Posts Tagged ‘St. Louis Cardinals’

1910: Cardinals Postmortem

September 3, 2010

By 1910 there was nothing to indicate how important the St. Louis Cardinals would be to the 20th Century National League. The Cardinals in the first decade of the century were terrible. There was no change in 1910.

For the entire period of the Deadball Era (1900-20) the Cardinals  finished with the worst record in the National League. At least in 1910 they weren’t last. The Cards finished seventh with a 63-90 record, 40.5 games out of first.

Manager Roger Bresnahan simply didn’t have a lot to work with at St. Louis, installing himself as the backup catcher and even pitching one inning of one game. He hit .273, stole 13 bases, had 15 doubles, scored 35 runs, and was easily the best player on a woeful bench. The entire bench failed to hit a home run (the Cards finished last in homers) and no one other than Bresnahan had double figure runs scored.

Which brings me to the starters. Most of them were at least a bit better than the bench. First baseman Ed Konetchy hit .302, slugged .425, and led the team with 78 RBIs. Outfielder Rube Ellis hit all of four home runs to lead the team. Miller Huggins, future Hall of Fame manager, led the NL in walks, stole a team high 34 bases, and his 101 runs scored led the team and was good for second in the NL. The team as a whole finished fifth in runs, sixth in average and slugging, and first in walks.

The problem  with the hitting was nothing compared to the pitching. The team finished last in ERA, strikeouts, shutouts, and first in hits allowed.  Twenty-four year old lefty Johnny Lush ( please tell me he wasn’t a drinker) led the team with 14 wins and was the only pitcher with a winning record (14-13). Unfortunately he had more walks than strikeouts and more hits than innings pitched. Of  the six Cardinals pitchers who pitched in 10 or more games, four gave up both more hits than innings pitched and had more walks than strikeouts. Bob Harmon managed to lead the NL with 133 walks while striking out only 87. His ERA was 4.46, a gigantic ERA for a Deadball pitcher with 33 starts.

All in all, St. Louis didn’t look good in 1910 and didn’t look like it could compete for a pennant in 1911 (they moved up to fifth in 1911). The hitting wasn’t all that bad, although it wasn’t all that good either (Can you say “mediocre”?). But if the pitching didn’t improve the team would continue to flounder. The pitching didn’t, and the team did.

Opening Saturday

April 24, 2010

When I was a kid, Opening Day meant nothing to me. Heck, I was in school when the baseball season started. My teacher insisted I sit and learn something instead of go home and listen to the radio. For instance, she wanted me to learn history (there was a lot less of it back then) and English, and penmanship. Then there was homework (Any of you remember homework?). By the time I was done, the games were over and all I got was the scores on the evening sportscast. Big deal.

But, Opening Saturday was different. I lived with my grandparents and Granddad was a baseball fan. He loved the Cardinals and I was a Dodgers fan (don’t ask).  He was absolutely certain that Stan Musial was the greatest player since Alexander Cartwright invented the game.  “That fella in Boston is OK, but Musial can do anything and do it well,” he’d say. And me? I loved Jackie Robinson. By the mid-1950s he was no longer the best Brooklyn player (both Duke Snider and Roy Campanella were better), but he still made the team go and I wanted to be him. Somebody finally reminded me that he had a much deeper tan than I, so I decided I’d become the light Jackie Robinson. Turns out I didn’t.

The centerpiece of the day was the afternoon game of the week. There were two on Saturday afternoon, one on CBS and the other on NBC. We’d turn on the TV, see who was playing, pick the game we wanted, then settle down to watch the magic box in the corner. I think there was a rule back then that TV’s had to be in the corner of the room.  I didn’t know anyone whose TV was anywhere else.

We had a couple of rules. First, Grandma had to leave us alone. She would fuss around the house telling us we were lazy louts, then go off to sew, or read, or go next door and visit with another baseball widow. We could have cared less because we had two games to watch. That was the second rule. When the commercial breaks came on, we could change the channel and see how the other game was going. This was back when TV’s had knobs (You remember knobs?) and Granddad would leap up at “And now a word from our sponsors”, flip the channel, and God help the network if the other game was also in commercial (I didn’t know Granddad knew those kinds of words.). The third rule was that you couldn’t change channel if either the Cardinals or the Dodgers were playing, especially if they were playing each other. I wasn’t sure, but I had the feeling that changing the channel in this circumstance somehow involved sin and hell and damnation.

