At one point when I was writing for Viva El Birdos, the SB Nation higher-ups provided a writing prompt that they hoped team site writers would answer: “Why did you become a fan of (fill in name of team)?” Some people had eloquent answers for the St. Louis Cardinals: beautiful stories about how watching the quiet dignity of Stan Musial or the exhilerating play of Lou Brock or overbearing power of Mark McGwire inspired loyalty to the team. I had a boring answer: “Why wouldn’t I be?”
I was born in St. Louis and have lived in the St. Louis area my entire life. I never made a conscious choice to become a fan of the Cardinals, or of any of the sports teams in St. Louis. Asking me why I rooted for St. Louis sports teams was as ridiculous of a question as asking why I breathed St. Louis air. For many Cardinals fans, they had at least some say in the matter–perhaps they were born in Iowa or central Illinois or some other spot on the map where they could have reasonably adopted the Cardinals among several options. And for them, that’s fine. But that isn’t my story.
Tonight, the 2019 Stanley Cup Playoffs will begin, and the St. Louis Blues will play Game 1 of their first-round series against the Winnipeg Jets. Despite the fact that I have tickets to tonight’s Cardinals game, I can assure you that I will be paying at least as much attention to the results of a hockey game 1,000 miles and an international border away. I don’t view this as some sort of betrayal or even side-stepping of the Cardinals–I view the teams as intrinsically linked. Others don’t. But I do.
I initially hoped to write a post tying in the Blues series with baseball by writing about how a team of St. Louis natives would fare against a team of Winnipeg natives in a game of baseball. It turns out that while I knew St. Louis would win, I underestimated just how much Manitoba is not a hotbed for Major League Baseball talent. Corey Koskie was born in nearby Anola, and Dead Ball Era pitcher Russ Ford was born in Brandon, about 2 1/2 hours away. Aside from them, Manitoba produced Bud Sketchley (42 career plate appearances) and Mel Kerr (who appeared in one career game, as a pinch runner, though to his credit, he did score a run). And that’s it.
But then I realized something: I don’t care about Winnipeg’s history. But I do care about St. Louis. I care about the names and the numbers that define sports in this town, an integral part to our regional identity.
By my count, 102 uniform numbers have been worn by professional athletes in St. Louis, and after looking through the archives of which players wore which uniform number for each of these teams, I attempted to select the definitive player to have worn each of those numbers. I made the decision to focus on professional sports, though in some cases, playing collegiately at a local-ish institution, particularly at Saint Louis University, bolstered one’s case. I tried to keep the list somewhat objective, leaning heavily on sorted lists of player valuation metrics in various sports, not because I believe those numbers are fool-proof, but as a way to compare players of various sports and various eras, many of whom I never actually watched play.
This isn’t a baseball post, really. Most of the players listed played football for teams which are no longer in St. Louis (this isn’t a value judgment on my part–football has by far the largest rosters and by far the widest range of widely-circulated numbers in sports). But I consider those who played for the football Cardinals, the Rams, the Browns, the Hawks, the Eagles, the Bombers, the Spirits, the Steamers, and various other now-defunct St. Louis teams to be every bit as vital to the history of sports in this city as those on the baseball Cardinals or Blues. Teams relocate. Memories don’t.
This is not a list of the 102 greatest athletes in St. Louis history–some incredible local figures missed the cut while some players who are at best historical footnotes are included. But in these names, I believe you will get a very good glimpse at the colorful and vibrant history of St. Louis sports.
0–Kerry Robinson: Kerry Robinson was a mostly anonymous backup outfielder who had a more noteworthy career in St. Louis than his 623 plate appearances from 2001 through 2003 might imply. Robinson had local roots, having attended Hazelwood East High School, and while he was mostly known for his speed, one of his three home runs for the Cardinals was a walk-off home run against the Chicago Cubs, later anthologized in one of the greatest St. Louis Cardinals books, Buzz Bissinger’s Three Nights in August.
00–Omar Olivares: A starting pitcher in the early 1990s, Olivares wore three different numbers with the Cardinals, but despite it being the number he wore the least, Olivares’s most famous uniform number is “00”, presumably worn as a nod to his initials.
1/8–Eddie Gaedel: As time goes on, I find the fact that the St. Louis Browns employed a little person as a publicity stunt (which included him jumping out of a cake, which apparently qualified as uproarious entertainment in the pre-television era) to be a bit, um, problematic. But he’s also the only player in major professional sports history to wear a fraction as a uniform number, so there’s that.
1–Ozzie Smith: Several good Blues goalies, notably Mike Liut, Glenn Hall, and Brian Elliott, wore #1, but in terms of player impact and overall iconography while wearing the #1 uniform, no other St. Louis athlete can touch Ozzie Smith, whose number was retired by the Cardinals subsequent to his 1996 retirement.
2–Al MacInnis: Already, an impossible choice. It’s hard not to pick Red Schoendienst, a top twenty or so Cardinal on playing merits who later was a long-serving manager for the club, but by Point Shares, the NHL equivalent of Wins Above Replacement, Al MacInnis is the second-greatest Blues player ever. Following a long stint with the Calgary Flames, the former captain was twice first-team All-NHL and won the Norris Trophy as the NHL’s top defenseman in his time in St. Louis.
3–Frankie Frisch: The #3 is shockingly lacking in St. Louis sports. It’s not a huge football number in general (the top NFL player to wear #3 in St. Louis is probably baseball player Brian Jordan), and it was retired in 1977 by the Blues for Bob Gassoff, who was killed in a motorcycle accident at age 24 before he could ever really establish himself in the NHL. The “2015 Jason Heyward, but for seven years” Jordan is closer than you probably think he is, but it’s hard to pass up a former MVP who was somehow able to fill Rogers Hornsby’s shoes at second base for the Cardinals.
