As progress continues on the Ballpark Village construction site, we’re inching closer and closer to the grand opening of, among other things, the new Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum. If you’re interested in reading other ideas for the Cards HOF & Museum, I wrote some other thoughts about that a couple weeks ago here.
The July UCB project was to nominate five inductees into said Cardinals HOF. Not the easiest task, if you’re taking it seriously…and I surely did.
The challenges lie both in the “rules” set forth for the project, which included:
a) If they’re already honored by the organization (retired number…etc), assume they’re already in.
b) The player must be retired, or be reasonably believed to be retired.
c) No restrictions based on length of service (unofficially known as the Eddie Gaedel rule)
There were plenty of challenges outside of those parameters, as well. How to narrow to just five? How to choose WHICH five…etc. So, while there are a few rules that provide rigid guidelines as to who would not be considered eligible, there’s no good way to create a one-size-fits-all filter for deciding who gets in. So, what I did was try to imagine what the facility will look and feel like once physically constructed, and go from there as to who I thought should have a special place inside those four yet-to-be-constructed walls.
Basically, I’m telling you that I didn’t choose anyone on any kind of solid foundation. I’ll tell you, if you think about the list of former Cardinals that could/should be honored, it’s a number closer to 50 than 5–this wasn’t easy, and there are PLENTY who could’ve just as easily been on the list as some here. As I continued through my selections, I found this project to be more an exercise of “find 5 you could simply not omit” than anything else. That said, the five I chose are as follows:
Nominee # 1 — Curt Flood
Every Major League Baseball players’ paycheck should have Flood’s name on it somewhere. Every agent from Boras to Lozano to Jay-Z should wake up every morning and thank their lucky stars for Curt friggin’ Flood. THE pioneer for free agency happened to play (mostly) CF for our beloved Cardinals from 1958 to 1969. His career batting average was under .300 (.293), he amassed only 85 HR for his entire career, well below the magical number of 500, and had fewer than 2,000…let alone 3,000 career hits (1,861). His on-the-field contributions to the game weren’t much to write home about, or write about period, for that matter. In 1996, his final year of eligibility, the BBWAA gave him the highest % of HOF votes he’d receive, at a modest 15.1%.
Flood did more for the game off-the-field, however, than he ever did for it while between the white lines, which is saying something for a guy who won two of the three World Series he played in here (’64, ’67, ’68). Flood, much like former Cardinals executive Branch Rickey, made his mark on the game off the field, and did so in ways that benefit the game as a whole, impacting every player to pick up a bat or glove since. For that reason, I couldn’t omit Flood from my ballot.
Nominee #2 — Branch Rickey
Rickey, like the aforementioned Flood, is a man more deserving of a book (or books) being written about him or a Hollywood film produced about his life. Being one of five people mentioned in my little blog here hardly does justice, but until I’m writing books or producing movies, it’ll have to do. By the way, I’m pretty much never going to be writing books or producing movies. Branch Rickey, as most of you know, is responsible for the fact that “farm systems” exist. Also, he signed a player who, you could say played a role in baseball history, as well as American history: Jackie Robinson. To not boast about him and his accomplishments, and demonstrate pride that he was part of our organization would be a travesty.
Nominee #3 — Marty Hendon
This late Vice President was all things promotional for the organization for years. His “trinket city” as it was known held an impressive collection of each promotion item the Cards had going over years and years. Oh, and he’s also responsible for some pretty big deals, like Fredbird’s existence, Family Christian Day, and several other things that are part of the fabric of what this organization is today. You want to talk about a man who helped propel the PR and marketing of this wonderful product to new heights, and ensure future generations were interested in the Cardinals through things like pennants, wristbands, and zillions of other promotions & giveaways? He was the man. RIP, Marty.
