Early last week Judith Ann Shannon, mother of four, began to notice that her husband was acting strangely. Normally attentive, 25-year-old Mike Shannon, right fielder for the St. Louis Cardinals, was wandering through the house with his eyes focused on infinity and his mind in the same general vicinity. Nothing Judy said seemed to get through. But Judy Shannon was not unduly disturbed—she had seen the symptoms before.
Last year, when the Cardinals won 19 of 20 games to pull within one game of the Los Angeles Dodgers with only 10 games remaining, Mike Shannon was just a spear carrier, but even then he was restless; he smoked too much and he kept scratching his head. Now the Cardinals were a game and a half away from the first-place Cincinnati Reds and a half game behind the second-place Philadelphia Phillies with six games left. And this time Mike Shannon was a central figure.
Everyone in St. Louis felt good about Shannon; a St. Louis boy, he was a high school All-America in football and All-State in basketball. And everyone remembered the Shannons' troubles of last year. After giving birth to their fourth child in four years of marriage, Judy was taken ill and was unable to care for the children, and she needed Mike home in St. Louis and not chasing fly balls with the Cardinal farm team in Atlanta. After nine games at Atlanta, Shannon decided to quit baseball, but rather than lose him, General Manager Bing Devine brought Mike up to the Cardinals and in 32 games he hit .308. Shortly after that his wife got well.
When Mike jumped into his Chevy station wagon on Monday, September 28 for the 20-minute drive to Busch Stadium where the Cards were to play the Phils in the first of a three-game series, he said, "Big one tonight, baby. We can't afford to lose." In the second inning, after First Baseman Bill White singled and Second Baseman Julian Javier sent White to third with another single to right center, Shannon came to bat facing Chris Short, Philadelphia's best left-hander. The crowd of 24,000 gave Mike a big hand, and he drove Philadelphia's Wes Covington back to the left-field wall to send White home. With a 3-1 lead in the eighth inning the Cardinals got going again, and Shannon singled home two runs to make the final score 5-1. The Cards had jumped over the Phils in the standings and were a game away from first place.
The team clattered up the stairs to the dressing room and Mike Shannon turned on the tape recorder over his locker. A rollicking number called Our Old Home Team filled the room. Far down the hall from the noise, Manager Johnny Keane heard a knock on a door that in the memory of the oldest Cardinal had never been opened. Butch Yatkeman, the clubhouse man, found a grimy key and opened the door, and in swept Branch Rickey, the 82-year-old "special consultant" who, many believe, had General Manager Bing Devine fired just six weeks ago and does not want Keane to return in 1965 (SI, Sept. 21). Rickey grabbed Keane with both hands and said, "Johnny Keane, you are a gosh-dang fine manager." Then he was gone, the door closing behind him.
Next evening Lou Brock, the tiny left fielder, was the first Cardinal regular in uniform, and he got Dave Ricketts to pitch baseballs to him for half an hour. Brock did nothing but bunt. In the very first inning, with Curt Flood on first base, Brock placed a perfect sacrifice bunt on the grass between the pitching mound and first, and he was just beaten by Pitcher Dennis Bennett's throw. Brock's extra practice paid off when Dick Groat doubled Flood home, and the Cardinals added two more runs in the second. Starting Pitcher Ray Sadecki was having trouble, however, and when the Phils started a rally in the seventh Keane took him out and brought in 38-year-old Knuckleballer Barney Schultz, and Schultz stopped the Phils cold to save a 4-2 win.
The reporters crowded around Schultz in the dressing room, and as they did Catcher Tim McCarver and Sadecki began scrambling through the bottom of McCarver's locker. McCarver put a rubber horror mask—the Werewolf—over his face, folded up a piece of paper and stood in the back of the group of reporters. Months ago McCarver and Sadecki had walked all over Chicago to find the masks. McCarver bought the Werewolf and Sadecki got one of Quasimodo. On this night, two masks that had been getting laughs all year really broke up the clubhouse. The Cards were happy and loose. Just before leaving the field they had heard that Cincinnati had lost to Pittsburgh 2-0, and now the Cardinals were tied for first. Captain Ken Boyer sat on a stool and covered his face with his hands and whispered, "This is the closest I've been to playing in a World Series. I'd give 10 years of my life to play in one."
