In the middle of the St. Louis Cardinals’ deeply annoying loss yesterday afternoon to the Cincinnati Reds, news broke that Albert Pujols had tied Willie Mays on the all-time Major League Baseball home runs list. As Pujols’s record chases tends to do, it invited plenty of historical comparisons and general remembraces of the Cardinals legend. And then, on the Cardinals’ broadcast, Dan McLaughlin said something that I found pretty jarring.
“The only question now is what hat he wears into the Hall of Fame.”
Dan and the day’s color commentator Brad Thompson noted that Pujols, who has one year remaining after this one on a ten-year contract with the Los Angeles Angels, also has a ten-year personal services contract with the franchise once his playing contract ends and that he may be contractually obligated to enter Cooperstown, a thing which will likely happen during that decade, as a member of the Angels.
Luckily for any Cardinals fans concerned, however, this isn’t really Pujols’s call. Although the Baseball Hall of Fame will take a player’s feelings into consideration, he does not have the sole discretion over the matter. This could unofficially be dubbed the Wade Boggs Rule, after the Hall of Fame third baseman expressed his wishes to enter Cooperstown as a member of the Tampa Bay Devil Rays, with whom he played at the end of his career, as opposed to the Boston Red Sox, with whom he spent the bulk of his career and had his most productive seasons, or the New York Yankees, where he won a World Series. Rumors persisted that the Devil Rays paid Boggs for this, so the Hall changed its rules. And even if Albert Pujols declared that he wanted to go in as an Angel, a team with which he spent less time, was far less statistically accomplished, and with whom he will almost certainly win fewer World Series titles, there is no chance the Hall of Fame would allow it. It wouldn’t quite be Boggs As A Devil Ray egregious, but it would be tough to allow.
But that doesn’t mean every Cardinals legend is first and foremost a Cardinal. A lot are–Pujols is, Ozzie Smith is, and Rogers Hornsby is despite all having played for and even had some legitimate success with other teams. Here is a team of the greatest players in St. Louis Cardinals history who are more synonymous with another team.
Pitcher–Steve Carlton: This is a pretty easy call. Carlton was one of the ten best Cardinals pitcher of the post-World War II era, winning 77 games, a World Series, and making three All-Star Games. Although Carlton is not in the Cardinals Hall of Fame, he is a perennial candidate. But Carlton’s Cardinals career is regarded as something of a footnote outside of St. Louis, not because he wasn’t great, but because his fifteen seasons with the Philadelphia Phillies were so legendary. He won 241 games as a Phillie, winning four Cy Young Awards in the City of Brotherly Love. Carlton sits somewhere on the Phillies Mount Rushmore (Mike Schmidt, Robin Roberts, and…Chase Utley? Richie Ashburn? are the others) and his Cardinals legacy can’t really compete with that.
Catcher–Darrell Porter: Unlike Carlton, undeniably more famous with another team, the argument for Porter, who won a World Series MVP in St. Louis, as mostly a Cardinal is far more coherent. But he spent more years with, and was an All-Star and Rookie of the Year finalist with, the Milwaukee Brewers. Porter’s most productive seasons came with the Kansas City Royals, where he was a three-time All-Star and twice finished in the top ten in AL MVP voting. And despite St. Louis being arguably Porter’s third-biggest team, he is arguably the best catcher in franchise history save for Yadier Molina, Ted Simmons, and Tim McCarver.
First Base–Keith Hernandez: Hernandez spent more time playing for the Cardinals than any other team, and he had his most productive individual seasons in St. Louis. But his cultural ubiquity now resides in Queens, as he has become a New York Mets icon. Whether it’s because of his role on the iconic 1986 team, his Seinfeld cameo, or his time as a Mets announcer, I associate him primarily with the Mets, and I’m a Cardinals blogger.
Second Base–Miller Huggins: There is a case for Frankie Frisch, as the Cardinals or the New York Giants are essentially a coin-flip for him. But I decided to go with Miller Huggins, a dead ball-era star for the Cardinals, not because he is less associated with the Cardinals than with the Cincinnati Reds, the other team for which he played, but rather that he is mostly associated with the New York Yankees, a team for which Huggins never played but which he managed to its first three World Series titles. Despite only a twelve-year Yankees managerial career which was tragically cut short by his death at the age of 51, Huggins made the Hall of Fame in 1964.
Third Base–Joe Torre: I won’t pretend Huggins isn’t a little bit of a cheat. This is less of one, as Torre won an MVP award with the Cardinals in 1971. But he did play in more games and accumulate more Wins Above Replacement with the Milwaukee/Atlanta Braves than the Cardinals. And, of course, he is more associated with the New York Yankees as its four-time World Series-winning manager than with either the Braves or Cardinals.
Shortstop–Edgar Renteria: Renteria spent more time with the Cardinals than with any of the other six teams for whom he played in his MLB career. But despite three All-Star appearances, he was always a bit of a footnote to the Alberts Pujols of the world and never had a truly iconic moment with the team. This isn’t a criticism, per se–he was a very good player. But given that his career highlight will always be a World Series-winning walkoff single in Game 7 of the 1997 World Series with the Florida Marlins, and that he won a World Series MVP award while leading the 2010 San Francisco Giants to their first World Series in 56 years, it’s okay that Renteria was merely quietly productive in St. Louis.
Left Field–Lonnie Smith: Lonnie Smith was the rare player who peaked in his thirties, as a member of the Atlanta Braves. And before that, he won World Series titles with three different franchises, making him something of a man of baseball rather than a man of a specific team. But as the best player on a World Series-winning team in St. Louis in 1982, he remains a pivotal part of St. Louis Cardinals history. Much of his Cardinals legacy is more infamous than legendary–he was nicknamed “Skates” because of his clumsy fielding and his cocaine use was notorious–but his superior play was a significant part of the 1982 championship run.
Center Field–Wally Moon: In 1954, Wally Moon was named NL Rookie of the Year as a Cardinal, and for the next four seasons after that, the Arkansan was a productive member of the Cardinals outfield, rotating around the three positions in it. Although Moon was only slightly more productive and slightly more tenured with the Los Angeles Dodgers, his legacy is primarily in Los Angeles, as it is where he won a World Series, and perhaps more significantly, where his towering home runs over the high left field wall at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum were dubbed “Moon Shots”, a term which exists in baseball vernacular today.
Right Field–J.D. Drew: He had his best season with the Atlanta Braves, he won a World Series and made his lone All-Star appearance with the Boston Red Sox, and he had a not-to-be-overlooked run of success with the Los Angeles Dodgers, but Drew was a phenom with the Cardinals, coming up just three months after being drafted and serving as a talented but injury-prone outfielder during the early 2000s. He has become almost a footnote in St. Louis, as the trade that sent him to Atlanta brought Adam Wainwright to the Cardinals, but that doesn’t make what Drew was in St. Louis any less valuable.