The magicred-and-white ball was invented at an hour of stress late in July, but onlybecause of the sudden success of the tomato-rice soup. The word game that noneof the players seem truly to understand was brought to the back of the bussesand planes at about the same time that Orlando Cepeda received his initialsupply of the "mysterious, precious, rare, strength-giving honey from thehigh hills of Puerto Rico." Nobody can recall when Roger Maris first begansinging out the names of the players in the clubhouse after each win."Cuuurt Flood," Maris chants in his baritone voice, and Curt Floodanswers, "Roger Maaaris." Often Maris opens the singing in thedirection of Julian Javier, the quiet, sensitive, and once again spectacularsecond baseman. "Hoo-li-on Hav-vi-aair," sings Maris, and Julian'squiet voice returns the call, "Hod-jer Har-riss."
The St. LouisCardinals were up to their marvelous, spirited nonsense again last week as theycontinued winning and moving toward what looks like the biggest National Leaguerunaway in 12 years. They grouped in the center of the clubhouse in SanFrancisco after a devastating 9-0 pounding of the Giants and waited for Cepedato lead the special cheer that has now become a great part of their character.Cepeda walked to the front of the group and raised his huge right fist into theair. "El Birdos!" he hollered. "Yeah!" went the team. "ElBirdos!" he shouted again. "Yeah!" they chorused. Once more Orlandoraised the cry for El Birdos and the Birdos answered, "Yeah!" Accordingto ritual El Birdos must be shouted three times after each victory, and thenCepeda puts the zinger in, like "—— Herman Franks." At this spot theCardinals really holler, "Yeah!"
In Los Angeles,when it seemed they were about to lose both games of a twinight doubleheader,they rallied around the excellent relief pitching of Joe Hoerner and the finedefensive play of Shortstop Dal Maxvill to pull out the second game. In theclubhouse afterward Maxvill—all 155 pounds of him—explained to Pitcher HalWoodeshick, "I must continue my never-ending war against crime. Althoughdisguised as Dal Maxvill, mild-mannered shortstop for the St. Louis Cardinals,in reality I am Superman." Following another winning game, Mike Shannon,the third baseman, pulled a notebook from his locker in which he records teamfines. "On August 19 in Houston," Shannon said, "Stan Musial gotit. With a runner at third and less than two outs he popped up in an oldtimers'game. The way we look at it, he may be the general manager, but if he's playingfor us he's got to get that ribbie."
Back in July—July22, to be exact—the St. Louis Cardinals appeared to be a team in desperateshape. In one brief week their four-game lead had disappeared, and not only didthey find themselves tied for first place with the Chicago Cubs, but they werewithout their best pitcher, Bob Gibson, and their fine center fielder, CurtFlood, both of whom had been injured. Facing the Cardinals were 25 gamesagainst Atlanta, Cincinnati, San Francisco and the Cubs—four first-divisionclubs that were capable of knocking St. Louis out of the race. Now the 25 gameswith those teams are over and, barring one of the greatest collapses inbaseball history, so, too, is any real pennant race in a league that hasproduced some remarkable ones in recent years. The Cardinals won 21 of the 25,and the other teams in the National League could barely hear the Redbirds'wings flapping out there in the distance.
September 3, 1967
To those whounderstand the nature and complexities of baseball, the most remarkable thingabout El Birdos is that only 28 men have worn a St. Louis uniform since thestart of the season. Contrast this to the New York Mets, who have alreadydressed 22 different pitchers, most of whom the enemy promptly undressed. TheCardinals believe that it has been this stability that has helped to build theclub's spirit. There is a great sense of identification. Musial, the generalmanager, one of the most popular and proficient hitters of all time, was aCardinal player for 22 seasons. (After Bob Howsam left St. Louis to join theCincinnati Reds in January, Bing Devine, the man whose head rolled as generalmanager in the Cardinal Palace Revolution of 1964, was asked how he thoughtMusial would do as a general manager. "Name one thing that Musial has everdone wrong," said Devine.) Red Schoendienst, the manager, was Musial'sroommate for 13 years.
