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Should Cardinals #5 be retired alongside #10?

The indisputable highlight of an otherwise forgettable weekend for the St. Louis Cardinals was the Friday night ceremony to retire Tony La Russa’s number 10.

I thought the Cardinals did a good job in organizing and executing the pre-game festivities. Still, I have carried this nagging question about the timing of the event itself.

There is a reason the National Baseball Hall of Fame and other comparable career-honoring entities have a five-year waiting period before individuals can be considered for inclusion. That allows ample time for reflection and avoids the risk of emotional decisions that are later regretted. Of course, number retirement decisions are solely under team ownership control.

In an editorial this weekend, writer and friend Rob Rains reminded readers of the Ken Boyer case. The former team captain with the undistinguished and short managerial record passed away at the too-young age of 51 in 1982. The club moved swiftly to retire the Missouri native’s number 14, a decision that does not feel like it is standing the test of time.

In my view, that was the worst of both worlds, a quick move that was not clearly warranted, done after the individual had already passed away.

In La Russa’s case, there seems no doubt that his Cardinals legacy will remain strong. Perhaps holding the ceremony just one month into the next season following his retirement was considered a way to gain closure from a long, but sometimes complicated relationship.

La Russa’s on-field successes with St. Louis were many. Even so, there seemed no willingness on either side to continue the partnership in the front-office role that La Russa appears to be seeking for his post-managerial employment.

Other than a recent scare with shingles, La Russa seems healthy and strong. Yet he is now 67 years of age and says his managing days are done. Perhaps holding this celebration when it could be fully enjoyed by all was the right thing to do.

I was set to leave it at that… until I read and fully considered the ramifications of the close of Rains’ article.

The writer calls for a companion move to La Russa’s number retirement, specifically to:

“… put “Pujols 5” next to him in the not-too-distant future.”

I see and understand how and why some rail at the negative backlash directed toward Albert Pujols in recent months over his departure from St. Louis and his early struggles with the Angels. I find heaping portions of the criticism distasteful and uncalled for.

Further, there is no doubt that the Cardinals legacies of the manager and the man he calls “the best player I’ve ever managed” are forever intertwined.

On the other hand, even thinking about retiring Pujols’ number at this point – midway through his time as an active player – seems an over-reactionary swing in the opposite direction from the current negativism. It could be just as out-of-place as the Boyer decision we both seriously question, albeit for different reasons.

In his defense, Rob does not define “not-too-distant,” which puts this in a gray area. Still, I don’t agree, no matter how liberally one interprets the term. My view of the right time for such a discussion is five years after Pujols retires, same as his Hall of Fame qualification.

Assuming the first baseman fulfills his current contract, the date would be no sooner than following the 2026 season. Many, many years should still remain to look back and celebrate Pujols’ many accomplishments while wearing the Cardinals uniform. He would still be in his mid 40’s and only part-way through his Angels personal services contract.

In my book, a minimum of 15 years into the future is clearly “distant”, not “not-too-distant,” a very important differentiation. To help emphasize 15 years in Albert Pujols context, consider this. 15 years ago, Pujols was just 17 years of age, playing high school ball in the Kansas City area.

Over the next decade and a half, Pujols and the Cardinals will be in direct conflict, each trying to win the World Series. It certainly isn’t inconceivable to envision them meeting on the field over the ultimate prize at some point in the upcoming years.

In conclusion, there seemed good reasons for a rapid closure of the La Russa era, but there should be no comparable sense of urgency to make such move to honor Pujols.

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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17 Responses to “Should Cardinals #5 be retired alongside #10?”

  1. WesPowell says:

    You can’t go overboard with the number retirements but I’d say in the cases of our guys that were instrumental in multiple world championships they certainly belong, and one day certainly will be in the Cardinal Hall Of Fame. Why wait? Put Pujols in. Put Duncan in. Put Carpenter in. Put Molina in. Now.

  2. WesPowell says:

    No, not retire their numbers—-team hall of fame, whenever they get it moved and constructed.

  3. WesPowell says:

    I have an interesting story about the Cardinal Hall of Fame-Museum and our current manager. I travelled to see a game against the Braves in the previous stadium. We went into the exhibit and there was a display with a catchers mitt. It was Matheny’s, and it said it was one of the mitts he used during his record 252 inning streak of errorless ball for a catcher. I went to one of the workers there and said that had to mean 252 games. They acted like there was no way some peon could correct an official display. They said they would look into it though. Don’t know if it ever got changed.

  4. WesPowell says:

    Yes. That is absolutely inexcusable. I loved the replicas of the old stadiums.

  5. WesPowell says:

    Write one of your blog entries to tell them to get off their asses, if you haven’t already. They should have had a temorary site to put it until the place they wanted was ready.

  6. WesPowell says:

    Of course, as to the errorless record we discussed Matheny, along with all other catchers, has a gross and rather silly advantage. Passed balls should be an error on the catcher. Although I guess it is conceivable Matheny didn’t even have a passed ball during the streak which would REALLY be incredible.

  7. WesPowell says:

    But I guess this could be one of the situations where strong points can be made either way. If the pitch does not hit the dirt, they usually give the catcher a passed ball. Or maybe that is the criteria for it and they have to. If the catcher reaches out to get a 95 mile an hour fast ball 12 inches off the ground and outside and it deflects off his mitt, it would be tough to call that an error.

  8. Nutlaw says:

    I’m pleased to see the team dump Romero this early in the season. Their willingness to jettison their washed up relievers last year was a primary reason for their success in my mind. Now they just need to work on not acquiring clearly terrible players in the first place.

    • JumboShrimp says:

      It is odd that the Cards gave up on Romero this early. It has been historical custom to torture fans for a few more months at least. Maybe this implies that Mo will seek to find a good southpaw reliever if and when an opportunity arises, to supplement Rzepcynski.

  9. blingboy says:

    Of all the players who have ever worn the birds on the bat, only seven have appeared in more games as a Cardinal than Ken Boyer. He is 3rd in home runs, 6th in RBIs, 8th in hits, and runs scored. World Series ring, 7 time all star, 5 Gold Gloves, NL MVP. I don’t see the problem.

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