Last year we unveiled the inaugural class for the Cardinals Devil Magic Hall of Fame, a place where we honor those who made some sort of Robert Johnson-esque pact while playing in St. Louis. The five inaugural inductees were Will Clark, Tom Henke, Gregg Jefferies, Craig Paquette, and Tony Womack. The criteria for eligibility is simple: 1) Be five years removed from playing with the Cardinals (so Allen Craig won’t be eligible until next year’s class); and 2) Perform above and beyond what’s reasonably expected while wearing the Birds on the Bat (or be considered by and large a not great player but one who still came through on a big stage, e.g., Pete Kozma, who will first be eligible in 2020).
Joining the inaugural five inductees, here are the four players who make up the Class of 2019.
I live in Washington, DC. I work downtown and like a lot of people I often find myself walking near the White House. And you know, politics aside, I don’t even think about it anymore and I haven’t for a while. It’s just another building that’s supposed to be there. I imagine most St. Louisans feel the same way about the Arch. José Oquendo is like this. He’s been with the Cardinals organization for so long he’s basically a civic institution who we just expect to be present in some shape or form.
So you’re forgiven if you sometimes forget that Oquendo once actually played baseball, and though he’s probably most known for being a jack-of-all-trades – one of the few players who spent time at all nine positions, however so sparingly – he even played baseball quite well. But his career, which began with the dreaded 80s Mets, didn’t start that way. Remember when Tommy Pham had a .300/.400/.500 season in 2017? Well, Oquendo had two straight .200/.200/.200 seasons to begin his career in Queens, amounting to negative 0.9 wins above replacement in only 564 plate appearances. The Mets decided they could do without that and he was swapped to St. Louis at the dawn of the 1985 season. Everything soon changed.
The relevant facts: After spending the entire 1985 season with the then triple A affiliate Louisville Redbirds, Oquendo joined the big-league squad in 1986 and logged 3,173 plate appearances with the club before calling it quits after the 1995 season. And this is what might surprise people: During that span he was a near 3-win player per 600 plate appearances. A lot of that value came from defense and his versatility (he pulled off the “play all nine positions” feat in 1987), but his hitting improved and certainly reached a level that was perfectly passable. His wRC+ with the Mets was around 45; with the Cardinals it jumped to 96.
Oquendo retired with only 14 career home runs, so he averaged about one home run per every 220 trips to the plate. But that didn’t stop him from hitting a three-run shot in Game 7 of the 1987 NLCS, which gave the Cardinals a commanding 4-0 lead early in the game, a lead they would not relinquish. This home run is under-appreciated in franchise lore as it’s buried under so many other famous postseason home runs from various Cardinals, but it’s probably something we should talk about more.
Oquendo had a career year in 1989 when he was the primary second baseman and eclipsed 600 plate appearances for the only time in his career. He had a .375 on-base percentage, good for tenth in the National League, and a career-high wRC+ (117). Add in his stellar defense and he was worth 5.7 wins above replacement according to FanGraphs, which tied for 7th in the NL that season with Hall of Famer Ryne Sandberg. Oquendo didn’t receive any MVP votes nor an All-Star game nod, not this season or ever. And this raises an interesting question for anyone with good research skills: How many other players, if any, have had at least one 5.5 WAR season or better without ever making an All-Star game or receiving a single MVP vote at any time in their career? It’s a good question, no? Either way, add the Devil Magic Hall of Fame to José Oquendo’s already impressive legacy.
The great thing about the Devil Magic Hall of Fame is that it doesn’t distinguish between near-Hall of Famers like Will Clark and players most people can barely remember. Like Mike Crudale, for instance. So what’s so special about Mike Crudale? Let’s find out.
The relevant facts: Mike Crudale was selected in the 24th round of the 1999 MLB draft. Unless you’re Mark Grace, 24th rounders don’t usually carve out much of a career in MLB, and Crudale isn’t exactly a huge exception. But what’s interesting is for how little time he spent with the Cardinals and in MLB in general, Crudale was pretty good. So say his run prevention numbers anyway. In 64 combined innings pitched with the Cardinals in 2002 and 2003, Crudale had a 1.97 ERA, the best on staff for pitchers who threw at least 50 innings and fourth best in all of MLB. His 87.4 percent strand rate in 2002 was the fourth best in the league for pitchers with at least 50 innings pitched. He simply had a knack for leaving runners aboard while with the Cardinals and that might explain his “ohhhh, I see” peripheral stats. To wit: in 2003, he had another impressive 84.1 percent strand rate with the Cardinals to go along with a 62 ERA- and 120 FIP-.
Returning to 2002, Crudale was good enough to just slide into the Cardinals Baseball Reference page for top performers, and that team won 97 games.
Crudale was traded to the Brewers in late August of the 2003 season where his strikeout rate doubled and his walk rate went down yet his ERA was still worse (I should probably note that I’m working with extremely small samples here). Once that season concluded, he never pitched another inning in MLB. For his career, he pitched 73.1 total innings with an impressive 2.09 ERA. Great stats, very short career. It’s not exactly Chuck Lindstrom stuff but it’s pretty close.
Lastly, according to Wikipedia, Crudale or “And Mike Crudale,” became something of an internet meme on the Baseball Think Factory forum for reasons I can’t quite decipher – I think this was a bit before my time – but Twitter appears to back this up.
Troy Percival is already the owner of a Hall of Pretty Solid career and had better seasons with another organization where he primarily built his legacy. Regardless, Percival has a pretty good case for the Devil Magic Hall of Fame. Here’s why.
The relevant facts: (The argument for Percival was helpfully laid out in the comments section for the 2018 inductees post by Van Hicklestein and rather than just repeat what he said in my own words, let’s just take it straight from him.)
Thank you, VHS.
Bobby Bonilla finished his very good career with 287 career home runs, a 123 wRC+, and over 30 wins above replacement. He finished his career in 2001 with the Cardinals as a 38-year-old and hit .213/.308/.339 in only 198 plate appearances. It was not a good season. So why is he here? Thing is, he was supposed to be the starting left fielder that year, but then he pulled a hamstring in Spring Training and just like that a spot in the starting lineup needed to be filled.
The relevant facts:
(I’m not entirely sure if Bonilla is qualified per #2 in the criteria laid out above for eligibility into the Devil Magic Hall of Fame but who cares.)
There you have it, congrats to the four new inductees. If you wish to make a case for an overlooked candidate, please feel free to share in the comments below. As you may have taken from earlier, I am lazy and just might use your suggestion and words for this post next year.