TOWER GROVE • When Cardinals rookie Trevor Rosenthal pitched a scoreless eighth inning in today's game at Milwaukee, he became the 2,000th player to play for the Cardinals in the club’s extended history.
It only seems like they’ve tried half that many relievers this season.
While esoteric, Rosenthal’s niche in Cardinals’ history is not trivial. It is revealing and debatable. The righthander who was promoted from Class AA at the beginning of this week is the 38th player used by the team this season, the seventh player to make his major-league debut for the Cardinals this season, and become a first in baseball history. According to uber-database Baseball-Reference.com and cross-checking researching done by fan Randy Trierweiler, of Columbia, Mo., the Cardinals are the first franchise to reach 2,000 individual players. (Follow the link and sort by "players".)
That number traces back decades before Stan Musial and The Gas House Gang, back beyond Rogers Hornsby and Roger Bresnahan, back even before Cy Young slipped on his stylish new jersey with its cardinal-red piping for an opening day start, back all the way to 1882 and the St. Louis Brown Stockings. There have been 2,000 players who have played under the franchise’s banner from May 2, 1882, to this afternoon. The Chicago Cubs, whose history traces back to 1876, are the next closest with 1,911 players.
Tracking each and every player to wear a Cardinals jersey has become a passion project for Trierweiler, who manages a truck stop in Columbia. A longtime baseball card collector, he has amassed 42,814 different major and minor league cards for Cardinals, from 1939 to the present. After reading a couple of franchise encyclopedias that came out in the 1990s, Trierweiler was struck by some inconsistencies between the books’ all-time Cardinals rosters and the team’s own records. So, he started cataloging his own. Using his baseball cards, he pieced together what he called a “Visual ATR*”. When he had at least one card for every Cardinal who had a baseball card published, he went searching for pictures and made his own cards for them. There are 67 players he is still trying to identify and collect (or make).
“These players for the most part played in less than five games from 1882-1920,” he explained in an email. “There is another 245 players that I have a photo of, but not in a Cardinal uniform. (If a guy played two games in 1894, you take what you can find.)”
Using Baseball-Reference.com and his own research, Trierweiler saw the 2,000 milestone approaching and has dutifully notified the Cardinals’ media relations staff with each debut:
On April 4, Carlos Beltran became Cardinal No. 1,991.
On April 6, Erik Komatsu became Cardinal No. 1,992 and J. C. Romero became No. 1,993.
On April 7, Victor Marte became Cardinal No. 1,994
On May 20, Matt Adams debuted as Cardinal No. 1,995.
On May 26, Chuckie Fick became Cardinal No. 1,996.
On June 1, Sam Freeman became Cardinal No. 1,997.
Joe Kelly became Cardinal No. 1,998 on June 10, and just recently Barret Browning became Cardinal No. 1,999.
That left Rosenthal, a Missouri kid and 21st-round pick in 2009, to be No. 2,000.
There is, however, a catch with this history.
The Cardinals have noted Rosenthal’s pending place in history in the game notes, and yet this current franchise does not recognize anything before 1892 as “official” history. In 1892, the Cardinals joined the National League as the St. Louis Browns. They had existed for the previous 10 in one form or another as part of the American Association. When this current franchise talks about its anniversaries and its overall records, it always starts at 1892 and moves forward. That would obviously lop off a group of players and leave Rosenthal to be somewhere in the soup of maybe the 1,700s. This decision by the Cardinals to start their clock at 1892 has already had a contemporary impact on their history. It’s cost them in the race to 10,000 wins.
According to Baseball-Reference.com, the Cardinals’ franchise has won 10,242 games. They passed that mystical 10,000-win barrier late in 2009, about the same time they clinched a playoff berth that season. Had the Cardinals recognized that win total as official, they would have reached the 10,000-win mark ahead of the Braves, the Dodgers and the Reds, who hit 10,000 earlier this season. The Cardinals would have been the third franchise to reach 10,000. Instead, the club doesn’t recognize the American Association years and has thus subtracted 892 wins and from that Baseball-Reference.com total – and the four consecutive league championship Charles Comiskey’s Browns won for St. Louis. Years removed from their 10,000th win according to one database, the Cardinals are actually years away from acknowledging their 10,000th win.
(Aside: The organization is on solid footing here with other guardians of baseball history. The Elias Sports Bureau does not recognize the St. Louis Browns’ wins in the American Association as part of the Cardinals’ total either. The Dodgers were in the same spot.)
The Cardinals can trace their history back to 1882 and the St. Louis Browns. That was the organization that joined the National League in 1892, became the St. Louis Perfectos in 1899, and changed permanently to the St. Louis Cardinals in 1900. There were, of course, many twists along the way. Ownership changed. Ballparks changed. The Cardinals were actually second fiddle to the Browns, their replacement and name-taker, for a good stretch. And, in 1899, those Perfectos were actually a completely new and transplanted team. A year before that lineup and the ownership were the Cleveland Spiders. The 1898 Browns were relocated to Cleveland in a complete swap of teams. This was probably the best trade in Cardinals history. Look no further than the opening day starter for the Cardinals in 1899: Denton True “Cy” Young.
In a book I wrote several years ago, 100 Things Cardinals Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die, I make the case that April 15, 1899, there were 18,000 fans at New Sportsman’s Park (later Robison Field) who saw the birth of the modern Cardinals:
(Young’s) Opening Day win for St. Louis was the first of seven consecutive victories to start the 1899 season. It was also the first game of a direct lineage with the contemporary Cardinals. The franchise has changed owners and changed homes, but it hasn’t changed its league, its look, or uprooted its roster since (that day). Young’s pitch may not have been the absolute first in franchise history, but it was the first one delivered by a Cardinal.
If there is to be a 2,000th Cardinal, then there must be a first Cardinal, the prime Cardinal. And that’s where the history also gets murky. To me, there are three candidates, one for each camp. If you believe Cardinals history started with the big bang of 1882, then Jumbo McGinnis is likely your guy. It’s not clear who started that first game – a St. Louis Brown Stockings’ 9-7 victory against the Louisville Eclipse – but it was at home and that means the first act by a pre-Cardinal was throwing a pitch. Given that McGinnis started 45 of the team’s 80 games that season it’s probably safe to say McGinnis chucked it. If you believe history starts with the National League and 1892 is your year, then Kid Gleason is No. 1. On April 12, 1892, 10,000 fans gathered at Sportsman’s Park to see the St. Louis Browns face Cap Anson’s Chicago Cubs. Cliff Carroll homered for the pre-Cardinals in a 14-10 loss. Gleason went 20-24 that season in 47 games (45 starts) and is the likely opening day starter.
If those teams seem disjointed from the Cardinals’ timeline because of the sidesteps, ownership switches, and team upheaval that followed in the next nine years, then 1899 is genesis and there probably isn’t a pitcher you’d rather have throw the Cardinals into history than the one who did.
Cy Young would be Cardinal No. 1.
That, of course, would rewrite Rosenthal’s place in history. The 22-year-old righty would not be the 2,000th Cardinal if time starts with Cy Young. But history, like the Cardinals’ current bullpen situation, is fluid. It changes depending on who is looking and what milestone is possible. Trierweiler has put in a lot of work to track down Cardinals, make sure they actually played in a game and not just appeared on a roster, and he’s arrived at 1,999 players who have put on the franchise's jersey, be it Brown, Perfecto or Cardinal. So, Rosenthal is 2,000. And No. 1 is open to debate.
But first, it’s mid-July so everyone has another focus right now: Who will the Cardinals acquire to be their 2,001st player?