The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 51-60
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. 48: JD DREW
There was more to JD Drew than the slightly southern drawl and feathery blond hair that conjured recollections of Mickey Mantle.
There was his swing, his power, his speed and his howitzer of a right arm.
And there were his injuries.
Drew finished his career at Florida State University among the top 10 in most offensive categories despite skipping his senior season. In his junior year alone, he batted .455 from the left side with 31 home runs and 100 RBIs while also stealing 32 bases in a 67-game season.
So with the No. 2 overall pick of the 1997 MLB Amateur Draft, the Philadelphia Phillies called Drew’s name. But Drew didn’t sign.
His agent, Scott Boras, warned Phillies General Manager Lee Thomas ahead of the draft that his client wouldn’t accept less than a $10 million pay day to sign a contract. The Phillies tested him with a $2.6 million offer and Drew held his ground.
After a year of independent league baseball and a failed attempt to declared himself a free agent, the Cardinals drafted him with fifth overall pick and a $7 million offer. It wasn’t the five figures Drew was looking for, but it apparently was enough.
It’s also ironic that Drew would accept 70 percent of what Boras demanded, since Cardinals manager Tony La Russa would later lament that he gave only about 70 percent effort on the field.
Drew made his major league debut on Sept. 8, 1998, at home against the Chicago Cubs. It was the same night Mark McGwire broke Roger Maris’ single-season home run record, with a fourth-inning missile shot to left off Steve Trachsel. The next two weeks offered early confirmation of the kind of big-league player the Cardinals thought he could be. In 36 at bats, Drew belted five home runs with 13 RBIs while batting .417.
But Drew couldn’t stay healthy. He spent time on the disabled list in each of his five full seasons with the Cardinals, never playing more than 135 games.
Cardinals’ fans, known for rewarding effort with their loyalty, questioned Drew’s durability. His manager questioned his heart.
To La Russa, who logged 33 seasons as a big league manager, Drew still ranks among an elite handful of players he’d ever seen when it comes to raw ability. But, despite frequent meetings and occasional fines, La Russa rarely felt he got an honest effort from the can’t-miss outfielder. It frustrated him.
Was it because Drew made too much money too soon? Was there some underlying physical or mental issue? Did he, as the team’s skipper, somehow fail to motivate the young player?
After a disappointing rookie season in which he batted just .242 in 104 games the Cardinals made Drew available at the next year’s trade deadline. ABC News reported that St. Louis offered him up to the Phillies in a package deal with right-handed pitcher Matt Morris. The Cardinals wanted 33-year-old All-Star pitcher Curt Schilling in return.
Schilling ended up in Arizona while Drew rallied in St. Louis. The 23-year-old, having adopted Mantle’s No. 7, batted .367 in July, .321 in August and finished at .295 with 18 home runs and 57 RBIs.
The next season looked like it would be Drew’s long-awaited breakout. By June 17, with the Chicago White Sox in St. Louis for a three-game interleague series, he was batting .330 and had reached base more than 42 percent of the time. With Albert Pujols and, sometimes, McGwire in the order behind him, Drew already had belted 21 home runs with 49 RBIs.
In the fourth inning of the rubber game, Sox pitcher David Wells went too far inside on the left-handed hitting Drew, breaking bones in his hand and thumb. Drew was out seven weeks, then missed more time with a strained quadriceps. He managed to finish the season with a slash line of .323/.414/.613 with 27 home runs. His 1.027 OPS would have been in the top 10 of the National League with the qualifying at bats.
Nevertheless, Drew crashed in 2002, slumping to .252 and 56 RBIS for a 97-win team. The next year was marginally better, but he lasted just 100 games due to injuries.
La Russa tried again to motivate Drew by tempting him with greater riches that could be ahead of him in free agency, if only he would maximize the talents he’d been given. He tried paring him with Albert Pujols in batting practice., hoping some of his perfection-obsessed work habits would rub off. La Russa even tried fining Drew.
Sometimes it worked, but only in short-lived spurts.
“He told Drew that it was a waste form him to simply go along like this when he could be so much more … but La Russa knew that he had never gotten through to him,” wrote author Buzz Bissinger in his book “3 Nights in August,” the national bestseller that detailed the Cardinals’ 2002 season.
On Dec. 23, 2003, the Cardinals traded Drew and Eli Marrero to the Atlanta Braves for pitchers Ray King and Jason Marquis as well as a right-handed minor league prospect named Adam Wainwright.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1998-2003
.282/.377/.498 with St. Louis | 1x AS | 18.1 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 3.12