The Cardinal Renaissance

The Greatest Renaissance of Cardinal Baseball evolved suddenly with 1 man in the late 1990’s. No…it wasn’t Shakespeare, Milton, Michelangelo, DaVinci, or Galileo. First some background….
..the 1990’s began on a sour note…the 1990 season began with Whitey Herzog as manager. On July 6 with the team having played 80(33-47) games up to that point , Whitey resigned. The Cards finished the year with a 70-92 record. The attendance also dropped..and big time… over 500,00 from the previous year. Herzog was replaced by Joe Torre as manager.
…. But, it really began in 1989 when Gussie Busch died. Anheuser-Busch no longer had a keen interest…or even an interest… in owning the Cardinals. Through the early 1990’s the club stagnated with an ambivalent ownership group. Losing Whitey left the ship sail without a purpose. 1995 was a horrible year. None of the regular players reported to spring training camp. They were still sitting out from the 94 strike.. so replacement players were brought into camp. Changes took place on all levels. Walt Jocketty was brought in as GM in 1994 and was still in an adjusting to the new climate. In 1995, Bill DeWitt & Stephen & Frederick Brauer bought the Cardinals for $150m. Things got worse before better….when the Cards went 62-81 in 1995, the attendance for the season dropped to 1.7m fans— the lowest since 1981. However, in 1996, there was an uptick both in wins & attendance. The Cards went 88-64 with an increase in attendance to 2.6m (up 900,000) The Cards acquisition of Dennis Eckersly from Oakland in 66 helped the club….with 30 saves. Another player acquired in 1996—Ron Gant –banged out 30 HR; John Mabry had a career year @ .297 in 151 games; Ray Lankford hit 21 dingers while stealing 35 bases; Brian Jordan hit .310 with 22 steals. However, the biggest acquisition in 1996 was NOT on the field….but in the dugout….Tony LaRussa was hired as the Cards manager & immediately won the division.
But the Cardinals stumbled badly in 1997…they fell back to 4th place with a 73-89 record , 11 games out of 1st place. Gant hit only 17 HR & .229 while striking out 162 times; an oft-injured Brian Jordan only played in 47 games; Ray Lankford blasted a team high 31 HR but never really seemed to be “the man”. The flashy middle infield of Royce Clayton & DeLino DeShields hit fine but committed a gaudy 38 errors However the Cardinals set the stage for the Renaissance when they acquired Mark McGwire from Oakland on July 31 for TJ Mathews. He belted out 24 dingers in only 51 games in 1997 but was just setting the stage for the complete Renaissance of Cardinals baseball in 1998.
…1998 McGwire began the season with home runs in each of the first 4 games! On April 14 he belted a trio of round trippers against Arizona @ Busch. The buzz was just beginning around town about McGwire. He completed March with 11 dingers. As the weather warmed, so did the big 1B …he banged 16 more HR in May!…. 10 more HR in June & 8 round trippers in July. He held 45 HR as August began…the fans were totally alive….totally back into Cardinals baseball….crazy about it….it seemed, all discussions included, “did you ya see THAT McGwire shot…..” In August he banged 10 more HR to reach 55 home run mark by the end of the month….the buzzing was becoming almost constant around town… He completed the season @ Busch with 5 home runs in a 3 games series vs the Expos to reach the unbelievable total of 70 HR’s. By now the Renaissance was in full bloom, excitement, the “buzz”…even from non-baseball fans …was all over St. Louis. This 1998 season brought back the glory days of the 80’s, 60’s 40’s to not just the baseball fans but an entirely new set of fans….many in their youthful or younger adult days that would transform St Louis for decades. The Mark McGwire tales of “I was there when he hit #__that ball was so high….so deep…so far……yada-yada-yada. That year the attendance rose over 500,000 to over 3.1m fans. THAT strong foundation has kept the attendance over 3m fans EVERY year (save 2003-2.9m) since that time. Mark McGwire didn’t build the history of Cardinal baseball alone but his glory year sparked, then sent… into a blaze… the loyal Cardinal fan base to a loyalty & tradition that remain very vibrant to this day. Should he be in the HOF? I don’t know about that..I have mixed feelings…I’ve always been a black & white person…it’s right or its wrong. Clearly he used PED’s ..which was illegal at the time…I guess it still is?! If Barry Bonds is still out…..and he could have entered the HOF without even considering his last 5 years of steroid numbers…I guess McGwire stays out. But…. He is the Michelangelo of Cardinal Baseball!!
