In putting together a piece on the St. Louis Cardinals’ Double-A teams, I was faced with a tough decision – where to begin. The organization’s participation in the Texas League stretches back to at least the 1959 Tulsa Oilers with only a four-year break.
1966 was a year of major change at the A-Advanced level with the creation of the St. Petersburg Cardinals; so was it the year the Arkansas Travelers entered the Double-A Texas League in an association with the Cardinals that would last for 35 years. That is where this article begins.
As will be detailed in the following, the Cardinals had some early success in the Texas League and reached their heyday in the late 1970s with three championships in four years.
Results during the 1980’s leveled off, but as late as 1991, the club was still over .500 over the period since 1966. A very poor decade of the 1990s put the Cardinals Double-A record since 1966 in the current hole, which is 39 games under .500 at .497.
Interestingly, subtracting a four-year interlude in the Eastern League during 2001 and 2002 and the Southern League in 2003 and 2004, the Cardinals’ Double-A Texas League record is almost exactly .500 (2657-2660).
Much progress is being made in recent times. Since 2002, the team is 29 games over .500 for a .515 winning mark (500-471), including four playoff appearances during those seven years and one shared title.
|Cardinals in Double-A||Year||Pct||W||L||Division||Playoffs||Manager|
|Record all clubs||66-08||0.497||2919||2958||15|
|25 year all clubs||84-08||0.486||1668||1763||7|
|10 year all clubs||99-08||0.484||674||718||4|
|Texas League record||66-00, 05-08||0.500||2657||2660|
|Southern League record||03-04||0.505||141||138|
|Eastern League record||01-02||0.431||121||160|
|Springfield (MO)||2008||0.547||76||63||1||Ron “Pop” Warner|
|Springfield (MO)||2007||0.537||73||63||1||LC||Ron “Pop” Warner|
|Springfield (MO)||2006||0.478||66||72||3||Chris Maloney|
|Springfield (MO)||2005||0.500||70||70||3||Chris Maloney|
|Tennessee (Southern)||2004||0.493||69||71||3||TC||Mark DeJohn|
|Tennessee (Southern)||2003||0.518||72||67||2||L1||Mark DeJohn|
|New Haven (Eastern)||2002||0.532||74||65||2||L1||Mark DeJohn|
|New Haven (Eastern)||2001||0.331||47||95||6||Danny Sheaffer|
WC = won championship
WCLD = won league title, but lost in Dixie Series to Southern League champion
LC = lost in the finals
L1 = lost in first playoff round
Time with the Travs – 1966 through 2000
Other than a championship, what better outcome could there be than to post the best record in the league in your first season? The latter is what Vern Rapp’s 1966 Arkansas Travelers accomplished. Larry Stubing paced the club with a league-leading 25 home runs.
The Travs reached the 1968 finals, where they fell to El Paso. Pitcher Joe DiFabio led the Texas League with 13 wins and a sparkling 2.17 ERA.
In 1971, a one-year experiment called the Dixie Association was held during which the Texas and Southern Leagues played an interlocking schedule. Each league had their divisional playoffs, then the two league winners met. Jack Krol’s Arkansas club was the Texas League champion, the franchise’s first, but lost in the Dixie Series.
Future major leaguer Hector Cruz led the Texas League in 1973 in home runs (30), runs scored (94) and RBI s (105), accumulated during a season of just 140 games.
Despite a losing record in 1977, the Travs rode the second-half divisional crown through a perfect post-season. The club would play in the next three playoffs, too, winning two more times. Three championships in four years are a system record at any level since at least 1966 and likely longer.
In 1989, Arkansas closed out the decade as they began it, with a Texas League crown. Gaylen Pitts’ club was powered by a pair of outfielders headed for St. Louis. Bernard Gilkey paced the league in runs with 104 while Ray Lankford’s 158 hits was tops. Pitcher Dave Osteen chipped in with a league-high 15 wins.
