The Cardinals’ Ten Greatest Hitters
Stan Musial (1941-44, 1946-63)
Affectionately known to many Cardinal fans simply as “The Man,” Musial was a highly likeable, immensely popular player within St. Louis and outside its borders; when Cincinnati fans went out of control and stuffed the ballot boxes for the 1957 All-Star Game, they voted Musial in as just one of two players not wearing a Reds jersey too good to ignore.
Musial was plucked into the vast St. Louis farm system, but as a pitcher—and a pretty good one, finishing 18-5 as a minor league southpaw in 1940. His hitting game seemed to be turning more heads, however, thanks to one of the sweetest swings ever seen; hence, when he didn’t pitch, he was in the lineup as an outfielder. After hurting his shoulder making a catch in the field, the powers-that-be decided then and there that Musial’s future lay not with his fastball, but with his bat. Twenty-two years, 3,630 hits, 475 home runs, 20 All-Star Game appearances, seven batting titles and three MVP awards later, they were proven correct.
In 1941, Musial made a late-season debut in the majors and hit .426 in 12 games, earning him an everyday role the following season—where he would hit at least .310 for the first of 16 straight seasons. In 1943 he won his first MVP leading the National League in batting (.357) hits (220), doubles (48) and triples (20). He added a second trophy in 1946, helping the Cardinals to a World Series title by pacing the NL in those same categories. Two years later, he was voted in as the NL’s best once more with his most prodigious year, achieving personal bests with a .376 average, 230 hits, 39 home runs, 131 runs batted in and 135 scored; of the eight five-hit games Musial would collect over his career, four of them came in 1948. Over the next four years, Musial would win three more batting titles but repeatedly place second in the NL MVP vote—as if voters developed Musial fatigue and began looking for someone else to pick. “What’s the best way to pitch to Stan Musial?” asked his teammate Joe Garigiola, answering: “That’s easy. Walk him and then try and pick him off first base.”
Musial’s superhuman edge eased off through the 1950s but he easily remained one of the game’s most dangerous hitters. And just when it seemed the inevitable career descent began to pick up steam, Musial refreshed and went into vintage mode; in 1957, the 36-year old won his last batting title with a .351 mark while collecting his 3,000th career hit—and five years later, at 41, he followed up a string of seasons hitting in the upper .200s with a .330 mark, highlighted by homering in four straight at-bats (three of them in one game) against the hapless expansion New York Mets. A year later, in 1963, he decided to call it quits when his average sank back to .255—knocking out his final hit past rookie second baseman Pete Rose, who 18 years later would break his NL mark for career hits.
Helped by a career .331 average, Musial currently stands fourth on the all-time hit list; he’s third in doubles, sixth in RBIs and ninth in runs. Final oddity: Of his 3,630 hits, exactly half—1,815—were generated at home.
Rogers Hornsby (1915-26, 1933)
With an icy personality and a penchant for brutally honesty, Hornsby didn’t make many friends in the dugout—but his incredible hitting talents helped make him tolerable.
Most baseball stars are content at consistently hitting .300. During a remarkable five-year period in the early 1920s, Hornsby would evolve into a consistent .400 hitter. He won six consecutive batting titles from 1920-25, his low point being a .370 mark in 1920; over the last five seasons of that stretch, Hornsby averaged .402. This unparalleled run included a modern NL-record .424 average in 1924, and three seasons finishing above .400; a chance for a fourth slipped away in 1921 when he went hitless in his final eight at-bats of the year to finish at .397. Only one other player (Ty Cobb) has hit over .400 twice since 1900; seven others have done it just once. “Every time I stepped up to the plate with a bat in my hands,” Hornsby once confessed, “I couldn’t help but feel sorry for the pitcher.”
Once Hornsby hit peak form with his average, the power soon followed. He hit nine home runs in 1920, 21 in 1921, then became the NL’s first player to crack 40 when he reached 42 in 1922—the same year he became the NL’s first modern triple crown winner (leading the league in average, homers and RBIs) and set a NL record of 450 total bases which still stands. In 1925, his 39 homers (with 143 RBIs and .403 average) earned him a second triple crown achievement. Despite these monumental feats, Hornsby’s superstar status was relatively lost in the din of the Babe Ruth mania—in part because he voluntarily lacked the flamboyance that Ruth flouted in public.
Hornsby attributed his success to sharp eyesight for which he was highly protective of, refusing to read books or go to the movies. His insight on the game also won him the manager’s job in St. Louis while he played, taking over midway through 1925 and, a year later, leading the Cardinals to a world title over Ruth and the New York Yankees despite the fact that his season average had “plummeted” nearly a hundred points to .317.
