Greetings. This is my latest installment in a series of analyses that identify the Cardinals’ top players during the 28 seasons of franchise ownership under chairman Bill DeWitt Jr.
That encompasses 1996 through 2023. So far, I’ve made the Top 10 picks for starting pitchers and relievers — and the Top 5 in catchers, first basemen, and second basemen.
Next up: the top five shortstops plus honorable mentions.
1. Edgar Renteria: This one is easy. There’s no debate. Renteria is the clear choice as the best shortstop of the DeWitt Era, and by now he should be in the Cardinals Hall of Fame. His omission is embarrassing.
Renteria, who came here at age 22, was the starting shortstop from 1999 through 2004. He became a Cardinal in one of the greatest trades made by GM Walt Jocketty, who gave Miami reliever Braden Looper and two marginal prospects to secure an infield anchor for one of the most successful periods in franchise history.
Here are just some of Renteria’s career highlights as a Cardinal over his six seasons here:
– During the DeWitt Era, Renteria has the most Wins Above Replacement (WAR) at shortstop with 17.4. His WAR also ranks fourth all-time at the position in franchise history behind Ozzie Smith, Marty Marion and Solly Hemus.
– Renteria’s slash line as a Cardinal featured a .290 batting average, .347 onbase percentage, .420 slugging percentage and .768 OPS.
– During the DeWitt Era, Renteria leads all Cardinals shortstops in RBI, stolen bases, doubles and runs scored and ranks second in home runs, batting average. And among shortstops that had at least 1,000 plate appearances with the team from 1996 through 2023, Renteria has the highest OPS and is second in onbase percentage and slugging.
– Among shortstops that have at least 1,500 career plate appearances as Cardinals, Renteria ranks second all-time in OPS, home runs, slugging percentage and stolen bases and is third in hits, extra-base hits, runs batted in, runs scored, batting average and doubles. And he’s fourth for best onbase percentage.
– Renteria had his best season in 2003, batting .330 with a .394 OBP and .480 slug for an OPS of .874. That year he hit 47 doubles and 13 homers and drove in 100 runs. He made the All-Star team, won the Gold Glove, won the Silver Slugger and received MVP votes.
– In his six seasons with St. Louis Renteria was a three-time NL All-Star, won two Gold Gloves and three Silver Sluggers, and was the starting shortstop for four postseason teams including the 2004 NL pennant winner. Though the cold-hitting Cardinals were swept by the Red Sox in the World Series, Renteria had five hits in 15 at-bats for a .333 average.
– From 2000 through 2004, the Cardinals had a 427-300 record (.587) in games started by Renteria. Over those five seasons, with Renteria as their shortstop, the Cardinals ranked fourth in the majors in regular-season wins, competed in the playoffs three times, and led the NL with 17 postseason victories. His leadership was so strong that Tony La Russa called him “The Captain.”
– Renteria is the only Cardinal in franchise history to win a Gold Glove and the Silver Slugger in the same season multiple times. He did that in consecutive years, 2002-2003.
– Two of the three-highest RBI totals by a Cardinal shortstop in a single season were produced by Renteria. His 103 RBI in 2003 were the most by a Cards shortstop in a single season, and his 83-RBI total in 2002 ranks third.
– From 2000 through 2004 Renteria led NL shortstops in batting average, RBI and WAR and was second in OPS, OBP and slugging. He received MVP votes in 2002 and 2003.
– Renteria stole at least 17 bases in each of his six seasons with St. Louis with a high of 37 in 1999.
Renteria had the game-winning, series-clinching hit to win the World Series for the 1997 Marlins. He was a significant factor in the Cardinals’ pennant-winning season in 2014. And he was voted World Series MVP for the 2012 Giants, who beat the Rangers — with Renteria batting .412 with a 1.209 OPS in the five games.
Renteria was a winner and a special player. He hit for average, had good power, and was an asset with his plus speed and sharp defense. He’s one of LaRussa’s all-time favorite Cardinals.
2. David Eckstein: After the Cardinals lost Renteria to free agency following the 2004 season, Jocketty signed Eckstein to a three-year deal worth $10.25 million. The move paid off in a huge way. In Eckstein’s three seasons (2005-2007) with the Cardinals made the postseason two times and won the 2006 World Series. Before that, in his first season, the 2005 Cardinals led the majors with 100 victories.
In the 2005 NLCS, Eckstein kept the Cardinals in business in Game 5 at Houston. With the Cardinals trailing 4-2 in the top of the ninth, Eckstein’s two-out single prevented the Astros from clinching. After the single, Jim Edmonds drew a walk, and Albert Pujols pulverized a Brad Lidge slider for his famous three-run homer that lifted the Cards to a sudden 5-4 victory.
With a tip of the cap to Eckstein – who was voted World Series MVP – the Cardinals defeated the Tigers in five games.
We wouldn’t have predicted that after the first two games; Eckstein started off by going 0 for 9 and the series was tied 1-1. But the Cardinals took the Tigers down with three straight wins, and Eckstein came through repeatedly, going 8 for 13 (.615) with three doubles, four RBI and three runs scored.
Eckstein’s big moment came in the bottom of the eighth of Game 4. With two outs and the score tied 4-4, he doubled in Aaron Miles for the winning run in a 5-4 victory that gave the Cardinals a 3-1 series lead.
With Eckstein delivering two hits, two RBI and scoring a run in Game 5, the Cardinals defeated Detroit 4-2 to capture the first World Series for the franchise since 1982.
In the clinching game, Eckstein drove in the Cardinals’ first run for a 1-0 lead, put them ahead 3-2 with an RBI ground-out, and scored STL’s fourth run on a single by Scott Rolen.
