As Tony La Russa goes into the Baseball Hall of Fame, I have an idea for a new “Top 5.”
But this, my friends, is probably the most difficult one I’ve written to date. How do I pick the five best Cardinals Hall of Famers? I’ll be leaving some amazing players off the list, won’t I? Here goes:
5) Ozzie Smith: The greatest defensive shortstop in the history of the game, Smith won 13 consecutive Gold Gloves in his career, dazzling fans with plays previously unseen in the game. At the time of his retirement, he was baseball’s all-time leader in assists, chances and double plays at his position. Smith’s popularity surged in the 1980’s, making him a 15-time All-Star selection. At the plate, the Wizard came through with one of the most dramatic home runs in Cardinal history, in Game 5 of the 1985 NLCS. His contribution to pennant-winning teams in ’85 and ’87 — as well as the 1982 World Champions – make him a Top 5 Cardinals Hall of Famer.
4) Lou Brock: Before we talk about his stolen base records, let’s keep in mind one thing: Brock was a great hitter. I mean, a great hitter. And he hit in the clutch. In the World Series, Brock’s .391 batting average is an all-time record. He recorded 3,023 hits in his career. Stealing bases, however, is Brock’s calling card. At the time of his retirement, he was baseball’s all-time leader with 938. He set the single-season mark in 1974 with 118 steals. For years, Brock frustrated pitchers – and at times, controlled the game – helping the Cardinals to two world championships. He is forever the team’s greatest acquisition via trade (1964, Cubs).
3) Rogers Hornsby: Hornsby is one of two players since 1900 to bat .400 in three different seasons. (The other is Ty Cobb.) Hornsby is one of two players to win the Triple Crown twice. (The other is Ted Williams.) Hornsby is the Cardinals’ all-time leader in batting average (.359). He once batted .424, a modern-day record he set in 1924. I could go on, but I don’t need to. Hornsby is firmly in the top three Cardinals, one of the greatest hitters of all-time.
2) Bob Gibson: The best pitcher in Cardinal history is one of the most dominating right-handers in the history of the game. Gibson authored one of the greatest seasons ever, a 22-9 record to go along with a staggering 1.12 ERA in 1968. That postseason, he struck out 17 hitters in one World Series game. He won two Cy Young awards, two world titles and pitched a no-hitter. But as you know, it was more than numbers. Gibson’s toughness was well-documented, returning from a broken leg to help the Cardinals to a World Series victory in 1967.
1) Stan Musial: The greatest Cardinal of them all. The Man is and will always be the best. That is, unless someone else can go to 24 All-Star Games, lead the club in virtually every all-time offensive category and win three MVP awards to go along with three world championships. And a .331 lifetime average, 3,630 hits and 475 home runs as a Cardinal. As it reads on his statue outside Busch Stadium: “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”