This series was originally published at the Redbird Daily, but is now proud to call Cards Conclave home. This installment was written by Rusty Groppel.
We continue to roll on through the top 10 of our 100 Greatest St. Louis Cardinals with #9 on our list.
UPDATE: Since the original release of this article, Mr. Brecheen was inducted in the St. Louis Cardinals Hall-of-Fame as part of the Class of 2018.
#9 – Harry Brecheen, SP (1940, 1943-52, 2x All-Star, ERA Title)
Harry “The Cat” Brecheen, was a native of Broken Bow, Oklahoma. He signed with the Cardinals in 1938, and after two seasons in the minors, debuted by pitching 3 games in 1940. For whatever reason, he remained in the minors in ’41 and ’42. Due to a spinal deformity and a childhood ankle injury, Brecheen was exempt from military service. With many players serving in World War II, Brecheen got his opportunity to stick in the big leagues in 1943 at age 28.
The first time I personally heard of Harry Brecheen, I was flipping through the pages of a freshly purchased 1st edition of Cardinals Nation (by Rob Rains) in 2003. Among the “all-time” Cardinals team, which included all positions and then a RH, LH, and relief pitcher, Bob Gibson (obviously) was the right-hander. Bruce Sutter was the closer. Brecheen was the lefty. Pretty impressive company.
And then I took a look at the numbers.
Including a 0.00 ERA in his 3.1 IP in 1940, Brecheen had a sub-3 ERA in 6 of his first 7 seasons. He had 4 consecutive seasons with 200+ IP from ’46 to ’49. From 1944-48, he had a least 15 wins every season, and then 14 in 1949 for good measure. Brecheen and Mort Cooper formed a formidable duo in leading the Cardinals to back-to-back World Series appearances in ’43 and ’44, winning it all in ’44.
Brecheen’s 1948 was particularly impressive. He won 20 games and led the league in ERA (2.24), shutouts (7), strikeouts (149), ERA+ (182), FIP (2.37), WHIP (1.037), HR/9 (0.2), K/9 (5.7), and K/BB ratio (3.04). That effort earned him a 5th place finish in the NL MVP. This was the third time in Brecheen’s career that he received MVP votes, to go along with 2 All-Star appearances.
In the 1946 World Series, Brecheen was a stud. Against Ted Williams and the Red Sox, Brecheen threw a shutout in Game 2, a 1-run complete game in Game 6, and then polished off the final 2 innings of Game 7 to seal the series win. He earned the decision in all three appearances, going 3-0 with a 0.45 ERA. He was the first lefty to ever win 3 games in a World Series. His 0.83 career ERA in World Series play was the lowest in baseball history until being bested by Jack Billingham in 1976.
According to the Neyer/James Guide to Pitchers (by Bill James and Rob Neyer), Brecheen had the 8th best screwball of all-time.
Where He Ranks
At the time he left the Cardinals, his 857 strikeouts were the most by a St. Louis lefty, until being surpassed by Steve Carlton in 1971. His 25 shutouts remains the most (and this is unlikely to change) by a Cardinals southpaw.
Among Cardinals pitchers, he ranks highly in:
|Adj. Pitching Runs||2nd|
|Adj. Pitching Wins||2nd|
|Win Probability Added||2nd|
|Hits per Nine||9th|
Wrapping it up
After his days of pitching for the Cardinals came to an end, Brecheen went across town to pitch for the Browns in 1953 for their final season in St. Louis. Brecheen would call it a career after that year. He did follow the team to Baltimore as a pitching coach and hold that position until 1967.
Now, his name might not be one of the first to come to mind when you think of Cardinals pitchers. That is a by-product of him playing 70 years ago, not because of his resume. The consistent dominance that he displayed in the mid-to-late 40’s was exceptional. He was a key member of one of the greatest generations of Cardinals teams and one of the best in the NL during his prime. Similar pitchers in his career were Cardinals Mort Cooper, John Tudor, and Max Lanier (#’s 14, 23, & 27 on our list), as well as 5-time All-Star Preacher Roe, and 2-time Cy Young winner and MVP Denny McClain.
It all adds up to one of the Top 5 pitchers in Cardinals history.
Thanks for reading!