Constructing an all-time St. Louis Cardinals 26-man roster
When constructing an all-time St. Louis Cardinals roster, Musial and Gibson are obvious selections, but what about Edmonds, Sutter or Willie McGee?
In a normal baseball year, the St. Louis Cardinals would be just a handful of days from settling on their 25-man major-league roster — oops, make that a 26-man roster. With games delayed until who-knows-when, it’s time to assemble a different roster, one consisting of 26 all-time Cardinal standouts.
The following is more than a highest-WAR-score list, which would be absurdly easy to assemble. You’d click here to get a top-24 Cardinals WAR list, then here for the team’s top 50 batting leaders, and here for the team’s top pitching leaders.
But WAR isn’t the be-all-end-all of metrics, and this is about St. Louis legacies as well as on-field accomplishments, which means that a figure like Red Schoendienst, who managed and coached as well as played for the Birds, ranks higher than someone like Johnny Mize, who lacked a decades-long relationship with the franchise.
Also, this roster doesn’t work if there are 10 outfielders and no relievers. The Cards franchise is short of great pitching after Bob Gibson and Dizzy Dean, which means a couple of good-not-great hurlers make the cut at the expense of some stronger position players. That said, there’s no need for a 12-man pitching staff. For most of the 20th century, teams made do with ten pitchers; so will this one.
Here then is an all-time Cards 26-man roster, ranked from the strongest to the weakest players (the years listed are years with the St. Louis Cardinals):
1. Stan Musial, OF, 1941-44, 46-63. No truly great player is as underrated as Stan the Man, who was initially excluded in a 1999 fan poll of the finest MLB players of the 20th century. Nine years later, Erik Diana of bleacherreport.com wrote that “Stan Musial should be kicked off” the all-century team to make room for Barry Bonds.
The writer was apparently ignorant of The Man’s .976 career OPS, which is higher than that of voted-in outfielders Ty Cobb (.944), Willie Mays (.941), Hank Aaron (.928), Ken Griffey Jr. (.907) and Pete Rose (.784).
In fact, before Bonds boarded the PED express in the early 2000s, Musial had more career MVP award shares (percentage of total MVP votes) than anyone. Stan the Man hit .331 lifetime with 3,630 hits (1,815 at home, 1,815 on the road), 475 homers, and 725 doubles (third all-time).
2. Bob Gibson, P, 1959-65. While his St. Louis WAR is slightly lower than that of the man below, Gibby was a lifelong Cardinal who led the club to two World Series championships and three pennants in the 1960s. At his best under pressure, Gibson was 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA and 92 strikeouts in 81 World Series innings.
His legendary 1968 season resulted in a 1.12 ERA, a Cy Young Award, and an MVP. “Everything I threw that year seemed to go where I wanted it,” he told Roger Angell of The New Yorker in 1980. Gibby leads the Cardinals in nearly every meaningful pitching statistic, including wins (251), strikeouts (3,117), complete games (255) and shutouts (56).
3. Rogers Hornsby, 2B, 1915-26, ’33. A .359 hitter with a .995 OPS over 13 St. Louis Cardinals seasons, Hornsby was the temperamental opposite of nice-guy Musial. Baseball writer/analyst Bill James in 2000 wrote, “If a contest is ever held to determine the biggest horse’s ass in baseball history … I think I might choose Hornsby.”
The man rubbed a lot of people the wrong way, but he sure could hit. From 1921 to ’25, Hornsby batted .397, .401, .384, .424 and .403, with 42 homers in ’22 and 39 in ’25. Two months after serving as player-manager on the St. Louis Cardinals’ first World Championship team in 1926, he was traded to the New York Giants.
4. Ozzie Smith, SS, 1982-96. Ozzie above Albert? By any metric, Pujols produced more in his 11 St. Louis seasons than Smith in his 15, but while this franchise has employed other slugging first basemen (Mize, Cepeda, McGwire), they’ve had just one Wizard at short. Ozzie is the more irreplaceable player, plus he’s still a Cardinal (forget about those Padres years) through and through.
5. Albert Pujols, 1B, 2001-11. His eight meh years with the Angels (.258 average,.764 OPS) can make you forget that Pujols averaged 40 homers, 121 RBI, a .328 BA, and a 1.037 OPS in 11 years with St. Louis. With the Angels, Albert has led the AL in just one category — grounding into double plays, which he’s accomplished twice. His 395 career GDPs are No. 1 all-time, well ahead of second-place Cal Ripken Jr. (350).
6. Lou Brock, OF, 1964-79. Many stats crunchers insist that Brock is overrated and has no business with a plaque in Cooperstown. In 2012, Matt Trueblood of bleacherreport.com made the case that ex-Pirate Bill Mazeroski was the most undeserving player in the Hall of Fame, with Brock right behind him. “Brock hit just .293/.343/.410 for his career,” Trueblood wrote. “Only Robin Yount has a worse career OBP among players with 3,000 or more hits.”
