Matt Carpenter deserves his spot in St. Louis Cardinals history

Matt Carpenter made his return to Busch Stadium this weekend. It should be a reminder to fans how important he was to the Cardinals.

Matt Carpenter is a three-time All Star. He’s finished in the top ten of MVP voting twice, with a fourth-place finish in 2013. He won a Silver Slugger that same year after leading the league in doubles. And following a dreadful end to his Cardinals tenure, he’s revitalized his career, batting third for a Yankees team that is among the best in baseball.

There’s one more accolade he should eventually add to his collection: a red jacket.

Friday night’s return to St. Louis, and the heartwarming standing ovation that followed, should serve as a reminder to fans not to let the last few years mar what was an exceptional Cardinals career. Or, as Cardinals broadcaster Dan McLaughlin poignantly said on that night’s broadcast, let’s not fall trap to being a prisoner of the moment.

Indeed, it’s simple. Carpenter deserves to one day join the Cardinals Hall of Fame.

There’s no papering over the end of Carpenter’s tenure with the Cardinals. From 2019 until the end of his time with the team in 2021, he never finished a season hitting better than .226. By 2021, he was mostly relegated to the bench, totaling only 207 at-bats. And it didn’t help his cause that the team gave him an unnecessary and almost immediately regrettable two-year and $39 million contract extension at the start of the 2019 season.

But those same stats shouldn’t overshadow how integral and impressive he was before that. He came to the team as a 13th round pick after an unremarkable college career and willed himself into a productive big leaguer. After a brief stint on the championship 2011 team, Carpenter stuck for good in 2012 and immediately became a fan favorite.

The 2013 season was magical – he hit .318 and led the league in hits, runs, doubles, and work ethic. He followed that up with another All Star season in 2014, while again leading the league in doubles in 2015. He became one of the most productive leadoff hitters of all time.

There were other unforgettable moments and memories along the way, including the salsa-infused power explosion in the back-half of 2018 that almost earned the team a playoff spot, and earned Carp down-ballot MVP votes.

That 2018 stretch was the last good stretch we saw of Carp, but his return this past weekend should hopefully offer closure to fans who still hold those last few dreadful years against him. Carpenter came back to St. Louis sporting a .322 average, 15 home runs, 36 RBIs and one distinct new mustache, courtesy of the Yankees policy on facial hair.

The lengthy standing ovation before his first at-bat was great to see, and the tears he shed during his press conference is testament to his love and care for the organization.

Whether the mustache looks good is up for debate. What shouldn’t be is how good the red jacket will one day look on Carpenter’s shoulders.