St. Louis Cardinals streaks – a brief history

As is often the case, news articles and message board discussion pique my curiosity, which lead to me heading to the reference books. That in turn leads to a post like this one.

A recent thread on the message board concerned the number of Cardinals world championships. That was rooted in the question of when the official beginning of the Cardinals as we know them really was.

Many feel there is a legitimate case that the club’s origin is not 1892 as the team themselves accept, but instead should also include the 1882-1891 St. Louis Browns of the American Association.

I happen to agree with those folks, but oddly, the Cardinals seemingly do not. Maybe the club did it that way to enable their 1992 centennial celebration season.

The 1887 Browns hold the American Association record for most consecutive wins with 15, a point to which I will return later. The League was in operation for those same ten years, 1882 through 1891.

As an aside, this reminds me of the unfortunate 2006 passing of Erv Fischer, the Cardinals official historian. Had he still been alive, I would have engaged Erv in this discussion. I have always felt that the Cardinals don’t do nearly enough to put their rich heritage front and center and apparently not replacing Erv hasn’t helped. This is made even more difficult by the team’s Museum’s “temporary” closing due to the Ballpark Village delays.

At any rate, back to the Browns. A reader wondered aloud why the 1898 club had been re-named the “St. Louis Perfectos”. By then, the Browns had been run into the ground and both the club and its owner were on their last baseball legs. Here is what I answered.

“The Browns had been put up for auction prior to the season when the league finally got rid of troublesome owner Chris Von der Ahe. The new owners, Frank and Stanley Robison, owned a streetcar line as well as the Cleveland Spiders of the American Association. They basically remixed the two teams, putting all the best players in St. Louis.

“Perfectos” was their arrogant assessment of their new roster. The “Cardinals” name reportedly came from the team’s change from brown to red socks and was coined by a sportswriter that season. 1899 Spiders went on to be one of the worst teams ever.”

That got to me to thinking about those 1899 Cleveland Spiders. In the above, I called them one of the worst teams ever. I need to correct that. They were THE worst team ever.

Their .130 winning percentage (20-134) is the lowest in both pre-1900 and post-1900 major league play. Those Spiders also own the major league record for consecutive losses with 24.

As I was looking this up in the Elias Book of Baseball Records, I noticed another interesting factoid. The 1884 St. Louis club holds the pre-1900 record (and post-1900 if allowed, as well) for highest winning percentage in a season. That team posted an .850 winning mark (91-16).

Interestingly, those 1884 St. Louis Maroons were part of a fledgling third league created by Henry Lucas when he could not initially gain entry into the National League. credits the Maroons with three more wins and losses than does Elias, 94-19 (.832) in the only year of existence of the Union Association.

No matter which way you count it, it was an incredible season. Unfortunately, the Maroons were so good, the other clubs in the league struggled at the gate, hastening the end of the league. Before the Union Association folded, the Maroons also picked up the circuit’s consecutive victories mark with 20.

Staying with the primary subject here, streaks, Elias’ longest credited MLB win streak is one that I strongly question. The 1916 run by the New York Giants of 26 games should be called the longest “non-losing streak”, in my opinion.

The Giants’ stretch consisted of 14 wins, then one tie followed by 12 more wins, with all 27 games played at home, by the way. The argument goes that since tie games were replayed back then, the tie didn’t count as part of the permanent record. Yet the stats counted, so should the game, in my view. Apparently, I am in the minority.

The next longest streak is owned by the 1935 Cubs, who won 21 in a row. That was in a 154-game season. Since the 162-game season came into being, the 2002 Oakland A’s hold the record at twenty consecutive wins.

Interestingly, the Cardinals keep two sets of books – the all-time club records and the team highs and lows since 1970. I can’t figure out why they selected that particular year, but they did.

The all-time Cardinals streak records:

Consecutive wins: 14 in July, 1935. Not a particularly long run by Frankie Frisch’s club. I had expected more from the famed Gas House Gang (pictured). Wild Bill Hallahan had four of the wins as the Dean brothers logged three each.

(Note: The Browns won 17 straight American Association games in May-June 1885.)

Consecutive losses: 15 in September, 1909. Looks like they were mailing it in. Glad it was a long time ago!

The post-1969 records:

Consecutive wins: 12 games in April, 1982. Whitey’s boys started out strongly on the way to a championship. The winning streak was stopped by ex-Cardinal Steve Carlton. Grrr.

Consecutive losses: 11 games in May, 1978. Another sad reminder of the dark decade of the 70’s. If you don’t remember the managerial reign of Vern Rapp, consider yourself fortunate. Although to be accurate, these losses actually occurred on the watch of Ken Boyer. The former third baseman and team captain inherited the mess when Rapp was sacked after 17 games of the 1978 season.

My next curiosity, whether there is any relationship between long streaks and a successful or unsuccessful season, is coming in a subsequent report.