I understand that I have touched on this theme before so, for those who have already heard it, I apologize for the gushing that is about to spew forth.
But I am reminded by the fact that St. Louis Cardinals catcher Yadier Molina was awarded his SEVENTH Gold Glove this week that, despite our year-to-year frustrations, we are fortunate enough to live in one of the all-time great eras of St. Louis baseball.
It's difficult, sometimes, to appreciate these things in the moment. So, occasionally, I like to take a step back and take it all in.
With the exception of the period from 1930-1946, I can't think of another time when Redbird rooters have had the opportunity to see so many of the greatest players in franchise history play in the flesh.
In my book, at least, there is no doubt that Molina already stands as the greatest catcher in Cardinals history. Sorry, Ted Simmons, Tim McCarver and Walker Cooper fans. They're great. But Yadi is the best and has already put together a solid Hall of Fame case.
Molina is a member of four Redbirds World Series clubs, which is an accomplishment that few can match. And not just as a lucky hanger-on. Since his second Fall Classic in 2006, Molina has been an -- if not THE -- on field leader of the Cardinals, especially of the pitching staff. I'm always stunned when his defensive abilities are discounted because it's nothing less than remarkable how much better the same set of pitchers perform when he's behind the dish. And then there is the fact that he's made himself an offensive force, especially in the clutch.
At risk of offending another sect of Cardinals Nation, I will suggest that Jim Edmonds is the greatest centerfielder in Redbirds history.
That's no minor statement because, in my tender teenage years -- and then again when he returned for his encore late in his career, Willie McGee was my favorite player. From a historical perspective, I am a huge fan of Terry Moore and Curt Flood. But, as great as those guys were, they weren't the complete player that Jimmy Ballgame was.
Edmonds was every bit the defensive peer of the previously mentioned guys. In fact, I think he was the best one. Edmonds was a fantastic student of the game who took away countless outs with his positioning and anticipation. He had the daring to play deep, taking away all kinds of otherwise sure singles. That was possible because he had the speed to make his signature play: The leaping grab over the outfield fence of a ball that would have otherwise been a home run. I was there in 1986 when Ozzie Smith hit his "Go Crazy Folks" home run. But the best play I have ever witnessed in person was Edmonds' 2004 National League Championship Series theft of a sure double hit by Brad Ausmus. If that ball would have landed among the blades of grass, that game -- and the Cardinals' hopes of snapping an 18-year World Series dry spell would have continued for at least two more seasons.
And that happened just a day after Edmonds hit one of the signature homers in St. Louis history, an extra inning blast that won Game 6 of the same series for the Cardinals.
The Cardinals' co-aces of the 2000s belong on the list of greatest players to wear the Birds on the Bat.
Chris Carpenter is the closest thing to Bob Gibson since Bob Gibson. He was a bulldog of a performer who lifted his whole team on his back when he had to. If Carpenter would have been healthier, he surely would have been a Hall of Famer. As it stands, he authored some of the greatest starts in recent memory. The 1-0 duel against his buddy Roy Halladay in the bandbox in Philadelphia during the 2011 National League Division Series comes to mind as perhaps the greatest. But by Game 7 of the 2011 World Series it was obvious Carp was pitching on fumes. Still, he wouldn't be denied.
The other half of that pitching duo, Adam Wainwright, is a perennial contender for the Cy Young Award, even though he's never won the prize. In 2006 he was a wet behind the ears kid pressed into one of the most pressure-packed situations imaginable. He was forced to be the closer of an offensively-challenged playoff team. The result? He closed out the clinching game of every series including the forever memorable Game 7 of the NLCS against the Mets when he struck out high dollar slugger Carlos Beltran -- looking -- with the bases loaded and two outs. What a moment!
And let's not completely forget about that Pujols fellow who re-wrote the record book for the best first decade of a career in MLB history. While it is said that the greatest hitters in baseball only succeed a third of the time, it sure seemed like Pujols ALWAYS came through when he needed to. And I still think the last three years of his career would have been dramatically different if he were allowed to age gracefully alongside the Mississippi instead of moving into a pressure cooker of a new market.
It's easy to forget that, at the time Pujols left town, a lot of folks were of the opinion that he had already surpassed the great Stan Musial as the Greatest Cardinals Player Ever. That opinion seems to have quickly been reversed following his departure. But, any way you slice it, Pujols is on the Mount Rushmore of Cardinals.
Beyond that we have Michael Wacha coming out of nowhere to flirt with no-hitters and win playoff games against tough teams on the road during his rookie season. There's David Freese hitting one of the most dramatic homers in World Series history, Lance Berkman coming over from a foe to lead the Cardinals to a championship and all the promise of Trevor Rosenthal, Kolten Wong, Marco Gonzales and Carlos Martinez.
Indeed, it is a great era in which to be a Cardinals fan. And I fully intend to wow my grandchildren with story about how yes, in fact, I really saw Yadi, Edmonds and Wainwright play.