St. Louis Cardinals

Greatest Cardinals No. 87: 3B Ken Oberkfell

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. 87 KEN OBERKFELL

Ken Oberkfell was born in Highland, educated in Collinsville, and played his college baseball in Belleville, three southwestern Illinois communities barely beyond the shadows cast by St. Louis’ riverfront Arch.

So when he signed with the Cardinals as an undrafted free agent in 1975, he brought an efficiency and reliability that are trademark of the German-influenced region in which he was raised.

He made his major league debut in 1977 as a second baseman, but was shifted to third in 1981. Over six full seasons, Oberkfell banged out hits with such steady cadence that his average ranged from no lower than .293 to no higher than .303.

The knock on “Obie,” though, was that he didn’t bring enough power to the plate for a third baseman, a position he learned only to accommodate the arrival of Tom Herr at second. Much like Herr, Oberkfell was a contact hitter who walked far more than he struck out. In that regard, he was the perfect fit for the Cardinals of the 1980s; it’s contact that put those Running Redbirds into motion.

His defense was a good fit, too. Sharing the infield with Herr, shortstop Ozzie Smith and first baseman Keith Hernandez, Oberkfell led National League third basemen in fielding percentage both in 1982 and ‘83.

Oberkfell’s role didn’t make him immune from walk-off heroics, though.

St. Louis defeated Atlanta, 7-0, in Game 1 of the 1982 National League Championship Series, but had to come from behind to send Game 2 into the ninth inning tied at 3-3. The Braves, of course, hoped to avoid a two-game deficit, but also believed a Game 2 victory would give them the upper hand as the best-of-three series headed to Atlanta.

But rookie pinch-hitter David Green led off the St. Louis ninth with a single and advanced to second an a sacrifice bunt by Herr. With first base open and one out, Oberkfell burned Braves’ center fielder Brett Butler to drive home Green with the winning run. The Cardinals completed the series sweep two days later.

Oberkfell batted .294 in the World Series, which the Cardinals won in seven memorable games over Milwaukee.

In August of 1984, St. Louis traded Oberkfell to Atlanta for left-handed pitcher Ken Dayley and back-up infielder Mike Jorgensen, who would later manage the Cardinals.

SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1977-1984

KEY STATS

.292 avg., .364 OBP in St. Louis | .973 career Fld% | WS ring

TOP 100 SCORE: 2.24

BND Assigning News Editor Todd Eschman has won numerous state and regional awards for his columns, feature stories and news reporting. He was born and raised in Belleville, attended SIU-Carbondale, and is a member of the BBWAA, SABR and St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame.
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