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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Stacking Pujols up against other career Cardinals

Some assessments of the contract situation between Albert Pujols and the St. Louis Cardinals suggest the team has lost all negotiating leverage with the player. As such, the club must eventually pay whatever the player demands to keep him, goes this line of thinking.

Such a narrow view does not take into account a number of important counterbalances, including one that may hold a more lasting value for Pujols than temporarily becoming baseball’s highest-paid player.

I am referring to Pujols’ quest to become a career-long franchise icon, the likes of which has not been seen in St. Louis since Stan Musial.

Other than perhaps Pujols himself, no one knows the relative importance of these two factors – maximizing money and years in his next contract versus his attempt to eventually replace Musial as being accepted as the greatest Cardinal ever – or at least earn a spot next to Stan the Man on the top pedestal.

As Pujols’ self-imposed Wednesday contract negotiating deadline nears, some who are attuned to pulse of the fan as measured by message board posts and radio call-in shows are sensing a turn of opinion in support of the position of the Cardinals over their first baseman. Of course, these opinions have been set without any substantive knowledge of the contract parameters being discussed.

If Pujols eventually decides to leave St. Louis behind, his only home as a major leaguer, he would forfeit his place on the following top 15 list. It is a unique group of players, pulled by researcher Tom Orf.

The following are those men who have played the most games as a Cardinal without having appeared in even one game as a major leaguer while wearing another uniform.

Most games played, entire career with St. Louis Cardinals

Rank Player Games Start Year End Year Age
1 Stan Musial 3026 1941 1963 20-42
2 Albert Pujols 1558 2001 2010* 21-30
3 Terry Moore 1298 1935 1948 23-36
4 Pepper Martin 1189 1928 1944 24-40
5 Tom Pagnozzi 927 1987 1998 24-35
6 Whitey Kurowski 916 1941 1949 23-31
7 Mike Shannon 882 1962 1970 22-30
8 Yadier Molina 805 2004 2010* 21-27
9 Ray Blades 767 1922 1932 25-35
10 Ernie Orsatti 701 1927 1935 24-32
11 Bob Gibson 596 1959 1975 23-39
12 Skip Schumaker 586 2005 2010* 25-30
13 Rube Ellis 555 1909 1912 23-26
14 Specs Toporcer 546 1921 1928 22-29
15 Austin McHenry 543 1918 1922 22-26
* current

Not surprisingly, Pujols is currently second, but a very distant second. To put his challenge into context, even if he could maintain a 150-game per season pace, it would take Pujols another complete decade to pass Musial. In contract terms, it would require nine more years with the club after his existing commitment expires.

If achieved, Albert would be 41 years old at the time. Note that there is no way to speed up ones’ pace in ascending this list. Growing career games played requires both durability and good fortune. Avoiding wars would help, too.

A pair of Musial’s former teammates, centerfielder Terry Moore and outfielder/third baseman Pepper Martin, each of whose service time with St. Louis was interrupted by World War II, are the only two other lifetime Cardinals with over 1,000 career games played. Having missed three seasons each, they would both still likely be ahead of Pujols had they been able to play contiguously.

By definition, this list is skewed toward everyday position players and away from those that appear less frequently, specifically pitchers. As such, Bob Gibson is the only hurler in the top 15, ranked at number 11 in exclusive career games played despite 17 years of service with the club.

Along with Pujols, two other current Cardinals are among the top 15. Yadier Molina is eighth and should pass the top catcher on the list, Tom Pagnozzi, during the 2011 season. Second baseman Skip Schumaker is 12th. Of course, Molina and Schumaker would disappear from this list if they were to eventually join another organization.

Same for Pujols, something that most would prefer does not happen.

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