The 10 Best Cardinals of All Time

Rogers Hornsby (left), shown with Jimmie Foxx.
Rogers Hornsby (left), shown with Jimmie Foxx.

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.