Last Thursday at 3:41 in the afternoon Dal Maxvill, the St. Louis second baseman, stood under a fly ball and waited for it to settle in his glove for the final out of the 1964 World Series. As he waited, Dick Groat moved toward him from shortstop and pleaded, "Don't let it hit you on the coconut, Max, don't let it hit you on the coconut." When Maxvill caught the ball Busch Stadium in St. Louis, baseball's oldest park, was just what Mudville would have been like if Casey had not struck out. People poured from the stands, horns blew, confetti filled the air, players hugged each other. The Cardinals, who had been six games out of the National League lead with only 13 games remaining, were the champions of the baseball world.
Seldom has there been a Series quite like this one. It sustained to the very last inning of the last game those tensions and frustrations of the league pennant races that had thrilled Americans. The Cardinals and Yankees were almost perfectly matched, and they gave baseball fans everything they could have hoped for. There were stolen bases and spectacular double plays, weird blunders, grand-slam home runs and brilliant bunts, strings of strikeouts as well as strings of walks, fine fielding, shoddy fielding-and rhubarbs galore.
The Cardinals won their championship 18 years to the day after they had won their last one, and they did it by employing an old and honored Cardinal trademark: speed on the bases. On Oct. 15, 1946 Enos Slaughter took advantage of a lapse by the Boston Red Sox and scored all the way from first base to enable St. Louis to win that year's Series four games to three. This time the Cardinals did not win because of one outstanding play like Slaughter's. They used their speed throughout the Series, and it was decisive in the final game, forcing the Yankees into critical blunders.
Before the first game, the Cardinals had listened to a scouting report on the Yankees, prepared by Mo Mozzali and Mike Ryba, indicating that the Yankee outfield probably would be vulnerable to a running attack and that the most vulnerable of all would be Right Fielder Mickey Mantle. Mantle's legs, under constant treatment, no longer allow him to charge a baseball with confidence, and his lateral movement is ponderous and unsure. When Mantle was moved from center field to right, to cut down the area he had to cover, his throwing perspective changed and he had difficulty gauging sliced balls hit toward him. The switch brought Roger Maris to center, and Maris, whose ability to throw from right field is beyond argument, became a question mark in that department as a center fielder.
October 26, 1964
As the Cardinals watched the Yankees warm up in the outfield before the first game, they saw that Mantle was indeed having trouble. The hard outfield in Busch Stadium did not suit his brittle legs, and the warning track was a hazard to his footing. Maris looked good defensively because he has fine speed, but his arm still appeared to be the arm of a right fielder.
In the first inning of the first game Lou Brock went from first to third on a single to Mantle and later scored when Mantle had difficulty getting himself set to throw on a fly ball hit into the wind. In the second inning Mike Shannon scored from second on a sharp single to Mantle by Ray Sadecki. When Mantle got to Sadecki's hit, he threw the ball over the head of Catcher Elston Howard and into the stands. On a single to left Tim McCarver scored in the sixth, and when Tom Tresh threw home Carl Warwick moved to second. Pinch Runner Julian Javier subsequently scored.
Five times between game one and game seven the Cards challenged the Yankees with their base-running speed. Three times those challenges were successful, and twice they led to Yankee fielding blunders. There could have been more such incidents, except for the fact that the first two hitters and the fastest runners in the St. Louis lineup—Curt Flood and Brock—did not get on base as regularly as they had done during the last half of the National League season. On three occasions when Flood was on first and Brock was at bat, Flood picked up an extra base on a ball hit in front of him.
St. Louis' speed enjoyed its greatest success in the final game. In the fourth inning, with no score by either team, the Cardinals got a run when the Yankees botched a double play. Then Tim McCarver moved from first to third on a single to right center by Mike Shannon, and when Maxvill missed a hit-and-run pitch the Cardinals executed a double steal. Shannon eluded Bobby Richardson's tag at second, and McCarver, timing his break for home perfectly, beat a bad, low throw to the plate by Richardson. Finally, as Maxvill singled sharply to short right center, Shannon defied Mantle and beat the throw home.
In the fifth inning Ken Boyer scored from third with what turned out to be the winning run of the game on a wholly appropriate play. He went home on a fly ball to medium right when Mantle's throw was up the first-base line and late.
Bob Gibson had his troubles with the Yankee power before the game was over, but Johnny Keane stayed with him despite the fact that Gibson was pitching with just two days' rest. Keane was well aware that since August 24 Gibson had started 12 games for St. Louis, pitched nine complete ones and in two others went eight innings—ample evidence of his strength and courage.
Moments after the Cardinals had won their championship, most of them were in a room off the clubhouse that has a large picture window overlooking Spring Avenue, already packed with fans pouring out of the stadium. While a record called Our Old Home Team played continuously in the background, the players and fans toasted each other for a long time in beer and champagne. The Cardinals stayed at the window until every fan had left. "This," said Captain Ken Boyer, "is one hell of a baseball town. They've waited for this for 18 years. God bless 'em all, even the ones who boo."
What happened after the Series surprised fans far more than its outcome. The morning following the last game, Keane resigned, clearly because of Busch's lack of confidence in him when the Cardinals were going bad in July. Prodded by Consultant Branch Rickey, Busch had fired General Manager Bing Devine, an old friend of Keane. By the weekend everyone expected Keane to be the next manager of the Yankees. There was even cynical speculation that Keane had been promised the job before he quit St. Louis, but Johnny was categorical: "No one on the Yankees has talked to me. Mayo Smith, who scouts for them, was in St. Louis near the end of the season, and it's possible he was looking me over. If so, it was without my knowledge. Lela [Mrs. Keane] and I wrote out my resignation on September 28 knowing that we did not have another job to go to."
More bizarre than Keane's quitting, however, was the firing of Yogi Berra for reasons given as "being best for everyone." Despite efforts to justify this on the ground that Berra had lost control of his players, it seems obvious that he was fired because the Yankees lost the World Series. Three times in the past five years the Yankees have changed managers after losing the Series.
Ironically, aside from winning the pennant, Berra had done exactly what the Yankees hoped he would do for them when they hired him; his presence as field boss had begun to change the cold, impersonal image of the Yankees, and he had acquired a following despite the continued Yankee slump in attendance. The firing may have been the worst blunder in public relations by any club in baseball's history; certainly it disturbed and angered not only the team's supporters but most baseball fans. The Yankees might just as well have flogged their bat boy in public.