Updated: Jun 6, 2021
Last week a little controversy was raised on The Derek King Sports Show. I felt like Matt Carpenter would one day be enshrined in the Cardinals Hall of Fame. Nearly everyone else disagreed with me. That got me wondering whether or not I was thinking straight. I am never one to assume I am always right, and I decided to look at those who are already members and see if I was off base (pun intended). I was a little bit surprised by my findings.
Comparing players from different eras is always a tricky thing. It’s possible to be somewhat objective, but not completely. To make the evaluation process as uniform as possible, I considered the Hall’s entry criteria. To be eligible for the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame, a player must have played at least three seasons and have been retired for at least three years. Based on that criteria, I chose every player who played the same positions that Carpenter has played over the course of his career. I took their three best seasons by wins above replacement (WAR). Taking all of that into account, I then calculated the total WAR for those three seasons for each inductee.
To create another level of measurement, I then took into account every award/accolade that each player accumulated while they wore the Birds on the Bat. Any stats outside of their three best years in St. Louis are not taken into account. Any awards or championships earned while with another team have also not been taken into account. The reason for this is that we are evaluating the best Cardinals of all time. Keeping that in mind, I have also excluded any member of the Cardinals Hall of Fame who has also been enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, NY. Now that we have that in order, here’s how they stack up.
1) Scott Rolen (20.7 WAR)
Rolen’s best years were 2003, 2004, and 2006 with a 6.2, 9.0, and 5.5 WAR, respectively. He was arguably the best third baseman in the game when he played, and it wasn’t even close. Inducted in 2019 by the fans, Rolen was with the team for five years.
2) Ken Boyer (19.5 WAR)
Boyer was an inaugural member who held many roles with the team, including coach and manager. He’s best remembered as a third baseman. His three best years were 1960 (6.4 WAR), 1961 (7.1 WAR), and 1964 (6.0 WAR). Boyer was a force to be reckoned with on the field, especially highlighted by his 1964 season.
3) Mark McGwire (19.1 WAR)
McGwire’s time with the team, while brief, was a very impactful one. His single-season 8.5 WAR in the history-making 1998 home run chase was bested on this list only by Rolen’s 9.0 WAR in 2004. McGwire’s 1999 (6.0 WAR) and 2000 (4.6 WAR) seasons were nothing to sneeze at either. Although injuries prematurely ended the first base slugger’s career, he returned as the team’s hitting coach and helped them to a World Series victory as a member of Tony LaRussa’s staff in 2011.
4) Keith Hernandez (19.0 WAR)
In what many fans considered a long time coming, Hernandez was finally voted into the Cardinals Hall of Fame in 2021. It was an honor that meant more than many people realize for the former first baseman. His best seasons as a Cardinal were 1979 (7.4 WAR), 1980 (6.9 WAR), and 1982 (4.7 WAR). He was an integral part of the team’s 1982 World Series win.
5) Matt Carpenter (15.9 WAR)
I thought Carpenter was close, but I did not think his total WAR would be ranked fifth out of those who qualified for his positions played, and he played a lot of them. His 2013 7.2 WAR is the fourth-highest single-season WAR on this list. The remaining two of his three best seasons are 2015 and 2018, with a 3.4 and 5.3 WAR, respectively.
6) Bill White (14.3 WAR)
Bill White was an incredible player that sometimes gets overlooked. Playing across the diamond from Boyer, White was also a member of the 1964 World Series Championship. His three best years with the team were 1963 (5.1 WAR), 1964 (4.7 WAR), and 1965 (4.5 WAR). White was also the National League President from 1989-1994. While that doesn’t count towards his Cardinals tenure, it’s still a great accomplishment unmatched by any other player on this list. He was chosen for induction by the Red Ribbon Committee in 2020.
7) Tom Herr (10.9 WAR)
Tom Herr is a fan favorite who was voted in as a member of the 2020 class. Playing in the Whiteyball era of the team, Herr amassed 152 stolen bases in his ten years as a Cardinal. His three best years were 1982 (3.1 WAR), 1983 (2.7 WAR), and 1985 (5.1 WAR). Herr will always go down as one of the best Cardinals' second basemen of all time.
8) Pepper Martin (10.8 WAR)
In addition to having one of the best baseball names ever, Pepper Martin was an outstanding player for his era and a two-time World Series Champion as a Cardinal. His three best years by WAR were 1931 (2.3), 1933 (5.7), and 1936 (2.8). He led the league in runs (122) and stolen bases (26) in ‘33. He repeated as the stolen base king in ‘34 and ‘36 with 23 stolen bases both times. He played his entire career in St. Louis.
9) Mike Shannon (7.9 WAR)
I almost left Shannon off this list because his years as a broadcaster undoubtedly factored into his enshrinement. However, he was a good player and a World Series Champion who also played some of the same positions as Carpenter. His three best years were 1965 (1.1 WAR), 1966 (3.3 WAR), and 1968 (3.5 WAR). Shannon’s inclusion is also relevant because there is a chance that Carpenter’s post-playing career will lead to a role in the booth as well.
There are several players on this list whose all-around game is something Carpenter has never achieved. Hernandez won six Gold Gloves as a Cardinal. Boyer received five and Bill White six. Again, we are only looking at awards earned as a Cardinal. Carpenter has zero Gold Gloves.
There are two players on this list with exactly three All-Star appearances, one Silver Slugger award, and were twice voted into the top ten for the league‘s Most Valuable Player award. The first is Matt Carpenter. Who is the other? It’s none other than Mark McGwire. That’s a fact that surprised me, but it gives Carpenter some pretty good company.
Boyer and Hernandez have both won the MVP award as Cardinals. Scott Rolen received top ten votes only once. In his defense, though, it’s harder to get MVP votes when you play across the diamond from three-time MVP Albert Pujols. Martin and White join Carpenter and McGwire as the only other two receiving top ten votes twice.
The Silver Slugger award was not around when Pepper Martin played, but it was when Tom Herr played. There is only one Cardinal ever to win the Silver Slugger award at second base. That player was Matt Carpenter. Carpenter was better by WAR than both men in their three best seasons. Carpenter and Martin have both played only for the Cardinals their entire careers.
The Final Results
After looking at everything, I believe that two players stand out as most comparable to Matt Carpenter. Those two players are Pepper Martin and Tom Herr. All three men played in different eras of the game. All three also played a different type of game. However, there’s one more thing to consider when evaluating Matt Carpenter as one of the all-time Cardinals, where he ranks historically in terms of team stats.
Here are Carpenter’s ranks among Cardinals all time:
Carpenter is not the greatest player not in the Baseball Hall of Fame by any stretch. Nor is he the greatest Cardinal of all time. Not even close. But what Carpenter is as a player has been special. He is a lifetime Cardinal who was drafted and developed by the team. He was asked to change both his defensive position and hitting approach on multiple occasions. He has been the consummate team player and a pretty darn good ballplayer.
The only way I see him not getting into the Cardinals Hall of Fame is if the fans forget all he has done and focus only on the last few seasons. Say what you want about the man as a player now, but he has historically been great for this organization. Let’s not kick the man while he’s down like the Angels did with another beloved Cardinal. When it’s all said and done, Matt Carpenter has earned his Red Jacket.
Brian Swope is an editor and staff writer for Gateway City Sports and a member of the IBWAA.