Trueblood’s list made no mention of 1920s Giants first baseman George “Highpockets” Kelly, “often cited by historians as the single worst player in the Hall of Fame.” Nor does it mention Ross Youngs, Rick Ferrell, Lloyd Waner or Ray Schalk, players with half the credentials of Brock or Mazeroski.
While it’s true that in 1985 (the year of Brock’s induction), Hall of Fame voters overvalued hits, batting average, and stolen bases, Brock was a fine player as well as a St. Louis icon. The 39-year-old outfielder appeared washed up in 1978, batting just .221 in 92 games, but bounced back to hit .304 and surpass the 3,000-hit mark in his final season. “I’ve always wanted to orchestrate my own exodus and I’m doing a pretty good job of it,” he said at the time.
7. Dizzy Dean, P, 1930, 32-37. The Diz dominated from 1932 to ’36, averaging 24 wins a year, leading the league in strikeouts four times, and finishing 19th, 7th, 1st, 2nd and 2nd in MVP voting.
The Dean boys, Dizzy and younger brother Paul, won two games apiece as the Cards triumphed in the 1934 World Series vs. the Tigers. The ever-cocky Dizzy was the Muhammad Ali of his time, saying, “Anybody’s who’s ever had the privilege of seeing me play knows that I am the greatest pitcher in the world.” He also said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up,” and he certainly could. And did.
8. Joe Medwick, OF, 1932-40. Despite the cutesy nickname of “Ducky” (some insist it was “Ducky Wucky”), Medwick was about as adorable as a sledgehammer. Known for his terrible temper, Medwick fought with teammates as well as opponents and tended to end his scraps with just a punch or two. “That Medwick don’t fight fair at all,” Dizzy once said. “You argue with him for a bit and then he beats you before you’ve even had a chance to speak your piece.”
Somehow, this tough guy came through with one witty remark. Meeting Pope Pius XII in 1944, he said, “Your Holiness, I’m Joe Medwick. I, too, used to be a Cardinal.” Medwick had a splendid 11-year run with St. Louis, batting .335 with a .917 OPS. He’s best remembered for winning the NL’s last Triple Crown in 1937, a year in which he batted .374 with 31 home runs, 154 RBI, and a 1.056 OPS.
9. Enos Slaughter, OF, 1938-42, 46-53. Slaughter hit .300 lifetime with an .834 OPS and should have made the Hall of Fame long before 1985 (the same year Brock was inducted) when you consider he lost three years in his prime, 1943-45, to World War II.
The outfielder was accused of intentionally spiking the Dodgers’ Jackie Robinson in a play at first in 1947, “an accusation that haunted him and possibly crippled his hopes of gaining Hall of Fame selection for many years,” Dan O’Neill of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch wrote in Slaughter’s 2002 obituary.
Robinson wrote in his 1972 biography that “Slaughter deliberately went for my leg instead of the base and spiked me rather severely.” In Ken Burns’ “Baseball” (1994), the filmmaker portrayed the play as racially motivated, which upset Slaughter, who said in 1997, “I stepped on him, and I’d step on him again in the same situation. It’s part of the game.”
10. Yadier Molina, C, 2004-19. It’s a tough call between Yadi, the better gloveman, and Ted Simmons, the better hitter, as the all-time St. Louis Cardinals catcher. Molina’s nine Gold Gloves gets the edge, barely. Yadi ranks fourth all-time in catcher hits (disregarding games where the subject played another position) with 1,942, trailing Ivan Rodriguez (2,749), Jason Kendall (2,160) and Carlton Fisk (2,145) and ahead of Simmons (1,908 hits while catching and 2,472 overall).
11. Ted Simmons, C, 1968-80. Playing 21 years in the majors — an extraordinary feat for a catcher — may have actually hurt Simmons’ early Hall of Fame candidacy. Simba was a part-time player for the Braves his last three years, with just 144, 200, and 123 plate appearances for Atlanta teams that finished sixth, fifth and sixth in the NL West from 1986 to ’88.
The last anyone saw of Simmons in action, he was batting .193 with a .601 OPS as a part-timer for a Braves team that lost 106 games. That late image of a struggling old ballplayer may have eclipsed memories of Simmons in his prime and contributed to the man receiving just 3.7 percent of the vote in his first year of Hall of Fame eligibility.
12. Red Schoendienst, 2B, 1945-56, 61-63. Like Willie McGee, Schoendienst was a well-liked Cardinal traded away in his early 30s who returned to St. Louis as an aged-but-effective part-timer. At 38 and 39, Red hit .300 and .301 for the Redbirds; at 37 and 38, Willie hit .307 and .300.
