The robot is attending a human wedding this week, which means I am your Sunday host. Except I am also away from internet access. Luckily, I've been meaning to plug my book one final time (probably), so this all matches up perfectly. To thank all of you for bearing with my while I plug The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book over and over while also plugging it one more time, and to refresh my 13-year-old knowledge of HTML, I've put up an excerpt for your perusal at this link. It's Chapter 11, starring Silver King and talking about unbreakable records.
Unfortunately: It only works in WebKit browsers—Chrome and Safari and the Android browser, among others—because I went a little overboard on the weird experimental HTML. My apologies for that. It mostly works in Firefox, except that the table turns into one big, vertical list. In Internet Explorer 9 it probably doesn't work at all, and in Internet Explorer 10 I have no idea.
Anyway: I hope you enjoy it. If you're using something other than Chrome or Safari, or you just hate CSS 3 columns, I've reproduced the main part of the chapter—sans table and sidebars—after the jump.
Silver King Wins 45 Games (and Other Unbreakable Cardinals Records)
Some Cardinal could theoretically win more games than Bob Gibson's 251. They could even rap more base hits than Stan Musial's 3630, and make a run at Jim Bottomley's sacrifice bunt record (somebody has to have it) while they're at it. Ed Karger's ERA (2.46, just ahead of John Tudor), Gibby's strikeouts (3117), and Jason Isringhausen's saves (217) could all go down before this copy of The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book decomposes in some post-apocalyptic used book store. But nobody in any future Busch Stadium will ever win more games in a season than Silver King's 45.
They'd be lucky to do it in any two consecutive seasons. Such is baseball history: Some records are difficult to break because a player was so good, but a different subset is impossible to break because baseball was unrecognizable when it was first set.
Silver King, a teenaged prodigy who jumped from the dissolving Kansas City Cowboys of the National League to the St. Louis Browns before the 1887 season, went 32-12 in his first full year with the club, sharing pitching duties with veteran Dave Foutz (25-12) and superstar pitcher-outfielder Bob Caruthers (29-9.) In 2011 a 19-year-old with great stuff would be on strict pitch counts; in 1887 the sidearmer led the pennant-winning Browns with 390 innings.
King was so good that the Browns' eccentric owner, Chris von der Ahe, sold Caruthers to Brooklyn and let Foutz-who'd won 41 games just the year before-follow him there. With two even younger pitchers as his only help in the rotation King made 64 of the team's 137 starts that year, going 45-20 and leading the American Association in wins, games, shutouts, innings pitched (584 2/3), and ERA (1.63.)
He was, predictably, finished by the time he was 24 years old.
You would recognize what Silver King played as baseball, but not right away. A base on balls wouldn't come after four pitches out of the strike zone for another year; catchers weren't allowed to wear mitts, and they'd just begun to wear chest protectors. 1887 was the first year a hitter was no longer allowed to call for a high or a low pitch. The debate over new-fangled statistics was played out between the old guard's Runs per Inning, which had dominated the box scores of the 1860s, and batting average, which emerged along with the National League.
There was probably no outfield fence at your local ballpark, and for his part Silver King pitched in a "crossfire" motion out of something called a pitcher's box, 50 feet away from the hitter. (King's motion was the subject of much debate-he started from one edge of the box and swept all the way to the other side before delivering the ball sidearm.)
That, then, is how you win 45 games and pitch 584 innings in a season; at 60 feet six inches, with pitchers on strict pitch counts from the moment they leave aluminum bats behind and begin drawing paychecks, even Chris Carpenter would find it difficult to convince his pitching coach too leave him in. Here are some other players who've been helped to their slice of immortality by changes in rules and run-scoring:
1. Tip O'Neill's .492 batting average. The only record in Cardinals history even more defined by its context than Silver King, Tip O'Neill managed to hit .492-the highest single-season batting average ever-by hitting .435 at the right moment in history.
1887 was the only year in Major League history when a walk was counted as a base hit, and O'Neill, already one of the most dangerous hitters in the American Association, put together what was far and away the best season of his career that year, hitting what we would recognize as .435 and leading the league in runs scored (167), hits (225), doubles (52), triples (19), home runs (14), and RBI (123.)
Under the rules of that one season, however, O'Neill just missed being the only player in Major League history to bat over .500. If you're not willing to give the AA's 1887 braintrust that much credit, it's all academic, anyway; O'Neill's .435 average is itself 11 points higher than Rogers Hornsby's best season.
And that's not even taking into account his second career as Speaker of the House in the 1980s.
2. Mark McGwire's 70 home runs. It could be that the recent decline in home run totals is just a historical blip, but less than 20 years after McGwire's record-breaking season it seems impossible to imagine a player who could hit a home run every seven times the pitcher was brave enough to throw to him.
The Cardinals have had some great home run hitters-Albert Pujols, Johnny Mize, Rogers Hornsby-but Mark McGwire is still the only Cardinal ever to hit 70, 60, or 50 home runs in a single season.
Only one other hitter's even come close-Pujols owns the four highest totals after McGwire, but he missed joining the 50-home-run club by a single circuit clout in 2006.
