I like to mix a little sports with my geek culture and as a big time MLB fan and NFL fan, my favorite team of everything is the St. Louis Cardinals. I have been a Cardinal fan my entire life. I was 9 when I began paying close attention to baseball, it was 1989. This list will be a count down of my top 10 favorite and who I think were the best position players of the 1990s for the St. Louis Cardinals.
I get to see all of these players live and watching games on television over the course of the entire 1990s decade. I have a lot of fond memories of these players and a lot of the teams from the 1990s, my favorite team would be the 1993 team.
On with the top 10 Cardinals position players from the 1990s.
10. Tom Pagnozzi (1990-1998)
The St. Louis Cardinals have always been known for having good or better catching. Tom Pagnozzi was not the best hitter, he was a very good defensive catcher. It was one of those things, like Yadier Molina in his younger days. You can scarifice the bat for the glove. The Cardinals have never been afraid of doing that.
Over the years, Pags would go on to be a hitter, a guy who could put the ball into play and even come up with a big hit. He always fit right in to the number 8 spot in the lineup, but there were times that he would come up in the clutch, see 1991 through 1996.
After 1996 he struggled to stay healthy and eventually played himself out of the game. The Cardinals went younger, not better, anyone remember Eli Marrero? We called home dos, because he could barely hit over .200, mostly in the 1999 season. It didn’t matter, Pags was an All Star in 1992 and won 3 Gold Gloves.
I do have a funny story about Pags, in 1991 I went to a Cardinals game in Cincinatti and he struck out to end a loss and my mom, sitting on the Cardinal dugout yelled, “Smile Pags”. He gave her the finger, she got the picture.
Tom Pagnozzi’s best season as a Cardinal, 1996 he hit .270, 13 home runs and drove home 55 RBI.
9. Willie McGee (1990, 1996-1999)
Of course we all know Willie McGee from his time in the 1980s as possibly the best or at least the second best St. Louis Cardinal player of that decade. He won the NL MVP in 1985. He was traded in 1990 to the playoff Oakland Athletics for Felix Jose. After a stint with the San Fransisco Giants from 1991 to 1994 and the Boston Red Sox in 1995, Willie came back home. He was clutch off the bench in 1996 during the Cardinals playoff run and he filled in very well as the 4th outfielder. He hit over .300 in over 300 at-bats and played good defense.
When traded, McGee was leading the National League in batting average with .335 average. When he returned in 1996, he helped the Cardinals to the playoffs and played his part-time/pinch hitter role for 4 seasons before retiring after the 1999 season.
With over 1600 career hits with the St. Louis Cardinals, three World Series appearances, 3 Gold Gloves and 4 All Star games, why is number 51 not retired? I believe Bud Smith is the last player to wear number 51 in 2001 and the following season, he was forced to change to number 52. The Cardinals should retired the number or put it back in circulation. I think Willie’s number should be retired. On August 16, 2014 McGee was inducted into the St.Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame. Well deserved.
8. Ron Gant (1996-1998)
There are a lot of fans who did not like Gant. He was free agent signing after playing one season with the Cincinnati Reds. Why is he ahead of Willie McGee, well he was an everyday player who had an impact on the everyday line-up. Gant also helped Ray Lankford become the player he became, thanks to having the big bat of Ron Gant in the lineup.
The Cardinals signed Gant to provide more power in the lineup and he did. Although his first season with St. Louis had some injury issues, he did pop 30 home runs, first Cardinal to do so since Jack Clark in 1987. If he would have been healthy all of 1996, he could have hit near 40 homers and drove home over 100. I do think he was worth the money, 30 homers in 122 games, 82 RBI.
1996 was his best season in St. Louis, but I say he was the player to bring power back to the Cardinals. For a long time the Cardinals were all about speed and defense and the MLB was changing, it was the steroid era and power was king. I like Ron Gant, it was fun going to the ballpark early to watch him hit in batting practice. I loved the outfield of Ron Gant in left, Lankford in center and Jordan in right. Ron Gant made Willie McGee more important.
7. Bernard Gilkey (1990-1995)
I have always asked myself, why did the Cardinals trade Bernard Gilkey to the Mets? He was Traded by the St. Louis Cardinals to the New York Mets for Yudith Ozorio, Erik Hiljus and Eric Ludwick.
I was a fan, he was not your typical lead-off hitter. Then again, is Matt Carpenter? He got on base, had good speed and a mix of a little power. Why not build on what he did in 1995, 17 homer runs 70 RBI and .298 average. The following season was his peak and the Cardinals must have known.
Gilkey did battle injury problems, but they were strange. I remember he was running down a foul ball and broke his ankle on the warm-up mounds in San Diego and he was lost for most of one season, cannot remember which, 1991 or 1992 maybe.
Gilkey was fun to watch, he was a guy, I would love to just watch hit. He has a strange stance, but always seemed to drive the ball. 1993 was his best season with the Cardinals, .305 average, 16 homeruns, 40 doubles and 70 RBI mostly as a lead-off guy. 1993, Gilkey in left, Lankford and Jordan in center and “Hard hittin” Mark Whitten in right.
6. Todd Zeile (1990-1995)
Todd Zeile has to be the most moved player in MLB history. He played for 11 teams in 16 years, 7 with the St. Louis Cardinals, his first 7. This is one player the Cardinals traded that hurt. He was traded to the Chicago Cubs for Mike Morgan, a crap pitcher. I guess it was a contract trade, his contract was up with the Cardinals at the end of 1995 and it was ok, the Cardinals signed Gary Gaetti in 1996.
Todd Zeile was the Cardinals top prospect at one point and started as a catcher. Eventually he would move to third base and his bat would only get better. His hitting was better and better each year.
