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They went from fifth place to a world championship. Their manager had taken over the team for the last two months of the previous seasons. They were a team with two, but only two bonafide stars - a starting pitcher and an outfielder. They also featured a switch-hitting second baseman who provided outstanding defense, but the rest of the lineup consisted of solid journeymen and a few youngsters...

This all sounds strangely familiar, for some reason.

The St Louis Cardinals had won the World Series in 1931: they went 101-53 during the season and then defeated the mighty Philadelphia A's in a series best remembered (remembered? Not too many people now alive actually remember the 1931 Series) for how the Cardinals baserunners, especially Pepper Martin, drove A's catcher Mickey Cochrane stark raving mad.

But the Cardinals had slipped since that glorious fall. One of the problems was money. The Cards were on an austerity kick, and Branch Rickey didn't have a lot of money to work with. Chick Hafey had led the NL in hitting in 1931, and been offered a $500 raise to $13,000 a year as his reward. Hafey had held out for $15,000 the year before winning the batting championship; for 1932 he wanted $17,000. There was little chance that Branch Rickey could meet that demand, and Rickey traded Hafey to Cincinnati in April 1932. Burleigh Grimes was 37 years old in 1931; he had gone 17-9 but Rickey traded him after the season for Bud Teachout and Hack Wilson. Teachout pitched one game for the Cardinals; Wilson was sold to Brooklyn for $45,000 and a minor leaguer.

In 1932, they fell all the way to 72-82 and 6th place in the NL. The Cards had scored 815 runs in 1931; they scored 684 in 1932. To fully compound the disaster, they gave up an extra 100 runs, going from 614 allowed to 717 allowed. First baseman Jim Bottomley, besides Hafey the other key hitter from the 1931 champs, began to show his age in 1932, and midway through the season the Cards began to ease Ripper Collins into the first base job. Outfielder Pepper Martin missed almost half the year with injuries, and hit just .238. Wild Bill Hallahan, whose 19 wins had led the NL in 1931, missed some time and won just 12 games. Paul Derringer, 18-8 as a rookie in 1931, ran into some kind of sophomore jinx going just 11-14.

The Cards did introduce a couple of very promising youngsters. Rookie pitcher Dizzy Dean went 18-15 and led the league in strikeouts; and a 20 year old outfielder named Joe Medwick made an impressive debut that September, hitting .349 in 26 games.

They were a little better in 1933, but not much. In April, Rickey traded Derringer to the Reds as part of a six-player deal that netted the Cards a good-field no-hit shortstop named Leo Durocher, who had started his career with the Murderer's Row Yankees of Ruth and Gehrig. In late July, with the Cards in fifth place with a 46-45 record, manager Gabby Street was replaced at the helm by veteran second baseman Frank Frisch. The Cards played a little better over the final two months, going 36-26 to finish up with an 82-71 record. They were still in fifth place.

There was some good news: Tex Carleton, 10-13 as a rookie in 1932, took a step forward winning 17 games. Bill Hallahan bounced back from his troubles to go 16-8. Dizzy Dean was 20 games and led the league in strikeouts again. Pepper Martin moved from the outfield to third base and also had a fine comeback season.

Still, going into 1934, they didn't exactly look like favourites. Here's the roster:

Catcher - Virgil "Spud" Davis, 29 years old, had been reacquired from Philadelphia in December 1933, in exchange for catcher Jimmie Wilson. This was the second time the two players had been traded for each other: the first time had been in 1928, before Davis had established himself as a regular. While Wilson had backstopped the Cards to their 1931 championship. Davis posted some very impressive hitting numbers in Philadelphia's Baker Bowl. These, however, need to be viewed with the same kind of suspicion as numbers posted in Coors Field. He was very slow, however, and there were concerns about his defense and his ability to run a pitching staff. The Cards also had a 22 year old rookie named Bill DeLancey, who had been part of their outstanding Columbus Redbirds team in the American Association. DeLancey had hit .285 with 21 HR and 97 RBI in Columbus- he was a LH batter with good defensive skills.

First Base Ripper Colins had moved Jim Bottomley aside in mid 1932. Collins, a switch-hitter, was 28 at the time, in his first full season in the majors, and hit .279 with 21 HR and 91 RBI. In his second year, he had lifted his average up to .310 but lost much of his power, falling to 10 HR and 68 RBI. In 1934, Collins was 30 years old and looked very much like most of the other NL first baseman. They weren't a distinguished. Giants playing manager Bill Terry was clearly the class of the field. The others were all more or less interchangeable. Jim Bottomley and Charlie Grimm had been pretty good, and Dolph Camilli would be even better. The others - Sam Leslie, Buck Jordan, Gus Suhr - were players who hit for decent averages with little or no pop. Collins didn't exactly stand out in this group.

