History

Under the arch that signifies the Gateway to the American West, the St. Louis Cardinals have provided a gateway to baseball excellence. From Rickey to La Russa, Hornsby to Musial, McGwire to Pujols, the Cardinals have forged a legacy of winning unmatched in the National League — 17 pennants (most in the senior circuit), 10 world championships, 10 division titles and 37 Hall of Famers.

The Cardinals joined the National League in 1891 after a decade playing in the American Association as the Brown Stockings. They picked up the nickname of Cardinals after changing uniform colors from brown to a scarlet red in 1900. The color change didn’t help. The Cards languished in the second division for 20 years. What did help was the arrival of Branch Rickey, first as manager (1919) and then in the front office (1925), where he laid the foundation for the team’s success by establishing a deeply rooted farm system.

The first jewel of the system was Rogers Hornsby. From 1920-25 this Hall of Famer hit over .400 three times (he hit .397 and .384 the other two years), and posted the 20th Century’s highest batting mark — .424 in 1924. He won Triple Crowns in 1922 and 1925. He retired with the National League’s highest career average (.358 — second in the major leagues to Ty Cobb) and seven batting titles (six in a row from 1920-25).

Hornsby replaced Rickey as manager in 1925, and led the Redbirds to their first World Series championship against the Yankees the next year. After the Series, Rickey surprised the baseball world by trading Hornsby to the Giants for Frankie Frisch, whose arrival signaled the beginning of a storied era in Cardinal history. The time of the “Gashouse Gang” was on its way. This collection of hard-nosed, slightly off-beat characters were known as much for their crazy antics as for their baseball talent. The group included Pepper Martin, Leo Durocher, Joe Medwick, and the Dean brothers, Dizzy and Daffy.

Dizzy Dean’s best season was 1934, when he won 30 games while his brother Daffy won 19. Dizzy Dean would win 28 and 24 games in 1935-36 before a foot injury derailed his pitching career in 1937. Medwick would drive in more than 100 runs for six consecutive seasons while always besting the .300 mark. His “crowning” season was 1937, when his .374 average, 31 home runs and 154 runs batted in (along with 256 hits and 56 doubles) earned him the Triple Crown.

The Gashouse Gang won pennants in 1930-31 and met the powerful Philadelphia Athletics in both World Series. They lost in 1930 but won the rematch with Martin hitting .500 and driving in five runs. Three years later, the Cards won a close pennant race against the Giants and defeated the Detroit Tigers in seven games.

As the Gang began to run out of gas, the Cardinal farm system brought up a new generation of Hall of Fame talent, allowing St. Louis a period of National League domination few teams have matched. Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter brought the big bats, and lanky shortstop Marty Marion anchored a dependable defense. But it was the arrival of a 20-year-old outfielder from Donora, Pennsylvania in 1941 that forever changed the National League record books.

By the time Stan Musial retired 22 seasons later, he held 29 National League records and 17 major league marks. Among his accomplishments were 3,630 hits (the National League record when he retired), seven batting titles, 475 home runs (sixth when he retired), three Most Valuable Player awards and a record 24 All-Star games.

With this talent, the Cardinals won three consecutive pennants (1942-44) and another in 1946. The 1942 team is one of the best in National League history, winning 106 games and the World Championship. In 1943 they won 105 before losing the Series to the Yankees. In 1944 they defeated the cross-town Browns in the only all-St. Louis World Series. The 1946 Cards finished in a first-place tie with Brooklyn, and defeated the Dodgers two straight in baseball’s first-ever league playoff series before defeating the Red Sox in seven games.

St. Louis fielded competitive teams in the 1950’s, but it was an infusion of talent late in that decade — players such as Tim McCarver, Curt Flood, Bill White and Bob Gibson that put the team in three Fall Classics during the 1960s. After the Phillies’ monumental collapse in the 1964 pennant race, the Cards measured the Yankees in seven games, and three years later did the same thing to the Boston Red Sox.

In 1968, the Tigers turned the tables with a seven-game Series win after trailing three games to one. That marked Bob Gibson’s signature season in which he won 22 games, had 268 strikeouts and worked to a microscopic ERA of 1.12, third lowest ever posted for a season. Gibson would close out his Hall of Fame career in 1975 with 251 victories.

It would take Whitey Herzog’s collection of speed merchants, known as the “Runnin’ Redbirds”, to put the Cardinals on top once again in 1982. In an era defined by home runs, the Cards hit a major league low of 67, but stole 200 bases in sprinting their way to their ninth world championship. Herzog’s speed game, dubbed “Whiteyball,” also delivered pennants in 1985 and 1987, but World Series losses followed both years..

Tony La Russa has been the Cards manager since 1996 and seven times he had led them to the National League’s Central Division title (1996, 2000, 2002, 2004, 2005, 2006 and 2009), with two World Series appearances. That was 2004, when the Red Sox finally exacted some revenge for 1946 and 1967 with a four game sweep. And 2006, when the Tigers were on the receiving end of revenge for a Cards loss from 1968.

Baseball in the La Russa era has been exciting and always competitive. After he came to St. Louis in a 1997 trade, Mark McGwire smashed one of the game’s most hallowed records, slamming a single-season record 70 home runs in 1998. Today fans can enjoy the batting exploits of Albert Pujols, who has put together one of the best 10-year starts (through 2010) in major league history with 408 homers, 1,230 runs batted in and a .331 batting average.