Excitement. Disappointment. Tradition. They make baseball great! Following your favorite team for six months a year will cause any halfway-devoted fan to learn more about the 25th man on the roster than will ever be necessary. It also might mean that fans could always recite the name of the prospect that never was, even years after the fact. And if those fans continue to follow that same team for many seasons, the list of players that they remember will continue to grow. Not all the memories are pleasant, however. That’s not how life works. In fact, the not-so-happy moments from the playing field tend to be what most fans remember the most. It’s those memories of a certain type of player type that live on in the collective mind of fans everywhere, and it’s those types of memories that I will be delving into in this piece.
A recent Grant Brisbee piece at The Athletic set out to create an all time team of “lightning rod players” he loved from the San Francisco Giants, and I felt it was a delightful read. It seemed like a lot of fun to dig in on all those players, and as a Cardinals fan, it made me think about what a similar team of St. Louis players would look like. What follows is my detour down the cul-de-sac of memory lane that many would rather soon forget, an imaginary lineup dubbed the Tino Martinez All-Stars.
Let me be clear — this will not be a scientific process. There will be a statistical element, but it will not be a “who was the worst player at every position” contest. Maybe the players were overrated, maybe they are overpaid, or maybe they were just overplayed. The bottom line is, apathy is the enemy! Also, I was born in 1983, so the team I’ll be picking will undoubtedly be influenced by the Cardinals clubs I have seen the most. You have been warned.
With the help of Birds On The Book, a Cardinals-themed social media splinter group created by listeners of the Effectively Wild podcast, a master list of players was created. After that, I decided on three rules (perhaps more accurately called “suggestions”) to help govern the selection process and ensure the end result was a stacked team. Rule No. 1 is simple: the player almost certainly cannot be selected if they were a member of a World Championship team with the Cardinals. Rule No. 2 proposes that the player has played no less than one full season with the team. Rule No. 3 states that in the event of a tie, whichever player performed worse while wearing the birds on the bat will be deemed victorious.
Because this is a website devoted to baseball research and statistics, and also because I am particularly fond of adjusted stats like ERA- or OPS+, I still wanted an analytical reference point for this process. For these position players, I used the simple formula of taking each player’s total bWAR accumulated while playing for the Cardinals and divided it by the total number of their Cardinal games. In other words, it’s their bWAR Per Game (or WPG as we will refer to it from here on out). Let the roster building begin!
Second base: Felipe Lopez (152 Games, +.011 WPG, 11 HR, .276/.343/.398, 101 OPS+) — During his 11-year career, Lopez was acquired by Hall of Fame manager Tony La Russa’s team not once, but twice. One would think that a player who was added to the team for separate and non-consecutive seasons would end up with a better fate, but it was not to be. With contenders like Skip Schumaker (.006 WPG), Aaron Miles (+.004 WPG), and Ryan “Mr. Tootblan” Theriot (+.002 WPG) to fend off, it took a special combination of his repeated tardiness to the field and repeated tardiness to the fastball to cement his spot in the starting lineup.
Third base: Scott Cooper (118 Games, -.002 WPG, 3 HR, .230/.321/.313, 70 OPS+) — When he was traded from Boston to St. Louis in April of 1995, everything seemed to be coming up roses for native St. Louisian Scott Cooper. He was brought to the Cardinals after parts of five seasons in the American League, where he hit .284 and had a 101 OPS+, making him almost exactly a league-average hitter. However, similar to runner-ups Todd Zeile (+.012 WPG) and Ty Wigginton (-.015 WPG), his offense with St. Louis left much to be desired. He had a wonderful first game as a Cardinal, but the highlights were few and far between after that. According to general manager Walt Jocketty, he was “known for his defense,” but it never came together for him on either side of the ball in the National League. Cooper finished the season with 18 errors and left MLB to pursue a job overseas, leaving behind a hometown crowd that politely suggested he not let the door hit him in the rear on the way out.
Shortstop: Brendan Ryan (415 Games, +.020 WPG, 9 HR, .259/.314/.344, 76 OPS+) — This is the position that, in my opinion, represents the biggest divide between generations. If I asked my dad, a lifelong resident of St. Louis, which player he feels would be most deserving for this team, he would shout “Garry Templeton!” (.026 WPG) without hesitation. This is a very common answer among many long-time Cardinal fans. I do not have any real issues with that choice, but I am going to go in another direction because (1) Gary was before my time, and (2) the Cards traded him for Ozzie Smith! That would be like putting Ernie Broglio on the pitcher list, and it just wouldn’t seem right.
There are several shortstops with a legit claim to this title, but Ryan is the most worthy of them all in my opinion. His rangy play at shortstop made him a favorite of the stat-head community, but not even his elite defense could fend off the ire of the fans forever. While 2012 playoff hero Pete Kozma (+.001 WPG) and 2009 colossal failure Khalil Greene (-.012 WPG) each represent a type of player who couldn’t handle one aspect of the game or another, Ryan was the worst of both worlds. Between the offensive deficiencies and the countless mental lapses on the diamond (just ask World Series Champion and team Hall of Famer Chris Carpenter), Ryan burned every bridge between he and the fans before eventually being traded to the Seattle Mariners.
