Retired numbers: St. Louis Cardinals

14 ex-Cards have already been honored, but several more deserve consideration

A lone number encapsulates the historic excellence of the St. Louis Cardinals.

Eleven — as in 11 World Series championships, a total surpassed by absolutely no one in the National League and just a single club throughout the majors, the New York Yankees.

It makes perfect sense that such a storied franchise would also set the pace when it comes to honoring its own stars. The Cardinals have retired the uniforms of 14 players, managers, and broadcasters, tying the San Francisco Giants for the NL’s most. Only the Yankees have pulled more jerseys from rotation, 22 in all.

This is the seventh stop in my team-by-team examination of retired numbers, and it’s definitely the busiest to this point. None of the six previous clubs has saluted more than 10 of its historic figures. And a couple of them — the Angels (five uniforms) and the Blue Jays (two) — have been notably stingy.

Not the Cardinals. They’ve ranged far and wide, honoring players who took the field as early as 1915 and as recently as 1996, as well as a manager who didn’t leave the dugout until 2011.

Have any deserving candidates been left off the display on Busch Stadium’s outfield wall?

There aren’t any glaring omissions, though a decent case can be made for a few ex-players. And a pair of current stars — maybe a trio — will almost certainly be honored whenever they decide to retire.

It might make sense for the Cardinals to start clearing some extra space.

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Cardinals’ numbers already retired

Brevity is the rule for my profiles of St. Louis’s honorees, given that there are so many of them. Let’s proceed in numerical order, concluding with a pair of retirees who never wore a number:

No. 1 Ozzie Smith played 19 seasons — the first four in San Diego, the latter 15 in St. Louis (1982-1996). He had no peer as a shortstop, as evidenced by his 13 Gold Gloves. And he wasn’t bad with a bat, rapping 2,460 hits.

No. 2 Red Schoendienst qualified for nine All-Star teams during his 15 years with the Cardinals (1945-1956, 1961-1963). The second baseman finished his career with 2,449 hits. He subsequently managed St. Louis for 14 years (1965-1976, 1980, 1990), winning a World Series title and a second National League pennant along the way.

No. 6 Stan Musial (1941-1944, 1946-1963) was known simply as The Man, and for good reason. The outfielder and first baseman retired 57 years ago, yet he remains the franchise leader in dozens of categories. Among his pacesetting totals: 3,026 games, 1,949 runs, 3,630 hits, 725 doubles, 177 triples, 475 home runs, and 1.951 runs batted in. Whew!

No. 9 Enos Slaughter batted .300 or better in eight of 13 seasons with the Cardinals (1938-1942, 1946-1953), peaking at .336 in 1949. The right fielder was named to 10 All-Star teams.

Three NL pennants and two world titles highlight the St. Louis managerial resumé of No. 10 Tony La Russa, who posted 1,408 wins during his 16 seasons at the helm of the Cardinals (1996-2011).

No. 14 Ken Boyer (1955-1965), who played third base, was unusual in one respect. He was the only St. Louis player to have his number retired despite remaining outside the Hall of Fame. Boyer did earn a Most Valuable Player trophy, winning it in 1964. He later managed the club (1978-1980).

No. 17 Dizzy Dean won only 150 games during his pitching career, including 134 for the Cardinals (1930, 1932-1937). But nobody could match Dean at his peak — 30 wins in 1934, another 28 in 1935 — before he threw out his arm in 1937.

No. 20 Lou Brock stole 888 bases in a St. Louis uniform (1964-1979), which was 339 more than anybody else who played for the Cardinals. The left fielder became one of only 32 batters to qualify for the 3,000-hit club, amassing 3,023 overall — 310 for the Cubs and 2,713 for St. Louis.

He never played for the Cards, but No. 24 Whitey Herzog managed the club for 11 seasons (1980-1990). His clubs won three National League pennants, highlighted by a World Series triumph in 1982.

Relief pitchers are still relatively rare in Cooperstown, but No. 42 Bruce Sutter is among them. His stay in St. Louis was brief — just four (1981-1984) of his 12 seasons. He led the National League in saves during three of his years with the Cards.

Nobody pitched the Cardinals to more victories than No. 45 Bob Gibson, who notched 251 wins during his 17-year career (1959-1975). He earned a pair of Cy Young Awards, as well as an MVP. He also remains the franchise’s strikeout leader with 3,117.

