Indeed, the catching was not throwing out runners. Tim McCarver, never thought to have one of the strong arms in baseball, has thrown out only 15 men this season while 56 have stolen successfully. The Cardinal hitting attack has had difficulty all season in getting runners home from third base with less than two out. There is one eye-opening statistic concerning the attack, as it relates to the lowering of the pitching mound and the smaller strike zone, both of which have helped the hitting in the majors. Of the 10 established National League teams, eight show an increase of nearly a run a game over their production of 1968. Even the Philadelphia Phillies, the most disorganized team in the National League, show an increase of better than half a run per game despite having been without Richie Allen, their best hitter, for four weeks. The Cardinals show an increase of only one run a week.
On July 5 everyone was sure that the time had come to lay the sod on top of St. Louis. By losing a tough game in 10 innings to the Cubs the day before, the Cardinals were 15� games behind Chicago and, clearly, going nowhere at all. It seemed a perfect time for the players to pack up their bats and fall asleep in the clubhouse on top of their wallets. It was then, says McCarver, "that we just decided to put our heads down and drive through the walls."
Not only did the Cardinals face the obstacle of overhauling four teams in front of them in the standings, but of chasing baseball history itself. They had begun the season with the opportunity to become one of the few teams ever to win three consecutive National League pennants. Now before the Cards was the chance to replace the 1914 Braves in the record books. They won 12 of their next 14 games and moved to within nine games of the Cubs.
When the All-Star break came, the Cardinal team was virtually disgraced in the voting by players on the other clubs. Julian Javier finished in sixth place among the league's second basemen, with only five votes, and Lou Brock, with 16, was regarded as the 11th best outfielder in the league. Not one other Cardinal received a single vote.
Following the All-Star Game, St. Louis continued to play excellent ball. It was also frustrating ball. The Chicago Cubs were playing excellently themselves. While the Cardinals were chasing history they also had some favorable precedent on their side. In 1963 St. Louis had saved a placid National League season by putting on one of the best drives of any year, winning 19 of 20 games to pull within a single game of the front-running Los Angeles Dodgers in the middle of September. They ultimately lost, but with another tremendous rush the following season they came from 11 games back with only 39 to play and brought St. Louis its first pennant in 18 seasons.
There has always been a certain air of madness, usually accompanied by music, in Cardinal clubhouses. In the late 1930s the famous Mudcat Band played tunes like Possum up a Gum Stump with Lon Warneke on the harmonica, Bob Weiland on the jug, Frenchy Bordagaray on the washboard, "Fiddler" Bill McGee, Max Lanier and Pepper Martin on guitars. In the 1940s Stan Musial used to play the spoons, and Pass the Biscuits, Mirandy became the club's theme song. Biscuits was revived in 1963, and in the pennant-winning years of '67 and '68 the clubhouse record player continually pounded out A Fistful of Dollars. Around St. Louis today a strange song is being heard, and it has an element of irony to it. The Cardinals Are Coming, Tra La Tra La was devised by Announcer Harry Caray at the time when the team started to make its move. The words are worn on sweat shirts and appear on signs hanging from the stands at Busch Memorial Stadium, and buttons reading "The Cardinals Are Coming, Tra La Tra La" are beginning to turn up in quantity.
The strength of any drive the Cardinals launch from this point will be furnished by a sound starting pitching staff, and its new hero is a 27-year-old rookie named Chuck Taylor from Bell Buckle, Tenn. Taylor has won six games since July 6. Expert at changing speeds to upset hitters, he is a control specialist who walks virtually nobody he doesn't have to. At Tulsa during the 1968 season he walked only 38 men in 230 innings. Put into a starting rotation with Bob Gibson, Nelson Briles, Steve Carlton, who has now fulfilled his early promise by winning 15 games with an earned run average of 1.97, and young Mike Torrez, Taylor could help keep the team's momentum going while it prays for the Cubs to continue stubbing their toes occasionally. And St. Louis still has seven games left against Chicago.
After the 4-2 victory over Atlanta last Friday night, the Cardinal clubhouse was alive with music and nonsense. The team had played without Javier, its hottest hitter during the recent surge. He suffered an injury to a finger earlier in the week. Curt Flood was out with a virus attack, and Torrez was doing time with the Marine Reserves. Still, there was a fresh air of optimism and determination reflected in the music. A new song had taken the place of Possum and Biscuits. "We play it," said Briles, "because it typifies our season and how people might have felt toward us and how we feel ourselves." The name of it is That's Life. Some of the lyrics are:
That's what people say,
You're ridin' high in April,
Shot down in May;
But I know I'm gonna change that tune,
When I'm back on top in June....
I've been up and down and over and out
And I know one thing;
Each time I find myself flat on my face,
I pick myself up and get back in the race.... �
� COPYRIGHT 1966 BY FOUR STAR TELEVISION MUSIC CO., INC.