4–Yadier Molina: With all due respect to Greg Zuerlein, a rare bright spot as a freakishly powerful kicker during the last four St. Louis Rams seasons, and former Blues captain Eric Brewer, this is a pretty easy one. Molina arrived before either of these players and remains after they’ve become memories, and there’s a pretty good chance his number is eventually retired by the Cardinals after he is inducted into the Hall of Fame.
5–Albert Pujols: A pair of long-time Blues stay-at-home defensemen, Bob Plager and Barret Jackman, would’ve merited consideration with a lesser number, and Browns shortstop Vern Stephens wore the number for four top-ten MVP seasons in the 1940s. But the obvious answer to modern fans is also the correct one–future Cooperstown inductee Albert Pujols.
6–Stan Musial: Duh.
7–Daryl Doran: This one might require some explanation, particularly for those who don’t live in the St. Louis area. Doran was born and raised in St. Louis, attending CBC High School before briefly attending Saint Louis University, where he played soccer, before turning professional in the sport. From 1982 through 2005, he played for all but one season on one of four St. Louis-based indoor soccer teams. In 2008, at age 45, he played one game for a fifth St. Louis team, and he scored two goals. Although primarily a defensively-motivated midfielder, Doran scored 413 goals in St. Louis, while his 827 games played are an American indoor soccer record. While Doran isn’t the best St. Louis-born soccer player, and while it’s hard to pass on the likes of Joe Medwick, Matt Holliday, Harlond Clift, Red Berenson, Garry Unger, and Keith Tkachuk, all far better known players outside of the area, he is by far the most important player in St. Louis soccer history for the development of the sport in the area and is a uniquely St. Louis icon.
8–Larry Wilson: The free safety for the St. Louis (football) Cardinals was selected to eight Pro Bowls and won the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award in 1966. While the #8 is retired by the Blues for defenseman Barclay Plager, a very solid defenseman for a decade, he never reached the league-wide greatness of Wilson.
9–Bob Pettit: The Cardinals retired the number for Enos Slaughter, but nobody is confusing Slaughter for the best player in franchise history. But Bob Pettit is easily the greatest player in the history of the St. Louis Hawks, the greatest basketball player to ever play in St. Louis on any level, and the man most responsible for bringing an NBA championship to St. Louis. Even with an additional half-century of Atlanta Hawks history, including Dominique Wilkins, on top of Pettit’s career, he is the greatest player in the history of the franchise, and the 11-time NBA All-Star easily cracked the NBA’s 1997 list of the 50 Greatest Players in league history.
10–Tony LaRussa: Tempted as I am to devote a paragraph or eight to defending the legacy of Marc Bulger in St. Louis, he will always be defined by what he wasn’t (as good as Kurt Warner), and Tony LaRussa will always be defined as the manager of two World Series champions and a sixteen-season run defined by consistent competitiveness. An honorable mention nod goes to Johnny Mize.
11–Brian Sutter: The oldest of six brothers to play in the NHL, Brian has his number retired by the St. Louis Blues, and for founded reasons. When he retired, at just 31 as the result of a lingering back injury, he was second in franchise history in goals and he had spent the previous nine seasons as Blues captain.
12–Adam Oates: Both of the city’s NFL franchises were led by #12 quarterbacks in their early years, in Charley Johnson and Tony Banks, and Lance Berkman was a major contributor to a Cardinals World Series championship, but the sheer famousness of Adam Oates gives him the edge. Oates spent less than three seasons in St. Louis, but formed a potent scoring line as the assist-man to the goal-scoring Brett Hull. The combo was dubbed “Hull and Oates”, a play on the band Hall and Oates, where the one named Oates also was an underrated sideman to the more famous one.
13–Kurt Warner: As great as Matt Carpenter is, it would take a pretty baseball-centric view of St. Louis sports to not pick Kurt Warner for this or most numbers. Warner was the trigger man for perhaps the most influential offense in NFL history, and in the process, he won MVP of both the regular season and Super Bowl for the 1999 St. Louis Rams. He may not have been the best player on that team, but he was the face of it, and when, someday, the St. Louis Blues win the Stanley Cup and St. Louis will have a title in all four major professional sports leagues, know that it would not have been possible without the contributions of Kurt Warner.
14–Ken Boyer: NBA Hall of Famer Lenny Wilkens made his name in St. Louis, making five All-Star Games before becoming one of the league’s most successful head coaches, but the slight edge goes to Ken Boyer, who attended seven All-Star Games as a Cardinal and won the National League MVP for the 1964 World Series champions. To date, Boyer is the only St. Louis Cardinal to have his number retired despite not being in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
15–Jim Edmonds: Neil Lomax, the quarterback for the football Cardinals for their final seven seasons in St. Louis, appeared in two Pro Bowls, but while Lomax was a somewhat up-and-down player, Jim Edmonds was relentlessly great in St. Louis, making three All-Star Games and winning six Gold Gloves in his eight seasons with the Cardinals.
16–Brett Hull: Far and away the leading goal scorer in Blues history, Brett entered the NHL in the shadow of his father Bobby, himself an inner-circle Hall of Famer. But Brett Hull managed to score 131 more NHL goals and conduct infinitely fewer interviews in which he defended Hitler than his famous father, for which I am eternally thankful. #2 for #16 goes to perhaps the second-greatest St. Louis Hawks player, Hall of Famer Cliff Hagan.
17–Jim Hart: Dizzy Dean has his number retired by the baseball Cardinals, but he spent quite a bit less time in St. Louis than you probably think he did. Meanwhile, Jim Hart was the quarterback for the St. Louis Cardinals for eighteen seasons, the majority of the time the team played in St. Louis. He was a four-time Pro Bowler and is, by Approximate Value, the greatest NFL player in St. Louis history.
