Writing the Ride

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It’s Friday! Today’s edition of friday five things plus or minus one is about St. Louis Cardinals history in honor of the National League Championship Series starting tonight between the Cardinals and the LA Dodgers. Back in the day, when I worked at Charlie Gitto’s downtown, Tommy Lasorda always came in for lunch when the Dodgers were in town. But that’s another story.

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1899 — The Robison Brothers, Frank and Stanley, discarded the name of Browns, calling the St. Louis National Leaguers the Perfectos. The ownership also discarded the old Sportsman’s Park name in favor of League Park. The team was outfitted in red striped stockings and red-trimmed uniforms. When sportswriter Willie McHale, of the St. Louis Republic, heard a lady fan remark, “What a lovely shade of cardinal,” the new nickname was used in his column, and struck a chord with St. Louis fans. In 1900, the team officially changed its name from the Perfectos to the Cardinals.

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1920 — Sam Breadon became president and majority stockholder of the Cardinals, and Branch Rickey moved to Vice President and General Manager. This leadership team successfully developed the Cardinals, leading them to their first World Championship in 1926. One of Breadon’s first moves was to sell Cardinal Field and become tenants of the St. Louis Browns at Sportsman’s Park. Branch Rickey used proceeds from the sale of the ballpark to invest in the first Cardinals farm club affiliation at Houston, TX.

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1926 — In their first World Series appearance, the Cardinals, led by player-manager Hornsby, edged the Yankees in a seven games. The team led the N.L. in eight offensive categories. Their 90 home runs led the league, while their 82 triples placed them second. They were not caught stealing once (83 SB). Veteran 39-year-old righthander Grover Cleveland Alexander, obtained by the Redbirds in a midseason trade with the Chicago Cubs, won the second and sixth games of the Series, then came on to save the seventh game.

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1934 — The “Gas House Gang” won the National League pennant on the final day of the season, then defeated Detroit in the Series. Four games to three. Dizzy Dean predicted 45 wins between himself and his brother, Paul, a rookie. Dizzy won 30, his brother 19, for a total of 49 and each won two games in the Series. The final game of the Series, won by the Cardinals 11-0, was marked by Commissioner Kenesaw Landis’ order to eject Joe “Muscles” Medwick from the game. Medwick had slid hard into Tigers third baseman, Marv Owen, in the sixth inning, so infuriating Detroit fans that they bombarded him with fruit, vegetables and debris when he took his position in left field in the bottom of the inning. Landis removed Medwick to halt the disturbance.

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1942 — Winning 43 out of their last 51 games, St. Louis erased a 10.5 game deficit and passed Brooklyn on September 13th on their way to a world championship. The 106-48 Cardinals are considered one of baseball’s all-time greatest teams; the average player age was under 27. Home-grown talents Enos (Country) Slaughter and Stan (The Man) Musial, a 21-year-old rookie, were products of Branch Rickey’s farm system. Mort Cooper was N.L. MVP, posting 22 wins, seven losses and a 1.77 ERA. In the Series, the Cardinals lost the first game to the Yankees, then roared back to win four straight. Rookie pitcher Johnny Beazley won two games, lefthander Ernie White shut out the Yankees in the third game, and third baseman Whitey Kurowski belted an RBI-triple in the second game and a two-run, ninth-inning homer to clinch the finale.

batter1987 — Sparked by a potent offense, the Cardinals slipped no further than two games back in the N.L. East standings and claimed sole possession of first place on May 22. Beset by injuries to several key players throughout the season, manager Whitey Herzog made use of a mixture of experienced veterans and eager rookies to fill the voids created by injuries. The Cardinals extended their lead to 9-1/2 games on July 23 but saw the lead shrink to 1 game as late as Sept. 19. A come-from-behind win in New York on Sept. 11 followed by a doubleheader sweep of the Expos on Sept. 29, set the stage for the pennant clinching win over Montreal on Oct. 1. Several Cards enjoyed banner seasons offensively, including Vince Coleman (third straight season with 100 SB), Jack Clark (35 HR and 106 RBI), Ozzie Smith (.300 BA for first time in his career), Terry Pendleton (.286 BA and 96 RBI), Willie McGee (105 RBI). The Redbirds had four starters with 10 or more victories (John Tudor, Bob Forsch, Greg Mathews and Danny Cox) while rookie Joe Magrane showed much promise in his initial season. In the bullpen, Todd Worrell followed up his impressive rookie season with 33 saves and Ken Dayley overcame serious elbow surgery to post nine wins in relief. 1987 was a fantastic year at the gate as well, as the Cardinals drew a Major League leading 3,072,122 fans, becoming just the third club in M.L. history to surpass the three million mark in attendance.

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Also in 1987, I moved to St. Louis from Long Island. The Cards and Mets were enjoying a big rivalry, and t-shirts saying “The Mets are pond scum” were popular. When patrons came in to Charlie Gitto’s and heard my accent, they’d ask if I was a Mets fan. At first, I admitted to not being much of a baseball fan. Very quickly, I learned that in St. Louis, this is a worse sin than liking the Mets! The night the team won the pennant, they came into Charlie Gitto’s for a party.

It took quite a few years, but I’m a genuine Cards fan these days, and I’ll be watching the game tonight.

Cardinals history from the MLB site.

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