The Cardinals’ Ten Greatest Pitchers
Bob Gibson (1959-75)
Never showing the hint of a smile when he took the mound, Gibson exhibited one of baseball’s meanest game faces and backed it up with a highly aggressive approach to the plate. Once told that he had five pitches in his arsenal, Gibson corrected the interviewer by saying he had three extra pitches: A brushback, a knockdown and a hit batsman.
Barely surviving poverty as various illnesses nearly killed him as a child, Gibson came to the Cardinals via a stint with basketball’s Harlem Globetrotters. He gradually came into his own as the St. Louis ace in 1963 with 18 wins—followed by 19 in 1964, 20 in 1965 and 21 in 1966—using an overpowering fastball and nasty slider that confounded batters fortunate enough to be left standing and not be knocked down or worse by one of Gibson’s many up-and-in deliveries.
Gibson was one of the marquee symbols of the so-called “Year of the Pitcher” in 1968 with a sensational Cy Young Award and MVP effort, producing numbers not seen since the deadball era: 13 shutouts and a National League-record 1.12 earned run average. In one stretch during the season, he allowed just two earned runs over 95 innings. That he somehow lost nine games (winning 22) despite such utter dominance remains a head-scratcher.
In Game One of that year’s World Series, Gibson rose to the occasion in the ultimate showdown with Detroit’s 31-game winner Denny McLain, striking out a then-Series-record 17 batters in a five-hit, 4-0 shutout of the Tigers. It was the beginning of a third strong World Series effort for Gibson, who won MVPs in the 1964 and 1967 Fall Classics (both won by St. Louis) and started nine games—finishing eight of them—with a 7-2 record and 1.89 ERA.
That Gibson wasn’t a perennial league leader in wins, ERA and strikeouts was more a tribute to the astounding collection of pitching legends spread across the NL at that time, with Sandy Koufax, Juan Marichal, Tom Seaver, Ferguson Jenkins among others also gunning for the top of the charts. But Gibson’s career resume—which includes 251 wins, 3,117 strikeouts, two Cy Young Awards and nine Gold Gloves for his fielding excellence—earned him enshrinement into the Hall of Fame without argument.
Dizzy Dean (1930, 1932-37)
One of the more colorful legends of the game and ace of a “Gashouse Gang” Cardinals team front-loaded with lively character, Dean was as confident as they came, often making brash predictions—and following through on them.
Facts were hard to come by with Dean; he often gave different stories of his age, where he was born, and how he got his nickname; chances are, the varying versions of events he gave led to his being called Dizzy. At first he didn’t want to play with St. Louis and tried to gain free agency by declaring he had signed underage; but when the Cardinals produced a copy of his marriage certificate that proved otherwise, he clammed up.
The press knew they had someone special to write about when Dean, after throwing a three-hitter in his first game with the Cardinals in 1930, moaned with his deep Southern drawl, “Those bums got three hits off’n me.” Legend has it that before a 1933 game against Brooklyn, Dean came into the Dodger locker room and let the players know exactly how he’d pitch them; he proceeded to throw a shutout. A year later, Dean predicted that between himself and his quieter (and only slightly less talented) brother Paul “Daffy” Dean, they’d win 45 games during the season; he undersold, as the two brothers combined to win 49—with Dizzy winning three over a six-day period to end the season. His efforts gave the Cardinals the pennant, and he become the last NL player to date to win 30 games with a MVP performance that carried into the seven-game World Series triumph over Detroit with a 2-1 record and 1.73 ERA.
Dean was runner-up for the MVP award in 1935 and 1936, winning 28 and 24 games, respectively. Then came 1937, a year packed with trouble for Dean from start to finish and set in motion the beginning of his downfall. He got into a fight with a sportswriter in spring training; went out of control during an early regular season game by plunking one New York Giant after another, igniting an all-out brawl; labeled NL President Ford Frick a “crook” after being suspended for his actions; had his toe broken in the All-Star Game by an Earl Averill comebacker; and when he tried to return too soon by throwing with less pressure off his foot and more on his upper body, it all but permanently wore out his arm. On the eve of the 1938 campaign, a weary St. Louis front office sent Dean packing to the Chicago Cubs for three players and $185,000; a fragile Dean was lightly used through the next three years in Chicago, pitching effectively but on rare occasion.
