ST. LOUIS -- Much has been written about an all-time Cardinals lineup. There’s Bob Gibson on the mound, Stan Musial in the outfield, Albert Pujols at first. Ozzie Smith anchors the infield at shortstop. All of the all-time greats are on those lists, based on their long careers in St. Louis. But what if we put a twist on that concept?
With this list, we’re aiming to build each team’s all-time roster through the best single-season performances. Many of the greats are still on there, but you might see some one-year wonders, too. Here are our picks for the Cardinals’ all-time roster, using the club’s best single-season performances at each position:
Catcher: Yadier Molina, 2012
Picking between Molina’s 2012 and ’13 seasons makes for a tough decision, because they were two of his best years highlighted by two top-five National League MVP finishes. We’re going to go with 2012, though, because he was slightly better offensively that year -- although, again, it’s close. In 2012, Molina hit .315/.373/.501 with an .874 OPS, 22 home runs and 76 RBIs. His OPS+ was 137 across 563 plate appearances and 138 games. Molina’s batting average ranked fourth in the NL, and his on-base percentage was eighth best. Defensively, Molina threw out 48 percent of attempted basestealers, which ranked second in the Majors. It all culminated in a fourth-place MVP finish.
Backup candidates: 2013 Molina, 1967 Tim McCarver, 1973 Ted Simmons
First base: Albert Pujols, 2009
Like Molina, you probably can’t go wrong with any of Pujols’ best seasons with the Cardinals. Pujols won his third MVP Award (unanimous selection) in 2009, putting him among the Cardinals greats. He racked up 9.7 WAR, according to Baseball-Reference -- most for a Cardinals first baseman in a single season -- hitting .327/.443/.658 for a 1.101 OPS in 160 games. He led the Majors with 47 home runs, and although he walked 115 times (44 intentionally), he still managed to drive in 135 runs. Pujols hit .361 with runners in scoring position and was 10-for-17 with the bases loaded, hitting five grand slams to tie Ernie Banks’ then 54-year-old NL record.
Backup candidates: 1946 Stan Musial, 2006 Pujols, 2005 Pujols
Second base: Rogers Hornsby, 1924
An all-around great hitter, Hornsby’s 1924 season was remarkable. Along with a record-setting .424 batting average, Hornsby led the NL with a .507 on-base percentage and .696 slugging percentage. If that wasn’t enough, he also led the NL in hits (227), runs (121), doubles (43) and total bases (373). Hornsby went hitless in just 24 of the 143 games he appeared in and was never hitless more than two days in a row.
Oh, and his 12.2 bWAR is the highest single-season total for a position player in Cardinals history.
Backup candidates: 1925 Hornsby, 1921 Hornsby, 1927 Frankie Frisch
Third base: Scott Rolen, 2004
The choice between Rolen and Ken Boyer for best Cardinals third baseman of all-time is incredibly close and makes for a fun debate. But if we’re talking single seasons, Rolen’s 2004 campaign was incredible. His 9.2 bWAR leads all Cardinals third basemen after hitting .314/.409/.598. Rolen hit 34 home runs with 124 RBIs and posted a 1.007 OPS in 142 games. Rolen and Boyer are often considered two of the finest fielders at the hot corner, so either one would make a great Cardinals infield even better on this roster. But Rolen’s offense from 2004 edges out Boyer’s from the early 1960s.
Backup candidates: 1961 Boyer, 1959 Boyer, 1960 Boyer
Shortstop: Dick Groat, 1963
Going a bit off the “Cardinals all-time legends” for this one by picking Groat over Hall of Famer Ozzie Smith, but that’s the twist, right? Groat came to St. Louis in the second half of his career, but he put up some career numbers for the Cardinals in 1963. He ended the season with career highs in hits (201), doubles (43, which led the Majors), triples (11) and RBIs (73). Groat’s .319 batting average was third best in the NL that year, and he had an .827 OPS to go along with six home runs.
