In 1881, entrepreneur Chris von der Ahe purchased the Brown Stockings barnstorming club, renamed it the St. Louis Browns, and made it a charter member of the American Association baseball league. The team won four league championships, qualifying them to play in the era's professional baseball championship tournament, a forerunner of the modern World Series. In two of these championships, the Browns met the Chicago White Stockings, launching the enduring Cardinals–Cubs rivalry.
In 1892, the Browns – also called the Perfectos – joined the National League. In 1900, the team was renamed the Cardinals. (Two years later, an unrelated St. Louis Browns team joined the American League.)
Notable Cardinals achievements include manager/owner Branch Rickey's invention of the farm system, Rogers Hornsby's two batting Triple Crowns, Dizzy Dean's 30-win season in 1934, Stan Musial's 17 MLB and 29 NL records, Bob Gibson's 1.12 earned run average (ERA) in 1968, Whitey Herzog's Whiteyball, Mark McGwire's single-season home run record in 1998, and the 2011 championship team's unprecedented comebacks. The Cardinals have won 105 or more games in four seasons and won 100 or more nine times. Cardinals players have won 20 league MVPs, four batting Triple Crowns, and three Cy Young Awards. Baseball Hall of Fame inductees include Lou Brock, Dizzy Dean, Bob Gibson, Whitey Herzog, Rogers Hornsby, Joe Medwick, Stan Musial, Branch Rickey, Red Schoendienst, Ozzie Smith, and Bruce Sutter.