Picking the next team to do for my Retired Numbers Series is always hard to do. But the last two times I looked at the teams I had left, I kept coming back to the Cardinals. I wanted to put their article off until I had a better idea of what exactly I wanted to write, seeing as the Cardinals have the second most retired numbers of any team in the majors, and would require some work. But they are my favorite team (tied with the Orioles, but they haven’t been doing so hot the last few years, so...). I finally decided to cave in and do them next.
So, how do the Cardinals’ already retired numbers look, and who might be added in the near future?
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Some quick notes on the stats: the two most prominent stats I used are similarly named. Both are called WAR, or Wins Above Replacement. They both try to account for every part of a player’s game, including, but not limited to: offense, defense, position, and playing time. So, it is a counting stat, like hits or home runs (with the small difference that bad seasons can actually decrease your WAR, if you are worse than a replacement player). WAR credits a player with how many wins they have provided to their team. They aren’t perfect, but for my purposes (a single number showing roughly how good a player has been), they work perfectly.
There are two major sites that provide WAR, Baseball-Reference (henceforth called bWAR) and Fangraphs (fWAR). The two are mostly the same, with the biggest difference coming from the different fielding stats the two use. Fangraphs has a fairly good summary of what makes up WAR and how it is calculated (for those wanting a more general summary, the introduction works just fine). Pitching is slightly different: Fangraphs’ WAR for pitchers only goes back to 1980, so for my purposes, I stuck to just bWAR for them.
The Cardinals have retired 12 numbers (although, technically, one of them isn’t really a number, but it’s listed with the rest). Here we go...
Two of them are for non-players. Former manager Whitey Herzog has had number 24 retired in his honor, and former owner Gussie Busch has had 85 retired in his honor. They’re interesting to note, but I can’t really use them in my study.
Believe it or not, only two of the Cardinals’ retired number honorees have played their entire career with the Cardinals. One is Stan Musial (number 6), who put up 128 bWAR and 139 fWAR in his storied career, which went from 1941 to 1963 (with 1945 off). The other is Bob Gibson (number 45), who pitched from 1959 until 1975 and amassed 86 bWAR.
That leaves eight more numbers to cover. Rogers Hornsby didn’t technically have a number, but he has been recognized alongside the other retired number honorees. He played from 1915 until 1937. In his time with the Cardinals (1915-1926, 1933), he got 92 of his 128 career bWAR and 96 of his 135 career fWAR.
Ozzie Smith (number 1) and Lou Brock (number 20) both came to the Cardinals early in their careers and stayed with them until they retired. Smith started in 1978, came to St. Louis in 1982, and retired in 1996. He retired with 65 career bWAR (58 with the Cardinals) and 70 career fWAR (61 with the Cardinals). Brock started in 1961, arrived in St. Louis in 1964, and played until 1979. 38 of his 39 career bWAR and 51 of his 53 career fWAR came from his days with the Redbirds.
Ken Boyer (number 14) came up with the Cardinals in 1955, was traded away in 1965, and retired in 1969. For his career, he recorded 58 bWAR and 63 fWAR. 46 bWAR and 52 fWAR came from his time in St. Louis.
Red Schoendienst (number 2) played from 1945 until 1963, and spent all of it with the Cardinals except for a stretch from 1957 to 1960. 33 of his 40 bWAR and 37 of his 47 fWAR came as a Cardinal. He also was a celebrated manager with the Cards from 1965 to 1976, although with people who were both players and managers, I tended to focus more on their playing days.
Enos Slaughter (number 9) was an early star for the Gashouse Gang Cardinals. He started in 1938, played until 1942, then missed three seasons for World War II. He returned in 1946, played with the Cardinals until 1953, and retired in 1959. In spite of his shortened career, he put up 46 bWAR with the Cardinals (and 54 total) and 52 fWAR (58 total).
The last two numbers both belonged to pitchers. Dizzy Dean (number 17) pitched from 1932 until 1940 (with one game played in each of 1930, 1941, and 1947). He was with the Cardinals from the start until 1937. For his career, he posted 40 bWAR, 36 of which came in St. Louis. Bruce Sutter (number 42) pitched in St. Louis from 1981 until 1984, and accumulated 8 bWAR in his time there. For his career, he played from 1976 until 1988 (and missed 1987) and totaled 25 bWAR.
There are basically three major divisions I can make while for comparisons: I can use medians or averages; career totals or totals with the Cardinals; and bWAR or fWAR.
The Cardinals are exactly in the middle of both Average Career bWAR and Median fWAR with the Team. They fall just short of the first quartile in Average Career fWAR, and Average fWAR and bWAR with the team.
