Top Five All-Time Cardinal Managers: Number 1 – Billy Southworth

Finally!  We come to number one on my list of Top Five All-Time Cardinal Managers.  He led the Cardinals through their greatest run of glory since the 1880’s when the franchise was known as the St. Louis Browns.  William Harold Southworth.

Billy Southworth was born in Harvard Nebraska on March 9, 1893.  At the age of 19, he signed a contract with the Portsmouth Cobblers of the Ohio State League.  He played in 134 games in 1912 and batted .278.  in 1913, he got his first taste of life in The Show as he was called up to the Cleveland Indians.  He got into one game, but never got up to bat.  He came in as a late inning defensive replacement for Left Fielder Jack Graney at the tail end of a 7-1 loss to the A’s at Shibe Park in Philadelphia.  He would return to the majors with the Indians (also known as the Naps in honor of their star player, Second Baseman Napoleon Lajoie) in 1915 and play in 60 games with a .220 batting average.  In the interim, he married Lida Brooks and they would have a son William Brooks Southworth (know professionally as Billy Southworth, Jr.).  Southworth would not return to big leagues again until 1918 when he played in 64 games for the Pittsburgh Pirates and batted .341.  The next year, he became a big league regular for the first time.  He manned Left and Right Field most of the time, batted .280 and led the National League with 14 Triples.  He remained in the regular lineup in Pittsburgh in 1920.  He was the everyday Right Fielder and batted .284.  It should be noted that during his playing career, Billy was part of two trades that involved Hall of Famers.  On January 23, 1921, Billy and two other player were traded by the Pirates to the Boston Braves for Hall of Fame Shortstop Walter (“Rabbit”) Maranville and on November 12, 1923, he and one other player were traded by the Braves to the New York Giants for Hall of Fame Shortstop Dave “Beauty” Bancroft and Casey Stengel (who would make it to Cooperstown as a manager), plus one other player.  The final trade of Billy Southworth’s big league playing career came on June 14, 1926 and saw Southworth go from the Giants to the Cardinals  for Heine Mueller, which may have been a factor in the Cardinals’ drive to the 1926 World Series triumph over the New York Yankees in Seven Games.  He played his last games for the Cardinals during the 1929 Season and then retired as a player.  In 13 seasons as an MLB player, Billy Southworth played in 1192 games and batter .297.  In three season as a Cardinals’ player, he was used mainly as a spare part, appearing in 210 games, but he batted .305.  In the postseason, he had one at bat in the 1924 World Series as the Giants lost to the Washington Senators in Seven Games.  In the 1926 Series, he appeared in all Seven Games, had 10 hits, batted .345 and even hit one home run.

In 1928, Billy Southworth got his first managerial job as he took the reins of the Rochester Red Wings, the top farm club in the Cardinal system and led his team to the International League championship. His success at Rochester earned him his first shot at managing in the big leagues with the parent club. The team started out slowly and were not used to Southworth’s disciplinary methods. After a doubleheader sweep at the hands of the Braves in Boston on July 21, the Cards’ record stood at 43-45 and Billy Southworth was out as Cardinal manager.  Gabby Street (who lead the Birds on the Bat to their second World Championship in 1931) would serve as manager for one game.  On July 24, Bill McKechnie, who Southworth had replaced before the 1929 Season, was brought back as Cardinal skipper.  He piloted the team to a 34-29 record the rest of the way and the team finished in Fourth Place.  Southworth was sent back to Rochester to manage had continued success.  However, personal problems began to take their toll.  He began to drink following the death of his wife and he struggled with alcoholism.  After quitting a coaching job with the New York Giants in 1933, he left baseball for two years.  In 1935, after marrying his second wife Mabel Stemen (with whom he had a daughter), he returned to baseball and resumed his duties as the manager of the Cardinals Rochester farm team.  In 1940, Billy Southworth once again became the manager of the St. Louis Cardinals.  Under Ray Blades, the Cards stumbled out of the gate with a 14-24 record and June 7, Ray Blades was fired.  Mike Gonzales, a longtime Cardinal coach skippered the team in the interim and finished with a record of 1-5.  On June 14, Southworth was once again at the helm and piloted the Cardinals to a 69-40 record the rest of the way.  The 1940 Cardinals would finish Third in the National League with a record of 84-69.  The club would fare a little better in 1941, finishing Second to the Brooklyn Dodgers who fell to the Yankees in five games in the 1941 Wold Series.  The next year, the Cardinals would begin one of their greatest runs of glory.  Even though it did not affect the Cardinals as profoundly as it did other teams, there was one obstacle that NO team could overcome starting with the 1942 Season…..World War II!  Players from all over the major, minor and Negro Leagues traded in their flannels for the uniforms of the Amy, Navy and Marines. 

