Ray Lankford was a stud for the St. Louis Cardinals, but did his dominance in a dead era for the Cardinals hurt his chances of wearing a red coat and entering the team's Hall of Fame? The case can be made after the new slate of nominees were announced by the team today.
Let me set up a disclaimer by pointing out that Steve Carlton, Tim McCarver, Keith Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen, Scott Rolen, Mark McGwire and Edgar Renteria are deserving of consideration, but what about Ray?
Lankford was a diamond in the rough era for the Cardinals, and it wasn't just one category of dominance. He didn't have the gold gloves that Hernandez, Rolen or Renteria collected, but he was man of many talents. While he didn't win a gold glove, he was an above average center fielder for the team and collected 68 assists in his 13 seasons with the team. Lankford had five seasons of seven-or-more assists.
It was at the plate that Lankford put in the real work. Over a 13-year career, Lankford put together an OPS of .846, an OPS+ of 124 (100 being the average) and 228 home runs. Lankford sprayed 52 triples around the field, including 15 in 1993. He stole 250 bases for the Cardinals, including a pair of 40-steal seasons.
Lankford's 37.5 WAR over those 13 years only comes out to around 2.8 WAR per season, but the highest he was paid was $8 million in 2001. If there was a bargain producer, look no further than Lankford's five seasons of .870 OPS work.
Let's be honest. He deserves direct consideration for his demolition of Darren Daulton at home plate. That sequence is what Lankford brought to the table.
Lankford's OPS for his Cardinal career is higher than Renteria and easily kicks around McCarver's mark, but I guess the individual seasonal achievements of the nominees trump Lankford's overall work. I wonder if Lankford played on the more talented teams that Renteria played on, if his numbers would be higher. Can you imagine Lankford in the middle of the MV3 of Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, and Rolen? He'd be playing left field, but would benefit from better talent around him. The peak years for Lankford came in a down period for the Cardinals, where 80 wins was a serious number and the playoffs stood next to the moon.
Lankford hit more home runs at the old Busch Stadium than anyone else. People forget how juicy Lankford's 1995 and 1996 seasons were, where his OPS was .996 and .932, respectively. He didn't need enhancers to produce his statistics either. It was 100 percent Ray.
If it wasn't for a 1999 knee injury that hampered his power, Lankford may have gotten to 300 home runs in St. Louis and produced a few more solid seasons under the Arch after a fine 2000 comeback. At the age of 32, his career hit a brick wall and never fully recovered.
All in all, Lankford deserves a spot on the ballot ahead of McCarver and could push Renteria and Carlton for a spot due to what he accomplished here over a period of time. How many more years Lankford will be forgotten due to his lack of popularity and the fact he played in a dead era for the Redbirds? It's not a small issue. Get Ray Lankford into the Cardinals Hall of Fame.