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Looking back on the criminally underrated career of Ken Boyer

Ken Boyer is the only Cardinal not in Cooperstown to have his number retired, and he earned it. His sometimes overlooked career deserves recognition
Credit: AP
St. Louis Cardinals infielder Ken Boyer is shown, March 1957. Location unknown. (AP Photo)

ST. LOUIS — There certainly hasn't been a shortage of stars and legends in the illustrious history of the St. Louis Cardinals.

You can drop into just about any era and find yourself a few hall of famers leading the way as the franchise was piling up the most World Series titles in National League history.

Almost all of these hall of famers had their numbers retired in St. Louis, but on the flip side, there's only one number on the Busch Stadium outfield wall (other than August Busch's 85) that didn't also end up in Cooperstown.

That player is No. 14, Ken Boyer, and on what would have been his 89th birthday Wednesday, let's give his often overlooked career the recognition it deserves.

Boyer broke in with the Cardinals as a 24-year-old rookie in 1955. A year later he was already an all-star, and one of the best third basemen in the game.

Boyer went on to play in 11 all-star games (there were two all-star games held each year from 1959 to 1962) and won five Gold Glove Awards with the Cardinals.

His best year was undoubtedly 1964, when he hit .295, drove in 119 runs and was named National League MVP. The regular season was just the beginning, though. In the 1964 World Series against the Yankees, Boyer hit a grand slam in Game 4 to give St. Louis a 4-3 win. And in Game 7, Boyer had three hits, including a home run, to finish off New York.

(Also in the series, Ken and his brother Clete, who played for New York, became the only pair of brothers to hit a home run in the same World Series game.)

Boyer ranks in the Cardinals' all-time top 10 in wins above replacement for position players, games played, runs scored, hits, total bases and runs batted in. Boyer is third all-time on the Cardinals home run list, after Stan Musial and Albert Pujols. He's also the only player in franchise history to hit for the cycle twice.

Apart from his play, Boyer was seen as a leader on the field as well. He's the last Cardinal to ever hold the official distinction as "captain".

“He was the boss of our field. He was the guy everyone looked up to. He was the guy who really filled that role, if that role needed to be filled," former Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver was quoted as saying.

Sadly, Boyer only lived to be 51 and died in 1982 after a short battle with lung cancer.

He's often been overlooked in baseball history, but his career numbers have him near the top of the list when you talk about all-time third basemen. His 62.9 career WAR is good for 14th (ironic) among all third basemen in MLB history.

Boyer never got more than 25.5% of the vote while he was on the writers' ballot for the National Baseball Hall of Fame, but there may be a chance down the road he'll be considered by one of Cooperstown's era committees.

For now, he'll have to be remembered with a bust in the Cardinals Hall of Fame and his No. 14 retired on the Busch Stadium wall. That 14 may sit among hall of fame legends like numbers 1, 6 and 45, but there's no debate that it deserves the same respect.

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