Recently I acquired a copy of John Leptich and Dave Baranowski’s book, This Date in St Louis Cardinals History. As the name implies, it is a compilation of transactions, significant events, player birth dates, and statistics for the team from its inception through the 1982 season. Although 28 seasons have passed since its publication, it remains a great resource for all kinds of Cardinal trivia. As I thumbed through it this week, I noticed an item from January 20, 1958. That day the St Louis Chapter of the Baseball Writers Association of America voted on the all time St Louis All-Star team. Here’s who they chose (STA are the Browns, STN the Cardinals):
- 1B – George Sisler (STA)
- 2B – Rogers Hornsby (STN/STA)
- SS – Marty Marion (STN)
- 3B – Frank Frisch (STN)
- Utility IF – Red Schoendienst (STN)
- LF – Ken Williams (STA)
- CF – Terry Moore (STN)
- RF – Stan Musial (STN)
- Utility OF – John Tobin (STA)
- Catchers – Hank Severeid (STA), Bob O’Farrell (STN)
- Pitchers – Dizzy Dean (STN/STA), Jesse Haines (STN), Urban Shocker (STA), Grover Cleveland Alexander (STN)
How different would that list look if they updated it today? Let’s try to answer that.
First Base. George Sisler was the 1922 AL MVP, and over the course of his career led the league in hits twice, triples twice, stolen bases 4 times, and total bases once. He hit .400 or better for the season in 1920 and 1922. Truly a great hitter. He’s no longer the best professional first baseman in the history of the city, though. Sisler’s career high OPS+ (181, 1920) is only 9 points higher than Albert Pujols’ average OPS+ over his 10-year career (172). With the 2001 ROY and 3 MVPs on his resume, Albert Pujols is the clear choice now.
Second Base. Rogers Hornsby is still the greatest at that position. One could argue for Schoendienst, but since the 1958 panel chose Hornsby over the Redhead, I will not.
Shortstop. I think people forget how good Marty Marion really was. One of the first tall shortstops (he stood 6 feet 2), Marion was considered the Captain of the Swifties 1940 Cardinals teams. He won the MVP in 1944, finished in the top 10 on two other occasions (1942, 1945), and was a 7-time All-Star. He might still be the best shortstop in Cardinal history had the team not traded for Ozzie Smith before the 1982 season. While in St Louis, the Wizard finished second in the 1987 MVP vote, won 11 Gold Gloves, and was a 14-time All-Star. He also set the gold standard for defense as a shortstop. Ozzie Smith is the pick.
Third Base. Third base is interesting. Frank Frisch, the incumbent, was the 1931 MVP and a 3-time All Star (1933-1935). But here’s the thing: for most of his career he was a second baseman. Frisch only played 459 career games at third, and every year he was a Cardinal he played more games at second than third. Luckily we now have two other players to choose between: Ken Boyer and Scott Rolen. Boyer was the 1964 NL MVP and finished in the top ten in 3 other years (1959-1961). He won 5 Gold Gloves and was a 7-time All Star at third base. Scott Rolen today is widely considered one of the best defensive third basemen of all time. While with St Louis, he finished 4th in the 2004 MVP vote, won 3 Gold Gloves, and was a 4-time All-Star. Had he remained a Cardinal after the 2007 season he might have eclipsed Boyer as the best third sacker in city history, but he did not. Ken Boyer is my choice at third.
Utility IF – Red Schoendienst was selected, and remains a stellar pick. Since over 50 years have passed, I will create a second Utility IF slot, and fill it with George Sisler. Teams can always use a guy with that kind of bat control.
Outfield. The outfield is tough. Two of the men selected – Williams and Tobin – played for the Browns in the dead-ball era. There are three Cardinal outfielders since 1958 who merit selection to this team, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, and Jim Edmonds. And Terry Moore was no slouch himself, a 4-time All-Star who finished in the MVP top 20 5 times (his best showing was 12th in 1941). Much like the infielders, I chose to create a second Utility OF slot because of the number of good candidates.
- Left Field. Lou Brock. Finished in the MVP top ten 5 times, and was runner up in 1974 to Steve Garvey. During that particular season he broke Maury Wills’ major league stolen base record, which stood until 1990. Brock still holds the NL record for steals in a season. He was a 6-time All-Star who led the league in steals 8 times (he also led the league in being caught stealing 7 times). Brock led the NL in doubles and triples in 1968.
- Center Field. Jim Edmonds. Rumor has it Edmonds will retire before the start of this season. He is either a borderline or actual Hall of Fame candidate, depending on who you talk to. What cannot be argued is his place in Cardinal history. Edmonds is the best offensive CF this club has employed to date, better than both Moore and Flood, and he had an above average glove to go with it. He finished in the MVP top 5 twice (2000, 2004), was a 3-time All-Star and won 6 Gold Gloves.
- Right Field. Stan Musial. Need any more be said?
- Utility OF (2). I went with Ken Williams and Curt Flood. Williams is pretty clearly the best hitting OF of the 4 remaining men I considered. Flood and Moore are almost identical statistically, so that’s really a coin flip for me. I decided the NL of the 1960s was a tougher league than the NL of the 30s and 40s, which gave the edge to Flood.
Catcher. Hank Severeid played for the Browns in the 1910s and 1920s, and finished 6th in the 1924 AL MVP race. That was the year the Browns finished second in the AL to Walter Johnson’s Senators, their second highest finish ever. Bob O’Farrell did three stints with the Cardinals (1925-28, 1933, 1935). He was the 1926 NL MVP on the first World Champion Cardinal team. However, since 1935 there have been two other men to play the position better than these two men did. They are Yadier Molina and Ted Simmons. Molina is the best defensive catcher in the league today, one of the best of all time, a 3-time Gold Glove winner and 2-time All Star. Simmons is the best offensive catcher ever to wear a Cardinal uniform (by OPS+). He finished in the MVP top ten 3 times as a Cardinal and was a 6-time All-Star.
Pitchers. Based on the way the game has changed since 1958, I broke the pitcher category up into starters and relievers.
Starters. Dean, Haines, and Alexander are all in the Hall of Fame. Really no argument there. Shocker was an excellent pitcher with the Browns, but made his reputation with the Yankees, and given the excellent pitching St Louis has seen since 1958 it’s easy for me to leave him off the list. Let’s fill out the 5-man rotation by adding the only two Cardinals to win a Cy Young, Bob Gibson and Chris Carpenter. Gibson was the 1968 NL MVP and Cy Young award winner, and the 1970 Cy Young winner. His 1.12 season ERA in 1968 is still the major league record for a starting pitcher. Carpenter won his Cy Young in 2005. He is 84-33 as a Cardinal over 7 seasons with the club. The 5 full seasons he’s been healthy he has won at least 15 games each year.
Relievers. Sticking just to closers narrows down the list but there are still lots of good candidates. Al Hrabowsky, Todd Worrell, Jason Isringhausen, and Ryan Franklin have capably held down the closers role for the team over the past 40 years. They did not make this cut. For the all-time list, I went with Bruce Sutter and Lee Smith. Of all these men Sutter is the only one in the HOF and the only one to win a Cy Young (granted he did that with the Cubs). Sutter finished in the MVP top ten 3 times as a Cardinal, and in the Cy Young top five 3 times as well. Smith holds the team record for saves in a career (160), and shares the season record (47) with Isringhausen. How good was Smith? The two full seasons he pitched in St Louis he finished second and fourth in the Cy Young voting. How Smith is not in the HOF is beyond me.
So that’s my team. Let the argument begin.