Their other Median scores, meanwhile, are all over the place. They rank in the second quartile for bWAR with the Team, the third quartile in Career bWAR, and the fourth quartile for Career fWAR. Even with that, because the Cardinals usually rank at the league midpoint or higher, it would be fair to say that they have one of the higher standards in the league for number enshrinement.
As mentioned, the Cardinals’ 12 retired numbers rank first in the NL, and second in the majors (behind only the Yankees).
This is the big question we’ve all been waiting for: which Cardinals numbers are likely to become off-limits next?
Unlike the first three teams that I covered, the Cardinals have never moved, and therefore aren’t ignoring a large chunk of their history. However, that doesn’t mean they don’t have a number of interesting candidates they may have overlooked.
Johnny Mize and Joe Medwick are both Hall of Famers from the 1930s and ‘40s who spent most of their careers with the Cardinals. Medwick was a key part of the Gashouse Gang, and won the Triple Crown in 1937. He had 39.7 bWAR and 39 fWAR with the Cardinals, and 51.7 bWAR and 56 fWAR for his career. Baseball-Reference does have him as the Cardinals’ ninth best hitter all-time, and Fangraphs puts him thirteenth, so he does have a case based on his numbers. On the negative side, he’s been dead for nearly four decades, and we have yet to see a movement for his number to be retired. Any momentum for his case has likely drained.
Johnny Mize has a case as the NL’s best first basemen in the modern era (pre-Pujols, of course), particularly is you give him credit for the three seasons in his prime he missed for World War II. He split his best years mostly between the Cardinals and Giants though; he was better with the Cards, and played slightly more games with them (six seasons and 854 games, to 5 seasons and 655 games with the New York Giants), but his wartime came as a Giant. His numbers (38 fWAR, 37.8 bWAR) are impressive, but he probably didn’t spend enough time as a Cardinals. Also, he too has been out of the game for a long time, which doesn’t help.
Jim Bottomley (32.9 bWAR, 40 fWAR as a Cardinal) and Frankie Frisch (34.8 bWAR, 38 fWAR as a Cardinal) are two more 1930s stars who suffer similar fates due to the pass of time. There aren’t as many good old-time pitching candidates-Harry Brecheen (36.5 bWAR with the team) and Jesse Haines (33.6 bWAR with the team) are about it, and both are rather forgotten now.
Moving more recently brings up more intriguing candidates. Although he’s more famous for his legal case, Curt Flood did post impressive numbers in his 12 seasons in St. Louis, with 43 fWAR and 36.3 bWAR. The Supreme Court case might help his legacy (if the ownership isn’t upset about it still). Again, though, Flood’s been out of the game since the early ‘70s, and the case has sort of overshadowed his legacy as a player. It’s a bit of a shame, but I see this one as even less likely.
Ted Simmons is an older case who might actually stand a chance. Someone on the Hall of Fame Veterans Committee finally had the sense to put him on the ballot last year, and it’s about time. He’s one of the best catchers in MLB history. Fangraphs has him ninth among catchers in WAR (61.1 fWAR). The difficulty of catching often leads to the voters overlooking the position, which has hurt Simmons. In any case, he has 45.7 bWAR with the Cardinals (seventh among hitters all-time), and 54 fWAR with the team (sixth among hitters all-time). If he makes the Hall of Fame finally, the Cardinals may decide to revisit his case.
Joe Torre, like Mize, had a short (six seasons) but impressive (29 fWAR, 23.1 bWAR) stay in St. Louis. And he was a better player than most may give him credit (for his career, 55.6 bWAR and 71 fWAR). However, his managerial career has almost totally overshadowed his playing career, he hasn’t played in three-and-a-half decades, and he played in about 100 more games with the Braves than with the Cardinals anyway.
Continuing forward in time, Keith Hernandez spent a decade with the Cardinals, and earned 35.1 bWAR and 36 fWAR. For his career, he put up borderline-Hall numbers (61.0 bWAR, 61.8 fWAR). Like Simmons, if he gets in through the Veterans Committee, he might stand a chance, but I don’t see Hernandez getting his number retired otherwise.
Ray Lankford was highly undervalued during his career, but thanks to his good eye, he actually managed to retire in the top ten in both bWAR and fWAR with the Cardinals (he has since been knocked down to eleventh in both, though). He played almost his entire career in St. Louis, and finished with 42 fWAR and 37.7 bWAR with the Redbirds.
