Last night, the Cardinals announced the seven players that were up for fan election into the Cardinals Hall of Fame. If you haven’t seen it elsewhere (which would be a pretty big surprise), the press release is here. There were some surprises in the list, though all that made it are strong candidates. There was more turnover from last year’s ballot that I personally expected–while obviously Mark McGwire and Tim McCarver would have to be replaced, I didn’t expect people to fall off of it. Yet that is what Steve Carlton and Edgar Renteria did. We’ll see if they return in future years–I imagine they will, though Carlton may eventually get in via the Red Ribbon Committee rather than the fan vote.
So let’s take a brief look at these guys. You can see the stats on the press release so I won’t rehash them much, but I’ll talk about what I see as the pros and cons of each.
Vince Coleman (1985-1990)
Pro: Obviously Coleman is one of those icons of the ’80s teams that still have such a hold on the fanbase. Nobody had the speed that he did, stealing 100 bases his first three years in the bigs. He led the league in that category in four of the six years he was a Redbird. He won the Rookie of the Year award and was a two-time All-Star. The intro to the comic book show DC’s Legends of Tomorrow usually states something like, “So don’t call us heroes, we’re legends.” That’s Coleman. His speed (and, of course, his tangle with a tarp) are legendary in Cardinal Nation.
Con: The problem with Coleman is that speed is pretty much all he had. I didn’t watch him much but I’ve never heard that his defense was legendary and the metrics seems to say he was about average, maybe a tick above out there. Offensively, his best season was his last in St. Louis, when he hit six home runs and had a .292 average. Of course, that was 1990 when Whitey Herzog quit because he couldn’t get through to the players anymore and, looking at Coleman’s stats, I wonder if Vince looked at his coming free agency and wanted to put up more baseball card numbers to add to his payday. Coleman never was much after he left St. Louis, though I don’t know if that should factor into Cardinal Hall of Fame voting.
Keith Hernandez (1974-1983)
Pro: He won the MVP (or at least a share of it) for the ’79 squad and was a big contributor to the 1982 World Series champions. Unlike Coleman, Hernandez’s defense is something you hear a lot about. He won five (and a half, since he also won the year he was traded) Gold Gloves in a row and people still rave about him playing first. He had plenty of offensive chops as well, putting up a 130 OPS+ during his time in St. Louis. He also had double-digit home runs in four straight years, which was hard to do in the old Busch Stadium and in the offensive environment of the day.
Con: Hernandez’s tenure with the organization didn’t end well as he was traded off due to his drug use, something that came to light in the Pittsburgh drug trials of the mid-80’s. Also, and I’ve said this before and I completely acknowledge it is a bias due to when I came to baseball, but Hernandez is a Met to me. He was already in New York by time I got into baseball, which of course raised his national profile. He’s also stayed with the organization by doing broadcasting with them. Again, that’s just my view on it–I’m sure those that watched him come up through the Cardinal ranks always picture him wearing the birds on the bat.
Jason Isringhausen (2002-2008)
Pro: He’s the all-time franchise save leader, which has to count for something, right? He also had a share of the single-season mark until Trevor Rosenthal broke it in 2015. Izzy was a key part of some very good teams including the 2004 squad that won 105 games. Given some of the bullpen issues that the club has had recently, having that proven guy out there is more valuable than we sometimes think.
Con: Part of the reason Isringhausen is the save leader is because of the shift in reliever usage over the past 20-30 years. Not to discount his durability and ability to stay in the role, but we know saves are somewhat a function of being in the right place at the right time. What stands out to me about Izzy is that feeling like he was going to always put the tying or winning run on before wriggling out of it. Looking at WHIP, that’s probably a function of just a couple of years, but one of those was 2006. It’s bad luck but having Adam Wainwright become the temporary closer that season and get the final outs of the Series didn’t help.
Ray Lankford (1990-2001, 2004)
Pro: Look, I said as early as last year’s ballot that Lankford was going to be on this year’s because the fan outcry was quite notable and just. Here’s the guy that hit more home runs in Busch Stadium II than anyone else (McGwire actually got close to him in his short time in St. Louis, but that’s more a testament to Big Mac than a knock on Ray Ray). He was athletic and played exceptional defense. He had five 20/20 seasons–Tommy Pham just had the first one of those any Cardinal has had since, ironically, Lankford’s last season (though it was Reggie Sanders who put it up). He has that iconic moment of running over Darren Daulton. He hit a home run in his last at-bat and walked in his last plate appearance. He was the shining light on a lot of iffy ’90s teams. He only played a season and a couple of months anywhere else. This is Mr. Cardinal for those that came to the game between Musial and McGwire, probably.
