It may not seem like it now, with the poor defense that has been displayed over the past few years, but the St. Louis Cardinals have one of the richest histories in baseball for elite defenders. Of course the one constant measure of defensive prowess over the years is the Gold Glove. At least since 1957. The Cardinals have 86 Gold Gloves as a franchise. That’s good for tops in baseball and is 13 more than the second place Baltimore Orioles.
A Brief History of Gold Gloves
The Rawlings Gold Glove award was first awarded in 1957. It is awarded based on elite individual defensive performance at each position, as judged by managers and coaches in both leagues.
In it’s first four years of existence, the award was given to one player at each position across both leagues. However, from 1961 to 2010, it was awarded to a player at each infield position, including the catcher and pitcher, and three outfielders regardless of their specific position. Therefore, three centerfielders could win the award in the same year. In 2011 the rule was changed back to the original formatting though and it is again awarded to outfielders based on position.
The award was given to just nine players across both leagues in 1957 and in 1985 and 2007 there were ten awards given in one league. In all other years there have been 18 Gold Gloves awarded. That makes for a grand total of 1,073 Gold Glove Awards since 1957.
Cardinals Gold Gloves
The St. Louis Cardinals have won eight percent of those Gold Gloves over the years. Some of the best defenders to ever play the game have worn the Birds on the Bat. There have been eight players win five or more times while in St. Louis, six have won six or more, four have won seven or more and three have won eight or more.
There have been other players that would fall into those categories had they played their entire career with the Cardinals. Scott Rolen, for example, won eight Gold Gloves, but he only won four of them with the Redbirds.
Of the over 2,000 major league players to make an appearance for the Cardinals since their origin in 1882, four players have won nearly 41 percent of their Gold Gloves. Below are those four players and highlights from arguably their best defensive seasons statistically.
The Wizard, Ozzie Smith, is one of the best defensive shortstops in baseball history. Throughout his Hall of Fame career, Ozzie won 13 Gold Gloves, making him the all-time leader at the shortstop position. He won 11 of them with the St. Louis Cardinals in a consecutive streak between 1982 and 1992.
One of his most impressive years defensively with the Redbirds was 1985. That year he started 158 games for the National League Champs, finishing 149 of them. He played 1,407 innings at shortstop in ’85, racking up 264 put outs and 549 assists, while committing just 14 errors. There were seasons where Ozzie topped his .983 fielding percentage from that season and made less errors, but he never played more innings in a single season and only turned more double plays than his 111 one time.
Bob Gibson is another all-time great Cardinal who finds himself enshrined in Cooperstown. He is arguably the best Cardinal to take the mound. Gibby still holds the franchise record for Gold Gloves as a pitcher with nine.
Gibson had plenty of great seasons pitching, as he did fielding, but his best year for both on both sides was 1968. That was a historic season for Bob, in which he posted a 1.12 ERA and changed the game forever. He started 34 games that season and pitched 304.2 innings. In all those innings he committed just one error and had a .980 fielding percentage. He had 21 put outs that year, 28 assists and turned two double plays. What’s even more impressive was his ability to stop the running game. Gibby allowed just six stolen bases in all those innings, the other five who attempted were thrown out, for a 45 percent caught stealing rate.
The only other year that competes with Gibson’s ’68 season is 1972. He had a better fielding percentage at .983, but he pitched less innings and allowed more stolen bases. Also, he had nine less putouts in ’72 than in ’68.
Every Cardinals fan knows how special Yadier Molina is behind the plate. He’s one of the best defensive catchers of all time. Former manager Tony LaRussa dubbed him the best catcher to ever play, based on his defensive ability and ability to handle a pitching staff. Yadi is by far the best catcher St. Louis has ever seen and he has eight Gold Gloves to back it up, along with four Platinum Glove awards.
Unlike the other three players listed, Yadi has the benefit of advanced statistics to show just how good he is behind the plate. They also help distinguish his best defensive season. That season would be 2012.
In 2012, Molina was a force at the backstop. He played in 136 games and caught 1,161.1 innings. Over that span, he committed only three errors in 1,053 chances, accumulated 962 put outs and 88 assists for a .997 fielding percentage. Of the 73 base stealers that season, he threw out 48 percent. That year he had 29 defensive runs saved and of 52 expected passed balls he only had six.
Curt Flood was the Cardinals center fielder from 1958 to 1969. He was the first of three elite defensive centerfielders for the Cardinals in a span from ’58 to 2007, with some breaks in between. Flood won seven Gold Gloves with the Redbirds.
Statistically, it’s almost easy to pick out Flood’s best year defensively. That’s because in 1966 he played in 159 games and over 1,397.2 innings he never committed an error. His fielding percentage was the best in the league at 1.000 across all positions. That season, Flood had 400 chances. 394 were putouts and the other six were assists, one of which was a double play. His ’66 season remains one of the best, statistically, by any Cardinals centerfielder in history.
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