Hi. If you're reading this, I've already tried to sell you a copy of The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book.

Here's the pitch: It's for Cardinals fans who love words and numbers. In addition to the titular records—pitching, hitting, postseason, famous and strange and unnecessary—it tells some of the story of some of the people who left those numbers behind. When I started writing I thought of the book as a combination of stories and numbers, but I realized after a while that it was story all the way through. Some of them are written out, and others are included here in the beautiful numeric shorthand baseball has developed over 150 years.

It's got 17 chapters and it's about 200 pages long. And to thank you for not calling me a sell-out, here's Chapter 11, which offers a look at some Cardinals records that probably won't be broken. I hope you enjoy it.

Silver King Wins 45 Games (and Other Unbreakable Cardinals Records)

Some Cardinal could theoretically win more games than Bob Gibson’s 251.

They could even rap more base hits than Stan Musial’s 3630, and make a run at Jim Bottomley’s sacrifice bunt record (somebody has to have it) while they’re at it. Ed Karger’s ERA (2.46, just ahead of John Tudor), Gibby’s strikeouts (3117), and Jason Isringhausen’s saves (217) could all go down before this copy of The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book decomposes in some post-apocalyptic used book store.

But nobody in any future Busch Stadium will ever win more games in a season than Silver King’s 45.

They’d be lucky to do it in any two consecutive seasons. Such is baseball history: Some records are difficult to break because a player was so good, but a different subset is impossible to break because baseball was unrecognizable when it was first set.

Silver King, a teenaged prodigy who jumped from the dissolving Kansas City Cowboys of the National League to the St. Louis Browns before the 1887 season, went 32-12 in his first full year with the club, sharing pitching duties with veteran Dave Foutz (25-12) and superstar pitcher-outfielder Bob Caruthers (29-9.)

In 2011 a 19-year-old with great stuff would be on strict pitch counts and treated, generally, like his arm had been handcrafted from tiny clockwork pieces by a team of Swiss engineers; in 1887 the sidearmer led the pennant-winning Browns with 390 innings.

King was so good that the Browns’ eccentric owner, Chris von der Ahe, sold Caruthers to Brooklyn and let Foutz—who’d won 41 games just the year before—follow him there.

With two even younger pitchers as his only help in the rotation King made 64 of the team’s 137 starts that year, going 45-20 and leading the American Association in wins, games, shutouts, innings pitched (584 2/3), and ERA (1.63.)

He was, predictably, finished by the time he was 24 years old.

You would recognize what Silver King played as baseball, but not right away. A base on balls wouldn’t come after four pitches out of the strike zone for another year; catchers weren’t allowed to wear mitts, and they’d just begun to wear chest protectors. 1887 was the first year a hitter was no longer allowed to call for a high or a low pitch.

The debate over new-fangled statistics was played out between the old guard’s Runs per Inning, which had dominated the box scores of the 1860s, and batting average, which emerged along with the National League.

There was probably no outfield fence at your local ballpark, and for his part Silver King pitched in a “crossfire” motion out of something called a pitcher’s box, 50 feet away from the hitter. (King’s motion was the subject of much debate—he started from one edge of the box and swept all the way to the other side before delivering the ball sidearm.)

That, then, is how you win 45 games and pitch 584 innings in a season; at 60 feet six inches, with pitchers on strict pitch counts from the moment they leave aluminum bats behind and begin drawing paychecks, even Chris Carpenter would find it difficult to convince his pitching coach to leave him in.

Here are some other players who’ve been helped to their slice of immortality by changes in rules and run-scoring:

1. Tip O’Neill’s .492 batting average. The only record in Cardinals history even more defined by its context than Silver King, Tip O’Neill managed to hit .492—the highest single-season batting average ever—by hitting .435 at the right moment in history.

1887 was the only year in Major League history when a walk was counted as a base hit, and O’Neill, already one of the most dangerous hitters in the American Association, put together what was far and away the best season of his career that year, hitting what we would recognize as .435 and leading the league in runs scored (167), hits (225), doubles (52), triples (19), home runs (14), and RBI (123.)

Under the rules of that one season, however, O’Neill just missed being the only player in Major League history to bat over .500. If you’re not willing to give the AA’s 1887 braintrust that much credit, it’s all academic, anyway; O’Neill’s .435 average is itself 11 points higher than Rogers Hornsby’s best season.

And that’s not even taking into account his second career as Speaker of the House in the 1980s.

2. Mark McGwire’s 70 home runs. It could be that the recent decline in home run totals is just a historical blip, but less than 20 years after McGwire’s record-breaking season it seems impossible to imagine a player who could hit a home run every seven times the pitcher was brave enough to throw to him.