Billy Southworth still had to juggle his lineups a little.  Among the players lost to the Cardinals at various times due to military service were:  sluggers Johnny Mize and Enos Slaughter (Hall of Famers both), infielders Jimmy Brown and Creepy Crespi and pitchers Howie Pollet and Johnny Beazley (who won 21 games in the 1942 regular season and two games in the 1942 World Series).  Even Stan Musial was lost to the Cards for the 1945 Season due to a hitch in the Navy.  The 1942 Cardinals won 106 games, a franchise record that still stands, and won the National League pennant by two games over the Brooklyn Dodgers.  The Cardinals would go on to win their third World Championship over the Yankees in five games in the 1942 World Series.  The 1943 squad would be almost as good, winning 105 games and repeating as NL Champs.  The 1943 Fall Classic would be a different story as the Yankees avenged the previous year’s loss and took the Series from the Cards in five games.  In 1944, the Cardinals three-peated as NL Champs, but had a surprise opponent in the World Series as the intra-city rival Browns won their first, last and only American League Championship.  This would be the first time a World Series was contested entirely within the same ballpark since the 1922 Fall Classic between the Yankees and the Giants was played entirely at the Polo Grounds.  It would be the only time that a Series was contested entirely in St. Louis.  The Browns took two of the first three games and seemed headed for an upset until a 5-1 Redbird triumph in Game Four squared the Series at two games apiece.  The Cardinals then won the next two after that to take the Series in six games.  The Browns franchise would not win another AL Pennant until 1966 by which time, they had moved to Baltimore and become the Orioles.  Tragedy struck the Southworth family again before the start of the 1945 Campaign.  On February 15, 1945, Army Air Corps Major Billy Southworth, Jr. was killed as a Boeing B-29 Superfortress he was piloting crashed into Flushing Bay shortly after taking off from Mitchel Field on Long Island, NY during a training flight.  Billy, Sr. managed his final season for the Cardinals in 1945, but a fourth consecutive National League pennant was not to to be as the Cards finished in Second Place with a record of 95-59 and three games behind the rival Cubs.  Southworth left the Cardinals after the 1945 Season to become the manager of the Boston Braves.

In 1946, Billy Southworth guided the Braves to a record of 81-72 and a Fourth Place finish, their best sine 1934!  Southworth had two dominant pitchers to work with in Warren Spahn and Johnny Sain, which prompted the famous line, “Spain and Sain then pray for rain.”  The 1947 Braves moved up a notch in the standings to Third, but the 1948 squad brought Boston its first National League pennant since the “Miracle Braves” of 1914 and Billy Southworth his fourth and last!  However, they would lose the World Series to the Cleveland Indians in six games.  The Southworth-led Braves also got solid production from Shortstop Alvin Dark, Second Baseman Eddie Stanky and outfielders Tommy Holmes and two-time NL Stolen Base leader Sam “The Jet” Jethroe.  During his time with the Braves, Southworth never brought the team home lower than Fourth Place.  Southworth’s drinking was said to be a problem during his managerial tenure with the Braves, which came to an end on June 19, 1951 when Billy resigned.  He remained with the Braves organization as a scout and retired after the 1956 Season but before signing a young Shortstop from the Negro League’s Indianapolis Clowns in 1952…..Henry Louis Aaron!

Billy Southworth lived the last years of his life outside of Sandusky in his native Ohio.  He died on November 15, 1969 at the age of 76.  In 2008, he was elected by the Veterans’ Committee to the Baseball Hall of Fame as a manager.  In January of 2014, Billy Southworth finally received his due from the team with which he had spent his greatest years as a manager.  He and 21 others were inducted into the inaugural class of the St. Louis Cardinals Hall of Fame.   Overall, Southworth’s managerial record was 1044-704 with a .597 winning percentage, 4 National League pennants and 2 World Championships.  His mark with the Cardinals was 620-346 with 3 NL pennants and 2 World Championships.  His winning percentage of .642 ranks Second in Cardinal franchise history behind Charley “The Old Roman” Comiskey who skippered the St. Louis Browns of the American Association from 1883 to 1889 and posted a winning percentage of .674.


5 thoughts on “Top Five All-Time Cardinal Managers: Number 1 – Billy Southworth

  1. Um, the Cardinals and Browns we’re two different teams. Also, he never coached the Cardinals. So, he can’t be a top 5 Cardinals manager

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    1. Ummmmm…..Lance…..like Santa, I made a list (of my facts) and checked it twice. You’re being naughty, so, I’m gonna try to be nice. I know the Cardinals and Browns are two different teams. They DID play each other in the 1944 World Series. The Cards won 4 games to two,

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