The Old and the New: the ’42 Cardinals

Billy Southworth in 1940

Billy Southworth in 1940

If the Yankees represented the old guard of 1940s baseball, the St. Louis Cardinals were the new guys. They’d been bad to terrible in the first 25 years of the 20th Century, then had a nice run for 10 years from 1926 through 1935, but hadn’t won since the 1934 “Gas House Gang.” By 1942 they were again competitive enough to win.
Three years into his second stint with the Cards, Hall of Fame manager Billy Southworth (a St. Louis stalwart during the 1920s run) had a young team. It finished first in the National League in runs, hits, doubles, triples, average, total bases, slugging, OBP while coming in second in stolen bases, third in walks, and sixth (of eight) in home runs. The pitching was first in runs, hits, strikeouts, ERA, and shutouts. It was second in walks and sixth in homers. In fielding they were solidly in the middle of the pack.

From first around to third the infield consisted of Johnny Hopp, Jimmy Brown, Marty Marion, and Whitey Kurowski. None were household names. Hopp, a transplanted outfielder, led the team with 14 stolen bases while Brown’s 71 RBIs were third on the team (only one RBI out of second place). Marion led the infield in average at .276 and was considered one of the absolutely finest shortstops of his era. Kurowski who was famous for clutch hitting had nine home runs, good for third on the team. In one of those bits of trivia that only baseball can give you, three of the four (Hopp, Marion, and Kurowski) had an identical OPS+ number of 103 (Brown’s was 80). Marion’s 4.7 WAR was tops in the infield and fourth on the team. At 1.9, Kurowski was the only other infielder to have a WAR in the team’s top 10. The backups were Creepy Crespi, who spelled Brown a lot at second and Ray Sanders who took over at first when Hopp sat out. Sanders’ five home runs and .252 average were both better than Crespi. Erv Dusak was a multipurpose player who did some outfield work and took over on occasion for Kurowski. He hit under .200 with no power.

The outfield was better. It consisted of two Hall of Famers and Terry Moore. Moore, along with Brown, was the only starter above 29 (he was 30 and Brown 32). He’d been the regular center fielder for a few years and had established himself as a decent fielder who hit in the .280s with little power. In 1942 he hit .288 with six home runs and 10 stolen bases. The stolen base total was second to Hopp on the team. His OPS+ was 114 and his WAR was 2.6. Enos Slaughter was the Hall of Fame right fielder.  His 13 home runs and 98 RBIs led the team. He also led the team in both hits and runs scored, walks, average (.318), and all the other triple slash stats. His OPS+ was a team leading 156 and his 6.2 WAR was first among hitter. The left fielder was a 21-year-old rookie named Stan Musial (“The Man” nickname would come later). He hit .315, had 72 RBIs, 10 triples, 10 homers, a 151 OPS+, and 5.3 WAR. Everybody agreed he was good. No one yet quite knew that he was Hall of Fame material. Harry “the Hat” Walker and Coaker Triplett were the backups. Walker (who would later win a batting title) hit .314. Triplett hit .273 and had the only home run between them. He led the pair in RBIs, while Walker took the lead in runs scored.

Walker Cooper was 27 and Ken O’Dea was 29. Between them they did most of the catching. Cooper was the primary catcher hitting .281 with seven home runs and seven triples. His 65 RBIs were fourth on the team. His OPS+ topped out at 115 and he produced 2.4 WAR. O’Dea hit .234 with five home runs, only an OPS+ of 85 and 0.5 WAR.

They caught a fairly typical Cardinals staff. Through the 20th Century the Cardinals seldom produced a great pitcher who lasted very long (see Dizzy Dean as an example). What they did produce (Bob Gibson being the greatest exception) was a series of solid pitchers who gave the team several good years and frequently one or two outstanding years. There was the occasional Harry Breechen or Bob Forsch who stayed around for a long while, but generally St. Louis relied on a “staff” rather than one pitcher. In 1942 they had “one pitcher,” sort of. Mort Cooper (Walker’s older brother) was the staff ace. He won 22 games and an MVP. His 8.4 WAR easily led the team. The 1942 season was the beginning of a three-year run for him which faltered quickly. The rest of the staff was made up of solid pitchers who fit very much into the Cardinals mold. Max Lanier and Johnny Beazley both won in double figures (Beazley had 21 wins), had ERA’s under 3.00, and struck out more men than they walked. Lanier’s WAR was 4.4, Beazley’s was 4.2. Ernie White and Harry Gumbert were the only other two pitchers to start 15 or more games. Gumbert doubled as the main stopper out of the bullpen (that meant all of five saves in 1942).

The 1942 Cardinals were a better team than most people seemed to believe. New York was, understandably, the favorite. But the Cards were good and promised to make the World Series competitive.

 

 

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4 Responses to “The Old and the New: the ’42 Cardinals”

  1. glenrussellslater Says:

    I’m enjoying this series about 1942. Marty Marion was my father’s favorite shortstop when he was a kid, even though he was a Yankee fan. I remember Max Lanier’s son, Hal, playing, both for the Giants and for the Yankees in the 70s. I love the names Creepy Crespi and Coaker Triplett. There was a character in the novel “Bang The Drum Slowly” named Coker. I wonder if Mark Harris got the idea for the name from Coker Triplett.

    Glen

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