Following a fine start and a bad July the Cardinals won 19 of 20 games in late August and September to finish in second place and become the talk of the baseball world.
There were five hitters in the majors last year with 200 or more hits, and the Cards had three of them—Dick Groat (.319), Bill White (.304) and Curt Flood (.302). White and Flood should hit well again, and only a sudden attack of age (33) could stop Groat. White and Ken Boyer (.285) alone accounted for 220 RBIs and 51 home runs. Charley James is an excellent line-drive hitter who seems to have added the long ball. Rookie Johnny Lewis has power too, although he is not strong against lefties. Mike Shannon is one of the most highly thought-of players in the Cardinal organization, and in brief appearances last season, many of them under pressure, he hit .308. Carl Warwick, picked up from the Colts, hits with some home run power (17 in 1962) but does not hit as an outfielder should (.256 in two and one half seasons). The speed of Flood, White and Julian Javier perks up an already tough attack.
Manager Johnny Keane believes that he can use old Met Roger Craig and old Brave Lou Burdette (combined record, 14-35) most effectively by having them ready to go into a losing game before it gets away. Both can go long, and this experiment will be interesting because Card hitting can usually get the team back into almost any game. Right-handers Bob Gibson (18-9) and Ernie Broglio (18-8) are both fast, and Gibson's ERA of 3.39 does not reflect his talent. He was considered in the same class as Don Drysdale at the end of last year. Lefties Ray Sadecki (10-10) and Curt Simmons (15-9) will be the other two starters. Sadecki now appears much more mature than he was two seasons ago when he was sent to the minors because of "sloppy pitching." Ray Washburn, who got off to a 5-0 start last spring and then hurt his shoulder, seems to be in shape. If so, he will be a regular starter and could make this pitching staff the equal of any. Dave Bakenhaster, 19, who chews tobacco with the skill of Nellie Fox, will count against the roster and possibly get some mop-up jobs. Harry Fanok, Bobby Shantz and Ron Taylor are good relievers, and if Keane's early experiments prove unnecessary, Burdette and Craig could also be effective in short relief.
The Cardinals have the best infield in the league. White has the range, arm and know-how at first. Javier, the flashy second baseman who played 161 games, tired a bit at the end of last season and skipped winter ball in the Dominican Republic to conserve his strength. Shortstop Groat may not be as quick as some but he plays the hitters better than anyone else. Third Baseman Boyer has quick reflexes and a powerful, accurate arm. Dal Maxvill can fill in well defensively at second, short or third but he is not much of a hitter. The big development for the Cardinals in 1963, however, was Tim McCarver, the 22-year-old catcher. "When McCarver was put into the lineup," says Broglio, "it was a big thing, a big question. I want my catcher to call my game for me. He has to take charge. I concentrate so much that he absolutely must call my game for me. That was the question—could a youngster come into the major leagues and do that for a team in contention?" McCarver got the regular catching job when the Cards traded away Gene Oliver for Lou Burdette. He took charge as few young catchers ever have—and hit .289 as well. "I knew when I took over," says McCarver, "that it was a great opportunity, and I realized, too, that everyone was saying I was so young that it would be a problem. No one in the world realized just how young I was any better than I did, but in the big leagues age shouldn't make any difference. The big leagues do not care if you are 15 or 65 as long as you can do the job. That is the beautiful thing about baseball, and if a young fellow says to himself, 'Well, I didn't make it this time but I'm young and another year in the minors won't be too long,' then he is wrong. I knew when I got in there that I couldn't let the pitchers run all over me. You have to earn their respect, treat each and every one of them like he was your own flesh and blood. You have to be stern with them yet go along with them. You should only go out to the mound to talk to them when it is needed. You can't keep running out there and make a useless thing out of it. With some pitchers you know right away that a walk will shake them up and your job is not to let them get bothered, so you go out. When we were in the pennant drive last year and The Star-Spangled Banner was playing before the game, I could feel my knees tremble and my wrists shake. I kept saying, 'Don't let anyone see it, Tim; don't let on to the pitcher that you've got the shakes.' But every athlete has to have some tenseness in him to be good. I'd look at Stan Musial when he went up to hit and as great as he was and for as long as he had been around, he still had some tenseness in him. Carl Sawatski [the second-line catcher in 1963] kept talking to me and helping me on and off the field last season. He told me there was nothing to worry about, that I was doing a good job, and we went over the hitters and our pitchers together. The hard thing for a catcher is to be firm as a tiger and easy as a lamb at the same time." McCarver was both tiger and lamb, won the respect of the entire Card pitching staff and of opposing staffs, too. He learned to hit left-handed pitching by using a simple theory: "Make believe that every left-hander out there is a righty." With Stan Musial retired, the Cards must find a man to take his place in left field, and with George Altman traded to the Mets they also have to find a right fielder. Flood, the graceful center fielder, is excellent. He will probably find James flanking him in right, but goodness knows who in left. Shannon, Lewis, Warwick and Doug Clemens will all be given a chance there if the Cards cannot trade.
Excellent fielding, strong hitting, better than average pitching give the Cards a good chance to win.