photo: Yadier Molina and Albert Pujols (USA TODAY Sports)
Creating an all-time St. Louis Cardinals lineup from players born outside the 50 States was more challenging than one might imagine. Plenty of players have passed through the organization from various nations, yet most played similar positions.
Because of the challenges, this was also one the most enjoyable to research. It is also the first lineup featuring at least one currently active Cardinal.
The hardest decision in creating this lineup was who should be the catcher in the starting nine. Yadier Molina from Puerto Rico or Mike Gonzalez, who is considered one of the architects of modern Cuban baseball. Gonzalez won four World Series rings as a Cardinals catcher and coach. He also happened to be the third base coach when Enos Slaughter made his “Mad Dash” from first to score the game winning run in the 1946 World Series. So, who received the nod? Read on, find out and enjoy.
So Taguchi – Japan
Not a prolific hitter. Not a swift base runner. Not even an above average fielder yet Taguchi managed to make his way to the big leagues because of determination and heart. Already a 10-year veteran of Japanese baseball, Taguchi was the Cardinals first foray into players outside of the Americas.
Taguchi had been expected to step right into being a major leaguer in the United States but the challenge was bigger than expected. He began at Double AA New Haven and worked his way through the minors from the spring of 2002 to the middle of 2004. Then nearing the age of 35, he finally stuck with St. Louis in mid-2004.
His impact play was especially felt in the postseason. Taguchi helped St. Louis win two World Series titles. Less than a third of his hits went for extra bases yet this is where St. Louis fans remember him the most. Leading off the ninth in Game 2 of the 2006 League Championship Series, So’s home run gave St. Louis a lead it did not relinquish. In Game 5 of the ensuing World Series, Taguchi’s sacrifice set up the Cardinals first run, then a single in the fourth set up the tying run before he scored the game winner on a groundout by David Eckstein.
David Green – Nicaragua
David Green had a short time with St. Louis and in the majors but what he had was productive. The center fielder joined the Cardinals from the Milwaukee Brewers in a trade that sent future Hall of Famers Ted Simmons and Rollie Fingers along with the 1982 Cy Young winner Pete Vuckovich going the other way. Cardinals’ manager Whitey Herzog had insisted on Green being a part of the deal.
At the time, Green was considered Roberto Clemente-esque but never really panned out. The fleet-footed outfielder did play against the Brewers in the 1982 World Series, recording two extra base-hits in 10 plate appearances. His best season with Cardinals came in 1983 when he hit .284 with eight home runs, 10 triples, 39 RBI and 34 stolen bases. Spending five seasons in St. Louis, the center fielder hit a solid .273.
Green passed away this January 25th in St. Louis at the age of 61.
Patsy Donovan – Ireland
Donovan spent four years in St. Louis on the back end of his 17-year playing career. Not once in his four years in St. Louis did he fail to hit less than .300. Never known for his power, only 17 of his more than 600 hits for the Cardinals went for extra bases. An adept base stealer, he averaged 38 swipes a year for St. Louis including a league high 45 in 1900. Donovan still ranks in the top 35 all-time base stealers in baseball history.
In 1903, his final season as player-manager in St. Louis, Donovan was the National League’s highest paid player at $8,800 yet his team finished 46.5 games out of first place. Despite managing some of the worst team finishes ever, the Ireland native was considered a brilliant judge of talent. After leaving St. Louis, he eventually landed in Boston where he is credited with convincing Red Sox owner Joseph Lannin to purchase Babe Ruth from the then minor league Baltimore Orioles.
Albert Pujols – Dominican Republic
The future Hall of Famer could have been named to three different positions on this list including left field and third base. That Pujols is only active player on any of the lineups posted thus far speaks to his incredible career. Drafted in the 13th round out of a Kansas City area junior college, the native of the Dominican Republic has become one of the greatest ballplayers in baseball history.
Pujols did everything asked of him in 2001 spring training camp, forcing the Cardinals to take him north for the season. The 21-year-old slugger set the baseball world on fire, hitting .329 on 194 hits including 37 home runs and 130 RBI.
His prodigious prowess continued over the next 11 seasons, putting him on track with Stan Musial as the greatest Cardinal of them all. During this span, he placed himself in the conversation of baseball legends. With the exception of triples, Pujols ranks in the Cardinals top five all-time producers in 10 major offensive categories. Five of the Cardinals all-time top 11 individual season performances in franchise history are owned by Albert Pujols. “The Machine” currently sits fifth on the all-time home run and doubles list, third in RBI and 15th in hits.
Depending how Pujols’ final season goes in 2022, he could very well end up even higher but nevertheless Cardinals fans will be booking their trip to Cooperstown for his induction ceremony in 2027.