Overall in the World Series Eckstein went 8 for 22 (.363) in the five games with three doubles, four RBI and three runs scored.
As the St. Louis leadoff man from 2005 through 2007, Eckstein posted a .358 onbase percentage from the No. 1 spot to help spark the St. Louis offense.
3. Paul DeJong: Why would I do this? Why would I have DeJong at No.3? This is outrageous! Bernie has lost his mind! No, actually I haven’t. Sorry, haters — but DeJong had an underrated career as a St. Louis shortstop.
– DeJong’s 10.5 WAR ranks second to Renteria among St. Louis shortstops during the DeWitt Era. More than that, That WAR total is the seventh best among Cardinal shortstops all-time. That’s damn good, because the Cardinals have employed a massive number of shortstops during the Modern Era, which began in 1900.
– In six-plus seasons as a Cardinal (2017-2023) Pauly hit 115 home runs, the most by a shortstop in franchise history.
– DeJong also owns the single-season record by a Cardinals shortstop with 30 homers in 2019.
– Over the six-plus seasons DeJong was credited with 41 defensive runs saved at shortstop which ranked sixth in the majors at the position over that time.
– In franchise history, the only Cardinals shortstops to drive in more runs than DeJong were Ozzie Smith, Marty Marion and Renteria.
– Among Cardinals shortstops with a minimum 1,000 plate appearances, DeJong has the highest career slugging percentage (.426) in franchise history.
DeJong’s career here was underrated, and the opinion is strongly supported by the facts and stats.
4. Jhonny Peralta: It’s tough to rate the shortstops beyond the top three of Renteria, Eckstein and DeJong. I could make cases for several other shortstops to be in the top five during the DeWitt Era including Royce Clayton, Ozzie Smith, Rafael Furcal and Brendan Ryan. So feel free to criticize me for the choices made here. Heck, even Aledmys Diaz was an All-Star in 2016 as a rookie shortstop for the Cardinals. I may read this column in a couple of weeks and criticize myself.
Peralta’s Cardinal career ended badly with his age-related decline in 2017 when he only played 21 games before being released by the Cardinals.
But from 2014 through 2016, Peralta ranked among the top nine in major-league shortstops in WAR, home runs, RBI, onbase percentage, slugging percentage and OPS. Per wRC+, he ranked fifth among MLB shortstops in overall offensive performance.
Peralta was particularly strong in 2014 and ‘15, averaging 19 homers, 32 doubles and 73 RBI. Across the two seasons Peralta was MLB’s highest-rated shortstop offensively with a 113 wRC+. (That’s 13 percent above the league average.) He was second in homers and third in RBI in the two years.
Peralta was credited with 15 defensive runs saved in 2014, his first season in St. Louis. And the 2014 and 2015 Cardinals did very well, leading the majors with a two-year total of 190 wins. They reached the NLCS in 2014, and won 100 games in ‘15.
Before Peralta’s signing, the Cardinals ranked 25th in the majors offensively at the shortstop position over two seasons, 2012 and 2013. Per wRC+, the Redbirds were 24 percent below league average offensively during the two seasons. With Peralta as their shortstop from 2014 through 2016, the Cardinals ranked seventh in MLB at the position in wRC+. The upgrade made a difference.
5. Ozzie Smith and Royce Clayton: OK, this is a cop-out. But I think it’s appropriate to list them tied for fifth. Why? In a unique situation, they shared the position in 1996, and that’s the way to measure their collective impact. The Cardinals won the division title, made the playoffs and advanced to Game 7 of the NLCS before getting eliminated by Atlanta. This was DeWitt’s first season as the team owner, and Tony LaRussa’s first of 16 years as the manager. And the transformed 1996 Cardinals got immediate results after an eight-season absence from the playoffs. That’s a big deal.
In 1996 the Clayton-Ozzie tandem had a combined 3.2 WAR which was fifth highest in the majors (and third in the NL) at the shortstop spot. That season Cardinals shortstops batted .279, posted a solid .333 onbase percentage, stole 40 bases and scored 100 runs. Smith and Clayton combined for 13 runs above average defensively in Total Zone rating – the most relevant defensive metric at that time.
After an injury-tormented 1995 season that was the worst of his career, Ozzie rebounded in 1996 for one more good season and then retired. LaRussa took a lot of heat for having Clayton and Smith share the position, but the criticism was absurd.
At age 41, Ozzie no longer could handle an extensive workload; that’s why he broke down physically the season before at age 40. Clayton’s steady presence gave Ozzie a chance to stay reasonably fresh, and he had his best season offensively since 1992.
With La Russa doing his part to make sure the future Hall of Fame shortstop had sufficient fuel for the entire season, Ozzie had a .799 OPS after the All-Star break. And when the Cardinals made their move to overtake Houston in the NL Central, Ozzie had a .346 OBP, .457 slug and .803 OPS in September.
Smith gave the Cardinals one of the most important performances of the season on Sept. 2. On that day, Ozzie went 3 for 5 with a double, homer, three RBI and four runs scored as the Cardinals erased a 7-3 lead to topple the Astros 8-7 in extra innings. The victory cut Houston’s lead to a half-game, and the Cardinal beat the Astros the next day to pull into first place to stay. Clayton started that game, and had a sac fly and a double for a two-RBI day, and the Cardinals routed the Astros 12-2.
When a max-energy Smith started at shortstop in September the Cardinals went 12-4. TLR’s intelligent time-share system worked great, and The Wizard made the NL All-Star team for his 15th and final time in ‘96.
Honorable mention: Rafael Furcal, Brendan Ryan, Aledmys Diaz and Pete Kozma.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
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All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.