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Cardinals' Top 5 third basemen: Rogers' take

@anne__rogers
April 13, 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

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 third basemen in Cardinals history. Next week: Shortstop.

Cardinals All-Time Around the Horn Team: Catchers | First basemen | Second basemen

1. Ken Boyer, 1955-65
Key fact: 1964 NL MVP Award winner hitting .295 with 100 runs scored, 24 home runs and an MLB-leading 119 RBIs

Boyer’s place in Cardinals history is best described by his nickname: "The Captain." The cornerstone, key contributor and steady presence of the 1960s Cardinals, Boyer accumulated a 58.1 bWAR in 11 seasons with St. Louis, was the starting third baseman on the '64 World Series championship team, winning the National League MVP Award that season. He won all five of his Gold Glove Awards with the Cardinals and is often considered one of the finest gloves ever at third base.

Boyer was born in Liberty, Mo., and became a high school star in Alba. He signed with the Cardinals in 1949 as a pitcher, but during one game in his second Minor League season, the club's third baseman got injured. Boyer took over at the position, showed his hitting talent and never pitched again. He debuted in '55 and made his first of 11 All-Star teams in '56. He’s the only Cardinal in history to have hit for the cycle twice ('61 and '64). In '58, he hit .307, the first of four consecutive seasons with at least a .300 average.

In Game 4 of the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, Boyer hit a sixth-inning grand slam to rally the Cardinals from a 3-0 deficit to a 4-3 win. Boyer and the Cardinals beat the Yankees and their third baseman, Ken’s brother, Clete, in seven games that year.

Boyer was traded to the Mets in 1965, but he returned to the Cardinals as a coach and Minor League manager in the 1970s, taking over the big league club from '78 until part way through '80. He died of lung cancer at age 51 in '82, and when the Cardinals retired his No. 14 two years later, Boyer became the only non-Hall of Famer to have his number hanging on the left-field wall of Busch Stadium. Fifty-five years after he left the Cardinals, Boyer still ranks third in home runs (255), sixth in RBIs (1,001) and ninth in hits (1,855) in the franchise’s record books.

"[Boyer] wasn't a guy for show, at all," Mike Shannon, Boyer’s eventual successor at third base, told Rick Hummel of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch in 2009. "He wasn't flashy. Everything he did, he did smooth. He just did the job. And if you look up his stats, those are pretty good stats. He was like the Clydesdale of third basemen. He was a great big, strong guy who had a lot of grace. He was the prototype third baseman."

2. Scott Rolen, 2002-07
Key fact: Accumulated 25.9 WAR in five and a half seasons with the Cardinals

Rolen was part of the backbone of one of the most successful eras in team history, from the juggernaut teams of 2004-05 that won 205 total games to the '06 World Series team. After the Cardinals acquired the slugger and elite defender from the Phillies during the '02 season, Rolen went on to be a four-time Gold Glove Award winner, four-time All-Star, Silver Slugger Award winner alongside a .286/.370/.510 slash line as a Cardinal. He was elected to the Cardinals Hall of Fame last summer and received 35.3 percent of votes cast on this year’s BBWAA Hall of Fame ballot in his third year of eligibility.

In 2004, Rolen slashed .314/.409/.598 with 34 home runs and 124 RBIs. He was part of the “MV3” with Albert Pujols and Jim Edmonds that year, when all three finished top five in the NL MVP Award voting. Rolen finished fourth in voting, the highest mark of his 17-year career.

Rolen solidified his place in team history with his pennant-clinching, two-run home run in Game 7 of the 2004 NL Championship Series against the Astros. After Edmonds’ incredible run-saving catch in the second inning to stay within striking distance, Pujols tied the game with a double off seven-time Cy Young winner Roger Clemens in the sixth. One pitch later, Rolen delivered the winning runs off Clemens that sent the Cardinals to their first World Series in 17 years.

