FanPost

25 players : 25 seasons, 1910-1934

Back in December, I was watching the MLB Network show the infamous "Sandberg Game" and I started thinking about the players on that ’84 Cardinals team and how that was 25 years ago. How would those guys fit into the big picture of franchise history? So I started looking at a "25 players : 25 seasons" roster for that era. I reserved a spot for the last 25 years and built a team from 1960-84. Then, because that was so interesting, I did the same thing for 1934-59 and 1910-34, and planned to post my results on VEB.

Looking at the players on the oldest squad, I remarked that I knew so little about the men I had selected (and I think I have a respectable knowledge on the history of baseball). So I thought it prudent to post a little information for each guy and educate everybody here on the blog.

As for simple ground rules, I used a 25-man roster with only one player from each year and one season from each player. So I couldn't have Rogers Hornsby at both 2B & SS (he is by far the best option, but not anywhere near the production at second) or both Jesse Haines and Pete Alexander in 1927. I kept it simple and picked two guys at each position (except this time at SS, where I could only find one decent season, so I took three 2Bmen), plus 9 pitchers. During this era, almost everyone relegated to the bullpen was there because they weren't any good, so it was very difficult to find effective relievers. I chose 6 starters and 3 relievers for this time period; later teams will have 5 in the rotation and 4 in the bullpen. One last rule: I didn't allow overlap between the teams, so no double dipping by Dizzy in ’34 & ’35, nor any swan song by Musial in ’62.

I fully expect there to be arguments over who I selected for these teams. Sometimes you can't pick the best season for a given player because of a need at another position. Sometimes a fan favorite, MVP-winner or longtime veteran doesn't make the team. The decisions were difficult on many of these. I hope you take this opportunity to learn about the great players and teams of this era and challenge me on my choices.

1910 – 2B – Miller Huggins (BB/TR, 5’6½”, 140; played w/STL 1910-16; managed w/STL 1913-17; HOF as Mgr.) The smart, scrawny Huggins was a first-rate second baseman before he became famous for managing the Yankees to their first six pennants and three World Championships.

After six seasons with the Cincinnati Reds, the Cardinals acquired “The Mighty Mite” in 1910. By 1913 he was player-manager, and by 1917 had retired to the bench. He prodded two third-place finishes out of his nondescript team, and guided a green and awkward Rogers Hornsby through his first ML seasons. Holder of a law degree (though he never practiced) and a shrewd investor in the stock market, Huggins was businessman enough to think he could buy the St. Louis club. His bid rebuffed, Huggins resigned. He signed on as manager of the Yankees that winter, where over 12 seasons he amassed 1067 wins and a .597 win %. When asked what a player needs most when slumping, he said, “A string of alibis.”

In 1910, Huggins led the National League in Walks with 116 (led NL 4 times). The walks were largely ignored at the time, as it was thought they were the pitcher's fault and not a matter of batter skill. He finished 6th in MVP voting in 1911, 16th in 1912. He was statistically similar to Johnny Evers & former Cardinal Don Blasingame, physically similar (in stature & style) to Joey Cora. Bill James ranks him as the 37th greatest second baseman of all time.

 

1911 – 1B – Ed Konetchy (BR/TR, 6’2½”, 195; played w/STL 1907-13) Variously called the Candy Kid and the Big Bohemian, “Koney” was a right-handed hitter who almost always batted cleanup, stood straight up at the plate, choked up on his bat, and sent liners to the outfield fences. He was one of very few players to hit a ball out of old Robinson Field in St. Louis.

Konetchy began his career in 1907 with the Cardinals, winning praise for his glovework from managers around the circuit. In 1909, he led the team in every offensive category and finished in Top 5 in NL in Hits, Runs, TB, 3B, and RBI, plus led in first base Putouts and Assists.

In 1911, with the Cards only three games out of first place in early July, the team was involved in a train crash on its way from Philadelphia to Boston. 47 passengers were injured, while twelve died. None of the Cardinals were seriously injured, due to a pre-trip change in the location of their car to the rear of the train. Konetchy and Cards manager Roger Bresnahan led the rescue effort, carrying many passengers to safety, some of whom may have died. The Cardinals never recovered from the incident, finishing a distant fifth despite posting their first winning season since 1901, but Konetchy led the NL with 38 doubles & 158 games played, and his own team with six HR and 88 RBI. Big Ed finished 22nd in MVP voting in 1911, 12th in 1912. Konetchy also managed to win a game in 1913, pitching 4⅔ innings of 1-hit relief.

After the 1913 season, manager Miller Huggins sent Konetchy in an eight-player trade to Pittsburgh. He played for the Pirates, Pittsburgh Stogies (FL, 1915), Boston Braves, Brooklyn Robins, and Philadelphia Phillies. He also played for 6 years in the minors afterwards, winning the 1925 Texas League MVP at 40 years old with a .345, 41 HR, 166 RBI campaign. He later worked as a scout for the Cardinals.

Konetchy was statistically similar to Wally Pipp and Hal Chase, physically similar to Keith Hernandez or Kent Hrbek. Bill James named him the 1910’s All-Star 1B-man and GG winner, and considers him (along w/ Sherry Magee and Larry Doyle) as the best player from the Teens not in the Hall of Fame. He rates Konetchy as the 48th best first baseman of all time.

 

1912 – RP – Rube Geyer (BR/TR, 5’10”, 170; played w/STL 1910-13) Rube played his entire 4-year career with the Cardinals. 1911 was considered his best season, his only winning campaign at 9-6 with a 3.27 ERA (103 ERA+). In 1912, he was 2nd in the NL with 18 games finished. While his 3.28 ERA was respectable, it was helped out by 44 unearned runs (out of 110), which surprisingly was not that unusual for the team (579 ER, 256 UER). (NL averages were 250 errors and 190 unearned runs; Cardinals had 274 errors (6th) and were one UER from being tied for last.) He finished his career with 181 walks and only 133 strikeouts in 412⅓ IP.

Alfred H. Spink wrote in The National Game, “He [Geyer] possesses a peculiar drop ball and is a splendid fielding pitcher.” Geyer was a minor league manager when his playing days ended.

 

1913 – SP – Slim Sallee (BR/TL, 6’3”, 180 [also attributed at 148 lbs.]; played w/STL 1908-16) One of the few bright spots pitching for the Cardinals during the first two decades of the century, Sallee fought the demons of alcohol while compensating for one of the worst fielding teams (and overall) in St. Louis history.

Joining the team in 1908, he debuted with a 4-hit shutout against the Giants and beat them two starts later, but was undone by a defense that committed 93 more errors than the next closest team, finishing the year with a 3-8 record and a 3.15 ERA (the highest in his STL career). A combination of the team botching plays and trading away three starting pitchers to acquire Roger Bresnahan the next offseason helped contribute to his drinking and bad training habits. When the routine of practice got too strenuous, Sallee would leave St. Louis' League Park and walk across the street to a social club known as the “Grass Eaters”, housed only 100 feet away from the clubhouse.

The 1913 season was probably his finest effort in all his years in baseball. He won 19 games for a last place team that won only 51, a team that finished last or next to last in every offensive category. In addition, he slugged his only two career home runs that season and stole home in a game against the Giants (he remains the last Cardinal pitcher to do so). Sallee led the NL in saves three times, with 6 in 1912 & 1914, and with 4 in 1917 (with NYG).

Throughout his tenure with the Cardinals, Sallee was suspended for numerous disappearances, including a 10 day span where he served as a deckhand on a boat travelling between St. Louis and Memphis. Finally in June of 1916, Slim tore up his contract and claimed to be “through with baseball.” After being fined & suspended by the team, John McGraw convinced him to come out of “retirement” and Sallee was sold to the Giants. National League President John Tener said, “No other deal like that will be sanctioned while I am in office,” and rules were established to prevent a player's retirement being held over a team's head in order to force a trade.

In 1919, he won 21 games for the Reds while striking out just 24 batters in 227.2 innings, the lowest strikeout total for a 20+-game winner. (His 20 walks were also the fewest for a 20+-game winner.) That season he threw a record 65-pitch complete game in only 55 minutes. Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan claimed that Slim, "had the best control of any southpaw that ever curved a ball over the plate." Sallee was statistically similar to Doc White and Hippo Vaughn.

 

1914 – SP – Bill Doak (BR/TR, 6’0”, 165; played w/STL 1913-24, ‘29) Although he was a good pitcher, and one of 17 pitchers allowed to continue using the spitball after it was otherwise banned in 1920, Bill Doak's greatest contribution to baseball was as the developer of the modern fielding glove.

Before Doak's invention, gloves were primarily protective equipment that kept fielders' hands and fingers from being hurt by hard hit balls. Doak developed the idea of putting a substantial webbing between the glove's thumb and first finger to form a large pre-formed pocket in which to catch the ball. The Rawlings "Bill Doak" model that was first introduced in 1920 was so revolutionary that it remained available until 1953 with only minor modifications. Doak's invention was the ancestor of all modern gloves.

As for his work on the diamond, Doak spent parts of 13 seasons with the Cardinals. In his sophomore 1914 season at the age of 23, he went 19-6 with a NL-low 1.72 ERA, boosting the Cards to their best record up to that time, 81-72 (30 games better than ’13). Doak finished 13th in MVP voting that year. He would win 15+ games four other times with St. Louis, topping out with 20 victories in 1920. Spittin’ Bill led the NL in ERA twice, doing it again in 1921. His 32 shutouts lifetime with the Cards remains the franchise’s 2nd best mark, behind only Bob Gibson. He also threw 3 no-hitters.

Doak learned the spitter on the advice of rookie manager Miller Huggins. Bill was rather frail starting out and put maximum effort into his pitches, so Huggins thought it would be a good option for him. "It makes me smile when I remember what they used to say about the spitter in the old days and the havoc it would wreck on a pitcher's elbow and shoulder. Really it's the easiest ball in the world to pitch, far easier than the curve, less trying to the arm then the fast ball, which is supposed to be the most natural of all deliveries." - Bill Doak in Baseball Magazine (March 1928).

Doak was statistically similar to Bill Lee and Claude Passeau.

 

1915 – C – Frank “Pancho” Snyder (BR/TR, 6’2”, 185; played w/STL 1912-19, ‘27) A veteran catcher of 16 major league seasons, Frank Snyder excelled on defense and was well respected by his team’s pitchers.

Snyder, who was of Mexican descent on his mother’s side, debuted with the Cardinals in 1912 when he was 18, and took the job away from Ivey Wingo within a couple years, because he was quick and could throw. He had 204 assists in 1915, the most among catchers in Bill James’ Top 100 (NL/AL only). [That’s very impressive; in 138 games this year, Yadier Molina racked up only 83 assists. But you should remember that teams back then were attempting steals upwards of 275 times a year, with poor success rates (150 SB vs. 125 CS). Plus the NL averaged over 170 sacrifices bunts per team in 1915. The list of most single-season catcher assists totals starts off with 65 values from 1920 and before.]

Offensively, Snyder’s 1915 season was arguably his best. His 1922 Giant campaign looks better, but was buoyed by a league-wide offensive surge in the interim (.740 OPS in 1915 = 124 OPS+; .875 OPS in 1922 = 122 OPS+).

Traded to the NY Giants mid-season in 1919, Snyder played a big role in helping manager John McGraw win four consecutive NL pennants, 1921-24, and two straight World Series Crowns. McGraw once remarked, “Snyder is my main man.” Snyder later coached for the Giants and managed in their farm system. “Pancho” was statistically similar to Gus Mancuso and Joe Girardi. Bill James rates him as the 61st best catcher of all time.

 

1916 – RP – Red Ames (BS/TR, 5’10½”, 180, played w/STL 1915-19) "Ames is without question almost the hardest pitcher to catch of the professionals," wrote The Sporting Life in 1906. "Players say no man who holds a place in the pitcher's box is able to curve the ball so far as he can. It is a fact that he doesn't always know himself where his curves are going to land." Leon ‘Red’ Ames holds the modern record for wild pitches in a season, with 30 in 1905, and is tied with Walter Johnson at 156 for the most in a career (with less than half as many innings pitched as The Big Train).

Ames started his career with the NY Giants, debuting with a five-inning no-hitter against the Cardinals. He joined their rotation full-time in ’05, posting a 22-8 record, 2.74 ERA, and 198 K’s over 262⅔ innings, and helping them toward the pennant. He was part of two more NL crowns before being traded to the Reds in 1913.

The Cardinals purchased him in mid-season 1915, when he posted a nifty 9-3 mark in 15 games. The next year, he led the NL in saves for the second time (6, 1914, CIN) as a swing starter.

Red Ames inability to hit was a running joke in the NY newspapers. A sporting goods company once advertised that they had a bat that even Leon Ames could get a hit with. He hit .141 for his career. Ames was statistically similar to Dizzy Trout and “Wild” Bill Donovan.

 

1917 – OF – Walton Cruise (BL/TR, 6’0”, 175; played w/STL 1914-19) Cruise was nearly 24 when he broke in with the 1914 St. Louis Cardinals, and spent his entire major league career with the Cardinals and the Boston Braves.

In 1917, he was 2nd on the team in HR and RBI to a young Rogers Hornsby. The next year, despite playing in only 70 games, his 6 HR were second in the league. His power was actually quite good for the day. Braves Field in Boston actually went years between over-the-fence home runs. Opened in 1915, with dimensions of 402/550/402, the first such blow was hit in 1917 by Cruise. The next was hit four years later in 1921...again by Cruise, after being dealt to the Braves two years earlier.

On August 27, 1922, in the first game of a doubleheader at Cincinnati’s Redland Field, Cruise went 1-4 with a double in a 9-0 loss to the Reds. In between games, he was married at home plate to Miss Lillian Lor, of Evansville, IN. He was understandably absent from the second game.

Walton Cruise was statistically similar to Heinie Mueller and Mike Kingery.

 

1918 – C – Mike Gonzalez (BR/TR, 6’1”, 200; played w/STL 1915-18, ‘24-25, ‘31-32; managed w/STL ‘38 & ’40) Cuban-born Mike Gonzalez played seventeen years in the majors, along with time in the Negro Leagues (Cubans were considered OK to play in the majors, as long as they were light-skinned). He is often cited as the originator of the phrase, “good field, no hit”, a description he used while working as a scout for the Cardinals.

Gonzalez began his career with short stints with the Braves and Reds, then joined the Cardinals in 1915. Probably guilty of epitomizing his famous scouting report, his good work behind the plate pushed Frank Snyder into more of a utility role, but the 1918 season was his only substantial, above-average batting year. 1919 saw him join the NY Giants, helping them win the pennant in ’21. Then he played two years for the St. Paul Saints in the American Association, another stint with the Cardinals, followed by a few years with the Cubs (another pennant winner in ’29), and returning to St. Louis in ’31-32.

After his playing career ended, Gonzalez spent 1933 as a player/coach for the Columbus Red Birds (STL farm club). He was later a longtime St. Louis Cardinals coach (1934-46) and served two brief stints as the club's manager, becoming the first Cuban to manage in the majors. He finished the 1938 season after Frankie Frisch was fired, going 8-8-1 along the way. He also posted a 1-5 mark filling in between Ray Blades and Billy Southworth during the 1940 campaign. He was the third base coach on “Slaughter’s Mad Dash”.

Mike Gonzalez was statistically similar to Alex Trevino and Kirt Manwaring.

 

1919 – RP – Elmer Jacobs (BR/TR, 6’0”, 165; played w/STL 1919-20) A journeyman pitcher who played more in the Pacific Coast League than in the Majors, Elmer Jacobs recorded only one winning season (9-6 in 1918).

The Salem, MO, native started out with the Phillies, bouncing between them, the Pirates, and the Seattle Rainiers before playing with the Cardinals for 1.5 seasons. His 31-25 K-BB ratio in 1919 was one of only two seasons above even for him. He finished his career with the Cubs and White Sox, along with (notably) the Los Angeles Angels and San Francisco Seals of the PCL. Jacobs was statistically similar to Dan Fillingim and former Cardinal Eric Rasmussen.

 

1920 – SS – Doc Lavan (BR/TR, 5’8½”, 151; played w/STL 1919-24) A real-life doctor who served as a Navy surgeon in both World Wars, John Leonard Lavan played 11 years in the majors despite defense at shortstop that would not be described as “surgically precise.”

Lavan began his ML career with the Browns & Phillies in 1913, returning to St. Louis in ’14. Over 4 seasons there, the light-hitting shortstop amassed 188 errors, including an AL-leading 47 in 1917 and a whopping 75 in 1915. All of the evidence suggests that he was a fine ranging fielder, registering well-above-average assist and putout totals, but that he was not terribly accurate or sure-handed. He posted three other seasons of 40+ errors, including NL “crowns” in ’20 (50) and ’21 (49).

In September of 1917, Browns owner Phil Ball accused his players of lying down on the job because of their conflict with manager Fielder Jones. Lavan and 2B Del Pratt sued Ball for $50,000 in damages for his alleged slanderous statements in St. Louis newspapers. This soured atmosphere led to his being traded to the Washington club. After one season there, he was sold to the Cardinals. Despite a career total of 7 home runs hit in over 4,200 plate appearances, Lavan held (for over 80 years) the team single-season record for RBI by a shortstop that was tied (2002) and later broken (2003) by Edgar Renteria. (As an aside, Lavan played previously for Branch Rickey at the University of Michigan.)

Lavan was a lieutenant surgeon in the U.S. Navy during World War I, retiring in World War II as a Commander for the Naval Reserve (BN). A practicing medical doctor, he was a city health officer in New York, NY, St. Louis, MO, Kansas City, MO, Toledo, OH, Kalamazoo, MI, and Grand Rapids, MI and served as Director of Research for the National Foundation of Infantile Paralysis.

“Doc” was statistically similar to Skeeter Newsome and Rey Ordonez.

 

1921 – OF – Austin McHenry (BR/TR, 5’11”, 152; played w/STL 1918-22) Rated by Branch Rickey as one of the best left fielders ever, McHenry had good speed and a strong arm, and hit for average and power. Unfortunately he was also struck down at the age of 27 by a brain tumor.

When he first started playing professionally (at 19 in 1915), McHenry was gifted but raw, and according to the local newspaper, “was not on speaking terms with the finer points of the national game,” but he could flat out hit. In 1916, while playing for the Milwaukee Brewers of the American Association, he suffered a beaning to the left temple. He recovered shortly after the incident, but it is suspected the injury caused the malignant growth that ended his life.

McHenry was acquired from the Cincinnati Reds organization in a trade in June 1918, hitting well and finishing in the league top 10 in outfield assists, with 14 in only 80 games. Starting the 1919 season, he was slated to be the fourth-outfielder, backing up all three positions, but hit so well that he unseated Burt Shotton. He finished the season with a team-high 11 triples and 20 outfield assists, both league Top 10’s. 1920 was a slightly down year, but he still hit well and led the team with 21 outfield assists & 10 home runs (more than Hornsby!). The HR total was actually 4th in the NL, making him one of the best sluggers in the league.

The 1921 season would see a great increase in home runs league-wide, but McHenry would remain one of the game’s best hitters. His .350 average was 2nd in the NL only to Hornsby, as was his slugging percentage (.531); his RBI (102) were 3rd, HR (17) were 4th, and 2B (37) were 5th. He was arguably the second best hitter in the league at the age of 25. (Strangely enough McHenry batted mainly 6th in the lineup in ’21 & ‘22.)

From The Sporting News, attributed to Branch Rickey: “His work is not of the spectacular sort, he does not furnish great thrills.  If he makes a shoestring catch that would do credit to a [Tris] Speaker, it’s so neatly done the spectators can’t realize the difficulty of it.  If he goes far afield for a long drive he ambles over the ground with a stride that makes it appear he is just out for practice.  That’s the McHenry way and before he showed that he was getting results he was even accused by some who did not study him as inclined to be indifferent.  McHenry is without a question one of the game’s greatest outfielders.  And he is one of the game’s greatest hitters.” [ed. Although his hitting still has a ways to go, I see a lot of our own Colby Rasmus in the mold of McHenry. I hope he is worthy eventually of similar praise.]

McHenry’s performance through mid-June of 1922 seemed to mirror the previous year and all appeared bright for the young outfielder. But a slump to end the month had brought on boos by the St. Louis faithful. The worst of it came on June 26th, as Rickey noticed McHenry was struggling to catch fly balls and asked his outfielder if he was okay.  “Yes, I feel alright,” McHenry assured his manager, “but I can’t see.  I don’t know what it is.  Maybe I’m going blind.” Rickey removed McHenry from the game, then ordered him back to his home in Blue Creek, Ohio to rest. After a couple appearances in late-July, McHenry was shut down for the season. The loss of their star outfielder sent the team into a spiral, dropping the first-place club out of contention.

McHenry was finally admitted to Good Samaritan Hospital in Cincinnati where doctors discovered that the fallen player had a brain tumor and would need a risky operation to remove it. He went under the knife on October 19th, but the surgeon couldn’t remove the whole tumor because of its location. McHenry died at his home in Blue Creek on November 27th. The Sporting News: “No ball club ever had a more loyal player and there are few outfielders in the game today who are as good as McHenry was at his best.  His death is a distinct loss to baseball.”

McHenry was statistically similar to Lyman Bostock (murdered at age 27) and Danny Taylor.

 

1922 – 2B – Rogers Hornsby (BR/TR, 5’11”, 175; played w/STL 1915-26, ’33; managed w/STL 1925-26; HOF) Probably the greatest hitting second baseman of all-time, Rogers Hornsby won two MVP’s (and was close in several other years) and two Triple Crowns, and led the Cardinals (as player/manager) to their first World Series title over the 1926 New York Yankees.

I can’t honestly hope to do “The Rajah” justice in a few paragraphs when so much has been written about him already. What I can do is maybe throw a few facts and quotes out there:

  • Never considered a good defensive player, Rogers had problems with pop flies due to a balance problem when going back and looking up. Bill James rates him as an average fielder at 2B, but among players with long careers at the position he considers Hornsby the worst ever. But Hornsby was such a great hitter that he was an exception to the rule – that a player can’t have a long career at second base unless he is good defensively.
  • In 1922, Hornsby led the NL in nearly every major offensive category, missing out on walks, stolen bases and triples. His 47 Win Shares that season were over 50% more than any other player in the league (Max Carey & Ray Grimes, with 29 each).
  • From Bill James – “The NL first instituted an official MVP award in 1924. Rogers hit .424 [the modern ML record], but the award went to Dazzy Vance, who, in all fairness, did have an incredible season, going 28-6 and striking out three times as many hitters as any other pitcher in the league, save one. This became a controversial selection, much like the 1947 AL Award, when it was learned that one voter, Jack Ryder of Cincinnati, had left Hornsby off his ten-man ballot. Hornsby, said Ryder, had hit .424 not for his team but for himself, and his performance had failed to lift the Cardinals above 65 wins. This logic outraged the St. Louis fans, and a round of name-calling followed, during which, as often happens, a key fact was overlooked. Even if Ryder had voted for Hornsby, even if he had listed him first, Vance would still have won the Award …”
  • Interesting fact about the era and the expectations of players: when Hornsby posted an OPS of 1.245 in ’25 (a record for a righty hitter), he also led the Cardinals with 16 sacrifice bunts. From 1921-25, when he hit a combined .402, he averaged 13 sac bunts a year. From 1927-29, when his lowest OPS was 1.035, he posted totals of 26, 25 & 22.
  • Again from James – “Many people who are casual baseball fans will confuse Honus Wagner with Rogers Hornsby, based just on the facts that they were both truly great players, both middle infielders, they both played a long time ago, and their names sound a bit alike. A more inappropriate conclusion is hard to imagine; it’s kind of like confusing Ken Griffey Jr. with Bernard Gilkey. Hornsby was a great hitter, but a marginal defensive player. Wagner was among the greatest defensive players in the history of baseball. Hornsby was an arrogant, self-righteous racist who was what might be called creatively rude. He invented ways to offend people, and seemed to take pride in his ability to do so …”

Bill James considers Hornsby the 3rd best second baseman of all time, behind Joe Morgan and Eddie Collins.

 

1923 – SP – Jesse Haines (BR/TR, 6’0”, 190; played w/STL 1920-37; HOF) “Pop” Haines pitched more years in a Cardinal uniform than anyone in history, and only Bob Gibson won more games for the club.

Haines debuted with the Cardinals as a 26-year-old in 1920, working 301.7 innings with a 13-20 record and a career-high 120 strikeouts. In 1923, he won 20 games for the first time (3 times total) for a team nearly bereft of talent behind Haines, Rogers Hornsby, and Jim Bottomley. Then on July 17, 1924, he threw a no-hitter versus the Boston Braves, the first in franchise history.

The Cardinals won the 1926 pennant as Haines went 13-4. In the WS, he shut out the Yankees 4-0 in Game Three, hitting a two-run homer to help his own cause (one of only two pitchers – Bucky Walters is the other – to throw a CG shutout and homer in the same WS game). He started the seventh game and allowed only two runs through six innings. But he'd developed a blister from throwing his knuckler and in the seventh inning he loaded the bases with two out. In came Grover Alexander to strike out New York's Tony Lazzeri for one of the great moments in Series history. Haines received credit for the win that made the Cardinals World Champions, but Alexander was the hero.

His best season was 1927, when he was arguably the best pitcher in the NL (his teammate Alexander being the main competitor). His 24 wins were 2nd best, with a 2.72 ERA (4th) and league-leading totals in complete games (26) and shutouts (6).

Haines started his career with a blazing fastball, but ended up incorporating a knuckler that extended his career. He actually gripped the ball with his knuckles, rather than the fingertips, as do most knuckleball pitchers. This allowed him to fire his knuckler with more speed than most. His knuckleball remained intimidating, and he continued as an effective reliever and spot starter past his forty-fourth birthday.

Jesse Haines was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1970, after failing to register even 9% of the annual vote. It is generally acknowledged that his is one of the worst selections; Bill James listed Haines among the 10 least deserving HOFers (including Cardinal players Jim Bottomley, Chick Hafey, and Roger Bresnahan). Hall of Fame-worthy or not, “Pop” Haines ranks among the greatest Cardinal pitchers, with his 210 wins trailing only Gibson on the franchise leaderboard. He was statistically similar to Freddie Fitzsimmons and Milt Pappas.

 

1924 – OF – Ray Blades (BR/TR, 5’7½”, 163; played w/STL 1922-28, ’30-32; managed w/STL 1939-40) Hampered by a severe knee injury, Ray Blades appeared in over 100 games only three times – from 1924-26 – but he hung on as a spare outfielder for ten major league seasons, all with the Cardinals, and batted .301 lifetime.

Originally scouted by Branch Rickey while still a youngster in St. Louis, Blades signed with the Cardinals after WW1. An intelligent player with a terrible temper, he possessed great speed until his aggressive play led to injuries that sapped him of his talent late in his career. His finest year was probably 1925, when he hit .342 with 112 runs scored (in 122 games).

After his big league career ended, Blades managed for three years each at Columbus, OH, & Rochester, NY, both Cardinal farm clubs. Prior to the 1939 season he was named the skipper for the ML squad and led the team to 92 wins and a 2nd place finish. But the 1940 club started out 14-24 and he was replaced. While coaching for the Brooklyn Dodgers in 1947, he famously turned down the managerial job when Leo Durocher was suspended for the season.

Blades was statistically similar to Pete Reiser and Nick Markakis.

 

1925 – SP – Bill Sherdel (BL/TL, 5’10”, 160; played w/STL 1918-30, ’32) Sherdel, a happy craftsman who often whistled or sang on the mound, couldn't overpower batters but relied on guile. He ranks among the franchise leaders in wins (153, 4th), games pitched (465, 3rd), and several other categories.

Sherdel debuted with St. Louis in 1918, pacing all NL relievers with 14 games finished. He led the league again in 1920 (28 games) as well as leading with 6 saves. He finally got a legitimate chance to start in 1922, starting 31 of 47 appearances and winning 17 games.

“Wee Willie” broke out in 1925, leading the league in win percentage (15-6, 71.4%) and posting an ERA significantly better than league average for the first time. He followed that up with 16 wins in ’26 and another 17 the next year. In 1928 he set his career high with 21 wins (with a solid 2.86 ERA) for the pennant winning Cardinals.

In the post-season Sherdel forged his legacy as one of the most notable hard-luck losers in World Series history. ’26 Series, Game 1 – Sherdel lost 2-1 against Herb Pennock when Rogers Hornsby threw away a double play ball that scored the winning run. Game 5 – Chick Hafey misplayed a fly ball into a double, then Sherdel picked off the runner, but shortstop Tommy Thevenow dropped the ball; the runner would later score the deciding run in the 3-2 Yankee win. ’28 Series, Game 1 – Sherdel was outpitched as Waite Hoyt held the Cardinals in check in a 4-1 game.

Game 4 of the ’28 Series was the big one. [In the Jan. 1953 issue of Baseball Digest] Sherdel was nursing a 2-1 lead until the seventh inning; he’d allowed only a solo shot by Babe Ruth, a rare hit for him off “Wee Willie”. “I slow-balled him constantly,” Sherdel says with a grin, “until I lost my temper.” With two on in the seventh, and a count of two strikes and a ball on the Babe, Sherdel tried to slip his famous “quick return” pitch past Ruth. On this, Sherdel kept his foot on the rubber, fired the ball back to the catcher the [moment] he got it. It was his trademark. The pitch, however, had been outlawed for the Series. After a tremendous rumpus, Sherdel returned to pitch, tried to shoot a fast ball past Ruth and the ball landed on Grand Avenue. Before the inning ended, the Yankees had enough runs to win, 7-3.

Sherdel would never again pitch with any great success going forward. A 10-15 record and a 5.93 ERA in ‘29 put him in the doghouse and he was traded mid-season in 1930 to the Braves for Burleigh Grimes. Boston gave him his unconditional release in 1932 and he returned to St. Louis for 3 games, finishing the year with Rochester.

Sherdel was considered by some as one of the NL’s top lefties in the 20’s. A fine reliever (he led in saves three times), he once entered the game with the bases loaded and no out; his first pitch resulted in a triple play. He also holds an odd batting record, having amassed 9 career home runs while never hitting more than one in a single season. Sherdel was statistically similar to Vern Law and former Cardinal Bob Forsch.

 

1926 – 3B – Les Bell (BR/TR, 5’11”, 165; played w/STL 1923-27) A key member of the ’26 World Champion team that defeated the New York Yankees, Les Bell plugged the gap at third base for three years.

Coming up through the minors as a shortstop, Bell received two cups of coffee in ’23 & ’24, hitting .373 in 51 at-bats in his debut. When he arrived in ‘25, the club had a different role in mind: third base. The position was manned in 1924 by seven different players, including Johnny Stuart, normally a pitcher. In his first full-season campaign, Bell started all but one game at third, hitting .285 with 49 extra-base hits; his play at third base left a little to be desired (36 errors v 20 errors in ’24 by all STL 3Bmen), but seemed to be on par with the rest of the infield (1B: 21 errors; 2B: 37; SS: 36).

1926 would prove to be Bell’s career year. On a team with Rogers Hornsby, Jim Bottomley, and NL MVP Bob O’Farrell, he led the team in batting (.325) & slugging (.518); that SLG mark was nearly 100 points higher than any other season in his career. Bell finished 6th in the MVP voting, behind O’Farrell and Cardinal shortstop Tommy Thevenow (with an OPS+ of 59!).

After an injury plagued 1927 season, the Cardinals swapped third basemen with the Braves, sending off Les Bell in favor of Andy High. On May 26, 1929, NY Giants infielder Pat Crawford hit a pinch-hit grand slam in the top of the seventh inning off Boston pitcher Socks Seibold; in the bottom half, Bell hit an answering pinch-hit grand slam off Carl Hubbell. After two years in Boston, he was claimed off waivers by the Cubs, then left the majors after the 1931 season. He managed for several years in the minors for the Pirates, Indians, and Phillies. Bell was statistically similar to former Cardinals Whitey Kurowski and Mark DeRosa.

 

1927 – SP – Pete Alexander (BR/TR, 6’1”, 185; played w/STL 1926-29; HOF) Grover Cleveland Alexander is considered one of the greatest pitchers of all time; Bill James ranks him as the 3rd best, behind only Lefty Grove and Walter Johnson. The only pitcher named after one President of the United States and portrayed by another (Ronald Reagan in The Winning Team), Ole’ Pete shares the career record for wins in the NL (with Christy Mathewson) and still holds the record for shutouts (16, in 1916) and wins by a rookie (28, in 1911).

As with Hornsby, I cannot hope to dig up everything of substance about one of the most complicated ballplayers of his (or any other) generation. With that in mind, here are a few interesting facts about the man:

  • While Pete was definitely an alcoholic, some of the lore about it is probably incorrect. During the infamous appearance in the ’26 World Series it is suggested that he was drunk on the mound. What is more likely is that Alexander, who suffered from epilepsy, was experiencing its effects that day and it appeared to the public as drunkenness. The mental condition was probably brought upon by a thrown ball to the temple while playing in the minors. “Alex” tried to cover up his epilepsy, using alcohol in the mistaken belief that it would alleviate the symptoms. Living in a world that believed epileptics to be touched by the devil, he knew it was more socially acceptable to be a drunk.
  • As was the case with many starting pitchers during the first half of this century, Alexander worked out of the bullpen between starts as situations warranted. Over his career, he totaled 32 saves in 97 relief appearances, topping out with 5 saves in 1920 for the Cubs (a season in which he won 27 games and completed 33 of 40 starts).
  • Between 1915 & 1917, Alexander posted three consecutive 30-win campaigns. 1915 had 12 shutouts (a record at the time) and a 1.22 ERA (225 ERA+), 1916 saw him set the shutout mark, and 1917 was his last 200 strikeout year. After the season, Phillies owner William Baker sold him to the Cubs as part of a 4-player deal, worried that Pete would be drafted the following year (which he was).
  • The epic battle between Alexander and Tony Lazzeri had a couple interesting footnotes. One, Alexander had only struck out 47 batters in 200⅓ innings during the regular season; he whiffed 17 Yankees in 20⅓ IP during the Series. Two, Lazzeri was hiding his own epileptic condition and would suffer a seizure and fall to his death in 1946. (Alexander’s death four years later was attributed to cardiac failure; his ex-wife Amy thought it was due to a fall after a seizure.)
  • After being dumped on to the Phillies prior to the 1930 season and summarily released, Alexander spent parts of the next 8 years playing for the House of David, a barnstorming club from Benton Harbor, MI, that featured Jewish players with long hair and beards (citing the book of Leviticus which makes reference to the growth of the hair representing the growth of the soul). “Dode” (a family nickname) was given permission by the commune to shave, but as he was poor and drinking heavily at the time, he usually spent his money on booze instead of razor blades and often appeared with stubble.

