I came across the 2002 Topps card first and had forgotten that Lankford switched teams late in his career. I remember Lankford as a Cardinal with a ton of promise who never quite reached his true potential. However, after looking at the card and realizing he had the third most HRs in Cardinals history, I wanted to write about how good Lankford was, even though he was perceived as never reaching his true potential.
Then I was home looking through old cards and stumbled upon the Donruss Triple Play card and found out Lankford was the first Cardinal since the great Rogers Hornsby to reach 15 triples. Kind of an odd stat, but still (somewhat) impressive.
Adding the two cards together, I really thought my memory of a lackadaisical Lankford was wrong. Perhaps, I had the next underrated guy on my hands. Umm…no. While Lankford was a useful and good player, he was never really underrated.
In fact, in MLB history, Lankford struck out every 3.71 ABs – the 15th worst rate among players who played 1,000 games or more. Not surprisingly, he struck out 1,550 times in his career – tied for the 27th most with Willie McCovey. Among lefties, Lankford struck out the 6th most times – trailing only Lou Brock, Fred McGriff, Jim Thome, Willie Stargell and Reggie Jackson.
Still, even with all that swinging and missing, he finished with a .272/.364/.477 line and a .840 OPS (just behind Cap Anson and ahead of Cliff Floyd on the all time list). It is actually better than hall of famers Eddie Murray, Enos Slaughter, Roberto Clemente, Yogi Berra, Ernie Banks, etc. Of course his career WAR (38.4) is nowhere near those guys.
That said, Lankford did have some amazing years, and a real good stretch from 1995-1998. During that time, he averaged 27 HRs, a .285/.382/.530 slash line and 26/34 SB rate. Not bad at all.
Was he Musial or Hornsby, clearly not. Heck he wasn’t even Ken Boyer (.287/.349/.462 as a third baseman/centerfielder from 1955-1969).
However he was a good Cardinal. According to Wikipedia, Lankford finished his career among the Cardinals Top 10 in home runs (third), stolen bases (fifth), runs scored (eighth), runs batted in (eighth), and bases on balls (fourth).
Oh and he is the only Cardinal to post more than one 20/20 season.
The perception of Lankford reminds me a lot of one of my favorite players, Adam Dunn, in that walks weren’t perceived to have the value they do and strike-outs were supposedly worse than pop outs.
Lankford simply played in an era during which strike-outs were viewed as a cardinal sin and preventing outs (i.e., taking a free pass) wasn’t recognized as a very important thing. Odd but true, let’s give Lankford his due.