Philadelphia's fall had been a brutal thing. Manager Gene Mauch said it was "like watching someone drown." On Wednesday the Phillies played a game that no member of the team will ever forget. They made four errors in the first four innings while St. Louis collected eight runs and 11 hits and an 8-5 victory.
The Cards hung on in their dressing room, listening to the 16-inning game between Pittsburgh and Cincinnati that the Pirates finally won when Jerry May squeezed home the only run of the game. Not long after it was over, the phone rang in the motel room where Groat and Bob Skinner live. Both are former Pirates. The call was from Bill Virdon and Bill Mazeroski. "Dick," said Virdon to his old roommate, Groat, "you shouldn't need much help now."
It certainly seemed that way on Friday evening as the Cards opened a three-game series with the last-place New York Mets. St. Louis had a half-game lead with only three left; they had the momentum of an eight-game winning streak while the Mets were in an eight-game losing streak. Bob Gibson was ready, riding a personal streak of nine consecutive complete games during which his record had been 8-1.
Late that afternoon Cardinal Owner Gussie Busch came to the dressing room and offered Keane a contract with a substantial raise for next year. Keane said that would have to wait until the season was over. All week there had been rumors that Busch already had signed Leo Durocher for 1965. Busch denied it, but many people did not believe him.
Busch sat in his front-row box next to the Cardinal dugout during the game, leaning forward with eager anticipation. Like everyone else, he expected the Cards to push the Mets around—but they never did. Little Al Jackson pitched a masterful game to beat Gibson 1-0. When their own game was over, the Cardinals sat quietly in the dressing room and listened to the final outs of Cincinnati's 4-3 loss. There were no cheers, just the sigh of relief that comes from the occupants of a car when they luckily avoid a major accident.
The accident happened Saturday afternoon in St. Louis. On the first pitch of the game Catcher Tim McCarver dropped a foul fly that allowed the Mets' Billy Klaus to stay at the plate. Klaus then hit an easy line drive that Lou Brock misplayed in left field, and before the inning was over the Mets had a four-run lead. They won 15-5. St. Louis made five errors.
Brock, put his head alongside Flood's in the dressing room. "It will be different tomorrow," he said. "Somebody's been putting Yankees into the Mets' uniforms. Tomorrow they'll play like the Mets again."
Flood sipped a beer and said, "Yeah, but tomorrow we better not play like the Indianapolis Clowns again." Then he walked over to Curt Simmons, the scheduled Cardinal pitcher for the last game of the regular season. "Please, baby," he said.
That night Mike Shannon told Judy to be ready to see the Cards clinch on Sunday. Javier, whose left hip had been injured in a close play at first, was in bed with ice packs. Dal Maxvill, Javier's probable replacement, played with his two young children and thought back to May when he was so discouraged at being farmed out that he was ready to quit baseball. Groat could hardly sleep in his room at the Bel Air Motel and paced the floor almost all night. As he paced he heard the footsteps of other Cardinals through the thin walls.
Sunday morning Groat awoke logy, Javier's hip felt terrible, and as Shannon was getting ready to go to work his 15-month-old daughter Peggy spilled a cup of boiling water on her arm and he had to take her to the hospital. Maxvill arrived at the stadium early and was told by Keane that he would be playing second base, and Kathleen Boyer got tied up in traffic and missed part of the first inning.
Nothing much happened in that first inning anyway, but in their half of the fifth the Cards won the pennant with three runs—driven in by Maxvill, Boyer and Groat. They added three in the sixth and three more in the eighth, and when Tim McCarver caught a pop foul to end the game the score was 11-5. Curt Simmons had been relieved by Gibson, and Gibson by Barney Schultz, but it was an easy victory.
As the Cards poured champagne all over themselves in the clubhouse, 3,000 people gathered under the stairway that leads to it. They began to chant, "We want Boyer," and Boyer came out. Then Brock, then Flood, then White. They called for every player and each took a bow. They called for Johnny Keane and he stood and took off his cap. McCarver appeared in his Tom Werewolf mask and Sadecki came on as Joe Quasimodo.
With the shouts still in their ears, Boyer and Groat sat on a table in the trainer's room. "I'll sleep tonight," Groat said. Boyer held his glass of champagne near his lips. "Fourteen years of baseball," he said, "that's how long I've waited for this glass of champagne. Thank you, Philadelphia. Thank you, Pittsburgh. Thank you, Cincinnati. Thank you, Cardinals."