The Virtual 1946-1949 St. Louis Cardinals (Part 2)

Last time, we imagined that the late 1940s St. Louis Cardinals hadn’t sold off first baseman Johnny Mize, catcher Walker Cooper, and center fielder Johnny Wyrostek. Now we’ll see how that scenario would likely have played out.

I’ve taken my best guesstimate at what Mize’s, Cooper’s, and Wyrostek’s stats would have been had they played for the Cardinals, factoring in park effects, and that they wouldn’t have had to face the St. Louis pitching staff in one-seventh of their games. Theirs and everyone else’s playing time is projected accordingly.

1946

Mize suffered a broken hand in 1946, and missed about one-third of the season, but he hit up a storm when he was in the lineup. I envision the rookie Dick Sisler being called up and getting most of the first base starts in The Big Cat’s absence.

Cooper had an elbow injury and missed considerable playing time as well, and his hitting appears to have been somewhat inhibited. In his stead, the rookie Joe Garagiola and the sophomore Del Rice would have gotten some chances.

Wyrostek, given the opportunity, would demonstrably beat out Terry Moore, Harry Walker, and Buster Adams for the first-string center field job as the season progressed.

The predominant starting lineup would likely be:

1. Slaughter, rf
2. Schoendienst, 2b or Wyrostek, cf
3. Musial, lf
4. Mize, 1b
5. Kurowski, 3b
6. Cooper, c
7. Wyrostek, cf or Schoendienst, 2b
8. Marion, ss
9. pitcher

Here’s our guess at what this would have yielded:

 Pos Player          AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 1B  Mize           377   70  136   24    3   18   79   65   26 .361 .455 .584  189
 2B  Schoendienst   582   74  163   27    5    0   47   36   26 .281 .322 .343   86
 SS  Marion         498   53  116   29    4    3   50   59   53 .233 .318 .325   80
 3B  Kurowski       519   78  156   32    5   14   94   72   47 .301 .391 .462  138
 RF  Slaughter      627  108  188   31    8   19   71   71   42 .300 .374 .465  133
 CF  Wyrostek       363   62  109   22    3    5   45   47   26 .300 .380 .419  123
 LF  Musial         624  120  228   50   20   16  116   73   31 .365 .434 .587  183
 C   Cooper         280   33   79   13    1    6   49   18   12 .282 .326 .400  102
     REGULARS      3870  598 1176  228   49   81  551  441  263 .304 .375 .450  130

  C  Garagiola      141   14   33    3    1    2   15   15   18 .234 .308 .312   76
 OF  Adams          130   16   23    4    0    4   17   21   21 .177 .292 .295   73
 O1  Walker         138   19   31    5    2    1   13   11   12 .225 .282 .312   86
 OF  Moore          139   16   36    6    1    1   14    9   14 .259 .304 .331   85
 1B  Sisler         118    9   30    5    1    1   20    7   14 .254 .296 .339   86
  C  Rice           104    8   28    5    1    1   10    6   12 .269 .309 .365   89
 2B  Klein           93   12   18    3    0    1    5    9    7 .194 .265 .258   46
 S2  Cross           69   17   15    3    0    0    6   10    8 .217 .316 .261   62
 3O  Dusak           69   10   15    2    0    2   10    7   17 .217 .289 .333   74
     Others          56    7   10    3    0    1    6    9   11 .179 .292 .286   62
     BENCH         1057  128  239   39    6   14  116  104  134 .226 .295 .313   70

     PITCHERS       448   29   85   12    2    0   38   19   80 .190 .223 .225   25

     TOTAL         5375  755 1500  279   57   95  705  564  477 .279 .347 .405  117

1946 was a low-scoring year (my guess is that both leagues worked through their remaining inventory of inferior-quality wartime baseballs for much of the season). This Cardinals’ lineup would be utterly dominant in that environment, leading the league in almost everything, and outscoring everyone else by a wide margin. The 25-year-old Stan Musial was spectacular, of course, and teamed with Mize, Enos Slaughter, and Whitey Kurowski he would anchor a highly potent offensive core.

Assuming the team would have allowed the same number of runs they actually did (545)—and there’s little reason to assume otherwise—the Pythagorean projection suggests a won-lost record of 101-53, easily surpassing the Dodgers for first place. If these Cardinals outperformed their Pythag by one win, as did their actual ’46 counterparts, then it would be 102-52. In either case, it would be, as it was in reality, the fourth Redbird pennant in five seasons.

1947

This time both Mize and Cooper were healthy all year long, and in peak form. Musial had (for him) something of an off-season; he was merely excellent instead of magnificent, but Kurowski had the best year of his career. 1947 was a heavy-hitting season in the National League, but still this Cardinals’ offense would steamroll the opposition.

