Cardinals' Top 5 shortstops: Rogers' take

April 21st, 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 shortstop in Cardinals history. Next week: Left fielders.

1. , 1982-96
Key fact: 11-time Gold Glove winner, 14-time All-Star and one-time Silver Slugger winner in 15 years with the Cardinals

Known as “The Wizard of Oz,” sometimes just simply as “The Wizard,” and always for his backflips, Smith combined athletic ability with acrobatic skill and entered the Hall of Fame in 2002 as arguably the greatest defensive shortstop of all time. Smith retired in 1996 -- the same year the Cardinals retired his No. 1 -- after a 19-year MLB career and 15 seasons with St. Louis, where he accumulated a 66 bWAR.

Smith led the league in fielding percentage eight times, and by the time he retired, he set records in most assists (8,375), most double plays (1,590), most total chances accepted (12,624), most years with 500 or more assists (8) and most years leading the league in assists and chances accepted (8).

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

Smith learned how to field by skipping a ball off the front steps of his childhood home in Los Angeles, fielding whatever sharp or quick bounce he could find. His glove got him onto the California Polytechnic State University baseball team and into the pros with the Padres when he debuted in 1978.

In 1982, the Cardinals essentially traded shortstops with the Padres, sending Garry Templeton (see more about him below) to San Diego and welcoming Smith to St. Louis. He immediately made an impact, helping the Cardinals to the 1982 World Series.

His highlight reel was full of spectacular defensive plays: There’s the deep dive into the hole and throw from his knees for a simple 6-3 and the lunging catch followed by a somersault. There’s also the death-defying catch in 1986, when Smith and left fielder Curt Ford were on a collision course when tracking a blooper flared into left field. In mid-flight, Smith shifted, avoided Ford and snagged the ball.

Smith improved at the plate, too, finishing his career with 2,460 hits and 580 stolen bases. He was a key part of the Cardinals’ other two pennants in the ‘80s. In 1985, his signature highlight came with his bat -- the “Go Crazy, Folks!” home run in the 1985 playoffs. And in 1987, he hit .303/.392/.383 with 40 doubles and 75 RBIs and finished second in MVP voting.

“Ozzie Smith is not a uniquely talented person,” Smith said at his Hall of Fame induction speech in 2002. “In fact, he’s no different than any man, woman, boy or girl in this audience today. Ozzie Smith was a boy who decided to look within. A boy who discovered absolutely nothing is good enough if it could be made better. A boy who discovered an old-fashioned formula that would take him beyond the rainbow, beyond even his wildest dream. A boy who discovered a formula that was, and is still today, a mind to dream, a heart to believe and the courage to persevere.”

2. Marty Marion, 1940-50
Key fact: 31.3 bWAR accumulated in 11 years with St. Louis is second all-time among Cardinals shortstops

At 6-foot-2 and 170 pounds, Marion wasn’t the prototypical shortstop, especially in the 1940s. But he anchored the Cardinals' infield in an era that brought four pennants and three World Series titles to St. Louis. During that time, he was the National League’s premier defensive shortstop, and his long legs and arms allowed him to get balls nobody else could reach. Marion led the NL in fielding percentage four times.

An eight-time All-Star, Marion had three top-10 finishes in MVP voting, and he won the award in 1944 when he hit .267/.324/.362 with 135 hits and 63 RBIs, although many claimed it was his defense that gave him the edge. Former Cardinals manager Billy Southworth nicknamed Marion “Mr. Shortstop” for his agile fielding ability and accurate arm.

“I’ve looked at a lot of shortstops in my day,” Hall of Fame manager Connie Mack told The Sporting News in 1944. “But that fellow is the best I’ve ever seen. Of course, Honus [Wagner] was a better hitter, but I don’t think he could cover more ground than Marion.”

3. Edgar Rentería, 1999-2004
Key fact: Won a Gold Glove and Silver Slugger award in 2003, when he had a .975 fielding percentage and hit .330

Acquired from the Marlins in 1999, Rentería was the starting shortstop for the early 2000s and part of the 105-win Cardinals in 2004. Former manager Tony La Russa referred to Rentería as “The Captain,” and he was always among the most respected Cardinals players.

His talent backed that title up, too. In six seasons with the Cardinals, Rentería hit .290/.347/.420, made three All-Star appearances, won both of his Gold Gloves and won three Silver Slugger awards, accumulating 16.7 bWAR. He appeared in four postseasons with the Cardinals, including 2004, when he hit .455 in the NLDS and .333 in the World Series against Boston.

Rentería’s best season was 2003, when he hit .330/.394/.480. His 194 hits were the most by a Cardinals shortstop since Templeton hit 200 in 1977, and Rentería’s 100 RBIs were the most by a Cardinals shortstop since Bobby Wallace’s 108 in 1899.

4. Garry Templeton, 1976-81
Key fact: Last Cardinals shortstop to have 200 hits in a season (had 211 hits in 1979 and 200 in ’77)

Smith became a perennial All-Star and the backbone of multiple pennant winners, but the player he replaced on Whitey Herzog’s Cardinals had dynamic talent, too. In 5 1/2 seasons with the Cardinals, the switch-hitter hit .305, led the NL in triples three consecutive times and stole 128 bases. Templeton had everything -- running speed, bat-to-ball skills, a great arm -- but power.

Templeton debuted in 1976 and was an All-Star in ’77, his first full year in the Majors. That year he finished 13th in MVP voting after hitting .322/.336/.449 and leading all of baseball with 18 triples. He won a Silver Slugger Award in 1980. A number of factors led to Templeton’s trade away from St. Louis, but the dramatic apex was in 1981, when he became vocal about his desire to bat leadoff, his desire to be traded to a California team and his dissatisfaction with his salary. In August, he had to be dragged off the field by Herzog after Templeton made an obscene gesture to the crowd..

5. Dick Groat, 1963-65
Key fact: Finished second in MVP voting in 1963, hitting .319/.377/.450 and accumulating 7.1 bWAR that season

Groat only played three years with the Cardinals. But consider what he did in those three years: He accumulated a 12.4 bWAR, good for seventh on the Cardinals’ all-time shortstop list. He made two All-Star appearances. He ended the 1963 season with career highs in hits (201), doubles (43), triples (11) and RBIs (73). His doubles led all of baseball and he finished second in MVP voting to Sandy Koufax.

In 1964, Groat was the linchpin of the World Series champions. He hit .292, drove in 70 runs and hit 35 doubles. He hit two doubles and scored twice in the Cardinals’ win over the Mets to clinch the pennant. In Game 4 of the World Series, Groat and pitcher Roger Craig picked off Mickey Mantle at second base to help push the Cardinals to a 4-3 win.

Honorable mention
David Eckstein hit .364/.391/.500 to become the 2006 World Series MVP. In three seasons with St. Louis, Eckstein hit .297 and made two All-Star games. … Paul DeJong broke the home run record for a Cardinals shortstop with 25 in 2017, and then he broke his own record in ’19 with 30 home runs. In three seasons, DeJong has accumulated 11.7 bWAR. … Solly Hemus hit .273/.390/.411 in 11 seasons with the Cardinals, and his 21.9 bWAR ranks third on the Cardinals' all-time shortstop list. … Pete Kozma’s two-run single with two outs in the ninth inning capped the improbable Cardinals comeback in Game 5 of the 2012 NL Division Series against Washington, prompting boos from Nationals fans for several years. … Rafael Furcal coined the term “Happy Flight” in the Cardinals’ 2011 World Series run and hit .262/.323/.367 in 1 1/2 years with the Cardinals.