David Freese turns 36 next week and will most likely retire at the end of this year. He would become St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame eligible in 2023. The team has an opportunity to enshrine spontaneous Freese-love as an annual ritual.
Imagine an opening day ceremony at Busch Stadium with St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Famers Edgar Renteria and Jason Isringhausen. Okay. Nice ovation. Next, out of the wagon gate pops David Freese sitting in that red convertible wearing that red blazer. Hopefully, you can easily imagine the needle pegging into the red and the guys in the Fox Sports Midwest sound booth scrambling to adjust.
Indeed, that was the sound-level at Busch Stadium last week when Freese’s team, the Los Angeles Dodgers, came to St. Louis. That has been the scene every time Freese has revisited Busch Stadium, and it has not diminished one decibel since Freese made his first return appearance in 2016.
When it comes to deus ex machina World Series heroes, it never gets old, it seems. And this can be the scene once per year, starting in 2024… for as long as Freese’s life expectancy.
We have it in our power to create an opening day to last for two generations. Imagine social-security eligible Millennials, who still vividly remember jumping up and down on couch pillows with mom and dad way back in 2011, screaming their lungs out in crisp April air every year. For as long as they – and Freese, the first millennial Hall of Famer – have breath, it is the way it should be. And it is the way it will be, as long as the Hall of Fame pedants do not get control of this decision.
I am already encouraged by this Twitter poll.
The “No” voters will admit that Freese’s 2011 postseason was a whale (both WS and NLCS MVP and team leader in RBI and SLG in the NLDS), but they argue that Freese is just famous for one postseason, and that “one postseason does not a Hall of Famer make”. (The argument is made about as good as it can possibly be made by my Redbird Rants colleague J. T. Buchheit.)
Let us examine what rules there are for the Cardinals Hall of Fame and what a Hall of Fame for a team logically can and cannot be.
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The only published requirement is that the player must have played with the Cardinals for a minimum of three seasons. So Lance Berkman is not even eligible. It also says that the Cardinals Hall of Fame was established as a way to recognize “exceptional careers and significant achievements” (emphasis added). If Freese’s 2011 Game 6 triple, and see you tomorrow shot and Game 7 game-tying double are not a “significant achievement” I do not know what is.
A true purist approach would simply look at a player’s career WAR in a Cardinal uniform. But then Hall of Fame selection would involve nothing more than the dreary task of ranking all the players by Cardinal WAR, drawing a line somewhere, and declaring everyone above the line, back to 1882, Santo subito (instant saints).
There are some players with high Cardinal WAR who are really principally associated with other teams. And then there are players with not-so-high WAR but almost all with the Redbirds. A team Hall of Fame based on strict rules is doomed to incoherence.
There is a tendency to see the phrase “hall of fame” and assume it means the same thing as the National Hall of Fame (“HOF”). The HOF cannot really take into account World Series performance because A) World Series are technically “exhibitions”, B) postseason statistics do not count for career lifetime stats… it is as if they did not even happen, and C) equitably, if the HOF is selecting the best players of all-time, a player should not be penalized for not having played on a postseason-competitive team.
And not just any postseason: It’s got to be the World Series. Christians this time of year have a saying, “We are an Easter People”. Cardinal fans are a “World Series People”. More than any other team, Cardinal Nation is about not just getting into, yes, of course… but winning the World Series. In 2011, at just about the dawn of the hashtag, social media literate Cardinal fans used #11in11 to signify the team’s quest for an 11th title. And then there is #RedOctober.
The Cardinals have an illustrious World Series history that militates giving extra weight to Freese’s exploits. The St. Louis Cardinals franchise was a late bloomer, not winning a pennant until 1926, but by 1944, the Streetcar Series, had surpassed the New York Giants for most World Series wins by an NL team, with five. Since then, they have never looked back. The team has been tops in that category in the NL for 75 years, second only to the Yankees in all of the MLB.
Besides, there is already a player in the Cardinals Hall of Fame mainly for his World Series exploits: it is pitcher Grover Cleveland “Pete” Alexander. A once-great hurler for the Philadelphia Phillies and Chicago Cubs, he was plucked off the waiver wire by Branch Rickey at age 39 and pitched a little over the minimum three full seasons for the Cardinals (from June 27, 1926, through August 17, 1929) and earned a 134 ERA+ mostly as a starter.
But it was Alexander’s exploits in almost “single-handedly” (there’s that Freese word) winning the Cardinals first World Series championship, for which Pete is best-remembered. And like Freese, “Ol’ Pete” has a home-town connection: East St. Louis was his official residence from 1941 until his death.
Future generations need to read about Ol’ Pete’s (controversial) series exploits, just as they do David Freese’s. Being enshrined in the Cardinals Baseball Hall of Fame will increase that likelihood.
Does St. Louis really want to brag that they got a piece of a great Phillie and Cub while he was fighting the bottle at the end of his career? I think not. It is his World Series exploits that the Cardinals are pointing to with Alexander’s selection for the Hall.
Is Isringhausen being nominated partially for what he did for the New York Mets or Oakland A’s (or for Moneyball)? We don’t really care. The St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame should just relax and nominate players who are combinations of A) decent careers, B) are pretty famous, C) did a lot of good stuff in a Cardinal uniform, and most importantly D) who the fans want to see in red jackets every April.
Freese had a credible, if injury-plagued, five-season career with the Cardinals, hitting for 115 OPS+ (cf. 130 Carpenter and 98 Molina), playing solid defense and making an All-Star team. He was not a one-shot wonder like a Glenn Brummer, Tom Lawless nor a utilityman like Daniel Descalso.
Neither did Freese wither away and die after leaving the Cardinals: his post-season exploits for the Dodgers last year are a testimony. He is someone you could hold your head high having in your hall of fame.
There is something awry when a player who grounded out to make the final out of a four-game World Series sweep of the St. Louis Cardinals, would be included in the Hall of Fame and the player who hit a two-out, two-strike, ninth-inning pitch that turned a sure loss into a win, would be excluded. How about we admit both Renteria and Freese?
There is room enough – and red convertibles enough – for both stats purists and Bleed Red sentimentalists.