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 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.
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: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/c/colemvi01.shtml
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.
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: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/t/tudorjo01.shtml
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.
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: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/s/smithle02.shtml
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.
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: https://www.baseball-reference.com/players/l/lankfra01.shtml
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To close this three-part series, we will offer our recommendations on those we believe are the best of the best.
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