3. Matt Carpenter, 2011-present
Key fact: Had one of the best single-game performances in franchise history on July 20, 2018, against the Cubs

In nine years so far with St. Louis, Carpenter has hit .269/.372/.462 and accumulated 28.3 WAR, second only to Boyer among Cards third basemen. Drafted in the 13th round of the 2009 MLB Draft out of Texas Christian University, Carpenter emerged in the Majors as a utility man, playing first, second, third base and the outfield. A three-time All-Star, Carpenter has had three top-15 finishes in NL MVP Award voting, finishing as high as fourth in '13, when he hit .318/.392/.481 and led baseball in runs (126), hits (199) and doubles (55). Carpenter finished ninth in '18 MVP voting after a second-half surge.

The peak of that surge in 2018 came in late July at Wrigley Field. Carpenter became the first player in Cardinals history -- and only the second in Major League history -- to hit three home runs and two doubles in a game. He started that game by tying Lou Brock’s franchise record with his 21st career leadoff home run, and his 16 total bases that day were a record for a leadoff batter. Carpenter is the 11th player in the past 115 years to tally five extra-base hits in a game (the first Cardinal to do it) and the first to do so from the leadoff spot.

4. Whitey Kurowski, 1941-49
Key fact: Three-time World Series champ and five-time All-Star

Kurowski was integral to a Cardinals dynasty that brought World Series titles to St. Louis in 1942, '44 and '46. Part of the wave of young stars who emerged from the organization’s farm system in the early 1940s, Kurowski had his first full season in '42 with Stan Musial. The two helped drive the Cardinals to an NL pennant and World Series triumph over the Yankees.

In the deciding Game 5, Kurowski hit a home run off future Hall of Famer Red Ruffing in the top of the ninth to break the 2-2 tie and win the World Series.

Kurowski -- who played his entire nine-year career with the Cardinals and accumulated a 24.5 WAR -- quickly established himself as one of the finest third basemen in baseball. He’s often underrated because he played during World War II -- he was ineligible for military service -- but he had his best season when players returned in 1947: a .310/.420/.544 slash line with a career-high 27 home runs and 104 RBIs. From '43-47, Kurowski finished among the top 10 in the league in home runs each season, and from '45-47, he finished in the top 10 in batting average, on-base percentage, slugging percentage, total bases and RBIs each season. His 24.5 WAR ranks fourth on the Cardinals’ all-time third basemen list.

5. Ken Oberkfell, 1977-84
Key fact: Led the NL in fielding percentage at third base in 1982 (.972) and '83 (.960)

Oberkfell produced at the plate with such a steady cadence that his average ranged from no lower than .289 to no higher than .303 in the five full seasons he spent with the Cardinals. He walked more than he struck out, and his defense was solid, too, sharing the infield with Ozzie Smith, Tom Herr and Keith Hernandez. Oberkfell was often criticized for not having power -- he only hit 11 home runs over eight years in St. Louis -- but his contact-oriented approach fit right in with the philosophy of the 1980s Cardinals and manager Whitey Herzog.

Oberkfell hit .292 in the 1982 World Series, which the Cardinals won over Milwaukee in a thrilling seven-game series. He accumulated a 17.1 WAR in St. Louis, ranking fifth among third basemen on the Cardinals' all-time list.

Honorable mentions
• With Boyer manning third, Mike Shannon arrived in the Majors as an outfielder in his first full season in 1964 and was a rookie sparkplug for the team, with 43 RBIs and nine home runs in 88 games. He homered off Yankees great Whitey Ford in the World Series to help the Cardinals to victory. Later becoming the starting third baseman, Shannon, a native of St. Louis and local high school star, started every game in the three World Series he played, and he homered in each series.

Terry Pendleton succeeded Oberkfell at third base in 1984 and finished seventh in Rookie of the Year Award voting that year. He was on the '85 and '87 NL pennant-winning teams, and he hit .259/.308/.356 and won two Gold Glove Awards in his seven seasons with the Cardinals.

• No list would be complete without October hero David Freese. After all, Game 6 of the 2011 World Series is simply referred to as, “The David Freese Game” after he hit the game-tying triple in the bottom of the ninth and the walk-off home run in the 11th against the Rangers. He was the NLCS and World Series MVP, and in five years with his hometown Cardinals, Freese hit .286/.356/.427 and made one All-Star team.

Anne Rogers covers the Cardinals for MLB.com. Follow her on Twitter @anne__rogers and on Facebook.