18–Carlos Martinez: The most beloved St. Louis athlete to wear #18 is Mike Shannon, but this mostly came from his time in the broadcast booth. The current #18 for the Blues, Robert Thomas, has superstar potential, but for the time being, I’ll go with the most valuable Cardinal #18 by WAR. Martinez took his game to a new level after inheriting the uniform number in 2015 following the passing of his close friend Oscar Taveras and quickly became the team’s best starting pitcher, though there are rumors he may find himself in the bullpen once he returns from the Injured List.
19–Jack Kramer: I can’t argue against Blues players Brendan Shanahan nor Jay Bouwmeester (I’d lean towards the former, but it’s really a bit of a quality vs. quantity Rorschach test), but I’m going slightly off the grid and going with Jack Kramer, the staff ace for the 1944 St. Louis Browns. Kramer played for the Browns for eight seasons and was a three-time All-Star, but his most important contributions came in helping to secure the only pennant the Browns ever won in St. Louis.
20–Lou Brock: With all due respect to Alex Steen, who became a top ten-ish Blues player so quietly it would be easy not to notice, Lou Brock is arguably the most beloved living St. Louis Cardinal. You could make a case for somebody else, but if that person doesn’t have to square off against Brock in your mind, you weren’t doing your due diligence. He retired as baseball’s all-time stolen bases leader, he cleared 3,000 career hits, and he was a first-ballot Hall of Famer.
21–Curt Flood: Not only is Flood the greatest player to wear the number in St. Louis, he is far and away the most important. For whatever Terry Metcalf or Jeff Brown or O.J. Atogwe or Allen Craig did in St. Louis, none come close to what Flood did on his way out of St. Louis. And while he was here, he was a three-time All-Star, a seven-time Gold Glove winner, and a two-time World Series champion.
22–Roger Wehrli: Wehrli was already an icon of Missouri sports before he joined the St. Louis football Cardinals in 1969, having been an All-American in college with the Missouri Tigers. In St. Louis, the cornerback made seven Pro Bowls and was named to the NFL’s 1970s All-Decade Team. Wehrli spent his entire 14-year NFL career in St. Louis and was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame. He and his aforementioned teammate Larry Wilson are far and away the two best defensive players in St. Louis NFL history.
23–Ted Simmons: While David Freese will always be the treasured icon for younger fans, the greatest St. Louis athlete to wear #23 was Ted Simmons. Arguably a top ten Cardinal and a top ten MLB catcher, Simba was the dominant figure in Cardinals baseball between Bob Gibson and Ozzie Smith, and that his career came during a mediocre time for his team, and while Johnny Bench was serving as NL catching standard-bearer, means that he has long been underrated outside of St. Louis.
24–Bernie Federko: First in points in St. Louis Blues history, second in goals, and first (by a lot) in assists, Federko exemplified consistency for the Blues, and while advanced hockey analytics are slightly less favorable to him than his local reputation, Federko ranks second among all Blues forwards in career point shares. While I’m tempted to give a nod to Whitey Herzog, who wore the number as manager of the Cardinals, or Marvin “Bad News” Barnes, the best player in both seasons of the American Basketball Association’s beautifully named Spirits of St. Louis, it’s hard to pass on Federko.
25–Mark McGwire: There is an argument to be made for Jim Bakken, kicker for the St. Louis Cardinals for seventeen seasons who appeared in four Pro Bowls and was a member of two NFL All-Decade teams. But while McGwire only played in St. Louis for 4+ seasons, and he was injured during much of two of those seasons, he was arguably the biggest story in all of sports in 1998, and no kicker in NFL history has ever come close to McGwire’s level of cultural ubiquity. Also, he was the hitting coach for a World Series champion, which is nice.
26–Kyle Lohse: This is a shockingly weak number for St. Louis sports. If you think this is an uninspired baseball pick, the hockey pick was St. Louisan Paul Stastny, a fine but hardly outstanding Blues center for most of four seasons, and the football pick was (I literally can’t believe I’m typing this out) Mark Barron. Recent closers Trevor Rosenthal (two seasons of him, at least) and Seung-Hwan Oh are in the discussion, but Kyle Lohse has the Game 6 bunt and the fact that he started the Pete Kozma infield fly game going for him.
27–Alex Pietrangelo: Now that’s more like it. Scott Rolen was a spectacular third baseman during the mid-aughts, but Alex Pietrangelo is, somewhat quietly, an all-time great St. Louis Blue. The current captain ranks third in Point Shares behind Brett Hull and Al MacInnis and could very easily pass MacInnis before his time in St. Louis is over.
28–Marshall Faulk: The Greatest Show on Turf-era Rams were an incredible, almost inconceivably well-oiled machine, and not only was Marshall Faulk the most dynamic of their many weapons, I would dare say he was the single most talented St. Louis athlete I’ve ever seen. Every time the dual threat running back touched the ball, he was a threat to score a touchdown. He was the NFL MVP in 2000 and while his teammate Kurt Warner won the award in 1999 and 2001, it was Faulk who won the league’s Offensive Player of the Year award in all three of those seasons.
29–Chris Carpenter: It might be Vince Coleman for fans of a certain age, and perhaps opting for Carpenter is me showing myself as a punk millennial, but the defiantly old-school pitcher was also the ace for two World Series champions, he won a Cy Young award and was a finalist for another, he had a complete game shutout in a winner-take-all game and then another quality start in Game Seven of the Freaking World Series later that year, and also, WAR backs me up on this pick, so I’m standing by it.
30–John Tudor: The #30 has a history in St. Louis of players with brief but brilliant runs locally–Orlando Cepeda, Todd Gurley, and Jacques Plante come to mind in MLB, the NFL, and the NHL respectively. But I give the edge to John Tudor, the breakout ace of the legendary 1985 Cardinals who would have won the Cy Young Award in most seasons with his resume (Dwight Gooden had to hang around and have perhaps the best individual season in modern baseball history), and then eased into another half-decade that may never have reached 1985’s heights but which were ultimately productive.
