The United Cardinal Bloggers puts together monthly projects and post ideas for the group of us to chime in on. Next month will start another run of round-table discussions, a personal favorite. This month they have asked us each to summarize our top five iconic moments in St. Louis Cardinal history.
That’s a lot of history to pour through, even for a historian like myself. My top five will be moments that I personally remember, whether on television or in attendance, that are ingrained in my mind and truly define my love for that franchise.
Number Five: Where 1998 Started
A lot of writers will plug in the great home run chase into their top fives, but I’m not sure many would utilize Opening Day of the 1998 season.
As a fan, it is one of my favorite games to attend. The fanfare and celebrations around the city are a holiday like no other. From the parade of champions to the player introductions, it is a ballgame that rivals any other. In 1998, long before anyone realized the special season we were about to witness, the player we would all cheer for to chase the unreachable record would start things off in grand style.
During a scoreless game entering the bottom of the fifth inning, Dodger starter Ramon Martinez would find himself in some trouble. A lead off double to Gary Gaetti followed by a base hit by Tom Lampkin would have runners at the corners with no one out. Back-to-back strikeouts of Cardinal hurler Todd Stottlemeyer and lead off man Royce Clayton had Martinez back on top. When the Dodger pitcher failed to retire Delino DeShields, Mark McGwire stepped to the plate with the bases full. The one ball, no strike pitch to McGwire landed deep in the left field seats, an opening day home run in front of a crowd of just under 48,000. The city of St. Louis would erupt in the middle of the game and while home runs 61, 62 and 70 would not only be etched in the record books, it was the opening day grand slam that I was in attendance for that started it all.
Number Four: The Passing Of The Guard
A tumultuous few years seen a Cardinals franchise changed forever. Fan favorite manager Whitey Herzog would leave, former popular player Joe Torre would arrive and take the reigns of a team that had very little support from upper management, and a new era would be ushered in with the arrival of Tony LaRussa.
Tony would stick around for a long time, making decisions that would make the most die hard fan question his methods, only to find that his methods lead to victories, and championships, along the way. The biggest change, and the one that most fans could not bring themselves to move past, happened after the arrival of LaRussa, however.
Prior to that arrival, in 1992, franchise legend Ozzie Smith had filed for free agency. By December, the team had reached an agreement on what was being called a “Lifetime Contract”. That contract guaranteed the short stop three million dollars a year and automatically renewed the following season if he reached a modest amount of plate appearances. The contract also included a $500,000 signing bonus, payable upon retirement, and a 10-year personal services contract.
in 1996, with the arrival of Tony LaRussa, Walt Jocketty, and a new ownership, the team reached an agreement with former Giants short stop Royce Clayton. It was the beginning of the end for the man known as “The Wizard”, Ozzie’s playing time was cut drastically and his contract would not roll over. While Ozzie had reached the age of 41, many fans believed him still capable of handling the position and was forced out of the league by the new regime. Ozzie would retire after the season and enter the Hall Of Fame later as a member of the St. Louis Cardinals, but the decision to remove him from the short stop position in St. Louis was the single most iconic personnel change in my life at the time.
Number Three: Go Crazy Folks
On a personal note, my family moved to Missouri in 1985. I was a young, eight year old boy that was just truly discovering the beauty of the game. That summer, I attended a Cardinals game against the Chicago Cubs and had fallen in love with the beauty of listening to the game on the radio.
I was sitting on the living room floor, not to far from our console television, with the sound on mute so that we could hear Jack Buck instead of the national announcers. I can remember the feeling of anxious anticipation with Ozzie at the plate. No one, not one baseball fan anywhere, can say honestly that they expected what happened next.
Angela at Diamond Diaries explains that reprinting the words and recounting the scene does not do it justice. The moment, as provided by Ozzie Smith, was shared by Jack Buck. It was the combination of the two that created a moment in my mind that will live forever. Without Jack’s call, it was a great walk off moment. But with Jack Buck on the mic and Ozzie Smith hitting his first home run of the year from the left side of the plate, the moment became iconic.
Number Two: Grief
It is hard to believe that number two on our countdown will have happened 10 years ago by this summer.
I remember the news on June 18, 2022 announcing the passing of a man that I had grown to idolize. The reason I wanted to write and do radio and continue being around this game was Jack Buck. The sight of him, frail and suffering, in front of a crowd days after the September 11th tragedy was hard to watch and harder to process. Legends like him are not supposed to die. When he passed away, I wept openly. A man I had never met face to face, yet I felt I spent a portion of my adult life with, was gone and I reacted as if he was family. Because he was. One of my first articles for Baseball Digest contained the simple phrase “I miss Jack Buck…” and I don’t think I have written another line with as much feeling as I did that day.
As iconic of a moment as the passing of Jack Buck was, it was four days later that the moment came to close in Chicago. Settling in to watch a game with the Cubs, I could not understand what the delay was. The game was delayed but there was no rain and the announcers were not saying why, other than an emergency. A tearful Joe Girardi, the Cubs catcher and team captain at the time, approached a microphone near the plate and announced that the game would be postponed due to “a death within the Cardinal family”. We would later find out that Darryl Kile, the Cardinals ace of their pitching staff, had lost his life in his hotel room the night before. Ironically, Kile’s last pitching performance was a 7-2 Cardinal victory over the Anaheim Angels on the day Jack Buck passed away.
In four short days, the Cardinals family had been shaken to the core. The moment, all four days of it, is etched in our minds.
Number One: We Will See You Tomorrow Night
Maybe it ranks this high because it was so recent. Maybe it is because I am a sucker for announcers. Maybe it is because of who I watched the game with. Maybe it is all of those reasons. However you count it, this past post season was magical.
The night of Game Six was amazing, no doubt. From the game tying hits, the come from behind moments, and the “they just won’t go away” moments, it was an emotional roller coaster ride that I had never experienced as a fan. The end of the game, however, is what ensured that I would never forget it.
David Freese would send the crowd home happy with a game winning home run to center field that would fit the mold of the season. A game-six, walk off home run was enough to make it iconic. What came across the television cinched it as a moment I will never forget. When I heard Joe Buck exclaim as the ball landed in the grass beyond the center field wall, “We will see you …. tomorrow night,” I immediately commented that he used his father’s call. A moment for the ages suddenly spanned a generation of fans. It brought back memories of Jack. It created a new found respect for Joe. It wasn’t forced. It didn’t feel scripted. It simply flowed across the screen and then, as friend Bob Netherton points out, he and Tim McCarver did the thing that most broadcasters fail to do. They shut up. The let the fans at home be overflowed with the emotion of the moment and share in the joy of the fans at the park. Cardinal Nation, from coast to coast, was united. It was an amazing, and iconic, feeling.
Bill Ivie is the editor here at I-70 Baseball as well as the Assignment Editor for BaseballDigest.com.
He is the host of I-70 Radio, hosted every week on BlogTalkRadio.com.
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