The official Cardinals Hall of Fame and Museum will open as part of Ballpark Village next spring, and construction is moving along nicely. Last month, the United Cardinal Bloggers gave our ideas on what we’d like to see in the museum — our choices are here. This month, we take a look at the five individuals we’d like to see inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
Like any election, we had rules to follow. All those who the Cardinals have already honored by retiring their numbers are already included in the Hall of Fame. A player must be retired, or seem to be retired (such as, for example, Scott Rolen). And there’s no limit on service time.
So, with those in place, here, in alphabetical order, are the choices for the Cardinals Hall of Fame.
No player compressed more moments into three years than The Ripper. People don’t remember, but when the Cardinals lost Bruce Sutter as a free agent to Atlanta after the 1984 season, most everyone was predicting them to finish last or well below .500. But when the Cardinals got Jack Clark for pretty much nothing in a trade with the Giants, I knew better. I knew how great Clark was — he was the NL’s Eddie Murray, the most dangerous guy at the plate in the league.
And he proved it in Game 6 of the 1985 NLCS — top of the ninth, Cardinals looking like they’d face Orel Hershisher in Game 7 in LA, two runners on. First pitch, boom.
His 217 saves top the list of Cardinals closers. He may not have finished 2004 with a ring, but he did lead the majors with 47 saves that year — also a Cardinals closer record. He made his second All-Star team the very next season. In his seven-year stint with the Cardinals, he posted a 2.98 ERA in 408.0 innings.
Not only was St. Louis his longest home in his career but it was his best stay, and he helped the Redbirds through a number of successful, exciting seasons (because, you know, the 2004 season ended on a high note after the NLCS, right?!)
When you hear the name George Kissell, three words immediately come to mind: The Cardinal Way. Those three words even appear in his 2008 obituary in the New York Times, in a paragraph that succinctly summarizes his impact:
Kissell never played in the major leagues, but he tutored virtually every player who made it to the Cardinals through their minor league system going back to the 1940s, and he imparted his baseball wisdom to players arriving in St. Louis from other major league teams. What became known as the Cardinals way — their approach to fielding, hitting and strategy — was essentially the Kissell way.
And that way is something still in place today, in official print form, as Derrick Goold wrote about in May 2012:
In his locker this spring, every minor-league player found an 86-page handbook that outlines The Cardinal Way, from infield positioning to off-field responsibilities and team policies, from the virtues of a Cardinals catcher to where Perez setup to receive a 3-2 pitch. Coaches and managers received the unabridged version, at 117 pages.
The book isn’t only Kissell’s wisdom, but his is certainly a substantial part, as Goold wrote:
At his desk at Busch Stadium, [John] Vuch has a stack of papers held by a black binder clip with a cover page that reads, “Managers’ Syllabus.” The pages were written, compiled, edited, and updated in 1969 by Kissell, the Cardinals’ longtime minor league coach and keeper of the Cardinal Way. Inside his syllabus are drawings of the field and where position players should go for cutoffs and relays. There is a chapter on every infield position. It is a stack of institutional knowledge that became Vuch’s inspiration for a project in October 2010.
Even though his Cardinals career coincided with my (now unfortunate) time as a Cubs fan, I could appreciate what Willie McGee accomplished, even if I didn’t like it at the time. Like the cycle he hit at Wrigley Field on June 23, 1984 — that was awesome! He was even the Player of the Game!
(Oops, sorry. My thoughts about that game and yours are no doubt substantially different.)
In all seriousness, McGee was the no-brainer first choice for this list of five. He hit .295/.333/.396 for his 18-year major league career and had 2,254 hits and had more stolen bases, 352, than doubles, 350, along with 856 RBI.
He was the MVP in 1985, when he hit a league high .353 with 216 hits and 18 triples, both of which were league highs as well. He also was a Gold Glove winner that year (along with two others) and won the Silver Slugger. And, of course, he should have been a World Series champion that year to go along with the championship he won in 1982. Even I remember his performance in Game 3 of that Series, with his two home runs and that incredible catch of what was a sure homer by Gorman Thomas.
I know there’s been a push by fans to get the Cardinals to retire McGee’s no. 51. But I instead like what Derrick Goold wrote about the number, on the occasion of McGee’s bobblehead night in August 2011:
It should be worn. It should be a tribute, and it should be earned. Imagine if there was a reason, each season, for the Cardinals to assign the No. 51 to a player who best emulated and captured those traits that made Willie McGee Willie McGee. That doesn’t have to be a starter. He doesn’t have to be a batting champ. He doesn’t have to be an MVP or center fielder or a switch-hitter. He just has to be worthy.
Don’t honor 51 by retiring it. Make it an honor by wearing it.
Edna “Taffy” Wilber was the wife of Del Wilber who played for the Cardinals from ’46-’49. He then moved on to other teams, other roles, but she went on to play a major role in the St. Louis community. She worked her way up in the media world until she earned a hosting role on her own radio show for KMOX.
But my reason for suggesting this Cardinals HOF nod is that she instituted charity programs through the Cardinals organization. She started the “Pinch Hitters” group that was, basically, the precursor to the Cardinals Care Foundation. So, not only did she break down gender barriers left and right (in both media and sports), but she helped begin a legacy of charity work that has woven itself into the very fabric of what Cardinal baseball is and does.