St. Louis Cardinals

Greatest Cardinals No. 45: OF Matt Holliday

The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 51-60

Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 51-60 on the list.
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Counting down the top 100 Cardinals of all-time, this video features numbers 51-60 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. 45 MATT HOLLIDAY

With the 13th overall pick of the 2008 MLB Amateur Draft, the St. Louis Cardinals selected Brett Wallace, a third baseman from Arizona State University described by scouts as a great left-handed hitter trapped “in a bad body.”

Built like a 6-foot, 250-pound fire hydrant, Wallace could indeed hit. In his first 54 minor league games, which were split between class A and class AA, he batted .337 with a .530 slugging average. The only question was where that body would fit on the field.

Meanwhile, over in the American League, it had become clear to the Oakland A’s that they were not going to be able to reach contract terms with slugging outfielder Matt Holliday, who they had acquired in a trade with the Colorado Rockies not eight months earlier.

Holliday had been the Rockies seventh-round pick in 1998 and would would have been drafted even higher had it not been widely assumed that he would play college football instead. He was a high school all-American at quarterback and rated the third best prep passer in the nation. Even Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson heralded Holliday’s future in the NFL after he had made his verbal commitment to play football at Oklahoma State University in his hometown of Stillwater.

It took a little extra sugar on an already sweet signing bonus, but the Rockies found their future in Holliday, who would eventually lead them to a World Series and finished runner up in National League MVP balloting in 2007. But with the end of his contract looming in 2009, negotiations on an extension stalled, and a big payday awaiting the slugger in free agency, Colorado shipped Holliday to Oakland.

Back in St. Louis, the end of the MV3 era had arrived. Jim Edmonds and Scott Rolen were both gone and the Cardinals hadn’t been in the postseason since winning the World Series more than two years earlier in 2006.

Albert Pujols was still in his prime, fresh off an MVP season in 2008 and on his way to another, but the Cardinals were getting next to zero production behind him, despite the revolving handful of hitters manager Tony La Russa moved in and out of the cleanup spot. They were hitting a combined .250 with a mediocre .443 slugging average.

With a 4-3 walk-off loss in Houston on July 23, the Cardinals had lost six of 10 games, including their last three in a row, and were just five games over .500. They badly needed a boost at the middle of their lineup to stave off the Astros, who had narrowed St. Louis’ division lead to one game.

At the non-waiver trade deadline July 24, the Cardinals finally found the best fit for Wallace and his thick torso — Oakland. The A’s sent them Holliday in return.

Critics initially panned the trade, given the investment the Cardinals had made in Wallace and Holliday’s uncertain contract status. But he was an immediate upgrade both in left field and behind Pujols in the batting order. In his first two weeks with the Cardinals, he went 24-for-38 (.632) with seven doubles, three home runs and 11 RBIs. Behind him, the rejuvenated Cardinals won 20 of 26 games in August to stretch their narrow lead over the Astros to 10 games by September.

They fell to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the divisional series, however, in part because of Holliday’s error in Game 2. St. Louis led 2-1 in the ninth and were one out away from evening the three-game series at a game apiece, but Holliday lost James Loney’s lazy liner in a bank of Dodger Stadium lights. Los Angeles rallied back to a 3-2 win and ended up sweeping the series.

That single play saddled Holliday with the unfortunate reputation as a poor defender. But in 2010, his first full season in St. Louis he had ranked third among NL left fielders in fielding percentage (.989), second in putouts (261) and first in assists (8).

And in 63 games with the Cardinals that year, Holliday slashed .353/.419/.604 with 13 homers and 55 RBIs. He was a major reason they had broken their postseason drought in the first place. So on Jan. 21, the Cardinals extended him a seven-year contract worth $120 million to stay. It was, at the time, the richest contract in franchise history.

45 Matt Holliday high 5.jpg
St. Louis Cardinals’ Matt Holliday, right, celebrates with teammates in the dugout after hitting a solo home run off Pittsburgh Pirates starting pitcher Jonathon Niese in the first inning of a baseball game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, June 12, 2016. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar) Gene J. Puskar AP

Holliday, meanwhile, had joined a core of players that rallied the Cardinals back from 10 ½ games out of a playoff spot with just 28 left to play to their 11th World Series championship. Limited to 124 games with chronic tendonitis in his hand (and part of one game with a moth in his ear), Holliday still slashed .296/.388/. 525 with 22 home runs and 75 RBIs.

In 2013, with Pujols off to the Anaheim Angels, Holliday slashed .300/.389/.490 with 94 RBIs to help the Cardinals to another National League pennant. The following season he became just the fifth players in big league history to contribute at least 20 home runs, 30 doubles, 75 runs driven in and 80 more scored over nine consecutive seasons.

Finally, his Cardinals teammates awarded Holliday the Darryl Kile Award — presented annually to “a good teammate, a great friend, a fine father and a humble man” — in recognition of his fund-raising work for children’s hospitals.

Wallace, for the record, made it to the big leagues with the Astros in 2010, but was out of the game six years later having never found his permanent position on the field.

SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 2009-2016

KEY STATS

.293/.380/.494 with St. Louis | 7x All-Star | WS ring | 23.2 WAR

TOP 100 SCORE: 3.20

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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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