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. 63: TOMMY MCCARTHY
It was 80 years before Cardinals outfielder Curt Flood successfully challenged baseball’s reserve clause, but professional players were already riled by their owners’ miserly ways.
Following the 1889 season, many abandoned their teams to join the short-lived Players League of Professional Baseball Clubs that was born of their first attempt to unionize.
The St. Louis Browns — ancestors of the Cardinals, not the ones Bill Veeck moved to Baltimore — were slammed by a defection of stars following a string of three consecutive American Association championships. Future Chicago White Sox owner Charlie Comiskey, ironically, was one of them.
One of those who remained was outfielder Tommy McCarthy, a little guy with a baby face, swift legs and a big arm, who had jumped from the National League’s Philadelphia Quakers two years earlier.
He batted a modest .274 in his first season, but stole 93 bases and scored 107 runs for a team that went on to defeat the New York Giants in a 10-game World Series. In his second year, McCarthy upped his average to .291 with 136 runs scored and, in an era when fielding mitts were for sissies only, recorded 229 putouts and 38 assists from the outfield.
But McCarthy didn’t take center stage until the Browns’ big names — Comiskey, Bob Caruthers, Tip O’Neill, Silver King, et al — departed St. Louis for the greener pastures of the Players League.
For his loyalty, St. Louis owner Chris von der Ahe — who preferred the title “der boss president” — appointed the 26-year-old his team’s player-manager. McCarthy was, in fact, known as a cerebral and strategic player, who history has credited with development of the hit-and-run.
Von der Ahe, a grocer and pub owner before investing in America’s growing pastime, was instrumental in the founding of the American Association and built a rabid base of Brown fans from German immigrants by charging just 50 cents admission (National League teams charged $1) and serving beer at the ballpark — gasp! — even on Sundays. But he was short-tempered, meddlesome and, until Comiskey came along, rifled through managers like a 19th century George Steinbrenner.
Spoiled by those three consecutive pennants, and despite the roster churn, von der Ahe gave McCarthy all of 22 games and an 11-11 record before replacing him.
McCarthy, nonetheless, produced a breakout season on the field in 1890. He batted .350 with a .430 on-base percentage, belted six home runs and had 69 RBIs. He also led the league with 83 stolen bases and scored a career-high 137 runs.
The Browns finished a respectable 77-58 and in third place of the nine-team American Association. They were seven wins better and in second place the following year with the help of those players who had returned from the Players League, which had gone belly up after one season. McCarthy finished second on the club to O’Neill in average (.309) and RBIs (92) in addition to scoring 124 times.
The American Association folded the following year, in part, because von der Ahe enrolled the Browns in the expanded National League, where the franchise has since remained. McCarthy took advantage of the shuffle to move back to Boston, where he played five stellar seasons for his hometown Beaneaters, known today as the Atlanta Braves.
As stated in the article that introduced the BND’s “Greatest 100 Cardinals” project, comparing 19th century and deadball era players to those of the modern era is problematic because the game was so vastly different in its rules and equipment. Yet, considering their skill along with their influence during the formative years of the sport, it’s equally difficult to leave them out. Such was the reasoning of a committee of old-time players who, in 1946, selected McCarthy for induction into the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, 24 years after his death at age 59.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1888-1891
.306/.371/.393 slash with Cardinals | 270 stolen bases in St. Louis | Avg. 124 runs per season | 11.2 WAR | HoF ‘46
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.70