Less than five months after christening the organization's Hall of Fame and Museum, the Cardinals held their first induction ceremony, during which Willie McGee, Jim Edmonds, Mike Shannon and Marty Marion joined the 22 others already enshrined in the gallery.
The four new plaques were hung early in the morning with little fanfare, but plenty soon followed inside the cavernous Fox Sports Midwest Live! venue of Ballpark Village. An estimated crowd of 1,000 fans packed into the plaza to celebrate four of the franchise's most beloved, and watched as each slipped on a red jacket, the treasured gift the organization had previously only presented to those enshrined in the National Baseball Hall of Fame.
That tradition will now grow to include the new Hall of Famers inducted annually through voting by fans, members of a Red Ribbon panel and the organization.
"This is beyond belief to put on the red jacket," Edmonds said after Tony La Russa and Lou Brock helped him into his jacket. "I was a little confused at first about the red jacket, didn't know if I'd ever get to wear it. Now, I'm not sure I'm worthy of it."
A video of Stan Musial playing "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" officially opened the ceremony, and each of the four induction speeches were preceded by a video highlighting their Cardinals careers. Cardinals chairman Bill DeWitt Jr. then read the inscription on the plaque before summoning each inductee to the podium.
McGee received the loudest and most sustained ovation from a crowd that at one point broke into a "Willie! Willie! Willie!" chant. He was a rookie when the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series and went on to spend 13 seasons wearing the birds on the bat. During that time the outfielder endeared himself to the local fans.
"I can't explain it," McGee said of the fan's love affair with him. "I just think it's a byproduct of my love for the game, my passion for the game, my work ethic. Those are the types of things that really count."
During his speech, McGee highlighted some of his more memorable interactions with Cardinal greats, including his two years living with Ozzie Smith, his feeling inadequate to hold a conversation with Bob Gibson and his decision to start drinking coffee, only because he saw Brock do so.
McGee also thanked a variety of figures influential in his career, from his Little League coach to longtime Cardinals instructors George Kissell and Dave Ricketts.
"To this day," McGee said, "I am what I am because of the Cardinal organization."
Edmonds, like McGee, earned enshrinement through the support of fans, some of whom he singled out with a nod to the "bleacher bums" he recalled hearing each time he took his position in center at Busch Stadium. Edmonds also acknowledged the six National Baseball Hall of Famers in attendance -- La Russa, Brock, Gibson, Whitey Herzog, Red Schoendienst and Smith -- and briefly choked up after thanking them for "treating me like family from day one."
It was seeing those six in their own red jackets that so humbled Edmonds, who had come to appreciate the significance during his eight seasons with the Cardinals.
"That's been the hardest part, to kind of figure how to deal with that from watching those guys from a distance for the last 12-14 years," said Edmonds, who won six Gold Gloves and played in six postseasons with the organization. "When they told me I was getting a red jacket, I had to step back a little bit. I think this red jacket symbolizes much more than a plaque on the wall."
The two modern player inductees where joined by Shannon, an organizational pick, and Marion, the veteran player selection. Accepting the honor for Marion, who died in 2011, was Martinna Dill, the eldest of his four daughters.
She described her late father's appreciation for St. Louis, which has been the family's home since Marion began his career with the Cardinals in 1940. The shortstop spent 11 seasons with the Cardinals and was a member of three World Series championship clubs. Dill shared how Marion described those experiences as "just like Christmas."
"I know he'd be happy, saying it's just like Christmas being among these Cardinal greats," she added. "I know he would be touched with this honor. The Marion family is truly grateful."
Shannon's association with the Cardinals extends for 56 years (and counting), and that doesn't count the years he spent rooting for his hometown team as a boy reared in St. Louis. His nine-year Major League career was played exclusively with the franchise, and the third baseman/outfielder retired as a two-time World Series champion.
Shannon then quickly transitioned into the broadcast booth, where he has been for the last 43 seasons.
"I'm not important. It's the position that is important," Shannon said. "Hopefully I have enhanced it one way or another. To be a broadcaster for the St. Louis Cardinals, it goes back to when there was one team west of the Mississippi and it was the Cardinals. It went from Canada to Mexico and it went into 46 states and six Canadian provinces."
The Cardinals' Hall of Fame will continue to grow annually as another three or four members are slated to be enshrined each summer. A rebroadcast of Saturday's ceremony will be aired on Fox Sports Midwest after Sunday's game.