He also was a solid defender -- although Smith has the upper hand there, of course -- and added a veteran to a Cardinals roster looking for a championship. Groat finished second to Sandy Koufax in NL MVP voting that year.
Backup candidates: 1987 Smith, 1952 Solly Hemus, 1917 Rogers Hornsby, 2014 Jhonny Peralta
Left field: Joe Medwick, 1937
The last NL hitter to win the Triple Crown in 1937, Joe “Ducky” Medwick once said he’d stack his ’37 season up against anybody’s, and, well, he beats out the rest of the Cardinals left fielders for this list, at least. The Hall of Famer won the NL MVP Award on top of his Triple Crown by leading the league in runs (111), hits (237), doubles (56), home runs (31) and RBIs (154). His .374 average led the Majors, and his .641 slugging, 1.056 OPS and 406 total bases led the NL.
Backup candidates: 2003 Albert Pujols, 1953 Stan Musial, 1974 Lou Brock
Center field: Willie McGee, 1985
Another tough one, this time between McGee and Jim Edmonds’ 2004 season. It probably comes down to what statistics you value here; McGee in 1985 leads with 8.2 bWAR and a .353 average -- which won him the batting title -- compared to Edmonds’ 7.2 bWAR and .301 average. But Edmonds was the slugger with a 1.061 OPS, 42 home runs and 111 RBIs. To make it even closer, both of those teams finished with more than 100 wins -- the 1985 Cards were 101-61 and the 2004 Cards were 105-57. Both teams also made it to the World Series. So, again, you can’t go wrong.
We opted to lean on WAR as the tiebreaker, and that leaves McGee on top. In his MVP-winning year, McGee led the NL in hits (216) and triples (18). It was the first time McGee finished with double-digit home runs, with 10. He also had 56 steals, appeared in the All-Star Game and won a Gold Glove and a Silver Slugger.
Backup candidates: 2004 Edmonds, 1948 Stan Musial, 1998 Ray Lankford
Right field: Stan Musial, 1948
You’ll notice that Musial has appeared as multiple backup candidates, and honestly, we could have four Stan Musials on this roster and be in pretty good shape. But his best season was 1948, and that was the year he played 81 games in right field compared to 65 in center and 42 in left. “The Man” won his third MVP -- at 27 years old -- with a .376/.450/.702 slash line. He led the Majors in eight offensive categories: hits (230), doubles (46), triples (18), batting average, slugging, OPS (1.152), OPS+ (200) and total bases (429). Musial racked up 11.3 bWAR, and he compiled 103 extra-base hits (47 years passed before any hitter in the Majors had 100).
Backup candidates: Pretty much any year Musial played the majority of his games in right field; 1998 Brian Jordan, 1942 Enos Slaughter
Starting pitcher: Bob Gibson, 1968
Gibson redefined dominance in 1968. His 1.12 ERA is the third-best mark in MLB since 1900 and the best in a season not played in the dead-ball era (pre-1920). The greatest Cardinals pitcher of all-time allowed just 38 runs across 304 2/3 innings en route to the National League Cy Young and MVP Awards. The imposing right-hander completed 28 games in 34 starts, and 13 of those were shutouts. Gibson struck out 268 batters, fanning 7.9 per nine innings, and his 0.85 WHIP led the NL that year. In Game 1 of the World Series, Gibson struck out 17 batters -- a World Series record that still stands.
Backup candidates: 1934 Dizzy Dean, 2005 Chris Carpenter, 1985 John Tudor
Relief pitcher: Bruce Sutter, 1984
Sutter delivered the final pitch that won the 1982 World Series for the Cardinals, but his best season with St. Louis came two years later, when he posted a 1.54 ERA over 122 2/3 innings (71 games), striking out 77 compared to walking 23. The Hall of Fame closer led the Majors with 45 saves that year and finished third in NL Cy Young voting. It was his last year as a Cardinal, but it was certainly a memorable one.
Backup candidates: 2015 Trevor Rosenthal, 2004 Jason Isringhausen, 1991 Lee Smith