We know that the Cardinals need starting pitching. Not just arms, either. They need highly effective, reliable starters. The Redbirds need to make a substantial upgrade for the weakest, most vulnerable area of the 2023 team that finished with the third-worst winning percentage (.438) for the franchise in a full season since the 1946 Cardinals of Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, Enos Slaughter, Marty Marion, Whitey Kurowski, Terry Moore, Joe Garagiola, Howie Pollet and Harry Brecheen won a third World Series in five years.
And I could have included the names of several other standout players on those Cardinals teams. I went this way for a reason … those men are an example of the championship pedigree that has made this franchise special.
But you know what happened after the 1946 triumph? The Cardinals didn’t win the NL pennant and World Series again until 1964. That nucleus led by Bob Gibson, Lou Brock, Curt Flood, Tim McCarver, Julian Javier and others won another pennant and World Series in 1967, and its third NL pennant of the decade in 1968. Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris were part of the ‘67 and ‘68 teams. Bill White and Ken Boyer were huge parts of the ‘64 team. In the 60s, young Steve Carlton was just getting started on an amazing Hall of Fame career.
And then … the Cardinals got lost in the 1970s. They didn’t win their next pennant and World Series until 1982. They came close again with pennants in 1985 and 1987 but lost in two World Series. The ‘82, ‘85 and ‘87 teams developed by Whitey Herzog on a platform of pitching, speed and defense. And two great ignitors in Ozzie Smith and Willie McGee, among others. At some point over those three pennant-winning seasons the Cardinals had Bruce Sutter, John Tudor, George Hendrick, Terry Pendleton, Tommy Herr, Jack Clark, Joaquin Andujar, Keith Hernandez, Darrell Porter, Tony Pena and Todd Worrell.
And then … the Cardinals failed to make the playoffs from 1988 through 1995. It’s the cycle of baseball. Up and down. It happens to the best. Through the decades an evolving cast of Hall of Fame players, icons, and great talents took the Cardinals to the top. But the years go by so fast, and then the leaders get old and retire or else move on.
And it isn’t easy to cultivate the next generation of Cardinal stars that can sustain the tradition of winning at the highest level for an extensive sequence of seasons. The Cardinals have done remarkably well in this area.
When Bill DeWitt and his group purchased the Cardinals from Anheuser-Busch before the 1996 season, DeWitt was determined to honor the franchise’s extraordinary history by trying to recreate that history with sets of new-era players.
The 1996 team was managed by Tony La Russa and had the legendary pitching coach Dave Duncan. GM Walt Jocketty got the go-ahead to bring in proven winners or just good hitters/pitchers via trades and free-agent signings. Willie McGee returned. Ozzie Smith was still making magic. The ‘96 team had younger talents such as Ray Lankford, Brian Jordan, Alan Benes and Dmitri Young. Free-agent signings included Andy Benes, Ron Gant and Gary Gaetti. Royce Clayton came over in a trade. The 1996 roster was packed with additions who were part of LaRussa’s powerhouse teams in Oakland: Dennis Eckersley, Todd Stottlemyre and Rick Honeycutt. And I know I’m leaving some other dudes out.
This aggressive, enlightened roster renovation was impressive. And it happened so quickly, with DeWitt giving the green light to Jocketty and La Russa to do what was necessary to return the Cardinals to prominence – and as soon as possible. And just like that, the Cardinals made a late-season run, won their division, knocked off the Padres in the NLDS and had a 3-1 NLCS lead over Atlanta before losing three in a row. But the turnaround – engineered over one offseason – was exciting.
Each time the Cardinals went through a lull, DeWitt and his baseball men would get to work to make things right and get the Redbirds back on track.
Just think of all of the winning in the 2000s and the players who made it possible. Albert Pujols, Yadier Molina, Chris Carpenter, Jim Edmonds, Scott Rolen, Adam Wainwright, Edgar Renteria, David Eckstein, Jason Isringhausen, Matt Morris, Jeff Suppan, Mike Matheny, Reggie Sanders … and a little later on other important players made their entrance into St. Louis: Matt Holliday, Matt Carpenter, Jon Jay, Allen Craig, David Freese, Lance Berkman, Carlos Beltran, Lance Lynn, Kyle Lohse, Jason Motte, Jaime Garcia, Trevor Rosenthal, Carlos Martinez. The parade of talent was never-ending – or so it seemed.