3. Ozzie Smith's 11 consecutive Gold Gloves. Playing defense is a young man's game. Research suggests that, if hitters peak sometimes around 27, defensive brilliance is something for teenagers and early-twentysomethings, who have fresh arms and legs that no amount of veteran smarts can make up.
That's true for most shortstops, but it wasn't for Ozzie Smith, who arrived in St. Louis a 27-year-old with two Gold Gloves and proceeded to win the next 11-and deservedly so. According to some advanced statistics, Smith had his best defensive season in 1989, when he was 34 years old. That's why no Cardinal is likely to match his 11 consecutive Gold Gloves, especially at the most demanding defensive position of all.
4. Stan Musial's 177 triples. If you really want to know the kind of player Stan Musial was you can look at nearly everything he did on a baseball field; all of it paints a picture of a tireless worker and a flawless athlete. But nothing says quite so much in so little space as Musial's 177 triples. The Man led the National League five times in that category, picking up 20 in a season twice, and he did it despite never being known for his quickness.
He just hit the ball hard and he ran. Without line drive hitters like that, hustle like that, and continuity like that-Musial hit 10 triples in 1942 and two triples in 1963, and 165 in between-it's impossible to imagine a Cardinal coming near this mark. Since Musial's career ended only Lou Brock has topped 100 triples with the Cardinals, finishing at 121; after that there's just Willie McGee, with 83.
5. Lou Brock's 888 stolen bases. The flip-side of McGwire's 70 home runs, Brock's stolen bases came in a historical moment that was uniquely suited for relentless, reckless base-stealing. It was before the home run made stolen bases a dangerous proposition; before purist baseball fans made Astroturf an anathema; before sabermetrics calculated the exact break-even point for bag-thievery.
And it came from a player who arrived fully-formed at that exact moment and kept outrunning the baseball until he was 40 years old. Unless the next Busch Stadium's center field wall is 500 feet from home plate we're unlikely to see a challenger to Brock's career or single-season records any time soon.
6. Bob Gibson's 1.12 ERA. Gibby's 1968 would be one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time no matter where it had occurred-in Coors Field circa 2000, at the height of the Dead Ball Era, in Silver King's pitching box-but that impossible number 1.12, half again as low as his next-lowest ERA, came in the canonical Year of the Pitcher, the season everyone stopped scoring runs at once.
That year the Cardinals' top slugging percentage belonged to Lou Brock, who scraped out a .418 mark thanks to his 14 triples. Their top run producer was Mike Shannon, who drive in 79, and their top scorer was Brock, who needed every part of those 14 triples, 46 doubles, and 62 stolen bases to score 92 runs. And that was the fourth best offense in the National League! Meanwhile, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers each managed a lower team OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) than light-hitting Mike Matheny did in his career.
It was a different kind of baseball, and the year it happened Bob Gibson was the most dominant pitcher on planet earth. The only way anyone will ever approach it again is if every hitter in Major League Baseball simultaneously forgets Babe Ruth existed, and begins slapping the ball to the infielders and trying to run out ground balls.
John Tudor is the only other starter since World War II to appear on the Cardinals' top-ten single-season ERA list, with his brilliant season in 1985.
That's just one of the records Bob Gibson isn't likely to relinquish any time soon. His complete games and shutouts are untouchable, in the seven-reliever era, and with 250 innings tougher to reach every season his 3884.1 would require a starter to lead the league about 15 seasons running. And while he's at it-his 24 home runs as a pitcher lead Cardinals starters by just as wide a margin.
7. Jesse Burkett's 185 singles. If you want to know what players like Jesse Burkett, turn-of-the-century star of the St. Louis Perfectos and Browns, looked like, imagine Ichiro. Burkett's 185 singles in 1899 are the 12th most any player has ever managed in a single season, and the only players on the same list are "Wee" Willie Keeler, Lloyd Waner, and-Ichiro, 100 years removed from all those 19th-century stars.
Ichiro aside, unless the Cardinals sign their own slap-hitting savant the days of 185 singles in 221 base hits are probably over.
8. Albert Pujols's Intentional Walks. Pujols has all those unbreakable and nigh-unbreakable Stan Musial records to deal with, but there's one place in which he's already made his mark: Intentional walks.
A relatively recent introduction into the baseball record books, Pujols averaged 24 intentional walks a year in his first 10 seasons, as National League pitchers found themselves increasingly terrified of the Cardinals' first baseman, peaking at 44.
But with sabermetric thought increasingly turned against the intentional walk as a strategy, Pujols may be the last of the Cardinals' stars to get avoided quite so frequently. It's impossible to tell yet whether the intentional walk is tomorrow's stolen base, but that's how records work.
Records are made to be broken because the moment you can't reach them they become impossible to fathom-they cease to become records at all, at least of anything you can imagine.
Short of stepping into a time machine, dressing yourself in an exceedingly baggy, heavy uniform with a tiny wool cap, and swinging an impossibly heavy bat against Silver King yourself, it's impossible to know what winning 45 games in a season-pitching almost half your team's games-even looks like. Only a few years after the fact it's become difficult to consider anybody hitting 60 home runs in a season, let alone 70.
These records might be dormant, or little more than relics of baseball's many different phases, but that's never once kept Cardinals fans from celebrating the weirdest and most outstanding.