On Saturday morning, the Cardinals held the first induction ceremony for their re-established, yet newly minted Hall of Fame Museum. Unlike the previous version of the organization’s Hall, which shared a building with the Bowling Hall of Fame across the street from Busch Stadium II and was mostly a collection of historical photos and relics only, the new incarnation is truly a step forward in a new direction to pay active tribute to the legacy the organization has crafted.
The decision to include inductions of former players and personalities into the team’s Hall of Fame is a perfect way to give honor to players who may fall short of Cooperstown-level classification, but made irreplaceable contributions to the history of the Cardinal organization. This new direction is achieved in the conventional way such an establishment is thought of: with a ballot and tiered voting system, aimed at targeting the comprehensive history of the organization. The outcome of this process was the hour-long ceremony on Saturday morning inside of Ballpark Village next door to Busch Stadium, where the team’s Hall of Fame is housed, which honored the first class of inductees to the Hall of Fame: Willie McGee, Jim Edmonds, Mike Shannon and Marty Marion.
The group joined the 22 already enshrined living members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame in the Cardinal version of the Hall of Fame, all of whom were inducted by acclamation when the venue was established. From that group of 22, on hand at the even to welcome the first inductees were Red Schoendienst, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Whitey Herzog and Tony LaRussa. As well, a video of the late Stan Musial playing his signature “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” kicked the festivities off.
The goal of seeing a diverse representation from the club’s history was clearly met, as the four inductees stood for individually distinct high points Cardinal history from the 1940’s and through the past decade.
Fox Sports Midwest broadcaster Dan McLaughlin was the Master of Ceremonies for the event, while owner Bill DeWitt II read the plaques for each honoree as they approached the podium for official induction.
Marion, who made eight consecutive All-Star games from 1943 through 1950 and won the National League Most Valuable Player in 1944, was a critical part of the club’s first legitimate dynasty during the decade. He won three World Series in 1942, 1944 and 1946 and spent a year as player-manager in 1951. He died in 2011 at the age of 94, but was represented by his eldest daughter, Martinna Dill, who expressed his passion for both the area and being a Cardinal.
“Whenever you would ask him how it felt to win a World Series, his eyes would light, he’d have a smile on his face and he would say ‘Just like Christmas”, Dill recalled about her father. She continued to discuss how he him and his wife of 74 years, Mary, made St. Louis their home and joked about his fondness for giving memorabilia from his playing career away to requesting fans. “We would probably have a lot more to give to the Cardinals Hall of Fame if he hadn’t given it all away to fans.”
A provision to cover the full span of unique careers spent with the organization will be covered by a Legacy Selection to the Hall of Fame, for those who have served the organization in multiple capacities over time. Long-time announcer, former player and St. Louis native Mike Shannon was tabbed in this capacity, and rightfully so. With an on-field career that featured two World Series titles, and a series defining catch in ’64, as well as another 43 years in the radio booth, Shannon has been a mainstay of the organization over the past half century.
However, the usually boisterous voice of the club was rather succinct in his comments upon taking the podium to receive his honor. Reflecting on his role as a broadcaster, which has been the bulk of his Cardinal career, he was selfless in his commentary, giving credit to the position over himself.
“I’m not important, it’s the position that is important,” Shannon explained. “Hopefully I have enhanced it one way or another.”
The two fan selected inductees followed in Edmonds and McGee followed, to the obvious delight of the crowd. Two of the greatest center fielders in club history, both anchored two of the most successful runs in club history in the 1980’s through 2000’s, respectively. Each was led by well-designed video package of their various career highlights in the Cardinal uniform
Edmonds seemed a bit awestruck as he took the podium, speaking about the legacy of the team. He thanked both thanking DeWitt for signing off on the trade that brought him to the club, as well as the ‘Bleacher Bums’, who cheered him into saluting him before the top of each first inning in his career. His speech was the most emotional of the day, as he often became
For as emotional as Edmonds turned at times, it was McGee’s speech which was the most surprising. A man of few words over his career (he stopped early in his speech, saying “I wish I had a bat in my hands”), he was very reflective in his time at the podium. The heavy crowd favorite of the day, with cheers breaking out as McLaughlin began to introduce him, McGee gave all credit for his success to the organization and fan base that fueled him.
Stretching from his beginnings in the game in his native San Francisco, and stretching through his development and emergence with the club, McGee was appreciative of every step. From thanking instructors such as Dave Ricketts and coach Whitey Herzog, McGee chuckled as he recalled instances from early in his career. He gave special thanks to Ozzie Smith, whom took him under his wing and moved him into his house during the first two years of his career, as Smith laughed to himself thinking back on the time. He also recalled taking up drinking coffee after just seeing Brock drink it during his first spring training.
But it was the connection with the fans, who chanted the unmistakable Willie, Willie, Willie!” cheer in his honor as he took to the podium, he gave credit to the work ethic that endeared him to so many of fans over the years. “After all the sacrifices you made, this is a reward for the hard work and dedication and discipline. I’m living testament that with hard work and listening, you can be the best you can be.”
Before the events took place, the new inductees respective plaques were anchored on the wall with the other club Hall of Famers, but for the living contingent of new inductees, perhaps the most rewarding gifts bestowed to them on the day were their Cardinal red blazers. For years, the red jacket has been the symbol of reaching the highest level to note a Cardinal career, but has been reserved only for members of Cooperstown. But now each member of the club specific wing will also receive their own blazer as well, which will ensure a steady growth of the distinctive mark that the great Cardinal career has had.
“This is beyond belief to put on a red jacket”, expressed Edmonds after sliding into his on stage for the first time. The youngest inductee at 44 years old, he expressed how learning about the Cardinal culture when first arriving in St. Louis in 2000 makes this moment even more special, yet still somewhat stunned by it. “I was little confused at first about the red jacket, and didn’t know if I would get to wear it. But now I’m not sure I’m worthy of it.”
Edmonds continued, “When they told me I was getting a red jacket, I had to take a step back a little bit. I think this red jacket symbolizes a lot more than a plaque on the wall.”
Considering that the plaques are crafted in the same fashion as the ones hanging in Cooperstown, that statement says a lot about what the fledgling Hall of Fame already represents to its members. Edmonds’ sentiment echoes the response to the event in general, which generally exceeded expectations and set a strong path for what could come in the future as the Hall of Fame continues to expand. A new avenue to honor Cardinal greats has been established, and for fans and players alike, the bar has been raised for the Cardinal experience.