This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. This installment was written by Rusty Groppel.
The lower end of our “100 Greatest St. Louis Cardinals” list is an interesting area. We see some players that you really wouldn’t come up with off the top of your head, but when you see the numbers you say, “oh wow, that guy was really good for us.” We saw a little bit of that play out when Allen gave us #100 to #96 yesterday. I’m sure alot of people were glad to see 1980’s favorites Tom Herr and Vince Coleman make their way onto our list of greatness. This next group of players is one that isn’t too sexy, but incredibly interesting. Without further ado, here are player #95 to #91.
#95 – Ken Dayley, RP (1984-90)
The Cardinals didn’t draft him, but the fact that Dayley was the 3rd overall pick in the 1980 draft speaks to the talent that would eventually come through St. Louis. Acquired in a trade for Ken Oberkfell in 1984, Dayley became a force out of the Cardinals bullpen in 1985. A major player in two NL Pennant runs, Dayley posted ERA’s of 2.87 or less in 4 of his 6 full seasons in St. Louis. He was the primary lefty in the heart of the Whitey-ball era. Ken was never the “closer”, but he was deployed for save opportunities as the matchups dictated. He was certainly a finisher as he managed to grab 39 saves while recording the final out in 136 of his 327 games (41.6%) wearing the Birds on the Bat.
Apart from one untimely homerun in 1987, he was a stellar pitcher in the postseason. In 16 playoff games, covering 20.2 innings, Dayley recorded a win and 5 saves, while allowing just 6 hits on his way to a 0.44 ERA.
Cardinals fans saw Ken’s daughter Sara Dayley on Fox Sports Midwest in 2017.
#94 – Mark Littell, RP (1978-82, RCG Score: 53, EC: .5, Total: 53.5)
I know what you’re thinking. “Wait…the outfielder that made a cameo in the late 90’s?” No, not that Mark Little. This Mark Littell is a Cape Girardeau, MO native that managed to pitch his entire career in his home state. Given the name “Air Head” by his teammates, Mark was one of the best relievers in the game for the Kansas City Royals prior to being trade to the Cardinals in exchange for Al Hrabosky following the ’77 season. Littell continued his dominant ways for his first two seasons in St. Louis. In 1978 and ’79 combined, Littell would pitch 135 games, covering 188.2 innings, while posting a more than solid 2.53 ERA to go with 9.4 strikeouts per 9 IP. He saved 24 games, finishing 91 in a time when relief roles were much different than they are today.
It should surprise no one that after pitching 100+ innings in relief every year from ’76 to ’78 with another 88 in ’79, Littell fell victim to arm problems. From 1980-82 he would throw only 72.1 innings. Bone spurs in his elbow would cause him to retire midway through the 1982 World Series Championship season.
SB Nation ranked Littell as the 83rd Greatest Royal of All-Time, so finding him at 94 on our list seems about right. Littell actually has a couple different claims to fame. His invention, the “Nutty Buddy” protective device, has won accolades and yes, there is a must-watch video demonstration. Second, in 1981 Mark allowed hit number 3631 to Pete Rose, ironically putting him past the Cardinals’ own Stan Musial for the NL’s all-time hit lead. These things make him memorable, however it was the two dominant years that landed him among the Greatest Cardinals.
#93 – Ryan Ludwick, OF (2007-10, All-Star, Silver Slugger)
Just how good Ryan Ludwick was with the Cardinals probably gets overlooked simply because the team managed to reach the playoffs just once during his 3 1/2 years in St. Louis. A 28 year-old, minor league free agent Ludwick was a heck of a find for the Cardinals. He served as a reserve outfielder in the extremely forgettable 2007 season, seeing a good amount of playing time as Jim Edmonds and (unfortunately) Juan Encarnacion missed considerable time. He belted 14 HR’s with 52 RBI in just 303 AB’s that season.
2008 was when he would be truly great. In the first season post-Edmonds, Ludwick put on a Jimmy-esque performance. A strong slash line of .299/.375/.591 would accompany 37 HR’s (matching Pujols), 113 RBI’s (just 3 behind Pujols), and 104 Runs Scored (4 more than Pujols). Keep in mind, Albert Pujols was the NL’s MVP that year. Ludwick wasn’t quite on his level, but he kept pace pretty well. Luddy would earn an All-Star nod, a Silver Slugger award, and some down ballot looks in the MVP race.
