The one constant through all the years has been baseball.
Major League Baseball is having a Hometown Heroes contest where you can vote for the "most outstanding player in each club's history," your favorite among the all-time greats.
Like you, I'm only concerned with the greatest among the Cardinals, though I did vote for some others from some other teams just so they didn't feel bad about national apathy.
So, the following is the selection of Cardinals. All except Pujols are the the baseball Hall of Fame and on the St. Louis Walk of Fame, but if Albert keeps it up, he'll join them on both.
Lou Brock (OF) - Brock was stolen from the Cubs in what has to have been one of the most lopsided trades in baseball history. Recognized as one of the most gifted base runners in baseball, Lou Brock helped to revolutionize the art and science of this element of the game as he totaled 938 stolen bases during his 19-year career. A six-time All-Star selection, Brock also accumulated more than 3,000 hits to help lead the St. Louis Cardinals to three National League pennants and two World Series championships. Although his stolen base records have been eclipsed, the National League honors each year’s stolen base leader with the Lou Brock Award.
Bob Gibson (P) - Over 17 seasons with the Cardinals, Bob Gibson won 20 games five times and established himself as the very definition of intimidation, competitiveness, and dignity. One of the best athletes to ever play the game, the ex-Harlem Globetrotter posted a 1.12 ERA in 1968, the lowest figure since 1914, and was named the National League Cy Young Award winner and Most Valuable Player. Known as a premier big-game pitcher, Gibson posted World Series records of seven consecutive wins and 17 strikeouts in a game, and was named World Series MVP in 1964 and 1967.
Stan "the Man" Musial (OF/1B)- After 22 years as a Cardinal, Stan Musial ranked at or near the top of baseball's all-time lists in almost every batting category. The dead-armed Class C pitcher was transformed into a slugging outfielder who topped the .300 mark 17 times and won seven National League batting titles with his famed corkscrew stance and ringing line drives (.331 lifetime batting average). A three-time MVP, he played in 24 All-Star games. He was nicknamed "The Man" by Dodger fans for the havoc he wrought at Ebbets Field and was but one home run shy of capturing the National League Triple Crown in 1948.
Albert Pujols (OF/1B) - Consistenly referred to as one of the greatest young hitters of all time, Pujols finally won a NL MVP Award after coming so close every year he'd been in league (4th, 2nd, 2nd, and 3rd), the first to win since Willie McGee in 1985. This former unanimous Rookie of the Year endears fans with his humble demeanor and team mindset on top of his prowess with the bat (.331 career batting average). He's having another MVP-caliber season this year and may well be on his way to his first Gold Glove Award at first base. Signed through 2010, if he keeps this up, there's no telling just how great this Cardinal could be.
Ozzie "the Wizard" Smith (SS) - Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” Ozzie Smith combined athletic ability with acrobatic skill to become one of the game’s great defensive shortstops. The 13-time Gold Glove Award winner set major league shortstop records for assists, double plays and total chances. He would develop into an offensive weapon, finishing with over 2,400 hits and 500 stolen bases. His ninth-inning home run won the fifth game of the 1985 National League Championship Series. As Jack Buck said, "Go crazy, folks!"
Write-In Vote: Jay Hanna "Dizzy" Dean (P) - subject of the 1952 movie, The Pride of St. Louis.
Well, these are certainly all outstanding players and it's tough to decide the most outstanding of the oustanding, not to mention other elites in Cardinals history. But, there can be only one ... and that one is Bob Gibson. James would disagree, arguing for Stan "the Man" and I can see why. Like Gibson, Musial was also among the 30 voted by the fans in '99 to the All Century Team. Seen by many as Mr. Cardinal, Musial holds most of the team's records and is its most popular player.
But Gibby was just so dominant and nasty on the mound. I remember reading his book, Ghetto to Glory, and being amazed at his rags to riches story. He was such a great athlete, awesome at fielding his position (9 Gold Gloves) and even a great basketball player. He overcame the segregation and discrimination of his era in the bigs and excelled in a system still reluctant to black players, all the while shining brightest in big games.
How about this for stepping it up on the big stage? In 1967 World Series he went 3-0 with a 1.00 ERA, three complete games and 26 strikeouts as the Cardinals beat the Boston Red Sox, earning him MVP honors. The following year he posted a 1.12 ERA for the season. During one stretch, he surrendered two earned runs over 95 innings! He won the Cy Young Award and NL MVP. So extreme was that 1968 ERA that baseball lowered the mound three inches the following year just to give hitters a chance.
If I could have any pitcher for a big game where I really needed a win, nobody would suffice but Bob Gibson, described by his catcher as lucky.
"He's the luckiest pitcher I ever saw. He always pitches when the other team doesn't score any runs." -Tim McCarver
(FYI - Cardinals All-Stars and Hall of Famers who played for the St. Louis Cardinals)