Imagine you are given the responsibility to select an all-time starting rotation and pitching staff for the St. Louis Cardinals. Your selected staff would then have to compete against the other selected teams in a fantasy format. Who would you select? Who were the best Cardinal pitchers throughout history?
The rules here are simple. Starting pitchers must have logged 1,000 innings for the team in order to be selected. You may select pitchers from any era of the Cardinals existence, including the pre-modern era. The effectiveness of the pitcher is limited to his work for your team, not his entire career. Relief pitchers must have logged 250 games to be considered for your team.
The Cardinals are a team rich in baseball history. St. Louis today is considered to be one of the best baseball towns in the country. The fans are involved, knowledgeable, and respect their opponents and good baseball players from around the league. No higher compliment could be paid to a city’s fan base.
The team got its beginnings in the American Association as the Brown Stockings in 1882. They won four pennants and one postseason title as the Browns in the American Association, 1883-1891.
In 1892 as part of restructuring, they moved to the National League, and remained the Browns for seven more seasons. In 1899 they were called the Perfectos, and in 1900 they landed on the name we know the team by today, the Cardinals.
After that early success, due in large part to the pitching trio of Bob Caruthers, Silver King and Dave Foutz, there was quite a drought in success until the latter '20s came along.
From 1926-1946 the Cardinals won nine National League pennants. They were blessed with some of the game’s great position players during this era—Jim Bottomly, Rogers Hornsby, Frankie Frisch, Rabbit Maranville, Chick Hafey, Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin, Marty Marion, Red Schoendienst, Stan Musial, and Enos Slaughter.
The Cardinals were one of the first teams to develop an active farm system that helped them reload with great players. I was especially impressed with how good Bottomly and Hafey were without knowing much about them. Hornsby was only with the team for the ’26 World Series title.
These Cardinals teams had good pitching and good pitching depth. Usually they were featuring at least three or four starters with winning records and quality stats. The ’26 team featured Flint Rhem, a 20 game winner, Bill Sherdel, Jesse Haines, and Pete Alexander. Yes, this is the Pete Alexander who won 373 games in his career.
The Cardinals seemed to have a propensity for hiring older pitchers at this time. They later hired Burleigh Grimes, and caught Dazzy Vance at the end of his career. They were also very loyal to Jesse Haines, who established a long and successful career with the team, and became known as “Papa” Haines.
Older pitchers were not featured on the “ gas-house gang” team of 1934. It was Dizzy and Paul Dean who led the way. I think it was Dizzy Dean who predicted they would win 45 games between them—they won 49!
The next wave of great St. Louis teams came at the end of the '30s. Although they had to wait for the Reds winning the pennant in ’39 and ’40, the Cardinals from ’39-’49 finished first four times and second six times! They were undoubtedly the NL team of the decade of the 1940s.
Although the main reason for the team’s success was their great position players, they also featured effective pitching. Some of the pitchers leading the way for the ‘40s Cardinals were Mort Cooper, who won 20 games yearly from ’42-’44, Lon Warneke who continued to post winning seasons for the Cardinals after leaving the Cubs, Howie Pollet, Red Munger, Harry Brecheen, and Al Brazle.
Harry Brecheen had some very effective years, as did Al Brazle, who also doubled in relief quite often. Brecheen won three games in the ’46 series against Boston. This was a series that obviously headlined Williams against Musial.
In the '60s, the team had some dominant pitching that brought them to three pennants, in ’64, ’67, and ’68. Bob Gibson was the epitome of dominant during the '60s. He was joined by fine pitching from Curt Simmons, Ray Washburn, Nelson Briles, and Steve Carlton.
Gibson’s exploits in the three World Series are stuff of legend. I can specifically remember watching the ’67 series when he pitched three complete game victories over the Red Sox. A great series!
The next year was equally as great a series. Gibson started off game one striking out 17 Detroit Tigers, a World Series single game record to this day.
The Cardinals have featured many successful teams since the '60s. The '80s saw them in the World Series three times. They were led by the pitching of John Tudor, Joaquin Andujar, and Bob Forsch, as well as relievers Bruce Sutter and Todd Worrell.
In the 2000s the Cardinals have been one of the most successful teams of the decade, led primarily by Matt Morris and Chris Carpenter, with help closing from Jason Isringhausen.
Chris Carpenter is one good season from being eligible for this list. He needs another 130+ innings.
OK. We’ve had a whirlwind tour through the highlights of Cardinal history. Now let’s get down to the nuts and bolts decisions; picking the all-time starting rotation and staff.