Nominee #4 — Jimmy Baseball
Jim Edmonds never won an MVP award, though he did have two top-five finishes (4th, 2000; 5th, 2004). He never led the league in hitting, or homeruns, or doubles, or walks, or even HBPs. As a matter of fact (other than totals), if you check his baseball reference page, you wouldn’t find one bold number. Not a single one. B-R ranks Edmonds among all-time batters as #77, ahead of #78 HOF’er Brooks Robinson and #80 HOF’er Andre Dawson, and plenty other impressive names. But, come on. We all know why Edmonds belongs here. It’s not the frosted tips, the half-shirts, or the guyliner. It’s the real estate that guy covered.
Playing shallower than most CF to ever take the field, you get the feeling that sometimes he was just daring hitters to try and burn him. Rarely, and I mean rarely, did it ever happen. There’s the 2004 catch, the one in ANA (as an Angel) with his back to the infield, the two vs. CIN, and countless others.
In game 7 of the 2006 NLCS against the Mets, I saw the greatest catch any outfielder has ever made when Endy Chavez robbed Scott Rolen. When in conversations about great catches, and I tell people that’s my pick for #1 of all-time, I always make sure to point out, “and that’s coming from a guy who watched Jim Edmonds play every day for 8 years.”.
Nominee # 5 — Chris Carpenter
I will concede right away that Carp has been “on again, off again” as eligible for this list. As far as I’m concerned, he felt more numbness a couple days ago, therefore likely won’t try to fire it up again anytime soon, thus delaying any possibility for a return beyond this season…which is the end of his current contract. In a nutshell: I’m going with “on again” for his eligibility for this list.
Injuries have been a very real and significant part of Carp’s career. Multiple injuries, surgeries, rehabs, and recoveries have knocked him down several times through the years, but never knocked him completely out. During his time in St. Louis, injuries have shelved Carpenter for most of the season three times, and by “most of the season”, I mean he threw fewer than 20 innings in each of those seasons (2007, 2008, 2012). For Cardinals pitchers’ career numbers, I was surprised to learn that Adam Wainwright only trails Carpenter by roughly a thousand pitches thrown (18.8k to 19.8k). Consider that while in Toronto he had two more seasons where he pitched for less than half the year (81 IP in ’97 & 73 IP in ’02), and you can clearly see why some of his career numbers don’t have the same lofty feel, in terms of longevity, as many whose service time is similar.
But the injuries are part of the reason why I have him on my list. His persistence is like nothing we’ve seen. His competitive fire burns so hot that unprepared infielders who play defense behind him have been scorched at times. Nothing, and I mean nothing has been able to keep Chris Carpenter off that mound when the Cardinals have needed him to be there. Thrice a top three Cy Young award candidate (once a winner, of course, in ’05), the brachial plexus/rib removal stuff, tying & surpassing Gibson on some all-time Cardinal lists…this man is truly a once-in-a-generation type pitcher. I’ll grant you the “more rounds of playoff games now” side of the argument, there’s no denying it. By the same token, there’s no denying that that means more elimination games and more “must win” situations exist.
Think about the Cards most recent World Series Championship, 2011. All he did was outpitch Roy Halladay in an incredible Game 5 of the NLDS in Philly to advance to the NLCS. Then, he beat Gallardo to help push his team into their third World Series appearance since he joined the club. Once there, he got the party started by doing his job, and helping his team by winning the game one. A week and two days later, I watched from my seats as he took the mound at Busch for game 7 of the World Series, and put the final nail in the coffin of the Texas Rangers. Who else would you ever want on the mound in big game situations like that? Who, but Chris Carpenter? I’ll say it: One of the top Cardinals pitchers in franchise history. You measure that in numbers, and his name will pop up here & there. Measure it in competitive fire and guts, and he’s at the top.
As I said, there are so many greats in Cardinals history that this was really a task of who to not leave out…and even so, only having 5 slots, some very worthy people have been left off my list. From Lee Smith to Ted Simmons to countless others. If I were going to have a section for ‘honorable mention’, it could go on for days. I suppose I could end this particular post with a tribute of sorts to another staple of this organization for decades and decades. I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this as much as I’ve enjoyed writing it for you. So long for just a while.