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Big League Stew

The 10 best St. Louis Cardinals in team history

Alex Remington
Big League Stew

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Casual baseball fans might not realize it, but the St. Louis Cardinals have the second-most World Series titles in baseball history. They have 16 members of the Hall of Fame, 14 players and two managers. Six of the players are listed below, a seventh will almost certainly make it (Albert Pujols), and the remaining three are among the most deserving players who have not been elected to the Hall. (They are only "among" the most deserving, because none of their names is Ron Santo or Tim Raines, but still.)

The Cardinals have been in the National League since 1892 and they have won 10 world championships in that time, the only team other than the Yankees in double digits. Every decade or two, they have an iconic team, from the 1934 Gashouse Gang to the 1982 Whiteyball team led by Ozzie Smith and manager Whitey Herzog, to the La Russa-Pujols Cardinals, who have been one of the most consistently excellent teams of the past decade. With Ozzie, they had the greatest defensive shortstop in history; they also had arguably the greatest left-handed hitter in National League history, Stan Musial, and the greatest right-handed hitter in league history, Rogers Hornsby. And Phat Albert Pujols is not far behind.

Let's take a look at the top-10 players in the franchise's history: {YSP:MORE}

*Note stats listed are from the player's time with the team

10. CF Jim Edmonds (2000-2007) .285/.393/.555, 241 HR, 713 RBIs, 2x All-Star
Here's the thing: Jim Edmonds may well have been a Hall of Famer. He will have an uphill climb, though, because his best years came during the Steroid Era. Though he has never been connected to performance-enhancing drugs, no player from the era will be able to escape suspicion completely — sadly, it is a logical truth that you cannot prove a negative. But Edmonds was one of the best center fielders in baseball for a long time, with fearsome power, terrific plate discipline, and legitimately good if occasionally overrated defense. Though he came up with the Angels, by far his best years came in St. Louis, as he was the center fielder on the 2004 league champions and 2006 world champions. His 68 Wins Above Replacement (by Baseball-Reference) are virtually tied with Duke Snider's 67.5. You may not believe he's a Hall of Famer, but as Andy wrote at the Baseball-Reference.com blog, "This is clearly not a crazy debate."

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9. SP Dizzy Dean (1930-1937) 150-83, 2.99 ERA, 1.20 WHIP, 4x All-Star, NL MVP (1934)
Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean is a classic case of a terrific peak and a short career. Dean pitched 357 innings fewer than Sandy Koufax, perhaps the most famous case of a pitcher whose career ended before its time. But at his peak, Ol' Diz really was something, and writers recognized him as not just one of the best pitchers, but one of the best players in the league, as he won the MVP as a member of the 1934 world champion Gashouse Gang, and finished as MVP runner-up in 1935 and 1936, after holding out for more money in the offseason both years. With performance like that, notoriously tight-fisted general manager Branch Rickey probably felt he got his money's worth. Dean ruined his arm by changing his pitching motion in an attempt to come back from a foot injury, and was effectively done before his 30th birthday. But he had already cemented his legacy: A great nickname, a great World Series, and a great five-year run was all he needed to take his place among the all-time legends of the game.

8. Ted Simmons (1968-1980) .298/.366/.459, 172 HR, 929 RBIs, 6x All-Star
Ted Simmons is arguably the best catcher not in the Hall of Fame. An anchor of the team in the '70s, his first cup of coffee came as an 18-year-old during the 1968 season, but he wasn't on the playoff roster. Then the Cardinals had the third-longest playoff drought in their history, and wouldn't return to the World Series until two years after he left. Despite a 21-year career and eight All-Star appearances, he fell off the Hall of Fame ballot in his first year of eligibility, and has not yet inspired much of an online campaign for a bid to get in via the Veterans' Committee. Geoff Young recently evaluated his Hall of Fame case and concluded that he was about as worthy a candidate as the recently enshrined backstop Gary Carter. Whatever his place in the pantheon, Simmons is surely the best catcher in the history of the franchise.

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7. Enos Slaughter (1938-1953) .305/.384/.463, 146 HR, 1,148 RBIs, 10x All-Star
A high-energy player, Enos "Country" Slaughter was involved in one of the most famous plays in World Series history, the "Mad Dash," scoring the winning run in the seventh game of the 1946 World Series by running from first on a hit-and-run and coming around to score on a single to left. Perhaps the ultimate case of forcing the defense to make a play, it cemented his reputation as one of the team's all-time great hustle guys, along with the similarly awesomely nicknamed Johnny "Pepper" Martin, Lonnie "Skates" Smith and Al "The Mad Hungarian" Hrabosky.

6. 3B/CF Ken Boyer (1955-1965) .293/.356/.475, 255 HR, 1,001 RBIs, 7x All-Star, NL MVP (1964)
Ken Boyer was a member of one of the greatest third base families ever — his younger brother, Clete, played for 16 seasons and hit 162 homers — and one of the largest baseball families, as his older brother Cloyd briefly pitched for the Cardinals and Athletics, and his brothers Wayne, Lynn, Len, and Ron were drafted to the minors, as were his son Dave and nephew Mickey. But Ken was the class of the family, one of the best-hitting and fielding third sackers of his day, and he is one of the greatest third basemen not in the Hall of Fame, behind his contemporary Ron Santo. He was the MVP of the World Champion 1964 Cardinals, the best player on a team that included Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Lou Brock.

