photo: Lou Brock
This last installment of the article series, the best lineup of hitters from the USA, features a good mix of players from the heyday of yesteryear and current/more recent St. Louis Cardinals players. Although I did not name a manager, Tony La Russa would receive the nod with the “Old Redhead” and Whitey tied for a close second.
This 24-man roster was very simple to create and although there is room for a differing opinion here and there, it stands on its own merits. The lineup does not feature a designated hitter; however, if I were to have one it would be Albert Pujols and he would bat in the five hole. (Though he was born in the Dominican Republic, Pujols was drafted as a US resident.)
The order of players is how I would write out my lineup card.
Left field – Lou Brock
The trade commonly known as the worst in Chicago Cubs history brought Lou Brock to the Cardinals in 1964 and changed the course of baseball. At the time, it didn’t seem such a bad deal for Chicago since Ernie Broglio was an established 20-game winner and Brock was just another ballplayer. Cardinals manager Johnny Keane had always coveted Brock. On a plane ride from Los Angeles to Houston, general manager Bing Devine told Keane they had a chance to get the left fielder. Keane simply replied, “What are we waiting for?” Brock became the catalyst for three Cardinals World Series teams, winning in 1964 and 1967 before losing the 1968 Series to the Tigers. The Hall of Famer was one of the best when it came to the postseason. In 21 games, he had a slash line of .291/.424/.655 and stole 14 bases in 16 attempts.
Shortstop – Ozzie Smith
“The Wizard of Oz” and his traditional backflip will forever be remembered by St. Louis Cardinals fans. He’ll also be remembered for getting Cardinals’ broadcaster Jack Buck into a frenzy with his “Go crazy folks, go crazy!” call on Smith’s 1985 Game 5 NLCS walk-off home run. Cardinals’ fans can tell you exactly where they were at that moment and what they were doing when his ball went over the wall at Busch Stadium. The iconic Hall of Fame shortstop earned 13 consecutive Gold Gloves during his career, the most by any shortstop in baseball history.
Third base – Ken Boyer
Boyer, initially drafted as a pitcher, played 11 seasons for the Cardinals. Boyer became team captain in 1961. Three years later, he won the National League MVP Award and led the Cardinals to the 1964 World Series title. Boyer and his brother Clete, third baseman for the Yankees, became the first brothers to to play against each other in the World Series, play third base and hit a home run. The Alba, Missouri native and his seven brothers were all professional ballplayers and third basemen to boot. Ken, Clete and Cloyd all played at the major league level. Boyer managed the Cardinals from April 1978 to June 9, 1980 before being replaced by his former Mets coach and roommate Whitey Herzog. Following his passing from cancer in 1982, the Cardinals wore a black armband in remembrance of “The Captain” and fittingly enough won the 1982 World Series. Boyer’s number 14 was retired in 1984, so in 2014, he was honored as one of the inaugural inductees into the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.
First base – Stan Musial
Stan “The Man” is the epitome of St. Louis baseball. He set the standard by which all others are measured over the years. His backup at first base, Albert Pujols, would be in the argument had he not left for 10 seasons. It is unexpected that any Cardinal will ever play more games, have more hits, slug more doubles or hit more home runs than “The Man.” Next year will be 60 years since his retirement and no one has come close to touching his records. Need more be said?
Catcher – Yadier Molina
The Cardinals have had some of the greatest catchers in baseball history but none are more well-rounded than Number 4, Yadier Molina. The current Cardinals backstop has been a consistent offensive machine. Of all the catchers in St. Louis baseball history, Yadi is first in nine of 15 offensive categories and second in the other six. As good as he is offensively, he is even better defensively. It’s his knowledge of both hitters and pitchers that sets him apart from nearly every catcher in baseball history. With Molina behind the dish, St. Louis wins 56% of the time. Only Hall of Famer Carlton Fisk has won more games as a catcher. Molina has received nine Gold Glove Awards and thrown out 40 percent of would-be base stealers. In all-time defensive WAR, he ranks 21st among catchers. Thirteen of the 20 ahead of him are in the Hall of Fame and it could be argued that Thurman Munson, Joe Mauer and Buster Posey should be there as well.
Second base – Frankie Frisch
Like catcher and first base, this was a relatively easy selection. The “Fordham Flash” holds the top spot in nearly every offensive category for St. Louis second basemen over the years. He is one of the few players in baseball history to never play a day of minor league ball. Not only was Frisch a great ballplayer, he was a crafty manager as well. Frisch came to the Cardinals in exchange for player-manager Rogers Hornsby, who had just led St. Louis to its first World Series title in 1926. For a decade, Frisch manned the second base bag, and from 1933-1937, he was also the player-manager. At his retirement, he held the Cardinals record for most World Series at bats and games played.
Right Field – Roger Maris
Roger Maris is possibly the only member of this lineup who deserves to be in the Hall of Fame but is not. Maris came to Cardinals following a solid six year stretch during which he was one of the best in the game despite playing next to Mickey Mantle. The right fielder was a seven-time All-Star, a two-time MVP and broke the single-season home run mark set by Babe Ruth. A relatively short 12-year career still produced Hall-worthy numbers. Let’s begin with back-to-back MVP awards in 1960 and 1961. Only 11 players in baseball history have won three or more and only 32 have ever won two or more. Of those 32, 24 are in the Hall of Fame and four are still actively playing. Of the remaining four, only A-Rod kept himself out while the rest all have credential worthy resumes. Maris played in seven World Series including 1967 and 1968 with the Cardinals. In just two seasons with the Redbirds, 54 percent of his hits produced a run batted in.
Center field – Willie McGee
McGee burst on to the scene in 1982, bringing reminders of the Gas House Gang with his effervescent energy. McGee’s speed, bat and defense won the hearts of St. Louis fans and many a baseball game as well. McGee is the only player to win the National League batting title while playing in the American League after the Cardinals dealt him to Oakland at the trade deadline in 1990. Over his 13 years in St. Louis, he not only hit .294, legged out 255 doubles and stole 301 bases in 398 attempts but led the Cardinals to four World Series berths in six playoff appearances. A four-time All-Star, McGee earned three Gold Glove Awards, an MVP trophy and a batting title.
Bench – Red Schoendienst, Jose Oquendo, Jim Edmonds, Jack Rothrock, Whitey Kurowski, Albert Pujols, Ted Simmons
Starting Pitchers – Bob Gibson, Dizzy Dean, Adam Wainwright, Chris Carpenter, Jesse Haines
Bullpen – Bruce Sutter, Dennis Eckersley, Al Hrabosky
Prior articles in this series
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