Second Base - Frank Frisch was the manager, as well as the second baseman. It is remarkable how many teams were managed by players in the 1930s. In 1934, we have the Cards, Giants (Bill Terry), Cubs (Charlie Grimm), Phillies (Jimmie Wilson), and Reds (Bob O'Farrell) - Pie Traynor would take over the Pirates job in mid-season. Frank Frisch had been an outstanding player in his prime - he was, more or less, the Roberto Alomar of the 1920s, an outstanding defender and baserunner, and a slashing switch-hitter. However, the Fordham Flash was 35 years old when play began in 1934. While he was still maintaining a .300 average, his speed and power was clearly declining.

Shortstop - Leo Durocher had a good glove but couldn't hit a lick. He had no power, didn't steal bases, didn't take a lot of walks, and could only hit better than .250 if he was having a good year. He was 28 years old, and in six seasons he had hit a total of 8 HRs; the .258 he had hit with the Cards in 1933 was his best performance since his rookie year with the Yankees in 1928.

Third Base - Leadoff hitter Pepper Martin had been a 27 year old rookie when he was the sensation of the 1931 World Series. After an injury-plagued 1932, the Cards moved him from centre field to third base in 1933. As we all know, outfield to third base conversions almost never work (although the Cardinals would do it successfully in the late 1960s with Mike Shannon.) Martin was a right-handed line drive hitter whose plate discipline came and went. He was also the most aggressive baserunner in the game.

Right Field - The Cards had tried replacing Chick Hafey with George Watkins for the past two seasons. That hadn't worked out. Now Jack Rothrock would get a shot. Rothrock, a 29 year old switch-hitter, had come up with the Red Sox as a multi-position utility man. He had spent parts of 8 years in the AL. His best year had been 1929, when he .300 with 6 HR. Eventually, he had been sold to the minors in 1932. He spent 1933 in Columbus, had an outstanding season there, batting .347 with 11 HR and 94 RBI. Now he was back in the major leagues.

Centre Field - The Cards planned to platoon little LH hitter Ernie Orsatti and defensive whiz Kiddo Davis. Orsatti was 30 years old and really didn't do anything besides hit singles. He could do that well enough, at least against RH pitchers. But he had no power at all, didn't get on base much, and wasn't much of a base stealer. Kiddo Davis was a similar player, only right-handed.

Left field - Here was where the Cards had their young star - Joe "Ducky Wucky" Medwick. Medwick was just 22 years old, but was clearly an up and coming offensive force, a line drive hitter, an RBI man, and an explosive competitor. 1933 had been his first full season - he had hit .306 with 18 HR and 98 RBI.

Besides DeLancey and Davis, the bench featured a young infielder named Burgess Whitehead, who had also been part of Columbus' AA team where he had hit .346. The pitching staff also had a true star, a former star, some promising young arms, and a couple of ancient relics.

The Ace - Dizzy Dean. The one and only. Everybody knows a little about Ol' Diz. He was born Jerome Herman Dean... or Jay Hanna Dean.... in 1910... or was it 1911? Who knew? As Diz explained, all these reporters had come asking him questions and he wanted to give each of them an exclusive.

Dizzy Dean was a great pitcher. There's really no doubt about that, but let's emphasize the point. As everyone knows, a line drive off the bat of Earl Averill in the 1937 All-Star Game fractured his toe. ("Fractured? Hell, the damn thing's broke" Dizzy exclaimed.) He was back on the mound three weeks later trying to pitch through it, and permanently damaged his arm. Up to that point he was absolutely sensational. He was 27 years old, with a 133-68 lifetime record. His raw strikeout numbers don't look all that impressive, but neither do Lefty Grove's. The 1930s was a low strikeout era. Dean only pitched five full seasons, but he led the NL in Ks four straight years, and was second the other time. He led the league in wins twice, and in saves once.

# 2 Starter - Paul Dean, Dizzy's little brother, had a very fine year for Columbus in 1933 (22-7, 3.15, with 222 Ks.) He would get his shot at the major leagues in 1934. Like his brother, he featured an excellent fastball and good control - Paul didn't have Dizzy's outstanding curve and change. He was just 20 years old in the spring of 1934.

