Two former Cardinal outfielders and one pitcher officially joined the Red Blazer Club with the franchise’s fifth annual Hall of Fame inductions Saturday.
This class, more than any before it, illustrates exactly why the Cardinals need their own hall of fame.
Most of those already inducted on the stage at Ballpark Village have either been enshrined at Cooperstown, will eventually, or at least get a hard look before getting stranded at its doorstep. Not so for Harry Brecheen, Vince Coleman and Ray Lankford. The National Baseball Hall of Fame won’t be calling on them, nor have either ever expected it.
But in their time wearing the Birds on the Bat, all three played an integral role on teams that define the historic franchise, though maybe competing in the shadows of better-known teammates.
Let’s start with Brecheen, who among more casual fans is probably the least known member of the Class of 2018.
This left-handed pitcher had an impressive enough career, winning 133 games with a .591 winner percentage and a 2.92 ERA over 12 seasons, all of them in St. Louis, one with the Browns. His best year was 1948, when he went 20-7 with a National League best 2.24 ERA and 149 strikeouts.
In no other year did Brecheen ever lead the Cardinals staff in anything. He was, however, a rock-solid-steady contributor during the St. Louis Swifties era that produced three NL pennants and two World Series championships. Apart from that ‘48 season, Brecheen never won more than 16 games, but never fewer than 14 for six consecutive seasons in which the Cardinals averaged 96 wins per year and never finished lower than second in the standings.
History better remembers his superstar teammates like Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter, Red Schoendienst and Marty Marion. But we may not remember any of them had it not been for the role Brecheen played during some of St. Louis’ best years.
Much of the same can be said about Coleman.
He played forgettable defense, struck out too much for a leadoff hitter, and managed a mediocre .264 career average. And over time, he’s been overshadowed by Hall of Fame teammate Ozzie Smith and MVP Willie McGee. Even pitcher Bob Forsch got the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame fan vote before Coleman.
But Whitey Herzog’s Redbirds won three pennants and a World Series by running circles around opponents on that hard turf at Busch Stadium II. And when you say Whitey Ball, who do you think of first?
Coleman crashed the big league roster in 1985 due to an injury, but was warned by General Manager Dal Maxvill not to get too comfortable in St. Louis. All Coleman from there was steal 110 bases and win the National League Rookie of the Year award.
No pitcher could relax as long as Coleman was on base, because 90 feet at a time was never enough. You’ve heard it before: a walk to Coleman was as good as a double. He led the league each of his six years in St. Louis, averaging 91.5 steals per season. While he joins all-time stolen base king Rickey Henderson as the only players to have three 100-steal seasons, Coleman is the only one to get his consecutively.
The speedy Coleman also became the center of one of the greatest ironies when he was run down by an automatic tarp just before the National League Championship Series.
More than anything, Coleman was disruptive, stealing focus from pitchers as they prepared to face Tommy Herr, Jack Clark, Terry Pendleton and Andy Van Slyke.
Finally, the Cardinals will induct the soft-spoken and always professional Ray Lankford, who may also be the most under-appreciated player true star they ever had.
When Mark McGwire picked up his son, Matt, after blasing home run hNo. 61 to tie Roger Maris for the single season record, it was Lankford who had to dig into batters’ box through all the mayhem. Such was his career.
You’ll remember McGwire’s big-swinging summer of 1998, but may not know that no player hit more home runs in Busch Stadium II than Lankford (123). And he was a true five-tool player, but was a workman in his approach.
Over his 13 seasons in St. Louis, Lankford recorded five 20-20 seasons (four consecutive from 1995-1998) and ranks fifth in club history in home runs and stolen bases. He is the only player in Cardinals history with at least 200 home runs and 200 steals. The former center fielder was an All-Star in 1997 and still ranks in the Cardinals top 10 in runs (9th), total bases (10th), doubles (9th), RBI (8th), walks (5th) and game-winning RBI (T-2nd).
The club never had tremendous success with him as a starter. Except for 1996, when it won the NL Central and came within one win of the World Series. He also returned as a bench player on the 2004 team that won 105 games and the pennant.
I tend to remember Lankford for those lean final years under the breweries ownership. Stars and big names were scarce on those clubs, but in 1993, the Cardinals scratched on 87 wins when nobody thought they’d be any good at all. That was only good for third place in those pre-wild card days. But it was a fun team to watch and Lankford, a rookie, became an emblem of its grit when he plowed Phillies catcher Darren Daulton to score a winning run.
The induction ceremony took place at Fox Sports Midwest Live! at Ballpark Village and was broadcast on FSM.
Miss it? It’ll be rebroadcast five more times this week: Monday at 7:30 p.m., Tuesday at 5 p.m., Thursday at 2 p.m., Friday at 6 p.m. and Saturday at 5:30 p.m.
AT A GLANCE
Beginning in 2014, fans were allowed to cast ballots for induction to the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. In addition to those picked by the team and a red-ribbon panel, here is a list of those currently enshrined:
- Jim Bottomley, Ken Boyer, Sam Breadon, Lou Brock, Jack Buck, August A. “Gussie” Busch Jr., Chris Carpenter, Dizzy Dean, Jim Edmonds, Curt Flood, Bob Forsch, Frank Frisch, Bob Gibson, Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, Whitey Herzog, Rogers Hornsby, George Kissell, Tony La Russa, Marty Marion, Pepper Martin, Tim McCarver, Willie McGee, Mark McGwire, Joe Medwick, Johnny Mize, Terry Moore, Stan Musial, Branch Rickey, Red Schoendienst, Mike Shannon, Ted Simmons, Enos Slaughter, Ozzie Smith, Billy Southworth, Bruce Sutter and Joe Torre