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Cardinals of Yore: Max Lanier

Cardinals starting pitcher Max Lanier, who won 45 games for the Cardinals during their back-to-back-to-back pennant winning years of 1942-44, died at 91 years old on this day in 2007.

Unfortunately for Lanier, he is best known for abandoning the Redbirds in 1946 when he had a 6-0 record with a 1.93 ERA to take an offer of more money to go play in the Mexican professional baseball league. His teammate, Stan Musial, famously turned down a lucrative offer to join him. While Stan the Man became a hero, Lanier fell precipitously from his status as one of the best lefty pitchers in baseball to a guy who was spoken about in whispered tones by fans and players alike.

After pleading at the start of the 1948 season to have his five-year ban from Major League Baseball for violating his contract lifted, Lanier was finally reinstated and allowed to return to the Cardinals in 1949. (He also had to drop his lawsuit against Major League Baseball as part of the deal.) He won five games that year and maxed out at 11 wins in the 1950 and 1951 seasons. Prior to his adventure south of the border, Lanier was 74-47 with a 2.63 ERA. After his return he was 34-35 with a 3.64 ERA.

A native of Denton, North Carolina, Lanier owed his baseball career to a pair of accidents he suffered while he was growing up. Born right handed, Lanier twice broke his right arm and learned to throw left handed because of it. A finesse pitcher, he only broke 100 strikeouts twice in a 14-year career and he averaged slightly better than one strikeout for every two innings pitched.

Lanier's best season came in 1944 when he was 17-12 with a 2.65 ERA and a career high 141 strikeouts. That post season he pitched the deciding game of the Streetcar World Series in which the Cardinals defeated their Sportman's Park landlords, the St. Louis Browns, four games to two.