31–Curtis Joseph: There is a laundry list of good but ultimately not the greatest Cardinals pitchers who have worn #31–Harry Brecheen, Curt Simmons, Bob Forsch, Donovan Osborne, and Lance Lynn among them (the same could be said of St. Louis Browns pitcher Ned Garver, and something similar could be said of Hawks center Zelmo Beaty). But on the hockey side, arguably the greatest Blues goalie of all-time donned the #31 sweater, and that was Curtis Joseph. Joseph spent six seasons in St. Louis before going to Edmonton. In a bit of Blues-y irony, Joseph retired as the winningest goalie in NHL history to have never won a Stanley Cup.
32–Ottis Anderson: The greatest running back in NFL history nicknamed “O.J.” who wore #32 that wasn’t convicted in civil court to be liable for murder, Anderson won two Super Bowls with the New York Giants, but began his career with seven-plus seasons with the St. Louis football Cardinals. He was a Pro Bowler in his first two seasons in St. Louis and while his performance eventually dropped a bit from those heights, he was the most valuable running back in St. Louis Cardinals history.
33–Vinegar Bend Mizell: I think this is just one of those numbers whose most iconic holder is in the eye of the beholder. For me, it’s Larry Walker. For younger fans, it might be Daniel Descalso. Fans of the 1960s football team might go with Willis Crenshaw. But Vinegar Bend Mizell was probably the most successful #33. The St. Louis Cardinals pitcher from the 1950s, despite sounding like he pitched in the 1850s, was an All-Star in 1959 and was the most valuable Cardinals pitcher of the decade.
34–Clyde Lovellette: Plenty of Pretty Good players have worn the #34 in St. Louis, including Cardinals pitchers Nelson Briles and Danny Cox, as well as now-backup Blues goalie Jake Allen, but no #34 reached higher heights in St. Louis than Clyde Lovellette, the NBA Hall of Famer who played four seasons for the Hawks in the late 1950s and early 1960s. In two of the seasons, Lovellette was an All-Star, and despite his brief time in St. Louis, he was the 5th most valuable player by Win Shares in St. Louis Hawks history.
35–Matt Morris: Another #35 whose career ran concurrent with Morris’s (though it began in St. Louis later) was Rams cornerback/safety Aeneas Williams. And while Aeneas Williams is a Hall of Famer, his legacy belongs with the Arizona Cardinals (though he did reach two Pro Bowls in St. Louis). But Matt Morris, who appeared in two All-Star Games as a Cardinal, was one of the team’s best pitchers for most of his nine years in St. Louis, and St. Louis is certainly where the bulk of his fame came.
36–John Denny: As a fan of the mediocre post-GSOT Rams teams, I feel like I could’ve taken quite the liking to John Denny in the 1970s. Denny was on the Cardinals from 1974 through 1979, not exactly the strongest years in Cardinals history, and many of his accomplishments, such as NL-best 2.52 ERA in 1976, were overlooked because of his lack of run support (his win-loss record, a more important stat to 1970s statheads than today, was a pedestrian 11-9). Denny was a two-time Opening Day starter for the Cardinals.
37–Keith Hernandez: One of the bigger blowouts on this list is #37, in which Keith Hernandez separates himself from the pack of the Ray Sadeckis and Jeff Suppans of the world. While these were useful back-end starters on good Cardinals teams, Keith Hernandez was an MVP who was in two All-Star Games and won five Gold Gloves as the first baseman for the Cardinals. Although Hernandez’s time in New York became what he was most famous for, some of his best seasons, and his first World Series championship, came in St. Louis.
38–Pavol Demitra: The late, great Pavol Demitra was perhaps the most thrilling volume scorer for the Blues between Brett Hull and Vladimir Tarasenko. Demitra was a three-time All-Star and won the NHL’s Lady Byng Award for combining on-ice excellence with gentlemanly play. That he was the top scorer in an Olympics with NHL players involved at 35 has little to do with his St. Louis iconography, but it does reinforce the simple truth that Pavol Demitra ruled.
39–Steven Jackson: Slightly post-peak Doug Weight was a rare bright spot for some pretty lackluster Blues teams in the 2000s, but Steven Jackson was a more extreme version of that. For the literal worst half-decade in NFL history, in which the Rams won just 15 games over five seasons, Jackson was still widely regarded as one of the five best running backs in the NFL. That he could rise to such acclaim while on such an utterly ignorable team spoke to his immense talent. One of the most pathetic things about the second half of the St. Louis Rams era was how utterly wasted such an incredible physical talent was.
40–Bobby Joe Conrad: Andy Benes remained in St. Louis and that could be cited as something which boosted his St. Louis credibility, but Bobby Joe Conrad, the first great NFL player in St. Louis, was simply a better player. After two years on the Chicago Cardinals, Conrad spent nine seasons in St. Louis, during which he was all-NFL in 1963 and a Pro Bowler in 1964. Although the modern passing era has made his wide receiver records seem quaint by comparison, Conrad left the NFL as the sport’s seventh-leading pass receiver.
41–Lindy McDaniel: McDaniel was one of baseball’s first great relief pitchers, and he spent his first eight seasons with the Cardinals. In 1960, a season in which McDaniel started just two games, he finished in third place in Cy Young voting, an unthinkable accomplishment for the era. By Wins Above Replacement accumulated in relief, McDaniel is the greatest reliever in St. Louis Cardinals history.
42–David Backes: While Bruce Sutter has his #42 “retired” by the Cardinals (the number had already been retired league-wide for Jackie Robinson, and Sutter got co-recognized under the “he’s in the Hall of Fame as a Cardinal so he gets his number retired” principle), the most significant #42 in St. Louis sports is former Blues captain David Backes. For nine seasons, Backes was a fan favorite for his combination of physical, two-way play and scoring prowess, and ranks in the top ten in franchise history in goals, assists, and points.
