Holliday deserves respect as an all-time great St. Louis Cardinal

I’ve said before that we’re especially fortunate to live in the era we do as St. Louis Cardinals fans.

I’ve seen the Redbirds play in seven World Series and I’ve had the opportunity to watch some of the best players ever to put on the Birds on the Bat. Lou Brock, Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Albert Pujols, Mark McGwire, Chris Carpenter, Adam Wainwright, Scott Rolen, Yadier Molina…

Matt Holliday is certainly one member of that elite group.

For reasons I don’t understand, a lot of St. Louis fans don’t seem to appreciate the man who wore number 7 for the home team the last eight years like they do other players. The social media sites were full of comments critical of his defense (often unfairly so) and the fact that, as a guy who hit the ball hard while playing on a team of plodding base runners, he hit into a lot of double plays.

It didn’t seem to register that Holliday was one of the most consistent power hitters in Redbirds history. He batted .292 wearing a St. Louis uniform and averaged about 23 homers and 90 RBIs a year. There aren’t many players in the big leagues who compare favorably to those numbers over the last eight years.

A lot of fans didn’t seem to notice as Holliday quietly led the troops on and off the field. He was the guy who spent his own money to fly in new top draft picks to indoctrinate them in the Cardinals Way and make them feel like a part of the franchise. He spent a lot more time in the weight room than the media room, seeking to make himself the best ballplayer he could be while avoiding attention.

It says a lot about what the Cardinals will likely lose as the team announced Friday that it won’t exercise Holliday’s 2017 option that the veteran star came to the plate, misty-eyed — and then hit a two-strike, opposite-field home run in what could be his last at-bat with St. Louis.

I sure hope the Holliday drama is a false alarm.

While the Birds won’t take the easy route to keeping Holliday, that doesn’t mean they couldn’t retain him on a lesser contract. While he’s 37 years old and not the elite player he was in his prime, Holliday is still a fearsome hitter who could start three or four days a week and pinch hit the rest of the time. He might make more as a designated hitter in the junior circuit. But he’s made a pile of cash as a major league. So passing on another payday to stay somewhere he’s comfortable wouldn’t be a major shock.

Regardless of what happens, Holliday is almost certainly the best left fielder the Cardinals have had since Lou Brock. He’s a ballplayer’s ballplayer and the sort of citizen who would make Stan the Man proud.

Thanks for the memories, number 7.

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