Ok, I admit the title is a teaser, yet as you will see, it has merit – just not in the way you probably suspected.
For the better part of a decade, second base has remained the biggest ongoing question for the St. Louis Cardinals. Since the departure of Fernando Vina in 2003, the position has been a revolving door with no sniff of an all-star level performance registered by a player calling second base his home.
In recent seasons, we have seen a strategy to convert agile, decent-hitting players from other positions to second. This began with outfielder Skip Schumaker and continued more recently with shortstops Tyler Greene and Ryan Jackson.
As coaches searching for more offense think even more outside the box, there is the even longer move from third base to second.
Cardinals fans anxious for more scoring any way it can be delivered were briefly excited last summer when third baseman-turned outfielder-first baseman Allen Craig received a nine-game trial at second. That experiment ended as Craig’s knee woes heightened.
One year later, another up-and-comer has assumed Craig’s 2011 role. Matt Carpenter, like Craig a third baseman in the minor leagues, has expanded his glovework beyond the hot corner. Also like the 2011 Craig, Carpenter is without a full-time job, needing to seize his at-bats anytime and any place he can.
Once again in 2012, offensively-minded Cardinals-watchers were teased when it was divulged that Carpenter had been working out at second base. An ankle injury reportedly related to that work may have dampened some of the enthusiasm – at least temporarily.
What appeared to be a token late-game appearance at the position on July 5 by Carpenter was followed by no second base encores for almost two months. There has been a recent change, however.
Manager Mike Matheny has substituted Carpenter in at second base in two of his most recent six outings, including as recently as Wednesday afternoon. The motivation was undoubtedly to get Carpenter’s bat into the game to try to help address the club’s run-scoring woes.
Furthering the speculation into 2013 was a recent tweet by Joe Strauss of the Post-Dispatch, who had apparently spoken with Carpenter about the matter.
“Matt Carpenter admitted over weekend that his best chance for more playing time in ’13 may come at 2B,” typed the beat writer.
If Carpenter is coming to 2013 spring training with a plan to compete at second base, that is an entirely different proposition from a few double-switches with relievers in the final innings of a handful of games.
Carpenter – tall, slender and notably batting glove-less – is listed at 6-foot-3, 200 pounds. As such, he elicits exponentially more comparisons to former Cardinal utilityman and current assistant hitting coach John Mabry than he would to a prototypical second baseman like the 5-foot-9, 170-pound Vina.
The idea of elevating Carpenter from a second-base curiosity to receiving consistent playing time at the position led me to wonder how he would measure up – literally – against past regulars at his position.
My next stop was researcher Tom Orf. As we discussed what I was looking for, the subject of boundaries came up, as it seemingly always does. To ensure we had only legitimate second basemen, we settled on 100 career games played at the position as our floor.
Had we not done that – instead including anyone ever to play at the position – none other than current Cardinal Jackson would stand alongside Carpenter among the tallest second basemen in team history at 6-foot-3. To date, Jackson’s only four games played in the field as a major leaguer have been at second.
Perhaps Carpenter or Jackson has the potential to pass 100 games at the position next season and move from the one-off curiosities to the following group – the 31 over-six-foot second sackers in team history.
Most interestingly, at 6-foot-2, now-Houston Astro Greene currently single-handedly holds the record as the tallest second baseman to play at least 100 games at the position as a Cardinal. Greene made the list in his final days with the team, ending with 103 career games at second base.
Among notables on the list are Hall of Famers Red Schoendienst, Frankie Frisch and Rogers Hornsby plus current Cardinals Schumaker and third-base coach Jose Oquendo. Alas, Mabry pitched twice, but never played second as a major leaguer.
(Notes: Heights (Ht) are listed as inches in the table below: 74” = 6-foot-2. The data is the players’ total at all positions as a Cardinal, but they must have played 100 games at second to be included.)
Tallest second basemen, minimum 100 games at the position, St. Louis Cardinals history
Taking it one step further, I asked Tom to pull the same list for all of Major League Baseball. Two players – Andy Fox in the last decade and aptly-named old-timer High Pockets Kelly – share the MLB second base height record at 6-foot-4. Only 14 long-time second basemen in the history of the game have been at least as tall as Carpenter and Jackson.
Carpenter or Jackson would have to grow at least an inch taller plus earn much more playing time at the position to reach the top of this list.
Tallest second basemen, minimum 100 games at the position, Major League Baseball history
|High Pockets Kelly||76||1915||1932||19-36||1623||5993||819||1778||148||1020||.297||.342||.452||.794||*34/79851||NYG-TOT-CIN-BRO|