43–Norm Thompson: Leading an especially weak crop of candidates is Norm Thompson, a solid if not spectacular Cardinals cornerback from 1971 through 1976. By Approximate Value, he is the most valuable NFL player to wear the number in St. Louis, though he is most notable historically for his exit from St. Louis, where he became the first free agent in NFL history (he signed with the Baltimore Colts). This doesn’t quite make him Curt Flood, but it does make him at least an interesting trivia answer.
44–Chris Pronger: While Jason Isringhausen was a wonderful closer for the Cardinals, arguably the franchise’s best, there is little question that Chris Pronger is the greatest St. Louis #44. If Al MacInnis was the Beatles of Blues defensemen, Pronger was the Rolling Stones–bigger, badder, and more abrasive, but also with a deceptive level of technical skill. In St. Louis, he was a five-time All-Star and he reached his peak in 1999-00, when he won the league’s Norris Trophy as Best Defenseman and Hart Trophy as Most Valuable Player for a Blues team which led the NHL in regular season points.
45–Bob Gibson: Aside from Leonard Smith’s All-Pro 1986 season as a cornerback for the football Cardinals, St. Louis athletes didn’t even fake an attempt to eclipse Bob Gibson for this title. Anybody familiar with Gibby’s reputation on the mound can understand why they may be shy to find themselves in a one-on-one showdown with the man.
46–Pete Vuckovich: Vuckovich spent three pretty good years in St. Louis, honing his mustache and pitching craft for more glorious days ahead for him with the Milwaukee Brewers. Vuckovich set a nice standard for which Paul Goldschmidt will surely shoot in the coming years.
47–Joaquin Andujar: Soon-to-be Hall of Famer Lee Smith wore the number in St. Louis, but a big part of what makes Andujar the definitive #47 in St. Louis is that unlike Lee Smith, who was inning-for-inning the superior pitcher, Andujar was a pivotal part of some major Cardinals teams. He was the team’s ace for its 1982 World Series championship and was an All-Star in 1984 and 1985, the latter of which culminated in his starting Game Seven of the World Series (which went poorly, but hey, he was there!).
48–Scott Young: When the Blues acquired Young in 1998, he was a well-regarded but somewhat forgettable veteran forward. But in his four years with the Blues (he later had a fifth), Young developed into a major scoring threat, scoring 40 goals in the 2000-01 season, putting him in the top ten in the league that season. While this falls squarely in the range of numbers, as you may have noticed from previous entries, dominated by pitchers, only Jose DeLeon, on the strength of his 1989 NL strikeout-leading season, comes close.
49–Ricky Horton: A pair of contemporary youngsters, 22 year-old Jordan Hicks and 23 year-old Ivan Barbashev, have good chances of making this number their own. Good starting pitchers Jerry Reuss and Larry Dierker donned the uniform, but the bulk of their excellence came outside of St. Louis. So for the time being, the uniform title goes to Ricky Horton, a good lefty reliever from 1984 through 1987 as well as 1989 through 1990 before becoming a long-time television and radio broadcaster for the team.
50–Adam Wainwright: This is closer than you think it is. “Easy” Ed Macauley, the greatest men’s basketball player in Saint Louis University history, wore the #50, and the Hall of Famer wore the number for two local NBA franchises–the St. Louis Bombers and the St. Louis Hawks. Had he worn 50 during the Hawks’ championship season, I’d have probably picked him. But Adam Wainwright, in nearly a decade and a half with the Cardinals, has assured that multiple generations will forever associate the number with him. He may not have his number retired, but I’d be shocked if it doesn’t stay out of circulation for a while.
51–Willie McGee: When Bud Smith attempted to wear the #51 for the Cardinals in 2001, he faced swift public backlash, and with the exception of Smith’s brief time in the number, the jersey has been unofficially retired by the Cardinals for two decades. The movement to formally retire Willie McGee’s number is one of those ubiquitously St. Louis things that non-locals don’t understand, but whether it makes sense to you or not, it epitomizes what a fan favorite the four-time All-Star and 1985 MVP remains.
52–Mike Jones: He isn’t, by Approximate Value, the greatest local football player to wear #52 (1980s Cardinals linebacker Charles Baker holds that honor), and Michael Wacha has worn the number longer pitching for the Cardinals. But Mike Jones, a University of Missouri product to boot, is the co-subject of arguably the most iconic St. Louis sports photograph of them all (Bobby Orr diving across the ice of St. Louis Arena is the only close competition that comes to mind): his tackle of Tennessee Titans wide receiver Kevin Dyson to end Super Bowl XXXIV remains a staple of local sports bars and will/should for eternity.
53–Greg Mathews: You’d think the fifties would at least provide some good NFL linebackers, but the best option in St. Louis history was Steve Neils. Meanwhile, Greg Mathews provided the Cardinals with some good seasons before his career ended prematurely due to arm injuries. His best season came with the pennant-winning 1987 club, when he had a 3.73 ERA in 197 2/3 innings, finishing 6th in NL Rookie of the Year voting and having the third best season on the team, behind only Ozzie Smith and Jack Clark, by Wins Above Replacement.
54–Tom Banks: For a decade, the center out of Auburn was a pivotal part of the Big Red’s offensive line. He was a Pro Bowler in four consecutive seasons, from 1975 through 1978, and snapped the ball in two of the team’s three postseason games in St. Louis. Nearly as good in the number was the man who succeeded him in wearing it for the Cardinals, linebacker E.J. Junior (ironically, a highly touted player out of Banks’s college rival, Alabama), who played in two Pro Bowls and the other St. Louis postseason game. It’s close, but Banks has the more impressive first line of his biography.
