St. Louis Cardinals

Greatest Cardinals No. 86: 1B Ray Sanders

The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 91-100

Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 91-100 on the list.
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Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 91-100 on the list.

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. 86 RAY SANDERS

Ray Sanders was born and raised in Bonne Terre, Missouri, just 40 miles south of St. Louis.

He was tall, strong and good looking in addition to having a good glove at first base and some left-handed power at the plate. The only thing stopping him from being a hero at Sportsman’s Park was the already-established star who played his position.

The Cardinals signed Sanders n 1938 and watched with great interest as he breezed through every level of their expansive minor league system. By 1940, just his second full season of professional baseball, he was MVP of the South Atlantic League, having batted .349 with a 152 RBIs. The next season with the Class AA Columbus Redbirds, he hit .308 with 120 runs batted in and 119 scored.

The Cardinals’ legendary general manager, Branch Rickey — architect of the Gas House Gang and St. Louis Swifties — knew he couldn’t put off the local kids’ arrival to St. Louis and was eager to make Sanders a star.

So he made a bold, bold move.

Johnny Mize was just 28 years old, but already had been an NL batting champion, league leader in RBIs, and two-time home run king while wearing the Birds on the Bat. But he played Sanders’ position. To make way, Rickey sold Mize to the New York Giants for $25,000 cash.

Sanders indeed won the first base job for his own by outplaying platoon-mate Johnny Hopp in the second half of 1942. The Cardinals won a franchise record 106 games that seasons and beat Joe DiMaggio and the New York Yankees in a five-game World Series.

The Yankees returned the favor in 1943, beating St. Louis in a championship rematch. Sanders, who had hit .280 with 73 RBIs during the season, belted a Game 2 home run that made the difference in the Cardinals’ only win of the series.

The following season was Sanders’ best by far with a .295 average, 12 home runs, 102 RBIs, 34 doubles, nine triples and 87 runs scored. He had six hits and another home run to help the Cardinals beat the Browns four games to two in the all-St. Louis “Streetcar Series.”

When the Cardinals didn’t make it back to the World Series in 1945 — instead placing second in the National League with a measly 95 wins — owner Sam Breadon fired Rickey and let manager Billy Southworth take more money from the Boston Braves without making him a counter offer.

He also sold Sanders to Boston for $25,000, the same price the Cardinals got for Mize.

Mize, by the way, twice more led the league in home runs and retired from baseball with a .312 career average and more than 1,337 RBIs, despite giving away three seasons in his prime to military service in World War II. He didn’t win a championship with the Giants, but got rings in each of his last five seasons, mostly in a reserve role with the Yankees.

A collision at first base in 1946 left Sanders’ arm badly broken in three places and he made just 30 more career plate appearances.

He did, however, make it back to the World Series with Southworth and the Braves in 1948, making him a part of four pennant winners in seven major league seasons.

SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1942-1945

KEY STATS

.279 avg., .372 OBP in St. Louis | 2 WS rings | 4x pennant winner

TOP 100 SCORE: 2.25

BND Sports & Local 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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