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. 21: RHP JESSE “POP” HAINES
Jesse Haines was 43 years old when he retired from the Cardinals after the 1937 season, but it wasn’t entirely because he thought his rubber arm had lost its spring.
Burleigh Grimes, the old spitballer and former teammate on two pennant winning teams, was beginning his second season as manager of the Brooklyn Dodgers and somehow convinced Haines to come aboard as his pitching coach.
It seemed like a perfect fit. It was, after all, the likes of Dizzy and Paul Dean, Ripper Collins and the other incorrigible members of the rough-and-wily Gas House Gang, who first referred to Haines as “Pop.” They revered the veteran right-hander as a father figure.
But Haines lasted just one year on the Brooklyn bench.
After 19 seasons as a big-league player, Haines had grown weary of the travel and hotel stays. Moreover, he was a country boy at heart. The native of Phillipsburg, Ohio (pop. 500) never liked the noise of the big city.
“Most clubs visiting New York in those days stayed in the Alamac Hotel at Broadway and 71st Street,” New York Times sports columnist Red Smith recalled upon Haines’ death in 1978. “On a summer evening, Pop would stand outside the entrance on 71st surveying the traffic with unconcealed loathing, and he would talk about the things he loved — the taste of a dewy morning in southwestern Ohio where he had grown up, the pure notes of a bobwhite quail’s whistle.”
As soon as the season ended, Haines would hightail it back Phillipsburg within the day. That is, unless, he was detained by a World Series, which happened five times in his career.
Haines, who took up baseball against his father’s wishes (not an uncommon tale from his generation), labored for six seasons in the bush leagues, first with the Detroit Tigers organization and then with Cincinnati’s. The Reds gave him a five-inning taste of the big leagues in 1918, then gave him his release.
Cardinals manager Branch Rickey found Haines toiling in Kansas City with the Class AA American Association Blues and had to take out a $10,000 bank loan to purchase his contract.
St. Louis was on the tail end of a colossal dry spell, with just three winnings seasons and no better than a third-place finish since the turn of the century. But they had a burgeoning batting champion at second base in Rogers Hornsby and a deep pitching staff that included Bill Doak and Bill Sherdel.
Haines joined the roster in the spring of 1920 with 18 seasons and five National League pennants ahead of him.
The 6-foot-1, 190-pound right hander led the league with 47 appearances as a 26-year-old rookie and somehow managed to lose 20 of them with a 2.98 ERA. His hard-luck season included a 3-0 loss to Pittsburgh after he had thrown 12 shutout innings. The Chicago Cubs beat Haines 3-2 in a 17-inning game despite his 9 2/3 innings of no-hit ball.
After an 18-win season in 1922, Haines went to work on his signature pitch, the knuckleball. He used his fingertips to push the ball into its splinless trajectory that creates its signature flutter. But Haines’ knuckler came in faster than most and nose-dived at the end like Bruce Sutter’s split-fingered fastball. He threw it so hard that the release would take skin off his fingers and leave a bloody streak on the ball.
Haines won 20 games for the first time in 1923 and the Cardinals had their third straight winning season.
They tripped the following season, falling back into sixth place and 28 1/2 games behind the pennant-winning New York Giants. But on July 17, “Tuberculosis Day” at Sportsman’s Park, 15,000 fans watched Haines blank the Boston Braves on a no-hitter.
Another subpar season in 1925 had the newspapers wondering if the Cardinals were trending backwards into their dead-ball era ways. They found no encouragement when Haines was knocked out of the rotation by a line drive off the ankle on April 14. But he returned in time to go 13-4, including a 4-0 August during which St. Louis won 22 of 30 games. St. Louis won its first National League pennant and advanced to the World Series against the heavily-favored New York Yankees.
Haines was masterful in Game 3, shutting out Murderer’s Row on five hits and helping himself with a two-run homer in a 4-0 Cardinals win. He picked up the win in the decisive seventh game, too, though the championship-clinching victory is best remembered for Grover Cleveland Alexander’s bases-loaded strikeout of Tony Lazzeri in the seventh inning.
With his ankle fully mended and his knuckleball knuckling like never before, Haines had his best seasons in 1927 with 24 wins and a 2.72 ERA in 300 innings. He went 20-8 in 1928 to help the Cardinals back to the World Series.
The Yankees, who won it all the year before, swept St. Louis in four games. Haines was battered in Game 3, 7-3, for the only postseason loss of his career.
Now 35 years old and his shoulder barking at him more than it used to, Haines’ days as the staff ace were over, though he did win 13 games each in 1930 and ‘31 and was 12-3 with a 3.02 ERA in 1931.
His final great World Series moment came in 1930 at the expense of Hall of Famer Lefty Grove and the Philadelphia A’s. After spotting the Athletics a first-inning run on three hits, Haines held the likes of Jimmy Foxx, Al Simmons and Mickey Cochrane to only a third-inning single the rest of the way. The Cardinals scored three runs for the win, but ultimately lost the series in six games.
Haines held on for seven more seasons, mostly as a reliever and only twice again pitched more than 100 innings. But he earned a winner’s share in two more World Series, including the 1931 win over Philadelphia and the Gas House Gang’s seven-game triumph over the Detroit Tigers.
His single season as the Dodgers’ pitching coach notwithstanding, Haines gladly returned to Ohio, where he served as the Montgomery County auditor for 28 years. His 18 seasons make him one of the longest-tenured Cardinals, second only to Stan Musial. The Veterans Committee inducted Haines into the Hall of Fame in 1970.
“When I saw how hard a nice old man like Pop could take it after losing a game, I realized why he’d been such a consistent winner and the Cardinals, too,” Cardinals former center fielder Terry Moore said. “I never forgot how much Haines expected of himself and of others.”
SEASONS IN ST. LOUIS: 1920-’37
210-158, 3.64 ERA in St. Louis | 3 WS rings | 35.4 WAR | HoF’70
TOP 100 SCORE: 4.07