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. 56: MILLER HUGGINS
Huggins had fallen in love the the game playing in the sandlot leagues around his hometown in Ohio, but had to hide his enthusiasm from his stern father who regarded play of any kind as time wasted. He also had to endure teasing because of his slight stature, which scorecards and programs of the day generously listed at 5-foot-6 and 140 pounds. Those who knew Huggins would later say he didn’t stand an inch taller than 5-foot-2.
But, as a smooth second baseman and a tough out at the dish, Huggins played well beyond his size. A former law student at the University of Cincinnati, he helped himself with a clever mind and a strategic approach to the game. He was adept at pulling off the hidden-ball trick, luring runners off base as if waiting for the pitcher to make his delivery, then tagging them out when their lead got too big.
He also trained himself to hit left handed just to reduce the number of steps his short legs had to take on the way to first base.
Through effort and baseball smarts, Huggins eventually earned the respect of his teammates and opponents alike, though they still saddled him with nicknames like “Mighty Mite.”
By 1910, he had played six seasons with his hometown Cincinnati Reds before, but was traded to Britton’s St. Louis club in exchange for veteran pitcher Fred Beebe and infielder Alan Storke. It was a curious trade as far as the Cincinnati fans were concerned, especially since Reds Manager Clark Griffith had already commented that “No matter who I get for Miller Huggins, I’d be cheated.”
Huggins, 32 by this time, went on to have his best seasons as the Cardinals second baseman. He hit for good enough average, but reaching base and crossing the plate were Huggins’ calling card.
In 1910, his .399 OBP was helped along by a National League-best 116 walks. The year after, he batted just .261, but had a .385 on-base percentage and scored 106 runs, earning him votes for MVP. In 1913, he reached base at a .432 clip to lead the NL and his 14 errors were the fewest among the league’s second basemen.
In seven seasons with the Cardinals, Huggins batted a respectable .270 with a .402 on-base percentage and he averaged 98 runs scored per season.
After a sixth-place finish in 1912, during which the Cardinals went a miserable 63-90, the Manager and Hall of Fame catcher Roger Bresnahan tried to trade Huggins. Britton didn’t just veto the deal, she fired Bresnahan and replaced him with Huggins, who stayed on five seasons as player-manager.
He led St. Louis to just two winning seasons, but had things moving in the right direction by 1916 with the signing of a good-hitting rookie infielder named Rogers Hornsby.
Mrs. Britton, the first female owner of a professional sports franchise, promised Huggins the right to first refusal should she ever decide to put the Cardinals on the selling block. When the opportunity arose, Huggins went home to Cincinnati to drum up some financial assistance. While he was gone, Britton sold out instead to a group of St. Louis-based investors led by businessman Sam Breadon who, in turn, hired Branch Rickey away from the St. Louis Browns to run his ballclub.
Huggins was stung by the betrayal, but dutifully led the Cardinals to 82 wins and a third place finish in 1917.
Rickey offered to double his salary and pay him a share of club profits if he stayed on as manager. Huggins felt he deserved a share larger than the Cardinals’ board of directors would agree to and he, instead, accepted an offer to manage the New York Yankees.
The rest of the story goes down in baseball legend. The serious-minded Huggins became a famous foil to Babe Ruth, a talented and undisciplined superstar, and in 12 seasons with the Yankees, won 1,067 games with a .597 winning percentage, including six American League pennants and three World Series championships.
He died prematurely on Sept. 25, 1929, less than two weeks before the end of the season and his dream of team ownership unfulfilled. Huggins was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1964.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1910-1917
.270/.402/.319 with Cardinals | 97 runs per season | 19.1 WAR | HOF ‘64
TOP 100 SCORE: 2.93