In spite of Hornsby’s double-barreled success as both player and manager, Cardinal owner Sam Breadon became fed up with the star’s difficult attitudes toward the front office that led to several confrontations. Getting rid of Hornsby in a trade to the New York Giants that netted Frankie Frisch and Jimmy Ring only brought more controversy; Hornsby had to relinquish his stock in the Cardinals to avoid a conflict of interest, but Breadon would only pay him at the $43 per share he purchased it for—not the $105 it was now worth. Hornsby got what was rightfully owed, but only after the Giants and the rest of the NL owners chipped in.
The trade to New York began a transient odyssey in which Hornsby’s abrasive ego would take him to five teams over the next seven years—including a brief return to the Cardinals in 1933. When he finally hung up his spikes for good in 1937, he logged 2,930 hits and a lifetime .359 average—highest among all right-handed hitters, and second among all players to Cobb.
Albert Pujols (2001-2011)
Few if anyone saw the man who would dominate the new century’s first decade coming. In the 1999 major league draft, 401 players were picked ahead of Pujols. After one full year in the minors, the Cardinals still weren’t sure—batting him as low as seventh to start his rookie year. But they finally realized that Pujols was something special when he hit .329 with 37 home runs, 130 RBIs and 47 doubles in his 2001 debut; he has hardly slowed since.
Born in the Dominican Republic and relocated to Missouri as a teenager, Pujols is a deeply religious, muscle-bound man whose quiet, focused demeanor is often mistaken for one of great simmering tension. Perhaps that worked to Pujols’ advantage in St. Louis, as opposing pitchers constantly feared his presence—and for good reason. In each of his first ten years, Pujols achieved something no other major leaguer has ever done: Hit at least .300 with 30 homers and 100 RBIs. That streak came to an end in 2011—his final season as a Cardinal—and barely, notching a .299 average and 99 RBIs to go with 37 jacks.
The honors section of Pujols’ Cardinal resume practically reads like a phone book. In 11 years with St. Louis, he won three NL MVP awards (placing second in the vote four other times), the 2001 Rookie of the Year award, the 2004 NLCS MVP award, six Silver Slugger trophies, two Gold Gloves (at first base), the 2008 Roberto Clemente Award and nine enlistments on the All-Star Game roster. He’s led the NL twice in homers, five times in runs, three times in slugging percentage, once each in hits, doubles and RBIs, and won the 2003 NL batting title with a career-high .359 clip. In 74 postseason games for the Cardinals, Pujols has been no less brilliant—batting .330 with 18 home runs and 52 RBIs in 74 games; in 2011, he became the first player not wearing Yankee pinstripes to hit three homers in a World Series contest.
Pujols has played at top form despite an almost impervious reaction to pain. His elbow was so beat up in the late 2000s that he contemplated Tommy John surgery to repair it, yet his numbers showed no hint of decline before and after a series of less daunting medical procedures. And in an era where almost every other superstar slugger has been forced to own up to steroid use, Pujols has angrily denied taking any illegal performance enhancement—and there’s been nary a convincing whisper from others to even suggest it.
After earning his second World Series ring in 2011, Pujols became a free agent and signed a massive new deal with the Los Angeles Angels of Anaheim, leaving behind a sea of broken-hearted fans in Missouri. He finished his St. Louis tenure second in team history to Musial in home runs and RBIs; with the majors’ highest active career batting average (.325) and a shot at breaking the career home run record, Pujols stands in good position to earn honors as the greatest right-handed hitter in baseball history.
Johnny Mize (1936-41)
Drafted by the Cardinals, the muscular left-hand slugger—the first cousin of Babe Ruth’s second wife—was purchased away by Cincinnati in 1934, but after a disappointing year in the Reds’ minor league system punctuated by a string of injuries, he was sold back to the Cardinals. It was a move the Reds would rue for quite some time.
Mize, nicknamed The Big Cat a half-century before Andres Galarraga stole the title, became an instant star in his rookie 1936 season with St. Louis, hitting .329 with 19 home runs and 93 RBIs; his numbers only grew from there, hitting a career-high .364 during his sophomore year with the Cardinals, batting a league-high .349 in 1939 and leading the NL in home runs over back-to-back seasons (1939-40). In 1938 and 1940, Mize twice hit three homers in a game; he would ultimately go deep thrice six times in his 15-year career to set a major league record later tied by Sammy Sosa.
