Performing in an era when two, not five, teams qualified for the postseason from the National League, the best Cardinals club produced by manager Joe Torre wasn’t a September contender, even though its record was similar to, or better than, future St. Louis champions.
On July 27, 2014, Torre and Tony La Russa, who had the most wins of any Cardinals manager, will be inducted into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. Torre primarily was elected for managing the Yankees to four World Series crowns and six American League pennants.
Torre was 351-354 as Cardinals manager from August 1990 until June 1995. His best St. Louis team, the 1993 Cardinals, had an 87-75 record but finished third in the National League East Division, 10 games behind the champion Phillies and seven behind the second-place Expos.
In 2014, the National League qualifies three division champions and two wild-card teams for the postseason. In 1993, only the champions of the East and West divisions advanced.
The 1993 Cardinals had the fifth-best record in the National League. Their 87 wins were one fewer than those posted by the 1996 Cardinals (who were Central Division champions) and the 2012 Cardinals (who qualified for the postseason as a wild-card with the fifth-best record in the league). The 1993 Cardinals had four more wins than the 2006 Cardinals, who were Central Division champions and proceeded to win the World Series title.
First baseman Gregg Jefferies led a 1993 Cardinals lineup that ranked fourth in the National League in runs scored (758) and batted a collective .272, eight percentage points better than the league average. Jefferies batted .342 with 16 home runs, 83 RBI, 46 stolen bases and a .408 on-base percentage.
Joining Jefferies among the top producers were third baseman Todd Zeile (17 home runs, 103 RBI), right fielder Mark Whiten (25 home runs, 99 RBI), left fielder Bernard Gilkey (40 doubles, 16 home runs) and shortstop Ozzie Smith (.288 batting average, 21 stolen bases).
The pitching staff featured closer Lee Smith (43 saves despite a 4.50 ERA) and three starters with winning records and double-figure wins: Bob Tewksbury (17 wins), Rene Arocha (11) and Donovan Osborne (10). But the staff was neither deep nor dominant and it produced a team ERA of 4.09, five percentage points above the league average.
A 20-7 June record put the Cardinals at 45-31 overall. After beating the Braves on July 19, the Cardinals were a season-high 18 wins over .500 at 55-37 and in second place, three games behind the Phillies and 6.5 ahead of the third-place Expos.
One month later, on Aug. 19, the Cardinals were holding steady, 17 wins above .500 at 69-52 and still in second place, but had lost ground to the Phillies, who were eight games ahead of them in the East.
As late as Sept. 19, the Cardinals were 15 wins above .500 at 82-67, but the Expos had moved past them and into second place. The Cardinals trailed the Expos by four games and the Phillies by eight.
“We have a good group,” Torre told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch on Sept. 19. “There’s a lot more offense out there than we’ve had for a while. We thought our pitching would carry us, and it did for a while, but we’re a much better team offensively than we thought at the beginning of the season.”
St. Louis then lost eight of its next 11, dashing any hopes of a postseason berth.
The Phillies won the division title at 97-65. The second-place Expos were 94-68.
“You’re happy it’s over because finishing third, when you thought you had a chance for more, it’s frustrating,” Torre said after the season finale.
Said Ozzie Smith: “We competed for a long time, but then we just sort of fell out. That’s the disappointing part.”
In an analysis of the Cardinals’ 1993 season, Rick Hummel of the Post-Dispatch wrote, “The season must be classified as a disappointment to everyone concerned. A team that should have contended didn’t contend long enough. And a team that most certainly should have finished second didn’t seem to care about that.”
Hummel gave Torre a grade of C-plus for his managing in 1993. “Torre thought he had a team that would be in it until the last few days, at the least … Try as he might, Torre couldn’t infuse enough energy into this team late in the season,” Hummel wrote.
In his three full seasons as Cardinals manager (1991-93), Torre’s teams had winning records. The 1991 Cardinals finished second in the East Division, but 14 games behind the Pirates. Here is a breakdown of Torre’s year-by-year records with the Cardinals:
_ 1990: 24-34. (Hired in August by general manager Dal Maxvill).
_ 1991: 84-78.
_ 1992: 83-79.
_ 1993: 87-75.
_ 1994: 53-61. (Players’ strike halted season in August).
_ 1995: 20-27. (Fired in June by general manager Walt Jocketty).