At the time of publication of this article, Yadier Molina has spent all 17 seasons of what may very well be a Hall of Fame career with the St. Louis Cardinals, establishing himself as one of the greatest defensive catchers in the history of the sport.
Still, as it came time to rank the nine greatest players in the history of the franchise, Molina was among a group that just missed out. He shouldn't feel too badly - he'll almost certainly have a statue outside of New Busch Stadium someday. Among the others that missed out are Molina's long-time teammate Adam Wainwright, along with basestealing icon Lou Brock and Curt Flood, a seven-time All-Star that was key in getting free agency implemented into the sport.
Let's face it, though - the Cardinals franchise has existed since 1882, and the 11 World Series titles that the team has are second in MLB history. With that in mind, there were going to be some franchise icons that just missed out on this list.
Here are the nine greatest players in the history of the Cardinals:
9. Dizzy Dean (1930;1932-1937)
Best Season: 1934 - 30-7 with a 2.66 ERA, 3.23 FIP, 1.165 WHIP, 195 strikeouts and an 8.9 bWAR
Career Summary: 134-75 with a 2.99 ERA, 3.18 FIP, 1.204 WHIP, 1,095 strikeouts and a 39.9 bWAR
Dean maybe doesn't have the total career accumulation as some other players on this list, but he was so dominant in his seven seasons with the team that he had to be on this list. Dean won the National League MVP Award in 1934, and finished runner-up for the honor in both 1935 and 1936. The Cy Young Award wasn't handed out until 1956, but it's safe to say Dean would have won at least three of those if it had existed during his career.
8. Enos Slaughter (1938-1942;1946-1953)
Best Season: 1942 - .318/.412/.494 with 13 home runs, 98 RBIs, a .906 OPS and a 6.8 bWAR
Career Summary: .305/.384/.463 with 146 home runs, 1,148 RBIs, an .847 OPS and a 57.0 bWAR
As it stands, Slaughter made 10 All-Star Game appearances with the Cardinals, and that doesn't take into account that he missed the 1943-1945 seasons because he was serving in World War II. Because of his military service, Slaughter didn't get to play in his age-27-29 seasons, which came after a second-place finish in National League MVP voting in 1942. Slaughter is an all-time great Cardinal, and could have been even higher on this list if not for his career being interrupted at the height of his powers.
7. Ted Simmons (1968-1980)
Best Season: 1973 - .310/.370/.438 with 13 home runs, 91 RBIs, an .808 OPS and a 5.5 bWAR
Career Summary: .298/.366/.459 with 172 RBIs, an .824 OPS and a 45.0 bWAR
Simmons was finally elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame in 2019, a better-late-than-never acknowledgement that he's perhaps among the 10 best backstops in the history of baseball. Simmons was an eight-time All-Star, and six of those appearances came during his 13 seasons in St. Louis.
6. Ken Boyer (1955-1965)
Best Season: 1961 - .329/.397/.533 with 24 home runs, 95 RBIs, a .930 OPS and an 8.0 bWAR
Career Summary: .293/.356/.475 with 255 home runs, 1,001 RBIs, an .832 OPS and a 58.1 bWAR
Boyer, the 1964 National League MVP, spent 11 seasons with the Cardinals. Over the course of his time with the Redbirds, Boyer made seven All-Star teams and won five Gold Glove Awards. Boyer perhaps didn't have enough longevity to be Hall of Fame-worthy, though there's little question that he was that level of player in his prime.
5. Ozzie Smith (1982-1996)
Best Season: .273/.335/.361 with two home runs, 50 RBIs, a .699 OPS and a 7.3 bWAR
Career Summary: .272/.350/.344 with 27 home runs, 664 RBIs, a .694 OPS and a 66.0 bWAR
Whatever you think of his offensive numbers, Smith is one of the greatest defenders that the sport has ever seen. "The Wizard" won 13 career Gold Glove Awards, 12 as a member of the Cardinals. The 15-time All-Star is the all-time leader in MLB history in defensive WAR, not just at shortstop, but any position.
4. Bob Gibson (1959-1975)
Best Season: 1968 - 22-9 with a 1.12 ERA, 1.77 FIP, 0.853 WHIP, 268 strikeouts and an 11.2 bWAR
Career Summary: 251-174 with a 2.91 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 1.188 WHIP, 3,117 strikeouts and an 81.7 bWAR
Gibson spent his entire 17-season career with the Cardinals, winning Cy Young Awards in 1968 and 1970, the National League MVP in 1968 and World Series MVP in 1964 and 1967. One of the most dominant right-handed pitchers in baseball history, Gibson graded out as the second greatest pitcher between 1960 and 1980. Perhaps the most underrated part of the Hall of Famer's legacy is that he won the Gold Glove Award nine times, making him one of the best fielding pitchers ever.
3. Rogers Hornsby (1915-1926; 1933)
Best Season: 1924 - .424/.507/.696 with 25 home runs, 94 RBIs, a 1.203 OPS and a 12.2 bWAR
Career Summary: .359/.427/.568 with 193 home runs, 1,072 RBIs, a .995 OPS and a 91.4 bWAR
Hornsby, one of the 10 greatest right-handed hitters in MLB history, spent 13 seasons with the Cardinals across two stints. Though Hornsby also had huge seasons with the New York Giants and Chicago Cubs, the Cardinals are by far the team that he spent the largest chunk of his career with. Hornsby won the 1925 National League MVP as a member of the Cardinals, and there's a legitimate argument to be made that said campaign wasn't even his best with the team. The 13.9 defensive WAR that Hornsby finished his career with is a reminder of how excellent of an infielder he was early in his career.
2. Albert Pujols (2001-2011)
Best Season: 2008 - .357/.462/.653 with 37 home runs, 116 RBIs, 1.114 OPS and a 9.2 bWAR
Career Summary: .328/.420/.617 with 445 home runs, 1,329 RBIs, 1.037 OPS and an 86.6 bWAR
For as underwhelming as his time with the Los Angeles Angels has been, Pujols had one of the greatest 11-year stretches we've ever seen during his time with the Cardinals. The 445 home runs that Pujols hit during his time with the Cardinals are the most over that 11-year stretch, and Alex Rodriguez is the only won within 70. Pujols did this all while hitting for a higher batting average than Ichiro Suzuki or anyone else in the sport. A three-time National League MVP, Pujols led the Cardinals to two World Series titles during his time with the team, including one in 2011, which turned out to be his final season in St. Louis.
1. Stan Musial (1941-1944;1946-1963)
Best Season: .376/.450/.702 with 39 home runs, 131 RBIs, a 1.152 OPS and an 11.3 bWAR
Career Summary: .331/.417/.559 with 475 home runs, 1,951 RBIs, a .976 OPS and a 128.3 bWAR
Even with losing the 1945 season to World War II, Musial is, rather easily, the greatest player in franchise history. Casually a 24-time All-Star, Musial spent his entire career with the Cardinals, winning seven batting titles and three National League MVPs. One of the five greatest left-handed hitters in MLB history, "Stan the Man" helped the Cardinals to win World Series titles in 1942, 1944 and 1946.