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.
Welcome back to our countdown of the 100 greatest St. Louis Cardinals.
#45 – RIPPER COLLINS, 1B/OF (1931 – ’36, 2x All-Star, NL HR Leader)
James Anthony Collins earned the nickname “ripper” during a ballgame as a young player. Collins hit a ball that struck a nail that was sticking out of an outfield fence, which partially tore the cover off of the ball. When the retrieving outfielder was asked who hit the ball, he looked at it and said “it was the ripper”. The nickname clearly stuck.
Known as the prankster on the team, Collins is one of the lesser known members of the Gashouse Gang. He broke out in a huge way in the Cardinals 1934 championship season. He hit for a .333 batting average while also hitting 35 home runs, which tied him for the league lead with Mel Ott.
In 1935, Collins hit career home run number 74, which at the time was a major league record for switch hitters. He would end his time with the Cardinals with a .296 batting average and 106 home runs.
#44 – AL BRAZLE, P (1943 – ’54)
Early on in his professional career Brazle looked like a budding ace for the Boston Red Sox. Unfortunately in 1940 he developed arm problems. He pitched the entire season in pain for Little Rock (a Boston affiliate) and struggled to the tune of a 4.70 ERA. At the end of the season, he was traded to the Cardinals.
Unable to lift his left arm above his head, Brazle knew that he had to make a change to his delivery. He began throwing sidearm and developed a sinker. Brazle eventually showed promise with this new approach and was called up to the Cardinals in 1943. He debuted by throwing a complete game in a 5-1 defeat of the Boston Braves and he ended his rookie year with a 1.53 ERA in 88 innings. A day after the Cardinals lost the 1943 World Series, Brazle was inducted into the US Army. He missed all of the 1944 and 1945 seasons, returning to action for the 1946 season.
Brazle ended his career after the 1954 season, pitching entirely for the Cardinals. He had a 3.31 ERA over 1377 innings pitched. He also accumulated 97 wins and 59 saves.
#43 – DARRYL KILE, SP (2000 – ’02, All-Star)
After struggling in his first two seasons with the Rockies, Darryl Kile was traded to the Cardinals along with relief pitcher Dave Veres. Kile posted a 5.84 ERA in his two seasons with Colorado but he quickly turned things around in St. Louis. In the 2000 season, his first with the Cardinals, he went 20-9 with a 3.91 ERA over 232.1 innings.
Unfortunately, Kile’s wicked curveball isn’t the first thing that comes to the minds of Cardinals fans when they hear his name. The Cardinals were set to play the Cubs in Wrigley field on June 22, 2002. He was usually early to arrive at the ballpark but since he wasn’t pitching that day, teammates weren’t overly concerned that he hadn’t shown up yet. As batting practice went on, their concerns grew. After several hours with no sign of Kile and him not answering his phone the team started to panic.
Their worst fears became reality as Darryl Kile was found dead in his hotel room at just 33 years old. The autopsy would reveal that he had 80-90% blockages in two of the arteries to his heart. This came just days after the Cardinals organization had lost Jack Buck as well. This felt like a punch straight to the gut for the entire city of St. Louis.
The Cardinals fittingly won 57 games the rest of that season, Kile’s jersey number. He was by all accounts a fantastic teammate on and off the field. To this day, DK57 is shown on the back wall of the Cardinals bullpen. In 2003 the team established the Darryl Kile Good Guy Award. It is presented annually to the player who best exemplifies Kile’s traits of “a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father, and a humble man.”
#42 – MATT CARPENTER, INF (2011 – PRESENT, 3x All-Star, Silver Slugger)
This is probably my favorite inclusion on the entire list as Carpenter has become such a polarizing player among Cardinals fans over the past few seasons. There are a few reasons, in my opinion, that Carpenter has gotten a bad reputation among Cardinals fans recently.
#1 – His base running has taken a nose dive. He’s never really been a fast runner but I don’t recall him ever really being an issue on the bases before the 2016 season. Over the last couple years there have been several bonehead decisions on the basepaths, and that’s certainly not a way to earn yourself fans.
#2 – He was trusted the be “The Guy” in the Cardinals lineup. Being the main hitter in the lineup is something that Matt Carpenter should not really be. He’s a fantastic hitter, but he is on the borderline of being capable of having a lineup revolve around him. Put it this way, if Matt Carpenter is your second best hitter, your lineup will likely be very good. His struggles outside of the leadoff spot go hand in hand with this. If you have a really productive middle of the order hitter, Carpenter hitting leadoff is likely seen as a positive instead of a negative.
Also, being the main guy in the Cardinals lineup is for some reason a thankless job among fans. I’ll never forget the “Matt Holliday isn’t clutch” narrative. It couldn’t have been further from the truth, yet fans complained about him all the time. I can only assume it is because he wasn’t a flashy player, but at the end of the day, the production was there. In the end, that’s all that really matters, right?
#3 – The game is changing and many fans are reluctant to change with it. This is the big one. We’ve learned over the years that taking plenty of walks while also hitting for power is the most productive form of offense. Matt Carpenter is easily the highest profile player that St. Louis has seen go through this adjustment. Many fans don’t like seeing that his batting average has dropped over the years. What we really need to be looking at though, is how often he gets on base, and at what rate he hits for power. For Carpenter, those numbers remain intact.
With all of that being said, Carpenter has been no slouch in his major league career. With a career .377 on-base percentage, he’s been an on-base machine. He’s also developed 25 home run power to go along with it. He’s got some flaws in his game, but this is a great hitter and that should not be overlooked.
UPDATE: Since the original release of this article, Carpenter has surpassed Hall-of-Famer Chick Hafey and Cardinals Great Willie McGee to take sole possession of 20th place in Cardinals History for most Doubles. Carpenter has also twice had 5 hits in a game in 2018. The first occurrence made him the first Cardinal with 5 hits and 5 runs scored in the same game. The second time made him the first Cardinal, and 2nd Major Leaguer, ever, with 3 HR’s and 2 2B’s in a single game. This season he has broken Lou Brock’s franchise record for leadoff HR’s (1st batter of game). He currently a contender for NL MVP.
#41 – STEVE KLINE, RP (2001 – ’04)
Here we have the guy that inspired my entire little league team to kick our hats across the dugout floor every game. We would try to get them as dirty as possible so we could be cool like Steve Kline.
In all seriousness, Kline was a great left handed reliever for the Cardinals. He came over in a trade with the Montreal Expos in which the Cardinals received both Kline and pitcher Dustin Hermanson. Kline was easily the best piece in that trade. In his first season with the Cardinals he appeared in a league leading 89 games and had a 1.80 ERA.
He pitched four years in St. Louis, ending his time here with a 2.69 ERA in 247.1 innings pitched. He was especially effective against left-handed batters, holding them to just a .194 batting average during his four years with the Cardinals.
Thanks for reading!
Colin Garner will be bringing you #40 – #36 on Thursday, November 30th.