As those who followed the countdown of our Top 15 St. Louis Cardinals teams of all time over the last few weeks know, the selection of the master list was a melding of the individual views from four of us here at The Birdhouse, stlcardinals.scout.com.
As a result, several deserving teams from each of our personal lists ultimately did not make the consolidated Top 15. This is the first of four articles where each of us remember those clubs – our “Best of the Rest”.
As a reminder, here is the overall Top 15, with my list next to it. Highlighted are the clubs unique to each list.
In summary, the two clubs that made the group’s Top 15 but were ranked lower on my list are the pennant-winning teams of 1985 and 2002. They were 17th and 18th, respectively, based on my scoring system, with 1930 in between at number 16.
On the other side of the ledger, the two clubs I ranked higher than the others are the 1928 and 2006 teams. Ray Mileur shares my view about the ’28 Cards, but sadly and a bit surprisingly, I stand alone among the four us in saluting the 2006 World Champions.
1928 St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Bill McKechnie
Regular season record: 95-59 (.617), first in National League
Post-season: Lost World Series to New York Yankees (4-0)
Comments (individual top 15 rankings in parens)
(11) The 1928 Cardinals took their second NL flag in three years, but never led during the season by more than a few games. Yet when all was said and done, they exceeded the regular-season record of the world champion 1926 club by six games.
Six all-time top 40 Cardinals were on skipper Bill McKechnie’s roster: pitchers Bill Sherdel and Jesse “Pop” Haines, infielders Jim Bottomley and Frankie Frisch and outfielders Chick Hafey and rookie Pepper Martin. “Deacon Bill” was the club’s third manager in three seasons and would only serve one year himself.
Bottomley (right) gave the club their third National League Most Valuable Player in four years by hitting .325, scoring 123 times and driving in 136. He will likely never receive retired number recognition by the Cardinals, but that is an injustice. I see the Hall of Famer as considerably more deserving than recent players either having already received the honor (Bruce Sutter) or with a vocal fan push behind them (Willie McGee).
General Manager Branch Rickey made a crucial addition on May 11 when he acquired catcher Jimmie Wilson, then considered one of the best in the game. Future Hall of Famer Rabbit Maranville was installed at shortstop and delivered steady defense as well as 25 extra-base hits among his 88 safeties. On the mound, Haines won 20 games and 1926 postseason star Grover Cleveland Alexander added 16 at the age of 41.
Yet in the World Series, the Cards were blown out four straight by the Yankees. The issue wasn’t as much losing to the Bombers, just one year removed from arguably the greatest team of all time, as much as it was how the losses occurred.
The Cards were swept by an aggregate 27-10 score. McKechnie bravely, but in hindsight stupidly, directed his pitching staff to go after Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig. The Babe ended up hitting .625 while Gehrig batted “just” .545 against the beleaguered Cardinals arms. Following the season, the skipper was demoted by furious owner Sam Breadon, opening the way for future Hall of Famer Billy Southworth’s first, brief, unsuccessful stint as manager in 1929.
My contention is that this was truly a great team, one of the Cardinals’ all-time best that unfortunately cratered in the Series in a great part due to a fatally-flawed strategy by their skipper. The question to be argued over time is how much this club should be penalized for it.
2006 St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Tony La Russa
Regular season record: 83-78 (.516), first in National League Central Division
Won NL Division Series over San Diego Padres (3-1)
Won NL Championship Series over New York Mets (4-3)
Won World Series over Detroit Tigers (4-1)
(15) I predict that history will look upon this 2006 St. Louis Cardinals club with much greater admiration than do a number of current fans and the voters in our process here. This is the organization's only World Champion club that did not make our Top 15 Cardinals Teams of All-Time. I respectfully but strongly disagree with my peers.
Few seem to remember that these Cards started fast out of the gate and by June 18, were 16 games over .500. Yet as the injuries mounted, they struggled up to the conclusion of the regular season, losing 24 of their final 31 road games. They would end up holding on to take their third consecutive NL Central Division title.
Most importantly, they successfully negotiated through three levels of playoffs, winning the 11 games in October that matter most, something their arguably more talented predecessors in 2004 and 2005 could not achieve.
Five all-time top 40 Cardinals were on Tony La Russa’s club: pitchers Chris Carpenter and Jason Isringhausen, infielders Albert Pujols and Scott Rolen, and outfielder Jim Edmonds. David Eckstein and Jeff Suppan played important roles as the former won the World Series Most Valuable Player Award and the latter took the honor in the NL Championship Series.
Some people run down this club because of their regular-season finish, but there were a number of excellent individual performances. Coming off the 2005 MVP Award, Pujols’ 1.102 OPS ranks among the top ten single-seasons in franchise history and few realize his 49 home runs are third behind Mark McGwire for the most in a single year in team history. Albert’s 137 RBI also make the all-time top ten for the club despite his tying for the most intentional walks in organization history – 28.
Defending Cy Young Award winner Carpenter tied for the NL lead in shutouts with three, was second in the league with a 3.09 ERA and five complete games and his home ERA of 1.81 paced all of MLB. Historically, Carp’s strikeout-to-walk ratio of 4.28 is fourth-highest in franchise annals.
Within the next 15 months, Edmonds, Rolen, Suppan, Eckstein, Jeff Weaver, Juan Encarnacion, Ronnie Belliard, Preston Wilson and So Taguchi would all be gone. A new set of stars had already begun to emerge in 2006.
24-year-old Yadier Molina stepped out from Mike Matheny’s shadow into the spotlight, leading NL catchers with 79 assists. He threw out 26 of 63 prospective base stealers and picked off seven. Most importantly, he hit one of the most dramatic and unexpected home runs in Cardinals postseason history. Molina’s two-run shot in the top of the ninth inning of Game Seven of the NLCS in New York off the Mets’ Aaron Heilman (above) saved the season and powered the Cards into the World Series.
The Cardinals went on to defeat the heavily-favored Detroit Tigers in five games in a Series in which one national “expert” had predicted the Tigers would unexplainably take the best-of-seven match in just three games!
Another strong newcomer was Adam Wainwright. After leading the bullpen with 23 holds during the season, he was asked to step in for injured closer Jason Isringhausen. Izzy’s season officially concluded in early September, but it is worthy to note that his effectiveness had digressed right along with the club’s second-half results. The 25-year-old Wainwright helped stabilize the ship, saving both Games Five and Seven of the NLCS as well as winning World Series Game Four and then picking up the save in the final contest to seal the Cardinals’ tenth world championship.
Note: To access our entire list of top 15 Cardinals teams of all time and wealth of associated articles, all free, click here. You can also read each of the voters’ philosophies in making their selections. Next up tomorrow will be Ray Mileur’s “Best of the Rest”.
Brian Walton can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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