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St. Louis Cardinals First-Time Hall of Fame Candidates – 2018

Photo: Vince Coleman, John Tudor, Lee Smith, Ray Lankford (Getty Images)

Four former St. Louis Cardinals greats are new additions to the team’s Modern Era Hall of Fame fan ballot in 2018 – Vince Coleman, John Tudor, Lee Smith and Ray Lankford.

We will look into the qualifications of each.

Vince Coleman

Vince Coleman did one thing on a baseball diamond extremely well, in fact historically well. The switch-hitting speedster is sixth all-time in Major League career stolen bases, with the five players in front of him all Hall of Famers. Vince was such a prolific base stealer that he has three of the eight all-time individual 100 stolen base seasons.  Those came in the first three seasons of his career.

Vince Coleman (Getty Images)

Little did anyone know that when native Floridian first stepped to the plate as a major leaguer a week into the 1985 season, that both his and the Cardinals fortunes would dramatically change.  Off to a slow start, while division favorites Chicago and New York were setting the pace, St. Louis needed something to get them (literally) untracked.

After selecting Coleman in the 10th round of the 1982 amateur draft, the club knew he could run. In 1983, he stole a remarkable 145 bases with Macon in the South Atlantic League, then followed that up with 101 in 1984 at Triple-A Louisville. The question was, could hit enough to stay in the big leagues?  The fleet outfielder stated his case in his second big league game when he had four hits, including a double and triple. He remained in the lineup the remainder of the season, stealing 110 bases and scoring 107 runs to ignite an offense that lead the league in runs scored, despite finishing 11th out of 12 teams in home runs.  The 1985 Cardinals epitomized “Whitey Ball”, running wild on the bases and winning 101 regular season games. Vince’s accomplishments earned him the 1985 Rookie Of The Year award.

Despite a .232 average in his second season, Coleman still managed 107 steals and scored 94 runs. The Cardinals slipped in the standings that 1986 season, before returning to championship form in 1987 as “Vincent Van Go” swiped 109 bag and scored 121 times. The reigning base-theft king went on to earn all-star honors in 1988 and 1989.  His final season in St. Louis was one of his best, as he hit .292 during the 1990 campaign with a .360 on-base-percentage and 77 steals. But the Cardinals were not a good team that year, slipping to last place. They were so bad that Whitey Herzog got fed up watching a team he felt had quit, and resigned during the season. A shake up of the roster ensued, and the ball club allowed their lead-off hitter and base-stealer extraordinaire to walk away. Coleman soon signed a free agent deal with the rival Mets.

While his lifetime batting average and on-base-percentages are not overly impressive, .264 and .324 (.265 and .326 as a Cardinal), the fleet-footed outfielder carved out a 13-year major league career. The first six of those in St. Louis were far and away his best.  Vince was the perfect cog at the top of the order in the Cardinals speed-and-defense machine of the 1980s.

Modern day baseball analytics have devalued the stolen base as an offensive weapon. The risk of losing an out on the bases is thought to be greater, in most situations, than gaining the extra base. But Vince was arguably a more valuable player than the stats show.  Stealing bases at an 83 percent clip as a Cardinal, he thus accumulated extra bases over outs at greater than a 4-to-1 ratio.

When Coleman got on base, the threat to steal completely changed the game in a way that is difficult to quantify. He could disrupt the pitcher’s rhythm, and distract the defense, thus forcing mistakes. The club under Whitey Herzog’s leadership took advantage of a ballpark that was tailored for that type of game. Opposing teams hated coming in to St. Louis, knowing they were in for a series of “fast break” baseball.

Coleman left the Cardinals as the club’s second leading all-time base stealer (549 to Lou Brock’s 888). He was an offensive catalyst on two pennant winners, 1985 and 1987.  During the hey-day of the “Running Redbirds” In St. Louis, Coleman ran the anchor position on a team filled with track stars.

Link to career stats:

John Tudor

John Tudor threw 10 shutouts for the Cardinals’ 1985 pennant winners but had only six over the rest of his career (two with St. Louis). He finished with a W-L record of 21-8 in 1985, despite starting the season at 1-7.  While not pitching as bad as his record indicated early on, at the suggestion of a former teammate, he made a slight adjustment in his delivery, hesitating just a bit at the top of his motion. After the change, the smooth lefty went an incredible 20-1. He finished second to the Mets’ Dwight Gooden in the NL Cy Young voting that year.

John Tudor (Getty Images)

A native of New England, Tudor was selected by Boston in the third round of the secondary phase of the 1976 amateur draft, and made it to the big club in 1979.  He pitched five years in Boston and one in Pittsburgh, from where the Cardinals acquired him after the 1984 season.

