Editor’s notes: 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 fourth 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 Jerry Modene’s list next to it. Highlighted are the clubs unique to each list.
In summary, the only club that made the group’s Top 15 but was ranked lower on Jerry’s list is the World Champions from 1926. On the other side of the ledger, the team Jerry ranked but the other’s did not was the 1885 St. Louis Browns, the champions of the American Association and a predecessor of today’s Cardinals.
In addition, in extra innings coverage, Jerry added his views of each of the Cardinals teams selected by the other voters that missed our consolidated top 15.
As with any exercise involving four different people with four different viewpoints, you’re going to have a difference of opinions – but as Rob, Brian, Ray and I compiled our list of the 15 Top Cardinal Teams of All Time, we were surprised to see how closely we were in agreement – none of us had more than three teams that didn’t make the list and one of us (modesty prohibits me from saying which one) got 14 out of 15!
All told, 22 teams got mentions – so we had our Top 15, and now the Best of the Rest – The Sidelined Seven (as opposed to last year’s “Dirty Dozen” ballplayers who didn’t make the Top 40). Note that the list includes two World Champions, two National League pennant winners, and three teams that finished second.
The Sidelined Seven (in chronological order)
1885 St. Louis Browns
Manager: Charlie Comiskey
Regular season record: 79-33 (.705), first in American Association
Post-season: Tied World Series with Chicago White Stockings (3-3-1)
Comments (individual top 15 rankings in parens)
The only team that I chose that didn’t make the list, and a reasonably good argument can be made that the 1885 St. Louis Browns aren’t “really” part of the current franchise – nevertheless, this is the team that put St. Louis on the map, baseball-wise. (The original 1876 NL franchise in St. Louis failed after just two seasons, despite the heroics of pitcher George Washington Bradley.) The Browns, led by manager-first baseman Charlie Comiskey (as in “Comiskey Park”), may well have been the greatest pre-20th century team in baseball history; only the 1890’s Boston Beaneaters and Baltimore Orioles can compare.
The 1885 Browns were the first of three straight American Association pennant winners in St. Louis, and won the league crown by 16 games over second-place Cincinnati. Brownie stars included third baseman Arlie Latham, outfielder Tip O’Neill, and pitchers Bob Caruthers and Dave Foutz, who between them won 73 of the team’s 79 victories (pitching was a lot different back then).
Most importantly, though, was St. Louis’ first appearance in a World Series – and their opponents were none other than the Chicago Cubs (although back then they were still known as the White Stockings) of the NL. Imagine what a Cards/Cubs World Series would be like today!
The Browns wound up tying the World Series, as each team won three games (there was one tie), then the next year followed up by defeating the Chicago team, four games to two, then lost the 1887 World Series to the Detroit team, ten games to five.
In actual fact, the 1886 team might have been better, but I went with the 1885 team because of its importance in the history of baseball in St. Louis.
By 1892, most of the St. Louis stars were gone, but the franchise survived absorption into the National League and was the only American Association team to make it past the NL’s contraction from 12 teams back to eight teams in 1900. And while it took another 26 years beyond that before the Cardinals would see postseason action, the foundation had been laid.
The 1928 edition of the Cardinals was the second pennant-winner in “modern” franchise history, and won 95 games, a three-game improvement over 1927 and a six-game improvement over the 89-win team that won the World Series in 1926. Led by two 20-game winners (Haines and Sherdel) and the 41-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander, who won 16 games, the Cards won the pennant by just two games over the Giants and went up again against the Yankees.
The 1928 World Series is most remembered for Sherdel’s attempt to “quick-pitch” Babe Ruth; the pitch was ordered re-done and Ruth hit it out of Sportsman’s Park as the Yankees wound up sweeping the Cards, their second straight Series sweep.
On the offensive side, Sunny Jim Bottomley had perhaps his greatest season (.325, 31 HR, 13 RBI) while Chick Hafey hit .337-27-111 and Frank Frisch followed his superb 1927 season with a solid .300 season in 1928. 1928 was also the year Rabbit Maranville played shortstop for the Cards after 1926’s shortstop, Tommy Thevenow, slumped to .205 and lost his job.
The 1928 team might have actually been a better team than the 1926 edition, but getting swept in the World Series probably cost them a shot at making our Top 15.
Another example of a team that might have been better than the one that preceded it, the 1935 Cardinals finished second, despite winning 96 games, when the Cubs reeled off a 21-game winning streak late in the season. Joe Medwick led the offense with a .353-23-126 season, and Dizzy Dean led the National League in both wins, with 28, and saves, with five (tied with his brother Paul, who won 19 games for the second year in a row).