The Cardinals have had some great home run hitters—Albert Pujols, Johnny Mize, Rogers Hornsby—but Mark McGwire is still the only Cardinal ever to hit 70, 60, or 50 home runs in a single season.

Behind the Numbers...

The Gold Glove Awards, presented by Rawlings, have been given since 1957 to the best defensive players at each position, as voted by managers and coaches in each league. The coaches are justly derided for some of their more esoteric selections—Rafael Palmeiro once won a Gold Glove at first base by playing 28 games there—but it’s difficult to criticize them for selecting Ozzie Smith 13 consecutive times, including 11 as a Cardinal.

Only one other hitter’s even come close—Pujols owns the four highest totals after McGwire, but he missed joining the 50-home-run club by a single circuit clout in 2006.

3. Ozzie Smith’s 11 consecutive Gold Gloves. Playing defense is a young man’s game. Research suggests that, if hitters peak sometimes around 27, defensive brilliance is something for teenagers and early-twentysomethings, who have fresh arms and legs that no amount of veteran smarts can make up.

That’s true for most shortstops, but it wasn’t for Ozzie Smith, who arrived in St. Louis a 27-year-old with two Gold Gloves and proceeded to win the next 11—and deservedly so. According to some advanced statistics, Smith had his best defensive season in 1989, when he was 34 years old. That’s why no Cardinal is likely to match his 11 consecutive Gold Gloves, especially at the most demanding defensive position of all.

Cardinals Gold Glove Award Winners

Year
Player
Position
1958
Ken Boyer
Third Base
1959
Ken Boyer
Third Base
1960
Bill White
First Base
Ken Boyer
Third Base
1961
Bill White
First Base
Ken Boyer
Third Base
1962
Bobby Shantz
Pitcher
Bill White
First Base
1963
Bobby Shantz
Pitcher
Bill White
First Base
Ken Boyer
Third Base
Curt Flood
Outfield
1964
Bobby Shantz
Pitcher
Bill White
First Base
1965
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
Bill White
First Base
Curt Flood
Outfield
1966
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
Curt Flood
Outfield
1967
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
Curt Flood
Outfield
1968
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
Dal Maxvill
Shortstop
Curt Flood
Outfield
1969
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
Curt Flood
Outfield
1970
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
1971
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
1972
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
1973
Bob Gibson
Pitcher
1975
Ken Reitz
Third Base
1978
Keith Hernandez
First Base
1979
Keith Hernandez
First Base
1980
Keith Hernandez
First Base
1981
Keith Hernandez
First Base
1982
Keith Hernandez
First Base
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1983
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
Willie McGee
Outfield
1984
Joaquin Andujar
Pitcher
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1985
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
Willie McGee
Outfield
1986
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
Willie McGee
Outfield
1986
Terry Pendleton
Third Base
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1988
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1989
Terry Pendleton
Third Base
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1990
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1991
Tom Pagnozzi
Catcher
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1992
Tom Pagnozzi
Catcher
Ozzie Smith
Shortstop
1994
Tom Pagnozzi
Catcher
2000
Mike Matheny
Catcher
Jim Edmonds
Outfield
2001
Fernando Viña
Second Base
Jim Edmonds
Outfield
2002
Fernando Viña
Second Base
Scott Rolen
Third Base
Jim Edmonds
Outfield
2003
Mike Matheny
Catcher
Scott Rolen
Third Base
Edgar Renteria
Shortstop
Jim Edmonds
Outfield
2004
Mike Matheny
Catcher
Scott Rolen
Third Base
Jim Edmonds
Outfield
2005
Jim Edmonds
Outfield
2006
Albert Pujols
First Base
Scott Rolen
Third Base
2008
Yadier Molina
Catcher
2009
Adam Wainwright
Pitcher
Yadier Molina
Catcher
2010
Albert Pujols
First Base
Yadier Molina
Catcher
2011
Yadier Molina
Catcher

4. Stan Musial’s 177 triples. If you really want to know the kind of player Stan Musial was you can look at nearly everything he did on a baseball field; all of it paints a picture of a tireless worker and a flawless athlete. But nothing says quite so much in so little space as Musial’s 177 triples. The Man led the National League five times in that category, picking up 20 in a season twice, and he did it despite never being known for his quickness.

He just hit the ball hard and he ran. Without line drive hitters like that, hustle like that, and continuity like that—Musial hit 10 triples in 1942 and two triples in 1963, and 165 in between—it’s impossible to imagine a Cardinal coming near this mark. Since Musial’s career ended only Lou Brock has topped 100 triples with the Cardinals, finishing at 121; after that there’s just Willie McGee, with 83.

