Did the Best Cards Deliver the Best Results?

Curt Flood's Cards' career ended in ‘69

Looking for correlations between the Top 40 Cardinals players of all time and the results of their teams.

In what era were the best Cardinals teams? Ol' Dizz and The Gas House Gang? Billy Southworth's wartime clubs? The El Birdos of the sixties? Whitey's Boys fifteen years later? Or, how about the current Cardinals of Tony La Russa?

How to answer such a question? Would one consider won-loss percentage or playoff appearances or championships? I would certainly take on all arguments that the latter is what matters most of all.

As a refresher, here are the Cardinals' ten World Championship seasons: 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982 and 2006. They also came up just short seven other years: 1928, 1930, 1943, 1968, 1985, 1987 and 2004.

But, that story has already been written – several thousand times, I imagine. So, how might we look at history in a slightly different manner?

While working on our current series counting down the St. Louis Cardinals All-Time Top 40 Players, the thought struck me.

In what years did the Cardinals have the best players?

In one approach of potentially many ways to try to answer, I sorted the data from our Top 40 by season. That wouldn't necessarily indicate the best 25-man roster at any point, but at least it would identify which Cardinals clubs had the crème de la crème.

Though seemingly obvious, these results are based on our list of the St. Louis Cardinals All-Time Top 40 Players. Using your own list, mileage may vary.

To keep this manageable, I did not weight the players, so number 40 was just as good as number one. Since some players were not actually in uniform during the war years, they were not assumed to have continuous service for this analysis. The table will show each player listed at his primary Cardinals career position only.

Enough of the disclaimers, here are the results. Click on this link to review the detailed table of the "Cardinals Top 40 by Position by Year". (I recommend you open a second window.) Take a few minutes to let all the data soak in and then come right back here…

The decades

Starting with the big picture, here are the quantities of top 40 player years each decade, along with the championships as a point of comparison. Also, as a reference point, listed are those top 40 players with the most seasons played during each decade.

Decade

# WS

# NL

Top 40 Yrs

Most Top 40 Yrs

1910's (5 yrs)

0

0

7

Hornsby (5)

1920's

1

1

46

Sherdel, Haines (10)

1930's

2

1

63

Martin (10)

1940's

3

1

57

Marion (10)

1950's

0

0

34

Musial (10)

1960's

2

1

64

Gibson, Flood (10)

1970's

0

0

47

Simmons, Brock (10)

1980's

1

2

38

Forsch (9)

1990's

0

0

27

Lankford (10)

2000's (7 yrs)

1

1

36

Edmonds (7)

Totals

10

7

419

Of the full decades, the 1960's just edged out the 1930's, 64 top 40 player years to 63. Interestingly, the Cardinals teams of those two decades each had the same number of World Championships and pennants.

The winningest decade on the field, the 1940's, was third in the pack in terms of top 40 player years with 57, but was certainly negatively impacted by war years lost by a number of key players.

Somewhat surprisingly, the 1990's bring up the rear with just 27 top player years, followed by the 1950's and again in a bit of a surprise, the 1980's.

The poor showing by the 1980's tells me one of two things. Either we voters were overly-tough on those players, or their clubs managed to win despite not having as consistently-solid of a player core as other decades of Cardinals teams.

Now, let's look at individual years. Starting in 1915, there was at least one player on the roster ranked in our Top 40 every year. During two seasons, there were as many as eight. The 92-year average from 1915 until today is 6.4 players from the Top 40 on the club.

The worst clubs

Next, we'll drill down on the "worst" clubs as defined by the fewest top 40 players over this period and where they finished in the standings. Putting the pre-championship decade of the 1910's aside, we see several well-known dry periods in Cardinals history confirmed.

Worsts

Top 40

Place

1915

1

6th

1916

1

7th

1917

1

3rd

1918

2

8th

1919

2

7th

1954

2

6th

1957

2

2nd

1989

2

3rd

1991

2

2nd

1992

2

3rd

1993

2

3rd

1994

2

3rd

1995

2

4th

10 seasons

3

avg 4th

First, there are the struggling Cardinals clubs of the late 1950's, represented by the 1954 and 1957 teams. Those years, the top 40 was represented only by Stan Musial plus Red Schoendienst and Ken Boyer, respectively.

Next is the longest dry spell using this measurement since 1920, the years 1989 through 1995, most of which while Joe Torre was manager. During six of those seven seasons, the club had just two representatives on the top 40. Ozzie Smith was the only constant during that period, joined by Ray Lankford every year except one, when Willie McGee was nearing the end of his initial stay in St. Louis.

Just to drive home the point, the Cardinals collected zero pennants during the 23 seasons since 1915 when they had fewer than four top 40 players on their team.

Too many stars?

So, we've seen that clubs with not enough stars don't win. But, on the other hand, can a team have too many stars?

For the Cardinals, the answer seems to be a surprising "Yes!"

There were 13 seasons during these last 92 years when the Cardinals hit their high-water marks of either seven or eight top 40 players. Neither of the eight-star clubs finished in first place. Amazingly, only two of the other 11 clubs won the pennant and not a single one of them took the World Championship.

Non-1st Bests

Top 40

Place

1940

8

3rd

1969

8

4th

1932

7

6th

1936

7

2nd

1937

7

4th

1947

7

2nd

1948

7

2nd

1961

7

5th

1962

7

6th

1963

7

2nd

1965

7

7th

The 1940 Cardinals were the first club with eight top 40 players, including pitchers Harry Brecheen and Mort Cooper, first baseman Johnny Mize, shortstop Marty Marion and outfielders Pepper Martin, Ducky Medwick, Enos Slaughter and Terry Moore.

In all fairness, Brecheen and Marion were rookies while Medwick and Martin were on the way out. When Billy Southworth took over the team that June, they were playing .341 ball, but improved to .549 by season's end for a respectable third place.

The other eight-star lineup was in 1969, following two consecutive World Series seasons for the first time since 1944. Bill White, Julian Javier and Curt Flood were nearing the end of their Cardinals careers, while Ted Simmons and Joe Torre were just getting started, the latter having joined the club in a controversial trade for the popular Orlando Cepeda. That club played .537 ball, finishing fourth.

Don't believe me yet that having too many top players is a recipe for failure?

The best clubs

Look at the ten Cardinals World Series-winning clubs. Every single one of them had either five or six of the top 40 players – no more and no less. They averaged 5.3 top 40 players.

The seven National League pennant winners that fell in the Series were quite similar, at 5.4 top 40 players. Note the 1985 and 1987 clubs made it despite having only four stars on their rosters.

World Champs

Top 40

 

NL Champs

Top 40

1926

5

 

1928

6

1931

6

 

1930

7

1934

5

 

1943

4

1942

5

 

1968

6

1944

5

 

1985

4

1946

6

 

1987

4

1964

6

 

2004

7

1967

5

 

Average

5.4

1982

5

 

 

 

2006

5

 

 

 

Average

5.3

 

 

 

Ending with a bit of good news, the 2007 St. Louis Cardinals team is projected to have the same five top 40 players as in 2006 – Albert Pujols, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen.

In subsequent articles, I will look at the position breakdown of the Cardinals Top 40 and the club's Hall of Famers compared to the overall Hall population. Until then…



Brian Walton can be reached via email at brwalton@earthlink.net.

© 2007 stlcardinals.scout.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, rewritten or redistributed.

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