Ray Lankford (born June 5, 1967 in Los Angeles, California) is a former outfielder in Major League Baseball who has played for the St. Louis Cardinals and San Diego Padres. Primarily a center fielder, Lankford played from 1990 to 2004. He was known for his combination of power, speed, and defensive prowess. He posted one of the longest and most distinguished careers in the history of Cardinals baseball.
Lankford broke into the majors with St. Louis in August 1990, and took over the center field position previously occupied by former National League Most Valuable Player Willie McGee. He started his career as a leadoff man, where his speed and plate discipline made him a potent force. In his first full season in 1991, he led the league with 15 triples, stole 44 bases, and scored 83 runs, earning him a third place finish in the Rookie of the Year voting. In 1992, he began to hit for more power, and posted a breakout season with a .293 batting average, 20 home runs, and 42 stolen bases. This season established Lankford as one of the best all-around outfielders in the game. He eventually moved down in the batting order to take further advantage of his power hitting ability.
Lankford posted five seasons of 20 home runs and 20 stolen bases with the Cardinals (1992, 1995-1998), making him the only player in franchise history to accomplish the feat more than once. He also was an impressive fielder, posting a 2.90 range factor in 1992 and committing only one error in 1996. In the latter season, he led the league with a fielding percentage of .997 but was still not awarded a Gold Glove.
He was selected as the starting center fielder for the National League in the 1997 All-Star Game after a dominating hitting performance in the first half of the season, and posted an offensive career year the following season. In 1998, he hit .293 with 31 home runs, 105 runs batted in, and 26 stolen bases. It was his late season surge batting cleanup that helped Mark McGwire, hitting in front of Lankford in the Cardinal order, to set the single season home run record with 70. Following the '98 season, Lankford had knee surgery and was moved to left field. In his first year at the position, he posted a career high .306 batting average and 15 home runs in an injury-shortened season. He also compiled impressive defensive statistics at his new position. His number of strikeouts, however, began to reach alarming rates around this time, thus earning him the nickname "Need a K, call on Ray."
Lankford was traded from St. Louis to San Diego during the 2001 season for 35-year old (at the time) Woody Williams. He played for the Padres until 2002 but his tenure there was marred by injury and inconsistency. He took the 2003 season off to recover before returning to St. Louis, where he finished his career in 2004. Lankford finished his career among the Cardinal Top 10 in numerous statistical categories, including home runs (third), stolen bases (fifth), runs scored (eighth), runs batted in (eighth), and bases on balls (fourth).
Lankford hit more home runs at Busch Stadium (123) than any other player, and finished his career in his home ballpark with a pinch hit home run in his final major league at bat on October 3, 2004. He participated in festivities commemorating the final season at Busch Stadium in 2005, including taking down his signature jersey number 16 from a banner counting down the remaining games at the ballpark and accepting a nomination for the All-Time Busch Stadium Team. He also indicated he is interested in making a return to baseball in 2006.