This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. This installment was written by Adam Butler.
The past couple of weeks I’ve sat back and watched my Redbird Daily colleagues do a fantastic job rolling out these top 100 rankings. Now it’s finally my turn to get into the action with a group that has so many relievers that this post should be sponsored by Rolaids.
#70 – TED WILKS, RP (1944-51)
Wilks’ first opportunity with the Cardinals was the result of some interesting circumstances. After being invited to spring training in 1943 but spending the year in the minor leagues, he was not invited to spring training in 1944 due to fear that he would be drafted for the war. He would end up being classified physically unfit for the military due to chronic stomach ulcers (more reason for Rolaids to sponsor this). Wilks got his call to the big leagues because the Cardinals had lost multiple pitchers to the service and he never looked back. After spending the first couple months in the bullpen he got a chance to start when Red Munger was called to the military in July. He went on to post a 2.67 ERA in 167 innings pitched the rest of the season. He became a vital part of the 1944 team as a rookie. In Game 6 of the World Series that year he entered the game with one out in the 6th inning with two runners on. He would go on to retire 11 straight batters and clinch a World Series Championship for the Cardinals.
Unfortunately after his masterful 1944 season, Wilks dealt with issues stemming from bone chips in his elbow. This limited him to mostly relief duty for the rest of his career. He didn’t let that stop him though and he earned the nickname “The Cork” as a result of all of the opponents rallies that he stopped. He held the role of the “relief ace” or the “Andrew Miller role” long before it was trendy.
Wilks ended his career with a 3.26 ERA over 913 innings and was truly one of the best relief pitchers of his time.
#69 – DAVE VERES, RP (2000-02)
Easily the #nicest player on the list, Veres spent three seasons with the Cardinals beginning in 2000. He came over in a trade with the Colorado Rockies along with his good friend Darryl Kile. Veres threw 224 innings during that time to the tune of a 3.33 ERA. He was the clubs closer in 2000 and 2001 before giving way to the high dollar free agent closer Jason Isringhausen in 2002. He collected 48 saves during his time in St. Louis, good for 13th all-time among Cardinals pitchers.
#68 – CURT FLOOD, OF (1958-69, 7x Gold Glove, 3x All-Star)
Flood had a nice 11 year career with the Cardinals. Known for his slick defense in center field early on in his career, he became quite the hitter to go along with it. He hit .293 during his time in St. Louis, appearing in three all-star games and winning seven consecutive gold glove awards. He was a big part of the teams success in the 60’s and was on both World Series championship teams in ’64 and ’65.
While Flood’s performance is what earned him his place on this list, he is perhaps more well known for challenging MLB’s reserve clause. At the end of the 1969 season Flood was traded to the Phillies. He would not accept this and refused to play for them. Not only did Flood refuse to go to the Phillies, he took things a step further and decided to sue Major League Baseball. At this time players were bound to a team for life by the aforementioned reserve clause. A player was basically the teams property and unless they were traded or released, were stuck playing for the same team for their entire career. Flood picked a fight with MLB knowing that he was likely to lose and would most likely end his career so that the players to come through the game after him could have much better circumstances.
That’s just a quick summary of what Flood fought for, I don’t have the space in this post to truly do it justice. If you aren’t aware of the full story I urge you to read about it in this piece by The Atlantic.
#67 – WOODY WILLIAMS, SP (2001 – 2004, All-Star)
In 2001 the Cardinals pulled off a fairly uncommon August trade sending outfielder Ray Lankford to the San Diego Padres and they received starting pitcher Woody Williams to shore up their rotation. Williams made an immediate impact hurling 75 innings down the stretch with a 2.25 ERA. He went on to be a very steady force in the Cardinals rotation through the 2004 season. Williams was acquired right about the time I was truly starting to understand the game of baseball as a kid. I can remember watching those early 2000’s teams like it was yesterday. Whenever I hear people say things like “league average pitchers have a ton of value” I immediately think of Woody Williams and his career 103 ERA+ explains why. He’s the perfect example of a pitcher that eats innings at a league average or slightly above rate and gives you a chance to win every time out while also keeping innings off of the bullpen. The type of pitcher that every successful team needs.
#66 – TREVOR ROSENTHAL, RP (2012 – 2016, All-Star)
What a polarizing player this is. When he was at his best he was truly in the company of the games elite closers. Other times he would struggle with his control and, while still effective, he would allow games to be a little tighter than they needed to be. The overall result though, was one of the better closers in the game.
I think Rosenthal’s time in St. Louis shows just how thankless the closer role can be. Especially in this age of social media. Rosenthal set the single season club record with 48 saves in 2015. Save aren’t your thing? Mine either. He was also great almost any way you look at it. He holds a career 2.99 ERA, and 12.09 strikeouts per nine innings.
Unfortunately Rosenthal’s Cardinal career is in jeopardy as he had Tommy John surgery this past August and was released because he isn’t under team control beyond 2018(which he is likely to miss most of). If this is the end of Rosenthal’s time in St. Louis, it was a very successful run.
Thanks for reading!
Be sure to check back in tomorrow as Austin Lamb brings you #65-#61.