The Home Run Derby is coming up and the Cardinals won’t be represented, so let’s have a little fun of our own.
The All-Star Break is fast approaching, and the St. Louis Cardinals haven’t yet hit 100 home runs as a team (they have 97). Their home run leaders are Matt Carpenter with 14 and Dexter Fowler with 13 (Aaron Judge has 29 alone). Ergo, no Cardinal was selected for this year’s Home Run Derby.
But that doesn’t mean that we can’t have a Derby of our own here at Cardsblog. As they say, Cards fans dig the long ball.
First, the ground rules: The field will consist of eight players, just like the actual Derby. They’ll be seeded by their single-season bests in home runs; tie goes to the higher slugging percentage. Then we’ll go head-to-head until we crown the most powerful Redbird of them all. Got it? Good. Off we go.
(1) Mark McGwire vs. (8) Ripper Collins
Jack Clark actually tied Collins with a single-season best 35 home runs for the No. 8 seed, in 23 fewer games no less, but Collins edged him out with a slightly higher SLG. Them’s the breaks.
Anyway, Ripper’s 1934 was the definition of a career year. The dude only played nine seasons, generally pretty well, but that ’34 campaign was quite the standout. He set career highs in, well, everything, en route to a sixth-place MVP finish. Only Lou Gehrig and Jimmie Foxx hit more homers than him that year. Good stuff.
That said, this is a hell of a 1-seed to go up against. Big Mac, who still has his own section named after him in Busch Stadium, only played two full seasons in St. Louis. He put up the two highest single-season home run totals in Cardinals history by a literal mile in home run distance.
This one’s no contest. For Ripper, this Derby is like his 1934: a flash in the pan. Meanwhile, Big Mac gets to keep on feasting.
(2) Albert Pujols vs. (7) Ryan Ludwick
Before you laugh your way off the page, here’s a fun fact: Ludwick’s 37 dingers in 2008 are the most by a lefty-throwing, righty-hitting player in a single season, ever. That’s cool, and something he can hang his hat on.
But yeah, we all know which way this matchup is going. The Machine is one of the exclusive members of the vaunted 600-home run club, and although he didn’t reach the milestone in St. Louis, he did average 40(!) bombs a year in over a decade with the franchise.
That earned him a trio of MVPs, another four second-place finishes, a third-, a fourth- and a fifth-place finish and a ninth-place finish in his 11 years with the club. Seriously. He was unquestionably the league’s best power hitter and best player, period, for over a decade. Pujols marches on.
(3) Johnny Mize vs. (6) Stan Musial
Upset alert! Mize had a fantastic run from 1937 to 1940, posting an OPS+ between 173 and 178 in each of those four seasons. Against any other opponent, that would be a worthy case. But this is Stan the Man we’re talking about. The career Cardinal never hit 40 long ones in a season, but his consistency and durability made him a 20-time consecutive All-Star and beloved in the Lou. Musial’s 475 home runs are tops all-time among Redbirds, and that won’t be changing anytime soon. Stan can keep swingin’ to the semis.
(4) Rogers Hornsby vs. (5) Jim Edmonds
As expected, our closest matchup of the quarterfinals is the 4-5. Both with career home run totals in the 300s, Hornsby and Edmonds each present compelling cases.
At first glance, it may seem like Edmonds has the upper hand. His 393 homers are almost a full century more than Hornsby’s 301, and while both topped out at 42 taters, Edmonds did it twice. Plus, Edmonds hit one of the most memorable shots in Cardinals history:
But go take a look at Hornsby’s Baseball-Reference page. Really, just take a second and do it. Aside from Barry Bonds’s, it’s the most fun sheet on the site. That’s because Hornsby’s page is full of black ink. Edmonds’s, by comparison, has none.
Hornsby led the league in literally everything from 1920 to 1925, slashing .397/.467/.666/1.133, good for a 201 OPS+ over a six-year span. Let that sink in for a moment. Where Edmonds never led the league in any category ever, Hornsby led in slugging nine times. While Edmonds topped out at a 171 OPS+, Hornsby topped that nine times.
Edmonds was a great all-around player, but he’s not the greatest second baseman of all time. Hornsby moves on.
(1) Mark McGwire vs. (4) Rogers Hornsby
Now it gets fun. The question becomes: Do you take McGwire’s incredible peak, or do you take Hornsby’s extended excellence?
Let’s add two points in favor of McGwire: his rookie homer record (49) and his real-life 1992 Derby title. We can also throw in the fact that he participated seven times. Did you know he led the American League field (McGwire, Ken Griffey Jr., Jose Canseco, Cecil Fielder) in 1990? Those guys combined for 1,994 career blasts. McGwire’s leading total that year? One.
But the thing that puts McGwire past Hornsby is just the sheer awe he added to those late-1990s summers. Hornsby hit a career-high 42 homers. McGwire? He did this:
Mark McGwire hit 43 home runs in 81 games from July 2, 1999 to April 8, 2000.
— Fan Fun Facts (@fanfunfacts) July 15, 2016
But seriously, go check out Hornsby’s Baseball-Reference page.
(2) Albert Pujols vs. (6) Stan Musial
You hate to see one of these guys lose, don’t you? They’re probably the two most iconic players to wear the Birds on the Bat. They’re 1-2 all-time in career home runs for St. Louis. It would be wonderful if both could move on.
But unfortunately for Musial, his Cinderella story ends here. While he was a remarkable all-around player, Pujols is the sluggiest of sluggers, and power rules the Derby. Plus, Pujols participated in the actual Derby four times, though he fell just shy each time.
(1) Mark McGwire vs. (2) Albert Pujols
You know the stats.
McGwire’s 1998 was the stuff of legend. He slugged a ridiculous .752, good for an insane .454 isolated power and a 216 OPS+. He was the first man ever to reach 70 home runs in a season. Bonus points for beating rival Cub Sammy Sosa to the chase.
Pujols, meanwhile, never even hit 50 in a season. But he hit a decade’s worth with the Cardinals, more than double that of McGwire. And we’d be remiss not to mention the one off Brad Lidge that’s still orbiting the moon, or the three he hit on that magical World Series night in Texas.
So this comes down to a philosophical debate: the unbelievable peak versus the remarkable longevity.
On one hand, you could argue that the Home Run Derby is a sprint, not a marathon, and McGwire’s case best represents that. But the Derby also comes in rounds, and you have to have something left in the tank for the finals.
McGwire’s 1998 is Josh Hamilton’s opening round in 2008. It was incredible, and the highlight of this tournament. But the Machine’s lasting dominance is key, as he outlasts Big Mac.
Champion: Albert Pujols
There you have it. Machine, Derby, game. Albert Pujols is your Cardsblog Home Run Derby champ, and worthy of the title of most powerful Cardinal. I think Lidge would agree.
Image Credit: Jeffrey Becker-USA TODAY Sports