Almost exactly one year after he disclosed an interest in trying to address the St. Louis Cardinals organization’s growing retired number challenge, team president Bill DeWitt III has announced future plans for at least a partial solution.
A Cardinals Hall of Fame will be created and its “timing will coincide” with the re-opening of the Cardinals museum, the executive said on Monday during the team’s annual Winter Warm-Up fan festival.
|Bill DeWitt III|
There is no firm date, however. Plans are firmly stuck in neutral due to the numerous delays in the Ballpark Village development project. DeWitt estimates completion of phase one, of which this will be a part, is at best two years away.
As he did the year prior at Winter Warm-Up, DeWitt emphasized the very important need to “reevaluate the metrics for recognition,” but now has a clearer view of what he would like the end result to be. He noted the new Hall of Fame will allow the Cardinals to “expand the number of people” formally recognized by the organization.
DeWitt specifically noted this approach will allow them to acknowledge contributions of important past Cardinals, citing Willie McGee and Jim Edmonds as examples. The former was once the subject of a fan-driven petition drive to try to convince the club to retire his number 51. McGee and Edmonds are recent fan favorites, but McGee has fallen far short of Baseball Hall of Fame consideration. Edmonds is not yet eligible.
The club already has granted retired number recognition to 13 individuals, including two non-uniformed greats, broadcaster Jack Buck and owner Gussie Busch along with player/manager Rogers Hornsby, who was active prior to the regular use of numbers on uniforms. As such, 10 Cardinals numbers have been taken out of service, the second most in baseball, a total that was increased by two in recent years.
In a way like Ballpark Village, several other numbers remain in indefinite limbo, stuck in the gray area short of true retired number status. They include McGee’s number 51 and the late Darryl Kile’s 57. Perhaps these could be freed up if/when the players enter the proposed team Hall of Fame.
There are many more very important Cardinals from distant years past already in Baseball’s Hall of Fame but not yet properly recognized by the organization.
In fact, DeWitt’s disclosure was introduced by a question from the floor about 1920’s star first baseman “Sunny” Jim Bottomley, one of a number of Baseball Hall of Famers whose Cardinals numbers were not retired by their primary major league club.
|Hall of Famer Jim Bottomley|
With the institution of a team Hall of Fame, many of these important individuals can finally be properly remembered. Other prominent possibilities include ex-player Joe “Ducky” Medwick and player/manager Frankie Frisch, trail-blazing executive Branch Rickey and past owner Sam Breadon. All already have plaques in Cooperstown with the exception of Breadon.
Under the current ownership group, the Cardinals have focused on what one might call “low-hanging fruit,” simply retiring the numbers of living Cardinals as they are inducted into Baseball’s Hall of Fame. This practice was obviously not followed in the past given the difference between the greater quantity of Cardinals in Cooperstown and the fewer with numbers retired by St. Louis.
The most recent additions to team retired number status are the number 42 of Bruce Sutter, retired in 2006 (also taken out of service across MLB for Jackie Robinson) and the 24 worn by former manager Whitey Herzog, retired this past summer. Yet their three-time pennant-winning and two-time World Series-winning manager from the 1940’s, Billy Southworth, was virtually ignored by the Cardinals following his 2008 Cooperstown indication.
The team’s museum, formerly located in the now-shuttered International Bowling Museum Hall of Fame building, has been closed since 2008. Though small parts of the extensive collections have appeared in several St. Louis locations on a temporary basis, the majority remains locked away in storage.
Like Ballpark Village, the words are promising, but without real dates, the Cardinals Hall of Fame plans will remain just that for an indefinite period.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org. Also catch his Cardinals commentary daily at The Cardinal Nation blog. Follow Brian on Twitter.
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