The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 71-80
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 78: 2B DON BLASINGAME
Don Blasingame was a broad-smiling baseball star at Corinth High School in Mississippi who ended up marrying a Top 10 finalist in the Miss America Pageant and daughter of a St. Louis baseball hero. And when the United States engaged in the Korean War, Blasingame enlisted in the Army rather than accept a trial contract with the Cardinals minor-league affiliate in Houston.
He was as American as apple pie, much like the man he eventually would replace, Albert “Red” Schoendienst.
The Cardinals signed Blasingame after his military service in 1953. After two seasons as a slick fielding and swift-running shortstop, they sent him to Cuba to play winter ball.
The Habana (Havana) Reds were owned and managed by Mike Gonzales, the former Cardinals’ third base coach who had futilely attempted to put the brakes on Enos Slaughter’s “Mad Dash” in the 1946 World Series. He resigned from the Cardinals after that season in protest of Major League Baseball Commissioner Happy Chandler’s attempt to blackball players who had accepted contracts to play in the competing Mexican League.
Still, Gonzalez and his former employer maintained a mutually-beneficial relationship — the Cardinals sent him players and Gonzalez sent them back with additional experience and instruction.
Concerned that they didn’t have enough organizational depth behind All-Star Red Schoendienst, the Cardinals sent Blasingame Havana-way to learn second base under Gonzalez.
Blasingame joined a group that would someday comprise three quarters of St. Louis’ big-league infield with Dick Schoefield at shortstop and Ken Boyer at third.
“Blazing-game,” a nickname he earned because of his speed on the bases, learned well under Gonzalez and made his debut in St. Louis less than a year later. The year after that, 1956, the Cardinals’ appropriately-named general manager, Frank “Trader” Lane, shipped Schoendienst to the New York Giants and Blasingame became the starter.
At 5-10 and 160 pounds, the 24-year-old left-handed batter hit well in an era dominated by the pitchers. As the Redbirds’ rookie lead-off batter, he hit .261 with 22 doubles, seven triples and led the fourth-place team with 94 runs scored.
In 1957, he got votes for National League MVP by adding 21 stolen bases and a career-high eight home runs to his .271 average and 108 runs. The year after he was an NL All-Star.
Throughout, his defense at second stood out. He twice led the National League in assists and double plays and three times led NL second basemen in defensive wins above replacement.
But after posting career highs in average (.289), doubles (26), and his best on-base percentage as a Cardinal (.361), Blasingame was traded to the San Francisco Giants.
That’s not before he met his all-American wife, Sarah, the daughter of former Cardinals catcher, Walker Cooper.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1955-1959
.275 average with Cardinals | .979 fielding % | Cardinals WAR 12.0
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.40