JUPITER, Fla. — When Scott Rolen earned election to the National Baseball Hall of Fame to being this year, he also completed a missing piece in Cooperstown for the Cardinals.
Their Hall of a lineup finally has its third baseman.
Rolen is the 18th everyday third basemen elected to the Hall of Fame at its least represented position, and he’ll be the first player on that list who played for the Cardinals. He is the first player with ties to the Cardinals who played more than 51% of his time in the first at the hot corner and only the third with more than 10% of his time at third, per Baseball-Reference.com data. Before Rolen, any lineup of only Hall of Famers with Cardinals ties would have taken some utility movement by Rogers Hornsby (168 games at third for Cardinals), Frankie Frisch (112), or Bobby Wallace (59).
Rolen’s induction leaves only one position left unrepresented in Cooperstown by a Cardinal: center field.
If we take a more holistic look to the outfield, lineups emerge.
As we set up to launch coverage from Camp Cardinals and spring toward the immediate future, let’s start with an exercise that looks back and pens the Cooperstown Cardinals’ starting nine, er, 10. For discussion and inevitable debate, here’s one lineup attempt, modernized – because, in the name of Johnny Mize, there’s the designated hitter in the NL now:
1. Lou Brock, CF
Cardinals: 1964-1979 (2,289 games)
.297/.347/.414, .761 OPS, 129 HR, 814 RBIs, 888 steals
HOF induction: 1985
Granted, the speedy Brock played more than 2,000 games in left field during his career, but of the three outfielders picked for this lineup, his 115 games in center are the most. Neither Curt Flood nor Jim Edmonds is currently in the Hall to take over here and make the choices in the outfield all the more difficult. There are, of course, higher on-base percentage hitters in the starting nine, yet who could create more havoc on the bases than Brock? And check out that wraparound double-leadoff with the DH. An alternative at leadoff would be Enos Slaughter with his dashing .384 OBP as a Cardinal. But he’d have to make the lineup first.
2. Stan Musial, RF
Cardinals: 1941-1963 (3,026 games)
.331/.417/.559, .976 OPS, 475 HR, 1,951 RBIs
HOF induction: 1969
If there’s a traffic jam at one position for great Cardinals, it’s inarguably first base. At least five of the best hitters ever to play for the team– and that doesn’t include Hall-caliber first baseman Keith Hernandez – reached first base a lot and played a lot of games at first base. Musial won one of his three MVPs while playing first base. And he had more games at first base (1,016) than any other single position. But he played more outfield (1,890 games). So he gets the call in right and brings that modern-thinking OPS damage to the two spot. Why not maximize the plate appearances he gets and think about the ruckus he’ll make with Brock at first and this group behind him …
3. Rogers Hornsby, 2B
Cardinals: 1915-1926, 1933 (1,580 games)
.359/.427/.568, .995 OPS, 193 HR, 1,072 RBIs
HOF induction: 1942
The first Cardinals great who was also a World Series champion. Hornsby holds down the No. 3 spot in this lineup for, say, another five years. Like the right-handed hitter bound to nudge him lower in the lineup, Hornsby won a Decade Triple Crown with the Cardinals, leading the National League in homers, average, and RBIs for the entirety of the Roarin’ 1920s. Due to the era in which he played and the awards given, Hornsby had more Triple Crown seasons with the Cardinals (1922, 1925) than he had MVP seasons (1925). That .995 OPS for Hornsby as a Cardinal is the second-highest all time, ahead of Musial. So who is he behind?
4. Johnny Mize, DH
Cardinals: 1936-1941 (854 games)
.336/.419/.600, 1.018 OPS, 158 HR, 653 RBIs
HOF induction: 1981
Although he spent a decade in New York with two big-league teams there, Mize actually played the most games in his career for the Cardinals. And that is hard as hard to ignore as his 1.018 OPS in those games. Mize had three consecutive years with at least a .610 slugging and 1.000 OPS. He twice finished second in the MVP voting while with the Cardinals and, in 1947 with the Giants, had 51 homers in the same season he struck out only 42 times. A product of the golden age for the Cardinals’ farm system, Mize was scouted for the Cardinals by Branch Rickey’s brother, but his career took its most dramatic turn when Cincinnati returned him to the Cardinals months after buying his contract. An injury limited his play in the field and his comfort at the plate and the Reds offered Mize back to STL. Treated, Mize took off. The descriptions of his play suggest he was a DH before there was a DH, so he’s the DH here.
5. Joe Medwick, LF
Cardinals: 1932-1940, 1947-1948 (1,216 games)
.335/.372/.545, .917 OPS, 152 HR, 923 RBIs
HOF induction: 1968
There’s a case to be made that of all the players honored on the left-field wall at Busch Stadium, the one missing is No. 7. Just Ducky. The last National League player to win a Triple Crown, Medwick’s career with the Cardinals was much more than that hearty slice of trivia. His .917 OPS as a Cardinal ranks sixth among Cardinals in the Hall of Fame, fourth among Hall of Famers with at least 1,000 games for the Cardinals. He was selected to seven consecutive All-Star Games as a Cardinal, won the MVP in the same year he hit .374 with 31 homers, 154 RBIs to claim the Triple Crown. Of course, that year came in the middle of three consecutive leading the NL in RBIs. He also twice led the league hits, had 64 doubles one year, and hit better than .350 in three different seasons with the Cardinals. He’s going to load up on the RBIs in this lineup.
6. Jim Bottomley, 1B
Cardinals: 1922-1932 (1,392 games)
.325/.387/.537, .924 OPS, 181 HR, 1,105 RBIs
HOF induction: 1974
If a lineup isn’t going to have Slaughter and his 1,820 games as a Cardinal, then it’s going to be because the group clustered at first base is so strong it moves Musial to the outfield and also has DH covered. Sunny does that. “Sunny” Jim Bottomley was the first farm-grown Cardinal to win the MVP, as he did in 1928. That season he led the National League in triples (20), homers (31), and RBIs (136) to go with a 1.022 OPS and a .628 slugging percentage. For the Cardinals first World Series championship team he had 40 doubles and 120 RBIs while also leading the league in total bases. He starts at first because of his defensive rep, too. Said Rickey, per the Hall of Fame: “I noticed one thing that day, and that was that Bottomley could field. By the sinews of Joshua how he could field! His reach from wrist to ankle was sublime.”
7. Scott Rolen, 3B
Cardinals: 2002-2007 (661 games)
.286/.370/.510, .879 OPS, 111 HR, 453 RBIs
HOF induction: 2023
The first of the MV3 to reach the HOF, Rolen and his .510 slugging percentage as a Cardinal pops in here right behind the titans from the franchise. This spot in the lineup should have been filled years ago with Ken Boyer, but that hasn’t happened. A rush of third basemen into the Hall is coming, and it’s possible Boyer gets a new look and rises with the tide. Rolen was an All-Star his first four seasons with the Cardinals, had his best season with the Cardinals, won a World Series title with the Cardinals, won four Gold Glove awards while with the Cardinals, and had his only top-five finish in the MVP vote with the Cardinals. He had more games with the Phillies. Seeing as how the Indiana “I” isn’t available, the logo he wears on his plaque – or no logo at all – will be an interesting choice for Rolen and the Hall.
8. Ted Simmons, C
Cardinals: 1968-1980 (1,564 games)
.298/.366/.459, .824 OPS, 172 HR, 929 RBIs
HOF induction: 2020
The most recent number retired by the Cardinals and player to receive a statue outside Busch Stadium was not the first catcher from the club to reach Cooperstown. Roger Bresnahan is in the Hall and is actually Cardinal Zero when we describe the continuum of Hall of Famers in Cardinals’ history. The switch-hitting catcher brings power depth to the lineup. While handling the demands of catcher, Simmons is one of the Cardinals’ leaders in many offensive categories for players with at least 1,000 games. His .459 slugging ranks 11th, his .824 OPS ranks 12th, and his 127 OPS+ ranks eighth, behind Albert Pujols (170), Edmonds (143), Hernandez (130), and four others in this lineup.
9. Ozzie Smith, SS
Cardinals: 1982-1996 (1,990 games)
.272/.350/.344, .694 OPS, 27 HR, 664 RBIs, 991 runs
HOF induction: 2002
Pause for a moment and consider the defense on the left side of the infield for this team. Rolen tackling grounders at third. Smith ranging and flipping grounders into outs all over. Imagine the area of coverage possible with those two Gold Glove winners on the left side – and Bottomley, according to reports, digging the throws they would dare to try. And then consider the speed in play with Smith as the wraparound to Brock ahead of Musial. It’s a dash of Whiteyball at the back end of the lineup to spark the offense anew.
Pitcher: Bob Gibson, RHP
Cardinals: 1959-1975 (528 games)
251-174, 2.91 ERA, 3,117 Ks, 7.2 K/9
HOF induction: 1981
Narrator: Of course. If you’re putting together a rotation for a three-game series, you’d follow Gibson with Jesse Haines and Dizzy Dean. They are the next two Hall of Famers in terms of games started/pitched for the Cardinals. Haines (1920-1937) actually has more games than Gibson (554), and his 210 career wins with the Cardinals is the bar Adam Wainwright has publicly said he’s aiming to overtake. Dean (1930-1937), a contemporary of Haines went 134-75 with the Cardinals, had a 2.72 with more than 1,000 strikeouts. There are only five pitchers with more than 1,000 strikeouts for the Cardinals: Gibson, Dean, Wainwright, Bob Forsch, and Chris Carpenter.
As for who closes for this Hall of Fame lineup: Bruce Sutter has more games (249 to 245) than Lee Smith and Smith has more saves than Sutter, 160 to 127. But Sutter has far more innings.
The choice is yours.
Or, just start from scratch, collect your Cooperstown Cardinals, and write your own lineup in the comments.
@dgoold on Twitter