Specifically, only two pitchers cracked our all-time top 14 players and just twelve hurlers placed in the best 40, or 30%. That 70-30 disparity made me wonder if the Cardinals' imbalance is normal for Major League Baseball or if it is unique to this particular franchise.
Since I do not have comparable top 40 lists from other clubs, instead I selected the primary club of each player that has been inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame as the comparison metric.
There are 225 men enshrined in the Hall primarily due to their success on the field. 33 of them played at least some time in a Cardinals uniform, but only 13 spent more time over their careers with St. Louis than any other single club. The other twenty stayed long enough to impress, but not as long as they wore the uniform of at least one other organization.
Ten of those primary 13 Cardinals were position players – Jim Bottomley, Lou Brock, Frankie Frisch, Chick Hafey, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Medwick, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter and Ozzie Smith.
The three Hall of Fame pitchers who spent more of their careers with the Cardinals than any other club are Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson and Jesse Haines.
Now, let's look at the numbers.
Total HOF Pitcher Pit % Pos Plyr Pos Plyr
MLB (excluding primary Cards) 212 67 32% 145 68%
Cards HOF (primary Cards) 13 3 23% 10 77%
Cards HOF (excl. primary Cards) 20 12 60% 8 40%
Cards HOF total 33 15 45% 18 56%
Keeping in mind that 70-30 mix between position players and pitchers, it holds very close when looking at the rest of the Hall of Famers - the ones other than those for whom the Cardinals were their primary club. Of those 212, 68% were position players and 32% were pitchers.
However, as already noted, just three of the 13 primary Cardinals Hall of Famers are pitchers, for a 77%-23% skew. Supporting the theory suspected, the Cardinals have been pitching-light and hitting-heavy in terms of their greatest players of all time.
But, what about the ones that didn't stay as long? Standout pitching performers like Steve Carlton and Bruce Sutter did very well as Cards, but ended up spending more time elsewhere. Looking at that group clearly tells a different story.
A full 60% of the future Hall of Famers who got away from the Cardinals were pitchers, with 40% position players. Contrast that 40-60 with the overall 70-30 mix and the conclusion is clear.
The Cardinals had a significant quantity of Hall of Fame arms at one time or another, but perhaps due to trades and releases (with a bit of free agency worked in), they either didn't hold them as well as they did with position players or they picked up these pitchers near their end of their careers with their best having been delivered elsewhere.
A look at the twelve Hall pitchers who spent some time with the Cardinals, but made their fame elsewhere indicates that the final scenario was most prevalent. For seven of the twelve, the Cardinals were one of their final stops as once-great mound careers wound down.
Career Yrs StL
Mordecai Brown 1903 1903-16
Steve Carlton 1965-71 1965-88
Mid Career Yrs StL Yrs Total
Bruce Sutter 1981-84 1976-88
Hoyt Wilhelm 1957 1952-72
Cy Young 1899-1900 1890-1911
Late Career Yrs StL Yrs Total
Pete Alexander 1926-29 1911-30
Dennis Eckersley 1996-97 1975-98
Pud Galvin 1892 1875-92
Burleigh Grimes 1930-1, 3-4 1916-34
Kid Nichols 1904-05 1890-1906
Dazzy Vance 1933-34 1915-35
Vic Willis 1910 1898-1910
Three pitchers passed through St. Louis during some part of the middle years of their careers - Bruce Sutter, Hoyt Wilhelm and Cy Young. Just two men who could have been considered "future greats" got away very early, traded away only to do most of their damage elsewhere – Mordecai "Three Finger" Brown (Cubs) and Steve Carlton (Phillies).
Now, taking this one step further, we will look at the spread by position, starting with pitchers.
Pitcher HOF LHP LHP%
MLB (excluding primary Cards) 67 15 22% 52 78%
Cards HOF (primary Cards) 3 1 33% 2 67%
Cards HOF (excl. primary Cards) 12 1 8% 11 92%
Excluding the three primary Cardinals, only 22% of the Hall of Fame pitchers were left-handed. The sample size of only three primary Cardinals is too small to draw conclusions, but when also including those Hall of Famers who passed through St. Louis, the Cards' lefty-righty mix looks pretty consistent with all of MLB.
We will move on to position players next. (Note that player positions are as defined by the National Baseball Hall of Fame.)
Plr HOF Catch C% 3B 3B%
MLB (excluding primary Cards) 145 16 11% 13 9% 23 16%
Cards HOF (primary Cards) 10 0 0% 0 0% 0 0%
Cards HOF (excl. primary Cards) 8 1 13% 0 0% 0 0%
These positions have been shut out in terms of Cardinals Hall of Fame representation: catcher, third base and surprisingly, centerfield. In fact, catcher Roger Bresnahan's four seasons from 1909-12 are the only years any future Hall of Famer suited up as a Cardinal at any one of these positions.
Pos Plr HOF
SS SS% RF RF% DH DH %
MLB (excluding primary Cards) 145 21 14% 21 14% 1 1%
Cards HOF (primary Cards) 10 1 10% 1 10% NA NA
Cards HOF (excl. primary Cards) 8 2 25% 0 0% NA NA
Shortstop and right field are two other positions where the Cardinals are not all that well represented, with just one player at each – Ozzie Smith and Enos Slaughter. Two other future Hall shortstops also passed through – Rabbit Maranville and Bobby Wallace.
Pos Plr HOF 1B 1B%
2B 2B% LF LF%
MLB (excluding primary Cards) 145 16 11% 15 10% 15 10%
Cards HOF (primary Cards) 10 1 10% 3 30% 4 40%
Cards HOF (excl. primary Cards) 8 4 50% 0 0% 1 13%
The most plentiful Hall of Fame positions for the Cardinals have been first base, second base and left field. Eight of their ten Hall of Fame position players manned one of these three stations. In addition, five other-than Hall-bound players spent at least some time in St. Louis at these positions.
Their current first baseman just may join Jim Bottomley as the only other Hall of Fame first baseman who spent more time in the Cardinals uniform than any other team.
Note: To read the rest of our now almost 50-part series on the greatest Cardinals of all time, click on this link to be taken to the table of contents.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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