When the game ended, Granddad would cut off the TV then start telling me about baseball when he was younger. He’d seen Walter Johnson in an exhibition game somewhere along the line and listened to Babe Ruth on the radio.  He never bought off on that geezer idea that somehow the players were all better when he was a kid. He liked and admired the old-time players, but he recognized the greatness of the new generation. “That Mays kid looks like he’s gonna be real good,” he’d tell me, “but that kid pitcher, Drysdale, your Dodgers got seems a little wild.”  And what he thought about Koufax’s wildness was not to be repeated around Grandma. Of course none of them was Musial and that was all there was to it.

About five Grandma would call us for dinner. We always had leftovers on Saturday night. She called it cleaning out the fridge for the new week. Grandma claimed not to like baseball and knew we were lazy louts, but there was fried chicken. Every Opening Saturday there was fried chicken, every time. Granddad would always ask “What’s for dinner?” and her reply was always “We had some extra chicken so I just fried it up for tonight.” He’d wink at me as we went into the kitchen. It took a few years to catch the joke.

Ol’ Diz

April 2, 2010

When I grew up, you could spend hours listening to greatness on the radio. There were Mel Allen and Russ Hodges. There were Red Barber and Jack Buck. There was the incomparable Vin Scully. Then there was Dizzy Dean.

Dean was from Arkansas, born in 1910. There used to be some dspute about when, but all the sources seem to have settled on January 1910. Part of the problem was Dean himself. He gave a variety of different answers to the question “When and where were you born?”  The gag was that everybody got a scoop, but it’s possible Dean simply didn’t know. One of the best of the pioneering farm system at St. Lous (Stan Musial gets my vote as the best), he got to the Cardinals in 1930, pitched one game, a three hit, one run, victory, then spent 1931 in the minors. Back with the Cardinals in 1932, he became a staple of the “Gas House Gang”, becoming their ace on the mound. In 1934 he became the last National League pitcher to win 30 games, as he led the Cards to a World Series victory over the Tigers. He won two games, his brother Paul the other two. He picked up the NL MVP award that season. In the 1937 All Star game he was injured (he broke his toe), cameback too soon, and his career fell apart. He was sent to Chicago, where he got into one more World Series in 1938, losing his only game. Pitching with decreasing ability he was done by 1941. In 1947 his employer, the St. Louis Browns, realized he needed one more year to be eligible for the Hall of Fame. He was announcing games at the time and had complained about the quality of Browns pitchers. The Browns pitchers wives essentially told him to put up or shut up, so the Browns, serving two purposes with one game,  got him into a game . He pitched four innings, gave up three hits, no runs, and got a single in his only at bat, giving him a season average of 1.000. His quip to the press was “Even Babe Ruth never done that”.  He pulled a muscle rounding the bag, which led to “I’m just glad I didn’t pull a muscle in my throat.”  He made the Hall of Fame in 1953.

The stories about him as a player are legion. Here’s a couple of my favorites. In 1934 he bet he could strike out Vince DiMaggio (Joe’s brother) four times in a game. He fanned DiMaggio the first three times at bat, then DiMaggio hit a foul pop in his fourth at bat. Dean yelled to the catcher “Drop it.” The catcher did and Dean proceeded to strike out DiMaggio for the fourth time. Also in 1934 he told the press he and his brother would win 45 games between them. The press accused him of bragging. The Deans ended up winning 49 games (30 for Dizzy, 19 for Paul). Dean’s response? “It ain’t braggin’ if you can do it.”