 Pos Player          AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 1B  Mize           591  120  193   37    2   38  122   78   39 .327 .405 .589  157
 2B  Schoendienst   593   68  150   22    8    3   51   43   24 .253 .303 .332   66
 SS  Marion         540   57  147   19    6    4   69   49   58 .272 .334 .352   79
 3B  Kurowski       518  101  161   27    6   27  104   88   56 .311 .411 .542  147
 RF  Slaughter      565  106  166   32   13   10   64   60   28 .294 .362 .452  111
 CF  Wyrostek       409   68  116   22    6    5   45   55   38 .284 .369 .403  101
 LF  Musial         592  117  185   30   13   19   95   81   24 .313 .395 .503  133
 C   Cooper         464   74  153   29    7   23  101   23   36 .330 .361 .571  140
     REGULARS      4272  711 1271  218   61  129  651  477  303 .298 .368 .468  117

 OF  Moore          153   19   40    5    0    2   12   12   14 .261 .315 .333   69
 O3  Dusak          109   21   29    2    2    2   11   15   13 .266 .355 .376   91
 OF  Northey        104   15   29    6    1    5   21   15   11 .279 .370 .500  113
  C  Garagiola       94   12   22    5    1    2   14   18    9 .234 .357 .372   91
  C  Rice            87    8   17    2    1    3   10   10   14 .195 .278 .345   57
 3S  Cross           49    4    5    1    0    0    3   10    6 .102 .254 .122    1
 PH  Medwick         50    5   14    3    0    1   10    5    5 .280 .345 .400  118
 2B  Jones           37    3    8    2    0    0    2    1    6 .216 .237 .270   58
     Others          43    6    9    1    0    0    2    5    7 .209 .292 .233   38
     BENCH          726   93  173   27    5   15   85   91   85 .238 .323 .351   76

     PITCHERS       469   27   95   11    3    0   30   17   87 .203 .230 .239   23

     TOTAL         5467  831 1539  256   69  144  766  585  475 .282 .351 .433  111

This total of 831 runs scored would be the most by any Cardinals’ ball club since 1930. The 144 homers would set a franchise record that wouldn’t be topped until 1998, when another St. Louis first baseman would have a pretty good year in the cleanup role.

I have these Cardinals executing a trade in early 1947 that actually occurred: Harry Walker along with second-line pitcher Freddy Schmidt to the Phillies in May for power-hitting outfielder Ron Northey. This was a sensible trade from the St. Louis perspective, even though (as we examined here) Walker would bust out with a fluke great season over the remainder of ’47. But the roly-poly Northey, though of limited defensive aptitude, swung a terrific left-handed bat, and would serve as a highly useful pinch hitter and occasional starter.

Pythagoras indicates a record of 97-57 for this team. Even if they would fall a couple of games short of their Pythagorean mark, as the ’47 Cards actually did, at 95-59 they would still win the National League pennant, nosing ahead of the Jackie Robinson-led Dodgers (a team that significantly overperformed its Pythagorean record), making it five St. Louis flags in six years.

1948

This lineup would have to contend with three injury situations. First, I don’t know what it was, but clearly some sort of problem nagged Red Schoendienst in 1948, as he appeared in the field in just 96 games, while pinch-hitting quite a lot. In this scenario, as in reality, utility men Ralph LaPointe and Erv Dusak would fill in for him at second base. Second, Walker Cooper encountered a knee injury, and so here once again Garagiola and Rice would see some action.

Most significantly, the 30-year-old Whitey Kurowski suffered a serious injury to his right arm in ’48, which hampered his throwing, and completely sapped his power at the plate. He would attempt to battle through it, but with the limited sports medicine available at the time, Kurowski’s career would effectively be over in 1949: a notable star, a potential borderline Hall of Famer, cut down with quite possibly many good years yet to come. In his stead in ’48, the Cardinals deployed a 33-year-old career minor leaguer named Don Lang at third base, who did okay but was no Kurowski.

