My Top 5 Iconic Moments in Cardinal History
It’s time for another United Cardinal Bloggers project, and this may be one of the hardest yet. The St. Louis Cardinals franchise and its fans have been on the right side of so much success over the years it’s really tough to pick favorites. But I’ll give it a try.
First I want to talk about how I’m defining this list. To me, an “Iconic Moment” is a singular play on the field—therefore, major accomplishments like Albert Pujols’ 3 HR game in the 2011 World Series or Bob Gibson’s 17-strikeout performance in the 1968 World Series aren’t eligible. Not that those events are anything less than iconic, but they’re really a series of moments that together make up an historic accomplishment. That’s not what this list is about. Second, this list takes into account the stakes of the game in which they occurred as well as the situation at hand. For instance, Pujols (2005) and Yadier Molina (2006) both have iconic postseason home runs in their careers. Pujols’ home run gave the Cardinals the lead when they were down to their last strike against the Houston Astros in an NLCS the Cards eventually lost; Molina’s untied Game 7 in an NLCS the Cardinals went on to win against the New York Mets. The biggest in-game situation had to be Pujols’ bomb, but Molina’s ultimately led the Cards to the World Series. So…coin flip? Finally, in light of the moments I just mentioned, I’m reserving the right to name a moment that several Cardinals accomplished, even if it was in different games, seasons, or eras. If the Cards had another player that broke the single season stolen base record, that moment could be paired with Lou Brock’s 105th steal back in 1974 as one iconic moment accomplished by two Cardinal greats. Maybe that violates the spirit of a list of five, but I don’t really care—it’s my list, not yours.
5. Home Run #62 – The cloud of scandal will always overshadow damn near every home run hit between 1990-2003. But throw that out the window for a moment and go back to 1998. Baseball was still recovering from a labor-related stoppage and cancellation of the World Series in 1994, and the sport was revitalized by the home run chase between Mark McGwire and Sammy Sosa. Maybe it was an artificially generated feat, but at the time it defined baseball in the 90s. In some ways it still does. And when McGwire squeaked #62 over the left field wall at Busch Memorial, the entire world was watching. How many regular season moments in baseball can claim that…maybe a dozen?
4. The Mad Dash – Most people reading this weren’t around for it—hell, my parents weren’t even born yet—but Hall of Famer Enos Slaughter has to make the list for his “Mad Dash” in the 1946 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Game 7 was tied in the bottom of the 8th inning at Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis…talk about dramatic. Slaughter took off from first with the pitch and scrambled all the way home on what was essentially a long single by Harry Walker. The run Slaughter scored turned out to be the game-winner and gave the Cards their third World Series title in five seasons.
3. The Home Run Heroes: NLCS edition – Since MLB introduced a playoff system in 1969, the Cardinals have participated in the NLCS 10 times and won six of them. As with any playoff series, the stakes are high for every game. But late-inning and walk-off home runs are some of the most dramatic moments in the sport; in a playoff game where a trip to the World Series is at stake, those moments become legendary. In 1985, it was light-hitting Ozzie Smith giving the Cards a 3-2 series lead against the LA Dodgers by sending his first career left-handed home run over the wall in extra innings with the iconic Jack Buck telling the Busch Stadium crowd to “Go Crazy, Folks” (as an aside, which is more iconic: the hit itself or Buck’s call?). In 2004, Jim Edmonds sent another Busch Stadium crowd over the edge with a 12th inning blast to force Game 7 against the Astros. The next year, the Cards were down two runs and down to their final strike before David Eckstein and Edmonds both found their way on base ahead of Pujols—who momentarily broke the prematurely celebrating Astros’ hearts again by destroying a ball over the wall in Houston. And in 2006, Molina stunned a Shea Stadium crowd by breaking a 1-1 tie in the 9th inning of Game 7. Not all of these hits led to a series win, but they did all lead to goosebumps and everlasting memories.
2. The 3000th Hit – Only 28 players in MLB history have reached the 3000 hit plateau, and only a handful of teams have more than one player achieve the feat in their uniform. The Cardinals are one of those teams: Stan Musial collected his 3000th hit on May 13, 1958 and Lou Brock joined the 3000 hit club on August 13, 1979. Musial continued to play for several more years, of course, finishing his career in 1963 with 3630 hits—still to this day good for fourth all-time. Brock’s achievement came near the end of his final season in the Majors; the speedy runner finished with 3023 hits for his career. But the rarity of the feat alone deserves mention on this list, and the fact that it was accomplished by two of the most iconic figures in the franchise’s history makes it even more special. Plus, with Pujols now gone for the second half of his career, it could be the last time a Cardinal makes it to 3000 for quite some time. Interesting but not shocking tidbit: Both milestones came against the Chicago Cubs.
1. The Ultimate World Series Hero – The St. Louis Cardinals’ 2011 season had so many heroes and moments, starting with the unprecedented comeback run to clinch the Wild Card in Game 162 and ending with Allen Craig’s catch for the final out of Game 7 of the World Series. There are literally a dozen or more moments in that nine week span that will stick out in the minds of Cardinal fans for years and years to come. But the biggest game of them all only needs to be identified by two little words: Game Six. Everyone on the planet knows the story: down to their last strike in two different innings, but they wouldn’t quit. You got the feeling that if the Cards could just get to their half of an inning without a deficit, they’d win the game. And that’s exactly what happened when Freese stepped to the plate in the bottom of the 11th. Home Run. Game over. Series tied: “We will see you tomorrow night.” Down to their final strike twice; now celebrating at home plate. Factoring in the entire game—called the greatest ever played by more than a few in the know—as well as the World Series circumstances; the fact that it happened at home; the fact that it was a native St. Louisan who did it; and that it led to the Cards’ 11th World Series title…David Freese’s 2011 World Series Game 6 walk-off home run is my most iconic moment in St. Louis Cardinals history. Admittedly, Freese is no Musial, Gibson, Smith, or Brock. He may never make the Hall of Fame, and he may never hit milestones like some of the guys above. But he cemented his name into both Cardinals and Major League baseball lore as first tying and then winning one of the greatest baseball games ever played. That’s hard to beat.