How long will the Cardinals remain above .500?


I am a resident of Washington, DC, and there was a stretch in the 80s to early 90s (long before I moved here) in which the local professional football team was arguably the premiere franchise in the NFL, after the San Francisco 49ers. In fact, from 1980-1991, only the 49ers won more games and Super Bowls. Washington was a juggernaut with a long history dating back to the 1930s, one of the few franchises that was hard to imagine being bad and incompetent.


That was a long time ago, of course, as evidenced by this tweet from the excellent Washington Post sports columnist and blogger, Dan Steinberg, which caught my eye a few weeks ago:


You probably can't see the entire graph from the embedded tweet so allow me to copy and paste it here (via the Washington Post):

You see that crescendo, right? Within the piece, which was written by Scott Allen and Reuben Fischer-Baum, we find out that was following a win on December 13, 1992, in which Washington moved to a franchise-best 76 games above .500. Seventy-six games might not seem like it a lot but for a sport like the NFL it kind of is. A team would need almost five straight years of completely winless football to bring that number back to even, or in Washington's case, nearly 27 seasons of mismanagement, bad coaching, and overpaid, past-their-prime players.


Point is, Steinberg is correct. If you were around this team in the 80s, the idea that Washington would sink to this was unimaginable. Not unlike the Cardinals, I suppose. Dating back to 1882, so covering the Brown Stockings, Browns, and Perfectos years, this franchise is at 10,918 wins versus 10,063 losses, or 855 games above .500. To get an idea of how the Cardinals got here, I made my own graph that is not quite as visually satisfying as the one from above but hopefully helpful nonetheless.


Cardinals, 1882-2019

From 1882-1900, the Brown Stockings/Browns/Perfectos/Cardinals were 31 games above .500. Then, things got bad. Especially by the start of 1920 when the Cardinals fell to 449 games below .500. You know how before 2016 we used to joke about 1908? Well, the Cardinals lost 105 games that year. It truly was bizarro world. Times were tough.


But from then on the Cardinals started a slow march back to .500, a mark by my calculations they finally hit on September 17, 1943, in a walk-off win over the already-alluded to Chicago Cubs. Stan Musial scored the winning run. In fact, starting in 1920, only the (who else) Yankees have won more games than the Cardinals. And starting in 1920, the Cardinals have had a winning record in every decade minus a few small blips in the 70s and 90s.


As for the Cardinals' stretch that would best match what Washington's football team did from the 80s to early 90s, it's right now. We're living in it. Since 2000, the Cardinals are 385 games above .500, which accounts for about 45 percent of their total games above sea level. Their peak came on September 23, 2019, following a 9-7 win over the Diamondbacks which put them at 858 games above .500 for the franchise's history. Over their final five regular season games, they gave three of those wins back.

So when can we reasonably expect the Cardinals to find themselves back at or below .500? Probably not for a very, very long time. If they went 0-162 over the next five seasons, they'd still be 45 games above .500. That's not going to happen. If they finished on average ten games below .500 for every season, the Cardinals wouldn't be back at .500 until the year 2106, when most of us reading this will be assuredly dead. And you know what, that's probably not going to happen either.


Therefore - and not that anyone actually cares about this - you can sleep tight. The Cardinals are doing fine.