In 1973, the Cardinals had such a dreadful start that general manager Bing Devine was being asked almost daily about whether he’d fire manager Red Schoendienst.
“I’m tired of hearing that question,” Devine said to The Sporting News. “I’ll be gone before Red.”
The 1973 Cardinals lost their first five games and 12 of their first 13. Their 1-12 record ranked among the worst in big-league history, recalling the 0-13 start of the 1920 Tigers, the 1-12 record of the 1962 expansion Mets and the 1-15 mark of the 1969 Indians.
Nerves were raw; tension was high. After Cardinals starter Reggie Cleveland gave up a key two-run, two-out double to Bill Robinson in an April 22 loss to the Phillies, Schoendienst groused, “That’s why he’s a .500 pitcher.” Boxscore
The Cardinals’ skid extended into May. After the Giants beat the Cardinals, 9-7, on May 8 (Bob Gibson yielded four home runs, two to Bobby Bonds and one each to Willie McCovey and Dave Kingman), St. Louis had a 5-20 record, the worst in the major leagues, and was in last place in the National League East. Boxscore
The Cardinals were 1-7 in one-run decisions and 0-4 in extra-inning games.
After shoring up the bullpen by calling up left-handers Al Hrabosky and Rich Folkers from the minors and acquiring veteran junkball specialist Orlando Pena from the Orioles, as well as replacing Ray Busse at shortstop with Mike Tyson, the Cardinals began to stabilize, then thrive.
From the low point of the 5-20 record, the Cardinals won 56 of their next 81 games, boosting their record to 61-50 by Aug. 5 and securing first place in the division, five games ahead of the second-place Cubs.
From there, the streaky Cardinals reverted to their early-season form.
Gibson injured his knee running the bases against the Mets and was sidelined from Aug. 4 to Sept. 29. From Aug. 6 to Aug. 18, St. Louis lost eight in a row and 11 of 12, falling to 62-61.
Overall, the Cardinals lost 31 of their last 51 games and finished in second place, 1.5 games behind the Mets.