10/05/2002 7:48 pm ET
Cards' history etched in bronze
Hall of Famers remembered in Plaza of Champions
By Chris Haft / MLB.com
ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals' most enduring All-Star team might look a little tarnished -- though its achievements remain brilliant.
Though this squad features players whose career spanned every decade since 1910, it still displays its top form every day. Literally.
This select group can be seen in the Plaza of Champions outside Busch Stadium. It's composed entirely of Hall of Famers -- pitchers Dizzy Dean and Bob Gibson, shortstop Ozzie Smith, second basemen Rogers Hornsby and Red Schoendienst, first baseman George Sisler and outfielders Enos Slaughter, Lou Brock and James "Cool Papa" Bell.
There's also the great Stan Musial, whose greatness merited two statues -- including the one that looms at the front of the Plaza, near the corner of Broadway and Walnut streets.
Yankee Stadium's Monument Park, with its images of Ruth, Gehrig, Mantle, DiMaggio and other timeless legends, is certainly more well-known and revered. But St. Louis' collection is pretty impressive in its own right.
Start with the big Musial statue, which has frozen the seven-time National League batting champion in his batting stance, peering at an unseen pitcher with unusually deep-set eyes. Former commissioner Ford C. Frick's famous tribute to Musial -- "... Here stands baseball's perfect warrior ... Here stands baseball's perfect knight" is etched on one side of the statue's base. The opposite side is inscribed with, simply, "Musial." Nothing more needs to be said, really.
Arranged behind the Musial monument is a semicircle of nine flagpoles, one for each Cardinals world championship (1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967 and 1982, if you're keeping score). Atop each pole flies a Cardinals pennant above another pennant depicting the name and colors of the respective American League teams St. Louis vanquished. Every base bears a plaque that includes a synopsis of that year's World Series and the Cardinals' championship roster.
Then come the smaller statues, resting atop pedestals between four and five feet high. There's Dean firing a fastball, Smith flinging himself to his left for another impossible catch, Brock breaking from the batter's box, Schoendienst turning a double play and Hornsby completing a home-run swing -- "finishing high" with his bat aloft, as a hitting coach would say.
In an homage to local tradition, the group includes Sisler, who played for the long-vanished Browns from 1915-27 but never the Cardinals, and Bell, the fabled Negro League star who was a St. Louis native.
Purists will thrill at the sight of Slaughter executing a classic bent-leg slide. Or Gibson, forever dominant, swooping off the mound to the first-base side in his unmistakable follow-through.
Or Musial, swinging this time, smiling as he watches a phantom ball he pulled disappear over the hotels across Walnut Street.
To borrow Roger Angell's phrase, this Plaza of Champions stimulates "baseball in the mind" -- seeing the game's greats made vivid through art.
Chris Haft is a reporter for MLB.com. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.