photo: Joe “Ducky” Medwick
Who are the best St. Louis Cardinals players to come from the Empire State and its coastal neighbors? Ducky, Frankie, Slick, Country, Lefty and more!
When one thinks of the East Coast, highly populous New York is one of the first states that comes to mind. One might guess that New York has produced more ballplayers then almost any other state and arguably, they could be right.
New York has produced over 1,200 players who made it to the big leagues. Try as I might I could not find enough former/current Cardinals players who qualify as being great enough to make an all-time lineup so I expanded the search to states that border the Atlantic Ocean. Here is a lineup derived from that research.
“Ducky” was not the nickname he preferred but it was the one that really stuck with this indelible member of the Gashouse Gang. Those Cardinals were a fiery bunch of hardnosed ball players and Medwick fit right in. As prolific a hitter as he was an antagonist, the Cateret, New Jersey native hit over .300 14 times in his career and won both the Most Valuable Player and Triple Crown titles in 1937.
His prowess at the plate, especially in 1937 when he crushed a National League high 37 home runs, caused him to earn another nickname, “Muscles,” which he much preferred. There is no doubt that the player known as much for his brawls (even with his teammates) was one of the all-time greats.
Medwick remains third all-time in Cardinals career average, one percentage point behind Johnny Mize. His 11-year accomplishments with the team include placing fifth in doubles, seventh in triples and OPS and ninth in RBI. Ducky was inducted into Cooperstown in 1968 and was part of the inaugural class of the Cardinals team Hall of Fame.
Andy Van Slyke
The former Cardinals center fielder once told St. Louis sports reporter Frank Cusumano that if he had been thinking on the field rather than playing on instinct, he would have been out of the game much earlier. That instinctive play helped him forge a 13-year MLB career.
The sixth pick in the 1983 draft recalled in a story for the Missouri Sports Hall of Fame how he got the news of his call-up to St. Louis.
“I remember (Louisville manager) Jim Fregosi called me into his office and sat me down, and he was shaking his head,” Van Slyke said, laughing. “He said, ‘I can’t believe it. For some reason, they want a .370 hitter in the big leagues.’”
A solid hitter in St. Louis, the man known as “Slick” became even more known for his accurate arm. In 1985 and 1986, he became a defensive force, throwing out 13 and 12 baserunners, respectively, trying to advance.
A native of Utica, New York, Van Slyke hit his first two career home runs at Shea Stadium in New York against his boyhood idol Tom Seaver. Van Slyke remains a fan favorite both in St. Louis and Pittsburgh, where he helped the Pirates to three straight National League East titles.
Enos “Country” Slaughter
Slaughter’s mad dash from first that captured the 1946 World Series title immortalized him in baseball lore and embedded him in the hearts of Cardinals fans. His brash style of play helped him become an All-Star 10 times in 13 seasons with St. Louis.
After three years of military service (1942-1945), he returned to lead the National League in games played (156) and RBI (130). Two years later, he hit a career high .321 and still finished 55 points behind Stan Musial, who won the title with a .376 average. A year later, Slaughter led the National League in triples.
For his career as a Redbird, the Roxville, North Carolina native hit .305 and grounded into just 115 double plays in more than 7,000 plate appearances. Number 9 was buried in his replica St. Louis uniform 11 years after the Cardinals retired his number forever. Slaughter was inducted into the Hall of Fame in 1985.
A pioneer who never planned to make baseball a career spent 51 seasons around the game including eight with the Cardinals. Arriving in 1959 to a city that was last in integrating seating at Busch Stadium and already with three first basemen, White appeared to be in a winless proposition. Instead, he moved to left field and was selected to his first All-Star Game.
By 1961, White was the Cardinals’ everyday first baseman, a position from which he would win six Gold Glove Awards. The Lakeland, Florida native was part of the all-Cardinal 1963 All-Star Game starting infield. Off the field following a 16-year career, White became the first African-American to broadcast Major League Baseball working for the New Yor Yankees. He also became the first president of the National League who also happened to be black. White was named to the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2020.
Has there been a better hot corner player for the Cardinals than Joe Torre? Defensively, probably but offensively not many could match him swing for swing. The Brooklyn born Torre offensively ranks in the top 10 best all-time players according to stats kept by MLB.com. His career WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 216 is tied with Willie Stargell. Before you question that placement, remember as of the end of the 2021 season, 19,969 players have appeared in at least one major league game. This makes Torre (who later had a Hall of Fame managerial career) better than 99 percent of anyone who has been a major leaguer.
