Six strong candidates, but only four allowed on the mountain
Major League Baseball is promoting an effort to identify the best four players in each team’s history with their "Franchise Four." We selected our choices for Mt. Rushmores a few years ago. Here are updated versions for all 30 teams. Who are the four baseball players that have risen above all others for each organization? The question sounds simple, right? Not so fast. Let the arguments begin.
St. Louis Cardinals Mt. Rushmore
The Mt. Rushmore for the team nearest and dearest to my heart also proves to be the most difficult for me to select. There are six strong candidates — five Hall of Famers and one who will be — and a handful of others who would make most teams’ mountains. One of the most storied and tradition-laden franchises in baseball, the Cardinals have enjoyed more success than any other National League team. They won six World Series and lost three in the 21 seasons from 1926-46. Since that time, it’s been a little bit of every-other-decade success for the Redbirds. No World Series appearances in the 1950s; three in the ’60s, winning two. None in the ’70s; three in the ’80s, winning one. None in the ’90s; two in the ’00s, winning one, before winning another in 2011. With 11 titles, the Cardinals rank second all-time, a distant second behind the Yankees. The organization has been loyal to managers. Since 1965 (47 seasons), only four men — Red Schoendienst, Whitey Herzog, Joe Torre and Tony La Russa — have managed more than 91 percent of the Redbirds’ games. Obviously, the discussion begins with Stan the Man. Musial is the No. 1 name on all Cardinals fans’ lists. After that, it becomes a tough choice.
Stan the Man is on the short list for MLB’s Mt. Rushmore, and no doubt would be a unanimous choice among Cardinals fans. Musial dominates the Cardinals’ all-time leaderboard, even leading in triples. He spent his entire career in St. Louis and remains an icon. He made 24 All-Star teams, was MVP three times with four runner-up finishes, won seven batting titles, is fourth all-time in the majors in hits, second in total bases, ninth in runs and sixth in RBIs. That’s quite a resume. He also was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honor that can be bestowed on a civilian.
Gibson had as intimidating a mound presence as any pitcher ever. The menacing righthander spent his entire career with the Cardinals and was instrumental in the three pennant winners in the 1960s. There are the two Cy Young awards and 1968 MVP, but Gibson’s World Series performances were off the charts. In three Series he made nine starts with nine complete games, going 7-2 with a 1.89 ERA. He had 92 strikeouts in 81 innings and a 0.889 WHIP.
Known for his stolen base records, Brock was much more than a one-dimensional player. Other than establishing season and career stolen base records, Brock had 3,023 hits — 2,713 of them with the Cardinals. He scored 1,427 runs for St. Louis and drove in 900 runs in his career, 640 of them from the leadoff spot. He is as beloved in St. Louis now as the day he retired.
The Wizard came to St. Louis in 1982 as a .230-hitting defensive shortstop and retired as one of the greatest shortstops to play the game. During his 15 years in St. Louis, Smith made 14 All-Star teams, won 11 Gold Gloves and even a Silver Slugger in 1987 to go with his runner-up finish in MVP balloting. He had 1,944 hits, 991 runs and 433 stolen bases for the Cardinals in addition to saving more than 1,000 runs with his glove.
Had Albert Pujols re-upped with the Redbirds and finished out his career in St. Louis, there is little doubt that he would have ended up on the mountain. King Albert completed the most astonishing 11 seasons in team history in 2011.
It’s equally painful leaving off Rogers Hornsby, one of the best hitters in the game prior to 1930. From 1921-25, the Cardinals’ second baseman averaged .402 with 29 homers, 120 RBIs and 123 runs. But by most accounts he wasn’t the most popular teammate and he bounced from team to team after spending 12 years in St. Louis to start his career.
During the 1980s and ’90s, Red Schoendienst was always alongside greats Musial, Gibson and Brock donning red blazers at every major Cardinal event. In addition to his Hall of Fame career, Red managed a couple of pennant winners in the 1960s and remained an influential presence as a special coach for several years after his managerial career ended.
In terms of popularity and impact on the franchise, Whitey Herzog deserves consideration. He took over a franchise in 1980 that was drawing just over one million, had drug problems and hadn’t won in 11 years. Over the next decade, “Whiteyball” accounted for three World Series appearances, lifted attendance to three million for the first time and turned the franchise down the path it travels now.
August “Gussie” Busch Jr. bought the team in 1953, and nurtured it as an iconic franchise that became Cardinal Nation, bringing six pennants and three World Series titles in the 1960s and ’80s.
For his emotional post-9/11 speech alone, Hall of Famer Jack Buck deserves some mention as the Cardinals’ long-time broadcaster.
When Dizzy Dean was in his prime, he was right there with Babe Ruth as the biggest star in the game. It was just short-lived.
Few players have captured the hearts of fans in St. Louis the way that Yadier Molina has. Tony La Russa refered to him as the most indispensable player on the 2011 championship team, a club that included Pujols. Redbird pitchers will tell you that he deserves an MVP trophy.
Other teams' Mt. Rushmores: