Cardinal Nation is shocked and dismayed – and with good reason – at this week’s news of the elbow injury suffered by Adam Wainwright, and the further news that he will require Tommy John surgery and miss the entire 2011 season (and who knows about 2012 and beyond?). The loss of Wainwright is a serious blow to the St. Louis Cardinals’ pennant chances to be sure, but in a way, this is nothing new as historically, the Cards have had to absorb serious injuries to key players in the past.
Who were some of those injured players, and how did the team fare? Taking a look back, I came up with a top ten list and found the result to be mixed – sometimes the Cards rebounded nicely from the blow and came up winners anyway; other times the injury sank the team’s fortunes.
In chronological order:
1937 – Dizzy Dean
1967 and 1973 – Bob Gibson
1980 – John Fulgham
1986 – Jack Clark
1987 – John Tudor
1995 – Ozzie Smith
2000 and 2001 – Mark McGwire
2002 – Darryl Kile
2005 – Scott Rolen
2007 and 2008 – Chris Carpenter
In 1937, Dizzy Dean was at the top of his game, one of the superstars of his day. Only Carl Hubbell and one or two other pitchers were even close to him and ol’ Diz had established himself certainly the greatest pitcher the Cardinals ever had. That all came crashing down in the All-Star Game when Dean was hit on the toe by a line drive off the bat of Cleveland’s Earl Averill.
Dean missed a couple of starts, but insisted on rejoining the rotation. (It has been argued that he was goaded into returning by Cards manager Frankie Frisch – and to be sure, this was an era when ballplayers often played hurt rather than risk embarrassment, ridicule, or even losing their job – witness Wally Pipp). Upon his return, Dean altered his pitching motion to favor the broken toe, hurt his arm and was never the same again – gone from the Cards by mid-1938 and gone from the game by 1940.
As for the Cards themselves, after having won the World Series in 1934 and contended for the pennant in 1935 and 1936, the team collapsed after losing Dizzy (they had already lost his brother Paul to an arm injury in 1936) and hit rock bottom in 1938, with Frisch losing his job. The Cardinals did not return to contending status until Billy Southworth took over and the new kids – including a young man named Musial – hit the field in the early 1940’s.
In 1967, the Cards – who had slumped badly in 1965 and 1966 after their World Championship in 1964 – were running away with the pennant when in July, Bob Gibson was hit in the leg by a line drive off the bat of Roberto Clemente. Remarkably, Gibson got up and pitched to three more batters before the bone – which had been cracked by the Clemente drive – snapped altogether.
Gibson would miss most of the rest of the regular season and the writers almost immediately wrote off the Cards’ chances for that season – especially after Nellie Briles, Gibson’s replacement in the rotation, lost to the Braves in his first start. But the Cards straightened out as Briles won nine of his next 11 starts with two no-decisions.
By the time Gibson came back in late September, the team had nearly completed its run to the NL pennant. Gibson returned to the mound in time to pitch the clincher against the Phillies and then, fully recovered, went on to win three games in the 1967 World Series as the Cards beat the Red Sox.
In 1973, Gibson and the Cards were not quite as fortunate. After a dismal 5-20 start to the season, the team caught fire and was in fact in first place by the All-Star break. Then, a few weeks later, Gibson tore up his knee covering first on a bang-bang play involving the Mets and John Milner and missed nearly the rest of the season.
The Cards used such non-entities as Rich Folkers in his stead and promptly collapsed, enabling the Mets to win the NL East crown that year with a mediocre 82-79 record. Gibson came back in 1974 but was a shadow of his former self and retired after the 1975 season.
In 1980, the Cards’ John Fulgham was coming off a Jaime Garcia-like rookie season in which he won 10 games and finished second in the league with a sparkling 2.53 ERA. A rotator cuff injury, though, torpedoed Fulgham’s chances for a repeat, as he won only four games in 1980 and never returned to the major leagues. Fulgham did post one remarkable achievement, though – every single one of his 14 major league wins was a complete game victory.
As for the Cards, they collapsed in 1980, losing ten in a row at one point, costing manager Ken Boyer his job – but then again, had Boyer not been fired, the Cards might never have hired a man who ultimately would wind up in the Hall of Fame – Whitey Herzog.
