Maybe next Wednesday afternoon in some American League city or other the 64th World Series will actually begin, though last weekend, as the seething four-team pennant race boiled on, it somehow seemed that the Series might end up being played in the middle of the Easter Seal drive. As late as last Thursday a man in Minnesota sat down with paper, pencil, A's, B's, C's and D's and figured out that there were still 75 possible ways that the American League pennant race could end, including ties. There were fears that when it finally was over the Series itself might be an anticlimax, but, as everyone knows, a World Series is never an anticlimax—not even when the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Baltimore Orioles.
While the American League race continued, the St. Louis Cardinals showed how a pennant should be won and, in the earliest clinching the National League has had since 1955, moved on toward becoming its 11th 100-game winner in the last 52 years. The Cardinals bunted, stole bases, hit and fielded, and everyone made a contribution. They proved again what a fine team they are—one of the finest ever to represent their league in a World Series.
The Cardinals already have a unique record in the Series. Ten times they have played in it, and seven times they have won, most for any National League team. In five of their seven world-championship years, the Series went seven games. St. Louis has never been beaten in a seven-game Series.
Students of the Series know the rich excitement the Cardinals have always brought to it. In the very first one St. Louis got into, back in 1926, 39-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander won the second and sixth games and then came back in the seventh at Yankee Stadium to strike out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded to save a 3-2 victory and the world championship for the Cardinals. Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean, Mort Cooper and his brother Walker, Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, Harry (The Hat) Walker, Stan (The Man) Musial and Enos (Country) Slaughter were all Cardinal Series heroes, as were Tim McCarver and Bob Gibson in 1964.
Many people will be seeing the 1967 Cardinals play for the first time during the Series. The most important thing to watch for (if television gives the viewer a chance) is their concentration on detail and their ability to do the small things so well. The home-run threat is there, but the home run is merely the parsley on the potato. Watch the Cardinals work together. Watch how the St. Louis infield and outfield seem always to be in communication with each other. Note the alert bench.
Some thought that the lack of experienced pitching would hurt the Cardinals and, at times, it looked as if it was going to. But a close examination of major league records since the last week of July is startling and revealing. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are supposed to have the best starting staffs in baseball, and both are admittedly excellent; in the eight-week period from that final week in July, Minnesota's pitching staff gave up two runs or less in 32 games, and the White Sox did the same in 27 games. The Cardinal pitchers, performing in a league containing much better hitters, did it 37 times.
The powerful Cardinal hitting attack and the fact that St. Louis was so far out in front in the standings for so long obscured this fine pitching. With the exception of Gibson, the Cardinal starters are well known only to their families and the weekly paper back home. Of the 11 pitchers on the roster, only Gibson worked in the 1964 Series.
Of course, Gibson, despite the broken leg that sidelined him for seven weeks, is still the big man of the staff, as he proved late in the season. His record before his injury was 10-6, and his pennant-clinching win over the Phillies was his third straight after returning. He can hit, run, field and do almost anything except make his roommate, Curt Flood, mad. " Bob Gibson," Cardinal Manager Red Schoendienst once said, "is a great athlete who just happens to be a pitcher." Gibson's father died a month before he was born in Omaha on November 9, 1935 and his mother says, "Bob came into the world sick. He had rickets, hay fever, pneumonia and a rheumatic heart, and one side of his chest was lower than the other. When he was 3� we bundled him in a blanket and took him to the hospital with pneumonia. I'll never forget that moment when he looked up at his older brother Leroy and said, 'Am I going to die?' Leroy told him that when he got out of the hospital he would buy him a bat and ball, and after that sports was everything to him." Eventually Gibson played shortstop and pitched at Creighton University and also became a basketball star. He signed with the Harlem Globetrotters, but the Cards made him quit after one year on the tour.
Gibson is one of the world's greatest television watchers—"The only man left," Flood once said, "who still gets a kick out of test patterns." Once he told Tim McCarver, "If there are eight million stories in The Naked City, how come they need reruns?" Gibson will open the World Series for the Cardinals. He gives up a fair amount of homers, but he is strong and as capable of striking out the side in the ninth inning as he is in the first. And he stays in games because he is a home-run threat himself.
As things stand now, Schoendienst probably will start Dick Hughes, the 29-year-old rookie right-hander, in the second game. Hughes spent nine years in the minors before reaching the majors. "It's been a long fight with a short stick," he says. He is very near-sighted: 20/375 in one eye and 20/300 in the other. Until he was in the seventh grade in Arkansas he did not realize that the other kids could see across the street. "Before I wore glasses," he says, "I couldn't recognize my mother." As a ballplayer he tried wearing contact lenses but developed a bad eye infection. "I had so many bandages over my eyes that my roommate used to direct me in eating...peas at 3 o'clock, meat at 6 o'clock, potatoes at 9 o'clock." Hughes has an excellent fast ball and a hard slider, and he keeps the ball down. His record going into the last week of the season was 15-6, and in 13 of his games he gave up two runs or less. Like Gibson, he is a hitter, too. He once batted .364 at Tulsa.