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. 57: LYNN MCGLOTHEN
Lynn McGlothen never won 20 games in a season or pitched in the playoffs, and by the end of his 11 years in the big leagues he had a losing record.
In the beginning, disappointment derived from his unfulfilled potential. At the end, it was injury. But for three seasons in St. Louis, the talent that drew him comparisons to the great Bob Gibson was far less fleeting.
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McGlothen had been a third-round pick of the 1968 amateur draft by the Boston Red Sox and had made his major league debut with an 8-7 record in 22 starts in 1972. It was during a rehab start in Pawtucket the following summer that the right-hander caught the Cardinals’ attention.
General Manager Bing Devine just happened to be on hand when McGlothen shut out the Tulsa Oilers, a Cardinals triple-A affiliate and American Association champions, on two hits.
Red Sox GM Dick O’Connell had previously deemed McGlothen untouchable, but Devine got him as part of a six-player trade that included St. Louis starting pitcher Reggie Cleveland and journeyman Diego Segui.
Unburdened by the comparisons, McGlothen was, in fact, thankful for the trade and the opportunity it provided him to share a clubhouse with Gibson. But the only wisdom the aging veteran imparted, McGlothen told the Sporting News, was a warning about throwing fastballs to Hank Aaron.
Something must have rubbed off, though, because McGlothen lived up to the lofty expectations in the summer of 1974. He led the second-place Cardinals with 16 wins and posted a 2.69 ERA with 146 strikeouts in 237.1 innings.
Lou Brock, who set the single season record that season with 118 stolen bases, and catcher Ted Simmons joined McGlothen in Cincinnati for the All-Star Game. Among the nine pitchers to receive votes for the National League Cy Young Award, McGlothen’s Wins Above Replacement ranked third and was better than winner Mike Marshall’s.
St. Louis slipped into third place, just two games over .500 in 1975, but McGlothen showed more hints of dominance in winning 15 games, which matched second-year starter Bob Forsch for the team high.
On April 29, McGlothen struck out 10 Pittsburgh Pirates in a complete-game, 3-0 shutout. On June 2, he beat the Braves 1-0 having allowed only a Darrell Evans single through eight innings. In his next start, he surrendered a single unearned run in the sixth in a 5-1 defeat of Houston.
McGlothen picked up his eighth win of the year on June 22 when he shut out the Chicago Cubs on four hits through eight innings.
By season’s end, he had pitched 239 innings, including nine complete games and a pair of shutouts.
One highlight of McGlothen’s 1976 season was the bench-clearing melee he ignited against the New York Mets.
Del Unser, a left-handed batter with not much pop, hit three career home runs off McGlothen, including a two-run, first-inning bomb during an 8-0 shellacking of St. Louis on April 20. He got his comeuppance when he faced McGlothen again in the third. The benches cleared.
“I threw at Unser. I want to make that perfectly clear,” McGlothen told The New York Times. “He hit two home runs off me last year and now another one tonight. You can’t go out there and let a guy bang away at you without doing something about it.”
Those surprisingly candid comments earned McGlothen a five-day suspension and $300 fine.
He went on to throw a career-best 10 complete games with four shutouts that season, but the wear and tear of his nearly 700 innings began to show. He won just five of his final 20 starts and finished 13-15. In fairness, the Cardinals didn’t give him much support — they scored two or fewer runs in 13 of his losses.
Still, nearly three years to the day after acquiring McGlothen, Devine flipped him to San Francisco for third baseman Ken Reitz. He pitched more than 200 innings just once more and didn’t post a winning record as a starter again.
McGlothen made his final big-league appearance as a member of the New York Yankees in 1982. Tragically, he was killed in a house fire just two years later at the age of 34.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1973-76
44-40, 3.49 with Cardinals | All-Star | 9.4 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.93