The early years’ rotation—prior to 1950:
1 – Dizzy Dean – 1930-’37 – 134W; ERA+ 132; 23 SHO – Dean had a bright meteoric career that flashes through the 1930s. HOF
2 – Jesse Haines – 1920-’37 – 210W; ERA+108; 24 SHO – Haines pitched in four World Series and became a much beloved symbol for the team. HOF
3 – Harry Brecheen – 1940-’52 – 128W; ERA+133; 25 SHO – Harry’s #s are very similar to Dean’s, just ten years and a different era later.
4 – Mort Cooper – 1938-’45 – 105W; ERA+133; 28 SHO – Mort spearheaded the Cardinals resurgence along with Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter. He was a true ace.
5 – Dave Foutz – 1884-’87 – 114W; ERA+136; 16 SHO – Foutz led the pitching trio including King and Caruthers for the early dynasty Browns of the American Association.
The spot starter/relief pitcher role goes to Al Brazle who helped define that role in baseball history for the Cardinals of ’43-’54. He posted 97W and an ERA+120, pitching in 441 games. Bill Doak (1913-1929) gets honorable mention for his 144W and 30 shutouts.
The modern starting rotation—post 1950:
1 – Bob Gibson – 1959-’75 – 251W; ERA+127; 56 SHO – Gibson’s career looms over Cardinals history as the one all-time great career. He was the second pitcher ever to 3000 Ks. HOF
2 – Matt Morris – 1997-’05 – 101W; ERA+117; 8 SHO – Morris was good innings eater and strong pitcher for the team.
3 – Larry Jackson – 1955-’62 – 101W; ERA+113; 15 SHO – Jackson was one of the better pitchers of the 60s. He got his start with St. Louis before moving on to the Cubs and Philadelphia. He totaled 194 wins and 37 shutouts by the time he retired.
4 – Bob Forsch – 1974-’88 – 163W; ERA+101; 19 SHO – Forsch falls into that innings eater mold that kept the team in many games.
5 – Ernie Broglio – 1959-’64 – 70W; ERA+119; 18 SHO – the man traded to the Cubs for Lou Brock in ’64 actually earns his way on this list, winning 21 games, and third in the Cy Young voting in ’60, and 18 in ’63 for the Cardinals. He was done with the game by ’66 after much abuse from the Cubs fans.
Spot starter – Curt Simmons – ’60-’66 with 69W.
The Cardinals have hosted some of the game’s best relievers at least for part of their careers. The top spot here really has to go to Jason Isringhausen, who tops the team list with 217 saves, an ERA+ of 143 and 408 IP. Backing him up is Todd Worrell who posted 129 saves for the team with an ERA+144 and 425 IP. Mopping up will be Bruce Sutter with 127 saves, an ERA+132, and 396 IP.
Being claimed by other teams will be the likes of Lee Smith and Dennis Eckersley.
The all-time St. Louis Cardinal starting rotation:
1 – Bob Gibson – a true ace of any all-time staff.
2 – Dizzy Dean – One of the top three pitchers in the game when he was at his best.
3 – Jesse Haines – His 210 wins and success as a big game pitcher bode well for his position on the all-time staff.
4 – Harry Brecheen – He was as effective as Dizzy Dean, but in the '40s.
5 – Mort Cooper – He was the ace of the resurgent Cardinals entering the '40s, and on three World Series teams.
Spot starters – Dave Foutz, Howie Pollet, Matt Morris, Al Brazle
Relievers – Jason Isringhausen, Todd Worrell, Bruce Sutter
Throughout their history the story for the Cardinals has been that their success has been led by their great position players, great managers, and strong if not great pitching. While this combination has led to one of the most successful franchises in baseball, it hasn’t left us with the strongest pitching staff. It’s spunky, and will hold its own, but not dominant after Gibson.
The fact is three of the starting five had careers under 2,000 innings. When comparing all-time staffs, these are short careers, albeit quite successful. It probably belies that there could be a need for pitching depth down the road. The Cardinal’s depth is average at best.
The relief pitching will be helpful in matching up with other teams already studied from the NL.
If Chris Carpenter continues unimpeded by further injury, he would make a great addition to the all-time rotation. Four more good years could put him near No. 4 on the rotation. With Carpenter in place, you could do a lot worse than Harry Brecheen as your fifth all-time starter!
The Cardinal’s history continues to be made. They are certainly in a cycle of success right now. Adam Wainwright joined Carpenter as an elite pitcher last season. There is room on the staff for more great pitching. Let’s watch and see what develops in the future.