Tommy, Keith, Obie and the Wizard! Photo Courtesy of St Louis Today!
During an interview in August 2012 Whitey Herzog called his infield of Ken Oberkfell 3b, Ozzie Smith SS, Tommy Herr 2B, Keith Hernandez 1B, The best defensive infield in history. While most Cardinal fans would echo Whitey's sentiment does it ring true? I mean what about Ron Cey, Bill Russell, Davey Lopes and Steve Garvey? That Quartet stayed together for 8 years! and won 102 in 1974. or the Reds 1975 World Series Champions with Pete Rose, Davey Concepcion, Joe Morgan and Tony Perez? Then there is the 2009 world Champion Yankees Alex Rodriguez, Derek Jeter, Robinson Cano and Mark Teixeria. And of course the famous Tinker to Evers to Chance with Harry Steinfeldt manning 3B for the 1908 Chicago Cubs.
Was Whitey a little biased maybe or does he have a point? I would have liked to have seen a 3 way conversation between Herzog, Sparky Anderson and Walter Alston on the subject! We all know Whitey was a big advocate of defense. His theory was it started up the middle from Catcher to SS/2B and CF. When it came to the infield, With Ozzie Smith at SS and Tommy Herr at 2B the Cardinals had what has been regarded as one of the best Keystone combos in Baseball. They played side by side for 6 years. (1982-1988). In a 2014 article for Complex.com Mike Petriello had them listed as 9th. Ahead of Russell and Lopes(10th), behind Jeter and Cano (6th), Concepcion and Morgan were 1st.
1982 Cardinals Infield
The Wizard. Ozzie Smith showed up in St Louis with already having won 2 Gold Gloves in San Diego and fresh off his first All-Star game appearance. He became one of, if not arguably the best SS in the game. A Hall of Fame inductee with 15 All-Star games and 13 Gold Gloves. what did he do in 1982 you ask? he led the NL in Def WAR 3.5, Assists and assists as a SS with 535, Total Zone Runs and Total Zone Runs as a SS 21, Range Factor per 9inn as a SS 5.87 and Range Factor per Game as a SS 5.86 and Fielding pct .984 8 different categories. He was also 2nd in DPs turned as a SS 101, 3rd in Put Out 279. All of this led to his 2nd All-Star appearance and 3rd Gold Glove.
How about his keystone partner Tommy Herr? Herr took over 2B in 1981 from Ken Oberkfell who moved to 3B (interestingly they were both signed as Shortstops.) He was an All star in with Ozzie1985.
In 1982, while not nearly as prolific as Ozzie Tommy put up good defensive numbers as well.
1st is Total Zone runs as a Second Baseman 14 (5th overall in Total Zone runs), 2nd in Range Factor per 9inn as a 2B 5.71, 3rd in DPs turned as a 2B 97, 3rd in Rage Factor per Game 5.39, 3rd in fielding .987, 7th in Def WAR 2.1
Easy to see how this was such a deadly Double Play duo in 1982. After Herr was traded in 1988 18 other players played at least one game at 2B before Ozzie retired in1996.
Ken Oberkfell - As I mentioned before he was signed as a SS but then came Gary Templeton so he was moved to 2B. then when Tommy showed up and Templeton was traded for Ozzie, Obie was moved to 3B in 1981 it turned out to be a good move he would spend 8 seasons manning the Hot corner for St. Louis and Atlanta full time. In 1982 he led the league in Fielding Pct .972 and Total Zone Runs as a 3B 8, 2nd in Range Factor per 9inn as a 3B 3.03, 3rd in DPs turned as a 3B 23, Assists as a 3B 304, Range Factor per Game as a 3B 2.83. While never an All-Star or Gold Glover he was still a steady hand on the infield.
Kieth Hernandez - Considered by many as a top 20 First Sacker In baseball history never a prolific HR hitter like a Pujols, or Stargell or McCovey but defensively he was as good as any of them. MVP in 1979, 11 Gold Gloves and 5 All-Star appearances. He had been the regular Cardinal First Baseman since 1975. Coincidentally 1982 would be his last full season with St Louis before being traded to the New York Mets. In 1982 he ranked 1st in Put Outs 1591, Put Outs as a 1B 1586, Total Zone Runs as a 1B 13, Range Factor per 9inn as a 1B 11.31, Range Factor per Game as a 1B 10.89. 2nd in DPs turned as a 1B 140, 3rd in Assists as a 1B 135, 4th in Fielding pct as a 1B .994 he garnered his 5th Gold Glove. The Cardinals wouldn't see another Gold Glove at 1B until Albert Pujols
SO to recap the 1982 Cardinal infield won 2 Gold Gloves, had 1 All-Star appearance, All four players led the league at their positions in at least 1 metric category. All four were in the top 3 at their respective positions in Rage Factor per 9inn and per game and Double Plays turned.
Ozzie led his position in 8 statistical categories, Herr 1, Obbie 2 and Hernandez 6
Tommy Herr in an interview with Frank Murtaugh in May 2014 credits the foursome's sound fundamentals as part of the groups success. "We were good at keeping the ball in front of us, covering the gaps in the infield. Everybody had strong, accurate arms. We were good at catching relays from the outfield and throwing to the right bases. The fundamental part of the game — which you have to execute day in and day out — is what we were good at. We didn’t give extra outs, and we turned a lot of double plays."
I think that statement right there is the reason they were so good at what they did. Both Obie and Herr were originally Shortstops so they had the range to go into the hole, or make that catch just out of the infield. Also bear in mind that Oberkfell, Herr and Hernandez were already familiar with each other. You add an extremely athletic Ozzie Smith to that mix and you see the results. Together they put forth a defense that set the tone of the game. It does make one wonder how good that infield could have been if they could have stayed together just two or three more years? Regardless calling them the best of all time will get you arguments from Dodger fans Reds fan and the like. To me if these 4 were not the best than they are in rare air with scarce few others.
Thank for reading always looking for topics to give my opinion on. So let me know what you thin. Either here or on my twitter account @bortas2002
See ya soon.