Some of the Cardinals’ most memorable teams are the underdogs, the ragtag bunches that pulled a championship out of thin air for one of the 11 in franchise history. Or those that came close but fell just short.
But it takes a winning regular season to get there, and when it comes to those, few National League teams can rival St. Louis’ history of continued success: nine 100-win seasons; 24 90-win seasons (not counting those by the Browns in the 1800s); 23 pennants.
These are the Cardinals’ winningest regular seasons (ranked by win percentage in the case of a tie):
1. 1942 | Record: 106-48
Result: World Series champs over Yankees
The Rookie of the Year Award didn't come into existence until 1947, but had it been in place, Stan Musial might have had a strong case for the honor. Behind Musial and Hall of Fame outfielder Enos Slaughter, who finished as runner-up for the NL MVP Award, the Cards won the NL pennant by just two games over the Dodgers, leading the league in runs scored (755), batting average (.268), on-base percentage (.338) and slugging percentage (.379). St. Louis went on to defeat the Yankees in the World Series, 4-1.
2. 1943 & 1944 | Records: 105-49
Results: World Series runners-up to Yankees ('43); World Series champs over Browns ('44)
The Cardinals would not let up from their record-setting 1942 season, falling just one game short of tying the mark each of the next two campaigns. Musial had fully arrived by these two seasons, winning MVP honors in 1943 while leading the Majors in an obscene amount of offensive categories. The Yankees would get revenge on the Cards that postseason, though, before St. Louis returned to the Fall Classic for the third consecutive year in 1944 and reigned triumphant over the local foe St. Louis Browns. The dynasty of the 1940s would win one more title in '46 before having to wait 18 years for another crack at the postseason -- and another title.
3. 2004 | Record: 105-57
Result: World Series runners-up to Red Sox
Not all great teams are teams of destiny. The 2004 Cardinals know this better than most, winning 105 games and the division by 13 games under Tony La Russa. Three members of the lineup -- Albert Pujols, Scott Rolen and Jim Edmonds -- finished Nos. 3-5 in MVP voting, respectively, helping the club lead the NL in runs per game, OPS and hits. After bypassing the Dodgers in the NL Division series and eking by Roger Clemens and the Astros in Game 7 of the Championship Series, the Cards ran into a team of greater destiny, the Curse of the Bambino-breaking Red Sox, and were swept in the World Series. It would take two more years for the club to break its own 24-year World Series drought.
4. 1931 | Record: 101-53
Result: World Series champs over Athletics
The legendary Gashouse Gang of the 1930s in truth had more memorable squads than the 1931 team (most notably, the '34 squad, though they only won 95 games). But the 1931 club is alone in eclipsing the 100-win mark over the decade. An astounding five Hall of Famers -- Jim Bottomley, Frankie Frisch, Burleigh Grimes, Chick Hafey and Jesse Haines -- ensured the club never dipped below first place after May 30, winning the NL by 13 games. And all this came before Hall of Famer Dizzy Dean was a full-fledged Major Leaguer the very next year.
5. 1967 | Record: 101-60
Result: World Series champs over Red Sox
Not to be outdone by the 1931 squad, the ‘67 club was rife with Hall of Famers in its own right. Orlando Cepeda, acquired in May of the 1966 season, led the group as the unanimous NL MVP, pacing the league with 111 RBIs. In a rotation with Hall of Famers Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson, Dick Hughes shined brightest as a rookie, pitching to 16 wins and a 2.67 ERA. Lou Brock was in his full form, leading the NL in steals, runs and at-bats as the quintessential leadoff man. Decades before falling victim to Boston twice in the World Series, the 1967 club edged the Sox in the Fall Classic on the back of Gibson’s three complete-game victories, including one in the clinching Game 7.
Other 100-win campaigns: 1985 (101-61, lost World Series); 2005 (100-62, lost in NLCS); 2015 (100-62, lost in NLDS).