The St. Louis Cardinals have announced the five nominees for the Cardinals Hall of Fame Class of 2021, and here is how I ranked them.
On March 1, the St. Louis Cardinals announced the five nominees for the Cardinals Hall of Fame Class of 2021. The nominees are Steve Carlton, Keith Hernandez, Lee Smith, Edgar Renteria, and Matt Morris. Fans will only be able to vote for one of these former Cardinals in this year’s class.
The player with the most fan votes will be inducted on August 21 with the 2020 class of Tom Herr, John Tudor, and Bill White. Voting for this year’s class started on March 1 and will conclude April 17.
Who should you vote for? A case can be made for any one of the five for inclusion into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Also, I realize everyone has their own opinions which of the five is most deserving.
With that said, in descending order, I’m going to rank the five nominees according to my personal preference for inclusion to the Cardinal HOF. Keep in mind, I’m looking at all the nominees based on their career in St. Louis, not their entire MLB career.
Here we go….
No. 5: Matt Morris
Matt Morris came to the St. Louis Cardinals in the first round of the 1995 MLB Draft. The right-hander flew through the Cardinal minor league system with his power fastball along with a breaking pitch and sinker.
Morris lived up to his early promise with a 12-9 record and a 3.19 ERA after being called up in April of 1997. Also, he finished second in Rookie-of-the-Year voting to future Cardinal and teammate, Scott Rolen.
In 2001, he became the ace of the Cardinal pitching staff by winning 22 games with a 3.16 ERA. He also finished third in the Cy Young Award voting, behind Randy Johnson and Curt Schilling, and ahead of Roy Oswalt. Additionally, Morris earned the first of his two All-Star appearances as a Cardinal.
Over his eight years as a Cardinal, he had double digits in victories in six years, and never lost more games than he won. He also led the National League in wins in 2001 (22) and shutouts in 2003 (3).
Morris finished his career in St. Louis after the 2005 season with a 101-62 won/loss record, a 3.61 ERA, 986 strikeouts, and over 1377 innings pitched.
No. 4: Lee Smith
Lee Smith certainly holds the credentials to be admitted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. He saved 160 games while a Cardinal, second only to Jason Isringhausen’s 217. The right-hander also saved 43 or more games three years in a row and the lead the National League twice in saves while wearing the birds on the bat. Furthermore, he won the Rolaids Relief Man of the Year twice and made three All-Star appearances while in St. Louis.
The 6-5 220lb Smith, arrived in St. Louis after a trade with the Boston Red Sox on May 4, 1990 and stayed until August 31, 1993, when he was traded to the New York Yankees. During his tenure in St. Louis, saved 160 games with a 2.90 ERA. Smith’s best year as a Cardinal was in 1991, when he saved an NL leading 47 games and 61 games finished while maintaining a 2.34 ERA. Along with a Rolaids Relief Man Award and an All-Star appearance, he also finished second to Tom Glavine in the Cy Young Award vote.
Lee Smith went on to play for five more MLB teams after leaving St. Louis before retiring in 1998. In 2018, he was elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame as part of the Today’s Game Committee Vote (Veterans Committee).
No. 3: Steve Carlton
If Steve Carlton had not be traded to the Philadelphia Phillies in February of 1972, there would be no debate if he deserved to be admitted to the Cardinal Hall of Fame in 2021. He would already be there.
His four Cy Young Awards, seven All-Star appearances, and pitching Triple Crown, would be credited to a Cardinal, not a Philly. His 5 time NL Strike Leader and 4 time NL Wins Leader crowns would also be credited to a Cardinal, not a Philly.
But that’s not what happened. A Cardinal owner threw a hissy fit about Carlton wanting $10,000 more than offered, and demanded he be traded. So all those awards are now credited to a former Philly, instead of a former Cardinal.
Nevertheless, Steve Carlton had a good career in St. Louis. During his seven-year stint, he had a 77-62 record with a 3.10 ERA and made three All-Star appearances. He also was a member of two NL Pennant teams and the 1967 World Championship team.
Lefty’s best year wearing the birds on the bat, was in 1971, his last year in St. Louis. Carlton had a 20-9 record with a 3.56 ERA. He was also beginning to show his durability that would make him so valuable in Philadelphia, by throwing for over 273 innings.
Steve Carlton was admitted to Baseball’s Hall of Fame in 1994 on the first ballot, and he went in wearing a Philly cap…not a Cardinal.
No. 2: Edgar Renteria
For a player who won three Silver Slugger Awards, two Gold Gloves, and made three All-Star appearances as a Cardinal, I believe Edgar Renteria may be one of the most underappreciated former player to ever wear the birds on the bat.
Renteria arrived in St. Louis via trade with the Florida Marlins in December of 1998. For the next six years, he slugged a slash line of .290/.347/.420 with 71 HR and 451 RBI.
The right-handed bat of Renteria had it’s best year in 2003 when he hit 13 HR and 100 RBI with a .330 BA. He also won his third Silver Slugger Award, his second Gold Glove Award, and made his second All-Star appearance as a Cardinal. Consequently, Renteria, became the first Cardinal shortstop to win back to back Gold Glove and Silver Slugger Awards.
Edgar Renteria left the St.Louis Cardinals after the 2004 season and played for the Red Sox, Braves, Tigers, Giants, and Reds over the next seven years. The Columbia native formally retired from baseball in 2013,
No. 1: Keith Hernandez
Keith Hernandez may be the most deserving, and at the same time, the most controversial player not yet in the Cardinals Hall of Fame. However, he is who I voted for to be inducted into the Cardinal Hall of Fame for 2021. In fact, this is third straight year I have written in support of Hernandez being admitted into the Cardinal Hall of Fame.
Looking at his six Gold Glove Awards, two All-Star appearances, Silver Slugger Award, NL Batting Title, World Series Championship, and an NL MVP Award all while playing in St. Louis, makes it an easy decision for me.
Moreover, I believe Hernandez is the best defensive first baseman in the history of the St. Louis Cardinals, maybe even in the history of the game. I can’t see keeping a player with his credentials out of the Cardinal Hall of Fame.
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All the same, I understand why Keith Hernandez is such a pariah with many Cardinal fans. Starting with his feud with Manager Whitey Herzog for cocaine use which ended with Hernandez’s contentious exit from St. Louis in 1983, and his later involvement in the Pittsburgh Drug Trials in 1985.
It also doesn’t help his cause that he was the team captain of the hated New York Mets during their heated rivalry with the Cardinals in the mid to late 80s. Hernandez is now a Mets broadcaster and a member of the New York Mets Hall of Fame, which causes many fans to identify him more of Met than a Cardinal.
And of course, there’s the famous ‘Seinfeld’ episode.
Yes, I get all of that. But let’s not forget he played longer in St. Louis (10 years) than in New York (7 years). Let’s also not forget his 10-year career slash line while a Cardinal of .299/.385/.448 with an OPS + of 130.
The time has come for a fan base that considers itself ‘the best fans in baseball’ to move on and vote to induct Keith Hernandez in the St. Louis Cardinal Hall of Fame.