Los cincos de los Cardenales de San Luis

Today marks the fifth of May, 5/5, so what better time to recall and recognize some of the greats and not-so-greats who donned the number “5” jersey for the St. Louis Cardinals over the years?

Of course, there is only one place to start. That is with today.

The current and most likely last Cardinals player to ever wear number five is Albert Pujols. While I have written recently about his greatness, it remains a target that is constantly moving forward. The following indicate El Hombre’s current position on the National League 2009 leaderboard as of this Cinco de Mayo*:

Runs 1st 25
Home runs T-1st 9
Slugging 1st 0.700
OPS 1st 1.160
Total bases T-1st 63
Runs batted in 1st 29
Grand slams T-1st 2

Most ironically on this day, if Pujols isn’t leading a stats category, he is most likely in fifth place in the NL:

Batting average 5th 0.344
Walks 5th 19
On base percentage 5th 0.460
Extra base hits T-5th 14

In addition to the more standard stats, here are a few other areas where Pujols is among the NL leaders:

Hardest to strike out 4th 14.1 plate appearances per strikeout
Intentional walks T-2nd five
At-bats per RBI 1st 3.1
At-bats per home run 2nd 10

Though Pujols was assigned number 68 for his first big-league camp (see photo), he was “upgraded” to number five before the 2001 regular season. In the process, he became the 34th Cardinal to wear the number.

Outfielder Thomas Howard had sported “5” during the two seasons prior to Pujols’ arrival and fellow veteran outfielder Ron Gant had the number during the three years before Howard. (Those 1996-1998 seasons also happened to be number ten’s first three as manager of the club.)

The other number fives during the 1990s were Danny Sheaffer, Stan Royer and coach Jim Riggleman. While ten different men donned the 5 uniform during the 1980’s, only infielder Mike Ramsey (1981-1984) kept it for more than one season.

This decade also marked the only times before Pujols that a player of Hispanic origin wore the jersey. Both were middle infielders, yet neither Jose (Gonzalez) Uribe (1984) nor Fred Manrique (1986) are Mexican. Uribe hails from the Dominican Republic as does Albert while Manrique is Venezuelan.

Another seven individuals had been assigned number five during the 1970’s. It was often given to players who excelled elsewhere before joining St. Louis late in their careers such as Ed Brinkman, Willie Davis and Willie Crawford. Infielder Mike Phillips (1977-1980) was its longest holder during that era.

Only nine Cardinals players wore number five over the previous three decades, from second baseman Don Gutteridge in 1937-1940 through coach and skipper Johnny Keane (1959-1964) and coach Dick Sisler (1966-1970).

The number originated with Hall of Fame first baseman Jim Bottomley and third baseman Milt Stock as the club first experimented with small numbers on their left sleeves in 1923. The team did not begin full-time use of numbers until 1932, when their deployment was in the now-familiar location of the uniform back.

Stock did play an indirect part in the Cardinals’ Hispanic heritage as he was dealt to the Brooklyn Dodgers in April 1924 for catcher Mike (Miguel) Gonzalez (pictured). It was the Cuban native’s second tour of duty with the organization, having previously played with them from 1915-1918. At that time, he became their first-ever player of Hispanic origin.

Gonzalez later finished his playing days with St. Louis, returning once again in 1930-1931 before starting a long coaching career. When he served as interim manager of St. Louis for 16 games to close the 1938 season, Gonzalez experienced an even bigger first. He became the first minority to lead a professional sporting team in the United States as head coach/manager. He remained a coach at the major league level for the Cards through 1946.

Though it would have provided the perfect bow to tie around this article, sadly Gonzalez did not wear number 5, at least not exactly. Yet in every one of his 14 years as a Cardinal during the time in which uniform numbers were worn on their backs, Gonzalez donned either 15, 25 or 35.

* On a side note, Cinco de Mayo, which is Spanish for the fifth of May, is a much bigger deal here in the US than in Mexico, as we have turned the day into a general celebration of Mexican culture. South of the Border, it is considered a regional holiday as it is not Mexico’s Independence Day, which is celebrated on September 16. Cinco de Mayo recognizes the Mexican army’s defeat of French forces at the Battle of Puebla on May 5, 1862.