St. Louis Cardinals: The MLB cannot step out of its own way by Matt Graves
JUPITER, FL – MARCH 29: Ryan Ludwick #47 hits a solo home run against the Minnesota Twins at Roger Dean Stadium on March 29, 2010 in Jupiter, Florida. (Photo by Marc Serota/Getty Images)
From McHenry to Ludwick, these St. Louis Cardinals had singular seasons that far eclipsed other years.
At least once a decade, a St. Louis Cardinals player emerges from the minors or obscurity, plays brilliantly for a year, and then regresses. Some of these one-year wonders play many more years in the majors, yet they’re never as effective as in that one special season. Others have kicked around the edges of the big leagues for quite some time before their no one-saw-it-coming season. Then, like the musical duo Los Del Rio (remember “Macarena?”), they return to anonymity.
Reasonable folks can differ on whether certain figures qualify as one-year wonders. According to Wins Above Replacement (WAR), Bob Tewksbury’s 1992 season (16-5, 2.16 ERA, a league-leading 4.55 strikeouts-to-walks ratio) was twice as good as any of his other 12 seasons, but it seems a stretch to call Tewks, who won 110 big-league games, a flash in the pan.
Fernando Tatis’ 1999 season is a tougher call. That year, the 24-year-old third baseman hit 34 homers with 107 RBI, 104 runs scored, a .957 OPS, and a 3.0 WAR. In 10 other seasons, Tatis never drove in more than 64 runs or scored more than 69. If you want to call the father of Padres’ uber-prospect Fernando Tatis Jr. a one-year wonder, go ahead.
The following Cardinals are ranked by how much their “wonder year” contrasted with the rest of their careers:
No. 10: P Rick Ankiel, 2000, 11-7, 3.50 ERA, 4.1 WAR
According to WAR, the 20-year-old Ankiel was the best pitcher and third-best player on the 2000 Cardinals (behind Jim Edmonds and barely behind Mark McGwire). He struck out 194 batters in just 175 innings, an average of 10 per nine innings, and finished second in Rookie of the Year voting to Braves’ shortstop Rafael Furcal.
Then came a disastrous postseason in which he walked 11 batters and threw nine wild pitches in just four innings. In 2001, Ankiel had a 7.13 ERA with 25 walks in 24 innings. His sudden inability to throw strikes ended Ankiel’s career as a pitcher, although he resurfaced as an outfielder and had a fine season as a 28-year-old in 2008, hitting 25 homers with an .843 OPS.
No. 9: P Red Barrett, 1945, 23-12, 3.00 ERA, 24 complete games, 4.5 WAR
If they’d had an NL Cy Young Award in 1945, Barrett would have won it. The 30-year-old right-hander led the league in wins, complete games, innings pitched, and finished third in MVP voting, three spots higher than Hank Borowy of the Cubs, the next pitcher on the ballot.
Barrett had the advantage of pitching in the last of the World War II years when rosters were decimated by starters serving in the military, but it’s still amazing how that one year contrasts with the rest of his career. The 23 wins account for one-third of his career total (69) amassed over 11 seasons — Barrett never won more than 12 games in any other season.
No. 8: 3B Tommy Glaviano, 1950, .285 BA, .421 OBP, 94 runs, 4.0 WAR
Called “a short, stocky throwback to the glamorous Gashouse Gang era” by The Sporting News, the 5-foot-9-inch Glaviano was an ideal leadoff hitter, drawing 90 walks in 510 plate appearances for the 1950 Redbirds.
The 26-year-old should have had a bright future, but a shoulder injury suffered as a minor leaguer with Columbus in 1948 resulted in what Bob Broeg of the Post-Dispatch called “a scatter arm” — Glaviano’s 25 errors were second among NL third baseman to the Giants’ Hank Thompson, who committed 26. A reserve from 1951-53, Glaviano hit .183, .241 and .203 before his major league career concluded.
No. 7: OF Ryan Ludwick, 2008, 37 HR, 113 RBI, 104 runs, .966 OPS, 5.5 WAR
Ludwick had other years with decent numbers, including 2009 (22 HR, 97 RBI) and 2012 with the Reds (26 HR, 80 RBI), but his combined WAR in those two years (4.7) was nearly one point lower than what he compiled as a 29-year-old in 2008.
Ludwick’s .591 slugging percentage that year was second only to teammate Albert Pujols (.653 ) and five spots ahead of the Phillies’ Ryan Howard (.543), who finished runner-up to Pujols in MVP voting. Ludwick never scored more than 63 runs — 41 fewer than his ’08 total — in his 11 other seasons.
