1) Excerpts from "An Essay on Baseball" by Kirk F. Sniff
I was not conscious of baseball until 1961 when I was nine years old. That year, I played Little League and developed a mild interest in the Game of the Week. In those years, the Game of the Week with Dizzy Dean and PeeWee Reese typically featured the all powerful New York Yankees. It was therefore impossible to avoid some working knowledge of the magnificent skills of Mickey Mantle and Roger Maris and Whitey Ford. But despite their pervasive exposure, the Yankees never registered in my loyalties. Some inexorable force steered me elsewhere. I remember a rare Game of the Week in which the St. Louis Cardinals rallied from two runs down in the ninth to beat the Milwaukee Braves 6-5. Two of my future heroes, Curt Flood and Ken Boyer, contributed key hits to the Redbirds' successful comeback. I became aware of my latent Cardinal tendencies on that day as I sat enthralled before our black-and-white television. In 1961, the Cards were a second division team in the National League, but they attained first place in my heart.
....The reason 1964 was special was because I finally got to see my beloved Cardinals in person.
In July as the Little League season wound down, I traveled by train to St. Louis. Early one morning my mother drove me thirty miles to Eads, Colorado where I caught an eastbound Missouri Pacific train to that magical city on the River. Months before, I had selected a nine game homestand where the Cards would meet the Phillies and the Milwaukee Braves. I had then convinced my Mom that I was a mature enough as a 12-year-old to make the trip. She had arranged with my uncle Richard, who then worked as a barber in St. Louis, to house me and indulge my obsession. The train trip was a revelation. I had never seen a black person in person until I boarded that train. During the trip, I paired up with another kid, a black child from Birmingham, Alabama, and we went from one end of the train to the other just chewing up time. We had plenty of that. It took a day and a half to travel from the plains of Colorado to St. Louis.
I arrived at Union Station in St. Louis and I did not find my uncle right away. Instead, I found a game room which was equipped with a pinball baseball machine where you could actually throw curves and knucklers and hit the little ivory ball over a tiny fence. I was playing the game when my uncle Richard found me. It was early afternoon and he took me to his barber shop where I sat around and drank chocolate pop (something which didn't exist in Colorado) until quitting time. We then drove to old Busch Stadium. We went to a general admission window on the third base side and entered the ballpark about half way between third and the left field foul pole. When we entered the park it was the most beautiful site I had ever seen. The grass was incredibly green, much greener than I could imagine. The first major league baseball player I ever saw was playing catch with the ballboy in left. It was Wes Covington of the Phillies. This was my first major league baseball game and I am sorry to say that I do not remember who won the game. That almost certainly means that the Cardinals lost.
I saw nine games including a Sunday doubleheader. My most vivid memories are an enormous homerun over the right field screen by Eddie Mathews, a record putout game by the Cards' Julian Javier, and a game in which the Phillies' star rookie Richie Allen struck out five consecutive times. I went to all of the games except one by myself. My uncle would drop me off at the ballpark and my aunt would pick me up after it ended. A couple of times, I took a city bus. I discovered many treasures. I found the Sporting News, which included boxscores for every game that was played. I bought ten cent scorecards that had the averages of the each of the players. I spent my money on a Cardinal doll with a bobbing head and a pennant with a team picture that I still have. When I left St. Louis the Cardinals were languishing in sixth place but their recent acquisitions of Lou Brock and Bob Skinner were starting to pay dividends.
For most of 1964, the Philadelphia Phillies were the class of the league. But, in September, something happened. The Phils faltered and the Cardinals' speed, defense and pitching, spurred by remarkable black athletes named Brock, White, Flood and Gibson, began to pay off. On the last day of the season, the Redbirds, who had taken first place the day before, beat the Mets and won their first pennant in 18 years. Unfortunately, it was a day game which meant that I could not hear the game on the radio. Nevertheless, I heard nearly every game leading up to that triumph on KMOX with Jack Buck and Harry Carey in my father's pickup. It was the only radio that could assure me a clear signal. We won the World Series in seven games and I heard the final out on my Junior High football coach's radio at afternoon practice.
What can you say about the 1967 Cardinals. They may have been the best National League team in the century. After getting off to a 6-0 start, they never faltered. Their regular lineup was perfect, Bob Gibson was unhittable, the bullpen was tremendous, the clutch hitting was unbelievable and Orlando Cepeda was unconscious. I saw one game in person that summer. On our regular visit to Missouri, we made a side trip to St. Louis to see the Cubs. My father was 39 and had just quit smoking. He was irritable. My mother, brother and sisters couldn't care less. But I saw the Cards beat Chicago in a critical game. With two out in the bottom of the ninth, the Cardinals led 4-3. Ernie Banks was at bat and the speedy Ted Savage was on first. The Cubs started Savage on the pitch and Banks lined a shot to right. The third base coach tried to score Savage on a single. Bobby Tolan was playing in right and he made a perfect relay to Julian Javier who nailed the baserunner at the plate. The Cardinals won a thriller and the resurgent Cubs were never a serious threat again. St. Louis clinched the pennant with three weeks to go. Then they beat the overachieving Red Sox in the World Series. My pal Rod Delaney, a Yankees fan, and I listened to the last few innings of the seventh game in study hall. It was sublime.
The Cardinals were great in 1968 and my hero, Bob Gibson, may have put in the best performance by a pitcher that anyone may ever see. But through some injustice, the Cardinals lost the World Series to the Detroit Tigers. In 1969, they had one of the most gifted teams in history featuring hall-of-famers like Brock, Gibson and Carlton; not to mention perennial all-stars like Torre, Pinson, Flood and McCarver, and future stars like Reuss, Torrez and Simmons. But they lost miserably to the Mets. And, they didn't come close to winning another pennant for twelve years.
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Updated: 03/11/05 Comments? Cardsfan@ford-mobley.com