St. Louis Cardinals: 11 titles, 11 overlooked heroes
By Bill Dawson
You know about Freese and Gibson, but these players also excelled in the journey to a St. Louis Cardinals World Series win.
A common, shorthand way of distinguishing the St. Louis Cardinals’ 11 championships is to identify each with the World Series MVP.
You might think of the 2011 title as the David Freese series, the 2006 title as the David Eckstein series, and the 1964 and ‘67 Fall Classics as the Bob Gibson titles, Part 1 and Part 2.
Unfortunately, fans who recall the shiniest star of each successful postseason often forget the most essential supporting players. To remedy this, here’s a glance at 11 individuals who get too little credit for their role in each of the Redbirds’ world championships:
2011: ALLEN CRAIG, OF-PH
St. Louis over Texas, four games to three
David Freese (1.160 OPS, seven RBIs) stole the series with his edge-of-elimination triple (two outs, two strikes, down two runs) to tie Game 6 in the bottom of the ninth, and then added a legendary home run in the 11th to win it (with an assist from Lance Berkman, who singled in a run to tie it again in the 10th).
Freese has rightfully received countless standing ovations at Busch Stadium, but save some claps for Craig, who hit three home runs, drove in the winning run in Game 2, and made a leaping, against-the-wall catch (watch it here) to rob Nelson Cruz of a home run in Game 7.
2006: SCOTT ROLEN, 3B
St. Louis over Detroit, four games to one
Eckstein won the World Series MVP but Rolen would have won Comeback Player of the Postseason — if such an award existed. Two years earlier, the All-Star third baseman had gone 0-for-15 as the Cards were swept by the Red Sox in the 2004 World Series, and he’d hit just .188 with no RBIs during the 2006 NL playoffs. He was even benched for one game in the NLCS vs. the Mets.
But Rolen recovered his swing in the ‘06 World Series, batting .421 with a 1.213 OPS and sealing the Series with a seventh-inning RBI single in Game 5, which the Cardinals won 4-2 to clinch the Series.
1982 DANE IORG, DH
St. Louis over Milwaukee, four games to three
Darrell Porter (.286 BA, .775 OPS) won a Series MVP that could have, and maybe should have, gone to Joaquin Andujar, who was 2-0 with a 1.35 ERA against an epic Brewers lineup that featured five (!) players with 97 or more regular-season RBIs. But old-timers (I’m one) who recall Andujar’s efforts might have forgotten (I did) that a fellow named Dane Iorg (pronounced “orj”) hit .529 with an .882 slugging percentage and a 1.412 OPS in the seven-game series.
A career backup who never had more than 263 at-bats in a season, Iorg started five of the seven games because the ’82 Series featured a DH, creating a spot for a regular-season reserve. After the Series, Sporting News columnist Bill Conlin referred to Iorg as the “Cardinals’ sweet-swinging DH hero.”
1967: ROGER MARIS, RF
St. Louis over Boston, four games to three
You know that Maris hit 61 homers as a Yankee in 1961 to break Babe Ruth’s 34-year-old single-season home record. You might know that he won back-to-back MVPs in 1960 and ’61. But you might be surprised to know that Maris, approaching the end of his 12-year career, was one of the two Cardinals batting stars (Lou Brock was the other) in the 1967 World Series.
The ex-Yankee hit .385 with a .972 OPS and drove in seven runs — more than double that of any other Redbird — in the seven-game triumph over the Boston Red Sox. Bob Gibson won the Series MVP with one of the greatest pitching performances in postseason history (3-0, 1.00 ERA, 26 strikeouts in 27 innings) while Maris and Brock (.414 BA, 1.107 OPS, seven steals) carried the offensive end.
1964: TIM McCARVER, C
St. Louis over New York, four games to three
You know McCarver as the loquacious Hall of Fame broadcaster, but in 1964 the 22-year-old had a World Series that would have made him a shoo-in for MVP if not for Gibson’s two wins and 31 strikeouts (in 27 innings). Hitting safely in all seven games, McCarver batted .478 with a .552 on-base average and a 1.291 OPS. He won Game 5 with a three-run homer in the 10th inning, stole home in Game 7 (he had just two steals during the regular season) and played 63 innings of errorless defense.
1946: HARRY WALKER, OF
St. Louis over Boston, four games to three
Lefty starter Harry Brecheen would have been the unanimous choice for World Series MVP if they had the award back then (MLB introduced the WS MVP in 1955). Brecheen was 3-0 with a 0.45 ERA in the seven-game defeat of the Red Sox. Enos Slaughter gets loads of credit for his “mad dash” from first to score the Series-winning run with two out in the bottom of the eighth of Game 7, but it was Walker who delivered the double that scored the run.
