It's not quite so concise as Ozymandias, but I find few otherwise-meaningless things as humbling as realizing just how much of the average St. Louis Cardinals season I am doomed to forget two or three or five years down the line. It's just impossible to keep everything together—how long, before he appeared on this year's Hall of Fame ballot, had it been since you thought about Reggie Sanders? What about Rico Washington or Scott Seabol? And how great can a player be—how much an all-star—while still ending up anonymous in a fanbase obsessed with its own history?
On Friday we got to talking, in the comments, about "Wild Bill" Hallahan, who got me thinking about anonymous All-Stars. Hallahan started the first All-Star Game, led the National League in strikeouts and walks two years running, won two games with an ERA of 0.49 in the 1931 World Series, and had a deeply appropriate nickname. And I had never heard of him until I was halfway through writing a book devoted entirely to Cardinals history (which makes a great Presidents Day gift.)
He only made the one All-Star Game, though, and retired in 1938. How much more successful or contemporary can a Cardinals All-Star get while still remaining anonymous? Here are two more examples:
Howie Pollet (1941-1951; three-time All-Star, 1943, 1946, 1949)
Okay, I should probably know more about this guy than I do. Pollet took a career record of 20-11 and ERA of 2.21 into two years of World War II service before coming back in 1946 and going 21-10 with a league-leading ERA of 2.10. After two off years precipitated by this—
Doctors treated Pollet's shoulder during the off-season and Dyer reported he was recovering. But he lost his first three starts in 1947 and uncharacteristically walked eight batters in his first victory. Later he said, "Every pitch hurt. I began to pitch with a half motion, using my elbow instead of my back...and I began to feel a lump in my elbow. It frightened me. I was afraid I was through." He started 24 games, winning nine and losing 11, and his ERA more than doubled to 4.34. After the season surgeons removed a bone spur from his elbow. (SABR BioProject)
—he went 20-9 in 1949, making his third and final All-Star team. He bounced around for seven years after the Cardinals traded him and his arm went out again, and that was it, although the BioProject article gives him some early credit for suggesting teams consider pitch counts.
Gregg Jefferies (1993-1994; two-time All-Star, 1993-1994)
I'm on the record as finding Gregg Jefferies fascinating (here and here), but the reason I do is that for someone like me who came of age as a Cardinals fan in 1996 he was already almost completely invisible. Everyone older than me was busy telling me about Whiteyball, and how I should relish this final chance to see Ozzie Smith; everyone my age was busy cheering for Brian Jordan.
Meanwhile, there was Gregg Jefferies—28 years old, still hitting .300-ish for the Phillies, and two seasons removed from hitting .342 and stealing 46 bases as a bizarrely accurate live-ball imitation of George Sisler. To everyone who lived through the early 90s as full-fledged Cardinals fans this probably reads much differently, but I'm not sure Jefferies's run as an All-Star is any more notable.
Taken together, Hallahan, Pollet, and Jefferies cover most of the common reasons an All-Star falls out of Cardinals history. Like Hallahan, he can play on a team that's too good—that's crowded with better and more interesting players. Like Jefferies, he can play briefly on a team that's not good enough, the dark spot in an almost-uninterrupted run of success. And like Pollet, he can just fade away—injuries and chance can separate prime years into flashes of some larger thing, the career we'd remember.
So who among the Cardinals' last decade of All-Stars will get the same treatment 20 or 50 years from now? I'd already forgotten Rafael Furcal made last year's team when I sat down to write this, so that's a possibility. But setting aside from the one-timers—Ryan Franklin, Ryan Ludwick, Woody Williams—I think the most vulnerable Cardinals veteran is 2001 and 2002 All-Star Matt Morris.
Matty Mo never seemed forgettable in the moment—the big curveball, the 20-win season, everything surrounding Darryl Kile in 2002—but by the time his Cardinals won their first pennant in 2004 he'd lost it. And in 2006, when the Cardinals finally won it all, he was in San Francisco, sliding out of baseball.
The lost years from 1998 to 2000 and the timing of his decline and exit make a very successful career shrink back at a distance; the burden of explaining how great he looked, for a few years, is mostly left to us. His career St. Louis numbers are really good—101-62, an ERA of 3.61—but so are Howie Pollet's.