55–James Laurinaitis: For the final seven seasons of the St. Louis Rams, Laurinaitis was the centerpiece of the team’s defense (which, more times than not, was trying to carry a pitiful offense to respectability). While Laurinaitis was cut a month after the team relocated to Los Angeles, he remains the all-time leader in tackles for the franchise.
56–Tim Kearney: Kearney was a linebacker for the football Cardinals for six seasons, from 1976 through 1981, after having bounced around the NFL for 4 1/2 years before that. He twice led the Cardinals in tackles, and despite my sentimental weaknesses for Magnus Paajarvi, who scored an overtime goal for the Blues to clinch the team’s most recent playoff series victory, and Adron Chambers, who scored the winning run in a late September 2011 walk-off for the Cardinals against Carlos Marmol and the Chicago Cubs, their career accolades don’t stack up to Kearney’s.
57–Darryl Kile: This is a tricky one if your parameters for the player to identify with a number is sheer value, because if that’s your goal, the correct answer is probably off-and-on (currently on) Blues winger David Perron or 1970s Cardinals linebacker Mark Arneson. But without question, the player most synonymous with 57 is Cardinals pitcher Darryl Kile. Kile was the team’s ace upon his arrival from the Colorado Rockies in 2000 until his sudden, tragic passing at the age of 33 in 2002. His teammates dedicated the remainder of their season to Kile’s memory, and the Cardinals have not issued his #57 jersey since.
58–Roman Phifer: Rams players from before the team’s 1999 breakthrough tend to be overlooked historically, but Phifer was one of the team’s most valuable players from 1995 through 1998, and was the most valuable among players who didn’t get to raise their profiles with the next season’s Super Bowl run. Phifer, a linebacker, finished in the top ten in the NFL in tackles in each of the team’s first two seasons in St. Louis.
59–London Fletcher: Part of the reason the aforementioned Phifer became expendable to the Rams was because of the out-of-nowhere rise of middle linebacker London Fletcher. Fletcher started all sixteen regular season and all three postseason games for each of the team’s Super Bowl seasons, in 1999 and 2001, and over the three-year stretch, Fletcher was the most valuable defensive player on the Rams.
60–Al Baker: Although not quite as good in St. Louis as he was during the first half-decade of his career, with the Detroit Lions, the defensive end reached double-digit sacks in three of his four seasons with the St. Louis Cardinals from 1983 through 1986.
61–Bob DeMarco: DeMarco was the literal centerpiece of the 1960s St. Louis Cardinals football teams, playing center from 1961 through 1969, and in the process, he made three Pro Bowls and was a first-team All-Pro twice. He later went to a better NFL team and was the starting center for the 1971 Miami Dolphins, who made it to that season’s Super Bowl.
62–Adam Timmerman: Although he is usually overshadowed by Marshall Faulk in terms of key pieces that took the St. Louis Rams from doormat to Super Bowl champions, the right guard was pivotal in solidifying the team’s offensive line. Although a Super Bowl champion with the Green Bay Packers, Timmerman spent eight years in St. Louis, during which he was voted as a Pro Bowl alternate in four consecutive seasons, and he was voted to the 10th Anniversary Team of the St. Louis Rams.
63–Tootie Robbins: The latter years of the football Cardinals in St. Louis were a lackluster time for the most part, but Tootie Robbins was one of the team’s better players. Robbins took over as the team’s starting right tackle in 1982 and didn’t relinquish the job until the team had moved to Phoenix; as a rookie, he was named to the NFL’s All-Rookie Team.
64–Ken Gray: A carry-over from the Chicago Cardinals, Gray moved with the NFL team to St. Louis in 1960 and spent the full 1960s as the team’s starting right guard. In that time, he was a six-time Pro Bowler, a two-time First Team All-Pro, and he made Pro Football Reference’s 1st Team All 1960s.
65–David Galloway: Galloway joined the football Cardinals in 1982, and from 1983 through the team’s final St. Louis season in 1987, he started at defensive tackle. His best season came in 1983, when he had a career-high 12 sacks.
66–Conrad Dobler: This is a rare number in this range in that a baseball player, the starting pitching version of Rick Ankiel, puts up a formidable fight. But Conrad Dobler, who made three Pro Bowls in his six seasons with the 1970s Cardinals, is too significant a part of Big Red history to not pick.
67–Larry Stallings: This is a shockingly deep crop of NFL offensive linemen, with Luis Sharpe and Andy McCollum being worthy candidates, but linebacker Larry Stallings wins out. A starting linebacker from 1963 through 1976, Stallings made the 1970 Pro Bowl and ranks fifth in games for St. Louis football Cardinals.
68–Terry Stieve: If you’re bored of reading about offensive linemen, you’ll get some variety fairly soon. But as for #68, Terry Stieve was a competent starting offensive guard for the Cardinals in the late 1970s and early 1980s. He started a postseason game in 1982.
69–Rush Brown: Rush Brown had an A-plus name for a defensive lineman (somehow, I prefer it to if he were a running back), and in four seasons, Brown started 33 games and was an All-Rookie Team player in 1980. Like Terry Stieve before him (well, before him on this list), Brown started a postseason game for the Cardinals, which is itself a rare accomplishment. Despite the general lack of good players to have worn the number in St. Louis, I’ve seen a lot of 69 jerseys at St. Louis sporting events over the years. I’m not entirely sure why.
70–Wayne Gandy: Take everything I said about Roman Phifer and apply it to an offensive lineman and you have Wayne Gandy. Gandy was the best offensive lineman on the St. Louis Rams for a while, and while he wasn’t as good as the guy who succeeded him as the team’s best offensive lineman, Gandy deserved more credit than he got. But he left before the Super Bowl year and thus must settle for the solid, fifteen-year journeyman career he wound up having. Admittedly, I considered Tyler Lyons or Oskar Sundqvist for this spot because listing offensive linemen I mostly don’t remember is making me think I shouldn’t have written this list chronologically, but I do at least remember Wayne Gandy.
