THE CENTURY CLUB
For the first time since 1985, the St. Louis Cardinals have achieved the magic number of 100 wins. In 113 years of Cardinal baseball, there have been more world champions in St. Louis (9) than there have been 100-win teams (7). Seems like a golden opportunity to compare the 2004 Cards with the last team to break the century mark. (The 85 Cardinals are listed first in each comparison.)
CATCHER -- Darrell Porter vs. Mike Matheny. Porter offered some winning intangibles (he was MVP of the 1982 World Series), but I just cant forgive him for that passed ball in Game 6 against the Royals. Matheny and his two gold gloves are priceless behind the plate these days. Credit him with much of the alarming success of the 2004 Cardinal starters. Edge: 2004.
FIRST BASE -- Jack Clark vs. Albert Pujols. Clark was the spine of that fleet-footed bunch in 85, and his pennant-winning home run in Game 6 of the NLCS was one of the most electric moments in Cardinal history. But then theres Prince Albert, the second-most dangerous hitter in the game today. Edge: 2004.
SECOND BASE -- Tom Herr vs. Tony Womack. This is a tough call. Herr drove in 110 runs in 1985 (with only eight homers) and played a terrific second base. Womack has been a catalyst for the 2004 run-scoring machine, playing a game that belies his 34 years of age. Im of the school of thought that the hitter who drives in runs is slightly more valuable than the table-setter. Edge: 1985.
SHORTSTOP -- Ozzie Smith vs. Edgar Renteria. Renteria remains one of the two or three best all-around shortstops in the game. Rare is the shortstop who can save runs with his glove and drive in runs with his bat with equal precision. A pending free agent, Renteria will be Priority One for general manager Walt Jocketty this winter. But you just cant give second fiddle to a first-ballot Hall of Famer. No Cardinal fan over the age of 30 will EVER forget Game 5 of the NLCS . . . Go Crazy, Folks! Edge: 1985.
THIRD BASE -- Terry Pendleton vs. Scott Rolen. Pendleton hadnt yet won his first gold glove, and he wasnt the kind of hitter he was when he earned an MVP trophy with Atlanta in 1991. As for Rolen, hes merely the best two-way player in baseball. A shame his leg injury has cost him an outside chance at this years MVP. Edge: 2004.
LEFTFIELD -- Vince Coleman vs. Reggie Sanders. At the tender age of 37, Sanders became only the fifth Cardinal in history to hit 20 homers and steal 20 bases in the same season. And his personality has been a dynamic boost to the St. Louis clubhouse, significantly thawing the cold pockets left by J.D. Drew and Tino Martinez. But Coleman put that 85 bunch into a new realm of Whiteyball. His 110 stolen bases were a rookie record and remain the third highest single-season total in the games history. Well try and forget the man-eating tarp. Edge: 1985.
CENTERFIELD -- Willie McGee vs. Jim Edmonds. Hmmm. McGee won the batting title, a gold glove, and MVP honors in 85. Edmonds has hit more than 40 homers, scored 100 runs, and driven in more than 110 this year. Hes a lock for his seventh gold glove. Edge: even.
RIGHTFIELD -- Andy Van Slyke vs. Larry Walker. In their respective primes, these two players were surprisingly comparable, both five-tool talents who were as well-liked for their personality as they were their skills on the field. Alas, Van Slyke never won an MVP or batting title. Edge: 2004.
ROTATION -- Tudor/Andujar/Cox/Forsch vs. Morris/Williams/Carpenter/Marquis. Another tough comparison. John Tudor was lights-out in 85, with an ERA under 2.00, and Joaquin Andujar was a money pitcher, notwithstanding his meltdown in Game 7 of the Series that year. As for the 04 bunch, theyve over-achieved and will be the Cardinals biggest question mark entering the postseason. Edge: 1985.
BULLPEN -- Jeff Lahti/Todd Worrell vs. Jason Isringhausen. The 85 club was Whitey Herzogs bullpen by committee prototype, with Worrells late-season promotion helping hold off a powerful Mets team in the regular season. Izzys on the verge of breaking Lee Smiths season record for saves by a Cardinal (47). I like having a workhorse in the pen, THE guy when it comes to the final three outs. Edge: 2004.
Lets see. In our fantasy matchup, this years team takes the prize by the slightest of margins, 5 to 4 (with one even). Keep in mind, that 1985 team lost the World Series to Kansas City (and Don Denkinger). Over the last 25 years, only three teams with 100 wins have gone on to win the Series (84 Tigers, 86 Mets, and 98 Yankees). But enough cynicism. As the seventh team out of 113 to win 100 games (and with a shot at the franchise record of 106 wins), the 2004 St. Louis Cardinals have been a team for the ages.