It's always intresting to compare teams of different eras. It's a science without any proven method. There is no right or wrong way to go about it–except there is no right way. We will never know how a core of Pujols, Edmonds, and Rolen would have fared against a rotation headlined by Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton. Rather than blabber about this stat or that stat, I returned to the computer. I recently wrote about my experience using a computer simulation running until 2116 on a game called OOTP 17, a PC baseball simulator.
This season OOTP 17 added a feature to their annual game: a historical exhibition mode. Using player ratings based on real life player performance, you can pit any two teams from 1901 to the present against one another. That's when I got the idea of creating a bracket to determine the greatest Cardinal team ever. This was a mini-project I started in July that never got off the ground...until now.
To fill out a field of 32 teams I used the following selection process.
- The 11 Cardinal championships teams received the top 11 seeds.
- The other 8 Cardinals pennant teams received the next 8 highest seeds.
- Seeds 20-32 were the teams with the highest win-percentage not already selected.
- Seeding order was determined by win-percentage.
- In the event of a tie between two teams, run differential was the tiebreaker. (Example: the 2013 and 1968 Cardinals both had a win-percentage of .599. The 2013 team had a run differential of +187 compared to the 1968 team's +111 run differential, so 2013 was seeded higher.)
- The one exception to this tiebreaker procedure was the tie between the 2001 and 1963 teams for the 32nd seed–these two played a tiebreaker match.
- The tournament itself used a standard single elimination bracket. This means three things: 1) The 1 seed plays the 32 seed, the 2 seed plays the 31 seed, and so on. 2) Unlike an NHL-styled bracket, the matchups don't reset based on seeding each round. 3) Once you lose a match you're out for good. There was a 3rd place match, however, for the two semifinal losers.
- For the sake of consistency, each team had to win a best-of-seven match. To win a match you need to win four of seven sets. Each set is series where you need to win four of seven individual baseball games. I really hope that makes sense. If not, look at it this way: treat each set like its own World Series, a best-of-seven series. You need to win four of those series to move on. I did this so results wouldn't be based off an essentially random single series.
- I know that's a lot of words so I'll just shut up and show you the bracket:If you want an interactive bracket click here, but this link contains spoilers.
- This round went as expected with one pretty big exception: the favorite to win the tournament was eliminated in round 1. The 1942 Cardinals went 106-48 while leading the league in runs scored and runs allowed–and they were ousted by the 2001 team. Led by the the arms of Matt Morris and Darryl Kile and an offense including rookie Albert Pujols, the 2001 team staved off elimination in Set 6 before sweeping the top seed in a decisive 7th set.
- Though they were expected to lose, it's worth noting the #11 (2006) and #7 (1926) seeds both fell in the Round of 32.
- The #5 ranked 1967 Cards barely escaped with a win over the 2002 team. After falling behind 3 sets to 1, the 1967 team rallied to win the next 3 sets (each one 4 games to 3) to advance. The 2002 Cardinals went 0-5 in games that would have sealed the match.
- Frankie Frisch hit a 10th inning, walk-off single to win the match for the 1931 team.
- The 1985 Cardinals seemingly had Set 1 locked up when they won the first 3 games. After blowing a 9th inning lead in Game 4, the 1987 team came back to force a Game 7. In Game 7, the 1985 team lost in 13 innings despite coming an out away from winning twice. They would never recover, as the 1987 Cards won in 6 sets.
- Here is the bracket after the Round of 32:
- In what became a showdown between Bob Gibson and Joaquin Andujar, the 1982 Cardinals took down fellow world champion 1964 in 6 sets, with the last 4 coming down to a 7th game.
- The 2011 team blew a 3-0 lead in Set 5 and was eliminated by the 1939 Cardinals in 6 sets. The bullpen proved to be the achilles heel for the 2011 Cards.
- After getting swept in the first 2 sets, the 1946 team rallied past the 2004 Cards to win 4 of the final 5 sets.
- Here's the bracket after the Round of 16:
- The 1982 Cardinals lack of power was exposed by the lights out starting pitching the 1968 team rode to the semifinals.
- Although World War 2 drained the 1943 lineup of its starpower, its rotation proved deeper than the 1946 team's staff as the 1943 Cardinals won in 5 gritty sets.
- Trailing 3 games to 1 in Set 5, Stan Musial led the 1944 Cardinals to a comeback as they won Games 5-7 by a combined score of 33-4. Light-hitting catcher Ken O'Dea won the match with a late go-ahead homer in the clinching game to send the 1944 team to the semifinals.
- After letting their 3-0 lead slip away in Set 1, the 1931 Cardinals trailed Game 7 entering the bottom of the 11th. A 2-out walk tied the game and a walk-off balk won the set. The 1931 team would also blow a 3-0 lead in Set 3 and this time lose Game 7. Now down 2 sets to 1, the bats of Musial and rightfielder George Watkins paired with great pitching by rookie starter Paul Derringer led the 1931 Cards to a 6 set win over the 1949 team.
- Here's the bracket after the Quarterfinals:
- The matchup between the 1968 and 1943 teams was defined by one thing: pitching. Set 2 began with a duel between Bob Gibson and Mort Cooper–Game 1 was scoreless until the 17th inning. The 1968 Cardinals won Set 2 on an Orlando Cepeda homer in the 13th inning. The 1968 team cruised to the championship, winning the match in 5 sets.
- Amidst all the chaos on the bracket's top half, the bottom half saw the #2 and #3 seeds in the final 4. The second semifinal between 1944 and 1931 was another low scoring match, with the 1944 rotation's back end leading the way as they marched on to the finals in 5 sets.
- Here's the bracket after the semifinals:
- The match for 3rd place was the funnest (I have no problem saying funnest) match of the entire tournament. The series was filled with dingers, comebacks, walk-offs, and late inning dramatics that culminated in a 4-1 victory for the 1943 team.
- Scratch whatever I said about the semifinals being low scoring. This was a Championship Match where 2 runs would win you a game–score 3 or 4 runs and it's game over. After evening the match with a dominant Set 2 win, the 1968 Cardinals took a commanding 3-0 lead in Set 3. Coming an inning away from winning 4 times, the 1968 team could never close it out as the 1944 Cards rallied to win the set 4-3. The 1944 team rode the hot bat of first baseman Ray Sanders to take a 3 set to 1 lead over the 1968 Birdos. Set 5 went to a 7th game, which the 1944 team won behind a Mort Cooper shutout. So there you have it: the 1944 Cardinals win the tournament.
- Click here for the final bracket.
Thank you for reading. If you want more of my shenanigans you can follow me on Twitter @Tyler_Opinion