Missouri is nicknamed The Show Me State. Where the saying came from is actually unclear. However, Missouri’s Secretary of State’s website offers a few explanations. One that is especially eye-catching is the story of former State Representative Willard Duncan Vandiver. In the story, he is said to have declared that, being a Missourian, he needed to be shown concrete evidence rather than what he described as “frothy eloquence.” In terms of baseball, Missouri definitely lives up to that idea. It doesn’t need any frills or superficialities to make itself known. The multiple players who have carved out diamond-studded legacies prove that Missouri is a hotbed for baseball talent.
Six Missourians are enshrined in Cooperstown. The state boasts a hefty 2,883.12 WAR, ranking it eighth all-time. But the true nucleus of the search for Missouri’s best baseball player lies in its mound legends. In fact, six of the members of this top ten list were known more for their arms than for their bats. It seems that Missouri simply has a knack for developing well-rounded, excellent pitching. Add to that a sturdy supply of reliable hitting and you’ve got the makings of one of the best baseball states ever. Now it’s time to find out who the cream of that particular crop is. Here are the best to come from The Show Me State.
Missouri’s Best Baseball Player
Born: St. Charles
Our search for Missouri’s best baseball player begins with an absurdly high WAR metric. It also begins with a pitcher that, for many years, was one of the most reliable arms in the game. Yes, Mark Buehrle was the master of the mid-threes, posting ERA numbers in that category for most of his career. He also won 214 games, brought home a solid 117 ERA+, and hurled a perfect game in 2009. His exploits vaulted him to five All-Star teams and his excellent defense garnered four consecutive Gold Gloves from 2009 to 2012. He’s best known for his time with the Chicago White Sox where he ranks sixth in wins (161) and fourth in strikeouts (1,396).
Born: St. Louis
One of the game’s greatest personalities, Yogi Berra was never far from a clever saying. Many of his “Yogi-isms” are still in use to this day. Not only was Berra gifted with the tongue, but he was also gifted with the glove and bat. The New York Yankees legend is an 18-time All-Star who helped lead the Bronx Bombers to 10 titles. He’s also a three-time AL MVP, winning in 1951, ’54, and ’55. His best year by WAR, however, was 1956. He hit .298 with 30 homers, 105 RBI, and had a solid dWAR of 1.2. Among catchers, Berra is first in RBI, sixth in WAR, fourth in homers, and seventh in hits. But most of all, Berra is simply remembered for being one of the brightest stars on many of the most dynamic teams of all time.
The search for Missouri’s best baseball player now enters obscure Hall of Famer territory. In any case, Zack Wheat was one of the best hitters of the 1910s. His 19-year career saw him amass 2,884 hits, 1,289 runs scored, 1,248 RBI, and an incredible 4,100 total bases. 18 of those seasons were spent with the Brooklyn Dodgers, where he won a batting title (1918). He also had 13 seasons in Brooklyn where he hit .300 or better. His talents were such that in 1927, which turned out to be his final year, he hit .324 in 88 games. He was 39 years old. Consistency personified, Wheat definitely deserves his spot on this list. Many may not remember his name now, but in the annals of Dodger history, there have been very few who have matched him.
If there would have been awards in the 1890s, Jake Beckley would have won a plethora. In a 20-year career, he came up a mere 62 hits short of 3,000. He also scored over 1,600 runs, drove in 1,581, had over 800 extra-base hits, and stole 315 bases. The Hall of Famer spent most of his career with the Pittsburgh Pirates. His 1,140 hits are still in the franchise’s top 30 and outrank fellow Hall of Famer Ralph Kiner along with longtime Pirates Andy Van Slyke and Starling Marte. He also spent a fair amount of time with the Cincinnati Reds, posting over 1,100 hits, 178 doubles, 570 RBI, and 114 stolen bases.
Born: Kansas City
David Cone is one of the greatest pitchers not in Cooperstown. He also endured one of the most turbulent careers of all time. While his ERA numbers were, for the most part, good to great, his wins rose and fell like the sun. In 1988, with the New York Mets, he won 20 games and finished third in Cy Young voting. The next year, he won 14 games, his ERA increased by 1.3 runs, and he didn’t even make the All-Star team. That said, he did retire with 194 wins, a 3.46 career ERA, and a 121 ERA+. He also posted 2,668 strikeouts with six 200+ strikeout seasons. In 1990 and ’91, he led the National League in the category. But the biggest mark on his career was his Cy Young win with the Kansas City Royals in the strike-shortened 1994 campaign.