 Pos Player          AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 1B  Mize           565  107  177   37    4   30  125   96   36 .313 .413 .552  153
 2B  Schoendienst   388   53  105   20    4    4   43   27   15 .272 .319 .373   82
 SS  Marion         553   58  139   25    4    4   50   36   53 .252 .298 .333   66
 3B  Lang           323   30   87   14    1    4   31   47   38 .269 .364 .356   91
 RF  Slaughter      571  113  180   28   11   11   67   83   30 .321 .409 .470  132
 CF  Wyrostek       461   74  132   24    9   12   56   49   57 .286 .355 .456  113
 LF  Musial         616  139  232   46   18   39  131   80   34 .377 .448 .700  199
 C   Cooper         290   38   82   16    0   12   48   29   28 .283 .348 .462  112
     REGULARS      3766  612 1135  210   51  116  551  447  291 .301 .375 .477  124

 3B  Kurowski       220   34   47    8    0    2   33   42   28 .214 .352 .277   68
  C  Garagiola      162   20   34    7    0    4   20   30   17 .210 .333 .327   75
 2S  LaPointe       167   18   37    2    0    0   11   13   15 .222 .278 .234   36
  C  Rice           145   12   27    4    0    2   17   18   24 .186 .276 .255   41
 23O Dusak          124   17   24    3    1    2    8   19   23 .194 .301 .282   55
 OF  Northey        123   19   38    5    0    6   27   18   13 .309 .397 .496  135
 OF  Moore          104   14   23    5    0    2    9   13    7 .221 .308 .327   68
 21  Jones           60    7   14    2    1    1   10    4    6 .233 .281 .350   66
  C  Baker           40    4   11    3    0    0    5    5    3 .275 .356 .350   87
     Others          48    6   11    4    1    0    4    4    7 .229 .288 .354   69
     BENCH         1193  151  266   43    3   19  144  166  143 .223 .318 .312   67

     PITCHERS       441   31   82   10    2    1   33   18   80 .186 .218 .224   17

     TOTAL         5400  794 1483  263   56  136  728  631  514 .275 .351 .420  110

These issues would meaningfully inhibit the productivity of this lineup. But on the plus side: Musial was unbelievable, delivering his greatest year, while the 35-year-old Mize had yet another terrific season, and Slaughter was typically excellent. It adds up to another robust team-wide offensive performance, not quite best in the league in OPS+, but close behind that of the Boston Braves.

Whether it would have been good enough to secure another pennant for the Cardinals is a good question. This offense yields a Pythagorean record for St. Louis of 93-61, allowing them to slip ahead of those Spahn-and-Sain Braves, who won the flag with a 91-62 mark. However, the Braves’ Pythag record was 93-60, and the actual 1948 Cardinals underperformed their projection by two wins. Had Boston not underperformed against theirs, and/or had these ’48 Cardinals fallen short of their run-indicated win total, St. Louis would finish in second by an eyelash.

This race therefore might be too close to call, but it’s clear that had these Cardinals not won their sixth pennant in seven seasons, they would have missed it by only the narrowest of margins.

1949

Mize, bothered by a chronic sore shoulder in his age-36 season, began to decline, though he was still dangerous. Cooper, at 34, slumped through the early season before picking up the pace in the second half; as a consequence of that I have Garagiola here taking a fair amount of the starts against right-handers. In place of the ailing Kurowski at third base, the Cards used a couple of rookies: Eddie Kazak and Tommy Glaviano, both of whom did pretty well.

 Pos Player          AB    R    H   2B   3B   HR  RBI   BB   SO   BA  OBP  SLG OPS+
 1B  Mize           411   63  115   21    0   14   71   55   20 .280 .365 .433  109
 2B  Schoendienst   592   79  176   23    2    3   63   47   17 .297 .351 .356   86
 SS  Marion         515   63  140   31    2    5   73   37   42 .272 .323 .369   81
 3B  Kazak          326   44   99   15    3    6   47   29   17 .304 .362 .423  106
 RF  Slaughter      588  111  196   35   13   13   71   81   38 .336 .418 .511  143
 CF  Wyrostek       474   71  127   28    4    8   52   61   61 .268 .351 .395   96
 LF  Musial         617  130  209   41   13   36  126  108   38 .339 .437 .622  175
 C   Cooper         303   32   83   13    3   12   58   20   21 .274 .319 .455  101
     REGULARS      3826  593 1145  207   40   97  561  438  254 .299 .371 .450  115

 3B  Glaviano       258   33   69   16    1    6   38   41   35 .267 .380 .407  107
 1B  Jones          190   25   56   10    1    4   31    8   10 .295 .323 .421   94
  C  Garagiola      161   17   41    9    0    2   18   20   13 .255 .337 .348   80
 OF  Northey        133   14   34    9    1    3   25   15    8 .256 .331 .406   93
 OF  Diering        123   20   31    7    2    1   13   11   17 .252 .313 .366   78
 S23 Klein          114   25   25    6    0    2   12   22   20 .219 .355 .325   80
  C  Rice           114   10   26    6    0    1   12   11   17 .228 .296 .307   59
 2B  Hemus           33    8   11    1    0    0    2    7    3 .333 .450 .364  116
     Others         120   13   27    6    1    1   10   11   19 .225 .290 .317   59
     BENCH         1246  165  320   70    6   20  161  146  142 .257 .335 .371   85