St. Louis, with Whitey Herzog’s defense-oriented ball clubs, turned out to be a match made in heaven for the veteran southpaw. In a five-year stint with St. Louis, before he was dealt away in 1988 and after he was reacquired in 1990, the stylish New Englander was as consistent as any pitcher in Cardinals history. His .705 winning percentage is tops in team annals for pitchers who were primarily starters in the modern era (post-1900). His 20.0 bWAR ranks 20th on the club’s all-time list, just behind Steve Carlton’s 20.9. The lefty control artist ranks second all-time in ERA for Cardinals hurlers at 2.53, trailing only deadball pitcher Ed Karger, who pitched just three seasons for the club. In fact, Tudor is the only non-deadball era pitcher in the Cardinals’ top ten. Mort Cooper at number 12 with a 2.77 Cardinals ERA is the next pitcher on the list whose career was after 1919.

And there is more. Tudor is the franchise’s all-time leader in WHIP (1.080) and Adjusted ERA+ (146). Adjusted ERA+ is a metric that attempts to refine the basic ERA number for park factors and league norms, with 100 being average.  As a comparison, Tudor outranks two of the best pitchers, not to mention competitors, in Cardinals history, Chris Carpenter (133 adjusted ERA+) and Bob Gibson (127).

Not the type of pitcher we often see today, Tudor relied on changing speeds, control, and worked at a quick pace.  The lefty ace of the 1985 and 1987 pennant winners, Tudor is one of the most accomplished, competitive and successful pitchers in Cardinals history.

Link to career stats:

Lee Smith

Big Lee Smith always strolled in from the bullpen looking like he hurt everywhere. He had what looked to be a pained expression on his face, and walked slowly, lumbering as if it was a chore just to make it from the bullpen to the mound. Then he would throw darts for warm up pitches and look fluid and effortless doing it.  At one time the all-time career saves leader at 478, the intimidating righty earned 160 of those as a Cardinal. That is good for second on the club’s all-time list to fellow HOF candidate Jason Isringhausen’s 217. He has 31 more Cardinal saves than Todd Worrell, and 33 more than Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter.

Lee Smith (Getty Images)

The big righty (6’5” and 220 pounds) pitched 18 seasons in the majors, but only two full seasons and parts of two others for the Cardinals. The Redbirds acquired the good-natured Louisiana native from Boston for Tom Brunansky on May 4, 1990, and traded him to the Yankees on August 31, 1993.

Extremely durable, Smith pitched in 245 games for St. Louis, finishing 205. He set the club’s single-season saves record (since broken by Trevor Rosenthal) with a league-leading 47 in 1991, and followed that up with 43 in 1992, again leading the league. Lee was an all-star both seasons, as well as 1993 when he racked up another 43 saves before the deal with New York. Unfortunately, the Cardinals had mediocre teams in the early ’90s, keeping the Colossal Closer from post season opportunities during his St. Louis years.

Link to career stats:

Ray Lankford

On just about any category list of all-time Cardinals batting leaders, Ray Lankford’s name is probably in there somewhere around the top 10. He checks in at number 10 in career fWAR at 40.4, sandwiched between Hall of Famers Lou Brock (41.6) and Joe Medwick (39.4). Every player above him except for the still-active Albert Pujols is in the club’s Hall of Fame, including fellow center fielder Jim Edmonds who is two slots above at 42.4. Lankford ranks 5th all-time in home runs (228), 9th in doubles (339), and 11th in total bases (2606) and is tied with the great Rogers Hornsby at number 11 in games played with 1580.

Ray Lankford (Getty Images)

The California-born lefty swinger and thrower combined speed and power, hitting 20 or more homers and stealing 20 or more bases in a season five times. Again, looking at his all-time club standing, the list goes on – runs scored, #8 at 829, and stolen bases, again #8 at 250. Ray was the National League’s all-star center-fielder in 1997, a year in which he had an OPS of .996, slugging 31 homers in 133 games.

Yet when discussions of great Cardinals hitters take place, not too many people think of number 16. Part of that is likely due to his misfortune of coming up to the big club after the good 1980s teams and leaving before the good 2000s teams.  The fact is, St. Louis was extremely blessed for close to 20 years in center field with two slugging Californians.

Ray was not quite Jim Edmonds based on seasonal production. Jim slashed .285/.393/.555 in eight years with St. Louis. In Ray’s 13 years, he came in at .273/.365/.481. Though he played 475 more games than Edmonds, Ray is almost identical to Jim in terms of overall value to the franchise. Listed 12th and 13th in the club’s bWAR rankings, Edmonds has a slight advantage, 37.8 to 37.5.

