Had Harry Brecheen received the usual Major League trial at a younger age, rather than making it in fast company as an older man, he assuredly would be in the Hall of Fame. But The Cat, so nicknamed for his exceptional defense, cut his teeth in the minors while also getting them capped, filled and brightened. By the time he made the Major Leagues to stay, he was nearing 30 years of age.
Brecheen got his first look with the Cardinals in 1940 at the age of 25 but failed to impress and spent the next two years at Columbus in the American Association. With World War II raging overseas, many ballplayers joined the colors, thus opening the door for minor league veterans like Brecheen. The Cardinals recalled him in 1943 and he quickly established himself as a superior southpaw. As a rookie, The Cat posted a tidy 2.27 ERA and missed a fair amount of bats–he averaged just 0.726 hits per inning pitched.
Brecheen went 16-5 in 1944 as the Redbirds captured another NL Flag. Harry started Game 4 against the town rival Browns and tossed a complete game victory as the Cardinals won the title. In top form in 1945, Harry led the National League with a .789 winning percentage. The slim southpaw posted an ERA of 2.52 as the highest his ERA climbed during the war years was 2.85.
When the war ended and the stars returned to the diamond, critics felt that Brecheen, who hadn’t established himself before the war, would struggle. But he put a plug on his critics, pitching the Cardinals to the World Series in 1946. The Cat won 15 games on a 2.49 ERA but was at his best in the World Series. His Cardinals took on the powerhouse Red Sox that had a terrific offense of Ted Williams, Bobby Doerr, Rudy York, Johnny Pesky and Dominic DiMaggio, but Brecheen handled them supremely. He carried the Redbirds through the Fall Classic, winning three games on a 0.45 ERA. He tossed a Game 2 shutout and won Game 7 in relief.
An All-Star in 1947, Harry won 16 games for the Cardinals and followed that up with a 20-win season in ’48. The 1948 season was The Cat at his best. Brecheen led the senior circuit in winning percentage, strikeouts, shutouts and ERA. In 1949, he posted his fourth straight year of 200+ innings worked before he started to slow down in 1950.
Brecheen entered the 1950s in his mid-30s but was still a reliable hurler. The Cat had a .667 winning percentage in 1951. In 1952, he averaged just 0.820 hits per inning pitched. Because he was no longer able to stretch out his arm, the Redbirds released him after the ’52 season and he pitched his final season with the Browns, posting a 3.08 ERA in the process. After his playing days concluded, The Cat became a highly respected pitching coach, credited with helping along Harvey Haddix among others.
W 133/L 92/PCT .591/G 318/CG 125/IP 1,908/H 1,731/BB 536/SO 901/SHO 25/ERA 2.91