The Cardinals In Time: Turning Things Around
During the offseason we have been taking a look at the past, giving readers a timeline of St. Louis baseball throughout history. Last time we learned about Gussie Busch and the beginning of Bing Devine’s work with the Cardinal’s front office. Unfortunately the product on the field was not good at all, and the Cardinals were finding themselves at the bottom of the National League food chain. Things had to go up. Who would become the answer?
The Cardinals’ players just did not like Solly Hemus. Players knew he was not using his best lineup simply because he was not utilizing players like Curt Flood, Bill White, and Bob Gibson – all African American players – the way he should have. In 1960, he pushed All-Star and Gold Glove winning first baseman White out in the outfield, flipping him back and forth between leftfield, centerfield, and first base. Hemus also pushed Stan Musial around the diamond, never leaving him in one place for any length of time and seeing him find time in left, right, and first. Musial had his second “down” year in a row, hitting .275/.354/.486 and seeing the fewest number of at-bats in the season (378) than any other in his twenty-two year career. Of course, it is quite difficult to perform at the top of your game when you are constantly shifting your role and sliding up and down the lineup, but I digress…
Third baseman Ken Boyer won his third consecutive Gold Glove in 1960, and led the team in basically every major offensive category. On the pitching rubber Larry Jackson had arguably his best season wearing the birds on the bat, going 18-13 and leading the team with fourteen complete games on the year. Ernie Broglio rounded out a 21-9 record and 2.74 ERA by pitching twenty-eight games in relief to go with twenty-four starts. All of that combined to bring the Cardinals back up to a respectable 86-68 record, good enough for third place in the National League behind the upstart Pittsburgh Pirates, led by Bill Mazeroski, Roberto Clemente, and Dick Groat.
Things changed in 1961. Despite the assumption that Hemus was a “player’s manager,” the fact that he and Stan the Man obviously did not see eye to eye (not to mention any of the African American players) did not go unnoticed by the front office. Bing Devine had to make a change, and by the time he went to Gussie Busch and requested that the change be made Gussie was irritated by the Cardinals’ then 33-41 record. He told Bing that whatever he wanted to do was fine, so Bing made the switch, firing Hemus and bringing in coach Johnny Keane. Keane had been a minor league manager for the Cardinals’ farm system for many years and had worked his way up to an assistant coach for the big league squad when he took over the reins.
Keane knew what it would take to turn around several of the players on the team. He went to Stan Musial and told him that he was still a valued and productive member of the team. The 40-year-old Musial stepped it up and had something of a return to form. Keane went to Curt Flood and installed him as the permanent centerfielder, went to Bill White and made him the full-time first baseman, and went to Bob Gibson and changed his career.
Up until 1961 Bob Gibson had been on the outside looking in on the Cardinals’ pitching staff. He pitched, sure, but not particularly well, and was largely unknown by most. He had been bounced in and out of the rotation and bullpen, and was 2-6 on the season before Johnny Keane came in. The new manager was swift in righting Gibson’s career, handing him the ball for the first game in his control and informing the big pitcher that he trusted him to take care of business. That night Gibson threw a complete game and won 9-1 on the road against the Los Angeles Dodgers. The rest of the way he went 11-6 under Keane and finished with a respectable 13-12 record and 3.24 ERA. The Cardinals all dusted themselves off after a rough first half and went 47-33 with their new skipper. They wound up 80-74, good enough for only fifth place in the National League.
By now Gussie had owned the team for nearly a decade and had never even come within smelling distance of a pennant, much less a World Series win. He was impatient, and when Mr. Busch was impatient he was apt to fly by the seat of his pants. 1962 did nothing to improve his mood. The team finished 84-78. This record was only good enough for sixth place in the newly expanded ten team National League. Gibson and Jackson led the pitching staff, but the real story in 1962 was the resurgence of Stan Musial. “The Man” played in 135 games (the most for him since 1958) and hit a much more Musial-like .330/.416/.508.
Gussie’s impatience led to a big change after 1962. At the suggestion of one of his friends he decided Bing Devine was not getting the job done, so he brought in an old friend to be a “senior consultant” for the team. Who was that man? Why, none other than Branch Rickey. Suddenly Devine found himself having to get approval from a man who had left the team in the dust over 15 years prior. If he wanted to make a move, he had to go to Rickey, and if Rickey approved he would go to Busch and inform him what was going to happen under “his acceptance.”
Devine and Rickey, while having a mutual respect for each other, did not necessarily see eye to eye, and had to find creative ways to work around the other. The first real road block came before the 1963 season, when Devine wanted to make a trade with Pittsburgh, swapping shortstop Julio Gotay and pitcher Don Cardwell for Diomenes Olivo and Dick Groat. Rickey did not like the deal, stating that when he made deals, he got the younger players, not the older ones. Gotay was “up and coming” in his mind, while the 31-year-old Groat’s best years could be behind him.
Eventually Devine rounded up a crew of “baseball minds” and went to Rickey again to convince him to make the trade. When Rickey realized he was outnumbered and surrounded by a team that was firmly convinced that he should go through with the trade, he acquiesced. Groat became a Cardinal, and the team was starting to take shape. The infield especially was a fearsome thing to look at for an opposing batter. The entire starting infield of Ken Boyer (1B), Dick Groat (SS), Julian Javier (2B), and Bill White (1B) started in the 1963 All-Star game, the first time this had ever happened in the history of the game.
