With a fan base like the one enjoyed by the Cardinals, it’s hard to imagine that any player could ever be underrated. Among their rabid following, even Tom Lawless achieved immortality.

Sometimes players disappear from the collective memory of fans because of time, and sometimes their achievements seem less spectacular in the light of the similar superstars dotting our part of baseball’s galaxy. We’ve been fortunate to have had so many great players wearing Cardinal Red, and it’s easy to overlook some very good players who blessed this organization with their best years.

Here is a small but sturdy group of great (and grossly underrated) players we’ve seen over the years:

5. Max Lanier

Your first reaction might be, “WHO?” Time has largely left Max Lanier behind, despite Lanier being one of the important cogs in the championship Cardinal teams of the forties. Essentially the Bob Forsch of his time, the left-handed Lanier spent 12 seasons in St. Louis and crafted one of the better pre-Bob Gibson pitching lines:

Year W L W-L% ERA G CG SHO IP H R ER HR BB SO WP ERA+ WHIP
1938 0 3 .000 4.20 18 1 0 45.0 57 30 21 1 28 14 0 94 1.889
1939 2 1 .667 2.39 7 2 0 37.2 29 11 10 0 13 14 0 174 1.115
1940 9 6 .600 3.34 35 4 2 105.0 113 50 39 1 38 49 4 119 1.438
1941 10 8 .556 2.82 35 8 2 153.0 126 59 48 4 59 93 2 134 1.209
1942 13 8 .619 2.96 34 8 2 161.0 137 55 53 4 60 93 3 116 1.224
1943 15 7 .682 1.90 32 14 2 213.1 195 62 45 3 75 123 0 178 1.266
1944 17 12 .586 2.65 33 16 5 224.1 192 82 66 5 71 141 0 135 1.172
1945 2 2 .500 1.73 4 3 0 26.0 22 10 5 0 8 16 0 221 1.154
1946 6 0 1.000 1.93 6 6 2 56.0 45 13 12 1 19 36 0 180 1.143
1949 5 4 .556 3.82 15 4 1 92.0 92 42 39 5 35 37 0 108 1.380
1950 11 9 .550 3.13 27 10 2 181.1 173 70 63 13 68 89 0 137 1.329
1951 11 9 .550 3.26 31 9 2 160.0 149 60 58 14 50 59 2 122 1.244
STL (12 yrs) 101 69 .594 2.84 277 85 20 1454.2 1330 544 459 51 524 764 11 133 1.275

 

Lanier’s minuscule 1943 ERA is largely forgotten, as is his incredible 2.84 lifetime ERA over 12 seasons with St. Louis.  He had just one losing season, a shortened stint with the club as a 22 year-old rookie.

Did you notice the two-year break (1946-1949) in Lanier’s Cardinal career? This was caused by Lanier (and several other players) defecting from the team to accept contracts from a Mexican baseball league promising to double their American salaries. When the contracts turned out to be bogus, Lanier was denied re-entry into baseball by then-commissioner Happy Chandler. The players filed lawsuits, which were then dropped after Chandler lifted the ban. So Lanier was another important figure in the development of the player’s union and greater rights for baseball players to come.

Click number 2 to go to the next player in our countdown!

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About The Author

Lifelong Cardinal fan and general loudmouth.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1381503508 Katie Coyle

    Once again, Ray DeRousse has increased my baseball knowledge & reminded me of some very good men who wore the birds on the bat & gave us some exciting baseball. Thanks, Ray. I really enjoyed this article.

    • http://www.unfilteredlens.com/ Ray DeRousse

      Thanks, Katie!

  • http://www.stlcardinalbaseball.com/ Kyle Dallman

    I agree without a doubt. RAY LANKFORD is one of the most underrated Cardinals of all time, maybe one of the most underrated players in the game for the time he played.

  • Ronald J. Ellett

    Ray Lankford was a left fielder, not a center fielder.

    • http://www.stlcardinalbaseball.com/ Ray DeRousse

      No, he wasn’t. Go read Wikipedia again, or check his Baseball Reference page. It’s the Internet. It takes approximately 30 seconds.