It’s worth mentioning now that, according to Wikipedia, four numbers are out of circulation, but not officially retired. All four come from more recent players. Josh Hancock (number 32) and Darryl Kile (number 57) both have not had their numbers reissued since their death. In both cases, I doubt that either will get their number fully retired. The other two numbers belong to Mark McGwire and Willie McGee (although McGwire has been reissued his number as a coach). McGwire only played with the Cardinals for parts of five seasons, but they were definitely incredible. 1998 on its own has to be worth quite a bit of extra credit. In only 2251 plate appearances with the team, he racked up 19.8 bWAR and 23 fWAR. For his career, he put up 63.1 bWAR and 70.6 fWAR, both impressive numbers. I’m split on this one; he did play much more in Oakland, but his time with the Cardinals were some of the most memorable seasons in history. Of course, making the Hall of Fame would help his case too, but that’s going to take the BBWAA getting over their hypocritical aversion to players connected to steroids.
Willie McGee stands a good chance, I suppose. He played parts of thirteen seasons with the Cardinals, and accumulated 22.6 bWAR and 22 fWAR (and, in both cases, hanging around too long cost his numbers; his 1999 season actually cost him 2 fWAR and 2.6 bWAR). His career numbers aren’t eye-popping, either, with only 29.4 bWAR and 29.5 fWAR. He is in the top ten in games played with the Cardinals, but that doesn’t seem to have helped Curt Flood or Ray Lankford. McGee’s biggest problem will be getting any movement before his case fades like the older players; having his number pulled from circulation is only a start. He probably won’t have an impetus like a Hall of Fame election to push him over, so there has to be something that leads to his number getting retired soon. Otherwise, he’ll become just another player who was good, but who has become forgotten over time.
Jim Edmonds is the most recent retiree on this list. Both fWAR and bWAR put him among the top ten Cardinals, with 45.3 bWAR and 44 fWAR. And his career numbers certainly stack up, with 67.9 bWAR and 67.7 fWAR. And even though he was only in St. Louis for eight seasons, he played 400 more games with the Cardinals than with any other team. That, plus his importance to the dominant mid-2000 teams, might be enough to get his number enshrined.
Scott Rolen might be a more personal candidate. He’s been one of my favorite players, especially from his time with the Cardinals. His best seasons came in St. Louis, and he was even a part of the famed MV3 (with Edmonds and Albert Pujols) in the 2004 season. For his career, he so far has 66.0 bWAR and 73.7 fWAR, with 25.3 bWAR and 29 fWAR coming from his days as a Cardinal. For as good as he was with the Redbirds, he’ll probably be hurt by his relatively brief, injury-marred time. I would like to see his 27 retired some day, though.
That leaves only the current team to cover. The first, most obvious one is Pujols. He has 86.2 bWAR and 85 fWAR and counting. Both sites unanimously name him the third best Cardinal of all-time. I see almost no reason his number won’t be retired in the future.
After that, the picture gets less clear. Chris Carpenter and Matt Holliday came to St. Louis relatively late in their careers (both were 29 when they made their debut with the team). Carpenter has had his moments (and there have been many), and he was a part of the two pennant winning teams. But he’s been hurt quite a bit. Still, it hasn’t stopped him from posting 23.4 bWAR (and 27.4 fWAR). I think it will take a very graceful end (almost all of which will have to come with the Cardinals) to get his number immortalized, though.
I have to admit, I was a little hesitant on the Holliday deal at first. But he has vastly exceeded my expectations so far. In his two-and-a-half seasons as a Cardinal, he’s posted 13 fWAR and 11.1 bWAR. If he can age gracefully, he stands an even better chance at getting his number retired than Carpenter (particularly since he’s with the team through 2016 at least).*
*As a side note, a good finish will do wonders for his Hall of Fame case as well.
Adam Wainwright, at the moment, might be the best Cardinals pitcher since Bob Gibson. That alone says something about his chances at getting his number retired. He already has 18.4 bWAR (and 18.5 fWAR) in his career; as of right now, he needs a few more good years in St. Louis to solidify his case (although I think he has a much better shot at getting those good years than Carpenter or even Holliday).
Jaime Garcia and Colby Rasmus are both off to good starts for their careers. It will take more of a track record to instill confidence in their odds, but starting a career strong is all that one can ask at this point.
And lastly, Tony La Russa has managed the team to great success in his sixteen year (and counting) tenure, including a World Series victory, another pennant, and eight total playoff appearances so far. I didn’t study managers nearly as much as players, but I would still have to say La Russa has a very strong case to get his number retired.
The Cardinals’ extensive history and present success provides them a wealth of possible retired number candidates. This is actually the first team that I’ve covered in my series where I’ve had a serious issue ranking how likely it is that candidates will see their number honored.
As of right now, the players that I think are most likely to get their numbers retired by the St. Louis Cardinals in the future are, in order:
Tony La Russa-10
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