Cheap Seats

It’s time the Cardinals retire the number of this Hall of Famer player and manager

BND sports editor Todd Eschman opined last week that the St. Louis Cardinals missed a worthy candidate when they passed on retiring Hall of Fame slugger Joe Medwick’s No. 7.

I don’t disagree that Medwick is one of the most accomplished Redbirds in the remarkable history of the franchise and is deserving of the honor. But I disagree that there is only one player the Birds overlooked. And, no, I don’t refer to fan favorite Willie McGee who has been barred from having his number retired due to not meeting the team’s criteria that the player in question has to be enshrined in the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame.

It’s Medwick’s fellow hall of famer, teammate and manager Frank Frisch, “the Fordham Flash,” who richly deserves to have his number 3 put away for good.

The Cardinals acquired Frisch before the 1927 season when ownership decided it had enough of Rogers Hornsby’s salary demands — to think, the Rajah wanted a multi-year, guaranteed contract! Owner Sam Breadon knew he would take a lot of heat for discarding the best player in the National League right after he led the team to its first World Series championship. After a turbulent aftermath that saw St. Louis fans assemble into an unruly mob outside Breadon’s home, decorate his car dealership in black crepe like a funeral and petition commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis to reject the trade, Frisch quickly settled in to convince Redbirds rooters the new guy wasn’t half bad.

In his first year with the club, Frisch settled right in with a .337 average, a .387 on-base percentage and led the NL with 48 stolen bases to finish second in the Most Valuable Player Award balloting just behind the Paul Waner of the Pittsburgh Pirates and just ahead of Hornsby. While Medwick was known for his bat and teammates described his outfield play as appearing to try to navigate a mine field, Frisch was a wiz with the glove, playing mostly at second and third over his career. In 1927 he led NL players with a 4.4 defensive WAR.

While Hornsby still had MVP campaigns left in him, they wouldn’t come with the New York Giants who, after trading Frisch to get him, decided that the Rajah’s incredible talent was no match for his grouchy personality. Frisch, at age 33 in 1931, would win his first MVP, leading St. Louis to a 101-53 record and a win over the Philadelphia Athletics in the World Series. In 11 years with the Cardinals, Frisch would finish in the top 20 in the MVP balloting five times, winning once.

In addition to his exploits on the field, Frisch was also making the big decisions as player-manager of the club from 1933-38. He piloted the Cardinals to the 1934 World Series championship in 1934 and to two second-place finishes after that. It couldn’t have been an easy task keeping Medwick, Dizzy Dean and Pepper Martin on the straight and narrow in the heyday of the Gashouse Gang.

His only losing season as a manager was his last and he went on to be skipper of the Pirates and Chicago Cubs for 10 years after he was relieved of his duties in St. Louis.

The Cardinals “retired” their early 1920s era logo in honor of Hornsby because he didn’t wear a number during his prime as the practice hadn’t been adopted yet. Hornsby wore number 4, however, when he returned to the team for a brief stay at the end of his career. So, retire 3 for Frisch, 4 for Hornsby and Yadier Molina when the latter retires and 7 for Medwick. That closes out the single digits (since the Cardinals aren’t going to let anyone else wear Albert Pujols’ number 5 before they retire it) with the exception of 8. If you want to do a clean sweep of the single digits, Ripper Collins, the first player to wear 8 for St. Louis, had an exciting yet brief career. But the guy who most deserves having number eight retired in his honor would be former captain Terry Moore.

A Collinsville native, Moore was known as the best center fielder in the National League in his day. His outfield partners, collectively known as the greatest defensive outfield in Senior Circuit history — Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter — have their numbers 6 and 9 retired by St. Louis.

Honestly, in a lot of ways I believe the Cardinals have been too free with retiring numbers in recent years. But I think Frisch and Medwick are certainly in order, not only because of their Hall of Fame play, but also because it’s important that younger fans remember the team’s history. It’s a shame so many don’t seem to know the names of Medwick, Frisch, Hornsby, Martin and Moore who helped establish this franchise as the greatest in National League history.

It doesn’t matter what number they wore. What matters is that young fans see their names and likenesses on the outfield wall at Busch Stadium and are inspired to learn more about them.