The St. Louis Cardinals’ ‘Red Ribbon committee’ keeps promoting living ex-players, snubbing old-time game-changers. Who should be on the HOF ballot?
Keith Hernandez is the strongest of seven 2020 candidates for the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, which you can vote for here. His 34.4 Wins Above Replacement as a Cardinal is the highest of the group, followed by Steve Carlton (20.9), John Tudor (19.9), Tom Herr (19.1), Matt Morris (18.7), Edgar Rentería (16.7) and Lee Smith (4.4).
But is Hernandez truly the best ex-Cardinal the Red Ribbon committee of Cardinals baseball experts could unearth? Is he even the most deserving ex-first-baseman? And what about the others? Lee Smith? Really? He spent just two full seasons, and parts of two others, in St. Louis.
As for Carlton, 10 former Cardinals pitchers had higher career WARs in their St. Louis seasons than the 15-year Phillie. Would he be on the ballot if his name were Max Lanier (30.0 WAR as a Cardinal)? Or Larry Jackson (28.5 WAR)?
Oh, yeah, those players don’t count. They seem to have been disqualified because they committed the unforgivable sin of dying. Selecting new members for the Cardinals Hall of Fame isn’t about inducting the best players. It’s about inducting the best living players (with a dead guy thrown in) so we can see them in their red jackets, waving to a Busch Stadium crowd.
That’s understandable — when there are Hall-of-Fame-worthy living players. But last year fans voted in Jason Isringhausen, the one-time All-Star who generated an underwhelming 6.8 WAR in seven Cardinals seasons.
As Eppa Rixey said when informed he’d been inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame in 1963, “I guess they are really scraping the bottom of the barrel, aren’t they?”
Hernandez would be a worthy inductee. He spent 10 years in a St. Louis uniform and had best-ever seasons as a Cardinal in 1979 and ’80. Tudor was magnificent (21-8, 1.93 ERA) in ’85 and had a .705 winning percentage and a 2.52 ERA in five St. Louis seasons. But here are five ex-Cardinal figures, including an owner, general manager and coach, with stronger Hall credentials than Carlton, Herr, Morris, Renteria, and Lee Smith:
1. Bill White, 1B, 1959-65, five-time Cards All-Star, 6 Gold Gloves, .829 OPS, 28.2 WAR
This is the most egregious oversight of the Cardinals Hall of Fame. White was the team’s first black All-Star in 1959, three years before Bob Gibson earned the honor. His 28.2 St. Louis WAR is higher than current Cardinal HoFers Chris Carpenter (27.6), Scott Rolen (25.9), Willie McGee (25.6), Joe Torre (22.5), Chick Hafey (21.4), Bob Forsch (21.3), Pepper Martin (21.2), Terry Moore (20.7), Tim McCarver (20.5), Mark McGwire (19.3), Vince Coleman (8.4) and Bruce Sutter (6.3).
In 1964, White’s monstrous second half (.338, 72 RBIs, .938 OPS) helped propel the Cardinals to the pennant. In 1989, he became president of the National League, making him the highest-ranking African-American executive in baseball history. Oh, and there’s this — he’s still alive! White turned 86 on Jan. 28. There’s no time to waste; he needs to be a Cards Hall of Famer now!
2. Helene Britton, owner, 1911-16
The first woman to own a professional sports team, Britton endured chauvinistic behavior from fellow owners, newspaper scribes, and a belligerent manager, Roger Bresnahan, who reportedly hollered at her, “No woman can tell me how to run a ball game!”
Britton could have sold the team she inherited from her uncle, Stanley Robison, but she loved baseball and determined to stick it out for a while. One of her best decisions was refusing to placate Bresnahan by trading Miller Huggins, a brainy second baseman whom she hired as his replacement in 1913 — Huggins went on to a Hall of Fame career piloting the Cardinals and then the Yankees from 1918-31.
“All I ever needed was the opportunity,” Britton said of her six years of team ownership. “That’s all any woman needs.” Britton died at age 70 at age 50, but four of her descendants, Char, Candy, Crystal, and Chad Barone, appeared at a Cardinals game on June 10, 2017. Maybe one or all of those four could wear the red jacket if Helene Britton earns her proper spot in the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
3. Bing Devine, general manager, 1958-64, 1968-78
Fans don’t get too excited over general managers, but maybe they should. Devine had more to do with the 1960s Cardinals success than anyone else, acquiring Curt Flood (1957), Bill White (1959), Julian Javier (1960), Dick Groat (1962) and Lou Brock (1964) in one-sided trades that fortified a team that won pennants in 1964, ’67, and ’68.
He was named The Sporting News’ Executive of the Year in ’63 and again in ’64 despite being fired by Gussie Busch on June 17 of that year. One of Devine’s best moves was not trading Ken Boyer in 1957. Previous GM Frank Lane had worked out a deal that Devine quickly nixed, retaining a player that would win the 1964 NL MVP.
Devine wasn’t as successful in his second stint with the Cardinals, partly because of trades forced on him by Busch — the owner demanded he deal Carlton and lefty Jerry Reuss in 1972, a pair of disastrous deals. But the G.M. did more than enough in his first stint with the Cards to deserve a place in the team’s Hall of Fame.
4. Dave Duncan, pitching coach, 1996-2011
Even if you disagree that Duncan had as much influence on the team’s success as manager Tony LaRussa, you have to admit that a 16-year pitching coach credited with turning around the careers of multiple pitchers deserves a ton of credit.
Duncan didn’t spend 69 years with the organization like coach-scout-instructor George Kissell, but his coaching transformed a series of hurlers, including Chris Carpenter, Kyle Lohse, Todd Stottlemyre, Woody Williams, and Jeff Suppan. Kissell deserves his spot in the Cardinals Hall of Fame, and so does Duncan.
5. Bill Doak, pitcher, 1913-24, 1929, 144-136, 2.93 ERA, 23.7 WAR
This Bill (me) is here to tell you that the Cardinals have employed 80 players named Bill, Billy, William or Willie, as opposed to 71 John, Johnny or Jonathans and 65 Bob, Bobby, and Roberts. One of those Bills — Doak or Sherdel (153-131, 3.64 ERA, 24.4 WAR in 14 St. Louis seasons) — deserves a spot in the Cards Hall of Fame.
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Doak was a fine pitcher who invented a revolutionary baseball glove that vastly improved fielding range. Rawlings sold the Bill Doak glove from 1920 to 1949, which would be a fine fact to put on the ex-Cardinals plaque. No knock on Tom Herr, but what could you say about him? That he was a one-time All-Star with a .274/.349/.354 slash line and a lower Cardinals WAR (19.1) than Whitey Kurowski (24.8), Solly Hemus (21.9), Ripper Collins (20.9) and Miller Huggins (19.2)?
It would be better to give a Bill, be it Doak or Sherdel, a spot in the Redbirds Hall.
While there are no clear-cut standards for what constitutes a Cardinals Hall of Famer, the word “fame” should be considered. You can stretch the glory concept mighty thin, but if the Red Ribbon panel insists on inducting two or more still-living players every year, you’re going to wind up with Ken Oberkfell, Tom Pagnozzi, Ken Reitz and Ted Sizemore on the ballot.
After a while, honoring so-so players just looks silly. Let the San Diego Padres retire Steve Garvey’s (4.1 offensive WAR over five seasons) No. 6 and the Tampa Bay Rays retire Wade Boggs’ (2.0 offensive WAR over two seasons) No. 12. There’s no reason for the Cardinals, with their long, rich history, to immortalize “pretty good” still-living players, coaches, and executives. Not when there are far better, if older, options to choose from.