The legend of 'Rickey The Kid'
College Contributor Network
As the NLCS between the Giants and the Cardinals unfolds, fans can't help but wonder if they've seen this story before...and they have. The Giants have been in three of the last five NLCS's, and the Cardinals have been in the last four. It's remarkable that in an era where baseball has seen more parity among winners and contenders than ever before, the Cardinals always seem to stand up when it matters -- when the leaves change in autumn and the fans get louder.
Kids, ask your parents if they could ever remember a truly lousy Cardinals team. I'm talking about a total stinker of a season. They can't, right? Now ask your grandparents; they probably won't remember either, in fact they'll probably reminisce about Stan Musial, Enos Slaughter and, if they're old enough, Dizzy Dean.
You really have to go back to before World War I to find St. Louis in total baseball disarray. They had two hapless teams, the Cardinals and the Browns (who would move to Baltimore in 1953 and become the Orioles). The Browns at least had some Hall of Famers in the first 20 years of the 20th Century with Rube Waddell, one of the greatest left-handed strikeout pitchers ever until Sandy Koufax, and George Sisler, who held the modern-day hitting streak until Joe DiMaggio. (For the purpose of this article, we'll put Wee Willie Keeler's 44-game streak in 1897 in a separate category.)
The Cardinals, meanwhile, really had no one of note don their uniform, except Miller Huggins, their manager from 1913-17. He then left for the Yankees the next season. In 1919, the Cardinals hired a former Browns manager who had come home from serving as a Major in the U.S. Army during the war, Branch Rickey.
Everyone knows Rickey as the one owner during his era who put in motion the process of ending the "gentlemen's agreement" and integrating baseball with Jackie Robinson. For that alone, he should be considered on the Mt. Rushmore of baseball figures, but what many do not know is that he in fact was the first to hold the responsibilities of the modern general manager (although it was not his title with the Cardinals). He also figured out a way to string talent together by introducing the farm system, investing in minor league clubs and making them affiliates of the Cardinals.
With a new minor league system and player-manager Rogers Hornsby in tow, the Cardinals upset the Yankees in the 1926 World Series (which hilariously ended with Babe Ruth trying to steal second) and looked unstoppable by the start of the 1930's. They would win two World Series in the decade, 1931 and 1934, and spit out one Hall of Famer after another: Dean, Joe Medwick, Musial. From 1926 to 1946, St. Louis appeared in nine World Series, winning six of them. The effects of Rickey's revolutionary farm system are obviously felt everywhere in baseball, but I believe they still reflect on the Cardinals to this day.
After World War II, the Cardinals were mediocre in the '50's, but they still had Musial. They went through the '60's with two World Series in three appearances, but in the '70's, when they were again mediocre, they still had Lou Brock. In the '90's, they returned to middle-of-the-road, but they had Ozzie Smith in his later years, and then Tony La Russa managing.
The Cardinals have enjoyed a remarkably consistent level of success over the past 90 years, and it all goes back to Branch Rickey.
Neil Dwyer is a senior at the University of Miami who loves the Yankees, Giants, 'Canes and screaming about all three. Follow him on Twitter: @neildwyer1993