# 3 Starter Tex Carleton, age 27, had put together a nice sophomore season in 1933. He was basically a power pitcher, hard thrower, although the conditions of the 1930s disguise that fact. In 1933, Carleton worked 277 IP and fanned 147 batters. Not only was he third in the league in strikeouts; his ratio of 4.78 Ks per 9 innings was also third best in the league. It was hard to strike out batters back then.

# 4 Starter) - Wild Bill Hallahan did not get his nickname from his lifestyle. This was how he pitched. In his three healthy seasons, he had led the NL in walks each time. He led the NL in strikeouts as well in 1931, and he was 62-38 in his four seasons in the rotation. However, his K rate had dropped signifcantly after he turned 30 and he would struggle through much of 1934.

# 5 Starter - Bill Walker, a 30 year old LH acquired from the Giants after the 1932 season. He had led the league in ERA in 1929 and 1931, but had put together a pair of mediocre seasons since then.

The other available arms included Jim Mooney, Flint Rhem, and some old guys: 40 year olds Burleigh Grimes and Jesse "Pop" Haines. Frank Frisch had never run a pitching staff, and didn't really use a bullpen. Haines and Mooney worked mainly in relief, but his true relief ace was Dizzy Dean, who would make 33 starts and 17 relief appearances. His 7 shutouts led the league; his 7 saves were second.

Dizay pitched and won on Opening Day. The Cards then lost 7 of their next 8 games, and Frisch began a year long program of juggling his starting pitchers. Paul Dean lost his first start and went straight to the bullpen. The lefties Hallahan and Walker along with righties Carleton and Dizzy were the starters. But in early May, a line drive off Joe Medwick's bat in BP broke Walker's arm. He would miss the next two months. Paul Dean got another shot in the rotation and won nine in a row. When Walker returned in July, Wild Bill Hallahan, who had been struggling, became a spot starter for the most part.

As for the lineup, Rothrock proved a solid if unspectacular contributor in RF, and the rookie DeLancey played well enough to eventually claim the lion's share of the catching job. He was aided by the fact that Dizzy Dean did not like Spud Davis' work behind the plate, and, being Dizzy, he said so. Loudly and often. In the outfield, Kiddo Davis played hardly at all and was traded in June for Chick Fullis. Fullis and Orsatti would platoon in centre for the rest of the year. Frisch, Durocher, and Martin all had solid seasons. The real story in the lineup was: a) the continuing development of Ducky Wucky Medwick, who would hit .319 with 106 RBI and 76 extra base hits, and: b) the totally unforeseen performance of Ripper Collins. In two and a half seasons, Collins had hit a total of 35 homers. He hit that many in 1934 alone. He also hit .333 with 128 RBIs. He would never approach any of these figures again in his career. But in 1934, he would lead the NL in HRs, total bases, and slugging. Go figure.

On the mound, Dizzy was the constant. From May through late July he won 17 of 18 decisions. Two of those victories he would not have received under modern scoring rules, although in both cases he was more deserving of the W than the man who would have been awarded it today. (In the 1930s, the winning pitcher was still an official scorer's judgement call.)

Dizzy was also a source of... distractions? On August 13, the Cardinals were to take a train to Detroit to play an exhibition game against the Tigers. The Dean brothers had both pitched the day before, and refused to make the trip. The Cards promptly suspended them both, fining Dizzy $100 and Paul $50. Dizzy was also charged for the two uniforms he had torn up - the first because he was angry, the second for the benefit of photographers who weren't around when he tore up the first one. Dizzy appealed his fine and suspension to Comissioner Landis. Paul, after a few days, paid his fine and returned to the lineup. Diz sat out until Landis ruled against him, and grudgingly returned to the club on August 20.

It wasn't that the Cardinals looked like they were actually going to win. They were having a good year, after their rocky start, and had settled in at third place about 7 games behind the league leading Giants. By the 15th of September, with about two weeks left, they had moved up to second place. But the Giants were still 5.5 games in front.

On the 16th of September, a Sunday afternoon, the Cards visited the Polo Grounds to play two. The largest crowd in the history of the Polo Grounds - 62,573 - turned out for the occasion. The Cards won both, behind the brothers Dean, 5-3 and 3-1 (in 11 innings).

The Cards were off for the next three days (the Giants won once and lost once) then played another doubleheader in Boston on Thursday. This time Tex Carleton and Bill Walker did the honors in another sweep.

