The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 71-80
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. 75 TIM MCCARVER
As a senior at Christian Brothers High School in Memphis, Tim McCarver was a highly sought linebacker from the Purple Wave football team. He could have played at the University of Tennessee, just down the road in Knoxville, or at Notre Dame for Joe Kuharich, the only coach with a losing record during his tenure with the Irish.
But the St. Louis Cardinals outbid them both — as well as the New York Yankees — with a $75,000 signing bonus.
McCarver shot through the Cardinals’ minor leagues in the summer of 1959 faster than Johnny Horton shot up the Billboard Hot 100 with “The Battle of New Orleans.” After 65 games at Class D Keokuk and 17 more in triple-A Rochester, the Cardinals determined that the 17-year-old catcher was ready to make his major league debut.
He made just 104 big-league plate appearances over the next three seasons and batted .218, but such was the faith the Cardinals had in their young bonus baby.
In the spring of 1963, they traded starting catcher Gene Oliver and handed the job the McCarver, who hit .289 with 51 RBIs as a rookie. His regular season numbers were almost identical the following year, but the post-season of 1964 made McCarver a household name long before his days as a television personality.
On Sept. 21, St. Louis sat 6 ½ games behind first-place Philadelphia in the National League standings, but as the Phillies dropped 10 in a row, the Cardinals rallied to nine of their next 10. They defeated the Mets on the last day of the season to clinch the pennant.
McCarver batted .478 in the World Series and reached base on 16 of his 29 plate appearances, knocking in five runs and scoring another four along the way. His three-run home run in the top of the 10th inning won Game 5 and sparked the Redbirds to a seven-game triumph over the heavily-favored Yankees. Still just 22 years old, McCarver became one of a handful to have a hit in all seven games of a World Series.
Not the stereotypical heavy-footed catcher, McCarver was known for his baserunning. His 13 triples in 1966 led the NL and he hit an inside-the-park grand slam against the Mets at the New York Polo Grounds in 1963.
The brand-new Busch Stadium II was the site of McCarver’s first All-Star Game appearance. In front of the home fans, he slid home safely with the game-winning run on a 10th-inning single by Maury Wills.
McCarver’s best season was 1967 when he posted career bests in batting average (.295), doubles (26), home runs (14), RBIs (69), on-base percentage (.369) and slugging (.452). At 25, he was elected to his second straight All-Star Game, finished second to teammate Orlando Cepeda in NL MVP voting, and collected his second World Series ring when the Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox in seven games.
After 12 seasons in St. Louis, the Cardinals traded him to Philadelphia for Dick Allen and Cookie Rojas. The trade also was to include Cardinals’ outfielder Curt Flood, who refused to report to the Phillies, thus challenging baseball’s infamous reserve clause and, eventually, paving the way for free agency.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1959-’61, 1963-69
.272 avg. with Cardinals | 2 WS rings | 2x All-Star | 20.5 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.43