There are several books and many articles detailing the exploits & troubles of Grover Cleveland Alexander, a genuine character of early twentieth-century baseball; you can’t go wrong by reading about him. [Aside: I know I will try to read more about him. One of my sisters, who died two-and-a-half years ago, suffered from epilepsy (as well as mental retardation) nearly from birth, so this hits a little close to home.]

 

1928 – 1B – Jim Bottomley (BL/TL, 6’1”, 180; played w/STL 1922-32) A lefty cleanup man with a career slugging percentage of .500, “Sunny Jim” Bottomley had a pleasant nature and smiling face, and the habit of wearing his cap tilted over his left eye. He was the first MVP to emerge from a team's own farm system, arriving at the St. Louis parent club in 1922. Within a year, he replaced Jack Fournier at first base, as expected, and held the job until traded to Cincinnati after the 1932 season to make room for another farm boy, Ripper Collins.

Bottomley debuted in 1922 with a strong showing after putting up a .348 campaign with power in “AA” Syracuse. His first full-season saw him out-pace the man he replaced in AVG and OBP, finishing 2nd in the league in both categories to teammate Rogers Hornsby. The next year was his first 100 RBI season, highlighted by a 12-RBI, 6-for-6 performance against the Brooklyn Dodgers on September 16th.

1925 was the first of five straight 120+ RBI seasons for Bottomley, who also topped the National League with 227 hits and 44 doubles while finishing 7th in MVP voting. The next season saw him win the RBI crown with 120, but a drop of 68 points to a .299 average kept him completely out of consideration for top player. The World Series that year would be his only productive postseason in four tries, hitting .345 with 5 RBI in the Cardinals’ defeat of the Yankees. The following year would see Bottomley again exceed a .300 average and a .500 slugging percentage, but the Cardinals would finish the season 1.5 games back of the Pirates.

“Sunny Jim” would put up his finest year in 1928, hitting .325 with 136 RBI and clubbing 42 doubles, 20 triples and 31 homers, only the 2nd player (at that time, seven players total) to finish with 20+ two-, three- and four-base hits. He would win the NL Most Valuable Player award in a close race with the Giants’ Freddie Lindstrom.

Bottomley posted another great season the next year (in July, he hit seven homers over five games), but the team slipped to 78-74 and he received no credit for his fine work. Over the next three years Bottomley fought injuries and a challenge from youngster Ripper Collins, but still hit well enough to provide value to the Cardinals. When Collins himself succumbed to aches & pains in 1931, “Sunny Jim” filled the gap and nearly won the batting title, losing to teammate Chick Hafey by less than a single point.

After the 1932 season Bottomley was traded to Cincinnati in a swap of washed up players. He would never again post the numbers he did in St. Louis, when he hit .300 and/or slugged .500 in 10 of 11 years. Traded to the Browns after three years with the Reds, Bottomley was reunited with old teammate Rogers Hornsby, who was managing the AL club in town. Jim ended up replacing Hornsby as manager, but was fired at the end of the season when he “led” the team to a 21-56 record (not significantly worse than Hornsby or his successor, former Cardinal manager Gabby Street).

He tried managing in the minors in 1938, but that didn’t last long. The Cubs lured him away from his Missouri cattle farm to scout for them and he was hired to manage their Appy League team for the ’57 season, but he suffered a heart attack on opening day and was replaced. He died of a second attack three years later. A museum in Nokomis, IL, was dedicated to local products Bottomley, Ray Schalk and Red Ruffing, all Hall of Famers.

A distinguished hitter and fine fielding first baseman (he holds the single-season record for unassisted double plays at first), Bottomley is considered by some to be one of the worst HOF selections. His counting stats aren’t the most impressive, but he had a fairly strong beginning and peak to his career. He is statistically similar to fellow Cardinals Joe Medwick and Will Clark. Bill James ranks Bottomley as the 36th best first baseman of all time.

 

1929 – OF – Taylor Douthit (BR/TR, 5’11½”, 175; played w/STL 1923-31) Was Taylor Douthit the best defensive outfielder of all time? Although most people have never heard of him, he had phenomenal range in the outfield. His 547 put-outs in center field for the Cardinals in 1928 remains the ML record.

A product of the Branch Rickey-developed farm system, Douthit debuted with St. Louis in 1923 and finally settled into a full-time role in 1926, when he led the league with 37 sacrifices. Primarily a lead-off hitter, Douthit never exhibited much power, but was the catalyst for three pennant-winning clubs (’26, ’28, ‘30), topping 100 runs scored and 190 hits three consecutive years. His 1929 campaign was his finest, batting .336 while leading the club with 128 runs scored and finishing in the top-15 of MVP voting for the second year in a row.

Traded to the Cincinnati Reds for Wally Roettger mid-season in 1931, Douthit’s career quickly disappeared. After a year-and-a-half playing at Crosley Field, he was selected off waivers by the Cubs and was out of the majors two months later – out of big-league baseball at age 32. Douthit was statistically similar to Ira Flagstead and Darryl Hamilton.

 

1930 – 2B – Frankie Frisch (BS/TR, 5’11”, 165; played w/STL 1927-37; managed w/STL 1933-38; HOF) “The Fordham Flash” was the driving force for two separate clubs that each won four pennants in the National League, as well as skippering the Gas House Gang championship team in 1934.

Frisch attended both Fordham Prep and Fordham University, where he majored in chemistry and was a four-sport athlete (baseball, football, basketball & track). Giants manager John McGraw scouted Frisch and brought him directly to the majors from college in 1919. McGraw, a taskmaster not unlike Bobby Knight, pushed the young infielder to realize his gifts and named Frisch captain of his team early in his career.

Frisch broke through in 1921, hitting .341 with a league-leading 49 steals as the New York club won their first of four consecutive pennants, beating the Yankees 5-games-to-3 in the World Series. He would hit .327 or better each year through 1925, leading the league with 223 Hits in 1923 and 121 Runs in ’24 as he finished 3rd in MVP voting, behind Dazzy Vance and Rogers Hornsby.

After the Giants lost the pennant to the Pirates in 1925 and eventually the Cardinals in ’26, McGraw’s fire-hose pressure became too much for Frisch to bear. After an argument between the two in August of that year, Frisch jumped the team. A few days later they both calmed down and Frisch re-joined the Giants, but he was there in body only. After the season McGraw was looking to move Frisch and St. Louis was desperate to get rid of Hornsby, so the two were traded for each other.

Determined to prove himself on his own and surrounded by a relaxed atmosphere in the Cardinal clubhouse, Frisch had the greatest year of his career in ‘27, hitting .337 with 48 steals and setting a major league record, which still stands, with 641 assists at second base. (Frisch was noted as a defensive standout, even while bouncing between second and third, but was perhaps less than conventional. “Frisch is one of the poorest fielders we have ever lamped[?],” wrote Gordon Mackay in the 1924 Reach Guide, “but his terrific speed overcomes this in every game. Frisch can knock down more balls with his elbows, knees, chest and head, and by dint of his fleet recovery throw out the runner, than any nine men we know.”) He claimed 2nd place in the MVP voting, ahead of Hornsby but behind Paul Waner.

