Caitlin Roche | May 3rd, 2020
In the hypothetical erection of The St. Louis Cardinals Mount Rushmore (which in my head are just giant busts super glued to the peak of the arch), four players have cemented their names at the top of record books and on the hearts of nearly every St. Louis Cardinals fan.
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Through their skill, dedication to the city, and love for the game, they truly embraced what it means to be a Cardinal. Leaving a mark like very few have, Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Albert Pujols, and Ozzie Smith have set the gold standard in Cardinal Nation. Here’s why:
Stan Musial (1B and LF)
In 1941, at the age of 20, Stan Musial took the field for the Cardinals for the first time. He played 22 seasons with the Birds on the Bat across his chest, never putting on another team’s uniform. Throughout his career, he was MVP of the league three times, appeared in the All-Star Game 24 times (only behind Hank Aaron (25) and tied with Willie Mays (24), won the Batting Title seven times, and punched his ticket to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Musial’s career stats place him high on various leader boards: Seventh in offensive WAR (124.8), sixth in games played (3,026), fourth in hits (3,630), and third in doubles (725).
Embracing his nickname, “Stan the Man” was arguably the greatest player to put on a Cardinals uniform. He was known for his sportsmanship and dedication to the community, which ultimately led to the creation of The Musial Awards in 2005. The Awards honor “the greatest moments of sportsmanship and the biggest names in sports who embody class and character” each year. St. Louis fans of all ages love Musial for the player he was, and will continue to love him as they pass his 18-foot statue, towering over Gate Three every home game.
Bob Gibson (P)
Wearing the Cardinals uniform from 1959 to 1975, Bob Gibson never suited up for another team. Throughout his years in St. Louis, he was a two-time Cy Young winner, a two-time World Series MVP, a nine-time Gold Glove winner, and pitched his way into the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. “Gibby” is known by Cardinals fans as “The Complete Gamer”, completing 255 games in his 17 seasons. His 56 career shutouts are the 13th most by any pitcher and his 3,117 career strikeouts are the 14th most by any pitcher.
In 1968, his most successful season, Gibson threw 28 complete games with a record of 22-9, all while posting a 1.12 ERA (yes, you read that right). Gibson threw hard and brought a competitive edge to the game. He had a way of electrifying the fans, bringing a “won’t-lose” attitude to the field every time he played. Today, it’s nearly impossible to walk more than 10 feet into Busch Stadium without seeing the back of a Cardinals fans’ jersey painted with No. 45.
Albert Pujols (1B)
Beginning his career in St. Louis in 2001, Albert Pujols made an immediate impact and didn’t stop making an impact until his final at-bat in the 2011 World Series. Throughout his time in St. Louis, Pujols was Rookie of the Year, a three-time MVP, a nine-time All-Star, and led the Birds to three World Series appearances, bringing home the title twice. Following the 2011 season, Pujols signed a massive contract with the Los Angeles Angels. While his career numbers include his time in L.A., they are still noteworthy. Currently, Pujols ranks fifteenth in hits, seventh in doubles, fifth in total bases, fourth in runs batted in, fifth in extra-base hits, and sixth in home runs.
Nicknamed “The Machine”, Pujols has lived up to his name, cranking out some of the most impressive hitting statistics Major League Baseball has ever seen. Cardinals fans loved him during his tenure in St. Louis, however, Pujols became a very controversial topic after signing with the Angels. Fans called him a sellout and were hurt when he passed up the opportunity to remain a Cardinal for a larger contract in L.A. In his return to St. Louis, eight years later, Cardinals fans proved that time heals all wounds, giving The Machine a standing ovation every single time he came to the plate. They even offered a curtain call after Pujols, a visiting player, lifted a towering home run into left field, reminding him that St. Louis will always be home.
Ozzie Smith (SS)
Starting his career with the San Diego Padres in 1978 and moving to St. Louis in 1982, Ozzie Smith played 19 seasons in the MLB, 15 with the Cardinals. Throughout his career, Smith racked up 15 All-Star games (14 as a Cardinal), 13 Gold Gloves, a 1982 World Series title, and a trip to the Major League Baseball Hall of Fame. Known for his defense and speed, Smith tops the all-time charts, placing first in defensive WAR, second in double plays turned by a shortstop, and 22nd in stolen bases.
“The Wizard of Oz” stood out from his teammates when taking the field each opening day by backflipping into position, quickly making the flip his signature move. Smith was arguably the best shortstop to play in St. Louis and fans haven’t forgotten it. His powder blue jersey, marked with a “one”, speckles the sea of red every home game. Smith is still a predominant face around Busch Stadium on game days; interviewing players, chatting with fans, and taking in the views. The Wizard of Oz loves being a Cardinal as much as Cardinal fans loved watching him play.
A St. Louis Cardinals Mount Rushmore would not be complete without Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Albert Pujols, and Ozzie Smith. However, limiting the list to just four wouldn’t be entirely fair. St. Louis has a rich team history with many beloved players that have helped to shape the team into what it is today. Therefore, it is only right to include a list of honorable mentions. Players like Lou Brock, Red Schoendienst, Yadier Molina, Willie McGee, Mark McGwire (highly debatable), and Curt Flood all wore the Birds on the Bat well. Not forgetting to mention other Cardinals legends like Mike Shannon, Tony LaRussa, Whitey Herzog, and Jack Buck, who effortlessly sketched their names onto the heart of St. Louis. If there is one key take-away from this article, it’s that St. Louis knows how to love the guys in a Cardinals uniform.
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Main Credit Image: Embed from Getty Images