When you’re a historic sports franchise with more than 125 years of tradition and the most World Series championships in the National League, there’s a heightened risk you’ll run out of retired numbers before you run out of hall-of-fame players.
Still, the St. Louis Cardinals are well behind the New York Yankees in that category, with 11 retired numbers to the Bronx Bombers’ 22. That includes Gussie Busch’s No. 85, a number nobody actually wore. Meanwhile, you’ll never see another single-digit number sewn onto Yankee pinstripes again.
By those standards, there’s still plenty of room on the left field wall at Busch III. And even if there wasn’t, the Cardinals should make room for Joe Medwick’s No. 7.
The team’s policy for retiring numbers and dedicating statues at the corner of 8th and Clark is hard to figure. The current ownership has said that, at least going forward, Hall of Fame induction is an automatic ticket.
Medwick checks that box and any other that could possibly matter.
In all of St. Louis’ glorious baseball history, in fact, you’d be hard-pressed to identify a better string of seasons than those Medwick gave St. Louis through the 1930s.
His .324 career average and nearly 1,400 RBIs both would rank third among players whose numbers the Cardinals have already retired. And nobody has won the National League Triple Crown since he did so with a .374 average, 31 home runs and 154 RBIs in 1937.
Medwick has longevity, too, having spent 11 of his 17 seasons over two stints with the Cardinals.
So what’s the deal? The Cardinals have honored Dizzy Dean, the Gas House Gang’s best pitcher. Why not Medwick, its best hitter?
He wasn’t the most popular guy in the Cardinals clubhouse or with the baseball writers. Teammates called him “Ducky Wucky,” not just because of the waddle in his walk, but because they knew it stung him. Medwick wanted to be called “Muscles.” And the writers inexplicably waited 20 years to vote him into the Hall of Fame, despite a first-ballot career.
But there was no real bad blood until notoriously cheap Cardinals owner Sam Breadon forced Medwick to take a pay cut in 1939 then dispatched him to Brooklyn for four spare parts and cash the following summer.
It wasn’t even a week after the trade that the Cardinals were at Ebbets Field to take on the Dodgers. In the team hotel on the morning of the series’ second game, St. Louis starting pitcher Bob Bowman got into an argument with his former teammate, telling him “I’ll take care of you.”
True to his word, Bowman knocked Medwick cold with a bean ball to the head in the bottom of the first inning.
Muscles was never quite the same again. He still hit better than .300 a few times, but only twice again played more than 130 games in a season and never drove in 100 runs, something he did in each of the seven seasons prior to the trade.
So is there a lingering resentment that is keeping No. 7 off the Cardinals’ roster of retired numbers? Not likely. Medwick was back in a Cardinals uniform for the 1947 and ‘48 seasons and spend his retirement as a hitting instructor for the club.
Whatever ill will there may have been, it looks like Medwick got over it.
So what do you say Mr. DeWitt? Any chance you’ll revive the legacy of this Redbirds great and make him a franchise icon?
Retire Joe Medwick’s No. 7. It’s a gesture long past due.
And there’s plenty of room on the outfield wall.