The 10 Best Cardinals of All Time

Rogers Hornsby (left), shown with Jimmie Foxx.
Rogers Hornsby (left), shown with Jimmie Foxx. BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY

Here are the 10 best Cardinals of all time, as chosen by Bill Christine, who voted in the Baseball Hall of Fame election for more than 40 years. (For more on that, see his introduction here.)

Are you the kind of reader who prefers to go straight to the 10 worst? We've got that too.

1. Rogers Hornsby

Second Baseman, 1915-1926, 1933

For the Stan Musial and Bob Gibson fan clubs, the complaint line forms on the left. But Hornsby batted .401 in 1922. And .424 in 1924. And .403 in 1925. Case closed.

Many say that Hornsby is the best right-handed hitter of all time. He won seven batting titles, had a lifetime average of .358, second only to Ty Cobb's, and also hit 301 homers. In 1926, Hornsby doubled as the team's manager and batted .317 as the Cardinals won their first pennant and beat the vaunted Yankees in the World Series. But during the season, Hornsby had embarrassed the Cardinals' owner, Sam Breadon, by throwing him out of the team clubhouse, and after the series, Hornsby was traded to the New York Giants for Frankie Frisch.

The rest of Hornsby's managerial career, with five teams after he left St. Louis, was a sad affair. He expected every player to be a .400 hitter, and frowned on anyone reading—yes, reading—and going to movies, because he said such activities were harmful to the eyes. His next-to-last stop was again in St. Louis, with the ragamuffin Browns in 1952. When he was fired, the players gave the club's owner, Bill Veeck, a trophy, which was inscribed: "For the greatest play since the Emancipation Proclamation."

2. Stan Musial

click to enlarge Stan Musial - MISSOURI HISTORY MUSEUM
Stan Musial

Outfielder - First Baseman, 1941-1963

Sometime in the 1990s, I ran into Musial in the lobby of a hotel in Cincinnati. He must have been close to 80. "Geez, Stan, you look good," I said. "You look like you could still handle something on the outside corner."

Musial's laugh often sounded like a giggle. "You know," he said, "you might be right. But the problem would be running from here to there after I hit it."

The writer John Schulian once interviewed Musial at the old Musial & Biggie's Restaurant. Afterwards, Musial offered to drive Schulian to his downtown hotel. They got in Musial's yellow Cadillac, but on the way they came across two teenagers whose car was stopped on the side of the road. Musial stopped, got out his jumper cable and re-charged their battery. As Musial got back in his car, Schulian heard one kid say to another: "Do you know who that was? Stan Musial."

Musial, who missed one season because of military duty, used a corkscrew stance to bat .331 and hit 475 homers. He had 3,630 hits, exactly half at home, half on the road. They started calling him "Stan the Man" in Brooklyn, and the name stuck. He won seven batting titles, was the league's most valuable player three times and played in 24 All-Star games. Musial was also a decent harmonica player, though he was never invited to Carnegie Hall. Maybe New York wasn't ready for Stan's favorite song: "Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy."

3. Bob Gibson

Pitcher, 1959-1975

click to enlarge Bob Gibson. - PUBLIC DOMAIN
Bob Gibson.

Tim McCarver caught Gibson for ten seasons. "Nothing that has ever been said about Gibson and his talents has ever been overstated," McCarver said. Let the Gibson record do the talking: five twenty-win seasons; 251 wins; one most-valuable-player and two Cy Young Awards; a no-hitter; a record 1.12 earned run average in 1968; seven wins against only two losses in the World Series; 3,117 strikeouts; and election to the Hall of Fame, with 84 percent of the vote, in 1981.

After Gibson's sensational year in 1968, they changed the rules: They lowered the slope of the pitching mound from 15 to 10 inches, and reduced the strike zone. Gibson was unfazed; he pitched almost a hundred of his wins after that.

He pitched with a snarl on his face, and he told managers he was available to pitch every day if they needed him. At the end of 1964, he almost did. Three days before the hectic pennant race ended, he lost a 1-0 game, pitching eight innings. A day later, on the final day of the season, he pitched four innings out of the bullpen, helping to preserve the win that clinched the Cardinals' first league title in 18 years. Then he pitched in three World Series games, including the clincher against the Yankees.

click to enlarge Albert Pujols - ASPEN PHOTO
Albert Pujols

4. Albert Pujols

First Baseman - Third Baseman, 2001-2011

Pujols hit .329, with 37 homers and 130 runs batted in, to win Rookie of the Year in 2001, and he never stopped. He hit .300 or more for nine more seasons. In 2011, he hit .299, then signed a long-term, $250-million contract with the Los Angeles Angels.

As a Cardinal, he bashed 445 homers and drove in 1,329 runs. He led the Red Birds into three World Series, including victories over the Tigers in 2006 and the Rangers in 2011. The last of his three Most Valuable Player awards came in 2009.

click to enlarge Dizzy Dean (left) and Frankie Frisch - COURTESY OF THE BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Dizzy Dean (left) and Frankie Frisch

5. Dizzy Dean

Pitcher, 1930, 1932-1937

Winning 32 games, with 30 of them in the regular season, Dean was the National League's Most Valuable Player as he pitched the Cardinals to the pennant and a World Series win over the Tigers in 1934. He also led the league in braggadocio many times, but he frequently made good on his boasts. He won 120 games in five full seasons in St. Louis, but in the 1937 All-Star game he suffered a broken toe and never fully recovered. Traded to the Cubs in 1938, he won only 24 games the rest of the way. He was elected into the Hall of Fame in 1953.

6. Frankie Frisch

Second Baseman - Shortstop - Third Baseman, 1927-1937

Called "The Fordham Flash" because of his college background, Frisch never played in the minor leagues. Fiery on the field and a disciplinarian as a manager, Frisch had his impish moments. Paying the league office a $25 fine, he enclosed a note that said: "(Buy) your umpires new caps. They now look like Civil War veterans."

Traded to the Cardinals for Rogers Hornsby thanks to his snit with John McGraw, the manager of the New York Giants, Frisch finished his career in St. Louis. He batted .312 for the Cardinals, who won four pennants and two World Series during his stay. In 1934, when the Red Birds defeated the Tigers in the fall, Frisch, nearing 36, hit .305 and managed the team as well. He was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1947.

click to enlarge Lou Brock. - COURTESY ST. LOUIS CARDINALS ARCHIVE
Lou Brock.

7. Lou Brock

Outfielder, 1964-1979

On June 14, 1964, the Cardinals were tied for seventh place and the Cubs were sixth (no divisional play then). The two teams made a six-player trade, headlined by Ernie Broglio going to Chicago and Lou Brock coming to St. Louis. Broglio had won 60 games in the four previous seasons, but had a sore arm that he kept to himself. After the trade, he won seven more games in the following two and a half years and retired from the game. Brock was the linchpin as the Cardinals won the 1964 World Series.

The Cardinals won two more pennants and one World Series with Brock in the lineup. He hit .297 as a Cardinal, stole 888 bases and became a Hall of Famer in 1985. Long-of-tooth Cub fans still use him as a poster boy for hating the Cardinals.

8. Ozzie Smith

click to enlarge Ozzie Smith - COURTESY ST. LOUIS CARDINALS ARCHIVE
Ozzie Smith

Shortstop, 1982-1996

In August 1981, the crowd in St. Louis booed their shortstop, Garry Templeton, who responded with obscene gestures. An umpire threw Templeton out of the game, and when his manager, Whitey Herzog, lectured him in the dugout, coaches and other players had to keep them from fighting. Needless to say, that was the end of Templeton's turbulent six-year run as a Cardinal. In San Diego, the struggling Padres had a good-field, no-hit shortstop, and before the 1982 season began, Ozzie Smith was a Cardinal and Templeton a Padre.

Templeton went to the World Series with the Padres in 1984, but in St. Louis, Smith sparkplugged the Cardinals to three pennants and one World Series title. Smith won 11 straight Gold Gloves for his fielding wizardry, became a better hitter than he'd been in San Diego and in 2001, garnering 91 percent of the vote, cakewalked into the Hall of Fame.

Joe Medwick and Dizzy Dean.

9. Joe Medwick Outfielder, 1932-40, 1947-1948

In the mid-1970s, I chaired a testimonial dinner in Pittsburgh for Pie Traynor, the Pirates' Hall of Fame third baseman. We invited every living Hall of Famer, and—gulp!—Ray Schalk, who had died in 1970. Medwick came from St. Louis, but as we left the cocktail party just before the dinner, he came up to me and demanded a check, on the spot, for his traveling expenses. "I've been to a lot of these deals," Medwick said, "and I'm not gonna get stiffed again." More than twenty years after he played his last game, Medwick was still hanging tough.

In Detroit in 1934, Medwick had been removed from a World Series game by the commissioner of baseball for fear he might incite a riot. But Medwick's bluster was no blarney. He battled his way to seven straight .300 seasons in St. Louis, leading the league at .374 in 1937. He batted .379 in the '34 Series. Yet it was decades before Medwick became a Hall of Famer. "I feel like I just ended a twenty-year slump," he said after the voters finally smiled on him.

click to enlarge Jim Bottomley (left), with manager Gabby Street. - COURTESY OF THE BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY LESLIE JONES COLLECTION
Jim Bottomley (left), with manager Gabby Street.

10. Jim Bottomley First Baseman, 1922-1932

Despite playing on four of the Cardinals' World Series teams, a career average of .310, 94 or more runs batted in for nine seasons and a reputation as a smooth-fielding first baseman, the even-tempered Bottomley wasn't enshrined in the Hall of Fame until 1974, a quarter of a century after his death. They didn't call him "Sunny Jim" for nothing; the fire in his belly was seldom on display, but surely it existed. "Bottomley was the best clutch hitter I ever saw," Frankie Frisch said.

Even when Bottomley was playing in the minor leagues, Branch Rickey of the Cardinals knew what he had. With Bottomley in the wings, Rickey traded Jack Fournier, an established hitter, to Brooklyn. Bottomley took over the bag full-time in 1923 and stayed there for ten years.

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