The Cardinals did not win the pennant in 1927, but they did the next year, in ’30, in ’31, and in ’34, making Frisch a regular on eight teams that won the pennant. He scored 121 and drove in 114 runs (for the 1930 team that finished with 1004 for the season), hitting .346 with 46 doubles. The following year Frisch won the first “official” MVP award over Chuck Klein with a less than impressive performance; interestingly only three players on the ballot registered even double-digit home runs, so obviously offense was valued differently that year.

In 1933, the Cardinals handed the reins to Frisch; this was not unusual for the time – about half of the teams were managed by their stars. The team responded well under his leadership (not enough to challenge in ’33) and won the whole thing in 1934, with Dizzy and Daffy and Ripper and Pepper and the gang providing the production and the personalities. After a tough couple of second place finishes, the team started to tire under Frisch’s watch, who apparently had learned much from McGraw.

After retiring from playing baseball in ’37 and being replaced as manager late in ’38, Frisch tried his hand at radio before taking over the Pirates for seven years, then the Cubs for another three. He was certainly a colorful manager; he was thrown out of one rainy game for going out to home plate carrying an umbrella to protest an umpire's failure to call the game. Bill James wrote, "Frisch was an effective field leader because he had tremendous energy and a forceful personality. But once he could no longer play he began to romanticize the past, to deride his own players, and to launch into long (but apparently entertaining) monologues about all of the great players he used to play with."

Frisch was voted into the Hall of Fame in 1947 and later joined the Veteran’s Committee in 1967, eventually chairing the group. If any one person could be blamed for some of the most egregious selections ever, it would be Frisch. Notable selections Dave Bancroft, Rube Marquard, Ross Youngs and George Kelly were teammates on the Giants, as well as Chick Hafey, Jesse Haines, and Jim Bottomley with the Cardinals. They were all selected by the Veteran’s Committee in the early 70’s. Frisch died on March 12, 1973.

Frisch’s own inclusion into the Hall of Fame is without question. A great leader, fine hitter, exceptional fielder, and brilliant baserunner, he was statistically similar to 19th-century player George Davis and Roberto Alomar. Bill James ranks him as the 11th best second baseman of all time.

 

1931 – OF – Chick Hafey (BR/TR, 6’0”, 185; played w/STL 1924-31; HOF) Chick Hafey had a very short career by Hall of Fame standards with only 1,466 lifetime hits, but what he accomplished was done in spite of constant health problems and bad eyesight. He had severe sinus problems and headaches. His sinus problems required him to undergo several operations which apparently had some effect on his eyesight. He said his eyesight changed from day to day, so he had several pairs of glasses that he used. He was beaned a number of times early in his career, and that may have contributed to his problems.

Hafey tried out for the Cardinals in 1923, hoping to get signed on as a pitcher in their burgeoning farm system, but Branch Rickey was more impressed with his work at the plate. Hafey debuted with the big club the next year and was a semi-regular in ‘25 & ’26, his playing limited due to injuries, including several beanings.

In 1927, he finally played 100 games, hitting .329 and leading the NL in slugging (.590). The next year he upped his average to .344 and drove in 111 runs. Hafey’s hitting exploits, combined with his “rifle arm” (19 assists in ’27), made him one of the best players in the league, but after a poor showing in the 1928 World Series, he was convinced to try playing with glasses (he referred to them as “cheaters”).

Hafey continued to hit well in 1929, basically repeating his previous campaign, hitting 47 doubles, 29 homers, and collecting 125 RBI with a slash line of .338/.394/.632. In 1930, he was limited to 120 games, but still managed 77 extra-base hits and a .336 average. Granted, the league hit .304 that year, but he had a heck of a season. The next spring, Hafey held out for $15,000, reporting ten days late for camp. He eventually signed for $12,500, but Rickey fined him $2,100 for being out of shape.

The 1931 campaign would end with one of the closest batting races in history. Hafey (.3489) edged out Bill Terry of the Giants (.3486) and teammate Jim Bottomley (.3482) with a hit in his final at-bat. He finished 5th in the MVP voting. But in the World Series, Hafey was limited to a .167 average, all singles. Again in the spring, he held out for $17,000, including a return of the $2,100; Rickey countered with $13,000. Hafey returned home to California until, on April 11th, he found out he was traded to the Cincinnati Reds.

Chick managed to hit .344 in 1932, but played in only 84 games. In 1933, he started in LF and hit cleanup in the first All-Star Game, collecting the first hit in the second inning. Hafey played in the first night game on May 24, 1935, and, while he recognized the future of night baseball, the evening’s damp air (which affected his sinuses) told him it was time to quit. He sat out the next year and a half, returning for 89 games in 1937.

Chick Hafey was selected into the Hall of Fame by the Veteran’s Committee in 1971, despite only twice garnering more than 5% of the yearly vote. His career is much closer to Ken Williams (of St. Louis Browns’ fame) or, more recently, Mike Greenwell & Mike Sweeney than to an average HOF outfielder. [Proponents of reincarnation might be interested in this - Hafey died in Calistoga, CA, on 7/2/73; Sweeney was born downstate in Orange three weeks later.] Bill James ranks Hafey as the 59th-best leftfielder of all time.

 

1932 – OF – George Watkins (BL/TR, 6’0”, 175; played w/STL 1930-33) George Watkins, who debuted with the Cardinals at the age of 29, holds the NL record for batting average by a rookie (at least 400 PA’s), hitting .373 in 127 games in 1930.

Watkins entered professional baseball when he was 24 years old, starting out with a .316 average and 28 homers for the Class D Marshall Indians of the East Texas League in 1925. He caught on with the Cardinals farm system shortly afterward.

The 1930 season, which featured a league batting average of .304, witnessed a St. Louis team with all 10 players with 250+ PA’s posting at least a .300 average. Watkins’ AVG and SLG (.621) marks set rookie records that year; another first-timer, Showboat Fisher, delivered a slash line of .374/.432/.587 and 61 RBI over 286 plate appearances (his only season with more than 20 games played).

In 1931, George’s 3rd-inning 2-run homer proved to be the deciding factor in the seventh-game World Series clincher against the Philadelphia A’s. The next year he hit .312 with 18 steals (tied for team-best) and a league-leading 8 times hit by pitch. Watkins’ career slowed down after that, finishing up with the Giants, Phillies, and Dodgers. He was statistically similar to Alexis Rios and Moose Solters.

 

1933 – 3B – Pepper Martin (BR/TR, 5’8”, 170; played w/STL 1928, ‘30-40, ‘44) "A chunky, unshaven hobo who ran the bases like a berserk locomotive, slept in the raw, and swore at pitchers in his sleep," Johnny Leonard Roosevelt Martin played his entire 13-year major league career with St. Louis.

He started out in the minors, playing second, short, and the outfield, before debuting with the Cardinals in 1928, working as a pinch-hitter/-runner. (Fun fact: in ’30, Martin was used five times as a PR and came ‘round to score each time - his only games played other than one PH appearance.)

