The St. Louis Cardinals Nearly Ceased to Exist in 1911 Thanks to a Massive Heat Wave and a Train Wreck

For their 1985 World Series run, the St. Louis Cardinals adopted Glenn Frey’s The Heat is On as their unofficial theme music. This is bitterly ironic, as an actual heatwave almost indirectly led to the extinction of the entire Cardinals team 74 years earlier.

The heat is (literally) on in New England

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The summer of 1911 was not kind to anyone who lived in New England. Early in July, warm weather swept in from the southern states and put the northeast through 11 days of utter torture.

In some parts of the region, including Hartford, the mercury rose to 112 degrees in the shade. In Providence, R.I., the temperature rose 11 degrees in a half-hour. Keep in mind, in 1911, even ice was an expensive luxury, and air conditioning was decades away. Everyone else had to suffer through the heat to the best of their ability. Some didn’t make it.

People across New England died from heatstroke, exhaustion, suicide. At least 200 drowned in an attempt to escape the heat. Others reportedly “went mad”. According to the Hartford Courant, the final death toll surpassed 2,000 before the heat finally subsided.

Here’s where the St. Louis Cardinals come in

St. Louis Cardinals player/manager Roger Bresnahan
Roger Bresnahan of the National League’s St. Louis Cardinals, cocking his arm to throw a baseball, standing in front of grandstands on the field at West Side Grounds, Chicago, Illinois, 1911 | Chicago Sun-Times/Chicago Daily News collection/Chicago History Museum/Getty Images

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It just so happened that the St. Louis Cardinals were on the road at this point during the 1911 baseball season. At 3:15 a.m. on the morning of July 11th, the entire team was packed onto a train headed for Boston to take on the Braves.

The Cardinals and everybody else aboard the train faced a nasty surprise by the time they got to Bridgeport, Conn. The sweltering heat had actually warped the tracks, causing the train full of passengers to derail. Before any of the sleeping passengers probably knew what happened, their train lay in a smoldering wreck.

Incredibly, not one member of the Cardinals ball club was seriously hurt in the accident. They took up the last two cars of the train, which stayed on the rails. They were the lucky ones. 14 people died in the derailment, while 47 suffered injuries.

In a long-forgotten act of heroism, Cardinals player/manager Roger Bresnahan led the team to assist in the rescue effort. According to the Washington Herald, they “removed fifteen or twenty men, women, and children who were badly hurt.”

The aftermath of the Cardinals’ Bridgeport accident

The Cardinals’ next game against Boston was delayed and pushed to a doubleheader the following day. Their baggage was lost in the accident and they had no uniforms to play in. According to the Baseball Hall of Fame website, the Cardinals had to borrow Boston’s road uniforms for that doubleheader, which had to have made for a confusing experience.

St. Louis finished the 1911 season with 75 wins and 74 losses. This was only good enough for fifth place in the National League, 22 games behind the pennant-winning New York Giants. But at least the Cardinals, thanks to sheer circumstance, were alive and well, free to play another season. If they were placed in one of the other cars, this story might be different.