After hitting .336 with 158 homers in six seasons for the Cardinals, general manager Branch Rickey traded him to the Giants, citing one of his more familiar strategies of trading a player a year too early rather of a year too late. Mize would prove that Rickey made the deal seven years too early; with the Giants, he progressed into a monster slugger (winning two more home run crowns) then settled in during the sunset of his career with the Yankees, where he was a valuable platoon player and pinch-hitter for manager Casey Stengel.
Joe Medwick (1932-40, 1947-48)
A hard-boiled personality who wasn’t afraid to box with teammates and fit in perfectly with the “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals of the 1930s, Medwick supplied the right-handed punch for much of that decade and later formed a formidable duo with Mize.
After hitting .348 in three minor league seasons, Medwick came to St. Louis in 1932 at age 20 and hit .349 in 26 games; nobody’s fools, the Cardinals made him a starting outfielder and he carried on the carnage, all while barely tolerating the nickname Ducky (or Ducky Wucky) that was given to him because of his waddling, penguin-like way of walking. Any teasing from opponents stopped once he reached base, which was often; in his main tour of duty with the Cardinals, Medwick hit .335, won a batting title in 1937 with a personal-best .374 average (part of a triple crown effort in which he also established career highs with 31 homers and 154 RBIs) and, from 1936-38, led the NL each season in RBIs. In seven full years in St. Louis, Medwick averaged 49 doubles a year—setting the all-time NL mark in 1936 when he pounded out 64 two-baggers.
Medwick’s .379 average, one home run and five RBIs helped the Cardinals win a raucous seven-game World Series over Detroit in 1935, but not without controversy. After sliding hard into third base and clipping Detroit infielder Marv Owen in the process—all while the Cardinals were comfortably ahead—angry Tiger fans took out their wrath on Medwick when he returned to the outfield, throwing assorted bits of garbage towards him before he was forcibly removed from the game for his own safety.
Enos Slaughter (1938-42, 1946-53)
The North Carolina native was part of an overall kindler, gentler wave of talent that continued the Cardinals’ winning ways into the 1940s—but he was anything but kind and gentle once on base, instituting a tireless and gritty brand of baserunning that he quickly embraced after being chewed out by his minor league manager for once not hustling off the field on defense.
Slaughter’s aggressive style made headlines in a negative way when he spiked rookie Jackie Robinson while crossing the first base bag—and in a famously positive way when he scored the ultimate World Series-winning run from first base on a single during a sequence that would be famously labeled “The Mad Dash” in Game Seven of the 1946 Fall Classic. Pros and cons aside, Slaughter bragged that he treated anyone who got in his way with equal pain, stating, “I sure as hell didn’t say, ‘Excuse me, ‘cause I’m a-gonna slide.’”
The left-handed hitting Slaughter was equally impressive in reaching base. The career .300 hitter won a batting title in 1942, led the NL once in doubles, twice in triples and once in RBIs. Had he not been absent from the majors for three years during World War II to serve in the military, Slaughter might have had an outside shot at 3,000 career hits; he finished with 2,383. Named to ten All-Star Games, Slaughter was elected into the Hall of Fame by the Veterans Committee in 1985.
Jim Bottomley (1922-32)
Bottomley’s career log runs almost as a carbon copy of Medwick’s, though off the field the highly positive Bottomley, appropriately nicknamed Sunny Jim, was 180 degrees from the ornery Medwick. He came on board late in 1922 and played exceptionally well to merit an everyday spot, and was a connoisseur of extra-base hits throughout his time in St. Louis with a special gift for knocking in runners.
Bottomley only came to St. Louis when his minor league team in Syracuse was fully bought out by the Cardinals, initiating a more progressive move toward the modern farm system as imagined by team president Branch Rickey. In only two of 11 years with the Cardinals, Bottomley would fail to hit above .300—in 1926 when he hit .299, and in his final year (1932), when he checked in at .296. Two achievements from Bottomley’s resume impressively stand out; he set a major league record in a 1924 game by knocking in 12 runs (a mark later tied by future Cardinal Mark Whiten) and, in 1928, became the first player to hit at least 20 doubles, triples and home runs each in the same season.
In the Cardinals’ 1926 World Series conquest of the Yankees, Bottomley hit a sound .345—but in three more trips to the Fall Classic batted an anemic .131 with 20 strikeouts in 61 at-bats—an eye-raising total for someone who never whiffed more than 55 times in one full season.
