The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 11-20
It’s always perplexed me that the St. Louis Cardinals, one of the most storied and successful franchises in Major League Baseball history, didn’t do more to keep its former stars around after their playing days were over.
If there really is a “Cardinals Way,” shouldn’t it be the guys who walked the walk who pass it on to the next generations of players? If I was a 20-year-old prospect, I think I would be more likely to listen to a guy with a World Series ring or two who had seen the top of the mountain than a guy who theorizes what it takes to win. Still, too many former St. Louis stars like Ken Oberkfell, Terry Pendleton and Tommy Herr had to go outside of the Cardinals organization to find work in baseball.
So, it’s good that the Redbirds front office is finally making more of an effort to keep some of these guys around the home team. It was announced that Jim Edmonds has been brought into the front office in an advisory role, joining his longtime teammate Chris Carpenter. Willie McGee was added to the coaching staff a couple of years ago and Ozzie Smith, who didn’t like to hang out with previous St. Louis manager Tony LaRussa has been around more lately over the past couple of years. Most visibly, he’s been working with players during spring training.
It’s important to have these guys around because the previous generation of the Cardinals brain trust is sadly fading away. We lost Stan Musial a few years ago, always a presence around the team as long as he could be. Lou Brock has been battling health problems the past couple of years and the seemingly ageless Bob Gibson is, in reality, 83 years old. Someone has to pick up the baton to keep the institutional knowledge of what it is to play for the Cardinals alive.
In addition to the team spirit, these guys know how the game is supposed to be played. That’s sadly something that seems to be missing from the current crop of big leaguers. Baseball has become home run derby. Players don’t care if they strike out 40 percent of the time, they don’t know how to bunt or hit behind the runners and it seems that many of them have never heard about the cutoff man.
Edmonds seemed to rub a portion of the Cardinals fan base the wrong way with his flamboyant play. But, while he showed a little bit of flair, playing the game with everything he had was always something you could be sure you’d get from Jimmy Ballgame. And I’m not just talking about physical hustle. The guy was 100 percent engaged between the ears. He knew what was going on three pitches ahead of what was happening on the field. He knew were the ball was going to go before his pitcher threw it and he seemed to always come through when it counted the most. You can’t always win in baseball. But I can’t think of a single instance when the Cardinals lost and I didn’t feel like Edmonds gave it everything he had. Do that, and you’re not only going to win your share. You’re probably going to win more than the other guy.
Jim Edmonds would be an incredible coach. Some people think he isn’t interested in the job because he has a ton of money and can basically be on permanent vacation for the rest of his life if he so desires. But being a major league coach isn’t exactly working in the coal mines. With Edmonds’ competitive spirit, I wouldn’t be shocked at all of he preferred a day at the ballpark to a day at the beach. If Edmonds ever wants to scratch his competitive itch by becoming a major league skipper or coach, it would be a crime if it didn’t happen in St. Louis. I’m still trying to block out the bitter end of his career when he wore the uniforms of the Cincinnati Reds, Milwaukee Brewers and Chicago Cubs. That was a crime and it shouldn’t be allowed to happen again under any circumstance.
The Cardinals have almost always built their successes on the legends of the past. The great Cardinals teams of the 1930s were led by veterans of the team’s initial breakthrough in the 1920s. In the 1940s, heroes of the Gas House Gang like Pepper Martin and Mike Gonzales provided the continuity. In the 1960s, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and others held the torch. That formula seemed to be somewhat abandoned when Ken Boyer was fired and Whitey Herzog came to town to clean house. Joe Torre made an effort to bring it back in an era when his resources for acquiring on-field talent were limited by the tight-fisted brewery. After that, La Russa brought in his legacy players and coaches from the Oakland Athletics.
If this franchise is really interested in keeping the institutional knowledge of the fabled Cardinals way alive, it needs these former stars of the franchise in the fold. I’m excited that’s finally starting to happen.