St. Louis Cardinal: All Time Greatest Team

St. Louis Cardinals (1882-Present)

Also known as: The Brown Stockings, The Browns, The Perfectos

American Association (1882-1891)

National League (1892-Present)

American Association Champions: 1885, 1886, 1887, 1888

National League Champions: 1926, 1928, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1943, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1968, 1982, 1985, 1987, 2004, 2006, 2011, 2013

World Championship Series Champion: 1886

World Series Champion: 1926, 1931, 1934, 1942, 1944, 1946, 1964, 1967, 1982, 2006, 2011

St. Louis is a great baseball town probably the best baseball town in America. The first traveling club representing St. Louis began in 1859, but the first professional team had to wait until 1875, when they finally gained admittance to the National Association of Professional Base Ball Players in the last year of that league as the Brown Stockings. They were successful enough in their one year to be invited into the National League in 1876. The Brown Stockings finished a strong second in 1876, but then were rocked by a game-fixing scandal in 1877, forcing them to quit the National League and file for bankruptcy. St. Louis would reform as a traveling team, then have to wait until 1882 to get another opportunity to participate in a major league.

The St. Louis Brown Stockings were a charter member of the upstart American Association in 1882. The Brown Stockings nickname would be shortened to the Browns the next year. They were the most successful franchise in the league, they won four consecutive championships between 1885 and 1888, facing the Chicago White Stockings, winners of the National League, in the World Championship Series in 1885 and 1886. These two series were the beginning of one of the great rivalries in Major League baseball. The Chicago White Stockings are now the Chicago Cubs, while the St. Louis Browns have morphed into the Cub’s arch-rival, the St. Louis Cardinals.

The Browns would remain a member of the American Association for the entire 10 year run of the league. When the American Association went bankrupt after the 1891 season, the Browns were forced to seek membership in the National League. This they did successfully in 1892, transitioning to the St. Louis Perfectos and then to the Cardinals in the next ten years.

St. Louis’ first 30 years in the National League were not good. No championships, they were rarely even competitive. That all changed with the hiring of Branch Rickey (1920-1941) in 1920. First as manager, then as business manager (today he would be called the general manager), he completely transformed the Cardinal Organization. He developed an extensive Minor League system to constantly feed talent on to the Major League roster. It took a few years to bear fruit. It wasn’t until 1926 that St.Louis won their first National League Championship. That was the year they upset Babe Ruth’s New York Yankees in a memorable seven game series. Since 1926 they have been the most accomplished team in the National League, winning 19 Pennants and 11 World Series Titles. Their 11 World Series Titles is second to the New York Yankees as the most in baseball. Branch Rickey was the one person most responsible for that. (Rickey of course is remembered most for his tenure with the Dodgers where he was instrumental in breaking the color barrier, but that’s a story that belongs with the Dodgers).

Catcher

Ted Simmons (1968-1980) is one of the five best hitter to ever catch in the Major Leagues. His defense was not great, a weak arm and not a good defensive reputation. Bill James rates him a C. Yadier Molina (2004-Present) is not the force Simmons was at the plate, but his offense is significantly better than average for a catcher. He’s also A+ on defense with eight Gold Gloves. This is very close, but the edge seems to be with Yadier Molina.

First Base

Johnny Mize (1936-1941) and Jim Bottomley (1922-1932) are both in the Hall of Fame. Bottomley was a marginal selection, but Mize is one of the greatest hitters of all time. It really doesn’t matter, because the greatest first baseman in St. Louis history is Albert Pujols (2001-2011). It’s not even close. What about Mark McGwire (1997-2001)? First of all, McGwire was not as good as Albert Pujols, but if he was would we consider him? The answer is yes. Performance on the field is what we consider. We’ve already included players tainted by PEDs and gambling scandals (Sammy Sosa, Pete Rose), and will continue to do so. On the other hand we at A Sip of Sports have made it clear that we would never support these individual induction into the Hall of Fame. Regardless, Pujols is a better player than McGwire.

Second Base

Rogers Hornsby (1915-1926) over the player he was traded away for in 1927,  Frankie Frisch (1927-1937). This is not a mismatch, Frisch was an intense on field leader, who was the spiritual center of the famous “Gashouse Gang” in the 1930s. Still, Hornsby, though he was a mediocre defensive second baseman, was simply the best hitter in the National League in the 1920s. That’s enough to lift him above “The Fordham Flash”

Third Base

Despite their long history, the Cardinals have been devoid of quality third basemen. By default it goes to Ken Boyer (1955-1965). He was NL MVP in 1964, and was the only Cardinal third baseman to have even a marginal case to be in the Hall of Fame.