It is sometimes reported that Slaughter scored from first on a single, but official stats — and Walker — call it a double. “That scoring-from-first-on-a-single business was just a lot of Slaughter b.s. that he made up later,” said Walker, quoted in Sports Illustrated. “He was running on the pitch, and it was a clean double in the gap.” Walker, nicknamed “The Hat,” was the Cards’ best Series regular, batting .412 with a 1.053 OPS and leading the team with six RBIs.
1944: WALKER COOPER, C
St. Louis (NL) over St. Louis (AL), four games to two
The ’44 all-St. Louis Series between the Cards and Browns was a low point for baseball titles due to the high number of star players serving in World War II. The Redbirds still had Stan Musial, though, which made this a mismatch.
The NL team won 105 regular-season games and the Browns just 89, although the underdogs did manage to win two of the first three games. Walker Cooper, younger brother of NL MVP Mort Cooper, the Cards’ ace pitcher, was arguably the best player on either side. The 6-3, 210-pound catcher hit .318 with a .900 OPS in a weak-hitting Series and handled a pitching staff that compiled an overall 1.96 ERA.
1942: JOHNNY BEAZLEY, P
St. Louis over New York, four games to one
We’d all know about Beazley if this had been a talked-about World Series, but it was a one-sided affair played in the midst of World War II. Clearly the star of this Series, the 24-year-old right-hander followed up a terrific rookie season (21-6, 2.13 ERA) by hurling two complete-game victories over the Yankees.
After pitching the deciding fifth game, Beazley was met in the locker room by Babe Ruth, long retired, who said, “Where’s that guy that whooped my Yankees?” War service and a sore arm would torpedo Beazley’s career. He won just nine more games over four seasons after 1942.
1934: PAUL DEAN, P
St. Louis over Detroit, four games to three
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You may be aware that the Dean brothers, Dizzy and Paul, won all four games against the Tigers — Diz predicted it, and gabbed about it constantly. You might assume that the elder Dean, winner of 30 regular-season games to Paul’s 19, was the leading light of the ’34 postseason and his brother just a solid second banana, but that wasn’t the case.
If they had to pick an MVP, Paul would have had a shot at the honor. Dizzy was 2-1 with a 1.73 ERA, but Paul was 2-0 with a 1.00 ERA. And though he went just one for six at the plate, Paul’s seventh-inning single drove in the winning run in Game 6, a 4-3 St. Louis win (two of the Tigers runs were unearned).
1931: BILL HALLAHAN, P
St. Louis over Philadelphia, four games to three
Pepper Martin performed about as well as any hitter could in the 1931 World Series, batting .500 (12 for 24) with five steals as the Cardinals pulled off a monumental upset over the A’s, back-to-back World Champions who had finished 107-45 in the regular season. But “Wild” Bill Hallahan did more than his share on the mound, winning two games with a 0.49 ERA and saving Game 7.
Nicknamed “Wild Bill” for a reason, Hallahan had led the NL in walks and wild pitches, as well as wins and strikeouts, during the regular season. George Talbot of the Associated Press wrote that Hallahan pitched “two of the greatest games in World Series history” but that Martin’s performance “virtually overshadowed Hallahan’s Homeric hurling.”
1926: TOMMY THEVENOW, SS
St. Louis over New York, four games to three
Pete Alexander’s 1926 World Series pitching performance (two wins and a Game 7 save) is so iconic they made a movie out of it, called The Winning Team, starring Ronald Reagan and Doris Day, in 1952 (the last part of the film is all about the Series vs. the Yankees). But Alexander deflected praise after the 1926 Series-clinching 3-2 win in which he threw two-and-a-third scoreless innings in relief.
“There’s the hero of the series,” he said, pointing out Thevenow (pronounced TEV-eh-now). “There’s the greatest shortstop in the world. There’s the kid who won the series.” He wasn’t wrong. Thevenow batted .417 with a 1.023 OPS and drove in the final two runs in the final game. He also “turned several memorable fielding plays,” wrote Warren Corbett of sabr.org, and hit an inside-the-park homer in helping the Cardinals to their first World Series Championship.
It’s a shame we don’t remember all the great moments by all the players who contributed to Cardinals crowns, but it’s understandable. Our memories aren’t bottomless, and lots of those titles happened well before our time. It’s worth remembering, though, that no matter how well Freese or Gibson or Brecheen played in a particular postseason, it takes a full team effort to win a championship. Or eleven of them.