The 100 Greatest Cardinals: 51-60
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. 47 BILL DOAK
Albert Goodwill Spalding was one of the most respected players in professional baseball during the 1870s. He was a man of intelligence and integrity in addition to being the dominant pitcher of his era. The big righthander won 251 games over just six seasons and his .795 career winning percentage remains the record.
But Spalding shocked many in 1877, when he gave up pitching for first base and, in an era when most played bare handed, began wearing a fielder’s glove. Others had worn gloves before, but were ridiculed in a way that was beyond the game’s biggest star. What was good for Spalding became more acceptable for others.
Spalding retired the very next season and, probably not coincidentally, started the familiar sporting goods company that bears his name to this day. Nobody advanced the evolution of baseball equipment quite like Spalding.
But a right-handed spitball pitcher with the Cardinals came pretty close.
It was in 1920 that Spittin’ Bill Doak approached Spalding’s St. Louis-based competitor, Rawlings, proposing an alteration to the gloves it provided to the Cardinals. He suggested the gap between the forefinger and thumb be strung with a webbing of leather laces to create a pocket.
To that point, fielders gloves were strictly for protection. Barely larger than the hand itself, the gloves were used to blunt the force of a batted ball while the opposite hand was used to trap it. With the added webbing, one-handed and running catches became more common, as did double plays.
A stouter defense was fine with Doak, a spindly 6-foot righthander who didn’t get much support from the mostly bad Cardinals teams that played behind him at the end of the dead ball era. In his 13 years with St. Louis, the Cardinals had just four winning seasons and didn’t finish any better than third place.
In 1914, just his second season with the Cardinals, Doak went 19-6 with 118 strikeouts and a National League best 1.72 ERA, but somehow ended up with losing records in four of the next five seasons.
In 1917, he earned two complete-game victories against the Brooklyn Robins (soon-to-be Dodgers) in one day, but finished at 16-20. The next season, the Cardinals went a miserable 51-78 and Doak sank to 9-15 despite a 2.43 ERA that ranked ninth best in the NL.
But the Cardinals got gradually better behind their young second baseman, Rogers Hornsby, who won the first of six straight batting championships in 1920. Doak benefited that same year with a career best 20 wins and a 2.53 ERA and earned his second league ERA title the year after that.
All the while, Doak fought what he perceived as a threat to his livelihood when Pittsburgh’s Barney Dreyfuss rallied the other owners against the spitball. In 1919, they all agreed to give spitballers one more season before banning the pitch altogether. Doak led a counter-lobby that eventually earned a compromise. He and 16 others would be “grandfathered in” and permitted to throw spitters through the end of their careers.
The end came for Spittin’ Bill after three games in 1929. He retired with 30 career shutouts, which rank second to Bob Gibson in Cardinals history.
In the meantime, his innovations had created a new standard for fielders mitts. Even until his death in 1954, Doak received annual royalty checks of up to $25,000 from the sales of the Rawlings glove that still displayed his signature in its palm.
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1913-1924, 1929
144-136, 2.93 ERA with St. Louis | Avg. 217 IP/year | 23.8 WAR
TOP 100 SCORE: 3.12