The Greatness of Opening Day in St. Louis: Red Jackets, Clydesdales, And The Red Sea.

The Cardinals’ annual home opener is a special event that never fails to delight and inspire. Friday afternoon the famous red sea inside Busch Stadium will roll with good times, carried happily by powerful undercurrents.

This day does so so much for the psyche of St. Louis. It’s a shared experience that represents what a community should be. We’re often divided by borders here. By backgrounds. By political beliefs. By race. By the city/county boundaries.

This is the one day of the year — the ONLY day — where St. Louis stands together as one community. As the red sea spreads and warms, we’ll share waves of genuine emotion, rich nostalgia, and unreserved sentimentality and joy.

Bring on the Clydesdales. And the current Cardinals’ players parading around the yard in convertibles (hello, Paul Goldschmidt!) And most of all: it will be a vision of loveliness when the men in the red jackets line up behind home plate today, to say hello again. And to remind all us how fortunate the generations have been to be treated to decades of baseball excellence — and the sweetest of memories — by a distinguished and hallowed group of Hall of Famers.

Before Thursday’s rain-out pushed the home opener to Friday, all 16 living members of the Cardinals Hall were scheduled to be at Busch. But because this day was originally an off day — no baseball — it was also a getaway day for some of the gentlemen who live out of town.

Travel complications will prevent several of the red jackets from being there today. That’s disappointing but understandable. But even though we won’t be gifted by the presence of all 16, I wanted to work on a mini-project … a summation of all that they’ve done with, and for, the St. Louis Cardinals and their fans.

Thursday night, I spent about 90 minutes doing the research and adding the numbers on these 16 legends. And it’s really remarkable, what they’ve achieved in this game to make this franchise one of the greatest in all of sport.

In recent years we’ve lost two icons, the late Stan Musial and Red Schoendienst. And even though the live on in our minds and hearts, there’s no replacing Stan and Red. But this group of 16 … wow. How many MLB organizations can match this depth of living talent, or the scope of enduring success?

“The Cardinals are always so great about honoring their history,” said the great broadcaster, Bob Costas, while speaking on Thursday’s Bernie Show.  “And the players – Hall of Fame players, be it Cooperstown or Cardinals Hall of Famers, and even players whose accomplishments might not quite reach that level…a disproportionate number of former Cardinals stay attached to the organization.

“And it’s always an incredible scene when, on a special occasion – whether it’s Opening Day, or someone has received an honor, or the Cardinals are in the postseason or hosting an All-Star Game, or whatever it may be – when all those great past Cardinals come out in those red jackets, and you look around the ballpark and the classy way in which they honor past great players, or a broadcaster like Jack Buck, the history of the Cardinals is ever-present.

“Even as you’re watching today’s game, the history of it…and it’s a proud history; there’s a lot of achievement, and a lot of emotion that goes into it. It’s part of the fabric of St. Louis for generations. So, that’s there in a way that probably isn’t for the vast majority of teams.

“Every team has its history, every team has its players that its honored, but only a handful of teams have that kind of history that’s undeniable – that you don’t have to shout from rooftops…it’s just there.

“And with the Cardinals, it always plays out in the classiest possible way. It’s not a chest-thumping way, it’s just: ‘Hey, here are our guys. This is our team. We know it’s a part of the fabric of the community. We don’t have to beat you over the head with it. It’s just there, and we know that you appreciate it.’

“And the Cardinals try and show that they appreciate their fans and their history.”

Ah-men to all of that.

Before I have fun with numbers –incredible numbers — here’s the roster:

  • Lou Brock
  • Bob Gibson
  • Ozzie Smith
  • Bruce Sutter
  • Whitey Herzog
  • Tony La Russa
  • Joe Torre
  • Ted Simmons
  • Chris Carpenter
  • Tim McCarver
  • Mark McGwire
  • Willie McGee
  • Mike Shannon
  • Jim Edmonds
  • Ray Lankford
  • Vince Coleman

I wanted to come up with something that sums up the totality of their careers.

Let’s start with the managers. Herzog, Torre La Russa. Torre didn’t get the Cardinals into the playoffs; it was a tough time to be the manager with franchise owner Anheuser-Busch slashing payroll in preparation of selling the team. The postseason totals here don’t include Torre for obvious reasons. I have no doubt Torre would have guided the Cardinals into the postseason if he’d benefited from better support from ownership-management.

After leaving St. Louis Torre managed the New York Yankees to four World Series championships and six American League pennants. He won 76 postseason games for the Yanks.

Since 1962, the first post-expansion season in the National League — the Cardinals have played 9,111 regular season games. And won 2,581 regular-season games. And won 103 postseason games.

Consider:

* Herzog, La Russa and Torre managed 53.2 percent of the Cardinals’ regular-season games since 1962.

* Herzog, TLR and Torre managed the team to 53.5% of its regular-season wins since ‘62.

* Herzog and TLR managed the Cardinals to three World Series championships, six NL pennants and 71 postseason victories. As managers La Russa and Herzog are responsible for 69 percent of the Cards’ postseason wins in the post-expansion era.

Now, onto the players, including Torre, who was a league MVP during his Cardinal career. These are combined totals. And keep in mind that these facts only include their accomplishments as Cardinals — not with other teams. Also: the offense and pitching statistics consist of regular-season only:

All-Star Game selections: 61

League MVP awards: 3

Gold Glove awards: 31

Cy Young awards: 3

Number of combined years receiving MVP votes: 53

Number of combined years receiving Cy Young votes: 12

Combined World Series won, including the managers: 17

Combined NL pennants won, including the managers: 31

Home runs: 1,345

RBIs: 6,802

Stolen bases:  2,544

Hits: 15,098

Runs scored: 6,578

Shutouts:  66

Pitcher wins:   372

Pitcher saves:   133

Pitcher strikeouts: 4,461

Living Cards’ Hall of Famers enshrined in the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown:  7.

And hopefully that list will grow to eight, because Ted Simmons deserves induction.

The seven already immortalized in Cooperstown are Brock, Gibson, Ozzie, Sutter, La Russa, Herzog, Torre.

Actually, I could have summed all of this up with a short statement: we’ve been blessed.

Thanks for reading and have a wonderful Opening Day and a fantastic weekend….

-B