If either Carlos Beltran or Matt Holliday finishes as the National League RBI leader this year, he would become only the fourth Cardinals outfielder, and the first since Stan Musial, to top the league in that category.
Right fielder Beltran and left fielder Holliday rank among the top three in the NL in RBI this season. The three Cardinals outfielders who finished as NL single-season RBI leaders were Joe Medwick (1936, ’37 and ’38), Enos Slaughter (1946) and Musial (1948).
(Musial also was the 1956 NL RBI leader. But he played more than twice as many games at first base than he did in the outfield that year.)
Eight other Cardinals led the NL in RBI. They were first basemen Jim Bottomley (1926, ’28), Johnny Mize (1940), Orlando Cepeda (1967), Mark McGwire (1999) and Albert Pujols (2010); second baseman Rogers Hornsby (1920, ’21, ’22 and ’25); and third basemen Ken Boyer (1964) and Joe Torre (1971).
Slaughter and Musial played primarily in right field the years they led the NL in RBI as outfielders. Medwick was a left fielder in each of the three years he was the NL RBI leader.
Here is a look at the Cardinals outfielders who finished as NL single-season RBI kings:
_ 1936: Batting fourth in the order, Medwick, 24, had 138 RBI, three ahead of the runner-up, right fielder Mel Ott of the Giants. This was the third of six consecutive years in which Medwick drove in 100 or more for the Cardinals. He benefitted from having right fielder Pepper Martin batting just ahead of him in the order. Martin had a .373 on-base percentage that year. In May, Medwick had 39 RBI in 30 games.
_ 1937: Medwick had a franchise-record 154 RBI. He also led the NL in batting average and home runs. No other NL player has achieved the Triple Crown since. Medwick drove in five runs in a game four times in 1937. He had 71 RBI by the end of June.
“It seemed as though I had better success against the better pitchers than against those who were not supposed to be as good,” Medwick told The Sporting News in its Nov. 11, 1937, edition. “Perhaps it was because I was expecting more when I’d bat against a fellow like Carl Hubbell, for example.”
_ 1938: Again, Medwick edged Ott for the RBI crown. Medwick had 122, six more than Ott. Though he had 1,860 career RBI (compared with 1,383 for Medwick), Ott led the NL in RBI only once (with 135 in 1934). Medwick achieved his league-leading 1938 total in 590 at-bats, the only time he had fewer than 600 at-bats in the six years in which he reached the 100-RBI level for the Cardinals.
_ 1946: Slaughter had a career-best 130 RBI, one of only three times in his 19-year major-league career he achieved 100 or more RBI in a season. Primarily batting fourth in the order, Slaughter capitalized on having Musial bat just ahead of him. Musial, after missing the 1945 season because of military service, had a NL-leading 228 hits in 1946. His on-base percentage that season was .434 (second in the NL) and he also drew 73 walks (seventh in the NL). Slaughter had 31 RBI in 30 games in July.
“When I played ball, regardless of what uniform I wore, I gave them 100 percent,” Slaughter told author Peter Golenbock for the book “The Spirit of St. Louis” (2000, Avon). “… And any ballplayer who gives 100 percent, the fans will have no problem with.”
_ 1948: Batting third in the order, Musial drove in a career-high 131 runs. His RBI total was 41 more than the No. 2 run producer on the Cardinals (Slaughter, with 90). Musial had four RBI in a game five times that season. He had 27 RBI in 22 games against the Reds. Musial finished six ahead of the NL runner-up, Giants first baseman Johnny Mize, a former Cardinal.
In his book “Stan Musial: The Man’s Own Story” (1964, Doubleday), Musial wrote of his 1948 season:
From the moment I picked up a bat in 1948, healthy and strong after off-season (appendix) surgery, I knew this would be it, my big year … I was 27 now, at my athletic peak and healthier than I had been for as long as those low-grade infections had been gnawing at my system.
Stronger, too, when I picked up a bat and swung it. The bat felt so light that instead of gripping it about an inch up the handle, as I had in the past, I went down to the knob. Gripping the bat at the end, I could still control my swing.