There are numbers worn by great players over the years that deserve the honor of never being worn by anyone else. These players may not make it to the Hall of Fame (some might eventually) but nonetheless, they still deserve acknowledgement and honor.
It seems in order to be immortal in the St. Louis Cardinals organization, you must be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
And by immortality, I mean number retirement.
The last two Cardinals to go into Cooperstown got this honor. Whitey Herzog got his No. 24 retired when he was voted in and Bruce Sutter’s No. 42 is now honored with Jackie Robinson.
But there are numbers worn by great players over the years that deserve the honor of never being worn by anyone else. These players may not make it to the Hall of Fame (some might eventually) but nonetheless, they still deserve acknowledgement and honor.
Ray Lankford No. 16
Before “Big Mac” came over from Oakland, the power hitter in St. Louis was Ray Lankford.
He had a true swing, it always seemed he was at his best when he stepped to the plate with his black painted bat. He could cover the outfield with the legs of a gazelle, made simple base hits spectacular outs with his skillful dives and leaps.
He was an impact player who made a huge difference every time the ball sailed into the outfield or whenever he stepped in to the batter’s box with runners in scoring position.
His .273 lifetime batting average, 238 career home runs, 874 RBIs and 258 stolen bases make him the best No. 16 to ever where the birds on the bat.
And if that’s not enough for you, don’t forget it was Ray Lankford who hit the most home runs in the history of Busch Stadium II, a feat alone certainly deserving of a retired number.
I’d like to think that Carlos Beltran’s decision to wear No. 3, which would leave No. 16 open, would give the Cardinals the opportunity to consider Lankford for number retirement, but that’s up to the owners.
Curt Flood No. 21
His impact wasn’t noted until he came to the Cardinals from Cincinnati, but any big baseball fan will tell you Curt Flood is certainly deserving of a baseball honor. If it isn’t for what he did on the field — which included three National League Championships, two World Series Championships, three All-Star Game appearances and seven Gold Gloves — Flood should certainly be honored for what he did for baseball off of the field.
His challenge after challenge of baseball’s reserve clause eventually led to what we know today as free agency, it changed the business side of the game forever. Some may have other things to say about Flood and how he lived his life, but if the game didn’t honor players who did something people don’t approve of, the Hall of Fame and the honor of retired numbers wouldn’t exist.
Flood is very deserving of the Hall of Fame and I believe someday he’ll get in. But the Cardinals shouldn’t wait for that, his No. 21 should be amongst the many others on display at Busch Stadium so everyone can look at it.
Jim Edmonds No. 15
There will never be another player to wear No. 15 better than “Jimmy Baseball.”
There wasn’t a fly ball he couldn’t catch or a pitch he couldn’t with power. I could go on and on about stats and memorable moments, but it’d all be redundant. It’s Jim Edmonds, he always gave 100 percent. Edmonds should get into the Hall of Fame at some point, but there’s no doubt he should be honored forever as a Cardinal.
Mike Shannon No. 18
His career didn’t last long. His numbers don’t exactly make him a Hall of Famer.
But Mike Shannon is a legend behind the microphone. He has just as much impact on Cardinals history as Jack Buck and Stan Musial, and on top of that he’s a local guy, a St. Louis native.
The Cardinals of the 1960s were probably the best group of Redbirds in history. You’re going mention players like Gibson, Brock and Cepeda, but you can’t leave out Mike Shannon. He was the guy everyone could depend on every time he came to the plate. If I had to compare him to a current Cardinal, it’d be Allen Craig. He played infield, outfield and he gives us some of the most memorable calls over the radio.
Shannon’s not going to be remembered for his playing days, but he will be a Hall of Fame broadcaster someday. Retiring his No. 18 would be the most fitting thing the Cardinals organization could do to show their gratitude.
Willie McGee No. 51
Might as well save the best for last.
Willie McGee’s No. 51 isn’t retired, but no one gets it, no one would want to face the boos and criticism for picking it for their jersey, yet the Cardinals still haven’t retired the 1985 MVP’s number.
He’s one of the most treasured Cardinals of all-time. St. Louis couldn’t have had the teams they had in the ‘80s without McGee. He was the decade’s definition of speed, a clutch hitter from his first at-bat to his last. The Astroturf days of baseball made the game interesting for outfielders, but Willie McGee covered his ground with the most ease and athleticism you’d ever see.
To have No. 51 just sitting around without the honor it deserves is pointless. No other Cardinal deserves that number, will wear that number and it should be properly retired for the man who wore it very, very well.
The Veterans Committee may let McGee into the Hall of Fame, but Cooperstown or not, No. 51 needs to honored. It’s the right thing to do.