Pepper Martin settled in as the team’s centerfielder in 1931 after Taylor Douthit was traded, hitting .300 and following that up with an outstanding postseason. The World Series pitted the Cards against Connie Mack's Philadelphia Athletics, which featured future Hall of Famers Lefty Grove, Mickey Cochrane, Jimmy Foxx, and Al Simmons. Despite these stars, the Series belonged to Martin, who batted .500 with 12 hits, 5 RBIs, 5 Stolen Bases and a Home Run in the Cardinals 4-3 series win. He got 3 hits off Lefty Grove in Game 1, his aggressive base running accounted for all the runs scored in Game 2, got 2 hits apiece in Games 3 and 4, and homered in Game 5 (driving in 4 of the Card's 5 runs). He even ended the Series by making a spectacular catch in Game 7 as the A's had the tying run on base in the bottom of the 9th inning. His performance made him wildly popular, causing Commissioner Kennesaw Landis to quip to him at the conclusion of the Series, "I wish I could change places with you". The Associated Press selected him as their male athlete of the year.

Martin struggled the next year, battling injuries and bouncing between center and third. 1933, though, saw him solidify the third base position for St. Louis and put up one of the best performances that year. Leading off most of the season, Martin paced the National League with 122 runs scored and 26 stolen bases. He started at third in the very first All-Star Game, leading off, and finished the year 5th in the MVP voting.

Martin’s 1934 campaign was limited to 110 games, but he still managed to lead the NL in stolen bases, then played masterfully in the World Series, collecting 11 hits and 4 RBI in the Cardinals’ victory over the Tigers. His lifetime .418 batting average in World Series play remains the third highest in history.

The next two years would see Martin scored 121 runs each season, as well as 20+ steals (led in ’36). He finished 10th in MVP voting in ’35 and started in the All-Star game that same year (he would play in four total). Pepper switched back to the outfield in 1936, as the Cardinals shuffled through a mix of third basemen (Art Garibaldi, Don Gutteridge, Frenchy Bordagaray, Joe Stripp, Stu Martin) over the next few years. Injuries caused by aggressive play (he was known for his bellyflop slides) kept him from playing more than 100 games in any of his last five seasons.

Martin remained in the St. Louis organization, managing and playing for their minor league squads from ’41-43. With the war depleting their roster, he returned to the big club in 1944, hitting .279 in 40 games. He was a manager for several years after that, putting up good years for Miami in the Dodgers system, then worked as a coach for the Chicago Cubs. Martin was later suspended for a year and fined for choking an umpire in the International League. “The Wild Horse of the Osage” died on March 5, 1965 of a heart attack; he was survived by his wife, who actually passed away last January, just short of her 100th birthday.

Pepper Martin was statistically similar to Roy Johnson & Ira Flagstead. Bill James rates him (based on all of his accomplishments) as the 75th best third basemen.

 

1934 – SP – Dizzy Dean (BR/TR, 6’2”, 182; played w/STL 1930-37; HOF) Dizzy Dean actually had only six full seasons in the majors, but no player packed more accomplishments, excitement, and shenanigans into a shorter time. Dizzy Dean was 50% myth, 50% legend. A movie was made about him, books are still written about him regularly although he is now long dead. He was one of the most beloved sports broadcasters, a public speaker par excellence. Dizzy had the appeal of Jethro Bodine – combined with the appeal of the raconteur.

Many here know the facts about Dizzy’s playing career: in the Hall of Fame despite only 150 wins (but 102 over 4 seasons), struck out 17 Cubs in 1933, won 30 games in 1934, picked up another 28 wins in ’35 and had his pay docked for not winning 30, an MVP award in 1934 (plus two more 2nd place finishes), had his career altered by a line drive off Earl Averill’s bat, received a $185,000 contract from the Cubs after he was hurt. What I can do here is bring up examples of the force of personality the Dizzy was.

  • Some confusion arose about Dean's legal name, as some sources had it as "Jerome Herman Dean" and others as "Jay Hanna Dean." His biographical film did not help in this regard, as the actor playing Paul called him "Jay" and the actress playing his wife called him "Jerome". One time-honored story is that Dean gave conflicting information to three different reporters, in quick succession, as to his name and birthplace. A teammate questioned him about that, and he answered, "I wanted to give each of them fellas an exclusive story!"
  • An inveterate braggart, Dean once bet that he could strike out Vince DiMaggio four times in one game. He struck him out his first three at bats, but when he hit a popup behind the plate at his fourth, Dean screamed at his catcher, "Drop it! Drop it!" The catcher did and Dean fanned DiMaggio, winning the bet. Few in the press now doubted Diz's boast, as he was also fond of saying, "It ain't braggin' if ya can back it up."
  • Random quote - "It puzzles me how they know what corners are good for filling stations. Just how did they know gas and oil was under there?"
  • After being hit in the head by a thrown ball in the 1934 World Series and taken to the hospital, a newspaper headline proclaimed, “X-RAY OF DEAN’S HEAD SHOWS NOTHING”. He was also quoted, “The dumber a pitcher is, the better. When he gets smart and begins to experiment with a lot of different pitches, he's in trouble. All I ever had was a fastball, a curve and a changeup and I did pretty good."
  • When he became a national broadcaster for (among others) CBS, Dean’s malapropisms and blatant avoidance of the rules of grammar were legendary, and fans loved it. Sayings such as “slud” (sliding with great effort) and, “He shouldn’t hadn’t ought-a swang”, endeared him to viewers across the country. Of course he had his critics; an English teacher once wrote to him, complaining that he shouldn't use the word "ain't" on the air, as it was a bad example to children. On the air, Dean said, "A lot of folks who ain't sayin' 'ain't,' ain't eatin'. So, Teach, you learn 'em English, and I'll learn 'em baseball."
  • Jim Murray in Los Angeles Times on July 19, 1974 - "Well we're all ten years older today. Dizzy Dean is dead and 1934 is gone forever. Another part of our youth fled. You look in the mirror and the small boy no longer smiles back at you. Just that sad old man. The Gashouse Gang is now a duet. Dizzy died the other day at the age of 11 or 12. The little boy in all of us died with him. But, for one brief shining afternoon in 1934, he brought joy to that dreary time when most needed it. Dizzy Dean. It's impossible to say without a smile, but then who wants to try? If I know Diz he'll be calling God 'podner' someplace today. I hope there's golf courses or a card game or a slugger who's a sucker for a low outside fastball for Diz. He might have been what baseball's all about."

Dizzy Dean was statistically similar to Don Newcombe and Roy Halladay. Bill James ranks him as the 25th best pitcher of all time.

 

Notable omissions: 1910, Mike Mowrey, 3B; 1911, Steve Evans, OF; 1915, Tom Long, OF; 1917, Jack Smith, OF; 1919, Milt Stock, 2B; 1921, Jack Fournier, 1B; 1926, Bob O’Farrell, C (MVP); 1930, Burleigh Grimes, SP (HOF); 1931, Bill Hallahan, SP; 1934, Ripper Collins, 1B (’35-‘59)

Major sources of information: baseball-reference.com, baseballlibrary.com, en.wikipedia.org, bioproj.sabr.org, vintagecardprices.com, baseball-almanac.com, retrosheet.org, as well as stealing a bunch of stuff from The New Bill James Historical Baseball Abstract

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