The St. Louis Cardinals are one of the most famous major league baseball franchises. The team with the “Birds on the Bat” has won more World Series titles than any other National League club and is in second place overall after the New York Yankees.
St. Louis has been home to a National League franchise since 1892, but it wasn’t known as the Cardinals until 1900.
Behind the future second baseman of the Hall of Fame, Rogers Hornsby, the Cardinals won their first World Series in 1926 against the Babe Ruth / Lou Gehrig Yankees. The Gashouse Gang-era Cardinals dominated the 1930s thanks to Dizzy Dean, Johnny Mize and Joe Medwick, winning the World Series in 1934.
Did you know that Branch Rickey, who later became famous for getting Jackie Robinson into the Major Leagues and breaking the baseball color barrier, invented the minor league farming system we know today with the St. Louis Cardinals? It was Rickey who built a system of affiliate teams to nurture talent who would later shine in St. Louis. In the 1930s and 1940s, this system produced future Hall of Famers such as Stan Musial, Red Schoendienst, and Enos Slaughter, all of whom won world championships for the Cardinals.
The Musial-era Cardinals later gave way to a new generation, and it was Bob Gibson and Lou Brock who helped bring the World Series back to St. Louis in the 1960s. Gibson had one of the most dominant seasons in baseball history in 1968. It was so good that baseball came down the hill the following year.
The 1970s ended the Gibson and Brock years, Steve Carlton’s trade in Philadelphia, and the arrival of Keith Hernandez. Hernandez would share the 1979 NL MVP Award with Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell.
For the Cardinals, the 1980s could be summed up in one word: whiteyball. Behind manager Whitey Herzog, St. Louis baseball has become synonymous with speed, stolen bases and defense. Shortstop Ozzie Smith was taken over by San Diego, and with Hernandez, second baseman Tommy Herr, a rookie outfielder named Willie McGee and closer Bruce Sutter, the Cardinals won the 1982 World Series against the Milwaukee Brewers. After Hernandez dealt with the New York Mets, that core of players along with bat Jack Clark would take the Cardinals on two more World Series trips this decade.
In the 1980s, the Gussie Busch era ended for the Cardinals. When he died in 1989, the Anheuser-Busch brewery took over after almost 40 years under his supervision.
In 1996 the brewery sold the club to the owner group, which is still run by Bill DeWitt Jr. today. The DeWitt family brought in former Oakland A manager Tony LaRussa, who would later become the most successful manager in team history. With another former Oakland hand running the front office at Walt Jocketty, the team acquired Mark McGwire of the A’s in 1997, only later tainted by the use of performance-enhancing drugs McGwire admitted years later.
In 2001, a young rookie named Albert Pujols broke out on the St. Louis scene. He played all over the field and was the runaway winner of the National League MVP. It set the stage for the most dominant decade of offensive performance ever in a player’s first decade in Major League Baseball. Catcher Yadier Molina came on board in 2004 when the Cardinals first appeared in the World Series since 1987. Two years later, a rookie pitcher named Adam Wainwright stepped closer to a club that won its first World Series since 1982.
The Cardinals’ third World Series appearance in eight seasons was probably the most unlikely in 2011. A team believed dead in early September made it into the playoffs pitching exploits of Chris Carpenter down the track on the last day of the regular season behind the season. In the playoffs, the legend of David Freese was born. Originally from St. Louis County, Freese won the National League Championship Series MVP by completing three home races against Milwaukee. Then, in the World Series against Texas, until the team’s last hit in a Rangers clincher, a Freese triple tied the game. A Freese home run in extra innings forced a Game 7 to be won by the Cardinals and brought home an 11th World Series crown.
Albert Pujols left the company in the off-season through a freelance agency and LaRussa pulled out, but the Cardinals kept moving forward, reaching the 2013 World Series against the Boston Red Sox. Former catcher Mike Matheny now ran the club. In some ways, the Cardinals are still recovering from what happened on October 26, 2014, when outfielder Oscar Taveras, who is considered a potential talent of the generation and could have become the face of the franchise, died in a car accident in the Dominican Republic .
The Matheny era would last 6.5 seasons before he was replaced by current manager Mike Shildt in 2018.