Catcher: A.J. Pierzynski (30 Games, -.013 WPG, 1 HR, .244/.295/.305, 69 OPS+) — Remember rule No. 2 from earlier? The one that said that the chosen player should be on the team for at least one full season? Well, rules are made to be broken, and Pierzynski is just the kind of guy who deserves some special treatment. A leading candidate to represent every team he ever played for on a list like this, A.J. was able to surpass much longer tenured catchers such as Darrell Porter (+.021 WPG), Tony Pena (+.005 WPG), and Tony Cruz (-.010 WPG) in just over two months of employment at Busch Stadium. To no ones surprise, he downplayed his reputation as a clubhouse cancer, saying shortly after signing with St. Louis that, “People that played with me and know me, know what I’m about, and that’s all that really matters.” As once surveyed by Men’s Journal, 100 players begged to differ, selecting Pierzynski as the most hated player in all of baseball.
Right Field: J.D. Drew (597 Games, +.030 WPG, 96 HR, .282/.377/.498, 124 OPS+) — Drew had major talent. He is by far the most gifted player on the Tino Martinez All-Stars. In fact, this Scott Boras client was a first-round pick draft pick in consecutive years, holding out for maximum value, and in doing so reset the bar for the compensation of future top draft picks. His skills both at the plate and in the field were never in doubt, but he played in less than 75% of the teams’ games over his five-year run with the Redbirds. A true five-tool player, Drew turned out to be someone the fans turned on, as their adoration turned to animosity. Though former Minnesota Twin Tom Brunansky (+.008 WPG) was disliked before he even put on a Cardinal uniform, and Dexter Fowler (+.006 WPG) put up a historically bad season in 2018, Drew seemed to have that innate ability to disappoint in more facets of the game than anyone else, both on and off the field.
Left Field: Juan Encarnacion (231 Games, +.005 WPG, 28 HR, .280/.319/.444, 95 OPS+) — Left field was another position that had some serious competition for the top spot. A player like Chris Duncan (+.007 WPG) was certainly frustrating, but he was a lovable character, not to mention a World Series champion. The player that ended up giving free-agent acquisition Encarnacion the biggest run for his money was a recent underachiever, Mr. Marcell Ozuna (+.016 WPG). The decision between these two was so tough that I felt I had to resort to Rule No. 3 and decide which player was worse. The invoking of that rule, however, made it really really easy. Ozuna has been a superior player any way you want to look at it, notching 47 more games, putting up a 107 OPS+, and hitting almost twice as many long balls (56 to 28) over their respective two-year stints with the team. Via the WPG metric, Ozuna was more than three times as valuable to the team. Even a 2006 Championship ring couldn’t fend off the selection of Encarnacion, and it doesn’t help that he went hitless in his nine World Series at-bats. Tie goes to the worse player, and the worse player here is Juan Encarnacion.
Center Field: Colby Rasmus (385 Games, +.018 WPG, 50 HR, .259/334/.443, 110 OPS+) — Remember earlier when we talked about J.D. Drew and how the fans ended up feeling about him? Well, in Rasmus’s case, we can take that animosity and jack it up with some of that good 1990s juice, because in St. Louis sports culture, Rasmus has become a walking punchline. The never-ending stare-down between him and La Russa over Rasmus’s refusal to stop using his father as his hitting coach is the stuff of late-era TLR legend. Top it off with Rasmus’s 2011 mid-season dismissal via a trade to the Toronto Blue Jays that brought back multiple players that helped win the World Series that year, and his legacy is cemented. Even though players like Harrison Bader (+.019 WPG) and Peter Bourjos (+.002 WPG) have some vocal dissenters on the lunatic fringe, there is no real competition for Colby “Long Hair Don’t Care” Rasmus in this spot.
First Base: – Tino Martinez (288 Games, +.008 WPG, 36 HR, .267/.345/.434, 105 OPS+) — Last but certainly not least, first base was the one position that did not need any crowdsourcing. Brought in on a three-year deal to attempt the impossible, Martinez was to replace Mark McGwire at first base. He quickly became one of the rare players in St. Louis baseball history that was almost universally disliked, a feeling he seemed to have a “right back atcha” attitude about. Expectations were high after he knocked 34 home runs in his final season for the New York Yankees, but it took him almost his entire two-season stint with the team to surpass that total. Cardinals fans to this day have such disdain towards Martinez that he will not only have this imaginary team named after him and be the starting first baseman, but I am additionally making him the cleanup hitter and official team captain.
1. Colby Rasmus – CF
2. J.D. Drew – RF
3. Juan Encarnacion – LF
4. Tino Martinez – 1B
5. Felipe Lopez – 2B
6. Scott Cooper – 3B
7. A.J. Pierszynski – C
8. Brendan Ryan – SS
And that, folks, is your starting lineup for the Tino Martinez All-Stars.
No team can be complete without a pitching staff, and this club is no exception. I plan to tackle the pitching staff in the next edition of this piece.
I am baseball fan born in St. Louis, and have spent the last 18 years living in New Orleans, LA. As for the tough questions--I still go back and forth about how I feel about the robot umps, but I most definitely want the pitchers to keep hitting.