This is what concerns me about the state of the Cardinals. This wonderful franchise has given us many eras of excellence. And there was never a shortage of big stars – including a procession of Hall of Famers – to carry the tradition forward, earn championships and industry-wide respect, and fill two Busch Stadiums with sellout crowds and celebrations.
What will the Cardinals do now? Do you realize how many division titles, postseason games, NL pennants and World Series were won by all of the Cardinals I’ve mentioned in this column? My goodness, the magnitude of their impact was phenomenal.
But Pujols and Molina retired after the 2022 season. And Wainwright retired a year later. In many ways – and no disrespect to the team’s current leaders – these were the last vestiges of greatness that lasted for many years.
And I just wonder how the Cardinals can replace that – if it’s even possible. A rich championship pedigree is a powerful thing. It’s an identity that has attracted other players who want to be Cardinals and contribute to a winning culture and keep the high standards elevated. These leaders and franchise talisman foster the younger, newer players and teach them how to go about their business.
But with Pujols, Molina and Waino exiting the stage, it’s startling to see how little of that championship pedigree remains. I don’t know if a torch can be passed … because I don’t even know if the torch still has a spark.
Here’s a list of Cardinals players and the number of postseason victories they have in their MLB careers, and as members of the St. Louis baseball club:
- Paul Goldschmidt: 23 postseason games, 15 as a Cardinal. Seven postseason wins, and four as a Cardinal.
- Nolan Arenado: eight postseason games, three as a Cardinal. One win, but no playoff victories as a Cardinal.
- Tommy Edman: 15 postseason games as a Cardinal, and four postseason wins as a Cardinal.
- Nolan Gorman: one postseason game as a Cardinal, and it was a loss.
- Lars Nootbaar: two postseason games as a Cardinal, with no wins.
- Dylan Carlson: six postseason games as a Cardinal, and only one win.
- Tyler O’Neill: four postseason games as a Cardinal, one win.
- Miles Mikolas: four postseason games as a Cardinal, with two wins.
- Steven Matz: three postseason games before he became a Cardinal – with one win.
- Dakota Hudson: two postseason games as a Cardinal and one win.
- Ryan Helsley: eight postseason games as a Cardinal, and three wins.
- Giovanny Gallegos: 10 postseason games as a Cardinal, and four wins.
The most extensive postseason experience belongs to catcher Willson Contreras. As a Cub, he competed in 30 postseason games and Chicago was 15-15 in those competitions. Contreras was a member of the 2016 Cubs who won the first World Series for the franchise since 1908. In fact, Contreras started Game 7 on the night that the Cubs defeated Cleveland to capture that elusive World Series trophy.
Excluding Contreras, and focusing on the list of other Cardinal players cited here – Goldy, Arenado, Edman, Gorman, Nootbaar, O’Neill, Mikolas, Matz, Hudson, Helsley and Gallegos – here’s what I came up with: nine combined postseason victories with other teams, and 18 combined postseason wins as a Cardinal.
As Cardinals Pujols, Molina and Wainwright played in a combined 105 postseason wins. Just the three of them!
Rolen, Edmonds and Holliday played in a combined 82 postseason wins as Cardinals.
And so on …
How do the Cardinals replace that, and restore the winning “Cardinal Way?” Realistically, they may not be able to. But they certainly can win a lot more games, including the postseason. That’s the place to start … or restart.
I remember – and was so impressed – by the instant transformation of a slumping franchise by Bill DeWitt Jr. back in the winter of 1995-1996. He was bold, ambitious and driven to revive the Cardinals.
I believe Mr. DeWitt can do it again.
He has to.
Thanks for reading …
Bernie hosts an opinionated sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. on Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. You can stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.
Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz
For weekly Cards talk, listen to the “Seeing Red” podcast with Will Leitch and Miklasz via 590thefan.com or through your preferred podcast platform. Follow @seeingredpod on Twitter for a direct link.
All stats used in my baseball columns are sourced from FanGraphs, Baseball Reference, StatHead, Baseball Savant, Fielding Bible and Baseball Prospectus unless otherwise noted.
For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.
While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.
Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.