Julian Javier – Dominican Republic
Known for his soft hands in the field and his bunting prowess at the plate, Javier had initially signed with the Pittsburgh Pirates for $500. Fortunately for the Cardinals, the Pirates had Bill Mazeroski as their second baseman. Because of that, the Pirates traded Javier to St. Louis on May 28, 1960.
The slick fielding second baseman had two hits in his major league debut on that same day. Although he hit only .237 in his first year, he was still named to the TOPPS 1960 All-Rookie team and firmly established himself as the starting second sacker for 12 seasons in a Redbirds uniform. Two solid seasons and a strong beginning to the 1963 season earned Javier his first All-Star Game berth, replacing the injured Mazeroski. His replacement nod gave the All-Star Game an All-Cardinals starting infield.
In three of his first four seasons, St. Louis’ second baseman finished first or second in sacrifice hits. Javier played in three World Series for the Cardinals, hitting .360 in the 1967 win over Boston and .333 in the seven-game loss to the Detroit Tigers.
Edgar Renteria – Columbia
Renteria arrived in St. Louis from the Marlins following the 1998 season. Already a proven All-Star and World Series hero, Renteria became a fixture at shortstop for the Redbirds for the next six seasons. In 2000, with the addition of second baseman Fernando Vina, they were one of the slickest keystone combinations in Redbirds history.
Renteria won Gold Gloves and Silver Slugger Awards in in back-to-back seasons not to mention that he was a three-time All-Star. The Cardinals shortstop enjoyed his best major league season in 2003 when hitting .330 while slapping 194 hits and driving home 100. His RBI century mark was the first by a Cardinals shortstop in more than 100 years. Following the team’s 2004 World Series loss, Renteria signed with the 2004 baseball champion Boston Red Sox replacing fellow Columbian Orlando Cabrera.
Placido Polanco – Dominican Republic
Polanco was one of the cornerstones of the St. Louis clubs in the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. Never a consistent starter, he was adept at all the infield positions making him invaluable before his trade to Philadelphia in 2002.
As a Cardinal, Polanco played 151 games at second, 248 games at third, another 121 games at shortstop and three innings at first base. Throughout his nearly five years with the Redbirds, he hit .295. In over 1,500 at bats, he struck out just 111 times. As dependable as he was to get a hit for Tony La Russa’s teams, he was just as flawless in the field, making just 28 miscues out of 1500-plus chances.
Not known for his power and thinking he had hit a double, Polanco slid in to second only to find out he had hit the first of his 104 career home runs. Speaking of home runs, he was the only player to pinch-hit for home run slugger Mark McGwire during his chase for immortality in 1998.
Yadier Molina – Puerto Rico
One can count the number of players in the history of major league baseball who are known by one name. “Yadi” is arguably the greatest catcher in the history of St. Louis baseballl. He is the only backstop in baseball history to catch 2,000 plus games with one club. Molina ranks in the top 70 catchers of all-time in assists, fielding percentage and double plays turned. It is little wonder that he ranks first among active catchers in assists, runners caught stealing and pickoffs.
The nine-time All-Star garnered nine Gold Gloves, including eight consecutive from 2008-2015. Only Hall of Fame catchers Johnny Bench (10) and Ivan Rodriguez (13) have more Gold Gloves. He has been the catalyst to 12 St. Louis playoff appearances in 17 seasons and two World Series titles in four tries. Add to the resume two silver medals in the World Baseball Classic with his home country and there is little reason to doubt that he has had a career worthy of first ballot Hall of Fame recognition.
Joaquin Andujar – Dominican Republic
The “One Tough Dominican” established himself as one of the best Cardinals pitchers of all-time in 1982. After arriving in June 1981 via a trade with the Houston Astros, Andujar went 6-1 with a 3.47 ERA. It was a prelude of things to come. The right-hander quickly became the ace of the staff with not just his fiery disposition but by pitching winning baseball.
In 1982, Andujar finished 15-10 with a 2.47 ERA but it was his heroics in the World Series against the vaunted Milwaukee Brewers that solidified his place in Cardinals’ history. In Game 3, on the road in Milwaukee, he outdueled Brewers ace Pete Vuckovich by throwing 6 1/3 innings of three-hit scoreless baseball. The win sent his team back to St. Louis up 2-1 in the series. In the deciding Game 7, he once again bested the Brewers ace scattering seven hits over seven innings and allowing two earned.
For the series, Andujar threw 13 1/3 innings, surrendering just 10 hits and a walk while allowing just two earned runs. He was the last St. Louis Cardinals pitcher to have back-to-back 20-win seasons. Andujar passed away in 2015 at the age of 62.
Prior articles in this series
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