1926 St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Rogers Hornsby
Regular season record: 89-65 (.578), first in National League
Post-season: Won World Series over New York Yankees (4-3)
Staff Comments (individual rankings in parens)
Ray Mileur (4) The first pennant is always the hardest one and the 1926 Cardinals won their first National League Pennant and the first of 10 World Championships and they did it by beating the ‘26 New York Yankees (bonus points) in the House that Ruth Built (bonus points).
It has been billed as one of the best World Series of all-time. It was the New York Yankees of Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig taking on the St. Louis Cardinals’ Rogers Hornsby and Grover Cleveland Alexander. The series went the distance. In game seven, the Cardinals were leading the Yankees 3-2 going into the bottom of the ninth. Ruth was due up third, by the time he came to bat there were two outs with no one on. Ruth walked to put the tying run at first. Then he did something that blew my mind when I first read about it, Ruth tried to steal second base and was thrown out stealing by St. Louis catcher Bob O’Farrell to give St. Louis their first World Championship.
The 26 ballclub had six future Hall of Famers; Grover Cleveland Alexander, Rogers Hornsby, Jim Bottomley, Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines and player/manager Billy Southworth, making it one of the greatest teams in Cardinals’ history.
Jerry Modene (NR) The 1926 squad is the only team on the consensus top 15 that I didn’t pick – I think the 1927 team was even better, as it had a full season’s worth of Grover Cleveland Alexander and Frankie Frisch’s breakout season at second base (remember, I’m no admirer of Rogers Hornsby, despite his obvious all-time-great hitting ability).
Nevertheless, the 1926 team was a solid ballclub which might have been the first real example (in the National League, anyway) of a team bolstered by a late-season pickup, when the Cards obtained Alexander from the Cubs (and this was 38 years before Broglio-for-Brock!) on June 22. Alexander (pictured below) won nine games and saved two for the Cards as he started 16 times for them in the second half of that season, and closed seven other times (this was the era in which a team’s best pitcher would often come in to get the final outs of a particularly tough or important game, which is how Dizzy Dean was able to lead the NL in both wins and saves in 1935).
The Alexander pickup was so important that it sometimes makes us forget that eight days before, the Cards had made another pickup that was nearly as vital – the trade for outfielder Billy Southworth, who hit .317 and drove in 69 runs in 99 games for the Cards. Southworth, of course, will come up again in these discussions as the series continues.
Rob Rains (NR) The Cardinals had been a member of the National League since 1892 without ever coming close to becoming a pennant-winning club, but that finally changed in 1926.
With Rogers Hornsby (pictured below) running the club on the field and Branch Rickey in charge of the front office, the Cardinals put together a club which won 89 games and beat the Reds by two games. Catcher Bob O’Farrell was named the league’s MVP despite having the seventh-best batting average of the team’s eight starters.
Flint Rhem led the team with 20 victories, but it was a pitcher Rickey acquired from the Cubs during the season, Grover Cleveland Alexander, who turned out to be the big star of the World Series and preserved the victory over the Yankees.
Brian Walton (9) These were the winners of the first Cardinals pennant of the modern era and St. Louis’ first baseball championship of any kind since the American Association Browns of 1888. Assembled by the legendary Branch Rickey, five all-time top Cardinals were on this club: pitchers Bill Sherdel and Jesse “Pop” Haines, infielders Jim Bottomley and player/manager Rogers Hornsby (pictured) plus outfielder Chick Hafey.
Over 80 years later, Haines’ .756 winning percentage still ranks in the top ten single-season marks in team history. A group of unheralded players came through such as Flint Rhem, who had a career season, leading the club in strikeouts and wins with 20. The old veteran Pete Alexander joined the team for the second half and was a post-season hero.
Bob O’Farrell won the league’s Most Valuable Player award with shortstop Tommy Thevenow fourth and third baseman Les Bell, who led the club in batting average and slugging, sixth. Bottomley’s 120 RBI paced the NL as did his 40 doubles.
The Great Hornsby had an off season after having won the Triple Crown the season prior while batting .403. His thanks for managing his team to the top was to be traded to the Giants two months later after a spat with owner Sam Breadon. Future stalwart Frankie Frisch came the other way in a deal that was highly controversial at the time.
Key: NR = not ranked
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