One of the side benefits of organizing a series to select the top 40 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time is the opportunity to learn and re-learn about many oft-forgotten contributors from the past.
Sadly, one of them passed away last Tuesday, January 30, (Hubert) Max Lanier. Lanier was born in Denton, North Carolina and died at the age of 91 in Dunnellon, Florida.
Lanier pitched 12 seasons with the Cardinals, from 1938 through 1951, including the 1942 and 1944 World Series champions. He was a product of the famed Branch Rickey farm system, having signed with the organization as a high schooler.
Lanier bridged from the Gas House Gang era into the 1950’s and was said to have a good singing voice as a part of the Gang’s “Mudcat Band”. Originally, Lanier had been called up from Columbus in 1938, helping to fill the void left by Dizzy Dean’s trade to the Chicago Cubs that April.
Including the 1943 pennant-winners, Lanier posted a 2-1 World Series record overall with a sparkling 1.71 ERA, striking out 25 in 31 2/3 innings, including winning the ’44 Series clincher over the Browns. The left-hander was selected to two All-Star Games in 1943 and 1944, seasons during which he picked up 32 of his 101 career regular-season wins as a Cardinal.
Lanier posted an exceptional ERA of 2.84 as a Cardinal. His 1943 mark of 1.90 led the National League and is the fifth-best season in franchise history. The next year, his 143 strikeouts were second-highest in the League and his rate per nine innings paced the circuit. Lanier’s 20 shutouts rank seventh-best in Cardinals history.
With a 6-0 record in 1946, Lanier joined a group of players who defected to the Mexican League. He was subsequently suspended and later returned to the Cardinals for the 1949 season upon being reinstated. However, Lanier missed most of his age 30 and all of his age 31 and 32 years in what should have been his prime seasons.
At the end of his career, in 1952 and 1953, Lanier played with the New York Giants and ended with the Browns in their final season in St. Louis, a club managed by his former long-time teammate Marty Marion, two years his junior. Lanier’s overall career record was 108-82. After retirement, he managed in the minor leagues.
One of Lanier's sons, Hal, played ten years as a middle infielder in the majors, mostly with the San Francisco Giants and later was National League Manager of the Year in 1986 with the Houston Astros. Hal was the Cardinals' third base coach from 1981-1985.
Hal gave The Citrus County Chronicle an example of how much his Dad meant to him. “It was so special to me that the first game I ever won as a big league manager was the game that my father threw out the first pitch,” Hal said. “In fact I actually broke into the minor leagues at Sportsman’s Park where my Dad played most of his Major League career. I got my first home run in that park. Those are two moments that I’ll cherish forever.”
Max Lanier’s former teammate, infielder Don Gutteridge, remains the oldest living former Cardinal player at the age of 94.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at email@example.com.
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