Ken Boyer (1955-65)
A seven-time All-Star and recipient of four Gold Gloves at third base, Boyer was a reliable rock in the Cardinal lineup as Musial’s career began to wane, the most successful of a record seven brothers who played pro baseball (three of whom made the majors).
Boyer piled up numbers with robotic frequency. In four straight years (1961-64), he hit exactly 24 home runs per season. In another five-year stretch, he knocked in anywhere between 90 and 98 runs. He peaked in 1964 with a dream season—winning the NL MVP with a .295 average, 24 homers and 119 RBIs, and helped lead the Cardinals to a World Series triumph over the Yankees, hitting a grand slam in Game Four.
After a disappointing 1965 season worsened by back problems, Boyer played out the sunset of his career with a number of teams, unable to find a second wind in his late 30s. He returned to St. Louis in 1978 as the Cardinals’ manager, piloting all or parts of three seasons with fair results.
Keith Hernandez (1974-83)
The left-handed hitting San Francisco native slowly grew into a star presence by the end of the 1970s, becoming the “other guy” to share the 1979 NL MVP award with popular choice Willie Stargell, not for his clubhouse inspiration but, instead, outright performance.
Hernandez’s 1979 effort established himself as a top hitter, and for good reason; he set career highs that year with a .344 average (winning the NL batting crown), 210 hits, 48 doubles, 11 triples, 105 RBIs and 116 runs. His average gradually sloped downward in the years to follow though he remained a tenacious presence at the plate, always a sure bet to be hanging around the .300 mark. In 1982, he batted just .259 in the World Series against Milwaukee but knocked in a team-high eight runs as the Cardinals won in seven games. Defensively, Hernandez was stellar at first base, winning 11 straight Gold Glove awards.
In 1983, Hernandez was unceremoniously shipped out to New York in mid-June. Cardinal manger White Herzog publicly claimed he was spending more time in the clubhouse on crossword puzzles than scouting reports, but over the next few years the dark truth would be revealed: Hernandez was heavily into cocaine, a fact he admitted on the stand during the notorious Pittsburgh drug trials of 1985.
Hernandez at first didn’t want to stay with the Mets, but quickly changed his mind once he saw a New York roster on the upswing with the highly-touted likes of Darryl Strawberry and Dwight Gooden. Three years later, his intuition paid off as the Mets won the World Series. He remains with the Mets as a broadcast analyst, and is best known to non-baseball fans as the title character in “The Boyfriend,” one of the more famous episodes from the classic TV show Seinfeld.
Lou Brock (1964-79)
The Chicago Cubs didn’t know what they had when they originally raised the dashing Brock as a power-hitting type. When their errant nurturing led to frustration and one of baseball’s worst trades to St. Louis (for three players, including damaged-goods star pitcher Ernie Broglio), Brock was given a re-education by the Cardinals—essentially told by manager Johnny Keane to get on base, run—and keep running.
Run Brock would, and he wouldn’t stop for the next 16 years. When he finally did in 1979, he had become the game’s most prolific basestealer before Rickey Henderson came along, setting season and career records for stolen bases.
Brock’s allowance to go carte blanche on the basepaths took the pressure off him to hit for power—and it made him a better hitter. He hit .348 in his partial first year at St. Louis and ignited the Cardinals to a World Series triumph over the Yankees. Four times, he would knock out 200-plus hits, would score over 100 runs seven times, and led the NL eight times in steals—the last one coming with a historic flourish when, in 1974 at age 35, he broke Maury Wills’ season record with 118 stolen bases. (For good measure, Brock broke Max Carey’s all-time NL career mark in the same game he passed Wills.)
In World Series play, Brock was nothing short of sensational. In the Cardinals’ seven-game triumph over Boston in the 1967 Fall Classic, Brock set a Series record with seven steals; a year later against Detroit, he tied that mark. (No one has since matched it.) In 21 career Series games, Brock hit .391 with power, knocking out seven doubles, two triples and four home runs.
After a thoroughly dismal (.221) 1978 campaign suggesting that he was done, Brock rose up with a final hurrah in 1979 and, at age 40, hit .304 with 21 steals, earning Comeback Player of the Year honors while collecting his 3,000th hit.
St. Louis Cardinals Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Cardinals, decade by decade.
The Cardinals' Ten Greatest Pitchers: A list of the ten greatest pitchers based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Cardinals' Ten Greatest Games: A list of ten memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Cardinals' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Cardinals' ten greatest hitters? Find out here.
Have a comment, question or request? Contact us at This Great Game.
© 2013 This Great Game.