a mathematically even chance of winning the national championship on April 3 in Glendale, Arizona.
It is a wildly popular sporting event, disproportionately massive compared to the overall popularity of college basketball. And a large part of the reason why March Madness annually captivates the sporting world is the rite of passage of filling out brackets, predicting the winner of all sixty-three games of the proper tournament and all of a sudden having a vested interest in a Virginia vs. UNC-Wilmington basketball game.
It is also the time for the bracket craze to extend to things which have nothing whatsoever to do with college basketball. Like baseball. Specifically, like the St. Louis Cardinals. And thus, without further adieu, I present to you the All-Time Cardinals Bracket.
The sixty-four players in the bracket are the sixty-four greatest players in St. Louis Cardinals history by Baseball Reference Wins Above Replacement. It is an imperfect method for evaluating players, but it is one which is objective. The voting will be conducted by you, the readers, and you may use whatever criteria you choose. I will personally be voting for whom I consider the greater Cardinal, but it’s up to you. The best player, your favorite player, whatever player you think would actually win a basketball game between the two—it’s up to you.
Stan “The Man” Musial, the #1 overall seed in the tournament, is certainly among the favorites to win the whole tournament, but in the Round of 64, he draws a tough opponent in Hall of Fame outfielder Jesse Burkett. Also in his region, Fox Sports Midwest announcers Jim Edmonds and Tim McCarver square off in the 4-13 matchup, while the unrelated Ted and Curt Simmons compete in an intriguing 2-15 battle.
Conventional bracket wisdom for basketball is that a 12-seed beating a 5-seed is inevitable, and Ray Lankford, while popular among the VEB community (and among VEB writers), gets a tough first-round tilt against Hall of Famer Chick Hafey. The only lower seed to have played even semi-recently for the Cardinals is #11 Matt Holliday, who faces stiff competition in Hall of Famer and 1931 NL MVP Frankie Frisch.
In the Busch II region (which to clarify, the regions are simply named after the stadium where the region’s top seed made his name with the Cardinals), quite a few modern Cardinals stars feature beyond #1 seed Albert Pujols, who faces four-time All Star center fielder Terry Moore. If he defeats Moore, Pujols could wind up facing Chris Carpenter, the top pitcher on the last two World Series winning Cardinals teams, in the second round—the popular ex-ace faces Mort Cooper in the first round.
Scott Rolen, a 10-seed, last played for the Cardinals seventy-five years after his first round opponent, pitcher Bill Sherdel. Former MVP Joe Torre cracks the field as a 12-seed, facing legendary first baseman Jim Bottomley. And in one of the more serendipitous, interesting match-ups, Ozzie Smith faces his long-time double play partner Tom Herr in the first round.
Appropriately, the Robison Field region, named after a stadium which closed in 1920, is loaded with some of the oldest players in the tournament. Two-way player Bob Caruthers, easily the oldest of the five seeds, faces former middle infielder and manager Solly Hemus.
In perhaps the most anonymous matchup of the entire first round, pre-World Series era pitchers Ted Breitenstein and Dave Foutz square off in the 6-11 “game”. The winner will face the winner of one of the more loaded battles—Lou Brock, somewhat underseeded at 3 relative to his documented fan support (he cracked the fan-voted Franchise Four in 2015), and Mark McGwire, low on Cardinals quantity but very on quality, authoring some of the most iconic moments of the last twenty years of Cardinals history.
The Busch Memorial Stadium region has some interesting goings-on. Ernie Broglio and Garry Templeton are best known to Cardinals fans for being traded for better players, Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith, but each had a strong enough Cardinals career to make this bracket on their own merits.
Other big names squeak in with double-digit seeds, as well—fan favorite and 1985 NL MVP Willie McGee, 1985 NL Cy Young If Dwight Gooden Hadn’t Been Just Too Unfair For Words John Tudor, and inner-circle Hall of Famer Steve Carlton have enough name recognition that they could pull off upsets.
Voting opens immediately and will close at 11:59 p.m. Central on Friday night (it may technically be open a little later than this, but this as late as I can assure you it will be open, so vote early!). Winners will be announced on Saturday afternoon, where voting for the Round of 32 will open. Once the regions are complete, the winners of the Sportsman’s Park and Busch Stadium regions will face each other in the Final Four, while the Robison Field and Busch Memorial Stadium region winners will face each other in the second semifinal. The two winners will then square off for the bracket championship.
Here’s hoping everybody has a good time with this. This tournament is, of course, inherently ridiculous, but hopefully, it will give people a chance to discuss and learn a little bit more about some of the greatest players in franchise history.