After retirement, Dean settled in for a long sportscasting career, where his Southern syntax might have failed numerous English tests but was folksy and colorful enough to allow him to last.
Astonishingly, not only did Dean never throw a no-hitter, he never tossed a one- or two-hitter, either.
Adam Wainwright (2005-present)
The tall, imposing right-hander began his major league career as a reliever, took on a desperate call to successfully fill in at the closer spot when a world title waited in the wings, then transformed into an All-Star ace.
Originally drafted by his boyhood team in the Atlanta Braves, Wainwright was traded to the Cardinals in 2004; in his first full year at the big league level in 2006, he worked well as a middle reliever—but when Jason Isringhausen suffered a year-end injury as St. Louis booked its ticket to the postseason, Wainwright was asked to fill in. The Cardinals may not have won it all without a locked-in Wainwright, who threw 9.2 scoreless innings while striking out 15, walking two, saving four games and winning one.
After some deep thought, the Cardinals plugged Wainwright into the starting rotation in 2007, and he quickly evolved into one of the league’s best; from 2008-10, he produced a 50-22 record, winning a league-high 19 in 2009 and following that up with 20 wins in 2010. In those two seasons, Wainwright finished second in the NL Cy Young Award vote—even as he received more first-place tallies than winner Tim Lincecum in 2009.
Wainwright’s ascension hit a wall in 2011 when he was forced to undergo Tommy John surgery, missing the entire season. But the procedure has served him well, as he has since returned to Cy-worthy form—leading the NL with 19 victories in 2013 to help lead the Cardinals to a NL pennant, and notching 20 more wins in 2014 with a career-best 2.38 ERA and three shutouts.
Contracted with the Cardinals through 2018, Wainwright looks to expand on a legacy already dripping with great achievement.
Chris Carpenter (2004-13)
The 6’6”, injury-prone Carpenter came to St. Louis after an unimpressive 49-50 record and 4.83 ERA with Toronto—but with the Cardinals has been an All-Star-caliber ace in what was another example of a pitcher’s career rejuvenated and/or turned around thanks to the tutorage of longtime St. Louis pitching coach Dave Duncan.
Mixing up a grade-A fastball with a terrific curve, Carpenter had to sit out his first year with the Cardinals after tearing his labrum; his belated debut in 2004 led to a 15-5 record, improving further a year later with a 21-5 mark that earned him the NL’s Cy Young Award. After going 15-8 in 2006 and helping the Cardinals to a world title with a 3-1 postseason record, Carpenter was rewarded for his work-to-date with a five-year, $65 million contract—but pitched only one game in 2007 before being forced under the knife for Tommy John surgery on his right elbow, essentially sidelining him for two years.
Repaired and ready again in 2009, Carpenter impressed anew. He won 17 of 21 decisions and finished with the NL’s best ERA at 2.24, but finished second in the Cy Young vote (to Tim Lincecum) in part because voters weighed his importance versus equally deserving teammate Adam Wainwright.
Carpenter has shown a terrific trait of shining when the team needs him most. This was especially true in St. Louis’ improbable run to a world title in 2011; he threw two shutouts down the stretch, including one on the season’s final day to give the Cardinals the wild card spot; outdueled Roy Halladay and shut out Philadelphia to upset the top-seeded Phillies in the first round of the postseason; and won both his decisions—including the decisive Game Seven—over Texas in the World Series to give him nine postseason wins and break Gibson’s former team record. Carpenter is one of just ten pitchers with ten or more postseason wins.
Mort Cooper (1938-45)
Part of the second brotherly sensation in St. Louis in ten years after the rule of the Deans in the 1930s, the big, lumpy Cooper paired with younger sibling catcher Walker Cooper to star for the Cardinals during the team’s successful wartime campaigns of the 1940s.
