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. 44: GARRY TEMPLETON
Garry Templeton embodied everything Whitey Herzog desired in a baseball player and then some — a slick glove, a big arm, speed to spare and a potent bat from either side of the plate.
So when the Cardinals’ new general manager and field skipper departed for Dallas and the 1980 Winter Meetings, intent to rebuild a roster he thought was overstacked with with big salaries, bigger egos and too little proportional talent, the 23-year-old All-Star was the one and only no-can-do on his clubhouse clearance sale.
Templeton, who Hall of Fame broadcaster Jack Buck had called one of the greatest natural talents ever to wear the Birds on the Bat, was the Cardinals’ first pick of the 1974 draft straight out of Santa Ana Valley High School. He made his major league debut barely two years later, batting .291 over the final two months of the season.
But his breakout came the following year when, just 21 years old, he earned his first All-Star selection and MVP votes. Templeton batted .322, led the league with 18 triples, drove in 79 runs from the leadoff spot, stole 28 bases and scored 82 runs.
He slipped slightly in 1978, but rebounded in a big way the following season, though not without the first glimmer of the kind of controversies that would follow Templeton for the remainder of his time in St. Louis.
Somehow, Cincinnati’s Dave Concepcion and the Philadelphia’s Larry Bowa won the fans’ vote for shortstop on the All-Star team, though Templeton was in the midst of a historic season in St. Louis. National League manager Tommy Lasorda added him to the roster as an alternate, but Templeton refused, announcing that “If I ain’t startin’, I ain’t departin’.”
By year’s end, “Jumpsteady” had become the first player in major league history to collect at least 100 hits from both sides of the plate, leading the league with 211 total. He slashed .314/.331/.458, led the NL in triples for the third year in a row, stole 26 bases, and reached career-highs in home runs (9) and runs scored (105).
After an 18-33 start to the 1980 season, the Cardinals fired manager Ken Boyer. Enter Herzog who was given the dual role of GM and broad authority to rebuild the team. Though Templeton was the player he imagined as his centerpiece, red flags began signaling the trouble ahead.
Upset that Herzog moved him from leadoff to the second spot in the batting order, Templeton began dogging it on the field and making demands about when he would play and when he wouldn’t play. He managed to bat .319, score 83 runs and steal 31 bases in just 118 games, earning him his first Silver Slugger Award.
But Herzog chafed when Templeton, still just 24-year-old, told him he was too tired to play in the afternoon on days after night games.
“Templeton doesn’t want to play in St. Louis. He doesn’t want to play on (artificial) turf. He doesn’t want to play when we go to Montreal. He doesn’t want to play in the Astrodome. He doesn’t want to play in the rain,” Herzog fumed to the sports writers. “The other 80 games, he’s all right.”
As fate would have it, 80 games is all Templeton would have left in his Cardinals career.
On Aug. 26, 1981, with San Francisco in town for an afternoon Ladies Day special, Templeton failed to run to first on a dropped third strike. A smattering of fans that numbered less than 7,800 serenaded him with a chorus of boos, which he answered by raising his middle finger and clutching his unmentionables.
Herzog pulled Templeton forcibly from the field, down the dugout steps and against a wall. Others had to intervene to prevent a brawl.
“I’ve never been so mad at a player,” Herzog said.
Templeton lost the support of his teammates, too. Backup catcher Gene Tenace called him “a loser” and said the team would be “better off without him.”
The Cardinals put a public-relations spin on the outburst by blaming a “chemical imbalance.” The truth was not as tidy. Templeton wore the scars of a traumatic upbringing in the Watts section of Los Angeles and spent 17 days in Jewish Hospital being treated for depression.
Herzog took the humane approach by easing Templeton back into the lineup during a road trip, where he’d be spared the additional stress of facing an angry throng at Busch Stadium. When he gathered up the nerve, Templeton apologized.
“I know I did a big injustice to the fans,” he said.
But Herzog knew there was no way the fans of St. Louis or his teammates would ever forgive Templeton, nor would team owner Gussie Busch. On Dec. 10, 1981, Templeton was traded to the San Diego Padres for Ozzie Smith, who became a staple in the Cardinals’ lineup for the next 15 years, a Hall of Famer, and one of the most beloved players in franchise history.
With continued psychotherapy, Templeton learned to manage his depression and he gave the Padres 10 productive seasons without creating a whiff of controversy. Though never again the hitter he was in St. Louis, he earned another Silver Slugger and All-Star selection and helped lead San Diego to the pennant in 1984. Padres players even elected him team captain.
When his playing days were done, Templeton became a successful minor league manager and even coached Herzog’s grandson, John Urick, for a season with the Chico Outlaws of the independent North American League. In rare interviews, he doesn’t address those final days in St. Louis other than to say he “matured.”
As far as Herzog is concerned, all has been forgiven. Still, he looks back to that August day in 1981 and wonders how it altered the trajectory of Templeton’s future.
“I have no doubt in my mind that his story would have ended in Cooperstown,” he said.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1976-1981
.305 with St. Louis | 2x All-Star | Silver Slugger| 18.9 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 3.25