Another new face on the field in 1963 was 21-year-old Tim McCarver. McCarver was a hotshot rookie who had offers from sixteen different teams before finally taking the Cardinals’ $75,000 offer to sign at age seventeen. Behind the plate he was the captain of the team, even at such a young age. He called the game like a seasoned veteran, and had enough spitfire in him to set the clubhouse ablaze. Having him there working with Gibson, Broglio and Curt Simmons pushed the team to the brink of the pennant. A late push probably saved Bing Devine’s job from the ever increasingly antsy Gussie Busch, but when Gibson broke his leg taking batting practice in mid-September, it became too much. They finished 93-69, six games back of the Dodgers.
To begin explaining what happened in 1964, I turned to i70 Baseball’s historian Bob Netherton for help. He made my job easy by dropping some tidbits about this very team in a recent post on his own site. Here is what he said:
Of all the come-from-behind teams, the 1964 Cardinals may have been the best. Not only did they win many of their games in the late innings, it was an unbelievable surge in August and September that propelled them to the World Series. This was not the first time they had rallied late in the season either. Johnny Keane’s Cardinals almost pulled off a similar upset in 1963, falling just a few games short of the Dodgers in the end. If Branch Rickey had not played the role of puppet master in the summer of 1964, there might be more pennants blowing in the wind in St. Louis. ’64 was no fluke, and Johnny Keane is a very underrated (and unappreciated) manager.
The key to the ’64 Cardinals success? Mischief at the top of the batting order and then the big names coming up big. Curt Flood and newcomer Lou Brock terrorized National League pitchers with their hitting and base running. It would not be the only time they did this, but in 1964, the middle of the order was brutally consistent in the second half of the season. Ken Boyer and Bill White challenged each other down the stretch, with Boyer winning the NL MVP in the end. The few runners that this duo left on base were quickly driven in by Dick Groat, Tim McCarver or a new local kid named Shannon. There were some great role players on the team as well. Dal Maxvill, Carl Warwick and Bob Skinner all made big contributions, especially in the World Series, but it was the everyday players that brought the pennant to St. Louis in 1964.
How about that newcomer in Brock? Devine knew around the trading deadline that something needed to happen – that spark to push the team over the top. He called Chicago. Yes, the Cubs. He had spoken with Cubs’ GM John Holland in the offseason about a kid named Lou Brock. The kid looked like he had talent, but had no clue what to do with it. The two sides agreed – Brock for Ernie Broglio.
The rest of the Cardinals were actually perplexed by the trade. Broglio had been an eighteen game winner in 1963 and Brock was a green knucklehead that tried to pull every ball out of the ballpark and ran the bases like a gazelle. It made no sense. There was no way for them to see what Brock would become. However, under Keane and the rest of the Cardinals’ management, their little speed demon would hit .348 the rest of the year and swipe thirty-three bases.
Gussie Busch was not satisfied with what Devine had been doing. Despite all his friends begging him not to do so (even Branch Rickey – who had realized that Devine actually knew what he was doing), Busch fired his GM and brought in Bob Howsam from Denver. Johnny Keane almost got the ax as well, but Busch had to back down. The season rode out dramatically, as the Phillies had to have one of the most grand collapses in the history of the game in order for the Cardinals to catch up, pass, and then capture the pennant away from them.
The World Series almost felt like an afterthought after the race to the finish of the regular season.
The mighty New York Yankees were once again the foes awaiting the Cardinals in the World Series. By now the two teams had faced each other five times in the Fall Classic, but the last time had been 1943, and the Yanks had run away with that one 4-1. By the ninth inning of the third game, the score was 1-1, both in games won and in runs on the scoreboard. Barney Schultz, the knuckleballer that Bing Devine had brought in midway through the year, came in to hold down the score for the Cardinals. The first man he faced was the fearsome Mickey Mantle. Schultz threw his bread and butter knuckler to Mantle, but the pitch did not knuckle, and Mickey had a nice meatball to smash into the third deck of Yankee Stadium, giving the Yankees the win and the Series lead, both by a score of 2-1.
It felt back and forth the whole Series. In the fourth game the Yankees jumped out to a three run lead, but a grand slam blast by Ken Boyer in the sixth inning was all the firepower needed, and reliever Roger Craig helped finish out the win for the Cards. The score was tied again in game five and it led to extra innings. Bob Gibson pitched his heart out and ended up winning in ten innings thanks to a three run blast from battery mate Tim McCarver in the top of the inning. The tide had shifted and now the Cardinals were up 3-2.
The Yankees were not going away quietly, and tied the Series at three apiece with the deciding game seven left. Yanks manager Yogi Berra turned to Mel Stottlemyre, who lasted only three batters into the fifth before being pulled for a string of pitchers that paraded out from the Busch Stadium bullpen. Keane went with his ace, and Bob Gibson went out and pitched a complete game victory. The team staked their big right hander out to a 6-0 lead before Gibby gave up a three run home run to Mantle, but it was too little, too late. The Cardinals eventually won the game 7-5 and the Series 4-3.
Gussie Busch had his World Series ring, and the Cardinals were back on top, thanks to the strong arms of Gibson, Simmons and Ray Sadecki, the fleet feet of Brock, and the mighty bats of Boyer, White, and Flood. It was good to be a Cardinal again.