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5. Ozzie Smith (1978-1996) .262/.337/.328, 28 HR, 793 RBIs, 580 SB, 148 CS, 15x All-Star
The Wizard of Oz is almost universally regarded as the best defensive shortstop ever to play the game. Early in his career, he entertained fans by doing a backflip on his way to his position, until he was discouraged by nervous coaches worried that he might one day mistime his leap and do serious damage. But on the field, he was elegance itself. He once said: "To me, being a jazz player is a lot like being a shortstop." He was never much of a power threat, but he improved his plate discipline as he got older and was always a superb base stealer, an important skill on Whitey Herzog's running-mad Whiteyball Cardinals. His 13 straight Gold Gloves are behind only Brooks Robinson's 16. (Greg Maddux later tied Ozzie by picking up 13 straight Gold Gloves himself.)

4. SP Bob Gibson (1959-1975) 251-174, 2.91 ERA, 1.19 WHIP, 8x All-Star, 2x NL Cy Young (1968, 1970), NL MVP (1968)
He doesn't have an imposing nickname — "Hoot," after an actor in Westerns — or an imposing frame, standing at around 6-foot-1 and 189 pounds. But when he toed the rubber, especially the higher mound that was in use in 1968, there may have been no one more intimidating. His famous 1.12 ERA in 1968, known as "The Year of the Pitcher" mostly due to Gibson's eye-popping ERA and Denny McLain's 31 wins, was the lowest ERA posted by a pitcher since 1914, Babe Ruth's rookie year. A former basketball player who had briefly played with the Harlem Globetrotters, Gibson consciously developed his surly mound demeanor, once explaining: "You've got to have an attitude if you're going to go far in this game."

3. LF/RF/1B/3B Albert Pujols (2001-2011) .328/.420/.617, 445 HR, 1,329 RBIs, 9x All-Star, 3x NL MVP (2005, 2008-9)
We've been spoiled by King Albert. This year was the "worst" of his career by far, as he posted career lows in average, RBI, hits, doubles, walks, OBP and slugging, and posted a career high in grounding into double plays. And yet he still hit .299/.366/.541 with 37 homers, and he's hitting .419 in the postseason with 10 RBIs. He's just 31 years old, just three points behind Musial's batting average and 30 home runs behind Musial's homer total. Musial may always be the greatest Cardinal, just as Hank Aaron will always be the greatest Brave and Willie Mays the greatest Giant, no matter who follows — but if his career continues along its current course, Pujols could be the greatest hitter in the history of the National League. At this point, there are only four definite things that remain above him: Barry Bonds, Babe Ruth, Ted Williams, and the heavenly firmament.

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2. Rogers Hornsby (1915-1926) .359/.427/.568, 193 HR, 1,072 RBIs, NL MVP (1925)
Rajah could flat-out rake. Owner of the second-highest batting average of all time, Hornsby was famous for his refusal to engage with anything that wasn't baseball — as Ron Fimrite writes, he wouldn't read books, watch movies, or even play cards, because he didn't want to do anything that would potentially hurt his eyes. As he once said:

People ask me what I do in winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.

As legendary as he was for hitting prowess, he was equally famous for being insufferable, and he was generally hated by his teammates and the players he managed. He wasn't too great with the glove, either. But it didn't much matter to the scoreboard.

1. LF/CF/RF/1B Stan Musial (1941-1963) .331/.417/.559, 475 HR, 1,951 RBIs, 24x All-Star, 3x NL MVP (1943, 1946, 1948)
A Polish-American from Pennsylvania, Stanley Frank Musial — also known to his family as Stanisław Musiał, the same name as a contemporary Polish priest who was a leading figure in improving postwar relations between Poland's Jewish community and the Catholic Church — Stan the Man is the greatest Cardinal ever, and one of the most beloved ballplayers of all time, with an appropriately impressive nickname. But my favorite nickname was an unspoken one, given to him by Bill James, who once referred to Ken Griffey Jr. as "the second-best left-handed hitting, left-handed throwing outfielder ever born in Donora, Pennsylvania on November 21." As it so happens, Donora is also Stan Musial's hometown, and Nov. 21 is also Stan Musial's birthday.

His Hall of Fame career almost didn't happen. As his Hall of Fame page notes, before he was an outfielder he was "a dead-armed Class C pitcher" who had nonetheless earned notice for his booming bat. Give the Cardinals credit for putting him where he belonged. He's tied with Hank Aaron and Willie Mays with 24 All-Star game appearances (his numbers were boosted by the MLB practice of holding two All-Star games a year from 1959-1962), and still holds the all-time record with six All-Star game homers.

Honorable mentions: The Cardinals franchise has been so great that it's an impossible task to whittle the field down to just 10 players. Among the others who could have easily landed on this list: Joe Medwick, the last NL player to win the Triple Crown; Lou Brock, an electrifying player and Hall of Famer; Red Schoendienst, the longest-tenured Cardinal ever; Johnny Mize, the original Big Cat; and Curt Flood, a brilliant center fielder and proud man who fought for labor rights that he never got to enjoy. A mention, but without much honor, must be made of pitcher Jesse Haines, perhaps the worst player in the Hall of Fame.

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