Over the years, few teams have become as famous as the 1934 St. Louis Cardinals. The “Gas House Gang” is the subject of books, movies, lore, nostalgia, and more than a fair amount of mythology. Whatever one thinks of their skill, they rank as one of the more fun teams to study.
For the season the Cardinals batters were almost as formidable as the Tigers. They finished first in hits, runs, stolen bases, total bases, doubles, OBP, slugging, and batting average. They were second in the National League in both triples and home runs. They didn’t strike out a lot, but they didn’t walk much either. The staff was second in ERA and led the NL in strikeouts. They finished third in both hits and runs. All that got the team 95 wins.
The infield consisted of two Hall of Famers up the middle and a pair of solidly good players at the corners. Rip Collins played first. He hit .333 and led the team with 35 home runs and 128 RBIs. He walked more than he struck out, which was more common for sluggers in the era than it is today. His WAR was 6.3, which led all the hitters. John “Pepper” Martin played third. He was a leadoff hitter who stroked a .289 average and led the team with 23 stolen bases. His WAR was 1.7. He’d rocketed to fame in the 1931 World Series when he’d rattled then A’s, and now Tigers, catcher Mickey Cochrane with his base running. He’d been an outfielder then and had just moved to third. He was still new at it and fielding wasn’t his specialty. The Hall of Fame shortstop was Leo “The Lip” Durocher. He didn’t hit much, going .260 with neither power nor speed, but he was a good shortstop and with Martin at third, that mattered a lot. His WAR came in at 0.4. The other Hall of Famer was second baseman and player-manager, Frankie “Flash” Frisch. He hit .305, had 11 stolen bases, still played a good second, and struck out only 10 times all year (in 550 at bats). His WAR was 2.5 and he was considered a better player than manager (and hadn’t yet gotten a bad reputation for his years on the Hall of Fame Veteran’s Committee). Unlike the Tigers, St. Louis had a reasonably deep bench for the 1930s. Burgess Whitehead and Pat Crawford both logged more than 60 games for the team. Whitehead played all the infield positions but first while Crawford periodically took over second and third. Whitehead hit .277, Crawford hit .271. Neither had any power, although Whitehead had five stolen bases in 92 hits.
In the outfield, Hall of Famer “Ducky” Joe Medwick held down left field. He was still a few years away from his Triple Crown year, but was already a feared hitter. He hit .319 with 18 home runs, good for second on the team. His 106 RBIs were also second, and he led the Cards with 18 triples (same total as his home runs). All that gave him 3.1 WAR. He was joined in the field by the two members of the team without a nickname. Ernie Orsatti hit an even .300 with 0.2 WAR and Jack Rothrock hit .284 with 0.8 WAR. Rothrock’s 11 homers and 10 stolen bases were both good for third on the team. The backup outfielders were Chick Fullis and Buster Mills. Fullis hit above .250, Mills didn’t, but had the only home run between the two.
The catching staff featured two men who were very much alike in their statistics and not much alike as people. Virgil “Spud” Davis was in 107 games, hit .300 with nine home runs, and 2.4 WAR. Rookie Bill DeLancey was in 93 games, hit .316, had 13 homers, and 3.0 WAR. By the time the Series began, he was doing as much, if not more, catching than Davis. Unfortunately, he’d develop tuberculosis in 1935, play only one more complete season, and die in 1946. With the primarily right-handed Tigers staff, he did most of the catching in the Series (he hit lefty, Davis hit from the right side).
The staff consisted of an interesting mix of younger guys and old-timers. All together they made for an interesting, but not great, staff. The geezers were Jesse Haines and Dazzy Vance. Both were over 40 and well beyond their peak. Both made the Hall of Fame, but not for their 1934 campaign. After a good to excellent career, “Pop” Haines was mostly a reliever (he started six games). Vance, who was even older, was new to the Cards. He pitched 59 innings and still had, despite the age, some of the old Vance in him (Forty year old Burleigh Grimes also got into four games). He struck out 33 in those 59 innings. For Vance it was his only World Series. Jim Lindsey, “Wild” Bill Hallahan, and Bill Walker were all in their thirties. Lindsey relieved in 11 games and had posted an ERA north of six. Walker and Hallahan had 20 wins between them with Walker’s 3.12 ERA being the better of the two. His 2.9 WAR was third among pitchers. The two youngest were “Tex” Carleton and Paul “Daffy” Dean. Carlton had an ERA over four but got 2.2 WAR out of 16 wins. “Daffy” had 19 wins, a 3.43 ERA, and at age 21 put up 5.1 WAR. He was second on the team with 150 strikeouts.
But the staff always came down to Paul’s older brother, “Dizzy” Dean. By 1934 he was already a legend. He was brash, he was opinionated, he was confident, and he was very good. He told the press “Me and Paul will win 45 games.” Some sources say he predicted 50 wins. When told he was bragging, whatever number he predicted, he responded, “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.” They won 49 (still a record for siblings). Diz won 30 in 1934, the last National Leaguer to do so. It got him an MVP Award. He struck out 195, walked 75, had an ERA of 2.66, pitched 313 innings, and produced an ERA+ of 159 to go with a team leading 9.1 WAR. By 1934 he was the heart, soul, and most particularly the voice of the Gas House Gang.
The Cards and Tigers would face off on seven consecutive days in October. The Series would produce one of the most famous moments in Series history in game seven. And it would also give baseball one of its most famous lines after game four.