….the next major Cardinal Renaissance is still “brewing”…many fans are beginning to compare Jack Flaherty to Bob Gibson. Flaherty has already established himself as a premier pitcher. But..It’s been just a bit more that 2 full seasons, there are plenty of pro’s & con’s in comparing him to Gibson. Great Starting pitchers WIN games…they go deep enough to turn the ball over to the closer to chalk up the win. At this point, Flaherty is 19-19 for his career…so-so. On the upside—in the final 2019 National League stats, Flaherty was #1 in WHIP with a .968 mark. He also was #1 in Hits/9 inning in the NL. Flaherty also finished #4 in NL ERA. Very Impressive! Those are brilliant numbers. He just turned 24 years old in October so he is still close to the optimum athletic Year (23 years old). But… comparing him to Bob Gibson…back up for a second….take a look that what Gibson brings to the table… prior to making a serious comparison. Bob Gibson won 2 Cy Young Awards…little background here… the Cy Young award began in 1956… originally; it was only given to THE best pitcher of the Major Leagues. In 1967, it was determined that each league would have its own Cy Young winner. In 1966, Gibson was 21-12, 2.44 ERA, started 35 games and finished 20 of them! In 280 innings, he gave up 210 hits. His WHIP was 1.027 for 280 innings! But.. he didn’t even get a sniff….that year, Sandy Koufax was wrapping up his 3rd (in 4 years) Cy Young year. In that year, 1966, Koufax was 27-9 for the Dodgers with a 1.73 ERA and in 323 innings, he struck out 317 batters! 1968 was Bob Gibson’s best year! As a 32 year starter, he completed 28 of his 34 starts, posted a 22-9 record with 268 strikeouts in 304 innings. His WHIP was .853 and his ERA was an incredible 1.12!! That was the lowest ERA for a starting pitcher who won the Cy Young since Mordecai Brown in 1906!!! Gibson won his 2nd Cy Young in 1970 with a 23-7 record and a 3.12 ERA. Hopefully, Flaherty will be good…that he’ll be our ace for a long time …meaning that we’d have to resign him past his arbitration years…which may be tougher than it sounds since we can’t even get him to sign a contract now…when there’s NO negotiations! But….. matching the unbelievable career of Bob Gibson…can’t be done any longer…the game has changed too much. Sooo….ease off the pedal a bit when driving down that “Comparison Lane”. Btw…..pitchers who won the Cy Young AFTER being a Cardinal— 1969 Mike Cuellar (Balt); Steve Carlton (1972 & 1977 & 1980-Phil); Pete Vukovich 1982-Milwaukee; John Denny 1983-Phil
…The Cardinals had strong teams in the 20’s, 40’s, 60’s, 80’, and the early 2000’s. This continual success kept the renaissance of new, fresh StL players striving for the MLB…so… here’s a partial list…of StL born players & in true StL form….their HS– Yogi Berra (St. Mary’s);Jerry Buchek (McKinley); Elston Howard(Vashon);Heine Meine(unknown);Max Scherzer(Pk Cen);Bernard Gilkey (U City);Joe Garagiola (St. Marys);Ron Hunt(Ritenour):Ryan Howard (Lafayette);Luke Voit (Lafayette);Mike Shannon (CBC);Frank Baumann (Central-StL);Larry Whisenton (Central);David Freese(Lafayette); Jerry Reuss(Ritenour);Roy Sievers (Beaumont);Scott Van Slyke (John Burroughs);Nate Colbert (Sumner);Cody Asche(Ft Zum W);Bud Black(U City);Ken Holtzman(U City);Sonny Siebert (Bayless);Brian Boehringer(NW-HS);Joe Boever (Lindbergh); Buddy Blattner (Beaumont);Jack Maguire(Beaumont);Norm Siebern (Wellston); Bill Jennings(SW-City);Roy Branch(Beaumont); Bob Miller(Beaumont);Matt Cepicky (Vianney); Dennis Tankersly(St Chas),Bud Byerly (WG);Scott Cooper (Pattonville);Ross Detweiler (Wentzville);Jim Donahue (CBC);John Kroner (Cleveland); Chuck Diering (Beaumont); Gary Dotter(Normandy);Al LaMacchia (Hadley Tech);Jack Fasholz (Berkeley); Bobby Keppel (DeSmet); Neil Fiala(Vianney);Al Nipper(Haz W);Lou Frazier (Jennings); John Fulgham (Pattonville); Mike Hennemann (St PiusX); Brett Graves (Francis Howell);Mark Christman(Maplewood);Tom Heintzelman (Duchesne);Charley James (WG); Tommy Layne(Ft Zum S);Jacob Turner(WCA);Jay Marshall (JFK);Kyle McClellan(Haz W); Dave Silvestri(Pk Cent):Don Mueller(CBC);Dave Nicholson (SW-StL); Joe Nolan (SW-StL);Al Olmsted (Haz E); Josh Outman (Lindbergh);Robert Person(U City);Art Shamsky(U City);David Phelps (Haz W);Bill Pleis (Kirkwood);Cliff Politte (Vianney); Kerry Robinson(Haz E);Matt Tracy (CBC);Bob Sadowski(WG); Ken Sanders (SLUH);Bob Scheffing (Ritenour);Bob Schmidt (Ritenour);Dave Silvestri(Pk Cen); Harry Hannebrink (McB); Dave Sisler (Burroughs);Dick Sisler (Burroughs);Al Smith(Douglas HS in WG district);Pete Reiser(Beaumont);Bob Wiesler(Beaumont);Donnie Wall(Festus) …Hopefully, those names brought back many memories for you—they did for me!…. an apology to any that I missed, or guys with very short MLB careers or played pre 1930!! As always, YOUR comments are invited, stay safe