Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Cards

1926 St. Louis Cardinals

1926 St. Louis Cardinals

In the 1880s, the St. Louis team, then called the Browns, were a powerhouse in the American Association. In the 1890s they moved to the National League and became a doormat. By 1926 every National League team existing in the 20th Century had won at least one pennant, except for St. Louis, now called the Cardinals. That changed when the Cards won the 1926 NL pennant.

St. Louis won the pennant by two games over Cincinnati. With 89 wins, they featured a good hitting team with mid-range power. They led the NL in hits, runs, home runs, walks, slugging, and OPS while finishing second in average, OBP, and doubles. As a rule, their numbers weren’t as spectacular as the Yankees numbers.  Their pitching staff, like that of New York, finished in the middle of the pack in many categories.

The infield consisted of two Hall of Fame players, a third baseman having a career year, and a 22-year-old shortstop. Jim Bottomley played first, hit .293 with 19 home runs, nine triples, a team leading 120 RBIs, 144 hits, and an OPS of .804. Player-manager Rogers Hornsby held down second. Coming off several consecutive great seasons, Hornsby’s numbers were down in 1926. He was 30, but the assumption was that his managerial duties were hurting his statistics. He still managed to hit .317 with 11 home runs, 167 hits, an OPS of .851, and 93 RBIs. At 22, shortstop Tommy Thevenow was in his third season. He didn’t hit all that much (.256), but was a good shortstop and led the NL in putouts and assists, and was second in double plays turned at short. Les Bell had a career year. He hit a career high .325 (he never hit .300 in any other season), had another career high in home runs with 17 and in RBIs with an even 100. His 85 runs and 189 hits were also career highs. His Baseball Reference.com WAR for 1926 was 4.4 (second to Hornsby). He never had another year of more than 1.8 WAR. Specs Toporcer and Jake Flowers were the primary infield subs. Toporcer hit .250 and Flowers .270, but Flowers also had three home runs in 40 games.

Five men did the outfield work. Billy Southworth started 99 games in right field. He’d come over from the Giants during the season and hit .317 with 11 home runs. He would later manage the Cards to two pennants and a World Series championship. He made the Hall of Fame in 2008. Taylor Douthit was the speedy center fielder. He hit .308, stole 23 bases (third in the league) and led the league in putouts and assists for a center fielder. Ray Blades was in left. He hit .305 and scored 81 runs. The backups were Hall of Fame member Chick Hafey and Heinie Muller. Hafey hit .271, had four homers. Muller hit .267 and had three home runs.

Bob O’Farrell did almost all the catching. In 140 games he hit .293, had an OPS of .804, seven home runs, and 213 total bases. All that got him the NL MVP award for 1926. His backups were Ernie Vick and Bill Warwick. Warwick hit .357 in nine games, and in 24 games Vick hit .196.

For the season six pitchers started 10 or more games. Bill Sherdel and Art Reinhart were the sole lefties. Sherdel started 29 games, won 16 of them, gave up more hits than he had innings pitched, and put up an ERA of 3.49. Reinhart had a 10-5 record in 11 starts and 27 games. His ERA was north of four and he gave up more hits than he had innings pitched and also walked more than he struck out. Flint Rhem had the most wins with 20. His ERA was 3.21. Unlike the southpaws he had more innings pitched than hits allowed, but like Reinhart he walked more than he struck out (75 to 72). Vic Keen started 22 games, went 10-9, over 26 games (21 starts) and joined Reinhart in both giving up more hits than innings pitched and walking more than he struck out. His ERA was 4.56. Hall of Famers Jesse Haines and Grover Cleveland Alexander were the staff geezers. Haines, aged 32, posted a 13-4 record in 20 starts (33 total games) and tied for the team lead with two saves. He had a nice ERA (3.25) but continued the pattern of more walks and hits than strikeouts and innings pitched. At 39, Alexander was considered through by a lot of people. He started the year with the Cubs, was released after a 3-3 start and was picked up by the Cardinals. He went 9-7 at St. Louis, but posted a team low ERA of 2.91 (OK, Duster Mails had a 0.00 ERA but only pitched one inning). Unlike the rest of the staff, he’s struck out more than he walked and had fewer hits given up than innings pitched.  He also had two saves (he’d get one more).

Hi Bell was the main bullpen man with only eight starts in 27 games. His ERA was 3.18 and he had the team’s other two saves. For a change he had more innings pitched and strikeouts than otherwise. Syl Johnson, lefty Bill Hallahan, and southpaw Allan Sothoron rounded out the men who pitched in 10 or more games.

The Cardinals were underdogs. The Murderer’s Row Yankees were considered superior at almost every position except maybe second where Hornsby was an all-time great. Much of that has to do with the American League being considered the superior league. Because St. Louis statistics aren’t especially weaker than New York numbers, a fact a lot of pundits seem to have overlooked. The World Series began in New York on 2 October.

 

 

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4 Responses to “Taking on Murderer’s Row: The Cards”

  1. William Miller Says:

    So If you subtract the first quarter of the 20th-century, the Cards have been a damned good team for a long time now.
    Go Cardinals!

  2. wkkortas Says:

    You’d have to believe that a guy with a handle like Duster Mails wasn’t afraid to work inside.

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