After he left the field, Dean got a job as the announcer for St. Louis Browns radio baseball, much to the joy of fans in the midwest and to the horror of English teachers everywhere. Dean was colorful as an announcer and was famous for butchering the English language. His most famous line was ” (Al) Zarilla slud into third.” Other wonderful moments included “He nonchalantly walked back to the dugout in disgust,” “The runners returned to their respectable bases,” and he occasionally signed off with “Don’t fail to miss tomorrow’s game.”

All this got him into trouble with English teachers. When they attacked him for saying “ain’t” his response was classic Dean. “A lotta folks who ain’t sayin’ ain’t, ain’t eatin’.” He finally compromised with the teachers by saying, “You learn ’em English, and I’ll learn ’em baseball.” Seems to have worked.

By the 1950s he was on television doing the Falstaff (a beer company) “Game of the Week.” He went through a number of color guys (I always wondered why Dean, of all people, needed a “color” guy.), but finally ended up with Dodgers great PeeWee Reese as his most famous “pardner.” He broadcast into the late 1960’s then retired. He died in July 1974 (everybody agrees on that).

I loved listening to Dean when I was younger. His voice was distinctive, his stories wonderful, his language colorful. To end this I want to give you my top Dean story. In the 1934 World Series he was a pinch runner. Trying to break up a double play, he was skulled. Unconcious, he was sent to the hospital. There are a couple of versions of what happened next. This is my favorite. Dean got out of the hospital and the reporters asked him what happened. He delivered my all time favorite deathless baseball line. “They x-rayed my head and didn’t find nothin’.”  Gotta love that man.

My Diamond’s Bigger Than Your Diamond

March 27, 2010

Baseball has had a lot of interesting owners. Some have been saints, some downright evil. Some have been clowns, some have been thoughtful. Then there’s Chris von der Ahe.

Born in Germany, von der Ahe ended up in St. Louis with it’s large German community. He clerked in a grocery, bought the place, then added in a saloon. He began to make good money and started looking around for more investments. He realized that some of the biggest crowds in the city gathered at the ballpark when the local Browns were playing and that a spillover to the bars after the game was common. So the solution to his problem? Buy the team.

n 1882 he bought the Browns (they are now the Cardinals) for $1800 and joined the fledgling American Association. Von der Ahe had a good team already, but didn’t know it. In fact, he knew almost nothing of baseball, except that the park was a good place to sell beer. His manager was Charles Comiskey, who had to manage the team, play first base, watch what von der Ahe was doing, and teach the owner how the game worked.

It worked pretty well for a while. The Browns won four stratight Association pennants 1885-1888, and picked up a “World Series” win (or two depending on how you figure forfeits and ties). They fell on hard times at the end of the 1880’s but survived and joined the National League in the fallout of the collapse of the American Association.

Von der Ahe got rich on the deal. He made a vast sum off the Browns and his beer. By charging 25 cents for the cheapest tickets, he managed to keep the stands full. In fact, they overflowed. So von der Ahe built a new, state of the art for the 1880s park. It was big, it was gaudy, there were bands, an amusement park, a water slide, a beer garden (You knew that was coming, didn’t you?) a few cushioned seats, and a larger-than-lifesize statue of von der Ahe at the entrance. That may be my favorite von der Ahe story. Most of us would put a statue of our best player there, but not the head Brown. According to legend he invented the ballpark hot dog at this point as a way to make more money.

Also according to legend, the man never could quite understand the game. With his new park he announced he now had the biggest diamond in the world. Comiskey kept reminding him that all the diamonds were the same size: 90 feet to a side. The outfield might be bigger, the stands larger, but not the diamond. To von der Ahe it was always the biggest diamond in the world.

He tried his hand at managing. Considering how little he understood the game, the results were predictable. He went 3-14 in stints in 1895, ’96, and ’97.

The Statue over Von Der Ahe's grave

By this point his world was coming unglued. The new park was expensive to maintain, the team wasn’t very good, his wife was divorcing him. He went deeper into debt and in 1898 fire gutted part of the ballpark. He was forced to sell the team and ended up tending bar. He lngered into 1913 before dying of cirrhosis. When they buried him, they found the park statue and erected it over his grave. It stands there today, a fitting monument to one of the most fun people who ever found himself associated with baseball.