We are counting down to opening day with a look at the top ten most memorable opening days in Cardinal history. You can access all of these stories by CLICKING HERE.
When the Chicago Cubs arrived in St. Louis for Opening Day at Sportsman’s Park in 1924, the two teams could hardly be any different. The Cubs had enjoyed quite a bit of success in the previous two decades, appearing in the World Series five times and winning once in 1908. Meanwhile, the twentieth century had been difficult for the Cardinals, who hadn’t placed higher than third since 1891. This did nothing but fuel a deep-seated rivalry between the two baseball-hungry Midwestern teams.
However, change was in the air as the teams took the field at 2:10 pm in front of 18,500 mixed fans. The Cardinals had added young sluggers like Rogers Hornsby and Jim Bottomley to the lineup in the previous three years, while the pitching had been bolstered by the additions of Jesse Haines and Bill Sherdel. While not yet ready for their crowning achievement, these Cardinals were about to teach the Northsiders that a new baseball dynasty had arrived.
Cardinals manager Branch Rickey made the curious decision to start 23 year-old righthander Johnny Stuart instead of Sherdel or veteran Allan Sothoron. Rickey was likely basing his decision on Stuart’s well-earned reputation as a workhorse rather than his ability; in 1923 Stuart threw two complete games in a doubleheader and won both, the only Cardinal pitcher to ever manage the feat.
Opposing Stuart was a Chicago lineup that very much resembled the 1985 Cardinals – slap-hitting, high average speedsters. The 1923 Cubs had led the league in steals (181), were second in OBP/slugging, and third in batting average. This was a potent and dangerous lineup. The key to the game would be Stuart’s ability to keep them off of the bases.
Players like young Rogers Hornsby were changing the Cardinals' losing ways
Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Stuart lasted just 3.1 innings, giving up seven hits and four earned runs. However, his teammates had staked him to an early 3-0 lead, so he left the game down by only one run. The score remained 4-3 in favor of Chicago until the eighth, when the Cubs added another run off of Bill Doak. The Cardinals didn’t score in the bottom of the eighth, so they headed into the ninth just three outs away from losing their home opener to their dreaded Illinois rivals.
Despite the fact that the Cardinals had raked Cubs starter Vic Aldridge for nine hits already, Cubs manager Bill Killefer decided to stick with his ace righthander in the ninth. It proved to be a disastrous decision; the Cardinals erupted for four hits and three runs in the bottom of the ninth. The explosion was led by top-of-the-order guys Max Flack (a former Cub) and Jack Smith, who provided a double and triple in the assault. The winning run scored on a sacrifice fly by light-hitting third baseman Howard Freigau.
The stunning comeback saved opening day, and proved to be a harbinger of things soon to come for both teams. The Cardinals were two short years away from their first of many World Championships, while the Cubs were headed into a catastrophic century of ineptitude. This was the Opening Day when Cardinals fans finally started to believe.