The St. Louis Cardinals do history well. Their marketing slogan this season is “Tradition Meets Today.” With no fewer than nine statues of Cardinal greats just outside Busch Stadium — two for the greatest Cardinal of all, Stan Musial — a blindfolded fan might literally bump into a bronzed Hall of Famer on his way into the ballpark. Once inside the stadium (blindfold removed), that fan can count the retired uniform numbers of Cardinal heroes in two different locations. The team’s 11 world championships? There are 11 flags flying high above the rightfield stands, and 11 pennants painted atop the Cardinals’ dugout with every championship year from 1926 to 2011.
Here in Memphis at AutoZone Park, the Cardinals could teach local fans a history lesson or two. And now that the parent franchise has an ownership stake, it’s time to crack the books.
Deep in the bowels of the 15-year-old stadium, next to a batting cage, Memphis baseball championships are painted on the wall. This is the only place you’ll see any indication the franchise has two Pacific Coast League titles (2000 and 2009) to its credit. The red Pujols Seat remains — now a solitary chair — on the rightfield bluff, just inside the foul pole where Albert Pujols’s championship-winning home run landed on September 15, 2000. (The chair needs a small plaque for those oblivious to the most famous hit in franchise history.) As for the heroics of other former Redbirds, good luck.
Baseball history fades entirely at Third and Union, some of the fading intentional. Stubby Clapp’s number (10) was retired in 2007, but the back-flipping face of the 2000 PCL champs had his name removed from the bullpen wall last winter, the Cardinals asserting the number had been retired for Hall of Fame manager Tony LaRussa, negating the same honor — for the same uniform number — elsewhere in the farm system.
There have been too many good players — popular players — to wear a Memphis Redbirds uniform for the stadium to remain devoid of any form of tribute. My proposal: A wall of fame — presented where any ticketed fan can see it — with a photo or plaque saluting former Redbird heroes. Borrowing from the Cardinals’ own Hall of Fame, a new member of this wall of fame would be announced near the start of each season. And Memphis baseball tradition would, finally, meet today at AutoZone Park.
We’ll need an inaugural class, of course, so here are the five Redbirds that would receive my vote. Let’s establish a minimum of 100 games played with the team for position players, and either 50 games or 10 wins for pitchers. Apologies to the likes of Pujols and Yadier Molina. Great Cardinals, to say the least, but Redbirds all too briefly.
• Rick Ankiel
— His two stints as a Redbird were Ruthian. As a 20-year-old flame-thrower in 1999, the lefty won seven games and struck out 119 hitters in 88 innings pitched. He was the last Memphis baseball star at Tim McCarver Stadium. Eight (long) years later, having lost his ability to throw a baseball over the plate, Ankiel returned to Memphis as a centerfielder and led the Redbirds with 32 home runs and 89 RBIs in just 102 games. There will never be another like him, for good or ill.
• Stubby Clapp
— His backflips (a tribute to Cardinal great Ozzie Smith) are memorable, but Clapp was the heart and backbone of that 2000 championship team, leading the club in runs, hits, and dirty uniforms. He remains third in franchise history in games played (425) and hits (418). Stubby was the Gashouse Gang by way of Canada.
• Skip Schumaker
— He’s the only player to appear in 200 games as a Redbird and 500 games as a Cardinal. Never a star, he merely played solid baseball, in the outfield and at the plate, then at second base for a team that won the World Series. In trying to define the fabled “Cardinal Way,” Schumaker would be good source material.
• Nick Stavinoha
— The Redbirds’ career leader in games (479), hits (531), home runs (74), runs (531), and RBIs (316). Stavinoha was a slugger without a position, but not quite enough slugger to find his way to an American League team where the DH lives and breathes. He played in 72 games for the 2009 PCL champs, but was with the parent club when Memphis reeled off six straight playoff wins.
• Adam Wainwright
— Waino was a .500 pitcher (14-14) over two seasons with Memphis, though he led the PCL with 182 innings pitched in 2005. Since then, though, he’s won 121 games with the Cardinals and climbed to second on the franchise strikeout list behind Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. As a rookie out of the bullpen, Wainwright was integral to the Cards’ 2006 World Series win.
History matters in baseball. It should be given life at AutoZone Park