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. 64: CHICK HAFEY
During his era, Charles “Chick” Hafey was regarded throughout baseball for his big bat and howitzer of a right arm.
But those who saw him play most regularly wondered how much better he really could have been. That was no indictment of Hafey’s effort or skill. They just knew that he couldn’t see.
Hafey suffered chronic sinusitis, so acute that it required surgery and generally kept him out of the lineup at least 20 games every season. It also caused him myopia and fits of double vision. Bright sunlight, dark shadows, seasonal temperature changes and myriad other factors only aggravated the condition.
Hafey was among the first, and the only one in his day, to play while wearing glasses.
“I always thought that if Hafey had been blessed with normal eyesight ... he might have been the best right-handed hitter baseball had ever known,” Cardinals General Manager Branch Rickey once remarked.
John McGraw, the great manager of the New York Giants, commented in kind.
Whatever his limitations, though, Hafey still hit with all the consistency and power of players with perfect peepers.
He was on the team in 1926, when the Cardinals and Rogers Hornsby brought the city its first World Series title of the 20th century. But Hafey didn’t crack the everyday lineup until the year after when he batted .329, reached base at a .401 clip and led the National League with a .590 slugging average.
That’s also the season someone other than Rickey took notice of Hafey’s powerful arm.
On base hits his way, Hafey was known to throw behind base runners hoping to catch them rounding the bag too aggressively, even at first base. It must have worked, too, because though limited to 103 games in ‘27, Hafey had 19 assists from the outfield and initiated seven double plays.
“The human arm doesn’t get any stronger than Hafey’s,” Rickey would say.
In 1928, St. Louis captured its second NL pennant in three years. Hafey did his part by slashing .337/.386/.604 with 27 home runs and 111 RBIs. He also may have saved the season in its final weekend.
The Cardinals were protecting a two-game lead over the Giants and were tied with the Braves in the first of a three-game series in Boston.
Jack Smith led off the Boston half of the 12th with a walk and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by former Browns hero George Sisler. With one out, St. Louis native Heinie Mueller roped one into the left field corner, sending Smith steaming around third with the winning run.
Hafey threw him out at the plate by three steps and the Cardinals. He was at the plate in 15th when Frankie Frisch won the game for St. Louis with his steal of home.
The Cardinals went on to get swept by the Yankees in the World Series and were disappointed again in 1930 when they fell to the Philadelphia Athletics in six games.
But Hafey continued to hit. Over three consecutive seasons, he batted no worse than .336, hit no fewer than 26 home runs and both drove home and scored at least 100 runs.
He also collected his second championship ring in 1931 when St. Louis got its revenge over Connie Mack’s A’s in a seven-game World Series. Hafey was limited, once again, to just 122 games that season, but posted a career-best .349 average, edging Bill Terry for the NL batting title by .0003 of a point.
Emboldened by his run of personal success, Hafey held out for a raise. But, with prospects Ripper Collins and Joe Medwick ready for promotion to the majors, Rickey traded Hafey to Cincinnati instead.
Hafey hit well enough through five seasons with the Reds, but only gave them two seasons of more than 89 games played. He was, however, selected to the first National League All-Star team in 1933 and collected the annual Mid-Summer Classic’s first hit.
He retired to his California ranch where, for 35 years, he kept baseball out of of mind and out of sight. But in 1971, Hafey was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame. He died in 1973 at age 70.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1924-1931
.326/.379/.568 slash with Cardinals | 21.1 Cardinal WAR |2 WS rings | HoF ‘71
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.68