In Part Four of our mini-series, we look at the defense on the Top 15 St. Louis Cardinals Teams of All-Time, again remembering that there were no Gold Glove awards prior to 1955. I don’t have access to the more advanced fielding metrics that might tell me who the top defensive players really were prior to 1957, so I’ll have to be a bit subjective in dealing with the defensive ability of players from the teams from 1926 to 1946.
Starting with our top-ranked team and working down:
1942: Shortstop Marty Marion (right), of course, was the class of the NL and infielder Jimmy Brown was apparently a superior defensive player as well, getting mentioned on the MVP ballot despite hitting just .256. Splitting his time between second and third base, he still batted 606 times. The rookie Musial had good speed in the outfield but not much of an arm (which is why he gave up pitching!). Slaughter was a good outfielder but I don’t know if he was Gold Glove-level.
1944: Marion and outfielder Johnny Hopp appear to have been their outstanding defensive players that year. Marty, in fact, may be the only player to win an MVP award strictly for his defensive ability. Ozzie Smith never won the MVP (although he should have in 1987) and other Gold Glove Award winners who won MVP’s (Ken Boyer, Bob Gibson, etc.) won the MVP for reasons other than their fielding. Boyer led the league in RBI in 1964; Gibson led the league in *everything* in 1968.
1931: Guessing Sparky Adams as their only really good defensive player; Frank Frisch was pretty good at second base, but was already beginning to lose his range by 1931.
1967: One of the top defensive teams in Cards history, but only two Gold Gloves (Bob Gibson and Curt Flood) to show for it. However, Dal Maxvill and Julian Javier were probably the top double play combo in the NL that year and Roger Maris, despite his injuries, was among the top defensive right fielders in the league. Tim McCarver didn’t have much of an arm behind the plate, but was a solid backstop who blocked the plate well.
2004: Mike Matheny, Scott Rolen, and Jim Edmonds won Gold Gloves. Albert Pujols should have. Edgar Renteria had won in 2003 but lost out in 2004 to a fellow named Cesar Izturis!
1946: Marty Marion, of course, at shortstop was still without peer. Red Schoendienst, in his first year at second base (he was originally a shortstop in the minors) did well, as did rookie catcher Joe Garagiola, who before his 1950 injury was one of the better defensive catchers in the game.
1934: Leo Durocher (right) was, almost by acclimation, the best-fielding shortstop in the majors from 1929 to 1937, and would have certainly won a Gold Glove in 1934 had the award existed. Bill DeLancey established himself that year as the best young catcher in the game, but sadly, tuberculosis would rob him of his promising career. The other players were more enthusiastic than they were skilled on defense.
1968: Gold Gloves for Bob Gibson, Dal Maxvill, and Curt Flood. Roger Maris, in his final year in the game, was still solid in right field. Julian Javier was still the best defensive second baseman in the game – yes, better than Bill Mazeroski.
1943: Ray Sanders was better-enough defensively at first base to move Johnny Hopp to the outfield, but I don’t know how good he really was at first base. Marty Marion, of course, was still class of the NL at short.
1964: Gold Gloves for Bill White, Bobby Shantz (who the Cards traded to the Cubs in mid-season) and Curt Flood. A correction to what I stated earlier – Ken Boyer did not win the Gold Glove at third base in his MVP season; the GG went to that Santo character in Chicago that year. Julian Javier was just establishing himself as a top defensive player at second base; ironically, it was Maxvill who played second in the 1964 World Series as Joolie was hurt.
1926: Bob O’Farrell (right) was probably the best defensive catcher in the NL that season, and he won the MVP. Tommy Thevenow had a reputation as a good defensive shortstop but made 45 errors. (Remember, though, gloves were a lot smaller back then.) And I have to mention that Rogers Hornsby may have been the worst defensive second baseman in baseball by that point in his career.
1982: Gold Gloves for Ozzie Smith and Keith Hernandez. George Hendrick was an outstanding defensive player, although like Juan Encarnacion, he could be a bit lackadaisical in right field. Tommy Herr was just establishing himself as a good defensive second baseman, and Willie McGee was doing likewise in centerfield. Darrell Porter was still solid behind the plate although he didn’t have much of an arm by that point in his career. Andujar was more flamboyant than solid on defense from the pitcher’s mound.
1985: Gold Gloves for Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee. Tom Herr and Terry Pendleton were probably the top defensive second and third basemen in the game, but Herr was blocked out of the GG by the overrated Ryne Sandberg, while Pendleton never won GG’s in the years he didn’t hit. Now tell me what hitting has to do with winning a Gold Glove – that’s one of my baseball pet peeves.
2005: Mike Matheny (right) and Jim Edmonds won Gold Gloves. Rolen missed too much time due to injury to win. Again, Albert Pujols had established himself by that point as the best defensive first baseman in the game, but couldn’t get past guys like Todd Helton and Derrek Lee in the voting. That would fix itself in 2006, but not 2007. Rookie Yadier Molina was already impressing people with his defensive abilities, and the Cards would make him their full-time catcher in 2006.
2002: Gold Gloves for Fernando Vina, Edgar Renteria, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds. Larry Walker also won a Gold Glove but didn’t join the Cards until 2004. Tino Martinez was still a very good defensive first baseman, and Mike Matheny got rooked out of a Gold Glove by the nowhere-near-as-good Brad Ausmus.
The surprise here is that I can’t see the 1942 team as a great defensive team, but perhaps longer-term observers can set me straight here; likewise, the 1931 and 1926 team. To my mind, the 1967, 1964, 1982, 1985, 2005, and 2002 teams were truly superior defensive teams; I’d rate the 1985 team as perhaps the best of the bunch.
Note: To reference our entire list of Top 15 Cardinals Teams of All-Time and read about each individual club, click here.
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