The date is May 10, 2000. On the American pop charts, “Maria Maria” by Santana featuring The Product G&B is in the middle of its ten week run atop the Billboard Hot 100, a shockingly long run for a song with minimal cultural significance today, despite my hearing it played at Schnucks sometimes. In film, the legendarily terrible Battlefield Earth, starring John Travolta, Barry Pepper, and Forest Whitaker was released on that date. In St. Louis, a Barry Bonds home run off Heathcliff Slocumb caused the Cardinals’ record to drop to 20-14, while the Rams continued their offseason as Super Bowl champions, the Blues were trying to forget the name Owen Nolan a la Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a reference that would make no sense to somebody in 2000, and a young fifth grader named John Fleming was simply trying to understand his place in the world. And in Phoenix, Arizona, a baby was born who would find himself as the latest part of the larger story of St. Louis sports. And (likely) tonight, Nolan Gorman will make his Major League Baseball debut for the St. Louis Cardinals and become the first player born in the 2000s to suit up for the Cardinals.
Gorman won’t be the first MLB player born in the 2000s–Wander Franco signed a $182 million contract with the Tampa Bay Rays already despite having been born in 2001. But it hits differently when he’s on your team. And if you are my age, slightly younger than I am, or any amount older than I am, the idea of a baseball player born a couple weeks after the release of Papa Roach’s Infest, to use the most cool and definitely not stupid sounding pop culture reference I can, is terrifying. But if you are Gorman’s age, or perhaps slightly younger than it, this is a sign of hope. It is a sign that your generation will not be forever relegated to spectators to the society in which you exist but instead active, perhaps aggressive, participants in forming the memories of the world in which you have grown up. And that feeling, to using phrasing perhaps divorced from the depths in which I have been speaking, rocks.
The odds that the first Cardinal born in the 2000s will be a good player are above-average: players who come up at Barely 22 are generally speaking well-regarded. If nothing else, the Cardinals had to specifically make room for Gorman–unlike when they promoted Juan Yepez, the Cardinals had to find a spot on their 40-man roster for Gorman. Incentives say that teams should keep guys in the minors for as long as they can, but sometimes, a guy like Gorman, prodigious beyond his years, is too overpowering to keep down.
It is, of course, a somewhat arbitrary club–speaking as somebody born in 1989, some people are effectively boxed out of it from birth. But seeing that number 2 at the beginning of birth year is going to feel special–he will be the first player born since color commentator Jim Edmonds joined the Cardinals organization, for instance. Even in hockey, a sport where younger players tend to be more common, the Blues have never had a player born in the 2000s, making Gorman a St. Louis first. You may be asking yourself, or perhaps will humor me by pretending that your brain operates in a moderately similar way to mine: How have the other first-of-a-decades panned out? Well, let’s take a look.
1990s: On July 18, 2012 (so effectively two months after Gorman, relatively speaking), Cardinals hotshot minor leaguer Trevor Rosenthal (born May 29, 1990) made his MLB debut in relief, a spot that seemed like it could be temporary (he was a starting pitcher in the minors) but became his fully entrenched MLB position. He was effectively wild, walking and striking out two each in an inning of work against the Milwaukee Brewers. The next season, Rosenthal became a pivotal setup man for the Cardinals’ bullpen, and in 2015, he was an All-Star. Like almost all relievers, Rosenthal had his shaky moments, but he was largely effective until a UCL tear prompted him to be non-tendered by the Cardinals. He proceeded to be terrible in 2019 and awesome in 2020, while a hip injury cost the then-Oakland Athletic his 2021 season. Rosenthal is currently a free agent, but given how good he has been in the past, I certainly wouldn’t put it past him to return to the big leagues.
1980s: At the age of 21, the January 16, 1980-born Albert Pujols made his MLB debut on Opening Day 2001, starting in left field against the Colorado Rockies. Pujols went 1-for-3 with a single and a caught stealing, but he, of course, went on to become one of the, conservatively, five greatest players in the history of the franchise. You may have heard, in fact, that he returned to St. Louis in 2022 for his 22nd and final MLB season.
