The vast majority of St. Louis Cardinals players have been people born and raised in the United States, because the vast majority of all MLB players have been born and raised in the United States. But the demographics of the sport have become increasingly diverse over the years, which is great not only if you are a fan of inclusion (which you should be), but also if you are a fan of the sport getting better (you should be). The sport continues to improve in quality and diversifying a player pool that was once almost exclusively American (and was once almost exclusively white American) does that.
If you were to construct an all-time St. Louis Cardinals team, the starting nine by any reasonable measure would have at bare minimum seven people born in the United States, and that’s only if you do not count Puerto Rico as part of the United States (more on that in a bit). This isnt to disparage that team–this is a group of fantastic players, and it is a diverse group in other ways–there are players from both coasts, the Midwest, and includes both white and African-American players. But I want to take a minute to recognize the greatest internationality of the Cardinals.
Below is a list of the greatest all-time St. Louis Cardinals team I could make but with a very important caveat–there can only be one player born from his country on the starting nine. I can include an American, but I can’t include two; this rule also applies to the Dominican Republic, the country which has produced the second-highest number of Cardinals.
An important note: I am counting Puerto Rico as an independent country. I know, unlike a tragically high number of people in positions of power, that Puerto Rico is part of the United States, and I believe Puerto Ricans are Americans every bit as much as those of us born in a state (and more than those of you born in Washington D.C., you dorks). The reason I am keeping Puerto Rico as a separate entity is because Puerto Rico participates in international sports, including the World Baseball Classic, as a separate entity. You can make an argument that this enables people to view Puerto Rico as not American and you can argue that this allows a unique and often oppressed culture to have a point of civic pride and I don’t disagree with either argument–I’m just going by the international rules that baseball has set.
Pitcher–Jaime Garcia, Mexico
Garcia is #3 among non-American-born pitchers in Cardinals Wins Above Replacement, but I’m saving my Dominican Republic spot for somebody else, so all due respect to Carlos Martinez and Joaquin Andujar, but I’m going with Garcia. Garcia was born in Mexico, though he was raised on the United States/Mexico border and attended high school in Texas, and while his last two MLB seasons were marked by transience, going to five different teams during that span, he played in parts of eight seasons for the Cardinals. He was a Rookie of the Year finalist in 2010 and was by some measures even better in 2011, but injuries soon started to become the thing which defined him among many Cardinals fans. He was left for dead by many of us, but rebounded in 2015 to the tune of a 2.43 ERA in 129 2/3 innings for the 100-win Cardinals.
Catcher–Yadier Molina, Puerto Rico
He is arguably the greatest catcher in franchise history, so rather than burning the United States spot on Ted Simmons, I’m putting Yadier Molina into the lineup. I wouldn’t expect a lot of dissent here–the top catching alternatives would involve me shuffling around other positions, unless I committed to Russian 1920s catcher Eddie Ainsmith, and I am not discounting the possibility he becomes the first player not born in a state in the United States to enter Cooperstown wearing a Cardinals hat (as his primary competitor for the title has an extra year on his contract).
First Base–Albert Pujols, Dominican Republic
The only argument I could maybe see against including Pujols was if you wanted to instead include Carlos Martinez or Joaquin Andujar beacuse you believe a pitcher has an outsized role on the team. No other argument is even semi-rational. Albert Pujols is arguably the greatest player in the history of Major League Baseball not from the United States. This is an easy, easy call.
Second Base–Rogers Hornsby, United States
Before I began this exercise, I assumed Stan Musial would be the favorite to be the American player, with Bob Gibson probably the second-most likely, but there is a real dearth of great second base options outside of the United States–the top non-American second baseman that wouldn’t cost me Yadier Molina or Albert Pujols was Miguel Cairo. I liked Cairo just fine, but the outfield options outside of Musial blow Miguel Cairo away, so I guess I’ll have to settle for my United States option being the greatest second baseman in the history of baseball and the second-greatest player in franchise history.
Third Base–Aledmys Diaz, Cuba
This is minor position fraud, as Diaz was primarily a shortstop with the Cardinals, but he did play some third base in St. Louis and primarily played third base last season with the Houston Astros (when your starting shortstop is a superstar and your starting third baseman is qualified to play shortstop, you play where you can). Aledmys Diaz is the third-greatest Cuban Cardinal of all-time by WAR (behind two catchers, Mike Gonzalez and Eli Marrero) and probably had the highest peak, having been an All-Star in his rookie season of 2016–I know that I forgot with shocking speed just how good Aledmys Diaz was for a brief moment in time.
Shortstop–Edgar Renteria, Colombia
Edgar Renteria had a profoundly strange career–he had a Game 7 of the World Series walk-off hit at 21 (in his second full-time season!) and was traded to the Cardinals at age 22, where he played until he was 27, signed a big free agent deal with the defending World Series champions who then traded him for a super-prospect the next season, and then after most of us had kind of last track of him, he was a World Series MVP! He was only 34 when he retired but he seemed like he was 74. In St. Louis, Renteria was a three-time All-Star and in back-to-back seasons, in 2002 and 2003, he received MVP votes and won both the Gold Glove and Silver Slugger for shortstops. For those of us who just missed out on the Ozzie Smith experience, he was by far the best shortstop we ever experienced until Paul DeJong arrived.
Left Field–Tip O’Neill, Canada
As much as I hoped to squeeze my personal favorite, Larry Walker, into the lineup, the right call is James Edward “Tip” O’Neill, who languishes in obscurity despite being one of the best baseball players of the nineteenth century (I blame the fact that, thanks to the Massachusetts representative who received his nickname after him, he isn’t even the most famous Tip O’Neill). He wasn’t a one-hit wonder, but I’m going to focus on his 1887 season, because it is truly insane. In addition to leading the American Association in batting average, home runs, and RBI in order to win the Triple Crown, O’Neill also led the league in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, doubles, and triples. His 213 OPS+ has been eclipsed in a single season by seven men, and all of them can be identified by their last name alone–Bonds, Gehrig, Hornsby, Mantle, McGwire, Ruth, and Williams.
Center Field–David Green, Nicaragua
The presence of Willie McGee kept Green mostly playing in corner outfield spots, but David Green was a useful utility outfielder for the 1982 World Series champion Cardinals before becoming a full-time player in both 1983 and 1984 at two different positions, right field and first base, before being included as a centerpiece in the trade that brought Jack Clark to St. Louis. Green was a well-rounded hitter and I am confident that his solid speed will allow him to translate to center field.
Right Field–Patsy Donovan, Ireland
Far and away the most successful Irish player of all-time, Patsy Donovan was an established veteran by the time the Cardinals acquired him in 1900, and from 1901 through 1903, he was the player-manager of the Cardinals. He was an above-average hitter thanks mostly to his solid contact skills, and although he was in his late thirties in St. Louis, he still had solid speed, making him one of the team’s better players.
Think you can create a better team? Think I’m nuts for excluding Stan Musial? Think it’s weird that two of the strongest baseball countries in the world, Venezuela and Japan, aren’t represented (no disrespect to Jose Martinez and So Taguchi, of course)? Feel free to assemble a superior lineup in the comments.