An above-average pitcher at best after his first four years in the majors, Cooper began an impressive run in 1942 that lasted three years and yielded a 65-22 record (winning at least 21 games in each season), taking the 1942 NL MVP award for a 22-7 record and stellar 1.78 ERA. Pitching against declining levels of quality as major league stars entered the military during World War II may have had something to do with Cooper’s success, but so did his switch to a forkball to go with a fastball. Behind Cooper’s arm, the Cardinals made three straight World Series appearances; Cooper was disappointing in the first, good in the second and great in the third, throwing a seven-hit shutout over the St. Louis Browns in Game Five of the Cardinals’ six-game 1944 triumph.
Like Dean, Cooper had a visible ego and showed it off by changing his uniform number so it matched the number of the victory he was out to get. He also wasn’t afraid to ruffle St. Louis management; after another fine start in 1945, Cooper bolted the team amid a salary dispute and was accommodated to the Boston Braves in a trade that sent pitcher Red Barrett and $60,000 the other way. A strong Barrett and the cash paid off for the Cardinals, while Cooper developed a sore elbow and struggled to regain top form through his last four seasons split among three teams.
Harry Brecheen (1940, 1943-52)
One of baseball’s top southpaws during the 1940s, Brecheen was good during the war—continuing to play while classified 4F and thus ineligible for military duty—and was good after, peaking in 1948 with a 20-7 record and a NL-leading 2.24 ERA and 149 strikeouts.
Brecheen, nicknamed The Cat for his defensive prowess, had a late season cameo in 1940 and returned for good three years later at age 28, impressing with his screwball; from 1944-45, he sported a combined 31-9 record and remained a .500 or better thrower for the rest of the decade. When the Cardinals beat Boston in the 1946 World Series, Brecheen won three games—his first on a four-hit shutout in Game Two, his second on a seven-hit, 4-1 complete game victory in Game Six, and the third pitching the final two innings of relief in the memorable winner-take-all Game Seven affair. In seven career World Series appearances overall, Brecheen generated a superb 0.83 ERA.
Following his playing days, Brecheen played an important role in guiding numerous pitchers to top form as pitching coach of the Baltimore Orioles from 1954-67.
Max Lanier (1938-46, 1949-51)
The southpaw from North Carolina could have enjoyed a lengthy period of success with the Cardinals, but just as his career was heading into overdrive in 1946, he took the bait of riches and got suckered into the outlaw Mexican League—leading to a banishment from organized baseball until his reinstatement in 1949.
Along with Cooper and Brecheen, Lanier was part of the solid Cardinals rotation during World War II; his steady rise through the early 1940s made noise in 1943 when he won the NL ERA title with a 1.90 mark, followed by a career-high 17 wins (against 12 losses) in 1944. Drawn into military duty after making just four appearances in 1945, Lanier returned to action a year later with the war over and major league rosters returned to full strength—and busted out to a 6-0 start with a 1.93 ERA, before he fell to the temptation of Mexican financier Jorge Pasquel, hitting up major leaguers in search of greener pastures in his Mexican League. While others (including Stan Musial) resisted the lure and stayed put, Lanier took the money and ran—and became blacklisted by baseball for his actions.
When Lanier was accepted back into the majors three years later, he had lost the edge as he approached 35 years of age. He pitched well in three more years with the Cardinals (winning 27, losing 22 between 1949-51), but was nowhere near the form that caught Mexico’s attention in the first place.
Lanier is the father of former infielder and manager Hal Lanier, who won a NL West title for Houston in 1986.
Howie Pollet (1941-43, 1946-51)
One of the last major leaguers to throw with a windmill wind-up, the soft-spoken New Orleans native (who neighbored with future Boston ace Mel Parnell) joined the Cardinals at the tender age of 20 and impressed through his first three years, registering a 20-11 record and 2.21 ERA before being called up to the Army midway through the 1943 season. He returned after World War II to resume a consecutive scoreless inning streak that lasted 35 frames, the beginning of a spectacular 1946 campaign in which he led the NL with 21 wins, a 2.10 ERA and 266 innings thrown; his final appearance of the season, a 4-2 complete-game win over Brooklyn in the first of a best-of-three playoff against the Dodgers, helped assure the Cardinals of the NL pennant.
