Continuing on with our multi-part series on the Cardinals Franchise Four by position, below are my Franchise Four center fielders. Center field is a rigorous position. One that requires speed and a great arm. I struggled with the top spot given that I was never able to see Curt Flood play. Therefore, I am basing that decision purely on statistics, while taking into account the flair for the dramatic that Jimmy Baseball possessed and the fact that my heart wanted Willie to be #1. As my colleague Ross Bugger stated in his opening piece of this series – these are merely the opinions of the writers. I welcome you to debate and present to us your own Franchise Four at any of the positions discussed. Enjoy…
1. Curt Flood
Curt Flood played for the Birds on the Bat for 12 years (1958-1969) and was as well known for his off the field efforts as his on the field heroics. Flood received the Gold Glove in seven consecutive years (1963-1969) and was an All Star three times (1964, 1966 and 1968). He has two World Series championships (1964 v the Yankees and 1967 v the Red Sox). His career statistics include a .293 BA, .343 OBP, and .390 slugging percentage. He had 271 doubles as a Cardinal, 84 home runs, 633 RBIs and 88 stolen bases. He led the NL in hits in 1964 (211), fielding percentage in 1960, 1966 and 1969, assists for center fielders in 1958, 1968 and 1969 and double plays turned as a center fielder in 1958, 1961 and 1962. He has a career .987 fielding percentage, having reached a perfect 1.000 in 1966. His playoff stats include a .221 batting average, .287 OBP, .267 slugging percentage, 8 RBIs and 19 hits. At the time of his retirement, Curt Flood had played the third most games at center field in the NL – behind Willie Mays and Richie Ashburn, both Hall of Famers. Off the field, Flood was an advocate for the players, filing a lawsuit against Major League Baseball in December, 1969 in opposition to the reserve clause in player contracts. The case eventually made it to the Supreme Court, where the Court ruled 5-3 in favor of MLB. However, just five years later as part of an arbitration case, the MLBPA gained the right to free agency. Tony Clark, the current head of the MLBPA paid tribute to Curt Flood at this year’s Hall of Fame awards ceremony.
2. Jim Edmonds, aka, Jimmy Baseball
Again, I struggled with putting Edmonds in the #1 or #2 spot, having watched him play and seeing some of the most amazing and clutch plays by any center fielder in the game. He accomplished more as a Cardinal in a shorter period of time than did Curt Flood, playing for the club for 8 years (2000-2007). He was a 6 time Gold Glove winner while with the Cardinals (2000-2005), a 3 time All Star and a World Series champion in 2006 (we’re still not talking about the 2004 Series). His career stats as a Cardinal read as follows: .285 batting average, .393 OBP, .555 slugging percentage, 234 doubles, 241 home runs, 713 RBIs. In addition to the two World Series he played in, he was also part of 6 NLDS and 5 NLCS with the Cardinals. His playoff stats: .274 batting average, .361 OBP, .513 slugging percentage, 13 home runs, 16 doubles and 42 RBIs. Edmonds had a .988 career fielding percentage and led the NL in assists for a center fielder in 2001, 2002 and 2004. He also led the NL in double plays turned as a center fielder in 2002, 2003 and 2007. Jimmy had one Silver Slugger award in 2004.
3. Willie “ET” McGee
Jack Buck once said of Willie McGee – “He looks like he doesn’t have a friend in the world. Meanwhile, all the world is his friend.” Willie is a perennial fan favorite and should be. He played for the Cardinals from 1982-1990 as their regular center fielder, then returned as a role player from 1996-1999. He won 1 World Series with the Cardinals (should’ve been two), was a 4 time All Star, the NL MVP in 1985, and took home 3 Gold Gloves (1983, 1985, 1986). Willie batted .294 for the Cardinals with a .329 OBP, .400 slugging percentage, he had 255 doubles, 678 RBIs and 301 stolen bases. In fact, he had 5 seasons with at least 30 stolen bases. McGee won the NL batting title in 1985 (.353) and 1990 (.335). He led the NL in triples in 1985 (18) and singles (162). His postseason stats: .276 average, .302 OBP, .411 slugging percentage, 8 doubles, 4 home runs, 23 RBIs. He has a career .978 fielding percentage and led the NL in fielding percentage in 1986, in double plays turned as a center fielder in 1991 and in assists in 1990.
4. Ray Lankford
Lankford was drafted by the Cardinals in the 1987 amateur draft and made his MLB debut on August 21, 1990 at the age of 23. He played for the Cardinals from 1990-2001 and returned in 2004. He was the first Cardinal rookie to ever hit for the cycle and holds the record for the most home runs hit in old Busch Stadium (123). His stats as a Cardinal are impressive, although his shining moment was against the Mets in the 2000 NLCS. He was a .273 career hitter with a .365 OBP, and a .481 slugging percentage. Lankford hit 339 doubles with the Cards, belted 228 home runs and knocked in 829 RBIs. He holds a career .986 fielding percentage and is in the Cardinal Top 10 for home runs (3rd), stolen bases (5th), runs (8th), RBIs (8th) and walks (4th). He was an All Star in 1997 and led the NL in double plays turned as a center fielder in 1995 as well as in fielding percentage in 1992 and 1996.