In the wake of the murder of George Floyd by a police officer in Minneapolis, the United States of America is engaging in a long-overdue reevaluation of our history of racism. To say that this was provoked by the Floyd murder, while technically true, undersells the story. This was the culmination of years of protests and activism about police brutality; Floyd was simply a tipping point.
One of the bits of historical revisionism that is occurring is that statues commemorating Confederate soldiers are being removed. This is a divisive issue even among people who generally see eye-to-eye–Missouri’s two Republican senators, Roy Blunt and Josh Hawley, disagree on the matter. Personally, I can’t imagine caring about the statue of any person who has been dead for over a century, much less of people most known for doing a really bad thing, but I try to empathize.
Those who support the statues remaining will never cite them as a commemoration of slavery, and will generally gloss over the ones that were built generations after the Civil War. They will note remembering their history, even if the history is bad (the same reason we have built statues to commemorate the 1918 influenza outbreak and H.H. Holmes). Well, the Confederacy lasted, from South Carolina’s secession to the conclusion of the Civil War, for four years, two months, and five days, so why not honor history that lasted even longer, and more recently? And since people who like Confederate statues like rooting for losers, let’s instead build statues of five terrible Cardinals players who spent even longer in existence as Cardinals than the Confederacy existed as a country.
Hector Cruz was on the St. Louis Cardinals from 1973 through 1977, in total for one month and 22 days more than the Confederacy. The brother of fellow MLB players Jose and Tommy Cruz, Hector Cruz finished third in Rookie of the Year voting in 1976 following some earlier cups of coffee, despite what looks by modern metrics like a pretty lousy season. He struck out over 20% of the time (back before this was normal) and had a wRC+ of 76. His numbers at third base were also pretty lousy to the point that he was put into the outfield. His offense improved a little and he was less catastrophic defensively in the outfield, but because of the higher offensive threshold in a corner outfield spot, he remained not very valuable.
Confederate apologists love to point out that while Confederates did some bad things (fighting a war in order to allow humans to own other humans as property), they also did some good things (they were nice sometimes or something, I don’t know or care). A statue to Tony Cruz fits the aesthetic, but without honoring a racist! He was a terrible player who was unsuccessful by any actual measurement–he was sporadically used as the backup to Yadier Molina, but was a consistently dreadful hitter in his four years, three months, and 27 days as a Cardinal. But he still received misguided praise–he would routinely be dubbed good enough to start for many teams, even when he very clearly could not. And he did a very good thing–he used the sound of Matthew McConaughey beating his chest in The Wolf of Wall Street as his walk-up. I assume he tried to get a more vulgar part of the speech through but he wasn’t allowed to use it.
For five years, five months, and ten days, Vernal Leroy “Nippy” Jones was a Cardinal, and shortly after the greatest five-year stretch in franchise history, during which the team won three World Series championships, he became the team’s starting first baseman. He wasn’t a terrible hitter, but playing first base requires one to be firmly above-average, and he was not. In his first full season as a starter, in 1948, he had 523 plate appearances but only managed a lackluster .254/.307/.397 triple-slash, all while playing the most offense-heavy position on the field. And yet his time on the Cardinals lasted over a full year more than this entity that has statues commemorating it over 155 years later.
Ken Reitz won a Gold Glove and made an All-Star Game, but his statistical resume in St. Louis did not age well. In parts of seven full seasons in St. Louis, Reitz never had an above-average season at the plate. He turned in routinely high fielding percentages, in an era when fielding percentage was viewed as a legitimate assessor of a player’s defensive ability, but by metrics evaluating his range, Reitz came across as something closer to average. At seven years, three months, and two days on the Cardinals, Reitz is somewhat conclusively the longest-tenured player in Cardinals history who was sub-Replacement Level.
Robert E. Lee–Owned slaves
John Mabry–Did not, has not, and would never own slaves
Robert E. Lee–Career peak came not as a general (he lost the only war during which he was a general), but rather, during the Mexican-American War
John Mabry–Finished fourth in NL Rookie of the Year voting at the highest level the sport has to offer
Robert E. Lee–Lost the Civil War and died five years later
John Mabry–Spent six years, nine months, and five days with the Cardinals, but continued to come back when it seemed he was gone for good. He left in free agency after the 1998 season but returned in 2001, but was traded shortly after the 2001 season began. But then he came back again in 2004. Unlike Robert E. Lee, who lost and remained a loser for the rest of his life, Mabry actually did come back. And then he became a hitting coach despite the fact that he wasn’t a very good hitter when he was a regular starter. Replace all Robert E. Lee statues with John Mabry ones.