No. 6: P Eddie Yuhas, 1952, 12-2, 2.72 ERA, 2.2 WAR
As a 26-year-old rookie, Yuhas set a major-league record with 10 straight relief wins, breaking the previous mark of nine straight by the Philadelphia A’s Joe Pate in 1926. Yuhas didn’t last long, and neither did his record. A shoulder injury limited him to one inning pitched in 1953, his last year in the majors. The Pirates’ Roy Face obliterated Yuhas’ record in 1959, winning 17 straight games in relief and 22 dating back to the second half of 1958.
No. 5: P Kent Bottenfield, 1999, 18-7, 3.97 ERA, 3.0 WAR
Bottenfield, 30, had never won more than five games in any of his previous six seasons and carried a career 4.53 ERA before leading the ’99 Cards with 18 wins — double the number of the second-winningest Redbird, Darren Oliver.
Closer inspection shows it wasn’t that great of a year: Bottenfield had a flabby 1.503 WHIP and struck out just 124 batters in 190 innings while walking 89. General manager Walt Jocketty wisely packaged the bulky (6-3, 225) right-hander, whose value had peaked, with minor-league infielder Adam Kennedy in a trade that brought Jim Edmonds from the Angels, one of the best deals the Cardinals ever made.
No. 4: P. Dick Hughes, 1967, 16-6, 2.67 ERA, 3.9 WAR
As a 29-year-old rookie, Hughes was the Cardinals’ best regular-season pitcher in a World Series-winning year. The 6-3 right-hander made up for the temporary loss of Bob Gibson, who missed at least 10 starts after breaking his leg on July 15, winning 16 games with a league-leading 0.954 WHIP. Hughes finished runner-up to the Mets’ Tom Seaver in Rookie of the Year voting. One year later, he tore his rotator cuff. Hughes went 2-2 with a 3.53 ERA in 1968 and never pitched in the majors again.
No. 3: IF Creepy Crespi, 1941, .279 BA, 85 runs, 3.2 WAR
The Daniel Descalso of his day, five-foot-eight-inch middle infielder Frank Angelo Joseph Crespi was a reserve for four of his five seasons who excelled in his one season as a starter. “For one year—1941—Crespi was the best second baseman I ever saw,” Cards shortstop Marty Marion said. “He did everything, and sensationally.” That says a lot considering Marion played five years (1946-50) alongside Hall of Fame second baseman Red Schoendienst.
Crespi lost his starting job to Jimmy Brown in late May of 1942 due to a .244 batting average that consisted of 34 singles and zero extra-base hits. As for his nickname of “Creepy,” it had nothing to do with being icky or ghoulish. “I used to hear a lot of different stories,” Crespi told Cardinals broadcaster, Jack Buck, in 1977. “But I think the best one is (from) some sportswriter. He said (it’s because of) the way I creep up on a ball, because I run low to the ground after a ground ball.”
No. 2: P Bob Bowman, 1939, 13-5, 2.60 ERA, 4.8 WAR
As a 28-year-old rookie, the slightly built Bowman (5-10, 160) appeared in 51 games — 15 as a starter — and pitched more than 169 innings. He was the Cards’ best pitcher and second-best player, after Johnny Mize, that season, and his 2.60 ERA trailed only the Reds’ Bucky Walters (2.29). It’s likely that the heavy use in1939 took a toll on Bowman’s arm; he lasted just two more years plus one inning pitched in 1942. His ERA increased from 2.60 to 4.33 in 1940 to 5.71 in ’41.
No. 1: OF Austin McHenry, 1921, .350 BA, 102 RBI, .924 OPS, 5.1 WAR
This is the saddest of all the Cardinals’ one-year wonders. From 1918-20, young McHenry was a solid, improving player. Then, at age 25, he emerged as one of the best hitters in the National League, finishing third in batting average and second to teammate Rogers Hornsby in slugging percentage (.531).
McHenry was a burgeoning superstar, but the following season he “battled inconsistency at the plate and in the field, caused mostly by problems with his vision that had McHenry fearing he was going blind,” wrote Mike Lynch of sabr.org. His season ended after 64 games. McHenry was diagnosed with a brain tumor that took his life in November of 1922, just six months after his 27th birthday.
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Anybody missing? Actually, Stan Musial may be the Cardinals’ greatest one-year wonder, only not as a player. Stan the Man served exactly one season as the team’s general manager. No one’s saying he built the 1967 Cardinals — he didn’t — but it’s still a badge of honor that his one year in the job resulted in the Cardinals eighth World Series championship.