"I'm not the big man here," said Allen. "I'm just a part of this team and I feel welcome already. Everything here won't center around me like it did in Philadelphia. I'd forgotten how to win there and I know they won't let me forget that here. I want to get that winning feeling again."
Allen joins a lot of stars in St. Louis, including Lou Brock, Julian Javier, Torre and Bob Gibson, an excellent man at getting a team loose. This spring Gibson spent the early days in camp thinking of ways to lift the club's morale. Always a big man with scissors, signs and tape, he busied himself searching out literary zingers to be mounted above his and his teammates' lockers. First up was a magazine article headlined BASEBALL'S FIVE MOST OVERRATED PLAYERS. The five were Sam McDowell, Joe Pepitone, Ken Harrelson, Richie Allen and Joe Torre. Gibson wrote in the margin, "Two out of five ain't bad."
He also wrote out a set of instructions for Carl Taylor's workday. It read, "Pitch first three innings, catch second four, left field eighth inning, third ninth." Over Torre's locker Gibson taped a box from a Peanuts cartoon strip in which Charlie Brown says, "Last year Joe batted .143 and made some spectacular catches of routine fly balls. He also threw out a runner who had fallen down between first and second." The most significant of the signs, however, went up over Gibson's own locker. It read: "Another happy family sold."
The Cardinals had been a happy family. In recent seasons they had grown accustomed to a style of living and traveling unheard of in major league baseball. They traveled by chartered jets and last year were all treated to accommodations generally reserved for managers and club vice-presidents: individual hotel rooms on the road. It meant something to be a Cardinal. The pay and other benefits were excellent, and all the Cardinals had to do was keep winning. Gussie Busch Jr. would provide for them amply.
But in 1969, after two consecutive National League championships, the Cards stopped winning. Their record of 87-75 was only the 11th best in baseball and they won exactly one more game than the Washington Senators. The team failed to drive in important runs and was shabby on defense. Normally a calm man, Devine sat and watched game after game and got madder and madder. The Cards threw to the wrong bases on defense and sometimes did not throw at all. Opposing runners stole with impunity and the St. Louis bullpen collapsed almost completely. Even so, there was so much talent on the club that no one could believe that the team would not rebound late in the season and somehow win the pennant.
"I would pick up the paper every day," says Maris, who retired at the end of the 1968 season to take over a Budweiser distributorship in Gainesville, Fla., "and look for some signs that the team was coming on and I kept telling people, 'Just wait!' I still can't believe what happened to them."
"Our guys," said Stan Musial the other day, "weren't even thinking baseball. They couldn't concentrate. Maybe you can say that they weren't fat cats, but it certainly looked that way."
Because they had appeared on NBC-TV's Game of the Week so often and in the World Series, the Cardinal lineup, almost never platooned during the last three years, became the best known in baseball. The team attracted 5,784,000 customers from 1967 to 1969, most of them happy customers until last season. What especially rankled was the fact that two young Cardinal players, Bob Tolan and Wayne Granger, who had been traded to Cincinnati, were having fine years in the very departments in which St. Louis was weak, driving in runs and in the bullpen. Tolan hit .305 and Granger came on in relief a record 90 times.
The valor of Gibson was never more evident than in 1969. Despite having few runs to work with, he started 35 games and completed 28 of them. He had to go to the 12th inning of the final game of the season to win his 20th, and the pattern of that struggle is almost typical of what he endured all year. He gave up no earned runs at all and the winning run was scored for him on a bases-loaded walk.
Gibson's qualities of leadership were probably best expressed last week by Culver, the man now often regarded as the "most mod" dresser in baseball. "I have never seen a pitcher more dedicated to baseball than Bob Gibson. We stood in the outfield together the other day and he talked about how his arm hurt him. He said it always hurt him but that he wasn't going to stop. He couldn't understand why so many pitchers refuse to pitch because their arms hurt. I learned something from him that day and a little bit each day after. The Cardinals are a first-class organization, and I should know because I came here from a second-rate organization, Cincinnati. Management makes things so tough over there that everyone ends up griping. That hurts the ball club. I never heard of the same thing happening to the St. Louis Cardinals."