UCB July Project: Cardinal HOF Class of 2013

Last month, the United Cardinal Bloggers laid out some ideas for what we’d like to see included when the Cardinal Hall of Fame opens its doors next year as part of the finally-realized Ballpark Village.  (From what I’ve heard, that construction is really going well in St. Louis.  There seems to be no reason to think they won’t make their target of Opening Day 2014.)

Of course, when it comes to the Hall of Fame, the exhibits and memorabilia is just part of the charm and draw to the concept.  There is also the honoring of people that have been a part of Cardinal history and have made their mark while wearing the uniform or being employed by the team.

So this month, the UCB project is to vote for five people that should be in the initial class into the Hall of Fame.  The ballots will be summed and the official United Cardinal Bloggers recommendation for this class will be announced.  (Let’s be clear, though, we have no say in the selection of Cardinal Hall of Famers, but that’s never stopped us before.)

Without some ground rules, though, this would be a fairly academic exercise.  You’d have Stan Musial, you’d have Bob Gibson, you’d probably have Lou Brock and Ozzie Smith, perhaps Red Schoendienst. In other words, pretty standard stuff.

To make this more interesting, we assumed a couple of things.  One, that anyone that has their number up on the wall was already in the Hall of Fame.  Even if they aren’t in Cooperstown, like Ken Boyer and Tony La Russa, we’re going to wave them on into the Redbird version.  Likewise, if they are in the official Baseball Hall of Fame and spent most of their career in St. Louis (like Joe Medwick), they are inducted as well.

The second rule is that there is no five-year waiting period.  If a player is retired (or there’s a reasonable expectation that he is retired, if he’s not officially announced), he’s eligible for this exercise.  You’ll see that comes into play on my ballot especially and, since I’m the one making up the rules for the group project, that might have played a role.

OK, now that the ground rules are set, let’s list out my selections.  Honorees are laid out in alphabetical order, so there’s no hierarchy here.  One vote is as good as another.

Bing Devine

When we think about impressive general managers, there’s no doubt Devine is right on the top of the list.  Not only did he put in place the team that would snap the World Series drought that they’d been in since 1946 and help construct the ’67 and ’68 teams, he also did work in New York putting the Mets on the biggest stage as well.  While that won’t count toward his induction into the Cardinal Hall of Fame, you’ve got to admit the man had skills.

Devine pulled the trigger on probably the best trade ever in Cardinal history, the swap of Ernie Broglio for Brock.  While he wasn’t around to fully see the initial fruits, being fired in a power struggle with Branch Rickey as the team foundered in ’64, he was back at the helm for the next two World Series teams and saw the results then.

Coming on the heels of Trader Frank Lane, Devine was a soothing and more conservative presence in the front office.  He realized that Rome wasn’t built in a day and you had to give something to get something.  I don’t think it’s much of a coincidence that current GM John Mozeliak credits Devine as one of his role models and someone that he got a lot of advice from on doing that job.

You could maybe argue that there have been better general managers in Cardinal history (such as Rickey in his first go-around) but there’d no doubt Devine is right there at the top of the list.  Which is good enough to get him a bust in the first HOF class.

George Kissell

There is an actual book out there called The Cardinal Way.  You can’t buy it in bookstores or download it from Amazon, but if you are one of those lucky few that put the birds on the bat on professionally, you get a copy.  It tells you what to do and why to do it, from defensive positioning to general life lessons.

The book is new, just put together in the last few years.  Because the Cardinals didn’t need it much before then.  They had George Kissell.

The old saw is “those that can, do; those that can’t, teach.”  Kissell never made it to the major leagues as a player, but his ideas, theories, and tactics shaped a whole organization.  You did things the way Kissell taught you and you were successful.  You deviated from that and you probably wouldn’t be and, chances are, you might not be a Cardinal much longer either.

When you look at how successful the Cardinals have been over their history, a large portion of that has to flow from Kissell and how he got the players ready to play.  He set the standards and made sure that everyone could live up to them.  I would expect that’s why the Cards have so many players that come up and surprise people, like Allen Craig and Matt Carpenter, because of the lessons and fundamentals that have been drilled into them.  Without a pillar like Kissell, those fundamentals might not be as focused on.

The Cards owe a lot to George Kissell.  Putting him in their Hall of Fame would go a large way to taking care of that debt.

Willie McGee

I would bet that there are going to be few ballots that leave off Willie, who has had a movement to have his number retired in the past few years.  (Obviously, the person that made that page had no idea what “detrimental” meant.  Instrumental to the success, sure.  Detrimental, not at all.)  Only one person has wore it since McGee’s final go-around in St. Louis and Bud Smith didn’t wear it long, swapping numbers when he next came up from the minors.

McGee, along with Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith and other luminaries such as Vince Coleman, Tommy Herr and Terry Pendleton, represents the success of Whiteyball and the greatness that was the Cardinals in the ’80s.  He won two batting titles (though one he collected on a technicality after being traded to the Oakland A’s in 1990) and took home the league MVP in 1985.

He put up some good numbers in St. Louis.  In his two trips combined, he hit .294/.329/.400 and, while his 63 home runs in that 13 year stretch seems paltry now, given the age in which he played, he was one of the top power threats on the team while also stealing just over 300 bases.  What everyone tends to remember about Willie, though, is his humble nature.  (That and the fact the man never saw a pitch in the dirt that he didn’t think he could hit.)