Con: I honestly am not sure there is one. I mean, if you were one of these that believes that if they don’t get rings, they aren’t elite, then I guess you could put that black mark on his record but it is hardly his fault. Lankford is exactly what the Hall of Fame was intended for–to honor those players that have been such a great Cardinal but aren’t going to get recognition anywhere else nor should they really have their number retired. This is the HOF that Willie McGee built, but Lankford is right in that mold.
Scott Rolen (2002-2007)
Pro: I’ll admit to a bias because Rolen is one of my favorite players both because of the numbers he put up and how he went about putting them up. I was so excited when the long-rumored deal with Philadelphia finally happened and I hated it when things deteriorated to the point he had to be shipped to Toronto. All parts of that MV3 should be in the Cardinal HOF–Jim Edmonds is already there, Albert Pujols will be three years after his retirement, and Rolen should go in with all speed. Besides the fact that he put up incredible offensive numbers when healthy, his defense was sublime. I could watch Rolen highlight reels for days. I also will continue to maintain he should have been the 2006 World Series MVP with his 1.213 OPS in that series.
Con: There’s that “when healthy” caveat up there that does come into play. Both Alex Cintron and Hee-Seop Choi have a lot to answer for in my book. Rolen still was effective, but you really wonder what might have been, especially in 2002. Rolen also only has five and half season in St. Louis and has some claims of being remembered as a Phillie or a Red (probably not much the year and a half in Toronto) so if above I say that Hernandez is a Met to me, I can’t argue if a younger fan states Rolen’s time in Cincinnati is what he or she remembers.
Lee Smith (1990-1993)
Pro: He set the single-season save record that Isringhausen later tied and Rosenthal later broke. He had a career that keeps him in the Cooperstown discussion. His distinctive presence on the mound is remembered by those that saw him and he was a highlight in what was not the best time in Cardinal history. He came to St. Louis traded for Tom Brunansky, meaning that Bruno provided us something better than StlCardsCards’s Twitter feed. He wound up being an All-Star in three of his four seasons and finished high up in the Cy Young voting the two full years he was under the Arch. He also may be the last time that the Cardinals were sellers during a season, trading him to the Yankees for Rich Batchelor at the end of August in 1993.
Con: Smith’s time in St. Louis was very short. He only had two full seasons for the Cardinals, though his partial seasons were almost entire years since he arrived in May and left in August. Smith spent eight years as a Cub and two-plus years in Boston, so his tenure doesn’t necessarily stand out when you look at his overall resume.
John Tudor (1985-1988, 1990)
Pro: Before Chris Carpenter, there was another crusty New Englander who made an impact on Cardinal Nation. Tudor came over in a December 1984 trade and proceeded to start his Cardinal career with a 1-7 record and a 3.74 ERA at the end of May. After that, all he did was go 20-1 with a 1.37 ERA over the last four months. That’s one way to win over a crowd. He won three games in the playoffs that year and won two more in 1987, though the World Series didn’t go great for him that season. Traded for Pedro Guerrero, he came back as a free agent and spent his last year with the Redbirds. When you think of those late ’80s teams, when you think of the pitching staff, Tudor comes immediately to mind.
Con: He lost most of 1987 after Barry Lyons–no relation to the Patron Pitcher–slid into the dugout and broke his leg, losing three months of the season. His tenure in St. Louis is dominated by that 1985 season though the rest of his time was very solid as well. He was not much of a strikeout pitcher, which might have had him evaluated differently in this day and age, but it seems to have worked for him.
I’ve seen a lot of people talk about how this might be the best and toughest ballot that the Cardinals have put out in their five years of doing this. There’s not really a wrong answer when you go to cast your ballots starting March 1 and I do wonder if people will vote for two one time and a different two another time, leading to some really close voting. (Unfortunately, the Cards never release how folks finished so we won’t know.) If I could only vote for two–and hey guys, if you need an extra on the Red Ribbon Committee, I volunteer–I’d go with Lankford and Rolen. My guess is, though, that while Lankford will dominate, Coleman will sneak in and get the second spot. Should be interesting to see and hopefully more folks will discuss their ballot on line in the coming days as well!