5. Lou Brock’s 888 stolen bases. The flip-side of McGwire’s 70 home runs, Brock’s stolen bases came in a historical moment that was uniquely suited for relentless, reckless base-stealing. It was before the home run made stolen bases a dangerous proposition; before purist baseball fans made Astroturf an anathema; before sabermetrics calculated the exact break-even point for bag-thievery.

And it came from a player who arrived fully-formed at that exact moment and kept outrunning the baseball until he was 40 years old. Unless the next Busch Stadium’s center field wall is 500 feet from home plate we’re unlikely to see a challenger to Brock’s career or single-season records any time soon.

6. Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA. Gibby’s 1968 would be one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time no matter where it had occurred—in Coors Field circa 2000, at the height of the Dead Ball Era, in Silver King’s pitching box—but that impossible number 1.12, half again as low as his next-lowest ERA, came in the canonical Year of the Pitcher, the season everyone stopped scoring runs at once.

That year the Cardinals’ top slugging percentage belonged to Lou Brock, who scraped out a .418 mark thanks to his 14 triples. Their top run producer was Mike Shannon, who drive in 79, and their top scorer was Brock, who needed every part of those 14 triples, 46 doubles, and 62 stolen bases to score 92 runs. And that was the fourth best offense in the National League! Meanwhile, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers each managed a lower team OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) than light-hitting Mike Matheny did in his career.

It was a different kind of baseball, and the year it happened Bob Gibson was the most dominant pitcher on planet earth. The only way anyone will ever approach it again is if every hitter in Major League Baseball simultaneously forgets Babe Ruth existed, and begins slapping the ball to the infielders and trying to run out ground balls.

John Tudor is the only other starter since World War II to appear on the Cardinals’ top-ten single-season ERA list, with his brilliant season in 1985.

That’s just one of the records Bob Gibson isn’t likely to relinquish any time soon. His complete games and shutouts are untouchable, in the seven-reliever era, and with 250 innings tougher to reach every season his 3884.1 would require a starter to lead the league about 15 seasons running. And while he’s at it—his 24 home runs as a pitcher lead Cardinals starters by just as wide a margin.

Redbird Reference: Brian Jordan

Every year hundreds of Major League draft picks are two-sport athletes. Every several years one of those athletes is good enough that he moves from one sport to another. But of those few, even fewer would do what Brian Jordan did. The Cardinals outfielder played both baseball and football at the same time, toiling in the minor leagues in the summer while playing defensive back for the Atlanta Falcons in the NFL.

In 1988, when the Cardinals took him 30th overall in the MLB Draft, Jordan was a much better prospect in baseball than in football; eventually he went in the seventh round in the 1989 NFL Draft, going to the Buffalo Bills at the verge of Mr. Irrelevancy. Most players might have taken his subsequent release in stride and concentrated on baseball year-round. Instead, Jordan made the Atlanta Falcons and developed into an All-Pro defensive back, leading the Falcons in tackles his final season and earning an alternate selection to the Pro Bowl.

Meanwhile, his baseball career had begun to stagnate; at 24 the former first-rounder hit just .264 with four home runs in AAA Louisville. Jordan could have put together a solid career as a football player, but the Cardinals offered him thrice his NFL salary to play baseball exclusively, and Jordan must have taken it as a challenge.

Eventually he’d star on the 1996 Cardinals squad that just missed the World Series, but before that Brian Jordan had already earned himself an unbreakable record of his very own: His five interceptions are the most in St. Louis Baseball Cardinals history.

4. Stan Musial’s 177 triples. If you really want to know the kind of player Stan Musial was you can look at nearly everything he did on a baseball field; all of it paints a picture of a tireless worker and a flawless athlete. But nothing says quite so much in so little space as Musial’s 177 triples. The Man led the National League five times in that category, picking up 20 in a season twice, and he did it despite never being known for his quickness.

He just hit the ball hard and he ran. Without line drive hitters like that, hustle like that, and continuity like that—Musial hit 10 triples in 1942 and two triples in 1963, and 165 in between—it’s impossible to imagine a Cardinal coming near this mark. Since Musial’s career ended only Lou Brock has topped 100 triples with the Cardinals, finishing at 121; after that there’s just Willie McGee, with 83.

