The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 71-80
NOTE: The BND has endeavored to identify an objective list of the top 100 St. Louis Cardinals players of all time, based on statistical formulas developed through sabermetrics. We’ll count down the list daily, player by player, until April 4, the day of the Cardinals’ 2019 home opener. The running list and player bios can be found at bnd.com.
NO. 66 AL BRAZLE
Alpha Eugene “Al” Brazle wandered through five losing minor league seasons when a stroke of luck turned around his big-league prospects.
He injured his pitching arm.
Brazle was rooming with 21-year-old budding superstar Ted Williams at the Boston Red Sox spring training camp in Sarasota, Florida, in the spring of 1940 when his arm began hurting so badly he couldn’t lift it over his head. The BoSox dispatched him first to the Little Rock Travelers of the Southern Association and then, after he lost 10 games, shipped him off to the Cardinals organization.
It was with the Texas League’s Houston Buffaloes that the gangly, 6-foot-2 left-handed Oklahoman began experimenting with deliveries that wouldn’t anger that touchy shoulder. The herky-jerky, side-armed motion he came up with resulted in an arsenal of deceptive junk that St. Louis Post-Dispatch Hall of Fame baseball writer Bob Broeg said made lefthanded batters “weep in frustration at a five-cent curve.”
In 1943, with a mounting number of their players having departed for service in World War II, the Cardinals promoted their 29-year-old rookie, who promptly gave them the best 13-game run he’d had at any level of professional baseball. Including nine starts, eight of which were complete games, he went 8-2 with a 1.53 ERA.
But just as quickly as he arrived in St. Louis — seemingly from out of nowhere — he was gone again, inducted into the U.S. Army the day after the Cardinals lost the World Series to the New York Yankees. Brazle saw combat in Germany and Austria before returning in 1946 to a well-stocked Cardinals’ pitching staff.
At 11-10 with a 3.29 ERA, he helped the Cardinals cruise to the National League pennant and pitched in his second World Series in as many big-league seasons, which St. Louis won over the Red Sox in seven games. Brazle lost the fifth game and never pitched in the postseason again, but he and that balky shoulder of his settled in for eight more productive seasons.
Whatever structural or connective tissues remained in his left arm of his must have been made of rubber. After he turned 32, Brazle went on to six straight seasons during which he pitched at least 153 innings as nearly equal parts starter and reliever.
He could pitch eight innings in a start one day and throw several more in relief the next.
He wasn’t Superman, of course — that time in 1947 when he was called on to relieve the second game of a double header with the Giants after starting the first game turned out to be a disaster. Though, just the year prior, Brazle won both ends of a double header by holding Cincinnati to one run on five hits through a total 9 2/3 innings of relief.
Shoot, in the eight career starts in which he’d had just one day of rest, he hurled three complete games and posted an ERA of 2.78.
But at Brazle’s behest, the starts became fewer and farther between. By 1952, Old Boots and Saddles, as Broeg liked to call him, took on a closer’s role and led the NL in saves two years in a row. His 61 appearances and 18 saves in 1953, in fact, were both team records at the time.
Late during the following season the Cardinals unexpectedly cut Brazle loose at age 40. He wasn’t finished yet, though — Brazle and his rubber arm moved on to Havana where he pitched another season in the Cuban Winter League.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1943, 1946-1954
97-64 (.602) | 3.31 ERA | WS ring | 21.6 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.66