The decade of the 1990’s plus the 2000 season, the Cardinals’ last in Arkansas, was a long, dry spell. Only three of the 11 clubs managed a winning record and the lone playoff appearance, in 1998, ended in a first-round sweep by their opponent. Joe Pettini and Chris Maloney, both in the organization today, managed the Travs for seven of the 11 seasons with Maloney being named the league’s Manager of the Year in 1998.
Four stops in six years – 2001-2004
For the 2001 season, the Cardinals parted ways with Arkansas and picked up the Eastern League New Haven Ravens from the departing Seattle Mariners. The team played in historic, but ancient (1927) Yale Field. That seemed ironic since one reason the Cardinals reportedly left Little Rock was because they wanted a replacement for aging Ray Winder Field, built in 1932.
The .331 mark (47-95) of that 2001 club set a Cardinals system futility record for the period back as far as 1966.
However, that downturn was righted quickly. Mark DeJohn arrived and took the team into the playoffs in each of the next three seasons, including one shared title in 2004.
The 2002 Ravens were led by first baseman John Gall, who led the Eastern League and the entire Cardinals system in hits (166), doubles (45), extra-base hits (68) and total bases (277). He was named the organization’s Player of the Year and repeated in 2003.
As early as that 2002 season, there were rumblings the Cardinals wanted to bring their Double-A club closer to home, with Springfield, Missouri rumored to be the destination. Yet when the Cardinals’ two-year Player Development Contract with New Haven expired, the organization signed up with the Tennessee Smokies of the Southern League for 2003 and 2004. The Smokies had been a Toronto Blue Jays affiliate prior.
The only opponent the 2004 Smokies could not defeat was Hurricane Ivan. The storm pre-empted the Southern League finals, with Tennessee and Mobile declared co-champions.
Brad Thompson was the other story in 2004. In his second professional season, he set a Southern League record for consecutive scoreless innings (49). Including 2003, the right-hander had a 57 2/3 inning scoreless streak that fell just 1 1/3 innings short of a record that had stood since 1907. Skip Schumaker led the offense and the league with 163 hits.
A new ballpark and team in Springfield
In August, 2004, the Cardinals purchased the El Paso Diablos, which had been the Arizona Diamondbacks’ Double-A affiliate, from Brett Sports and Entertainment, headed by Hall of Famer George Brett, for an estimated $9.8 million.
The organization immediately moved the club to Springfield, where they first owned a team during the 1930’s and 1940’s. Stan Musial was among the future stars to play in Springfield the first time around. He led the Western Association with 26 home runs in 1941, the year after a shoulder injury ended his pitching career. From 1932 through 1946, the Cardinals won four league titles.
Businessman John Q. Hammons had announced back in February, 2002 his plan to build a new $32 million ballpark even before a team was committed to play there. Starting in 2005, fans have filled Hammons Field seats at the rate of nearly 7,000 per game, with attendance consistently among the highest at the Double-A level.
In 2007, Ron “Pop” Warner’s Cardinals took both the first and second half North Division titles, but lost in the finals. Outfielder Colby Rasmus led the league in three offensive categories, including home runs (29), extra-base hits (69) and runs scored (93) and picked up his second consecutive Player of the Year award for the system. Chris Perez earned 27 saves prior to his promotion to Memphis.
Despite posting the best full-season record in the division, the Cardinals missed the 2008 playoffs on a tie-breaker. Fernando Salas led the league in appearances with 60 and saves with 25.
The Springfield franchise, in bad shape in El Paso, was recently ranked by Forbes as the 18th most valuable in all of the minor leagues and second highest in all of Double-A at $16.8 million. The club was named the Texas League Organization of the Year each of the last three seasons as the sky seems the limit for the Springfield Cardinals.
Cardinals system records – Arkansas/New Haven/Tennessee/Springfield
|Last ten years (1999-2008)||Level||Mark||Record||Year||Club|
|Last 25 years (1984-2008)||Level||Mark||Record||Year||Club|
|Worst single season||club||0.331||47-95||2001||New Haven Ravens (Double-A)|