The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 61-70
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. 58: EDGAR RENTERIA
In the spring of 2018, the Cardinals announced they had reached an agreement with shortstop Paul DeJong on a six-year contract extension, the richest ever to a player with less than one full season of big-league service.
Should DeJong play out the contract through the end of its term in 2023 (the club also has options for ‘24 and ‘25) he’ll become the Cardinals most tenured shortstop in nearly 20 years.
In the interim, the position has been a revolving door in St. Louis, which had nine different Opening Day shortstops from 2005 to 2018, including David Eckstein’s three-year run.
Had the Boston Red Sox not lost pitcher Pedro Martinez to free agency, thus freeing up a whole lot of room on their payroll, Edgar Renteria might have completed a lengthy career wearing the Birds on the Bat. As it is, he gave the Cardinals six of his best seasons through one of the most successful stretches in franchise history.
Renteria arrived in St. Louis in December of 1998. It had been just two seasons since the retirement of Ozzie Smith, and apparently enough time for manager Tony LaRussa to determine that Royce Clayton was no suitable heir-apparent. The Cardinals shipped pitcher Braden Looper and a highly-regarded minor league shortstop named Pablo Ozuna to the Florida Marlins for Renteria.
He was still just 22 years old, but had already been a runner-up for National League Rookie of the Year, an All-Star and a World Series hero. It was his walk-off single off in the 11th inning of Game 7 that gave the Marlins’ their first championship in 1997.
Still, Renteria’s best seasons were ahead.
In each of his first two years with the Cardinals, he set new career highs in home runs, RBIs, runs scored, doubles, total bases and slugging percentage. He was an NL All-Star for a second time in addition to winning his first Silver Slugger Award in 2000.
What LaRussa liked almost as much was Renteria’s clubhouse affect, which he described as a “combination of competition and puckish joy that spills into other players.” Renteria was the guy who came up with ritualistic home run handshakes and could rally teammates behind his Latinized version of the hip-hop tune “Let’s Go Play.”
The Cardinals had one losing season with Renteria at shortstop (his first) and reached the postseason in four of those six years.
In 2003, a year after falling to San Francisco in the National League Championship Series, the Cardinals slipped to third place in the Central Division at 88-74, but Renteria had an MVP-caliber season. He slashed .330/.394/.480 with 12 home runs, 47 doubles, 100 RBIs, 96 runs scores, 34 stolen bases and his second consecutive Gold Glove Award.
In 2004, he batted .287 with 10 home runs and 84 RBIs as part of a deep and potent lineup that included three players — Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds — who finished in the top five of the MVP balloting. St. Louis came close to the franchise record with 105 regular season wins and captured its first National League championship in 17 years. Renteria batted .333 with three doubles in the World Series, but the heavily-favored Cardinals were swept in four games by the Boston Red Sox, who won their first championship in 86 years.
He was still just 27 years old, but Renteria already had a full career behind him. He’d played in 52 postseason games including two World Series, was a four-time All-Star, won three Silver Slugger awards and a earned pair of Gold Gloves.
And he was at the end of his contract.
Renteria professed his desire to remain in St. Louis, but with Martinez and his $13.5 million off to the New York Mets, Boston’s wunderkind executive Theo Epstein used the sudden influx of cash to make an offer the Cardinals couldn’t match.
Boston gave Renteria $40 million over four years, while the Cardinals reportedly offered $32 over the same term.
“If anything was even close, he would have stayed there,” Jeffrey Lane, Renteria’s agent, told the Associated Press. “But it wasn’t close.”
There were some who believed the contract was too rich, but Epstein said he “slept very well” once the shortstop gave it his signature. And so Renteria was off to Boston.
He played seven more seasons for five different teams, including just a single year with the Red Sox. But he was an All-Star for the Atlanta Braves in in 2007 and a World Series MVP for the San Franciso Giants thanks to two game-winning home runs.
Eckstein assumed Renteria’s place in St. Louis and helped the Cardinals to another 100-win season in 2005. He was a World Series MVP, too, during that unlikely championship run of 2006.
The door on the St. Louis’ infield has been revolving ever since.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1999-2004
.290/.347/.420 with Cardinals | 3x All-Star | 3x Silver Slugger | 2 Gold Gloves | 16.2 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.87