Our story really begins on a night in Hollywood in the fall of 1962, when Busch dropped by the Brown Derby to say hello to the innkeeper, his old friend Bob Cobb. Cobb also happens to be a close friend of Branch Rickey. Cobb had been president and principal owner of the old Hollywood Stars in the Pacific Coast League when Rickey was running the Pittsburgh Pirates, and Branch had entered into a working agreement with him and provided enough useful players to keep the club respectable.
As Cobb commiserated with Busch upon the evil days that had befallen the Cardinals, they began to reminisce about the grand old days when the Gashouse Gang was running over everything in the league.
"You know the fellow you need to restore the old tradition," said Cobb, a loyal man. "The old master himself, Branch Rickey."
Branch was no more than a rising 80 years old and in semiretirement, but Busch liked the idea. Cobb contacted Rickey, who expressed interest. Then Busch himself called, and before you could say Budweiser, Rickey was on his way back to St. Louis as Gussie's personal adviser.
From that moment on, there was blood on the moon. The only question left to be answered was whether Busch was in for a mild embarrassment or complete disaster. I'll give you a hint: don't go to Gussie Busch with any new programs for putting senior citizens back to work.
Busch already had a general manager in Bing Devine. Since Bing had somehow conceived the idea that his duties included advising the boss about running the ball club, he may be forgiven if he did not exactly view the triumphant return of Rickey as a personal testimonial to the grand job he was doing.
Hiring Branch Rickey is not quite the same as hiring a passing stranger to keep the books in order. Everybody in baseball except Busch and a few other equally well-informed owners was perfectly aware that Papa Branch is constitutionally incapable of moving into any kind of an organization without maneuvering to establish himself as the dominant force. Better to have asked Lyndon Johnson to run down to the corner to get Bobby Kennedy a Coke than to have expected Papa Branch to submerge his personality in Bing Devine's. This wonderful situation had come about because Busch had faithfully followed the advice of a saloonkeeper. What a splendid way to run an organization!
To make things even better, the relationship between Bing Devine and his manager, Johnny Keane, was unusually close. Both had come up the hard way, through the Cardinals' minor league system. Keane had been kicking around, it seemed, almost from the beginning of time. Devine had first met him in his own early days when he was running the Rochester club for the Cards and Keane was his manager. When Devine was appointed general manager of the Cards (following the departure of Frank Lane), he brought Keane up as a coach and, when the opportunity arose, astonished everybody by making him the manager.
Or maybe it wasn't so astonishing, after all. With the front office doing everything these days except flashing the hit-and-run sign, the anonymous, colorless organization manager has become standard equipment. Still, if anyone ever looked like an interim choice his name was Johnny Keane.
Not that Keane isn't the kind of manager Rickey himself might have chosen. In Rickey's eyes Keane's great defect was that he was Bing Devine's man.