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. 90 BERNARD GILKEY
If Bernard Gilkey was two or three inches taller, he may never have played baseball.
At 6-foot, 170 pounds, the Saint Louis University High School basketball star took a pass on college scholarship offers and instead took his shot at baseball with the hometown Cardinals, who signed him as an undrafted free agent in 1984.
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He looked every bit the perfect fit for the aggressive brand of baseball that helped the Cardinals sprint to three pennants and a world championship in the 1980s. In his last three seasons in the minors, Gilkey averaged 53 stolen bases.
But the early 1990s was a weird time for the team. Owner August Busch Jr., the “Big Eagle,” had died and the board of his brewery cut player payroll, prompting manager Whitey Herzog to resign in the middle of the 1990 season.
Shortstop Ozzie Smith was still a drawing card, but former stalwarts like Vince Coleman, Terry Pendleton, and Willie McGee were shipped out to make room for younger and cheaper players like Ray Lankford, Felix Jose and Todd Zeile.
On opening day in 1991, Gilkey started in left field and batted third. He was the first Cardinals rookie to start on opening day since Red Schoendienst in 1945.
Over the next four seasons, that younger version of the Redbirds didn’t post a losing record or finish worse than third place in the National League East Division.
Gilkey never stole more than 18 bases in a season again, but he led St. Louis in average in 1992 (.302) and ‘93 (.305) and went on to average 15 home runs and 71 RBIs across a 12-year major league career. He never won a Gold Glove, either, but his defensive-WAR was above replacement level for four seasons in St. Louis, and he led the team with an impressive 19 outfield assists in 1993.
In 1995, Gilkey was traded to the Mets for Yudith Ozorio, Erik Hiljus and Eric Ludwick who, together, played a total of 16.2 innings for the Cardinals. Gilkey, meanwhile, went on to the best season of his career, reaching career highs in average (.317), home runs (30), RBIs (117), and scoring a cameo in the movie “Men in Black.”
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1990-1995
21.6 career WAR | Slashed .282/.354/.431 in St. Louis
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.15