1970s: It took slightly longer for the 1970s train to get going for the Cardinals, but on July 8, 1993, 1991 first-round draft pick Allen Watson (born November 18, 1970) made his MLB debut in a start against the Atlanta Braves. And it went quite well–the Cardinals went up early while Watson went six innings and allowed just one run. He remained in the Cardinals’ rotation through 1995, accumulating innings but never really becoming a star before eventually being included in the Cardinals’ trade with the San Francisco Giants for shortstop Royce Clayton. Watson pitched until 2000 and had his best season in 1999, when he won a World Series with his hometwon New York Yankees. No, Watson was nowhere near the Albert Pujols level of player, but he had a nice little MLB run and made $8.784 million, which is probably more than you have in your career.
1960s: On September 4, 1981, the much-anticipated Nicaraguan center fielder David Green (born December 4, 1960) pinch-hit for Dane Iorg and remained in the outfield against the Los Angeles Dodgers. Green, originally signed by the Milwaukee Brewers, was considered a centerpiece in the package sent to St. Louis for Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons, and Pete Vuckovich, and in his debut, he didn’t do too much of consequence–a groundout and a pop-up. Green became a full-time big-leaguer in 1983 and was once again a major player with two famous Cardinals trades–his emergence as a potential first baseman was a contributor to the trade which sent Keith Hernandez to the New York Mets, and in 1985, he was a centerpiece in the acquisition of Jack Clark. Green later returned briefly in 1987 and remained in the St. Louis area until his death at the age of 61 in January of this year.
1950s: If you are like me, you are just now learning the name Milt Ramírez, a shortstop born on April 2, 1950 who debuted as a defensive replacement against the New York Mets on April 11, 1970. A light hitter, Ramírez had just 100 plate appearances between 1970 and 1971, and in 1972, he was traded to the Houston Astros. For a while, his MLB career seemed over, but Ramírez returned with the Oakland Athletics in 1979, tallying 66 more plate appearances before his career, which included zero MLB home runs, ended. Information about the Puerto Rico-born Ramírez is admittedly a bit scant, but he does appear to still be alive, so maybe he has another wild MLB comeback in him.
1940s: The first player on this list to debut in the decade after his birth rather than two decades later, Tim McCarver (born October 16, 1941) made it to the big leagues at just 17 years of age, debuting on September 10, 1959. His persona as a folksy, somewhat off-kilter broadcaster has somewhat obscured what was in fact a quite strong MLB career–although his debut included just one plate appearance against the Milwaukee Braves and it took until 1963 until McCarver was a full-blown MLB player, he was a two-time All-Star, finished second in MVP voting while leading the Cardinals to a 1967 World Series title, and played into the 1980s with the Philadelphia Phillies. There is a reason why, after finding him irritating broadcasting World Series games for most of my life, I started to enjoy McCarver as a casual regional broadcaster during blowouts–he is a true baseball lifer with a million fascinating stories to tell.
1930s: His real name was Wilmer, but he was best known as Vinegar Bend Mizell (born August 13, 1930). The pitcher, a future All-Star with the Cardinals, hit the ground running as a full-time starter once he arrived, which was on April 22, 1952 against the Cincinnati Reds at Crosley Field. Although Mizell was tagged with the loss, he allowed just two runs in eight innings, though with six walks, perhaps they should have called him–look, there’s a joke here. Pitch Bend Mizell? Does that work? I don’t know.
1920s: I won’t lie–I was really hoping it would be Stan Musial, and it almost was, but he missed the cut by about a month. On August 20, 1941, Howie Pollet (born June 26, 1921) went nine innings and got a complete game victory, allowing just two runs on the road against the Boston Braves. And while I glibly implied that Pollet was a disappointing answer when it so easily could have been Stan Musial, the lefty was himself a legitimate star who should absolutely be in the Cardinals Hall of Fame–he was a three-time All-Star who twice received MVP votes, twice won the National League ERA title, and won three World Series titles–two as a player and one as a pitching coach, in 1964.
1910s: Don’t worry–you’ve probably heard of this guy! Dizzy Dean (born January 16, 1910) debuted on September 28, 1930, with a one-run complete game victory at home against the Pittsburgh Pirates. Dean, real name Jay, was a four-time All-Star, the 1934 National League MVP, a Hall of Famer, and a strong candidate for the best non-Bob Gibson pitcher in Cardinals history.