1993 was his best year in St. Louis when he drove home 103 RBI and hit 17 home runs. 1994, the strike shortened season, he was on his way to his first 20+ home run season along with possibly another 100 RBI season. But the strike came and killed his season, like everyone else, could have spelled the end of his career as a Cardinal, since the Cardinals signed Scott Cooper, who was terrible in 1995.
In 1994, Todd Zeile was on pace for 27 and 105 RBI. His injury at the beginning of the 1995 season and his contract spelled the end of Zeile’s career as a Cardinal.
5. Gregg Jefferies (1993-1994)
He was only a Cardinal for 2 seasons, but his impact was really felt. I remember the trade and how confused I was. Gregg Jefferies was traded for Felix Jose, from the Royals. I really liked Jose, he seemed like a power type guy with very good defense. I thought Jefferies would come in and play second base, nope, first base.
His impact was huge, but he left for more money with the Phillies, yeah I was sad. He and Todd Zeile were the two guys I really loved on the 1993 team. This team was built for 2 seasons and everyone was gone.
Gregg Jefferies finished 3rd in the batting race in 1993 with a .342 average and he stole 46 bases as a number 3 hitter. Wow, he never equaled his success he had in St. Louis. His career average in the two season, .335. He got 4 years 20 million from Philadelphia and the Cardinals used John Mabry at first.
Gregg Jefferies, like many again, was having a great 1994, he was on pace for another good season. I wish he would have stayed, but eventually things got batter, around 1997.
4. Brian Jordan (1992-1998)
It seemed like a long road for Brian Jordan, three season he was a 4th outfielder. He was always playing behind Lankford, Gilkey and Mark Whiten. He also played for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL during 1989 -1991 seasons, but the Cardinals offered $1.7 million dollar bonus to stick with only baseball and his MLB career started in 1992.
When he finally was given right field full-time, he showed the Cardinals it had been long over due. Jordan came out swinging and playing great defense. He ended the season with 22 home runs while driving in 81 in 131 games, he nearly hit .300, ended at .296
1996, he drove in 104 RBI while hitting .310 and stealing 20+ bases. 1997, he spent the season on the DL playing only 47 games. 1998, his contract season, he was healthy and back to form, .316 average 25 home runs and 91 RBIs. That season was his last and I think, if he wanted to stay, he McGwire contract may have ruined those chances.
3. Mark McGwire (1997-1999)
There is not much to say, I am putting the steroids behind us for the sake of what he did for baseball. The Cardinals pulled off a trade with the Oakland Athletics for Mark McGwire on the trade deadline in 1997. I honestly still wonder why. I loved him as a Cardinal, but truth is, the Cardinals started winning as he was exiting the picture. In 2000 and 2001 the team made the post season for the first time since 1996 and he was mostly a part-time player.
1997, he came to St. Louis and hit 24 home runs in 51 games, totaled 52 home runs between Oakland and St. Louis. His 1997 total in St. Louis is projected to be 73 home runs in 153 games. 1998, he hits 73 home runs. This guy had amazing power and it was fun to watch batting practice. I understand he used steroids, but he still had to hit the ball and his home runs were not “wall scrapers”, they were bombs.
1999, Big Mac hit 65 home runs in his final fully healthy season in the MLB. It was fun watching him hit and he was the face of the St. Louis Cardinals from 1997 to 2001, Albert took that over pretty easily in 2001.
2. Ozzie Smith (1990-1996)
If Tony LaRussa did not force Ozzie Smith out, he could have played another 2 or 3 seasons. To this day, when I think of the St. Louis Cardinals, Ozzie comes to mind. When I grew up, before I knew anything about baseball, I knew about Ozzie.
Other than his defense, I loved to see Ozzie after he reached first base. It seemed like every first baseman, except Will Clark, liked Ozzie and was happy to see him. But it never lasted, Ozzie usually ended up on second base after a couple of pitches. Ozzie stole 148 bases in the 1990s, 131 in 4 seasons.
1995 Ozzie missed most of the season with injuries and only hit .199. He was greeted in 1996 by Royce Clayton who came over from the Giants. Ozzie was 41 in the 1996 season and I sure the Cardinals were looking out for themselves over the long term. Ozzie was always pretty healthy and I bet he could have played every day in 1996 and would have at least made it to 1998. He was an old school player and still had speed and range in the field, not to mention he was finally playing on grass. Nolan Ryan played to 47, I bet Ozzie could have played to 45 at least. I love this guy.
1. Ray Lankford (1990-1999)
Here is my all-time favorite Cardinal. Ray Lankford was one of the toughest guys on the field. He was great in center, he could run and hit and eventually hit for power. He stole 40 bases twice in his career with the Cardinals, he was always around at least 20 steals. He had a couple of 30 home run seasons and missed 30/30 twice. But he was that kind of player.
I really enjoyed watching him play, I remember the day the Cardinals traded for Jim Edmonds. I knew this was the end of Lankford’s time in St. Louis, he did move to left field. He was traded to the Padres in 2001.
Here is another guy who could have his number retired by the Cardinals, but never will. His numbers are good but not great.
Here are some of his all-time numbers and where he ranks as a Cardinal. Home runs 228 is 5th all-time, 829 RBI is 9th, 339 doubles 9th, 780 walks is 5th, 1449 ks 2nd, 250 steals is 8th. My point, he is an all-time Cardinal. But it could be from time with the team.
This was the list, what did you think? Who are your top Cardinals position players from the 1990s. I plan to do the pitchers from the 1990s next followed by the 2000s. Let’s face it, Albert is the Cardinal of the 2000s, but who else is on the list?