Schoendienst and Musial were close friends and roommates; Stan recalled June 14, 1956 — the day Red was dealt to the Giants — as his “saddest day in baseball.” Schoendienst managed the St. Louis Cardinals from 1965-76 and for stretches in 1980 and 1990, winning 1,041 games with a .522 winning percentage and leading his teams to two pennants and one World Series championship.
13. Ken Boyer, 3B, 1955-65. Using Ron Santo as a comp, Bernie Miklasz of stltoday.com made the case for Boyer as a major league Hall of Famer, writing that “Boyer’s qualifications are essentially parallel.” The third baseman won the NL MVP in 1964 and had two great games in that year’s victorious seven-game World Series vs. the Yankees, thumping a game-winning grand slam in Game 4 and delivering three hits, including a homer and double, in Game 7.
Long-time St. Louis Cardinals broadcast voice Harry Caray was highly critical of Boyer, possibly because the player once declined to do an in-game interview. Cards’ Teammate Bob Uecker got some early broadcast training with a comic imitation of Carey riding Boyer, as recalled in David Halberstam’s October 1964: “Boyer haaaaaaasn’t had an RBI in his last 52 games … I don’t understand why they continue to boo him here at Busch Stadium. … Striiiiiiiike one, he doesn’t eeeeven take the bat off his shoulder … here’s striiiiiiiike two … and strike three … He nevvvvvver even took the bat offffff his shoulder. I don’t know why they’re booing him.”
14. Curt Flood, OF, 1958-69. The Cards have had some outstanding center fielders — Terry Moore, Willie McGee, Ray Lankford, Jim Edmonds — but none played as well for as long as Flood, the seven-time Gold Glover known most for his battle against baseball’s reserve clause.
Only 5-7 and 140 pounds in high school, Flood attended Oakland’s McClymonds High with Frank Robinson, who was a little older, and Vada Pinson, before transferring to and graduating from Oakland Tech.
All three outfielders signed with the Cincinnati Reds, which created a problem with Cincinnati’s management, which wasn’t ready for an all-black outfield. Traded to St. Louis in December of 1957, Flood became a starter as a 20-year-old the following year and hit .293 over 12 seasons in St. Louis while playing in three World Series and three All-Star games.
15. Adam Wainwright, P, 2005-10, 12-19. Waino ranks fourth among Cardinals pitchers in WAR (36.3) and would likely be second, only to Gibson, if not for missing the 2011 season while recuperating from Tommy John surgery.
The 6-7 right-hander had peaked the previous two years, going 19-8 with a 2.63 ERA and 212 strikeouts in ’09, and 20-11 with a 2.42 ERA and 213 Ks in ’10. After a lackluster recovery year in 2012, he was back on track in ’13 and ’14, winning 39 games over two years and finishing second and third in Cy Young Award voting.
16. Harry Brecheen, P, 1940, 1943-52. Slaughter earned enduring fame for his “mad dash” that plated the winning run in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series, but Brecheen (pronounced “bruh-KEEN) was the real hero of that October.
The little (5-10, 160 pounds) lefty beat the Red Sox three times with a Series ERA of 0.45, continuing his postseason excellence — in three World Series (1942, ’43, ’46), Brecheen was 4-1 with an 0.83 ERA. He wasn’t so bad in the regular season, going 128-79 with a 2.91 ERA over 11 Cardinals seasons. In 1948, he was 20-7 and led the NL in ERA (2.24), shutouts (seven), and strikeouts (149).
17. Jim Edmonds, OF, 2000-07. Few players have ever needed a change of workplace more than Edmonds in 2000, the year the 29-year-old was traded from the Angels to the Cardinals. Ten days after the deal, Sports Illustrated’s Jeff Pearlman wrote a story about Edmonds’ “hellish reputation” and said he “may be the most unpopular player in the game.”
Some of his Angels teammates saw Edmonds as a show-off who didn’t play hard or care about others. The center fielder had good years in Anaheim but was slowed by injuries, especially in 1999 when he appeared in just 55 games. With a second life in St. Louis, Edmonds had a terrific run of seasons from 2000 to 2005, averaging 35 homers and 98 RBI per year while winning six straight Gold Gloves.
18. Johnny Mize, 1B, 1936-41. A hulking (6-2, 215) first baseman with power, Mize led the NL in OPS three straight years (1938-40) yet never struck out more than 49 times in any of those years.
In six Cardinals seasons, he averaged 109 RBI and twice (1939, ’40) finished runner-up in MVP voting. Still just 28, he was traded to the New York Giants in a ridiculous deal for three scrubs and cash. With the Giants in 1947, Mize hit 51 homers with 138 RBI, 137 runs scored — and just 42 strikeouts.
