It’s baseball’s Hall of Fame season, which means we as baseball fans can sit back, relax, and argue about the best of the best to ever play the game.
It’s been a while since we’ve seen a St. Louis Cardinals player enter the Hall of Fame. The last “Cardinal” to enter the hallowed walls was John Smoltz in 2015, who threw all of 38 innings with the club to wrap up his career in 2009. Before him, you have to go back to Bruce Sutter’s induction in 2006. So yeah, we’re waiting for the next one.
It’s been a rough go recently for former Cardinals. Mark McGwire got kicked off the ballot last winter in his final hurrah, while Jim Edmonds failed to make it past his first. David Eckstein, Troy Glaus, and Mark Grudzielanek didn’t either, not that anyone noticed.
This year won’t produce any Cardinals Hall of Famers, as expected. Lee Smith is in his 15th and final try, but will fall short. Larry Walker is in his seventh year on the ballot, swimming around 23 percent of the vote. It’ll take a major push to get him in by year 10, and he won’t go in as a Cardinal anyway. Then you have a couple stragglers: J.D. Drew (zero votes) and Arthur Rhodes (zero). Rhodes pitched for nine teams and threw his fewest innings in St. Louis (8.2, not even a complete game’s worth), but he was a member of the 2011 championship squad, so hooray for making the ballot. Edgar Renteria is the final ex-Cardinal, and he actually managed to snag a vote.
So the next Cardinals Hall of Famer will come from one of the future ballots. Let’s investigate some of the interesting cases.
Chris Carpenter (2018)
Carpenter had some truly standout years, including a Cy Young in 2005, a third-place finish the next year, and another top-two placement in 2009. He was the NL Comeback Player of the Year for that 2009 effort, leading the league in ERA despite missing nearly all of 2007 and 2008. Carpenter also racked up two World Series rings with St. Louis, in 2006 and 2011, almost single-handedly propelling the 2011 run with a string of dominant performances down the stretch and in the playoffs.
But Carpenter was far too injury-prone to gain real consideration for the Hall. He tossed just 2219.1 innings, barely more than Goose Gossage, who was primarily a reliever. The average Hall of Fame pitcher racks up 70 wins above replacement; Carpenter accumulated just about half that. Take a look at this blind comparison:
Pitcher A: 144 W, 2219.1 IP, 3.76 ERA, 3.80 FIP, 1.28 WHIP, 2.7 K/BB, 116 ERA+, 35.5 WAR
Pitcher B: 138 W, 2051.0 IP, 3.88 ERA, 3.78 FIP, 1.23 WHIP, 3.0 K/BB, 111 ERA+, 35.3 WAR
Obviously, you know Pitcher A is Carpenter. Pitcher B? That’s Josh Beckett. The two had remarkably similar career numbers across the board, and were both hampered by injuries. Carpenter simply had too many full years stolen from him (2003, 2007, 2008) to qualify for the Hall. Who knows, maybe if he could have those prime years back, things would be different. Without them, longevity is too much of an issue. Still, Carpenter will forever be in the HOF (hearts of fans) in the Gateway City.
Scott Rolen (2018)
Rolen, I think, will be an intriguing case. At a quick glance, you’ll see that he’s the definition of a borderline candidate. The average Hall of Fame position player has 69 WAR; Rolen has 70. He was a comfortably above-average hitter, slashing .281/.364/.490/.855 (122 OPS+) for his career, including a decade’s worth of seasons with an OPS+ of at least 120.
More interesting, though, is how voters will value his defense. The hot corner is infamously underrepresented in the Hall of Fame, but Rolen played it at a consistently high level. He won eight Gold Gloves–not the best metric, I know, but they were well-deserved. For context, the man had 30 defensive runs saved at third base in 2004. Only Manny Machado in 2013 has had more since.
Rolen also compares favorably with current Hall of Fame third baseman Ron Santo. Take a look:
Rolen: 8518 PA, 316 HR, 1287 RBI, 1211 R, .281/.364/.490/.855, 122 OPS+, 70.0 WAR
Santo: 9397 PA, 342 HR, 1331 RBI, 1138 R, .277/.362/.464/.826, 125 OPS+, 70.4 WAR
Another question to be answered if Rolen does in fact reach Cooperstown: Will he don a Cardinals cap? It’ll come down to Cardinals or Phillies, and he performed freakishly similar with each: .282/.373/.504/.877 (126 OPS+) in Philadelphia, versus .286/.370/.510/.879 (127 OPS+) in St. Louis. He did play one more year in Philly, which explains the home run advantage (150 to 111), but he won a ring in St. Louis and his best season, easily, came with the Cardinals in 2004. That year, he hit career highs in HR (34), RBI (124), AVG (.314), OBP (.409), and SLG (.598), along with the aforementioned defensive brilliance. It was his only season with an OPS over 1.000 and an OPS+ above 150, as he finished fourth in the MVP voting.
Albert Pujols (2027)
Other ex-Cards will hit the ballot before Pujols, but no one between Rolen and Pujols will likely have a realistic shot to go in as a Cardinal. Assuming Pujols plays out his current contract and retires immediately thereafter, 2027 is the earliest he can be inducted and when he will be inducted.
Let’s make this clear: Albert Pujols is a Hall of Famer, even if he retired today. He’ll go in on the first ballot, and he’ll go in as a Cardinal, regardless of what he does over the next few years in Anaheim. He’s not fighting for a spot in the Hall, he’s fighting to keep moving up spots on the all-time greats list. I could spend all day regurgitating stunning Pujols stats, and one day I may. For now, feel free to glance over his Baseball-Reference page and be amazed.
So who will the next Cardinals Hall of Famer be?
We know Pujols will make it. The only realistic shot to beat him to the punch is Rolen. So it comes down to Rolen or Pujols. If Pujols doesn’t retire early, 2027 will be his first (and last) go. For Rolen, who enters the scene next winter, 2027 will be his final ballot, so this could be a race against time. Rolen is a borderline candidate who might need to use up all ten tries if he’s going to get in at all. And then there’s the question of whether he’ll go in as a Cardinal. Given that, it seems that the most likely scenario is that Pujols is the next player to make Cardinal Nation proud, entering the Hall wearing red in 2027.
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