On Friday, the Cards played a double header in Brooklyn. In the opener, Diz threw a three hit shutout. In the second game, Paul threw a no-hitter. "If'n I'd knowed Paul was gonna throw a no-hitter, well I'd a throwed one too" said Diz.

The Giants won their games on Thursday and Friday, but the Cards were gaining on them anyway after three straight doubleheader sweeps. The lead was down to three games. By Monday the 24th, the lead was down to two games. The Giants had four games left - two with the Phillies and two with the Dodgers. The Cards had six remaining - two with Pittsburgh and four with Cincinnati. The Dean brothers would start all but one of those six games.

On Tuesday the 25th, Dizzy beat Pittsburgh for his 28h win. The Giants loss cut the gap to one game. Both teams lost on Wednesday, the Cards behind Paul Dean now 18-11). On Thursday, Bill Walker won for the Cards as they closed to a half game back of the idle Giants. On Friday, Dizzy pitched a shutout on two days rest to bring the Cards into a tie for the lead.

In January, Bill Terry of the Giants had been asked what he thought of Brooklyn's chances in 1934. Terry had uttered the famous dismissal: "Brooklyn? Is Brooklyn still in the league?" They were. On Saturday, Van Mungo of the Dodgers beat the Giants while Paul Dean was beating the Reds. The Cardinals were in first place, and when Dizzy pitched another shutout on Sunday, this time on one day's rest it didn't matter what the Giants did. (They lost to Brooklyn, again.)

They won a memorable World Series in seven games over the Tigers - the Dean brothers each won a pair of games. Dizzy came in as a pinch runner in the fourth game, and broke up a double play by intercepting Billy Rogell's relay with his head. He was carried off the field - headlines the next day read "X-RAYS OF DEAN'S HEAD REVEAL NOTHING." He pitched and lost that day, but he shut out the Tigers in the wild final game, when Ducky Wucky Medwick slid hard into Marv Owen at third (in a 9-0 game) precipitating first a skirmish, and then a near-riot as the Detroit fans pelted him with garbage and held up proceedings until Commissioner Landis instructed Frisch to remove Medwick from the game so we could get on with it.

They were a one-year wonder. They actually won one more game in 1935, but finished behind the Cubs. The problems were already starting. Bill DeLancey became ill late in the 1935 season. He had tuberculosis. He would only play another 15 games and died on his 35th birthday. Ripper Collins went back to being what he had been before his amazing 1934 season. Paul Dean won another 19 games in 1935 - he then held out through most of spring 1936, and injured his arm trying to get ready too quickly when he finally signed. He had 38 wins by the tie he turned 22 - he would win just 12 more afterwards. Dizzy's injury came in 1937. Frank Frisch got too old to play, and proved to be a fairly inept manager. The Cards came up with impresive young talent - they still had Branch Rickey and his far-flung minor league system. They would add Enos Slaughter and Terry Moore and Johnny Mize over the next few years. But the Gas House Gang never won again.

But the Cardinals... in 1941, they came up with a kid named Stan Musial. That fixed everything.

The Gas House Gang | 17 comments | Create New Account
The following comments are owned by whomever posted them. This site is not responsible for what they say.
Jobu - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 02:26 PM EDT (#108799) #
Magpie, you know how to make a cold, wet, windy Sunday afternoon slightly less depressing. A great read. Rock on.
Mick Doherty - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 02:39 PM EDT (#108801) #
And it's a surprisingly short leap from Stan the Man Musial to wunderkind Gabe "the Babe" Gross ...
  • Stan Musial played with Bob Miller for the 1957 St. Louis Cardinals
  • Bob Miller played with Dave Winfield for the 1973 San Diego Padres
  • Dave Winfield played Pat Hentgen for the 1992 Toronto Blue Jays
  • Pat Hentgen played with Gabe Gross for the 2004 Toronto Blue Jays
Too much of a reach?
Andrew - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 04:13 PM EDT (#108818) #
Well, maybe, because I don't think Hentgen and Gross necessarily played together; Hentgen retired before Gross got called up, or at least that's how I remember it.
Petey Baseball - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 04:37 PM EDT (#108824) #
Pete Warren back at da box

How about a game thread for tonight's opening game?

Also, could I have a show of hands of those headed to opening day on Friday? I have a sneaky suspicion it might be a real sellout this year...
Flex - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 05:03 PM EDT (#108827) #
Uh, no game tonight Pete.

As for the article: applause, applause.

Magpie, I get the sense you like digging into the baseball history. The baseball history brings you joy. Well let me tell you, the joy comes through and spreads itself around. I laughed, I was entranced. Thanks.
VBF - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 05:06 PM EDT (#108828) #
Excellent read Magpie!

