Friday, June 27, 2008

Best Ever: St. Louis Cardinals

Continuing in the series of the best ever position players and pitchers for each franchise, today I'll tackle the St. Louis Cardinals. The Cardinals have won 10 world championships and 17 N.L. pennants, and they've made 22 playoff appearances. That's more than any N.L. club and second only to the Yankees among all major league baseball franchises. So, there's lots to choose from. Here's my take:


Contenders: Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Jesse Haines.

This one really isn't close. Haines is in the Hall of Fame, but that's a joke. He got in because he was a teammate of Frankie Frisch, who dominated the Hall of Fame's Veterans Committee during the early 1970s and got them to induct a bunch of unworthy teammates. Haines was a good pitcher, won 20 games three times and pitched in 4 World Series. But he's no better than Bob Welch. Welch is not a Hall of Famer.

Dizzy Dean is one of baseball's greatest characters, and during his peak, he was one of the greats. From 1932 to 1937, he averaged over 22 victories per season. But then he was struck by a line drive and never fully recovered. He hung on and pitched somewhat effectively, but he washed out at age 30 with 150 career victories (134 for the Cardinals). Without the injury, he might have finished with 300 victories, but we'll never know.

Bob Gibson, meanwhile, achieved both a very high peak of performance and also lasted long enough to post 251 career victories, all with St. Louis. He led his club to the World Series three times; in fact, in 1964, as the Cardinals came from behind to win an unexpected pennant, Gibson went 7-2 with a 1.95 ERA during the months of September and October.

The Winner: Gibson, of course.

Position Player

The Contenders: A lot to choose from, but I think it comes down to Rogers Hornsby, Stan Musial, and Albert Pujols (with apologies to Ozzie Smith and Lou Brock).

Hornsby was clearly a great second baseman, a batsman extraordinaire but an average fielder. He played 11 full seasons with the Cardinals and was the league's most devastating hitter during the early 1920s. As has been written about before, Hornsby pretty much pissed off teammates and management wherever he went. He was traded by the Cardinals after the 1926 season, even though he had just player-managed them to a World Series title. Then he was traded four more times and was pretty much washed up at 35, though he player-managed until age 41.

Musial is one of the greatest outfielders of all time. He could do everything, and he did it with a smile. His teams won four pennants and three World Series, and he finished his career with more hits than anyone except Ty Cobb (since surpassed by Pete Rose). He was as close to a perfect ballplayer as ever played.

If any modern day ballplayer could stand up to a comparison with Stan Musial, it's probably Albert Pujols. Pujols does everything except steal bases, and he's been so good, for so long, that you forget he's not even 30 years old (born in 1980).

The Winner: I believe that one day we'll be talking about Pujols in the same breath as players like Mantle, Mays, and Musial. But for now and at least the next ten years, the title of greatest Cardinal player ever still belongs to Stan Musial. Let's see what happens in 10 years before handing the title to Pujols. I'll rooting for him.

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