Jim Jividen is a blogger who thrives on lists. Jividen once catalogued the twenty worst baseball players of all time, proudly adding, "Any idiot can rank the greatest (players) ever, but it takes skill to rank the ... worst."
Verum est. Uncertain of what this makes me, I give you the ten best and the ten worst St. Louis Cardinals of all time. Over the years, there have been enough infield flies and squeeze plays for a representative sample: Since 1882 (when the Cardinals were known as the Brown Stockings), the franchise has played 20,334 games (winning 52 percent). What is more, the timing is right. Another Cardinals' season kicked off April 3, in Pittsburgh, and the home opener at Busch Memorial Stadium is April 11, against the Milwaukee Brewers. Some experts are saying that the Cubs—and maybe even the Pirates—are better this year. But that's why they're called experts.
Coincidentally, someone connected with the Brewers is on one of these top-ten lists. (Hint: His initials are Bob Uecker). Uecker, who is either a standup comedian masquerading as a baseball broadcaster or a baseball broadcaster impersonating a standup, saw the error of his ways on the diamond at an early age, and segued into broadcasting and show business (as though there's a difference). He's been at the mic in his native Milwaukee since 1971, which puts him fourth on the seniority list among active broadcasters. (Mike Shannon of the Cardinals, who started in 1972, ranks fifth).
Dizzy Dean, who is on the top-ten list that Uecker isn't on, also went into broadcasting. He did the Cardinals' games on radio before Harry Caray, before Jack Buck, before a lot of them. As a broadcaster, Dean was a great pitcher. The Cardinals had a third baseman named Whitey Kurowski, and in the American League there was a first baseman named Dick Kryhoski. On the air, Dean called the first baseman "Whitey Dick Kurowski." And that was not an exception.
Before Dean was too far along with a Hall of Fame pitching career, his manager, Gabby Street, said: "I think he's going to be a great pitcher, but I'm afraid we'll never know from one minute to the next what he's going to do." It was the same way with Dean behind the microphone.
Two of Dean's teammates—Frankie Frisch and Joe Medwick—also made the ten best list. Another of Dean's colleagues, Leo Durocher, made the worst ten group. They all played for the World Series-winning Cardinals in 1934, a team that was affectionately called the Gashouse Gang. Frisch was their playing manager. Their uniform of the day was dishabille, and they were known as much for brawling as baseball. Just for practice, Medwick would fight with the fans and his own teammates, and Dean, who won 30 games in 1934, was not above upbraiding his fellow players for what he deemed inadequate offensive and defensive support.
One day, when Dean and his brother Paul, who also pitched for the Cardinals, took to ragging Medwick, he picked up a bat and said: "Come on. I'll break up this brother act right now." Another time, Medwick, after hitting a home run that put the Cardinals ahead, came into the dugout, took a swig of water and spat it on Dizzy's shoes.
"OK," Medwick said, "let's see if you can hold that lead, gutless."
Pepper Martin, another member of the Gashousers, was on the cusp of making the best ten. Ditto players such as Yadier Molina, Curt Flood, Johnny Mize, Red Schoendienst and others. As Jim Jividen said, any idiot can pick a list of the best players. But the real idiot is the guy who limits himself to just ten.
Bill Christine voted in the Baseball Hall of Fame election for more than 40 years. His biography, Bill Hartack: The Bittersweet Life of a Hall of Fame Jockey, will be published this summer by McFarland & Company.