Here’s the second post in my ongoing series covering MLB’s Franchise Four initiative. After covering the Yankees and Red Sox last week, I’m going to look at the four greatest players for two of the Senior Circuit’s oldest clubs: my St. Louis Cardinals and their rivals, the Chicago Cubs.
St. Louis Cardinals Franchise Four
This is ridiculously impossible. I mean, look at this list:
- Stan Musial
- Lou Brock
- Dizzy Dean
- Rogers Hornsby
- Bob Gibson
- Albert Pujols
- Ozzie Smith
- Red Schoendienst
I was in St. Louis a few weeks ago when they honored Red Schoendienst’s lifetime contributions to the franchise. The guys is absolutely a Cardinals icon. But he’s the one of the eight with the weakest body of work as a player. The other seven, however, have legitimate claims to the honor. This is going to be tough.
Here are my four greatest Cardinals:
- Stan Musial. The greatest Cardinal ever. No contest.
- Bob Gibson. A lifelong Cardinal with 251 wins. A sign of Gibson’s dominance: after the 1968 season, MLB lowered the mound by 5 inches and decreased the size of the strike zone in a move that has since been called “the Gibson rules.” Yeah, he’s gonna be on this list.
- Lou Brock. Hall of Fame leadoff man retired with the most stolen bases in major league history. For 30 years, has been involved in charitable and civic work in the greater St. Louis area. No way can you leave him off this list.
- This one hurts. You could make a case for Dean, although his final numbers aren’t quite as strong as some others. You could also make a legitimate case for Hornsby, whose best seasons were in St. Louis, although he spent many years in the back half of his career playing for other clubs. But for me, this one comes down to Ozzie and Albert. Pujols was the dominant hitter in the majors for the better part of a decade and a key member of two championship Cardinal squads. And his ongoing work in the community is certainly laudable. But I’m going with Ozzie Smith, if for no other reason than this: Ozzie is the reason I’m a Cardinals fan. Smith is easily the most iconic player from the Cardinals 80’s salad days when I came of age as a baseball fan. Although he eventually worked himself into a pesky offensive player, the Wizard will always be known for his Gold Glove defense. You can have your three-run homer; I’ll take Ozzie’s backhand-from-the-hole, acrobatic-throw-on-a-line all day long.
I’m not sure how the voting will pan out in this one. I’m thinking Lou might be left off of the casual fan’s ballot in place of Pujols, but who knows.
Chicago Cubs Franchise Four
For all their ineptitude, the Cubs have a nice list of all-time greats to choose from:
- Ryne Sandberg
- Sammy Sosa
- Ernie Banks
- Ron Santo
- Fergie Jenkins
- Billy Williams
- Gabby Hartnett
- Three-Finger Brown
Here’s the way I approach a list like this: I’m looking for all-time greats for that particular franchise. Case in point: Fergie Jenkins has some great career numbers. But I can’t include him as one of the four greatest Cubs because he spent an entire decade pitching for other clubs. Same reason I didn’t put Hornsby in as one of the Cards Franchise Four.
That being said, here’s my ballot for the greatest Cubs:
- Ernie Banks. There are a couple of slam dunks on every club. Banks epitomized the moniker “Mr. Cub.” An all-time great.
- Ryne Sandberg. According to Bill James, Sandberg ranks as the 7th best 2B in baseball history. And to think, he could’ve been a Phillie.
- Gabby Hartnett. Nobody remembers Hartnett, but he was a fantastic catcher in the 20s and 30s. He probably won’t make the final vote (I’m sure he’ll be edged out by Sosa), but he absolutely deserves to be mentioned here.
- Ron Santo. James sees Santo as the 6th greatest 3B ever, ahead of fellow Hall of Famers Paul Molitor and Brooks Robinson.
In the final vote, Sosa will be there over Hartnett, which is kind of a shame. But what do I care? It’s the Cubs.