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I’m not entirely sure what St. Louis Cardinals fans (and baseball fans in general) thought might happen to Cardinals in 2012 after the retirement of manager Tony LaRussa and the departure of slugger Albert Pujols. But how many baseball fans (other than Pastor Joel) thought that the Cardinals would be one series away from a return trip to the World Series?
Putting that question aside for a moment, the Cardinals are eight wins away from accomplishing something that hasn’t happened since 1978: A defending champion returning to the World Series and winning with a different manager.
In 1977, the New York Yankees won the World Series with Billy Martin at the helm. In ’78, the Yanks’ season was highlighted by turmoil as slugger Reggie Jackson and manager Martin had a dugout showdown that led to Jackson being suspended and Martin eventually resigning. After one game managed by Dick Howser and with a record of 52-43, the Yankees put Bob Lemon at the helm.
After being 14.5 games behind the Boston Red Sox in July, the team responded with a 48-20 record under Lemon and tied the Red Sox for the AL East crown. They won the one-game playoff on Bucky Dent’s historic home run and went on to repeat as World Series champs under Lemon. It was the second time a team had repeated as World Series champs with a different manager.
Back in 1973, the Oakland A’s won the World Series under the leadership of Dick Williams. In the off-season, however, Williams resigned, tired of owner Charley Finley’s meddling in the team. The A’s tabbed Alvin Dark as skipper and proceeded to win their third straight title. It was the first time in MLB history that a defending champ had repeated as champs with a new manager at the helm.
In Pittsburgh, the Pirates won the World Series in 1971 with Danny Murtaugh as manager. Murtaugh stepped down as manager after the season and handed the reigns to his hand-picked successor, Bill Virdon. The Pirates finished first in the NL East with a 96-59 record, but they missed a repeat trip to the World Series when they lost three games to two to the Cincinnati Reds in the NL Championship Series.
For the St. Louis Cardinals, this is the third time in team history that the team has gone into the season after winning the World Series with a new manager. In 1926, the Cardinals won the title with Rogers Hornsby as skipper. He was replaced by Bob O’Farrell, who led the Cards to a 92-61 record, but they finished in second place in the National League and out of the playoffs.
In 1964, the Redbirds won the title with Johnny Keane as their manager. They opened the ’65 campaign with Red Schoendienst at the helm, the first of his 12 seasons as Cardinals’ manager. The defending champs ended the season 80-81, a seventh place finish in the N.L.
Can Mike Matheny and the Cardinals become the third defending champs to win a title with a new manager in the dugout? Considering how the Cardiac Cards have plowed through the playoffs in 2011 and this season, I certainly wouldn’t bet against them.
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