photo: Keith Hernandez via Zoom (Brian Walton/The Cardinal Nation)
Next up in the St. Louis Cardinals All-Time Lineup Series is the West Coast. Interestingly, the Cardinals have employed a plethora of players from California, so this is the Cardinals California lineup. With numerous players from just one state and some of the best during their time at a position made this one of the most difficult lineups to build.
For example, do you pick Mark McGwire or Keith Hernandez at first base or maybe Nippy Jones who batted fourth between Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter back in the mid 40’s? How do you choose the outfield when three of the best center fielders in team history came from California? Those and a multitude of other decisions based on research made this the most difficult lineup to create.
Here is what I have selected to be the best Cardinals lineup from the West Coast.
Los Angeles, CA
Bill Sarni began his professional career at the age of 15 playing for his hometown Los Angeles Angels, then a farm team of the Chicago Cubs. In his first professional at bat, he hit a home run. Plucked off the Texas League Shreveport Sports in 1949, Sarni made his big-league debut with the in 1951. He became the Cardinals starting backstop in 1954, hitting an even .300 with nine long balls and 70 RBI. Defensively, he led the league in double plays started by a catcher. Throwing out 56 percent of would be base stealers that season, he finished third in the league. After an average season in 1955, Sarni started off the 1956 season strong hitting .291 through 43 games before being traded to the New York Giants in a nine-player deal. Over his five seasons in St. Louis, the backstop hit a solid .271.
San Francisco, CA
Keith Hernandez continued a tradition of Cardinals first basemen that were great in the field and at the plate. Selected in the 42nd round of the 1972 draft, Hernandez was another late find by the Cardinals who turned into something great. With less than two full minor league seasons under his belt, Hernandez became a major leaguer to stay in late 1975. Although everyone knew he had a good bat, his glove earned him the title of baseball’s best defensive first basemen. From 1978 – 1988, he won 11 consecutive Gold Gloves with the first six while with St. Louis. Despite earning the MVP award in 1978 and leading St. Louis to the 1982 World Series title, off field issues led to his trade to the New York Mets in 1983.
Over his decade with the Cardinals, Hernandez had a career .299 average. He still ranks in the top 10 on the team all-time list in intentional walks and on base percentage. The left-handed hitter ranks third among St. Louis first basemen with a 34.4 WAR. Hernandez was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2021.
It took a year to solidify the trade that brought Fernando Vina to St. Louis, but it was worth the wait. On December 15, 1999, he came to St. Louis and the rest as they say is history. During his five years manning the second base bag, Vina was a lead off hitter with speed and an ability to get on base. Arriving in St. Louis, Vina is reported to have said, “My plan is to get on base any way I can. This lineup is incredible … If I get on base, good things are going to happen.” And they did.
His Cardinals debut included two singles, a triple, a run scored and an RBI. For the 2000 season, he batted .300 with an on-base percentage of .380 and 81 runs scored. His play in the field was just as good as he led all National League second basemen in fielding percentage. The 2001 season was even better when he batted .303 with 191 hits and 95 runs scored. During his four seasons in St. Louis, Vina led the Cardinals to three post season appearances, won two Gold Gloves and had 570 hits in 488 games.
Los Angeles, CA
Terry Pendleton, whom one scout said was projected to be an average to below average Major League player, spent 13 years in the majors, lifting teams to the World Series five separate times. Raised initially in South Central Los Angeles, Pendleton spent his first seven years in the majors with St. Louis. The 179th pick of 1982 draft brought speed, power and defense to the lineup. A switch hitter, Pendleton became so good that after his playing days ended, he worked as a major league hitting coach and eventually the bench coach for the Atlanta Braves in their run to the World Series title in 2021. Not bad for a guy projected to be an average to below average major leaguer.
Royce Clayton was destined to become the successor to Ozzie Smith and on December 14, 1995, he became just that when he was acquired from the San Francisco Giants. In 1982, when Clayton was 12, his father took him to see Smith play for the Cardinals at Dodger Stadium.