Lankford might be the most underrated position player in franchise history. To rank number 10 (per fWAR) on a team that has been playing the game as long as the St. Louis Cardinals is a testimony to his greatness.

Link to career stats:

Prior related article

St. Louis Cardinals Returning Hall of Fame Candidates

What is next

To close this three-part series, we will offer our recommendations on those we believe are the best of the best.

Cardinals Hall of Fame voting begins March 1 here.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: Cardinals Prospect Interview: Juan Yepez

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Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

St. Louis Cardinals Returning Hall of Fame Candidates – 2018

photo: Scott Rolen, Jason Isringhausen and Keith Hernandez (Getty Images)

Three former St. Louis Cardinals greats were on the team’s Modern Era Hall of Fame fan ballot in 2017 and are back again this year – Keith Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen and Scott Rolen.

We will look into the qualifications of each.

Keith Hernandez (Getty Images)

Keith Hernandez

Keith Hernandez went from a 42nd round draft choice by the Cardinals in 1971 to the National League’s co-MVP in 1979. A terrific defensive first baseman, who maintained an OPS+ of 130 as a Cardinal, he also played the part of a villain to St. Louis’ fans during the mid-1980s as a member of the rival New York Mets.

Career-wise, Keith was first and foremost a Cardinal.  He came up through the Redbirds system and played 10 of his 17 seasons in St. Louis. Hernandez is like Mickey Mantle in that his dad was the biggest influence in getting him to the big leagues. Keith’s father, John, would spend hours with him and brother Gary throwing batting practice and hitting balls for fielding practice. John even gave the boys written tests on baseball fundamentals. As a player, Keith would sometimes consult with his dad when he was struggling or felt his swing was not quite right.

His career started slowly, both in the minors and majors. But he learned quickly and after a terrific season with Triple-A Tulsa in 1974, was called up to the big club in August. He made St. Louis’ roster in 1975 out of Spring Training but struggled early and went back to Tulsa.  Still only 22, Hernandez joined the club to stay in 1976, gaining confidence with a strong second half.

By 1977, the left-hander was entrenched as St. Louis’ first baseman, batting .291 with 60 extra base hits and an .837 OPS. Starting in 1978, he won the Gold Glove award every year of his remaining tenure with the team. In total, Hernandez won the award 11 consecutive years, 1978 through 1988.  He was an All Star in 1979 and 1980 with the Cardinals. In his 1979 co-MVP season, won the league batting title with a .344 average, and lead the league with 48 doubles. The California native also hit 11 triples and 11 home runs, with an OPS of .930.  It was his best major league season.

The culmination of the St. Louis phase of his career came in 1982, with the club’s first pennant in 14 years. The Cardinals trailed 3-1 in the sixth inning of Game 7 of the World Series against Milwaukee, when Hernandez came to bat with the bases loaded and one out. He stroked a clutch game-tying two-run single, and the Cardinals went on to win 6-3 to notch the World Championship.

Keith’s reputation was damaged after Whitey Herzog dealt him to the Mets in mid-1983. He was enduring a self-described “bad” cocaine habit at the time, partially due to personal troubles after a divorce. He was able to kick the habit and return to the all-star form he showed in St. Louis, winning a second world championship with the Mets in 1986.

Hernandez’ 34 bWAR as a Cardinal ranks 20th on the club’s all-time list. Among players who primarily played first base, he ranks behind only Albert Pujols and Johnny Mize, and just ahead of Jim Bottomley (Fangraphs rates Bottomley slight ahead of Hernandez, 36.5 to 33.9).

Today, Hernandez is identified mostly as a Met, maintaining his residence in the New York area and serving as an analyst for Mets broadcasts. He also made some memorable appearances on Seinfeld in 1990s. But as a player, the bulk of his accomplishments came as a Cardinal.

Link to career stats:

Jason Isringhausen (Getty Images)

Jason Isringhausen

Like Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen played the bulk of his career with the Cardinals and Mets. Also, like Hernandez, he was a late-round draft pick, chosen in the 44th round of the 1991 First-Year Player Draft.

Originally a starter, “Izzy” came up with the Mets in 1995 as one-third of a much ballyhooed “Generation K” pitching triumvirate with Bill Pulsipher and Paul Wilson. They were expected to lead the Mets to glory with their powerful arms and loads of potential. But injuries hampered the careers of all three, with Pulsipher and Isringhausen both enduring Tommy John surgery.

