1944 St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Billy Southworth
Regular season record: 105-49 (.682), first in National League
Post-season: Won World Series over St. Louis Browns (4-2)
Staff Comments (individual rankings in parens)
Ray Mileur (3) The “Streetcar Series” featured an all-St. Louis Series with the St. Louis Cardinals taking on the cross-town St. Louis Browns. The Cardinals were coming off another great season with new Hall of Fame Manager Billy Southworth at the helm. The Cardinals had won their third straight pennant, finishing 14½ games ahead the Pittsburgh Pirates and had run up their three-year victory total to 316 games with the 105 wins in 1944.
Both teams had the same home field, Sportsman's Park and though the Cardinals took the series from the historically inept Browns in six games, Hall of Famer Stan Musial has often described the ‘44 Series as a tough one.
The Cardinals starting rotation included Mort Cooper who had a record of 22-7 on the season with a 2.46 ERA. In 33 starts that season Cooper pitched 22 complete games. The rotation was rounded out by; Max Lanier (17-12, 2.65 ERA), Harry Breechen (16-5, 2.85 ERA) and Ted Wilks (17-4, 2.64 ERA). Another pitcher most current baseball fans have never heard about, Red Munger posted a record of 11-3 with two saves, with a 1.34 ERA over 12 starts and 21 appearances. The Cardinals pitching staff was outstanding in 1944, recording an amazing 26 shutouts with a team ERA of 2.67. During the six game series they held the Browns to an anemic .183 batting average.
The 1944 lineup included stars like the 1944 MVP shortstop Marty Marion, outfielder Stan Musial, third baseman Whitey Kurowski, starting All-Star catcher Walker Cooper and pitchers Mort Cooper, Max Lanier and Harry Brecheen. The war depleted a lot of talent from the Major Leagues, but if you take a look back at a lot of the statistics it shows that the impact on the games was minimal, certainly not as great as some would have you believe, especially in 1944. You still had to go out and win the game. Most players of the era will tell you they didn’t notice a big difference on the field.
The bottom line is, even if you have the best players/team, that doesn’t guarantee success; we have certainly witnessed that in baseball history. The Cardinals had lost their center-fielder Harry Walker, second basemen Lou Klein, and pitchers Al Brazle, Howie Krist and Ernie White to the war; instead of making any excuses, the Cardinals went out won 105 games and a World Championship.
Jerry Modene (7) The 1944 squad is one that I should have, perhaps, rated high as it’s the only Cardinal squad to ever lead the league in all the offensive *and* pitching categories – of course, the 100 home runs the team hit that year seems a low total compared to today’s inflated totals, but 1944 was, nevertheless, the Cards’ third-straight pennant-winning season (the only time the Cards have ever won three straight; they’ve only won two straight one other time – 1930-31).
The odd thing about this club, though, is that when it came to the World Series, the St. Louis fans were rooting for the upstart Browns, not the heavily favored Cardinals – I don’t know if the fans were used to the Cards winning all the time, or were just caught up in the improbability of a Brownie pennant, or what! But Cardinals players, according to Joe Garagiola in one of his books, were somewhat taken by surprise and came out a little sluggish in the World Series, which they still won in six in a Series that saw a then-record number of strikeouts.
All that said, though, the 1944 squad obviously ranks high up there; the only reason I didn’t rank them as highly as I might have was because of the caliber of competition – most teams had lost a lot more key players than had the Cards (although even the Cards were reduced to playing the likes of Augie Bergamo in the outfield). That may have been unfair on my part, given that two years later, when the other teams were mostly-replenished after the war, the Cards still won the pennant.
Rob Rains (1) It is very hard to judge the teams from the World War II era because some were crippled more than others by losing players to military duty, but it would have been fun to see how well the 1944 Cardinals could have competed against fully-stocked clubs. Then the team might get more credit for perhaps being the greatest Cardinal team of all time.
One reason the team likely didn’t receive more credit was because its opponent in the World Series was the Browns, who shared Sportsman’s Park (above) and beat out the Yankees for the AL pennant. Without the Yankees in the World Series, the interest level of the nation naturally fell off.
What people who didn’t follow the Cardinals closely missed seeing was a team that won 105 games and finished 14 ½ games ahead of second-place Pittsburgh before defeating the Browns in the Series. The Cardinals led the league in runs, batting average, fielding percentage and ERA … meaning it could hit, field and pitch, every phase of the game, at a very high level.
Brian Walton (2) With their third consecutive league pennant and second World Series win in three years, Billy Southworth’s wartime Cardinals were dominating baseball, with their three-year total of 316 representing St. Louis’ best such stretch ever. Southworth’s three 100-win seasons were the first in the then-68-year history of the NL. They also set a record with 17 double-header wins.
Five all-time top 40 Cardinals were on this club: pitchers Mort Cooper and Harry Brecheen, shortstop Marty Marion along with outfielders Stan Musial and Pepper Martin.
The pitchers led the way. Cooper again was the mound star with 22 wins. His seven shutouts tied for fifth-most in a single St. Louis season all-time. Rookie Ted Wilks’ .810 winning percentage ranks fourth in franchise history. He and Max Lanier each won 17 games and Brecheen had 16.
Musial was the hitting star, with a .347 batting average. His 51 doubles led the NL and ranks in a tie for sixth-most in a single St. Louis season. His 197 hits topped the Senior Circuit. Johnny Hopp was right behind at .345. Marion won the Most Valuable Player Award, the third different Cardinal to take the honor in three seasons.
Key: NR = not ranked
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