Shortstop

The Cardinals have been blessed with three of the greatest defensive shortstops of all time, and each were lynch pins for three of their most successful teams. Marty Marion (1940-1950) anchored the infield when they won 4 pennants in five years in the 1940s. Dal Maxvill (1962-1972) did the same for the 1964, 1967 and 1968 Champions, but the best of them all was the leader of the team that won three pennants and a World Series Title during the 1980s, “The Wizard of Oz” Ozzie Smith (1982-1996).

Left Field

Lou Brock (1964-1979) and Joe “Ducky” Medwick (1932-1940) are both deservedly in the Hall of Fame. Brock (or Eddie Collins), have the best claim as the greatest player in World Series history. He also collected more than 3,000 career hits. Medwick won a triple crown for St. Louis in 1937 when he led the league in home runs (31), Batting AVG. (.374) and RBI (154). He was also the overwhelming choice for NL MVP that year. It doesn’t really matter, because those two were not as good as Stan Musial (1941-1963), who is one of the ten best players in baseball history. It is interesting to note that between Chick Hafey (1924-1931) Medwick, Musial and Brock the Cardinals had a Hall of Famer patrolling left field for 55 consecutive years.

Baseball: St. Louis Cardinals Stan Musial (6) in action, at bat vs Los Angeles Dodgers at Busch Stadium. St. Louis, MO 9/16/1963 – 9/18/1963 CREDIT: Neil Leifer (Photo by Neil Leifer /Sports Illustrated/Getty Images) (Set Number: X9488 )

Center Field

Lou Brock (1964-1979) was a bad outfielder, so moving him to center field seems like a poor idea. Joe “Ducky” Medwick (1932-1940) was better than Brock, but he only played 29 games in center field. The best real center fielder for St. Louis was Curt Flood (1958-1969), but he wasn’t even close to the other two as an offensive player. So we could do this; move Stan Musial (1941-1963) to center field, a position he played 331 times in his Cardinal career, put Brock or Medwick in left and “Country” Slaughter in right. Excluding Flood would hinder their defense, but the offense would be much more potent.

Right Field

Most remembered today as the man who spiked Jackie Robinson during Jackie’s rookie season, Enos “Country” Slaughter (1938-1953) always denied he did it on purpose. Between the ages of 26 and 29, the peak years for most baseball players, Slaughter was serving his country during World War II. He returned in 1946 and led the league in RBI as St. Louis won the World Series when he dashed home from first on a 2-out double by Harry Walker in the ninth inning of Game 7. The Robinson incident happened in 1947, forever tainting his legacy. As a ballplayer he is a narrow choice over Joe Medwick.

Pitchers

Bob Gibson (1959-1975) is an easy #1. Many consider his 1968 season, when he won both the NL Cy Young Award and MVP, as the best ever for a National League pitcher. #2 is the incomparable Jay “Dizzy” Dean (1930-1937), winner of the National League MVP in 1934, when he was the last National League hurler to win 30 games. We have to go back to the American Association days to find the #3 pitcher, Bob Caruthers (1884-1887). He only pitched four years for the Browns, but he won 106 games in those four years, plus he played the outfield in many games he didn’t pitch. He was the best player on a team that won three straight American Association Championships. #4 is a toss-up between Jesse Haines (1920-1937) and the MVP in 1942 Mort Cooper (1938-1945). Haines is one of the weaker members of the Hall of Fame, but we’ll go with him because he was with the Cardinals for 18 years, helping them to four pennants and three World Series Titles. Even though Cooper’s teams matched those totals, his record needs to be discounted some because his big years in 1942, 1943, and 1944 were during  World War II, when many of the real ball players were in the service.

Managers

It’s very close between Tony LaRussa (1996-2011), Billy Southworth (1929, 1940-1945), and Charlie Comiskey (1883-1889, 1891). LaRussa spent 16 years in St. Louis, winning three National League Pennants and two World Championships. Southworth led the Cards to three straight National League Flags and two World Series Titles when the Cardinals dominated all of baseball during the War Years. We don’t think either one quite matches “The Old Roman” Charles Comiskey. An innovator of the first order in the early years of baseball, he guided the Browns to four consecutive American Association Crowns, winning the league by 16 games in 1885, 12 in 1886 (when they defeated the Chicago White Stocking 4-2 in the only World Championship Series win for the American Association), 14 games in 1887, and 6 1/2 in 1888. A true giant in 19th century base ball.

MVP

No debate is needed, it’s “Stan the Man” Musial.


9 comments

  1. […] Cy Young threw a 3-hitter in his Major League debut and would go on to win 240 games in his nine years with the franchise. Cleveland would never win the Championship outright, but after the collapse of the American Association in 1891 the National League would match their first and second place teams against each other in an end of season World’s Championship Series Exhibition. The Spiders would reach this Series three times, winning once (1895) and losing twice (1892, 1896). Cleveland remained competitive until 1899, when the Spider’s club owners bought another National League Franchise; the financially strapped St. Louis Browns. […]

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