Former Cardinals' outfielder Vince Coleman threw out a ceremonial first pitch before a game at Busch Stadium in 2015. (File)

By Rob Rains

The latest fan selections for the Cardinals Hall of Fame will be inducted on Saturday, Mark McGwire and Tim McCarver, two players who certainly had noteworthy careers with the team.

Were they the two players most deserving of election this year? No, not even close.

The problem with the results of this year’s election, however, is not with the choices of the fans. It’s the fact that the players who were the most deserving were not even on the ballot.

Each year, the ballot of candidates eligible to be elected in the on-line fans’ vote is determined by a select committee of writers, broadcasters and former Cardinals’ managers. After a meeting in which candidates are discussed, each committee member submits a secret ballot with up to 10 names. This year, the seven players who received the most votes were placed on the ballot.

As has been the case with each election since the Cardinals Hall of Fame was established, the two players who belong in the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame but who have never even been on the ballot are Ray Lankford and Vince Coleman.

As a member of the committee, it’s still baffling how those two players have been excluded and passed over, not just this year, but for each of the past three years even though their qualifications are discussed at length.

Lankford’s credentials speak for themselves, including the fact only four players in franchise history have hit more home runs than Lankford, who hit 228 during his 13 years with the Cardinals. Who holds the record for most home runs at Busch Stadium II? Hint, it’s not McGwire. Lankford hit 123, four more than McGwire and 12 more than Jim Edmonds, both of whom after Saturday will be in the team’s Hall of Fame.

That statistic alone should at least get Lankford on the ballot, but beyond that, he ranks ninth all-time in RBIs in Cardinals’ history, seventh in extra-base hits, eighth in runs and 10th in total bases.

Coleman’s career resume is not as long as Lankford’s but impressive for one simple statistic, stolen bases, where his career total of 549 ranks second to Lou Brock in team history.

The intangible part of Coleman’s career, which is not as easily recorded on a piece of paper, however, is the number of games he changed because of his speed and the threat of havoc he created when he was on the bases.

The Cardinals would not have won the NL pennants in 1985 and 1987 without Coleman’s stolen bases and the threat of stealing bases. If he had been able to play in the 1985 World Series against the Royals, instead of being forced out of the lineup by a broken leg suffered in an accident with the automatic tarpaulin at Busch Stadium, the Cardinals have celebrated another world championship.

Coleman’s career in St. Louis lasted only six years, when he left in what he has since admitted was the worst decision of his career, signing as a free agent with the Mets. Still, that was one year longer than McGwire played in St. Louis.

From 1985 through 1987, Coleman stole 110, 107 and 109 bases – arguably just as impressive a performance as McGwire hitting 70 and 65 homers in back-to-back seasons in 1998 and 1999.

Did all of those homers help the Cardinals reach the playoffs? No. In Coleman’s three big years, the Cardinals won the NL pennant and went to the World Series twice. In both of McGwire’s big home run seasons, the Cardinals did not make the playoffs and in fact were a combine seven games under .500 for those two years.

The question really is not the credentials for both Lankford and Coleman. They are very real, and deserving, if anybody has watched and paid attention to Cardinals’ baseball over the last 30-plus years.

The problem is why have they not received enough committee votes to be placed on the ballot, giving fans the chance to vote for them?

Because the votes are secret, why some of the people on the committee did not use one of their 10 available spots for Coleman and Lankford is unknown. One reason, however, might be that some of the people on the committee are there simply because they currently cover the Cardinals and are not well versed enough in the team’s history, or have not covered the team long enough, to understand and appreciate just what players such as Lankford and Coleman meant to this franchise.

As someone who covered Coleman on a daily basis in the 1980s for the St. Louis Globe-Democrat, there is no question that Coleman belongs in the Cardinals’ Hall of Fame. But to not even include him on the ballot is a disgrace.

Lankford’s career with the Cardinals lasted from 1990 through August of 2001, when he was traded to San Diego for Woody Williams. The fact that he played during a decade which was not one of the best in Cardinals’ history should not taint his individual accomplishments. That would be the same as saying players from the 1950s or 1970s should be excluded as well because the Cardinals did not happen to field very good teams in those years.

It’s also a mystery as to why Lankford has not received enough votes from the committee to make it onto the ballot, but part of that answer could be personal grudges against Lankford which has kept people from voting for him. If those personal individual feelings override Lankford’s career accomplishments in the minds of some voters, that’s a shame.

Because this election is done online, the voting body automatically skews to a younger audience, which increases the difficulty of being selected for players such as Coleman and Lankford, who many of the people voting never saw play.

If they can’t even get on the ballot, however, it makes it impossible for them to be elected.

The five other candidates who were on this year’s ballot were Steve Carlton, Keith Hernandez, Jason Isringhausen, Edgar Renteria and Scott Rolen. Nothing against any of them, who all earned special spots in Cardinals’ history, but none were as good wearing that uniform, or meant more to their teams, than Coleman and Lankford.

In previous years fans have elected Willie McGee, Edmonds, Bob Forsch, Ted Simmons, Chris Carpenter and Joe Torre to the Cardinals Hall of Fame, all deserving candidates worthy of selection.

Here’s hoping the selection committee does a better job next year and actually votes to put Coleman and Lankford on the ballot, at least giving them a chance at earning a spot in the Cardinals Hall of Fame which they so richly deserve.

Follow Rob Rains on Twitter @RobRains