- The 50 Greatest Players in St. Louis Cardinals History by Robert W. Cohen
Aside from the New York Yankees, the St. Louis Cardinals have been one of the most consistent franchises in baseball, and one of the most storied. Robert Cohen seeks to tell the story of the Cardinals with a survey of its greatest players through the classic sports parlor game of ranking.
A book of this nature ostensibly appeals to the avid baseball fan, and this will not disappoint. Cohen explains his criteria for ranking, with the level of dominance during that player’s particular era and the contributions to Cardinal success being among the most important factors. Stan Musial tops the list, likely to no one’s surprise, and his top ten is populated by some of the greatest figures in the history of baseball: Rogers Hornsby, Albert Pujols, Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Dizzie Dean, and Ozzie Smith. For each player, he provides a short biography, an account of the player’s Cardinal career, and a section highlighting the key moments and achievements. Stat lovers will not be disappointed, and there is careful analysis of the numbers behind each player. Readers may quibble with some of the rankings (Steve Carlton at 39? Bruce Sutter at 48?), but that is the fun of such exercises. Cohen makes a sound case for placing the players where he does. He also deals with the thorny issue of the steroid era, placing Mark McGwire at a distant 21 by factoring in his usage of performance-enhancing drugs.
There is no question that this book will appeal to Cardinal fans, or that it is well done and accomplishes its goal. Each biography is well crafted, and the accompanying career analysis provides insights into the team and, to a lesser extent, the era in which the nominees played. But what does it tell us about baseball in general? In that sense, this book is limited given the narrow range of the subject but can still provide the reader with a solid understanding of baseball history. From the era of Rogers Hornsby in the 1920s, to the Gas House Gang of the thirties, up through the recent championship teams of the 2000s, however, readers will gain an understanding of the context for Cardinal baseball. Since the book is ordered by rank and not chronologically more novice readers might find confusion. But plenty of ancillary baseball history is contained here. The steroid era comes to light, and, perhaps most significantly, the reader sees the coming of the end of the reserve clause era with the heroic stance of Curt Flood, who sued commissioner Bowie Kuhn rather than accept a trade to Philadelphia. This action challenged the age-old system whereby a team could “reserve” a player’s services for the next season, keeping players’ salaries and mobility to a minimum. Flood lost, but the march to free agency started on that 1969 Cardinals team.
While it may be of narrow interest, this is well written and researched. This book should occupy a spot on every avid Cardinals fan’s bookshelf. [End Page 120]