Torre finished his career with nearly half of his 2,342 hits coming in six seasons with the Redbirds. His 1971 season was one of the finest in baseball history. Not only did he win the MVP award, the Cardinals’ cleanup hitter led the National League in nearly every offensive category including batting average, hits, RBI and total bases. As prolific as he was with the bat, the nine-time All-Star was just as durable in the field missing just five games from 1969 through the 1971 season.
Torre later managed the Cardinals during some difficult times (1990-1993) for the club and joined the team Hall of Fame in 2016, two years after he entered Cooperstown.
The “Fordham Flash,” also known as Frank Francis Frisch, was just the second position player to make the jump from college to the majors when he signed with the New York Giants in 1919. According to a 1980 article written by Sabr.org author Ted Ditullio, Frisch remained just one of eight position players who enjoyed at least a 10-year career without a day in the minors between 1900 and 1980. The slick fielding infielder from the Bronx went hitless in his first 10 plate appearances before stroking the first of his 2,880 hits against the Cincinnati Reds on August 14, 1919.
The Giants traded Frisch to St. Louis seven years later for Rogers Hornsby and Jimmy Ring, ironically the pitcher who gave up Frisch’s first big league hit. Frisch fit right in. Becoming player-manager in 1933, Frisch continued his sensational career in the field and then on the bench. His Cardinals won 458 games along with the 1934 World Series title. As a Cardinal, the 1947 Hall of Fame inductee amassed nearly 1600 hits, more than 280 doubles and his .312 batting average is eighth on the all-time Cardinals list.
This may be the one person in the lineups that has you scratching your head and saying, “Who?” Wingo was at the beginning of a long line of great Cardinals backstops. Ironically enough, he was known as much for his bat as he was for his prowess behind the plate.
The Norcross, Georgia native joined the Cardinals in 1910 for the salary of $50 a month. Wingo became the Cardinals regular behind the dish in 1912, hitting a solid .265 but it was his strong arm that made people sit up and take notice. In 1913, the left-handed throwing backstop gunned down 92 baserunners in 98 games. For the 1914 Redbirds, he hit an even .300 for the only time in the majors.
By the end of his 17-year career with the Cardinals and the Cincinnati Reds, Wingo had played more games behind home plate than anyone in baseball history and had thrown out 46% of would be base stealers.
At 6-foot-4 and 201 pounds, future Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton was perhaps as intimidating from the left side as his teammate Bob Gibson was from the right side. Together they formed a duo that helped the Cardinals to back-to-back World Series appearances in 1967 and 1968. “Lefty” was a three-time All-Star pitcher in his seven seasons with the Redbirds. Over that time, the Lakeland, Florida native won 10-plus games a year and struck out nearly 1,000 in the 1265 1/3 innings he logged for St. Louis.
Although his best years came with the Phillies after he left St. Louis due to a salary dispute, Carlton struck out a record setting 19 Mets on September 15, 1969 in a losing effort. That record stood for 17 years. Hall of Fame pitcher Randy Johnson is the only other left-hander in baseball history to strike out 19 or more in a nine-inning game.
From 1997 to 2005, Matt Morris was the ace of the Cardinals pitching staff. Over that eight-year span, the Middletown, New York native won 101 of 206 starts with 62 losses and 44 no decisions. In 2001, Morris had a career high 22 wins, tying Arizona’s Curt Schilling for the most in MLB that year. For his efforts, the right-hander finished third in the Cy Young Award voting behind Schilling and his teammate Randy Johnson.
In postseason play, Morris wasn’t quite as effective, going just 2-6 with two no decisions in 10 starts. Morris pitched in the 2004 World Series coming up short in Game 2 against the Red Sox, who avenged their loss 37 years earlier to St. Louis and erased the “Curse of the Bambino“ from 1918.
Morris retired to Montana after 12 big league seasons and ranks 11th on the Cardinals all-time win list and sixth in strikeouts. In 2021 he coached the Belgrade Bandits All-Star team to the 12U Montana state Championship.
Next up: The Midwest All-time Cardinals Lineup
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