71–Bob Reynolds: An offensive tackle for the Cardinals from 1963 through 1971 and again in 1973, Reynolds made it to three Pro Bowls for St. Louis.
72–Dan Dierdorf: A local icon not only for his excellence as an offensive guard for the Cardinals but for his broadcasting career (he also used to own a steakhouse in St. Louis with Jim Hart), Dierdorf is first and foremost one of the greatest football players St. Louis has ever seen. In a thirteen-year career spent entirely in St. Louis, Dierdorf made six Pro Bowls, was a first-team All-Pro in five seasons, and is enshrined in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.
73–Ernie McMillan: After playing semi-local college football at Illinois, McMillan embarked in a fourteen-year career in St. Louis as one of the city’s truly great offensive linemen. Primarily a right tackle, McMillan made four Pro Bowls.
74–T.J. Oshie: Although arguably most famous as the star of the highest-profile United States Men’s Hockey Team moment since the Miracle on Ice, T.J. Oshie spent his first seven seasons in the NHL with the Blues. While his fan favorite status implied Oshie was flashy, he was a meticulously well-rounded player–he only cleared 20 goals for the Blues once, but was a big-time assist man who once received votes for the Selke Trophy as the NHL’s best defensive forward, a rarity for a winger such as himself.
75–D’Marco Farr: Later a successful broadcaster, Farr first rose to fame as a defensive tackle for the Rams, spending one season in Los Angeles before moving with the team to St. Louis in 1995. He finished in the top ten in the NFL in sacks during his first season in St. Louis and started the first 81 games the team played in the city, with his best season coming during his Pro Bowl campaign for the 1999 Super Bowl champions.
76–Orlando Pace: The first overall pick for the Rams in 1997, Pace was such a dominant offensive tackle that he is largely credited with the widespread proliferation of the term “pancake” to describe a block in which a defensive player is knocked on his back. He finished in 4th place in Heisman voting despite the obvious handicap of not playing a traditional glamour position. He continued his dominance in the NFL almost immediately, and he after being a Pro Bowl alternate his second season, he was voted into the game itself for each of the next seven seasons. He was correctly inducted into the Hall of Fame in his second year of eligibility. Sometimes it can be difficult to explain offensive linemen, but Pace was so outstanding that attempting to describe him is always a delight.
77–Pierre Turgeon: With the Blues’ acquisition of Ryan O’Reilly this season and his excellent play at the center position, an open-ended question some Blues fans have asked is who O’Reilly is the best Blues center since. And I always arrive at and settle on Pierre Turgeon. A former #1 overall pick, the Blues somehow lucked their way into Turgeon after they failed to re-sign Wayne Gretzky in 1996 and he immediately paid dividends, scoring over a point per game in four of his five seasons in St. Louis (in the fifth, he scored 65 points in 67 games). In St. Louis, he was a two-time All-Star, four times receiving Lady Byng votes and once receiving Selke votes. He also once scored an overtime goal in Game 7 in a playoff series and then scored another OT winner eight days later, which is a nice way to endear yourself to the fans.
78–Ron Yankowski: A defensive end for a full decade for the football Cardinals from 1971 through 1980, Yankowski had a mostly nondescript career statistically-speaking (he winds up on some Pro Football Reference leaderboards by virtue of a 71-yard fumble return for a touchdown he scored in 1974), partially because his career predates particularly widespread maintenance of defensive statistics, but it’s hard to pass on a guy who spent a decade, mostly as a starter, on the team during some of its finest years.
79–Chuck Walker: A defensive tackle for the Big Red from 1964 to 1972, Walker was named to the Pro Bowl in 1966, an honor which gives him some separation from the #2 player to wear #79 by Approximate Value–former Rams defensive tackle Ryan Pickett.
80–Isaac Bruce: Not only was Isaac Bruce just about the most gentlemanly ambassador for pro football St. Louis could ever hope to have, he was one of the greatest wide receivers in NFL history. Bruce ranks fifth all-time in receiving yards, the bulk of which were earned in St. Louis, and before the team’s offense took off in 1999, he was already a rare star for some hapless Rams teams. And when the rest of the offense caught up, he became one of the league’s best, with his most famous moment coming when he scored the game-winning 73-yard touchdown in Super Bowl XXXIV.
81–Jackie Smith: This is a loaded number for St. Louis football. Torry Holt, the younger version of Isaac Bruce (who should also be in the Hall of Fame someday), surely belongs in the conversation, but his stock is hurt by the fact he wore 88 for the first three seasons of his career, which coincided with his two Super Bowl appearances. Jackie Smith, although most famous to national audiences for dropping a sure touchdown pass while on the Dallas Cowboys in the Super Bowl, but before that, Smith spent fifteen years in St. Louis. He made five Pro Bowls and it is because of this, not his one season in Dallas, that Jackie Smith is in the Hall of Fame.
82–Bob Pollard: A defensive lineman who spent four seasons with the Cardinals in the late 1970s and early 1980s, Pollard began his career as a defensive tackle for the New Orleans Saints, but moved to end by the time he arrived in St. Louis to close out his career.
83–Pat Tilley: For over a decade, Pat Tilley was one of the top wide receivers on the St. Louis football Cardinals, earning a Pro Bowl trip in 1980. And while Tilley was eventually passed in the spotlight by teammate Roy Green, Tilley remained a competent and relevant part of the Cardinals offense.
84–Joe Robb: Robb played defensive end from 1961 to 1967 for the Cardinals, reaching the Pro Bowl in 1966. Per Pro Football Reference, Robb stood 6’3 and weighed 238 pounds as an effective defensive end, which…football has changed pretty considerably over the years.
