Cardinals' Top 5 center fielders: Rogers' take

May 5th, 2020

No one loves a good debate quite like baseball fans, and with that in mind, we asked each of our beat reporters to rank the top five players by position in the history of their franchise, based on their career while playing for that club. These rankings are for fun and debate purposes only … if you don’t agree with the order, participate in the Twitter poll to vote for your favorite at this position.

Here is Anne Rogers’ ranking of the Top 5 center fielders in Cardinals history. Next week: Right fielders.

Cardinals All-Time Around the Horn Team: C | 1B | 2B | 3B | SS | LF

1. , 2000-07
Key fact: Fourth on the Cardinals’ all-time home run list with 241 in eight years with St. Louis

Edmonds has elements of those that follow him on this list, the best combination of production and range to man center field regularly -- a position that has been remarkably stable in St. Louis over the years. The top five on this list all played over 1,000 games for the Cardinals, and from 1982-2007 -- 25 seasons and almost 4,000 games -- essentially three players manned center field.

Edmonds is the best in a signature group.

The dazzling center fielder made his name first with his glove, putting together a highlight reel of spectacular catches that led to eight Gold Gloves in his 17-year career. He broke out offensively in 1994 with the California Angels, but when he was traded to the Cardinals in 2000, there were questions about his health. The chance the Cardinals took paid off almost immediately, and it was the first move of one of the most prosperous eras for the organization. Edmonds had a career year in 2000, posting a .994 OPS with 42 home runs, winning his third Gold Glove and finishing fourth in National League MVP voting.

Edmonds drove in 100 runs in three of his eight seasons with the Cardinals, averaged 30 homers per season, won six consecutive Gold Gloves and accumulated 37.9 WAR, according to Baseball Reference. From 2000-05, Edmonds hit .292/.406/.585 and averaged 35 home runs and 98 RBIs. The four-time All-Star finished fifth in NL MVP voting in 2004 and helped the Cardinals to a World Series title in '06. St. Louis didn't win more than 87 games in any of the 12 seasons prior to Edmonds’ arrival, but the club averaged more than 92 wins during his eight-year stay. He also emerged as a leader in one of the most successful eras in club history.

Those eight years are epitomized by two moments on two consecutive nights in the 2004 NL Championship Series. In the 12th inning of Game 6, his no-doubt homer, with his signature uppercut swing, won the game and forced Game 7. The next night, his sprinting, diving catch of Brad Ausmus’ line drive in the second inning put the Cardinals in position to win the pennant on Scott Rolen’s home run off Roger Clemens.

“The big game never scared Jim,” former manager Tony La Russa said. “He embraced it. And that’s a huge thing.”

2. Curt Flood, 1958-69
Key fact: Leads all Cardinals center fielders with 42.3 WAR in 12 seasons with St. Louis

Flood is best remembered for refusing a trade to Philadelphia in 1969, which eventually became the spark for what is now free agency. What tends to be lost in his legacy as a trailblazer is what a talented player Flood was. The speedy center fielder became a catalyst for Cardinals teams of the 1960s.

A three-time All-Star, Flood hit .293 in 12 seasons with the Cardinals and better than .300 six times, including 1964, when he hit .311 and led the league in hits with 211. In 1968, he finished fourth in MVP voting after hitting .301. The next year, he won his seventh consecutive Gold Glove.

Bob Gibson once said that Flood trailed only Willie Mays among center fielders -- not so much in arm strength but in range and going after a ball. Flood appeared in three World Series with the Cardinals and won two rings.

“He just went about his business,” former Cardinals player and manager Red Schoendienst said when Flood was inducted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2015. “He knew how to win. … He was everything you’d want. Just put him in there. He wasn’t nearly as flashy as some of them. He didn’t play that way. He caught the ball, threw his glove down, picked up his bat ... and got a hit.”

3. Willie McGee, 1982-89, 1996-99
Key fact: Won the 1985 NL MVP Award and batting title by hitting .353, with a league-leading 216 hits and 18 triples

One of the most beloved Cardinals ever, McGee won three Gold Gloves, appeared in four All-Star Games and won two league batting titles with St. Louis (1985, ’90), the second awarded after he was traded to the A's following 125 games with the Cards that season. In 13 years with the Cardinals, McGee hit .294/.329/.400 and was a piston on three pennant winners in the 1980s. He was a World Series hero in '82, when the rookie homered twice and stole two home runs with gravity-defying catches in Game 3 against Milwaukee.

In 1983, his first full season, he hit .286, went to his first All-Star Game and won his first Gold Glove. His best season was his MVP season, when he hit .353/.384/.503 with 82 RBIs, 56 stolen bases and an .887 OPS. McGee’s 301 stolen bases as a Cardinal rank fourth on the club’s all-time list.

The soft-spoken outfielder is one of the most treasured personalities in Cardinals history, and when he returned to the Cardinals for a second stint in 1996, he started to receive ovations for every at-bat he took. It was nothing short of a revival -- McGee hit .307 for a playoff-bound team.

4. Ray Lankford, 1990-2000, 2004
Key fact: Hit a franchise-best 123 home runs at Busch Stadium II. He homered in the final at-bat of his career.

Lankford accumulated 37.7 WAR in his 13 seasons with the Cardinals and hit .273/.365/.481 in 1,580 games with St. Louis. His .846 OPS speaks to his power and his ability to consistently get on base, and his stolen-base ability was an added bonus. He’s the only player in franchise history with at least 200 stolen bases and 200 home runs for the team.

Twice, Lankford hit more than 30 home runs. Twice, he stole more than 40 bases. He scored more than 90 runs three times, and he drove in more than 90 twice. Despite finishing third in NL Rookie of the Year Award voting in 1990 and receiving NL MVP votes in two separate years, Lankford only made one All-Star team. He won one Gold Glove. He also played most of his career during a down phase for the Cardinals -- he only played for two playoff teams (1996 and 2000) before he was traded to the Padres in 2001.

But solid, above-average, consistent production over 10 years puts him on this list.

5. Terry Moore, 1935-48
Key fact: Captain of the Cardinals through the 1942 and ’46 World Series

Moore set the standard of consistency and started the lineage of center fielders that precede him on this list. Many years before Gold Gloves were awarded, Moore was widely regarded as one of the finest defensive center fielders of his time, a magician in the outfield who always ran fast and always played hard -- a style that contributed to injuries.

A four-time All-Star, Moore hit .280/.340/.399 and played 1,298 in 11 seasons with the Cardinals. He missed three years at the peak of his career to serve in World War II, but he bridged the Gashouse Gang in the 1930s to The Swifties of the 1940s. Manager Billy Southworth named Moore captain of the Cardinals in 1941, recognizing his teammates looked up to him as their leader.

Honorable mention
Taylor Douthit hit .300 over nine years for the Cardinals and helped St. Louis win its first World Series title in 1926. … hit .287 with a .354 on-base percentage in six years with the Cardinals, accumulating 11.1 WAR, seventh among center fielders on the club’s all-time list. ... became the second player in big league history (Babe Ruth) with 10 career wins as a pitcher to hit 10 home runs as a position player when he made the switch to center field in 2005.