Today, one of the most consistent St. Louis Cardinals of the last decade turns 41. Let’s look back at the career of the lovable Matt Holliday.
Right now, the St. Louis Cardinals are missing a consistent above-average offensive presence in the outfield. To be honest, they haven’t had it for a while. Not too long ago though, they had a calm and confident leader roaming left field in Matt Holliday. Today, the outfielder turns 41.
Drafted in the seventh round back in 1998, Holliday broke into the league in 2004 with the Rockies and finished 4th in Rookie of the Year voting. From then on out, he would go on to put together one of the most consistent, underrated careers in the 21st century.
After a stellar rookie year, Holliday continued to grow his resume in Colorado. In his six years there, he had a slash line of .319/.387/.550 averaging a 131 OPS+. His best year, 2007, ended Holliday squarely in the middle of the MVP conversation. In the end, Holliday’s 1.012 OPS on the strength of 36 homers and an NL-leading 137 RBI landed him a second place finish in MVP voting.
In the winter after the 2008 season, Holliday was traded to Oakland before being flipped to St. Louis. One of the best trades in the past 20 years, the Cardinals gave up Brett Wallace, Shane Peterson, and Clayton Mortenson.
Right around the time Holliday got traded to the Cardinals, I was starting to care about baseball (I was 10 when the trade happened). It is a low bar, but both our names were Matt and instantly he was my favorite player. Turns out, it was a good choice to make.
In Holliday’s first half-season here, he excelled with a 1.023 OPS over 63 games.
After a disappointing 2009 season for the Cardinals overall, Holliday was a free agent at 29 years old. The Cardinals had tried to sell the city of St. Louis to Holliday, but it was not clear when he left for free agency if Holliday had bought into the city.
After a few long months, Holliday signed the largest free agent contract the Cardinals have given out. The seven year, $120M deal was the largest ever handed out by the Cardinals to any player, but the record still holds for free agents. Once that deal was signed, Holliday’s tenure in St. Louis was sealed.
Holliday proved to be worth his $15M a year salary in 2010 and 2011 while he backed up a lineup anchored by Albert Pujols. After capturing his first World Series in 2011, Holliday replaced Pujols as the main fixture in the lineup.
My favorite part about Holliday was just his size. He stood tall and the plate and that excentuated his 6-4 frame. Holliday was always jacked and dangerous.
Fans quickly fell in love with his swing and personality in St. Louis. Much like Paul Goldschmidt now, Holliday wasn’t very vocal, but was the perfect example of integrity and professionalism on the baseball field.
Over his eight-year career in St. Louis, Holliday hit for a slash line of .293/.380/.494, averaging just under 20 homers a year with a 138 OPS+. He was a four-time All-Star in St. Louis and was a perrenial top-25 MVP finisher.
The job Holliday had to try and “replace” Albert Pujols in the lineup was never one he was going to be able to do. Nobody could’ve replaced Pujols; it was an impossible task. However, Holliday gave his all each year and did the best he could do. Fans loved him for that.
Holliday was also a huge member of the St. Louis community. He never made a big deal out of it, but there was a ton that Holliday did quietly for the city. Not because he wanted recognition, but because it was the right thing to do.
One of the saddest moments for me watching the St. Louis Cardinals has been what should’ve been Holliday’s last at-bat in his career. On September 30, 2016, Holliday came in to pinch hit in a game where nothing was really close. However, with Holliday’s contract up at the end of the year just a couple games away, it was clear there was a possiblity it would be his last at-bat.
As you can see, fans, Holliday, and Dan McLaughlin all were caught up in the moment that could’ve been Holliday’s last.
Almost in a sad way, this wasn’t Holliday’s final at-bat as he appeared in each of the next two games that finished out the 2016 season. Here is his final time being called off the field.
This was it for Holliday in a Cardinals uniform. While he went on to play one season with the Yankees and then one final year with the Rockies, the bulk of his career was spent in St. Louis.
Fans will always remember Holliday fondly and it’s odd to think he’s only 41. However, we wanted to wish a happy birthday to Holliday and take some time to look back at all the things he accomplished in St. Louis.