This much belated post finishes our first pass of each franchise in the Mount Rushmore series.
The St. Louis Cardinals franchise traces its origins to the American Association and the St. Louis Brown Stockings who began play in that league’s inaugural 1882 season. In addition to four AA pennants, the Cardinals have also enjoyed the most success among NL franchises, with 19 pennants and 11 World Series titles. Your task is to choose the four players who best represent this franchise that has operated continuously and always in St. Louis for the past 135 seasons. Have fun!
After a sub-.500 finish in 1882, St. Louis shortened its name to the Browns and quickly established itself as a powerhouse, finishing above .500 in every one of the AA’s remaining 9 seasons, and above .600 in eight of those campaigns. Included were four straight championship seasons (1885-88) under new player/manager Charlie Comiskey (just 25 years old in 1885), with a composite .689 winning percentage over that period. From 1884 to 1890, the AA and NL champs met in a post-season series of varying length that was also known as the “World Series”; the Browns earned a tie and a win (the only triumph by an AA champion) in their first two appearances, before losing the last two. The dominant Browns players of these years were outfielders Tip O’Neill and Tommy McCarthy, infielders Arlie Latham and Yank Robinson, and pitchers Silver King, Bob Caruthers, Jack Stivetts and Dave Foutz.
With the demise of the AA following the 1891 season, the Browns moved to the NL and found considerably stiffer competition, going from an 85-51 finish in 1891 to just 56-94 in 1892. That was the first of eight straight sub-.500 finishes that culminated with four seasons (1895-98) finishing last or next-to-last and with a composite winning percentage of just .271. With a change in team colors and nickname in 1899 came a first winning season in the NL for the newly christened Perfectos (a bold nickname choice for a team on the heels of such woeful seasons). But, with a second name change to the Cardinals the next year (in response to the popularity of the new team colors) came another long string of losing seasons, with just three, well spaced, winning campaigns over the 1900-20 period and no finish higher than third. The best St. Louis players in almost three decades in the NL wilderness were infielders Rogers Hornsby, Ed Konetchy, Miller Huggins and Bobby Wallace, outfielder Jesse Burkett (with 18.2 WAR in a three season “cameo”) and pitchers Ted Breitenstein, Slim Sallee and Bill Doak, as well as legend Cy Young with a very creditable 16 WAR in just two seasons (1899-1900) as a Cardinal.
Hornsby’s arrival in St. Louis in 1915 heralded brighter team fortunes that started to be realized in the 1920s, with contending seasons in 1921 and 1922, and a first pennant and world championship in 1926, the latter decided when, down by a run, Babe Ruth was caught stealing for the final out of the 7 game series. Hornsby made his managerial debut that year, but the combination of his abrasiveness and exorbitant (in the eyes of Cardinal management) salary demands led to his departure before the next season. In spite of losing their most talented player (or, possibly, because of it) the Cardinals continued their winning ways, with four more pennants and two World Series titles from 1927 to 1934, taking the world championship in the last of those seasons as the rough and tumble “Gashouse Gang” (a sobriquet, referring to the dirty, smelly gas works found in most cities of the time, bestowed unkindly on account of the Cards’ supposed unkempt appearance and questionable hygiene habits, at least in the eyes of some, Leo Durocher principal among them). St. Louis continued to be competitive after that, with four second place finishes (none more than 5 games back) and only one sub-.500 campaign in the seven seasons from 1935 to 1941. The leading Cardinal players of the 1921 to 1941 period were infielders Rogers Hornsby (again), Johnny Mize, Jim Bottomley and Frankie Frisch, outfielders Joe Medwick and Chick Hafey, and pitchers Dizzy Dean, Jesse Haines and Bill Sherdel.
A September call-up on the 1941 team would lead St. Louis over the next two decades and become one of the game’s legends. Stan Musial‘s impact was immediate as the Cardinals reeled off three straight 105 win seasons (1942-44) resulting in an NL pennant each time and two World Series titles. St. Louis remained competitive for the remainder of the decade, winning 85+ games each season, including a third World Series title in 1946, made famous by “Slaughter’s Mad Dash” to score the series winning run in the eighth inning of game 7. The Cardinals didn’t post their next sub-.500 season until 1954, but that would be the first of seven second division finishes over the last 10 seasons of Musial’s tenure, with the Redbirds best record over that period a second place 93-69 campaign in Musial’s farewell 1963 season. Besides Musial, the leading Cardinals over the 1942-63 period were infielders Ken Boyer, Red Schoendienst and Marty Marion, outfielder Enos Slaughter and pitchers Harry Brecheen, Larry Jackson and Howie Pollet.
St. Louis posted a second straight 93-69 season in 1964, good enough for a pennant after the Phillies famous collapse in the home stretch of the pennant chase. In the Series, the Cards prevailed in 7 games over the Yankees in the curtain call for the Bombers post-war dynasty. Two more pennants followed in 1967 and 1968, with St. Louis splitting a pair of memorable 7 game World Series, but then came a stretch of middling Cardinal teams with just one 90 win season from 1969 to 1981. St. Louis posted the NL’s best record in the strike-shortened 1981 season, but failed to win either half of that bifurcated campaign, thus missing out on the post-season. That success, though, presaged three more pennants in 1982, 1985 and 1987, an unusual confluence of titles as the Cardinals finished no better than 11 games back in the intervening years. All three of those World Series went the maximum 7 games, with the 1985 series probably the most memorable because of a blown call in game 6 by first base umpire Don Denkinger that led to a 9th inning comeback by the Royals who sealed the deal with an 11-0 whitewash in game 7. The top Cardinals of the 1964 to 1987 period were catcher Ted Simmons, infielders Keith Hernandez and Ozzie Smith, outfielders Lou Brock and Curt Flood, and pitchers Bob Gibson, Bob Forsch and Steve Carlton.
The Cardinal loss to the Twins in the 1987 World Series would be the team’s last post-season appearance for almost a decade, until the Redbirds claimed the 1996 NL Central title (in the NL’s new 3 division alignment) before bowing in 7 games to the Braves in the NLCS. St. Louis returned to the NLCS in 2000 and 2002 but didn’t claim its next pennant until a 105 win season in 2004. The Cards were swept in that year’s World Series by the Red Sox (in Boston’s first world championship in 86 years) but made up for it with a World Series triumph over the Tigers in 2006, the first for St. Louis in 24 years. Pennant-winning seasons followed in 2011 and 2013, with an improbable world championship in the former year after the Cardinals were twice down to their last strike against the Rangers before prevailing 10-9 in an unforgettable game 6, and completing the comeback in game 7. St. Louis has remained this century’s most consistently competitive team with twelve post-season appearances and just one sub-.500 finish in the 17 seasons since 2000. The best Cardinals since 1988 have been infielders Albert Pujols and Ozzie Smith (again), catcher Yadier Molina, outfielders Jim Edmonds and Ray Lankford, and pitchers Adam Wainwright and Chris Carpenter.
To help you with your picks, here are the top 20 career WAR scores among Cardinal batters.
And the top 20 pitchers, by career WAR as a Cardinal.
Please choose 4 players, or write in your own. Polls are open until midnight Pacific time on Sun, Oct 30th. You can check on results using the link at the bottom of the ballot.
If the ballot does not display properly in your browser, you can also vote here.