Brewery magnate August Busch Jr., better known as Gussie, had never been much of a baseball fan, but he stepped in to purchase the club when it was in danger of being moved to Milwaukee or Houston in 1953. He retained the franchise until his death in 1989. The club removed No. 85 from its rotation when Busch turned that age in 1984.

Uniform numerals had not become the fashion when Rogers Hornsby starred as a second baseman for the Cardinals (1915-1926), so a numberless jersey was retired in his honor. (He did, however, wear No. 4 during a brief return in 1933.) Hornsby won six batting titles in St. Louis, including three with averages above .400.

The organization’s final honoree, also numberless, was broadcaster Jack Buck, who handled play-by-play duties from 1954 to 1959 and again from 1961 through the 2000 season.

Cardinals’ candidates for retired numbers

Thirty-eight Hall of Famers have played for St. Louis. Several stayed only briefly — John Smoltz for seven appearances, Hoyt Wilhelm for part of a season, Larry Walker for 144 games — but others played prominent roles in the team’s history. A few current players (perhaps bound for Coopestown themselves) will also be worthy of consideration when the time comes.

Here’s a brief rundown of the possibilities:

No. 4 Yadier Molina has played his entire 17-year career with St. Louis (2004-2020). He is one of only six batters to rap more than 2,000 hits for the Cards, and he also earned nine Gold Gloves as a catcher.

No. 5 Albert Pujols blossomed into a superstar as a first baseman for the Cardinals (2001-2011). He won the National League batting title in 2003, as well as three MVPs. Pujols ranks fourth among all Cardinals in wins above replacement (86.6), trailing only Muslal, Hornsby, and Gibson. Only Musial swatted more homers for the Cardinals than Pujols’s 445.

No. 7 Joe Medwick led the National League in RBIs three times during his 11 seasons in St. Louis (1932-1940, 1947-1948) and also won the 1937 batting title at .374. The left fielder’s career batting average of .335 is fifth-best in franchise history.

No. 21 Curt Flood is an iconic figure in baseball, remembered for his legal challenge to the reserve clause, a lawsuit that helped pave the way for free agency. But Flood was also an outstanding center fielder for St. Louis (1958-1969), ranking ninth among all Cardinals in WAR (42.3).

A recently elected member of the Hall of Fame, No. 23 Ted Simmons (1968-1980), ranks eighth in franchise history in WAR (45.0) and second to Pujols among players whose numbers have not been retired. The catcher batted .298 in his 13 seasons in St. Louis.

Seventy home runs. That awesome 1998 total remains on the record of No. 25 Mark McGwire, who subsequently tarnished his accomplishment by admitting to steroid use. McGwire posted a career slugging percentage of .683 during his five seasons in St. Louis (1997-2001), which makes him the franchise leader in that category. 

No. 47 Lee Smith pitched only four seasons in St. Louis (1990-1993), but the same was true of fellow Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter. Smith saved 160 games for the Cards, dwarfing Sutter’s 127.

No. 50 Adam Wainwright has pitched 15 seasons for St. Louis (2005-2010, 2012-2020), posting 167 wins along the way. That total is third in franchise history, and his 1,830 strikeouts are second only to Gibson.

Branch Rickey played for the old St. Louis Browns, though not the Cardinals. He attained fame as general manager of the latter from 1919 to 1942, winning the franchise’s first six pennants and four world titles. Rickey then moved on to Brooklyn, where he broke the color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson.

The outlook

McGwire isn’t going to happen. Nor is Flood. The former will never shake the stigma of steroids. The latter will never be forgiven by the baseball establishment for rocking the boat.

Medwick and Rickey are both deserving, but the Cardinals have had decades to honor their achievements and have (for some reason) decided not to do so.

That leaves two groups. Recent Hall of Famers Simmons and Smith both have decent cases, though not compelling ones. Simmons had the longer history in St. Louis, but his career seems slightly inferior to that of Molina, a fellow catcher.

And that brings us to the second group — the three current players. Pujols appears to be a lock for number retirement — even though he left St. Louis as a free agent — and so does Molina. Wainwright’s numbers aren’t as solid, but he has a chance of joining his contemporaries on the outfield wall one of these days.

That’s why the Cardinals should start clearing some space.

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