1935 was also the year the Cardinals officially got the “Gas House Gang” nickname.
After their second-place finish, though, the Cards faded – Paul Dean got hurt in 1936 and was never effective again; Dizzy Dean broke his toe and then ruined his arm in 1937 (although that was the year Joe Medwick became the last National Leaguer to win the Triple Crown), and by 1938 Frisch was out as manager, replaced by baseball’s first Hispanic manager (Mike Gonzalez) and the team began its rebuilding, which culminated in the great Cards teams of the 1940’s.
The one non-pennant winner for the Cards in a five-year stretch, this club was once again victimized by a Cubs late-season winning streak – and the fact that they had to do that one year without Stan Musial, who was in the Navy. Stan’s replacement in left field, Red Schoendienst, had a solid rookie season, leading the league in stolen bases, and Whitey Kurowski (who was draft-deferred because of his arm) led the team with 21 home runs. Red Barrett, the guy the Cards got for Mort Cooper, led the team with 21 wins, and future umpire Ken Burkhart won 16.
Not as good a team without Musial, Slaughter, Moore, and the others – but they still won 95 games and nearly gave St. Louis five straight pennant-winning seasons, which would have broken the NL record of four consecutive set by the early-century New York Giants.
One of the best non-pennant winners in Cardinals history, the 1949 squad won 96 games and finished one game back of the Brooklyn Dodgers in a heart-breaking end to a season that saw the Cards in first place as late as September 27 – but four straight losses to the Pirates and Cubs gave the Dodgers their opening.
The Cards wouldn’t come that close to the postseason again until 1963/64.
Musial led the team with a .338-36-123 season, striking out just 38 times while walking 107 times, Slaughter hit .337 and Schoendienst hit .297. Howie Pollet led the team with 20 wins, with Red Munger adding 15 and Harry Breechen and Al Brazle winning 14 each.
Rarely has a Cardinal team suffered so much injury and misfortune and still come out on top – but the 1987 “St. Elsewhere” Cardinals did just that, winning 97 games and edging the Mets despite injuries to ace starter John Tudor, newly-acquired catcher Tony Pena, first baseman Jack Clark, etc. – and no Cardinal starter won more than 11 games.
1987 was the year that saw the emergence of Jose Oquendo as the “Secret Weapon” and was the first Gold Glove season for Terry Pendleton. Jack Clark had 27 home runs by the All-Star break, but teams started walking him more and more often in the second half and the Cards very nearly blew the 10-game lead they had in July; Clark wound up with 35 homers before getting hurt.
A thrilling NLCS win over the “one flap down” Giants put the Cards in their third World Series of the 1980’s – by which time the Cards were playing substitutes at three or four positions and still took the Twins to seven games (Remember Tom Lawless’ homer? Or the fact that rookie Tom Pagnozzi, the third-string catcher, was the DH in Game One of the Series?).
Like our next entry, the 1987 Cardinals were a better team than the final results indicate.
The one World Series winner in Cardinal history that didn’t make our Top 15 list, the 2006 Cardinals epitomize the whole “get hot late” philosophy that so often leads to the World Championship nowadays (see: Marlins, Florida). A team that had a seven-game lead with a couple of weeks to go, despite two eight-game losing streaks, and then lost seven more in a row and barely won the Division over Houston (Thank you, John Smoltz).
Then, inexplicably, the Cards got hot against the Padres (Ronnie Belliard’s game-saving play and Jim Edmonds’ institution of the “game ball” ceremony get a lot of the credit), plus excellent relief pitching by rookies Adam Wainwright and Josh Kinney (after Jason Isringhausen was lost for the season) led to the ultimate victory over the “Detroit in three” Tigers, who had the added misfortune of more than a week off after their ALCS win before the World Series began.
The 2006 Cards gave the fans their ugliest World Championship ever, but the World Series win was still sweet!
Other great Cardinals teams that didn’t get any votes – but could have - would include the 1886, 1914, 1947, 1957, 1960, 1963, 1989, 1996, and 2000 editions.
Bottom line – Cardinals fans are fortunate indeed to have been blessed with one of the most successful and colorful franchises in major league history. Only the Yankees have won more World Series, and only the Dodgers and Red Sox might match the Cards in terms of the franchise’s historic impact on the game.
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 Jerry Modene’s mini-series wondering what Cardinals may have won Most Valuable Player, Cy Young Award, Rookie of the Year and Gold Glove Awards had they been in place all throughout MLB history.
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