“When we left the game that night, I told my dad I wanted to play shortstop like Ozzie,” Clayton said. “God blessed me. Now playing in the same uniform with him is like a dream.”
In 1996, Clayton supplanted Smith at shortstop, starting 111 games hitting .277 and stealing 33 bases. A year later, he led all National League shortstops in assists while hitting .266 with 39 doubles, 61 RBI and 31 stolen bases. Clayton helped lead St. Louis two postseason berths in his three seasons as a Redbird. Although they did not make to a World Series in either appearance, Clayton did his part, hitting .346 with four walks.
Los Angeles, CA
Lankford started and ended his career in St. Louis with a bang. In 1991, he became the Cardinals starting center fielder taking over for Willie McGee. In his first full season, he led the National League in triples (15), stolen bases (44) and runs scored (83). Lankford also was the first Cardinals rookie to hit for the cycle, completing the feat on September 15, 1991. He closed out his career at home October 3, 2004, with a pinch-hit home run in his final career plate appearance. No one in Cardinals history hit more home runs (123) at Busch Stadium than Ray Lankford nor has anyone posted more seasons of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases. In addition to power, speed and plate discipline, the Los Angeles native was an above average fielder. In 1996, he committed just one error yet failed to win the Gold Glove. Eighteen years after the completion of his career, Lankford ranks in the all-time Cardinals top 10 in eight different categories including home runs, extra base hits, and walks. He also ranks 11th in two other categories. Lankford entered the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2018.
Chick Hafey played more than 600 games in left field for the Cardinals during his eight-year stay. Becoming one of the best almost did not happen for the Berkeley native. When sinus issues began causing eye problems, Hafey had to decide between facing his fear of doctors and hospitals or not being able to play the game he loved. Hafey had the operation and went on to complete a Hall of Fame career. The bespectacled outfielder’s .326 batting average still ranks eighth among Cardinals all time. Of his 963 hits, 415 went for extra bases, placing him fourth on the Cardinals all-time slugging percentage list. Only pure home run hitters Mark McGwire, Albert Pujols and Johnny Mize rank ahead of him in that category 85 years after his retirement.
San Francisco, CA
Decades after retiring, Willie McGee remains a fan favorite. The lanky outfielder was one of the game’s best hitters and fielders during his 13 years in St. Louis. As a rookie, he led the Cardinals to the 1982 World Series championship. McGee’s St. Louis playing story included three Gold Gloves, four All-Star Games, an MVP and two batting titles. It was his second batting title that was the stuff of legends. After he played 125 games for the basement dwelling Cardinals in 1987, St. Louis traded the National League’s leading hitter to the Oakland A’s. At season’s end, no one had caught his .335 NL average, making him the first player in history to win a batting title while playing in another league. That same season, he led the major leagues with a total of 199 hits. After his return to St. Louis in 1996, McGee completed 13 years in a Cardinals uniform with a .294 batting average. McGee remains in the top 10 on the team’s all-time list in singles, triples, and stolen bases. He was elected into the team’s Hall of Fame in 2014 and is a coach on the Cardinals staff today.
Ernie Broglio might never have been remembered had it not been for his trade from St. Louis to the Chicago Cubs in exchange for Lou Brock. After graduating from El Cerrito High School in 1953, he began his professional career at age 17 with the Oakland A’s, then of the Pacific Coast League. Five years later the Giants traded Broglio to St. Louis. Becoming a starter in 1959, he went 70-55 over six seasons with the Cardinals, including a career best 21-9 and a 2.74 ERA in 1960. Three years later, in 1963, he was 18-8 with a 2.99 ERA. Arm trouble led to the trade to the Cubs and the eventual end of his career. Broglio, unlike many players, found joy in the trade. He told the San Jose Mercury just weeks before the Cubs won the 2016 World Series; “You live with it,” he said. “You go along with it. I mean, here you are 50-some years later after the trade and we’re talking. And I’m thinking, ‘What trade is going to be remembered for 50-something years?”
Prior articles in this series
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