I realize that determining who or what is "the best" is a subjective matter. But, it's hard to argue against the premise that we're witnessing one of the greatest eras in Cardinals history.
In my book, we've seen several of the greatest players, by position, take the field for the Cardinals in the last two decades. If you made an all-time Cardinals roster, the number of recent players is staggering.
Below is a my take on the roster of best all-time Cardinals. Yeah, some players could be mixed in or out, but it's a pretty solid representation. More than one-third of the players who make the cut are Cardinals of the last two decades. Players who have been Cardinals since 1990 are in bold.
C Walker Cooper IF Frank Frisch
1B Albert Pujols 1B Johnny Mize
2B Rogers Hornsby OF Willie McGee
3B Scott Rolen C Ted Simmons
SS Ozzie Smith SS Marty Marion
LF Lou Brock
CF Jim Edmonds
RF Stan Musial
SP Bob Gibson RP Bruce Sutter
SP Dizzy Dean RP Jason Isringhausen
SP Chris Carpenter RP Todd Worrell
SP Mort Cooper RP Adam Wainwright
SP Harry Brecheen RP Lee Smith
RP John Tudor
RP Howie Pollett
While you might want to shuffle out some Cardinals of yore, It's pretty tough to exclude the modern players from the list.
Albert Pujols has been the best player in baseball for the better part of a decade, Scott Rolen is considered by many to be the best defensive third baseman of all time -- with a high average power bat to go with his Gold Glove collection. Ozzie Smith is the best defensive shortstop of all-time. With all due respect to the great Cardinals centerfielders who played before him, Terry Moore and Curt Flood just can't compare to Jim Edmonds' power bat and flair for getting big hits and making big catches in big games. Willie McGee won a pair of batting titles and an MVP award to go along with his Gold Gloves. Chris Carpenter is the first Cardinals hurler since Gibson to win the CY Young award. Isringhausen and Worrell are numbers one and three, respectively on the Cardinals save list with Lee Smith in between. I included Wainwright and John Tudor (who ended his St. Louis career one season before he would have been eligible for this list) because they were great pitchers who deserved consideration, not because they were relievers. But Wainwright may have made authored the best remembered save in Cardinals history since Grover Cleveland Alexander's 1926 World Series appearance when he struck out Carlos Beltran in the 2006 NLCS.
Whether you agree with the moves GM John Mozeliak made this off-season or not, it's been a pretty good time to be a Cardinals fan.
The Cardinals were in more World Series in the 40s, 60s and 80s. But it's a lot tougher because of the current playoff system and the number of teams in baseball to win the big prize these days. Hopefully the Pujols era will last a while longer and the Birds will fly a couple more pennants before this golden age is over.