On Wednesday night, the St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame inducted its 2013 class of 16 individuals. At least five of them are most closely identified by their connection to the St. Louis Cardinals.
Three are former players, including a pair that was once traded for each other. On March 17, 1969, the Cardinals dealt Hall of Fame first baseman Orlando Cepeda to the Atlanta Braves for a future Hall of Famer, Joe Torre. Of course, Torre went on to great success as the manager of the New York Yankees.
The other player is one of my favorites from the 1970’s, Keith Hernandez. Due to his off-field issues, Hernandez was dealt to the Mets by Whitey Herzog in 1983 for a pair of pitchers, Rick Ownbey and Neil Allen. Seeing Hernandez lead the Mets to the 1986 World title is still too much for me to take. In today’s world, Hernandez would have received help, not banishment. Now, he is a member of the Mets television broadcasting team.
One of the off-the-field Hall inductees is the St. Louis Post-Dispatch’s Rick Hummel. The highly-respected writer is the 2006 recipient of the J.G. Taylor Spink Award, given by the Baseball Writers’ Association of America to their very best. Though not officially members of the National Baseball Hall of Fame, Spink Award winners are permanently recognized in Cooperstown.
The final Cardinals-related inductee is team Chairman and CEO Bill DeWitt Jr. As the principal of the ownership group that purchased the Cardinals in 1996, DeWitt has been the organization’s guiding force through a long period of success. Even as key contributors like Walt Jocketty and Tony La Russa moved on, DeWitt made smart changes and continues to lead his group to prosperity.
I recall some who derided the arrival of the DeWitt group, noting the St. Louis native lives in Cincinnati. Others attacked his financial intentions, declaring him to be a carpetbagger with his sole intent to secure a five-year tax break, then dump the team.
Some writers challenged his business plan and financial acumen, mocking him as “DeWallet,” while essentially calling him cheap. They derided his blueprint to build organizational strength from within, mocking the prospects he refused to allow to be traded for tired veterans as “Faberge eggs”.
Those critics now line up to praise DeWitt, as the Cardinals consistent success has muffled their ill-advised complaints over and over again. Nine division titles, two Wild Cards, four National League pennants and two World Championships speak loudest.
I appreciate the fact that Gussie Busch saved the Cardinals from potentially being moved in 1953 and provided long-term financial stability. Yet unlike Busch, DeWitt has not made rash decisions based on emotion that ultimately hurt the organization.
Personally, I don’t think any owner should have a “retired number,” but I firmly believe that DeWitt has earned a place alongside Busch and Sam Breadon as the most important owners in team history.
I congratulate Bill DeWitt Jr. and the other St. Louis Sports Hall of Fame inductees.