     PITCHERS       443   45   82    7    1    1   33   28   90 .185 .234 .212   18

     TOTAL         5515  803 1547  284   47  118  755  612  486 .280 .352 .413  108

With Musial and Slaughter leading the way, this Cardinal lineup would be formidable, not quite as good as that featured by the blossoming Boys of Summer Dodgers, but almost. And the Cards’ pitching was, as we saw last time, completely brilliant, far and away the best in the league with an ERA+ of 121.

So isn’t this interesting: the actual National League that season featured a sensational race between those Dodgers and Cardinals, with Brooklyn emerging as the winner by the margin of a single game, 97-57 to 96-58. Our Cardinals, assuming they allowed the same number of runs as the actual Cardinals, yield a Pythagorean record of 97-57: a dead heat.

But: the Dodgers’ Pythagorean record was 98-56. So if we assume that both teams performed exactly to their projections, then Brooklyn wins it by one game.

But: the actual Cardinals overperformed their Pythagorean projection by four wins. So if we assume that both teams performed against their projections as they actually did, then St. Louis wins it by five games, 101-53 to 96-58.

But: is our assumption valid, that these Cards would have allowed exactly as many runs as the real Redbirds? Defensively, the actual Cardinals were almost certainly a bit better than this version: Nippy Jones and Rocky Nelson were no doubt better fielding first basemen than Johnny Mize in 1949; Del Rice was unquestionably a better defensive catcher than Walker Cooper; and Chuck Diering was very likely a better defensive center fielder than Johnny Wyrostek. So on that basis these Cards would probably allow a few more runs, dropping their Pythagorean record down by a few wins.

But: is our assumption valid, that these Cards would have employed exactly the same pitching staff as the real Redbirds? That’s been our assumption all along, and through 1948 I think it was a sound one. However, in January of 1949 the actual Cardinals sold one of their best pitchers, solid and steady workhorse right-hander Murry Dickson, to the Pirates for $125,000. But the basis of this alternative scenario has been a Cardinals’ operation that didn’t engage in that kind of dealing: after all, these Cardinals didn’t sell Mize, Cooper, and Wyrostek. I’d say it’s only reasonable to have these Cardinals turning down the offer for Dickson as well, figuring that with him they’d have a better chance at realizing the $125,000 in World Series revenue.

So let’s assume they kept Dickson on board. He had his customary fine season in 1949, and Dickson’s presence would rid the St. Louis pitching staff of its weakest member (the marginal Bill Reeder), and ease the strain on everyone else. It’s fair to imagine that Dickson’s contribution would balance out the defensive shortcomings of Mize, Cooper, and Wyrostek, thus making our original Pythagorean assumption valid.

Given all that: one can err on the side of prudence and say that these Cardinals wouldn’t have come out on top of the extremely close races in both 1948 and 1949, but it’s equally prudent to conclude that it’s quite likely they would have emerged victorious in one of the two cliffhangers. Seeing as the actual Cardinals fell short by just one game in ’49, we can settle with the interpretation that these stronger-than-actual Cardinals finished a close second in ’48 but won their sixth pennant in eight seasons in 1949.

1950 and Beyond

The actual 1950 Cardinals fell out of contention, coming in fifth place at 78-75, their least competitive showing since 1938. Our version, with Mize, Cooper, Wyrostek, and Dickson on the roster, would certainly have been a stronger team than that, but without doing the math I’ll say it’s highly unlikely they would’ve been enough to make up the 12.5 games by which St. Louis fell short. In that season and those that followed, age began to overtake several key Cardinals, and the remarkable St. Louis farm system (as we saw here), now facing competition for amateur talent with numerous other organizations in a way they hadn’t in the past, was unable to restock the roster as efficiently as before. The 1950s would be a decade of frustration for the franchise, and it’s reasonable to conclude that the presence of Mize, Cooper, Wyrostek and Dickson at the decade’s outset wouldn’t have been able to significantly forestall that eventuality.

But they would have been able to ensure that the Cardinals of the late 1940s would be a great team, and that the franchise over the decade of the 1940s would have been one of history’s foremost dynasties.

References & Resources
The rules for this game are the same as we followed in our examinations of the 1930 Giants and the 1954 Indians: we re-tool an historical team’s roster, not by invoking any acquisitions they didn’t actually make, but instead by simply erasing a few transactions they did make.

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