1900s: This guy…is less famous than Dizzy Dean. Walt Schulz (born April 16, 1900) sounds like a fictional cartoonist, but was actually a St. Louis native who appeared in precisely two MLB games in his career, the first coming on July 8, 1920, where he allowed two runs in one inning at the end of a blowout against the Brooklyn Robins. A couple months later, he went five innings, also allowing two earned runs (so…ERA improvement). Sadly, Schulz was diagnosed with pulmonary tuberculosis, moved to Prescott, Arizona, and died at the age of 27 of the disease. He is buried in Affton’s Sunset Memorial Park, a cemetery I drove by yesterday and had no idea he ever existed. Baseball history is an unending labyrinth.
1890s: At the age of 16, catcher Frank Blank (born October 18, 1892) had his only two plate appearances in the big leagues against the Brooklyn Superbas, recording two outs. If you can’t find him on Baseball Reference or FanGraphs, it’s because I am using his legal name and not the name under which he’s listed, which I suspect might be a racist thing? Look, maybe I’m being too presumptuous, but there were a lot of guys in this era who went by straight up racist names (you should see the Milwaukee Braves logo on Tim McCarver’s debut game’s box score–Baseball Reference literally has an apology section where they explain why they still use the racist logos of yesteryear). You can find it yourself if you really want to–the game was on August 15, 1909. He’s buried at New St. Marcus Cemetery, another cemetery I drive by relatively often. Weird.
1880s: On September 19, 1903, catcher Jack Coveney (born June 10, 1880) went 1 for 3 in a home loss against the Boston Beaneaters. In total, Coveney had 14 career plate appearances with two singles, no walks, and a strikeout. His OPS+ for his career was -18. He never again played in the Majors after 1903, instead returning to his home state of Massachusetts and living in Middlesex County until his death in 1961 at the age of 80.
1870s: Born on March 4, 1870, pitcher Bill Whitrock, whose Baseball Reference photo appears to be an illustration, debuted on May 3, 1890. Sadly, he debuted before well-researched game logs exist, but on the season as a whole, he was rather effective for the American Association’s St. Louis Browns, with a 3.51 ERA in 105 innings. He also bounced around a little bit in 1893, 1894, and 1896, and I should note that his Wikipedia picture looks nothing like the drawing so I don’t even know what to believe anymore but I’m close enough to the end that I have to finish out this exercise.
1860s: Pitcher Bob Hogan (born April 6, 1860) pitched in precisely one MLB game, on July 5, 1882, during the first ever season of the St. Louis Brown Stockings. Did he pitch well? Well, I don’t know. He has a career negative WAR, and he got the loss, but he only allowed one earned run in eight innings. He didn’t walk anyone and struck out four, which if my understanding of 19th century baseball is correct was probably an all-time record. I’m assuming the reason he didn’t pitch again is because he was burned at the stake for such wizardry. In actuality, though, Hogan allowed ten hits and six unearned runs to go with his one earned, and the St. Louis native lived until 1932, where as far as I can tell he was not murdered in the name of exorcising witches from polite society.
1850s: It’s technically a tie–anyone who played in the team’s first game. I’d pick the leadoff hitter, but I don’t know who that was. So I’ll select the guy who was signed to the Brown Stockings with the intention of being the team’s first star–first baseman Charlie Comiskey (born August 15, 1859, less than a year after Bob Hogan). He played at Saint Louis University and later was such a cheapskate as owner of the Chicago White Sox that a bunch of guys took bribes to throw the World Series. Cool!
1840s: If nothing else, this one has a conclusive answer–it’s Ned Cuthbert, the first captain of the St. Louis Brown Stockings and the only player in the history of the franchise born in the 1840s. He was an active member of the local baseball community and even though he was a merely passable hitter, his experience was considered vital to the original club. Some (probably incorrectly, but I’m going with it) have reported that Cuthbert, in his early years, stole professional baseball’s first base. He lived in St. Louis after his retirement and died in 1905 and is now buried in Bellefontaine Cemetery, a place I have not recently driven by.