On this day in 1865, Abraham Lincoln was shot by John Wilkes Booth at Ford's Theater, thereby depriving Springfield, Illinois, my home and native Land of Lincoln, of its most important cultural achievement. (Other cultural achievements: Vachel Lindsay and the horseshoe sandwich.) I don't mean to belittle Lincoln's life, having come from a city that is defined almost entirely by his life and death and having lived, as a result, in barely disguised awe of his skill as a statesman and a writer, but speaking as a Springfieldian and a St. Louis Cardinals fan, I want to take this opportunity to chase that spite. I want to know the Springfieldiest moments in Cardinals history—the moments when the one thing you had going for you is snatched away, to be replaced by an admittedly wonderful pseudo-sandwich with french fries on it.
Having spent a while at Baseball-Reference, jogging my memory, I've come up with a few answers; others are encouraged.
1. Mark Whiten traded for Scott Cooper in 1995. Mark Whiten was not a great player, but he had a few things going for him: An outstanding nickname, a four-homer game, nice superficial stats. In strike-shortened 1994 he was the Cardinals' top player according to B-R, edging out Gregg Jefferies and, somehow, Ray Lankford. (With 2.8 WAR he's the last Cardinal to top the team's WAR chart with less than four, and was himself the first since Darrell Porter's 3.7 in 1983.)
The Cardinals traded him, which was actually a great idea. The problem is that they traded him, this interesting, enjoyable-to-watch hard-hitter, for Scott Cooper, the Boston Red Sox's own version of Mark Whiten, with inexplicable all-star appearances replacing the four-homer game and no nickname to speak of. It was an exemplary moment in early-90s-Cardinals history—decent ideas, ultimate futility, a slow draining of franchise interest that was reversed abruptly in 1996.
2. 2004 Cardinals swept by Red Sox, 2006 Cardinals top Tigers. This is a little like fate trying to trade us Springfieldians Lincoln's second term—one of America's greatest presidents at one of the crucial turning points in American history—for a future Springfield president who is the functional equivalent of Warren Harding.
It was great to see the 2006 Cardinals win it all, and so improbable, but the 2004 Cardinals were the team that will define my life as a Cardinals fan. Three MVP candidates, an impossibly solid rotation, 105 wins, and one of the great championship series that will ever be played. 2006 was nice, but that 2004 team was perfect, and needed to be defined by that perfection once and for all.
3. Ray Lankford traded by Woody Williams, who ends up totally justifying it. This one is strictly personal. One of my first projects as a serious baseball fan was trying to convince anyone who would even pretend to listen that Ray Lankford was still a perfectly capable outfielder, and that the Cardinals would regret trading him. Lankford started his career 10 years too early; he was a sabermetric player with traditional flaws.
When the Cardinals dumped him, in the middle of a 114 OPS+ season, for a basically average starter in the middle of an ugly season, my moment had finally come. And Lankford was great with San Diego, hitting .288/.386/.480 and even stealing six bases without being caught.
Unfortunately, Woody Williams proved to be Dave Duncan's favorite pupil, and my vengeance was stolen from me once and for all.