It was the among the best seasons by a Cardinals outfielder not named Edmonds in the last 20 years, as he put up a 5.5 bWAR. He was no slouch in the field either, posting a +12 DRS in his 124 games as a RF in 2008. In his career with St. Louis he was a +16 DRS.
Ludwick followed up 2008 with a lesser but still strong 2009, slugging 22 more HR’s along with 97 RBI’s. He would serve as Pujols’ protection until Matt Holliday was acquired that July. Ludwick would end his time in St. Louis as part of a three-team trade. He went to San Diego, Jake Westbrook to St. Louis, and some guy named Corey Kluber to Cleveland.
#92 – Jose DeLeon, SP (1988-92)
DeLeon came to the Cardinals the year after a World Series appearance, and wasn’t able to be a part of much team success in St. Louis. His individual performances though, especially in 1988 and ’89, were simply dominant. In 1988 he became just the 4th pitcher in franchise history to strike out 200+ batters in a single season. His 208 K’s still stands as the 7th highest total by a pitcher not named Bob Gibson. With a strong 225.1 innings pitched and 3.67 ERA, 1988 was a good year.
1989 was better. His strikeout total dropped, as he ONLY struck out 201 to lead the NL. However, he posted a 3.05 ERA and a career high 16 wins, while dealing 3 shutouts across 36 starts. DeLeon allowed just 6.4 hits per 9 innings that year, the best such figure in the NL. It is also the 5th best performance in that category in franchise history. Furthermore, his 244.2 IP are the most in a single season by a Cardinal in the last 30 years.
DeLeon’s performance took a step back in 1990. Still, outside of his ERA jumping to 4.43, most of his numbers remained strong. However, making 32 starts for a last place team put DeLeon on the hook for 19 losses. It’s hard to place too much blame on him considering Todd Zeile and Pedro Guerrero were the only hitters to top 10 HR’s for the team, hitting 15 and 13 respectively. He bounced back with a career low 2.71 ERA in 28 starts in 1991. 1992 would see him fall out of the rotation and be traded to Philadelphia.
An interesting distinction, DeLeon and Kerry Wood are the only two pitchers in baseball history with LESS than 100 wins and MORE than 1500 strikeouts.
#91 – Pete Vuckovich, SP (1978-1980)
A burly right-hander with a fu manchu to match his era, Vuckovich pitched in St. Louis during some lean years. He had a reputation as bizarre man on the mound. He was twitchy and animated, known to cross his eyes and stick out his tongue at hitters as well as yelling at umpires while in the stretch. His antics made him a fan favorite. It’s a shame he came to St. Louis the year after Al Hrabosky was traded. Those two together would have made for one of the more…eccentric pitching staffs in baseball history.
Though he would go on to win the AL Cy Young for the 1982 Brewers (yet be beat by his former team in the WS), he was easily as good during his 3 seasons with the Cardinals. 1978 he posted a 2.54 ERA across 198 IP. That inning total doesn’t seem too out of line, until you realize that he pitched out of the bullpen up until June 3rd. He made his first start that day, on 3 days rest (he threw 3 innings in relief during a May 29th double dip), in game 2 of another double-header. Vuke would toss a complete game and stick in the rotation from that point on, dealing 6 CG’s and 2 shutouts in his 23 starts.
He continued his strong pitching in ’79 and ’80, posting ERA’s of 3.59 and 3.40 while topping 222 innings each year. Those two years combined, he added 16 more complete games to his resume and tossed 3 shutouts in 1980. In December of 1980 his time in St. Louis came to an end. He was traded to Milwaukee along with Rollie Fingers and Ted Simmons.
Vuckovich portrayed fictional Yankees slugger, Clu Haywood, in Major League. The following quote was improvised by Pete when he was instructed to, ‘say something a big leaguer would say.’
Tune in next time…
…as Colin Garner unveils players #90 to #86.