In October 1995, the St. Louis Cardinals hired recently-former Oakland Athletics manager Tony LaRussa. Coming off an eighth consecutive year without a playoff appearance, the Cardinals were hoping to start a new era of dominance. And the very next season, the Cardinals were one game away from the World Series. After building a 3-1 lead against the defending World Series champion Atlanta Braves, the team had a fateful postgame dinner at Bartolino’s South Restaurant, just south of St. Louis, at which players, coaches, and team staff were exposed to Hepatatis A. Whether the next three losses which ended the team’s 1996 campaign were a result of their exposure is impossible to know, but luckily, Bartolino’s South proceeded to always take extra caution when it came to the health of its patrons going forward.
1996 was the first season of the St. Louis Cardinals that I followed. I was seven and didn’t have internet access, so “followed” is relative to that and not my current obessiveness, but I remember watching when the Cardinals clinched the National League Central and I remember when they swept the San Diego Padres to advance to the NLCS. I am fortunate that I came of age as a baseball fan at what could reasonably claimed as the beginning of a new era of the St. Louis Cardinals, one which will make what I am about to do only kind of a vanity project.
Over the next several weeks, I will be publishing my list of the twenty-five greatest players over the last twenty-five years of the St. Louis Cardinals, leading up to Opening Day (don’t worry–I’ll still be writing about the current team as I see fit). I devised my own formula to determine greatness, but as it is built on the foundation of my own subjective weights and measures, it is certainly a debatable list. You may feel free to guess and nitpick my list as you please.
But I think greatest is the operative word here, as I tried, clouded by biases as I may have been, I tried to rank the greatest players rather than peppering in my personal favorites. Of course, any list of the twenty-five best players on my favorite baseball team is going to include a ton of guys I loved, but there are guys on the list who I will fully admit were not my favorites. And there are excluded players who I so badly wish were ever-so-slightly better so I could wax poetic about them.
The top twenty-five list is ranked from 25 to 1, and I will be unveiling the list over the next several weeks, until an Opening Day which, God willing, will go on as scheduled. Tomorrow, I will present an unranked list of twelve honorable mentions, and on every subsequent weekday until Opening Day, I will introduce a deeper dive into a contemporary Cardinals legend.