19. Frankie Frisch, 2B, 1927-37. Conflict between Hornsby and club owner Sam Breadon resulted in a December 1926 swap of second basemen, with Hornsby going to the Giants for Frisch and a throw-in.
What looked to be a deficit deal for the Cards — Hornsby was the far better hitter — proved to be a sweet swap for St. Louis. Cardinals player-manager Bob O’Farrell in The Glory of Their Times said, “The greatest player I ever saw in any one season was Frankie Frisch in 1927 … Frank did everything that year.”
Hornsby had some big seasons but bounced from the Giants to the Dodgers to the Cubs in quick succession. Frisch, 17 months younger than the man he replaced at second base, was the NL’s MVP in 1931, when the Cards won their second World Series, and player-manager of the ’34 team, which won the club’s third title. While Hornsby was all but through by 1932, Frisch performed effectively through 1936.
20. Marty Marion, SS, 1940-50. Unusually tall (6-2) for a shortstop of his era, Marion was “the National League’s premier defensive shortstop in the 1940s,” wrote Warren Corbett of sabr.org. Marion hit a modest .264 with a .323 OBA and a paltry .669 OPS with the Cardinals, but his smooth glove work resulted in eight All-Star selections and the 1944 MVP. He is the only MVP winner to primarily bat seventh (92 games) and eighth (46 games) in the order.
21. Jesse Haines, P, 1920-37. The 1927 (24-10, 2.72 ERA) and ’28 (20-8, 3.18) years stand out as the only exceptional seasons in Haines’ 19-year career. Otherwise, he was just a steady starter, but his longevity resulted in 210 career wins and an undeserved Hall of Fame selection in 1970. While Haines lacks typical Cooperstown credentials, he was a fine Cardinal hurler who ranks second to Gibson in wins, complete games, and innings pitched.
22. Chris Carpenter, P, 2004-12. To partially quote the Grateful Dead’s “Truckin’, “What a long, strange trip” it was for CC. A struggling starter in six years with the Blue Jays, he had three strong years after joining the Cards, including a Cy Young Award for his ’05 work (21-5, 2.83 ERA, 213 Ks).
Injuries limited him to just 21 innings pitched in 2007-08, but the 34-year-old returned to go 17-4 with a league-leading 2.24 ERA in 2009. Carpenter led the NL in games started the next two years and went 4-0 in the 2011 postseason, including a seventh-game win that clinched the St. Louis Cardinals’ 11th World Series championship.
23. Bruce Sutter, RP, 1981-84. Whitey Herzog: “My whole team was the preliminary act to Bruce Sutter’s showstopper, and the whole world knew it.” Sutter was only with the Cards for four years, but three of those years were outstanding. He led the NL in saves in ’81, ’82 and ’84, and twice finished third in Cy Young voting. In ’84, he had a 1.54 ERA and a career-high 45 saves.
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24. Bill Sherdel, P, 1918-29, ’32. It’s tempting to go with Mort Cooper, winner of the 1942 NL MVP, but Sherdel makes more sense. Cooper reigned during the WW2 years of 1942-44 when the major league talent pool was thinned by players fighting overseas, and Sherdel gives this unit another lefty pitcher — his 153 wins are the most for a Cardinal southpaw. Sherdel also provides versatility, having relieved (he led the NL in saves three times) as well as started.
25. John Tudor, P, 1985-88, 1990. Although he “couldn’t crack 85 on the radar gun,” Tudor went 62-26 with a 2.52 ERA and a 1.080 WHIP in five seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals. That’s “a record that still leaves me shaking my head, considering the stuff he had,” Whitey Herzog said.
The lefty Tudor began his best season, 1985, by struggling to a 1-7 mark and a 3.74 ERA through May 29th; then he ran off 20 wins against one loss and a 1.37 ERA. After pitching just 14-plus innings for the Dodgers in 1989, Tudor made a triumphant return to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1990, posting a 12-4 record with a 2.40 ERA and winning the NL’s Comeback Player of the year award in his final season.
26. Jason Isringhausen, RP, 2002-08. Based on overall impact, Isringhausen doesn’t make the cut, but this team needs another pure reliever, and his 217 saves as a Cardinal put him well ahead of second-place Lee Smith (160 StL saves). While no Mariano Rivera, Isringhausen was a very good closer in five of his seven St. Louis seasons, peaking with a league-leading 47 saves in 2004 and 39 saves with a 2.14 ERA in 2005.
There are some painful omissions here, starting with Willie McGee, Ray Lankford, and Chick Hafey. McGee and Lankford would have been worthy additions, but there are already six outfielders on this roster. Likewise, Hall of Fame first basemen Jim Bottomley and Orlando Cepeda had no chance of cracking a unit that already had Pujols and Mize at the position.