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Brian Walton's news and commentary on the St. Louis Cardinals (TM) and their minor league system

Losing 20-game winners have not been kind to the Cardinals

As every St. Louis Cardinals fan knows by now, pitcher Adam Wainwright will miss the entire 2011 season due to injury. The 29-year-old right-hander will undergo Tommy John elbow ligament replacement surgery on Monday in St. Louis.

While losing the staff’s ace before the first official pitch of spring training has been thrown is a major blow to the team’s 2011 title aspirations, the Cardinals have overcome serious injuries in past seasons. Jerry Modene’s article running today on the main site looks at the top 10 injuries suffered by Cardinals players over the years.

Rarely has a 20-game winner been lost for the entire subsequent season, but it has happened twice in Cardinals history, as I was reminded by researcher Tom Orf. However, neither past occurrence was due to injury. Both were as a result of trades, including what I believe is the worst swap in franchise annals.

Unlike some of Modene’s examples, the Cardinals as a team suffered in both of these cases.

39 years ago yesterday, on February 25, 1972, the Cardinals traded future Hall of Fame pitcher Steve Carlton to the Philadelphia Phillies for pitcher Rick Wise.  I recall being incredibly angry the moment the deal was announced and remain so to this day.

Carlton had won 20 games for the 1971 Cards but had the audacity to ask for a raise. We’ll show him who’s boss, eh Gussie? Lefty was so crushed by the trade that he won 27 games in 1972. He went on to win a total of 241 games, four Cy Young Awards and a World Championship with the Phils. Once Carlton was gone, the Cardinals would not appear in the playoffs for another decade.

Ironically, Busch gave Wise the same salary that Carlton had requested, but the new Cardinal was no Lefty. Wise was good enough to log a pair of 16 win seasons in 1972-73, but the Cardinals dropped from 90 wins in 1971 to just 75 the next year. He was dispatched to Boston in trade that included Reggie Smith as soon as the .500 1973 season ended.

The other 20-win-to-nothing case occurred in 1985-86. Joaquin Andujar was coming off consecutive 20-victory seasons for the National League Champions.

While Andujar’s antics had him on thin ice already, his Game Seven meltdown in the 1985 World Series may have been the last straw. The volatile pitcher felt he was getting squeezed on ball and strike calls and was ejected after bumping home plate umpire Don Denkinger during the dispute. Of course, Denkinger’s blown call at first base the previous evening was viewed to be the pivotal moment of the Series.

Andujar’s reported links to a convicted Pittsburgh drug dealer probably didn’t help his standing, either. Ownership reportedly ordered general manager Dal Maxvill to get rid of Andujar and that he did. On December 10, 1985, six weeks after the bitter loss to the Kansas City Royals, the Cardinals sent their reigning two-time 20-game winner to Oakland in return for catcher Mike Heath and pitcher Tim Conroy.

Neither new player contributed much of anything to a Cardinals team that dropped from 101 wins in 1985 to just 79 the next. Andujar would win just 17 more major league games after leaving St. Louis. Ironically, Tony La Russa became his manager with 79 games remaining in the A’s 1986 schedule.

Cardinals fans can only hope that 2011 will turn out better than either the 1972 or 1986 seasons.

How many wins will Adam Wainwright's loss cost the 2011 Cardinals?

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Brian Walton

Brian Walton runs The Cardinal Nation and The Cardinal Nation Blog, covering the St. Louis Cardinals and minor league system.
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