Sorry to continue off topic discussion but I do have some information regarding Opening Day. There is a 99.9% chance of a sell-out on account of 49,000 tickets were sold by Friday at 2:00. That number has since increased since the seats they had reserved for flex plan buyers have been opened to the general public. I am going, along with a few friends and if you hear an annoying cowbell you will know it is me.
Petey Baseball - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 05:07 PM EDT (#108829) #

I meant for the Yanks-Sox game.

But thats cool.
Petey Baseball - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 05:13 PM EDT (#108830) #
Ditto for Magpie. I always enjoy all your work and of course your comments on here man.


Thanks for the info. However, isn't a sellout more like 55 000? I was at the Canada Day '97 game and I still maintain that was the last game that every seat at RC was filled. I think they've had a few since then, but they weren't real sellouts were they?
VBF - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 06:32 PM EDT (#108834) #
Just for the sake of keeping this thread on topic, I'm going to post my response in the Game thread if that's alright.
Willy - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 07:21 PM EDT (#108840) #
"As we all know, outfield to third base conversions almost never work (although the Cardinals would do it successfully in the late 1960s with Mike Shannon.)"

Hmmn. Wonder who you were thinking of?

A couple of others that worked: Bob Elliott (the real Bob Elliott) started out for a few seasons as an outfielder for the Pirates, and then became a good third-baseman for them, and later for the Boston Braves-–figuring importantly in their 1948 pennant. And for one season (again 1948) Andy Pafko was brought in from the outfield to play third base for the Cubs, and was splendid. I think he was the NL All-Star at third that year, with Elliott as his replacement.

They used to tell that "X-Rays show nothing" story about Yogi Berra, too. Hey, it's a good story. Spread it around.

Dizzy was a load and a half, for sure. I saw him on TV a few times--NBC Game of the Week, I think it was maybe (with Joe Garagiola?) Anyway, even as a youngster I knew that the past tense of "slide" couldn't be "slud", as Dizzy seemed convinced.

As always, Magpie, a good read.
Mick Doherty - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 08:00 PM EDT (#108842) #
When the Big Red Machine realized George Foster was gonna be an okay hitter, they moved a fella named Rose from LF to 3B and immediately won two World Series, so that worked out okay, too.
Magpie - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 09:24 PM EDT (#108851) #
Wonder who you were thinking of?

I am always thinking of a couple of Dodgers: Tommy Davis and Pedro Guerrero. Although possibly the most spectacular failure of my lifetime was when the White Sox tried to move Kenny Williams there in 1988. Williams fielded about .870 and never hit again. Ever.

Rose is a bit iffy as a success story, if only because he was returning to the infield. And for all I know, Pepper Martin may have played third in the minors.

Mike Green - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 09:39 PM EDT (#108853) #
Pepper Martin had been an infielder in the minors.

A fellow named Steven Goldleaf did a study of OF-3B conversions, reported in an Abstract in the 80s. The study showed that the great majority of the conversions failed. Bob Elliott and Mike Shannon were the clear successes. Pepper Martin was an arguable one. But, there were 20 failures, at least.

The story of the Cardinals' season was Ripper Collins. A 5'9", 165 lb. first baseman who just exploded at age 30 to slug .615, had one more good season, and then was more or less done. If this happened today, eyebrows would definitely be raised.

Nice piece, Magpie.

King Ryan - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 10:58 PM EDT (#108861) #
" Pat Hentgen played with Gabe Gross for the 2004 Toronto Blue Jays" This isn't exactly true...
Rob - Sunday, April 03 2005 @ 11:19 PM EDT (#108862) #
The same could be said for:

Josh Phelps played with Eric Crozier for the 2004 Toronto Blue Jays
Doug Mientkiewicz played with Nomar Garciaparra for the 2004 Boston Red Sox

I guess that's just how that system works.
Willy - Monday, April 04 2005 @ 12:00 PM EDT (#108900) #
"I am always thinking of a couple of Dodgers: Tommy Davis and Pedro Guerrero...."

Well, Christy Turlington I can understand...but not these two guys. Get more sleep maybe?
Mike Green - Monday, April 04 2005 @ 12:18 PM EDT (#108905) #
Well, Guerrero was converted to third, played a season and a half, and was moved back to the outfield, and then to first base. His hitting remained at the same high level, but his defence at third was, unsurprisingly, a disaster.
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