5. Lou Brock’s 888 stolen bases. The flip-side of McGwire’s 70 home runs, Brock’s stolen bases came in a historical moment that was uniquely suited for relentless, reckless base-stealing. It was before the home run made stolen bases a dangerous proposition; before purist baseball fans made Astroturf an anathema; before sabermetrics calculated the exact break-even point for bag-thievery.

And it came from a player who arrived fully-formed at that exact moment and kept outrunning the baseball until he was 40 years old. Unless the next Busch Stadium’s center field wall is 500 feet from home plate we’re unlikely to see a challenger to Brock’s career or single-season records any time soon.

6. Bob Gibson’s 1.12 ERA. Gibby’s 1968 would be one of the greatest pitching seasons of all time no matter where it had occurred—in Coors Field circa 2000, at the height of the Dead Ball Era, in Silver King’s pitching box—but that impossible number 1.12, half again as low as his next-lowest ERA, came in the canonical Year of the Pitcher, the season everyone stopped scoring runs at once.

That year the Cardinals’ top slugging percentage belonged to Lou Brock, who scraped out a .418 mark thanks to his 14 triples. Their top run producer was Mike Shannon, who drive in 79, and their top scorer was Brock, who needed every part of those 14 triples, 46 doubles, and 62 stolen bases to score 92 runs. And that was the fourth best offense in the National League! Meanwhile, the New York Mets and Los Angeles Dodgers each managed a lower team OPS (on-base plus slugging percentage) than light-hitting Mike Matheny did in his career.

It was a different kind of baseball, and the year it happened Bob Gibson was the most dominant pitcher on planet earth. The only way anyone will ever approach it again is if every hitter in Major League Baseball simultaneously forgets Babe Ruth existed, and begins slapping the ball to the infielders and trying to run out ground balls.

John Tudor is the only other starter since World War II to appear on the Cardinals’ top-ten single-season ERA list, with his brilliant season in 1985.

That’s just one of the records Bob Gibson isn’t likely to relinquish any time soon. His complete games and shutouts are untouchable, in the seven-reliever era, and with 250 innings tougher to reach every season his 3884.1 would require a starter to lead the league about 15 seasons running. And while he’s at it—his 24 home runs as a pitcher lead Cardinals starters by just as wide a margin.

Redbird Reference: Austin McHenry

In 1921, three seasons into his Major League career, an unnamed baseball executive told a magazine that Austin McHenry was the best left fielder he’d ever seen. He had just finished hitting .350, with 37 doubles, 17 home runs, and 13 outfield assists from his cannon of an arm. He was 25 years old.

In August of 1922 he was out of baseball, and in November he was dead.

That’s the sad, incredible story of Austin McHenry, a Cardinals great who could have been but wasn’t. As late as June of 1922 everything seemed to be all right with the Cardinals’ young slugger, but Branch Rickey, who’d scouted McHenry and would go to his grave disclaiming about his brilliance, noticed something was amiss when McHenry—known already for how easy everything he did appeared to look—struggled to track down routine fly balls.

McHenry told Rickey he’d been having trouble seeing, and was sent home to Ohio to rest. A month later he returned, but only for a series—Rickey could tell he wasn’t well, and sent him back again.

In the fall McHenry was finally sent to a hospital, where they discovered he had a brain tumor. An operation in October failed, although recover seemed like a possibility, but by November things had gotten worse and he was sent home to die.

He’d hit .303 that year, just well enough that his career line will confuse every new generation of baseball fans who stumble across his entry in the encyclopedia. And any of them who look further will only find more questions, and a small set of sad facts, waiting for them.

7. Jesse Burkett’s 185 singles. If you want to know what players like Jesse Burkett, turn-of-the-century star of the St. Louis Perfectos and Browns, looked like, imagine Ichiro. Burkett’s 185 singles in 1899 are the 12th most any player has ever managed in a single season, and the only players on the same list are “Wee” Willie Keeler, Lloyd Waner, and—Ichiro, 100 years removed from all those 19th-century stars.

Ichiro aside, unless the Cardinals sign their own slap-hitting savant the days of 185 singles in 221 base hits are probably over.

8. Albert Pujols’s Intentional Walks. Pujols has all those unbreakable and nigh-unbreakable Stan Musial records to deal with, but there’s one place in which he’s already made his mark: Intentional walks.

A relatively recent introduction into the baseball record books, Pujols averaged 24 intentional walks a year in his first 10 seasons, as National League pitchers found themselves increasingly terrified of the Cardinals’ first baseman, peaking at 44.

But with sabermetric thought increasingly turned against the intentional walk as a strategy, Pujols may be the last of the Cardinals’ stars to get avoided quite so frequently. It’s impossible to tell yet whether the intentional walk is tomorrow’s stolen base, but that’s how records work.