Izzy went on to be the best of the three. The Cardinals signed a healthy Isringhausen as a free agent before the 2002 season, after he had two strong seasons as the Oakland Athletics closer, saving 33 and 34 games in the 2000 and 2001 seasons. No longer a pure power pitcher, the right-hander then used a devastating curve ball to put hitters away.

Isringhausen was immediately installed as manager Tony La Russa’s closer in 2002, and had a remarkable year, recording 32 saves, with an ERA of 2.48. Fans of advanced stats will note that Izzy was even better than these numbers indicate, sporting an FIP (Fielding Independent Pitching) mark of 1.75.  The Illinois native followed that season with save numbers of 22, 47, 39, 33 and 32, before finishing his Cardinals career with 12 saves in an injury plagued 2008 campaign. He had two more Tommy John surgeries before finishing his career in 2012 with the Angels.

Isringhausen’s 217 saves are the Cardinals’ all-time record. He is also the franchise leader in “games finished” by wide margin, 100 more than runner-up Todd Worrell.  Izzy is sixth all-time in pitching appearances, and first among pitchers who were primarily relievers. A member of two all-star teams including 2005 as a Cardinal, he finished his career with exactly 300 saves. Ironically this is the same number Bruce Sutter recorded in his Hall of Fame career.

Link to career stats:

Scott Rolen (Getty Images)

Scott Rolen

Unlike Hernandez and Isringhausen, Scott Rolen was highly touted as an amateur and was the second-round choice of the Phillies in the 1993 draft. After seven seasons in Philadelphia, the latter of which Rolen clashed with manager Larry Bowa and was publicly berated by General Manager Dallas Green, the Cardinals acquired him in a deal that looked to cement the club as a favorite to reach the post-season. Rolen hit 14 homers in 55 games with St. Louis in that 2002 season, and the club did indeed claim the division title in what was an emotion-filled season.

In his first full season as a Cardinal in 2003, the right-handed hitter posted some impressive numbers including 49 doubles, 28 home runs, 104 RBI, and a .910 OPS. Both Rolen and the Cardinals put it all together the following season. The team won 105 regular season games in 2004, one shy of the franchise record set in 1942.  All Rolen did was hit 34 home runs, drive in 124, score 109 runs, and record a 1.007 OPS (158 OPS+).  He finished fourth in the MVP balloting, behind teammate Albert Pujols and just ahead of another teammate, Jim Edmonds (Barry Bonds won the award). After 2 ½ seasons with the Cardinals, Rolen appeared to be on his way to unseating Ken Boyer as the franchise’s greatest all-time third baseman.  Like Boyer, Rolen was a big, solidly -built player who was never-the-less agile and quick. The result was a marvelous defensive third baseman with a powerhouse bat.

Unfortunately, shoulder injuries slowed the Indiana native down and he never approached those 2004 numbers again. Rolen managed only five home runs in 56 games in an injury-riddled 2005 season. He came back in 2006 to play in 142 games, hitting 22 home runs and diving in 95 while putting up an .887 OPS. A late season disagreement with manager Tony La Russa marred what was otherwise an improbable magical finish, as the club limped to the post season with a mere 83 wins. But they caught fire in the post season and went on to defeat the heavily favored Detroit Tigers in five games in the World Series to win their 10th World Championship of the modern era.

The discord between Rolen and La Russa escalated in 2007 and was often played out in the press. Scott again was hampered with injuries and played only 112 games, hitting just eight homers with an OPS of .729. His Cardinal career ended largely due to his irreconcilable differences with La Russa, and he was traded to Toronto before the 2008 season.

A truly great player when healthy, his career has somewhat of an “if only” stigma attached to it due to the shoulder problems that plagued him after 2004.  Still in six seasons as a Cardinal, the team won four division titles, two pennants, and a world championship. Rolen finished in the league’ top 10 in WAR three times with St. Louis, 2002, 2004 and 2006. His career fWAR as a Cardinal of 27.1 ranks him 21st all-time among position players. Rolen made the National League All-Star team four consecutive seasons, 2003-2006, and won the NL Gold Glove Award at third base in three of those seasons.

Link to career stats:

What is next

Next time, we will review the careers of the four new additions to the Cardinals Modern Era ballot for 2018 before closing with recommendations on those we believe are the best of the best.

Cardinals Hall of Fame voting begins March 1 here.

Bonus for members of The Cardinal Nation: 2018 Cardinals Minor League Spring Training Schedules

Not yet a member?

Join The Cardinal Nation for the most comprehensive coverage of the St. Louis Cardinals from the majors through the entire minor league system. Annual members may purchase the new 2018 Prospect Guide for less than half price.

© 2018 The Cardinal Nation, All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.