Best position-player seasons in Cards history

December 1st, 2020

ST. LOUIS -- The Cardinals have had some memorable seasons in their long franchise history, mainly because they have had some memorable players who have put together incredible individual seasons. It’s hard to compile a list of just five; some of the all-time great Cardinals could make up this list on their own. But for the sake of the exercise, we wanted to limit each player to one season.

Here are the top five individual seasons by a position player in Cardinals history:

1. , 1924
Key fact: His .424 batting average is still the highest for any modern-era player

Hornsby’s 1924 season was one for the ages. Along with his record-setting .424 average, the feisty second baseman posted a National League-leading .507 OBP and .696 slugging percentage. He also led the league in hits (227), runs (121), doubles (43), OPS+ (222) and total bases (373). He posted a 12.2 bWAR, which is the highest single-season WAR for a position player in Cardinals history. Hornsby went hitless in just 24 of the 143 games he appeared in and never more than two days in a row.

And yet, he didn’t win the NL MVP Award. Hornsby wasn’t the most likeable guy in baseball and finished second to Brooklyn Robins pitcher Dazzy Vance, who did have an incredible season (28-6 record, 2.16 ERA, 262 strikeouts).

In 1925, Hornsby won his second Triple Crown. He hit .403, slugged .756, hit 39 home runs and drove in 143 runs. He was named MVP after that season.

2. , 1948
Key fact: Won his third MVP with a .376/.450/.702 slash line, 39 home runs and 131 RBIs

In 1946, Musial led the Cardinals to a World Series championship while leading the NL in 10 offensive categories. It was his greatest season to date -- and then he went on to have one of the most brilliant seasons of any era.

Musial’s 1948 season was remarkable. Then 27 years old, the all-time Cardinals great led the Majors in eight offensive categories -- hits (230), doubles (46), triples (18), batting average, slugging, OPS (1.152), OPS+ (200) and total bases (429). Musial’s 11.3 bWAR for that season ranks just below Hornsby’s '24 season for the best in Cardinals history.

Musial came one home run shy of the Triple Crown, but legend has it that he actually did hit that 40th home run. The story goes that Musial drilled a home run in New York during a game that was lost to rain. He wrote in his autobiography that he had a homer “washed out by rain,” but pinpointing the exact details has been inconclusive.

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To fixate on what could have been, though, takes away from the true dominance Musial showed. He had five fewer strikeouts (34) than home runs. His .702 slugging percentage was a staggering 138 points better than the second-place finisher's and was the largest since Hack Wilson’s .723 in 1930. And Musial had 103 extra-base hits; it would be another 47 years before any hitter in the Majors hit 100.

3. , 2009
Key fact: Won his third MVP and led MLB in runs, homers, slugging and total bases

Much like Hornsby and Musial, it’s not easy to pick Pujols’ best season. In his first 10 seasons with the Cardinals, he was a perennial MVP candidate with four second-place finishes in addition to his three wins. Was he at his best in 2003, when he won the batting title with a .359 average? Or 2005, when he won his first MVP? Maybe 2006, when he hit 49 home runs, collected 137 RBIs, led the Majors with a 1.102 OPS in 143 games, guided the Cardinals to a World Series championship and won his first Gold Glove Award?

You probably can’t go wrong here, but Pujols flexed his dominance in 2009, when he won his third MVP by unanimous selection.

Pujols racked up a 9.7 bWAR after hitting .327/.443/.658 with a 1.101 OPS in 160 games. He led the Majors with 47 home runs and 374 total bases. He walked 115 times (44 intentional) but still managed to drive in 135 runs, hitting .361 with runners in scoring position. There wasn’t a way to pitch around him when the bases were loaded, and he went 10-for-17 with five grand slams to tie Ernie Banks’ then 54-year-old NL record.

4. , 1937
Key fact: Last National Leaguer to win the Triple Crown with .374 average, 31 homers, 154 RBIs

In his first eight seasons with the Cardinals, Joe “Ducky” Medwick never hit below .300. In an incredible run from 1935-37, he tallied three consecutive top-five finishes in MVP voting, three seasons of at least 220 hits and 110 runs and a cumulative .359 average. He punctuated the run with a magical '37 season, when the Hall of Famer won the MVP Award and the Triple Crown. He led the league in runs (111), hits (237), doubles (56), home runs (31) and RBIs (154). His .374 average led the Majors and his .641 slugging, 1.056 OPS and 406 total bases led the NL.

“I’ll stack my 1937 year with anybody,” Medwick once said.

5. , 2004
Key fact: Accumulated a 9.2 bWAR in 2004

Rolen might be a surprise pick here, but when you look at the numbers, his 2004 season belongs in the conversation. His 9.2 bWAR ties for 11th on the Cardinals’ all-time rankings (with '08 Pujols and 1946 Musial). Rolen finished fourth in MVP voting with a .314/.409/.598 slash line and a 1.007 OPS in 142 games. His 34 home runs and 124 RBIs, coupled with his elite defense at third base, made him an all-around player on an all-around great Cardinals team.

Honorable mentions
, 1985: McGee had a career year, winning MVP honors after hitting .353/.384/.503. He finished with the most hits (216) and triples (18) in the NL, and he racked up 56 steals on a team that featured speed and aggressive baserunning. McGee had an 8.2 bWAR.

, 1927: Frisch finished second in MVP voting after putting up a 9.3 bWAR season. He led the Majors with 48 stolen bases and hit .337/.387/.472 across 153 games.

, 1998: McGwire eclipsed Roger Maris’ then-single-season home run record of 61 by belting 70, homering once every 7.3 at-bats as he captivated the world that summer.