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Triple threat: Top three Cardinals third basemen
February 17, 2021
The Cardinals: known as one of the MLB’s most historic franchises. A staple of what a winning team is, with an astounding 11 World Series championships and 23 National League (NL) pennants. The franchise has also been fortunate enough to bear legends of baseball’s chronicle history, such as Dizzy Dean, Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Albert Pujols and many more. Even when the Redbirds went through stages of relative decline in the 1950s and 1960s, they would have following years of ascendancy in the 1960s and 1980s, winning four more titles, and winning six NL pennants. However, one position from Cardinals history that often gets overlooked is the bag at the corner of the infield. Here are the three players who have made their mark at the third base position, while wearing the birds on the bat.
1. Scott Rolen (2002-2009)
Rolen’s impact on the Cardinals during his five years in The Lou was nothing but extraordinary. In the field, Rolen’s all-out playing style made him a rock at the third base position, winning four Gold Gloves. In the batter’s box, Rolen’s dominance persisted, having an OPS (On-base and slugging percentage) over .900 three seasons with The Redbirds. An OPS of .900 or higher usually puts a hitter into the upper talent level of hitters in the MLB.
However, an especially phenomenal season for Rolen was his 2004 season in which he finished in fourth place for NL’s most valuable player (MVP), placing behind elite MLB sluggers Barry Bonds, Adrian Beltre and Albert Pujols. Rolen should be a sure-fire candidate to get into the Baseball Hall of Fame with his career resumé.
Another good addition that Rolen provided to the Cardinals was his winning mentality. Rolen has expressed in multiple interviews how heartbroken he was after the Cardinals were swept in four games by the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series, because that Cardinals team had been the best MLB team he had played for yet.
“I told my wife five days [after the 2004 World Series vs. Boston] that I’m never gonna win a World Series because I can’t even play on a team better than that one,” Rolen said in his interview with KSDK. “Lo and behold, ‘06 comes around we [were] the worst team in the regular season to ever make the playoffs, and we storm right through.”
2. Ken Boyer (1955-1965)
Boyer’s sublime eleven-year run with the Cardinals cemented him on this list. Boyer was always a threat to get on base, with his OPS never falling below .800 for six consecutive years with St. Louis. He was in the top ten for the NL MVP in 1959, 1960, 1961, and finally won the award in 1964.
Boyer wasn’t just an elite hitter. He set the MLB alight at the hot corner, winning an astonishing five Gold Gloves in a six-year period with the Cardinals, and deservedly is in the Cardinals Hall of Fame at Busch Stadium.
Boyer’s success has drawn admiration from some of baseball’s greatest legends such as another Cardinals Hall of Famer Bill White, who called Boyer the best third baseman he’d ever seen or played with. The praise didn’t stop there. Longtime general manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers Branch Rickey said Boyer was the best ballplayer at third base on his first impression that he had seen in a long time.
3. Terry Pendleton (1984-1990)
While he may not have had the pop in his bat that Boyer and Rolen had, Pendleton was a consistent contact hitter, producing an on-base plus slugging percentage (OPS+) over .100 two times with Saint Louis, with the MLB league average being .100. He also possessed a quality that all baseball teams desire in a player: speed. From 1984-1987, Pendleton routinely stole bases in the high teens, his highest total being 24 in 1986, a headache for the league’s pitchers.
Terry Pendleton’s fielding ability can’t be forgotten, having won a pair of Gold Gloves for the Redbirds in the ‘87 and ‘89 seasons. Pendleton’s presence on the winning Cardinals teams in the ’80s boosts his resume as well. He was a near everyday player on the ‘85 and ‘87 squads that just came up short in those two World Series, losing to the Twins and the Royals.
In the 1987 playoffs, Pendleton struck the most famous hit of his career, a two-run home run in the bottom of the 9th off of New York Mets closer Roger McDowell, tying the game at four apiece, and saving the Cardinals’ season. Pendleton later described his thought process while he was at the plate in that crucial moment at Shea Stadium that night.
“Until I got two strikes, [I thought] I’ve got to hit the ball out of the ballpark. He threw me two good strikes, then I moved up front in the box and got the next one early, and I was able to catch up with it.”