In 1986, the Cards were coming off a devastating World Series loss to the Royals and got off to a sputtering start when in June, slugger Jack Clark was injured running the bases. He would miss the rest of the season and the Cards would finish below .500 after trotting out the likes of Alan Knicely to play first base. Clark would come back in 1987 with a near-MVP season before leaving the team as a free agent.
It was a good thing that Clark rebounded so nicely in 1987, because in April of that year, the Cards’ ace lefty, John Tudor, was sitting on the bench during a game against the Mets when catcher Barry Lyons, attempting to catch a foul popup, crashed into the Cardinals’ dugout, landing on Tudor and breaking Tudor’s leg. The ace would miss the next several months.
The Cards, despite the injury to Tudor (and to catcher Tony Pena and to several other players – leading sportswriter Bob Broeg to dub the team the “St. Elsewhere” Cardinals), would hang on, win 97 games and the NL pennant.
In 1995, eventual-Hall of Fame shortstop Ozzie Smith, at age 40 entering his 14th season with the Cards, was injured early on and would be limited to just 44 games (this after having played only 88 games in the strike-shortened 1994 season). Ozzie’s replacement that year, the immortal Tripp Cromer, would hit just .215 in the role.
The Cards – with new management in place (Walt Jocketty having just taken over as GM and Tony La Russa about to join up as manager) and unsure about Ozzie’s ability to come back at age 41 - would make the trade for a younger shortstop, the Giants’ Royce Clayton.
That trade would lead to bad blood between La Russa and Ozzie that eventually resulted on Smith’s retirement after the 1996 season – which, against all odds, turned out to be a successful season anyway, with an improbable run that nearly resulted in a NL pennant.
In 2000, slugger Mark McGwire – who had hit the record 70 home runs in 1998 and followed up with 65 home runs in 1999 – was on his way to another super season, with 30 home runs in the first half of the schedule. But in July, on what appeared to be a routine groundball out against the Reds, McGwire came up hobbled with what turned out to be patella tendonitis.
The injury would limit McGwire to nothing more than pinch-hitting duties the rest of the season, and he would hit only two more home runs in 2000 (plus one in the postseason against Atlanta).
The knee did not get any better in 2001 and McGwire would hit only .187 that year before retiring at season’s end. The Cards, however, didn’t suffer as they made an astute trade for Will Clark in 2000, going on to win the division and the first round of the playoffs, and would continue their winning ways for much of the decade.
In 2002, the Cards suffered their worst loss of all with the untimely mid-season death of pitcher Darryl Kile – but recovered in time to win 97 games (including 57 after DK’s passing) and another trip to the NLCS. Pitchers Travis Smith and Chuck Finley filled in nicely for Kile; however, both were gone by 2003 (Finley retiring in the midst of his marital difficulties) and the team would fail to repeat in 2003 as Brett Tomko failed to pick up the slack.
In 2005, third baseman Scott Rolen – who had already suffered an injury in the 2002 postseason that arguably cost the team a shot at the World Series (no disrespect meant to Miguel Cairo, who played valiantly at third as Rolen’s replacement) – would suffer further injury, a shoulder injury after an on-field collision with Hee Seop Choi.
Rolen would miss the remainder of the 2005 season, but his replacement, the hitherto-unspectacular Abraham Nunez, would respond with the season of his life and the Cards, who had won 105 games and the NL pennant in 2004, would win another 100 games in 2005 despite the loss of Rolen. The Rolen injury would have further ramifications, though, as his power suffered, as did his relationship with La Russa, leading to Rolen’s trade to Toronto after the 2007 season.
In that 2007 season, Cards’ ace Chris Carpenter, after a season-opening loss to the New York Mets, went down to injury, missing the remainder of that season and all but four games (three starts) in 2008. The Cardinals would fail to successfully defend their 2006 World Championship as they could do no better for a replacement starter than Kip Wells, Mike Maroth, and Brad Thompson. Carpenter rebounded nicely in 2009 and the Cards would return to the postseason that year before falling to the Dodgers.
And now we have the season-ending-before-it-even-begins injury to Adam Wainwright. How will the Cardinals fare? Will they absorb the loss, find another worthy replacement like Briles or Nunez, and go on to a pennant-winning season, or will they be unable to recover, doing no better for replacements than Knicely and Maroth?
Time will tell.
Editor's note: Twice previously in Cardinals history, a reigning 20-game winner did not throw a pitch for the club the next season. Neither time worked out well. Details at The Cardinal Nation Blog.
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