If there ever seemed to be a shoo-in for a Cardinal Hall of Fame, it is Willie McGee.

Scott Rolen

Being a person that appreciates otherworldly defense, I remember being quite excited in the summer of 2002 when the Cardinals were rumored to be after Rolen.  I even pulled a trade in one of my fantasy leagues to get him just on the chance he’d be wearing the birds on the bat.  Walt Jocketty didn’t disappoint and in one of the better moves in Jocketty’s tenure, got Rolen for basically nothing.

Which meant we got to see amazing defensive plays not only in centerfield with Mr. Edmonds but at third base as well.  Rolen was amazing with the glove, turning sure doubles into routine outs.  He’d throw people out from his backside, he’d start stellar 5-4-3 double plays, he’d spear balls well over his head.  You name it, he’d do it at the hot corner.

And he could hit too!  The backside of the Albert Pujols sandwich that was the MV3, he put up a .286/.370/.510 mark while wearing the birds on the bat.  He was a tough out every time he went up to bat and had some memorable offensive moments as well, though few topped the home run he hit off of Roger Clemens in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, putting the Cards ahead and eventually sending them to their first World Series since 1987.

Rolen’s time in St. Louis should have been even better than it was.  The names of Alex Cintron and Hee Seop Choi may not go down in baseball history, but they should live in infamy given the damage they did to Rolen’s shoulders in two different collisions years apart.  Those injuries, coupled with Rolen’s insistence on playing, led to some declining production and a fraying of the relationship between Rolen and Tony La Russa, leading to Rolen being benched in the 2006 postseason.  Rolen responded by tearing up the Tigers in the World Series and should have rightfully been the Series MVP.

The relationship never recovered, though, and a year later John Mozeliak, in one of his first moves, had to send him on to Toronto for Troy Glaus.  I didn’t care for the fact that the trade was necessary at the time and I still wish that Rolen’s time in St. Louis had ended more positively than it did.  Rolen has sat out all year long and made no significant noise about playing again, so I think it’s reasonable to say we can close the book on that career.  What a career it was!

Mike Shannon

If Mike Shannon’s Hall of Fame case was limited to what he did on the field, I’m not sure that he’d get in.  He might eventually, given that he was a local kid that made good.  He had three or four really solid years with the club and got two World Series rings, in 1964 and 1967.  His home run off of Whitey Ford in Game 1 of the ’64 Classic tied up the ballgame and helped St. Louis to a win against the mighty Yankees.  Sadly, his career ended abruptly when he was 30 due to nephritis.

However, Shannon’s story with the Cardinals was just beginning.  After spending a year in promotions, Shannon got behind the microphone in 1972 and he’s never left it.  Working with the legendary Jack Buck, Shannon got to be himself on the air and, well, there’s a reason he was nicknamed Moonman.  The problem won’t be finding out what to write on Shannon’s plaque.  The problem will be figuring out which Shannonisms to leave off!  How do you choose between:

“He was trying to hit a three-run homer with the bases empty.  To my knowledge, no one in the history of the game has ever done that.  But it could happen someday.  You never know in this world of baseball.”

“I wouldn’t have seen it if I hadn’t believed it.”

“He’s faster than a chicken being chased by Ronald McDonald!”

“I wish you folks back in St. Louis could see this moon.”

You know you’ve made it when you’ve gotten your own bobblehead.  You have to put Shannon in there, if only to hear what his acceptance speech would be.

When I originally wrote this list, I forgot that I had planned on Kissell being on here.  Which meant someone had to be bumped off and into the first alternate slot.  I’m not going to waste the writeup, however!

Jim Edmonds

If for no other reason, Jim Edmonds should be in the HOF for this catch alone:

That catch kept the Houston Astros from taking an insurmountable lead in Game 7 of the 2004 NLCS, a game the Cardinals came back and won. That was just one of the myriad of times, though, that Edmonds’s golden glove kept the Cardinals in a game or helped them nail down a victory.

Who can forget him robbing home runs in back-to-back days in Cincinnati?  Of turning in highlight moment after highlight moment?  Sure, he played shallow and sometimes turned routine catches into spectacular ones, but like another Cardinal once said, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can back it up.”  He may have been nicknamed Hollywood, but there’s no doubt he had some serious star power.

Of course, defense wasn’t all that he brought to the table.  In his eight years in St. Louis, he piled up 241 home runs, drove in 713, and put up a slash line of .285/.393/.555.  Part of the vaunted MV3 attack that seemed to hit its stride from 2004 to 2006, Edmonds helped anchor what may well be the best team this generation of Cardinal fans has ever seen in that 2004 105-win squad.

Nobody that saw it is likely to forget that sweet left-handed swing of Jimmy Ballgame.  Which makes for a difficult decision–is his statue hitting or fielding?

Those are my five selections and the one that likely makes my list next year.  Of course, you could go with lots of other choices–leaving Curt Flood off the list seems wrong as well, plus other fan favorites such as John Tudor and Jose Oquendo would be worthy as well.  Be sure to check out the rest of the UCB’s selections!

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