The list of individuals vying to be Missouri’s best baseball player has a metric ton of Hall of Fame talent. As with Cone, Ken Boyer has a strong case for inclusion in that category. The longtime St. Louis Cardinals mainstay was one of the most reliable players of the late 1950s. He made 11 All-Star appearances, won five Gold Gloves, and was once named Major League Player of The Year. In 1964, he won NL MVP while helping lead the Cardinals to a World Championship. However, his best year by WAR was actually three years prior. In 1961, he hit .329 with 24 homers, 194 hits, 26 doubles, 11 triples, and a .930 OPS. He finished seventh in MVP voting. Finally, his aforementioned defense was good to great, helping him amass a career dWAR of 10.7.
Born: Clear Creek
One doesn’t have an entire stadium named after them if they never accomplished anything. Of course, it helps when one owns the team, but Clark Griffith was more than an owner placating a power fantasy. His name had a lot of clout. He was outstanding during his two decades of pitching at baseball’s highest level. Best known for his eight years with the Chicago Colts/Orphans (now Cubs), Griffith won 237 games with a 3.31 ERA and a 121 ERA+. His best season came in 1898 when he won 24 contests and led the league in both ERA (1.88) and ERA+ (192). Griffith was also a workhorse among workhorses, hurling nearly 3,400 innings and 337 complete games. Add to that a solid managing career and a membership in Cooperstown’s inaugural class, and it’s easy to see why the Washington Senators played at Griffith Stadium.
Carl Hubbell begins the Missouri’s best baseball player podium, and for good reason. The long-time New York Giants superstar was a two-time MVP and a nine-time All-Star. He led the league in ERA three times, ERA+ three times, and WHIP six times. From 1933-1937, he posted five consecutive 20-win campaigns. His ERA numbers were almost always immaculate, helping him to a crisp 2.98 career mark. By WAR, his best year was 1936. He took home his second MVP award, won 26 games, and posted the league’s best numbers in ERA (2.31), ERA+ (169), and WHIP (1.059). Much as with Griffith, Hubbell was also a genuine worker. He had 260 complete games and tossed nearly 3,600 innings. While he wasn’t really a strikeout specialist, Hubbell definitely knew what to throw to get batters out. It was that precision that got him on this list.
Born: St. Louis
Max Scherzer is the embodiment of generational talent. Since 2008, Mad Max has used his impressive arsenal of pitching weaponry to terrorize opposing hitters. His awards and accolades run the gambit of everything one could hope to accomplish as a pitcher. He’s a three-time Cy Young winner, an eight-time All-Star, and a World Champion. His prowess has led him to become a member of the prestigious 3,000 strikeout club, with 300 coming in one season. In 2022, his slider was so good that it registered an opposing run value of -18. That was fifth in the league. The list of both standard and advanced statistics supporting Scherzer’s future Hall of Fame status could fill a book. Only time will tell which chapters he writes next.
Congratulations @Max_Scherzer on 3,000 career strikeouts! He is only the 19th pitcher to join the elite club. pic.twitter.com/8aw6BZHzWN
— Los Angeles Dodgers (@Dodgers) September 12, 2021
Born: St. Louis
It seems somewhat fitting that Pud Galvin would be Missouri’s best baseball player. After all, his 15 years in the big leagues saw him win 365 games while maintaining a 2.85 ERA. However, that’s not all that separates him from the pack. In an age before relief pitchers were commonplace, Galvin hurled over 6,000 innings and completed 646 of his 705 career starts. Though he never was a league leader, his consistency got him to the top of the heap. In 1884, he posted a staggering 20.5 WAR. He won 46 games with a 1.99 ERA, a 155 ERA+, and hurled 12 shutouts. His WHIP was below one and he struck out 369 batters. On a list dominated by pitchers, Pud Galvin is the best of them all. That’s why he takes the crown as Missouri’s greatest addition to the baseball world.
Main photo credits:
Rich Storry-USA Today Sports
Mark Buehrle, Yogi Berra, Zack Wheat, Jake Beckley, Ralph Kiner, Andy Van Slyke, Starling Marte, David Cone, Ken Boyer, Clark Griffith, Carl Hubbell, Max Scherzer, Pud Galvin