Overuse of his arm that season had a daunting impact on the rest of Pollet’s career, although he did his best to make the most of it in St. Louis—staying mostly above the .500 mark and rebounding in 1949 to secure his second 20-win season, finishing at 20-9 and being named The Sporting News’ NL Pitcher of the Year. A poor start in 1951 made Pollet the early victim of a cost-cutting campaign by St. Louis owner Fred Saigh, who sent him to Pittsburgh; over the remaining five years of his career, Pollet would struggle with the lowly Pirates and Chicago Cubs, winning 34 games while losing 54.
Bill Doak (1913-24, 1929)
The crafty and inventive right-hander born in Pittsburgh had his career rescued barely after it had begun when, after an underwhelming 2-8 record and 3.10 ERA (subpar for the deadball era) in 1913, he was taken aside by Cardinals manager Miller Huggins and encouraged to embrace the spitball—because Huggins was worried that Doak’s wiry frame couldn’t handle the fastball over the long run.
Huggins’ messaging became magic. In his first year throwing the wet stuff, Doak soaked opponents with a 19-6 record and a NL-leading 1.72 ERA, establishing himself as an ace over the next decade even if the wins came inconsistently thanks to consistent second division performances from his team. But as the Cardinals improved into the 1920s, so did Doak’s luck—registering his only 20-win campaign in 1920, followed by his second ERA title (2.59) in 1921. Further helping Doak’s revival was his grandfathered status as one of a handful of spitballers allowed to continue using the pitch after it became outlawed in 1920. A downfall followed in 1922, eventually leading to a trade to Brooklyn in 1924, but Doak gave the Robins a few competent years before a final fade at the end of the decade.
Beyond the mound, Doak helped better the game by lobbying Rawlings to create the first glove with an expanded, adjustable webbing between the index finger and thumb.
Joaquin Andujar (1981-85)
In a 13-year career that began and ended in Houston, the temperamental Dominican had his best run in St. Louis where he spent four-plus years with the constantly contending Cardinals under manager Whitey Herzog.
Traded one-up from Houston for outfielder Tony Scott in a deal the Astros would regret, Andujar had an outstanding full debut for the Cardinals in 1982—putting together a 15-10 record and 2.47 ERA before adding three more wins in the postseason to lift St. Louis to a World Series title. But even in triumph, Andujar created controversy when he exchanged words and nearly punches with Milwaukee’s Jim Gantner, who called him a “hot dog.”
After slipping badly to a 6-16 mark in 1983, Andujar rebounded with 20-win seasons over each of the next two seasons, publicly grumbling after finishing fourth in the Cy Young Award vote that he didn’t win because he was Dominican. His 1985 chances for the Cy were derailed by a flat second half that only got worse once he reached the postseason—perhaps a side effect of being worked every four days. Andujar was absolutely the wrong person to throw into the fire in Game Seven of the Cardinals’ controversial World Series loss to Kansas City that season; brought in as relief with the Cardinals already trailing, Andujar almost immediately took out his team’s frustration on home plate umpire Don Denkinger (who had blown a call at first the night before, possibly costing St. Louis a world title) and was ejected—earning a ten-game suspension for his violent reaction to the thumb. It would be Andujar’s last moment as a Cardinal; he was traded to Oakland less than a few months later.
St. Louis Cardinals Team History: Year-by year records, statistics and an oral history of the Cardinals, decade by decade.
The Cardinals' Ten Greatest Hitters: A list of the ten greatest hitters based on their productivity and efficiency.
The Cardinals' Ten Greatest Games: A list of ten memorable games and other notable personal achievements that have defined the Cardinals' history.
How did This Great Game determine the list of the Cardinals' ten greatest hitters? Find out here.
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