85–Mel Gray: A sixth-round pick out of the University of Missouri, Gray stood just 5’9 but became one of the top wide receivers of his era. Gray spent his entire 12-year NFL career in St. Louis and reached four consecutive Pro Bowls in the mid-1970s, scoring 45 total touchdowns and appearing in the playoffs twice. And while the baseball team retired the number, it was never worn by a player–it was retired in honor of former owner August “Gussie” Busch Jr.
86–Don Brumm: Don Brumm spent eight of his ten NFL seasons on the Cardinals, and spent most of that time as a starter. He made the Pro Bowl in 1968.
87–Ricky Proehl: He was a mostly forgotten third or fourth receiver on the Greatest Show on Turf, and to be clear, he wasn’t Isaac Bruce or Torry Holt good, but Proehl was a solid possession receiver who made perhaps the most important catch in St. Louis football history–a 30-yard touchdown reception to give the Rams the lead with less than five minutes remaining in the 2000 NFC Championship Game. He also scored the game-tying touchdown in Super Bowl XXXVI, a game I am otherwise not yet ready to talk about.
88–Torry Holt: See #81.
89–Jared Cook: He is widely perceived as a bust in St. Louis (in his first game in St. Louis, he scored two touchdowns and had 141 receiving yards, but also “fumbled” an easy touchdown at the one yard line, which sums up his Rams career). But the tight end reached a career high in receptions in each of his first two seasons, his continued success with the Oakland Raiders is a fabulous means of taunting the incompetence of the early-2010s Rams coaching staff, and, frankly, this is a really weak number.
90–Ryan O’Reilly: There is a case for Michael Brockers, but his continued success in Los Angeles with a much better team means this is where he will be remembered. Meanwhile, although Ryan O’Reilly has only played in St. Louis for one season, he was a revelation, tying a career high with 28 goals, notching a career-high 48 assists, and positioning himself as a potential Selke Trophy finalist as the league’s best defensive forward (statistically, he did have a better defensive season than perennial favorite Patrice Bergeron).
91–Vladimir Tarasenko: Two terrific Rams defensive ends, Leonard Little and Chris Long, keep this an honest race, but it’s hard to pass on Vladimir Tarasenko, the best Blues forward since Brett Hull. He was barely 21 when he scored on each of his first two NHL shots in January 2013 and he hasn’t looked back since. For his first couple seasons in St. Louis, I would hype him up in my head and claim he would someday have his number retired. Today, I tell myself he’s getting a statue.
92–Damione Lewis: Although Lewis is considered a bit of a disappointment, the early 2000s defensive tackle for the Rams carries this number going away. Shockingly, the number was never worn by a non-Ram in St. Louis, and of the seven others to wear it, I will share the names of the two other than Lewis I’ve heard of before I looked this up: Lionel Barnes and the clear #2, Eugene Sims.
93–Kevin Carter: Carter arrived in St. Louis in 1995 and was the first draft pick in the history of the St. Louis Rams. The defensive end almost immediately became an acclaimed pass rusher. He was the team’s Rookie of the Year in 1995, the team’s MVP in 1998, and in 1999, he made the Pro Bowl and led the NFL in sacks for the eventual Super Bowl champions.
94–Robert Quinn: Coming off the lowest lows in St. Louis Rams history, the team’s defense became formidable in the 2010s, and Robert Quinn was a big part of why. In five years in St. Louis, Quinn made the Pro Bowl twice and had his best season in 2013, when the defensive end had 19 sacks and he was named First-Team All-Pro.
95–William Hayes: A rotational defensive end for the St. Louis Rams from 2012 through 2015, Jeff Fisher brought Hayes to St. Louis not long after he was hired as the Rams head coach, and despite this dubious distinction, Hayes was a solid backup to bigger names Robert Quinn and Chris Long. According to Fisher, Hayes was excited about the team’s move to Los Angeles because it would bring the team closer to the ocean and therefore closer to mermaids, which Hayes firmly believes exist (he also does not believe that dinosaurs existed, a fun fact which earned him a bit of media attention).
96–James Hall: One of just six players to wear the number in St. Louis for a major professional team (all were Rams), Hall played at a dubious point in team history–in his five seasons in St. Louis, the Rams went 15-65, the worst record in NFL history during a five-year stretch. And while Hall wasn’t a superstar, he was second only to Steven Jackson during that stretch in terms of Approximate Value on the team.
97–La’Roi Glover: Glover was a highly acclaimed free agent signing for the Rams in 2006, following six consecutive Pro Bowl appearances for the New Orleans Saints and Dallas Cowboys (Glover was later named to the All-2000s Team by the NFL) as a defensive tackle. Although Glover didn’t live up to those expectations in the vast wasteland that was the post-Mike Martz era St. Louis Rams, he registered 12 sacks in St. Louis and solidified the defensive line of the final team in St. Louis Rams history to have a non-losing record in 2006.
98–Grant Wistrom: A #6 overall pick in 1998 out of Nebraska, Wistrom played opposite Kevin Carter for the first three seasons of his NFL career and opposite Leonard Little for the next three. While he never had quite the sack totals of those two, he played right end, which meant he usually had the more tenacious left tackle blocking him.
99–Wayne Gretzky: My pick for player most synonymous with #23 was Ted Simmons, but really, the answer is Michael Jordan. But I couldn’t pick a non-St. Louis athlete with that spot. Same goes for picking David Backes over Jackie Robinson at #42. But the most famous #99 in sports belongs to Wayne Gretzky, the player for whom the number is retired throughout the entire National Hockey League, and while Gretzky’s career in St. Louis was fairly brief, amounting to eighteen regular season games and thirteen playoff games, the buzz which Gretzky’s arrival in St. Louis generated outpaced the hype of Aaron Donald’s excellent full two seasons playing for the St. Louis Rams.