Records are made to be broken because the moment you can’t reach them they become impossible to fathom—they cease to become records at all, at least of anything you can imagine.

Short of stepping into a time machine, dressing yourself in an exceedingly baggy, heavy uniform with a tiny wool cap, and swinging an impossibly heavy bat against Silver King yourself, it’s impossible to know what winning 45 games in a season—pitching almost half your team’s games—even looks like. Only a few years after the fact it’s become difficult to consider anybody hitting 60 home runs in a season, let alone 70.

These records might be dormant, or little more than relics of baseball’s many different phases, but that’s never once kept Cardinals fans from celebrating the weirdest and most outstanding. ✭

Redbird Reference: Ozzie Smith

From the moment he showed up on Busch Stadium’s sweltering Astroturf Ozzie Smith was as brilliant as anticipated on defense, but few could have predicted he’d end up such a great hitter, too. That was how Ozzie Smith worked—he set expectations high and exceeded them anyway.

It’s easy to forget, in hindsight, just how controversial Ozzie Smith’s arrival in St. Louis was. Garry Templeton, the shortstop the Cardinals traded straight-up for Smith, had only five seasons earlier made one of the impressive debuts in history, hitting .322 with 200 hits and 18 triples at just 21 years old. At the time, with shortstops hitting worse than ever as a group, that was difficult to overvalue.

But the team was changing rapidly under new manager Whitey Herzog, and when, that August, Templeton got into it with some Busch Stadium fans and made an obscene gesture, his ticket out of town had been punched. Smith, locked in a contract dispute in San Diego, made the perfect challenge trade: Silver-Slugging hitter for Gold Gloved fielder.

Unfortunately for the Padres, the Cardinals ended up Smith, rail-thin at 5’11”, was rarely a threat for extra bases, but in St. Louis he turned into a remarkably pesky hitter, slapping singles and drawing walks so effectively that he eventually won an improbable Silver Slugger-Gold Glove combo in 1987. That ability to get on base, combined with his speed, made him one of the best hitting shortstops of his light-hitting era. The player who got the bat knocked out of his hands in 1981, when he slugged just .256, finished his career with an above-average on-base percentage.

But his defense was always the main attraction. On the astroturfed fields of the 1980s, which gave high, predictable bounces, Smith’s defense looked not just wizardly but clairvoyant—he could chase down baseballs bounces in advance, and later on when arm injuries robbed him of strength and accuracy he began throwing remarkably precisely on a carefully timed hop.

It was natural talent that made him brilliant, but it was that incredible baseball sense, that infield intuition, that kept him brilliant a decade after most shortstops had been moved off the position and then retired. As he slowed, as his arm faltered, even as he struggled to stay on the field, Smith played outstanding defense. He was simply better than everyone else at everything it takes to be a shortstop, and he was for nearly 20 years.

That combination of time and brilliance made Ozzie Smith a St. Louis institution, although the backflips on his way out to the infield didn’t hurt. Arriving at Busch Stadium after a long dry spell, personifying the team’s first World Championship in 15 years, Smith was the only constant presence through three pennants in the 1980s and another dry spell in the 1990s. By his retirement in 1996 he’d seen one generation of Cardinals and seen the dawn of the next with Tony La Russa’s appearance.

By then Smith had become inimitably popular, not just around St. Louis but across baseball. At 41 years old he’d earned 15 All-Star berths and 13 Gold Gloves, and his victory lap of the National League was one of the great stories of the season.

Smith was the perfect player for a victory lap; nobody could see him do what he did—barehand grounders at shortstop, backflip, or just grin like he’d never stopped playing baseball for fun—and dislike him.

Buy the book

The easiest way to buy The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book is online; Amazon will sell it to you for $10 and change, and then throw me a little kickback. Barnes & Noble also sells it online.

You can also order directly from your local bookstore, or walk into a St. Louis-area Barnes & Noble, where I'm told it's currently in stock.

About The Author

My name's Dan Moore, and I've been writing about the Cardinals on the internet since that entailed going to their official forum and chewing out people who didn't like Ray Lankford as much as I did. Now I write about them as the managing editor of Viva El Birdos, SB Nation's Cardinals blog.

The Ultimate Cardinals Record Book is my first book. I also co-edited the Viva El Birdos Baseball Annual, an ebook collecting exclusive long-form essays and journalism about the 2012 St. Louis Cardinals.

I live in Springfield, Illinois, and when I'm not writing about baseball my fiction appears in very tiny literary journals. You can write me from my SB Nation profile.