When Musial andSchoendienst got to spring training this year their major problem was a riskygamble they had determined to try—the conversion of Mike Shannon from a fineoutfielder into a reasonably competent third baseman. The task was not an easyone—neither for Shannon nor Schoendienst. Shannon liked the outfield, and hehad been discouraged when Howsam traded for Alex Johnson before the start ofthe 1966 season. Shannon was used to working hard—in 1965 he went to theFlorida Instructional League to learn to catch, in case he was ever needed—butlearning to play third base became brutal at times. On many days Schoendienstand Shannon would stay at Al Lang Field in St. Petersburg long after everyoneelse had left. Schoendienst would stand at the plate and hit baseballs as hardas he could at Shannon and, even at the age of 44, Albert Schoendienst stillhits a baseball hard.
One day Shannonremained at third for more than two hours as Schoendienst hit shots off hisarms, wrists, chest and ankles. But Mike stood his ground with a toughnessSchoendienst appreciated. After that session Shannon was black and blue, andSchoendienst's hands were almost totally blistered. On another day Schoendienstbunted more than 200 balls to Shannon, and the third baseman had to charge in,field each one and throw to first base. When the exhibition season began,Shannon admits, "It was awful. For three weeks I didn't do anything right.But Red stuck by me, and it got better. Then just before the season opened Igot hurt in an exhibition game at Washington. I was dying to open the season atthird at home, because I'm a St. Louis boy and my heart has always beenCardinal. I didn't think that Red was going to let me start, but before thegame he said, 'How much does it hurt?' I told him not half as much as notstarting would. He started me, and even though I could only play four inningsit helped me tremendously."
Right from thatopening night the Cardinals were an excellent and exciting team, one which thisseason may draw two million people to the new Busch Memorial Stadium indowntown St. Louis. Some believe that it was the performance of Roger Maris onopening night that gave the Cardinals the extra incentive that has stayed withthem all year. But during that first week the Cardinals used not only Maris andLou Brock, Curt Flood and Orlando Cepeda and Tim McCarver (see cover), buttheir excellent speed and defense and some fine pitching. The Cardinals hadfelt during spring training that they had a good team, and they knew it whenthey faced a tough schedule at the beginning of the season and won six games ina row.
Through the earlyweeks of the season the Cardinal pitching seemed suspect, but one of the mainreasons for that was the ineffectiveness of Hoerner, a 30-year-old reliefpitcher who had been magnificent the year before (he had appeared in 57 gamesand had an earned run average of 1.54). But Joe Hoerner is not the type tobecome discouraged. He has been through tougher times in his life than comingin from the bullpen with the bases loaded and nobody out. At the end of the1958 season, his second in baseball, he started a game in Davenport, Iowa andsuffered a heart attack with the first pitch he threw. He went through a seriesof tests at Iowa University medical center and was told that one of the musclesaround his heart was weak and that if he ever did pitch again he would not beable to throw overhand. For a year Hoerner had to take four pills a day for hisheart, and when he returned as a pitcher he did throw sidearm. He was strongagain, but the following year he got dizzy and nearly blacked out on occasion.Eventually, at the winter meetings of 1965, the Cardinals drafted him. He hadhis fine year in 1966 and then broke his toe. But he hung on again, regainedhis stuff and since July 2 has made 22 appearances and given up only threeearned runs. It was Hoerner, of course, who stole the team bus and drove itback to the Marriott Motor Hotel from Atlanta Stadium five weeks ago, but if ithad not been for the tomato-rice soup that led to the invention of the magicred-and-white infield ball there is no telling what kind of position in therace the Cardinals would have been in when they got to Atlanta.
St. Louis haddropped a tough game to the Braves in 13 innings at Busch Stadium on thatsignificant date, July 22. Schoendienst was frustrated by the defeat andcarried his frustration with him to his new home in suburban St. Louis. WhenRed walked into the house his wife, Mary Eileen, sensed trouble. Red walked outback and decided to mow the lawn, twice pulled the rip cord on the power mowerand broke it. He came back inside and lifted the cover off the pot on thekitchen range and challenged her on her method of boiling potatoes to go withthe steak that he was about to cook. He went back to the barbecue and put thesteaks on, and soon puffs of black smoke circled the neighborhood. A policemanrang the front doorbell and asked if the Schoendiensts were all right and ifthey were planning just a small fire. "Go out back," Mary Eileen said,"and ask the manager."
The next day,when the Cardinals arrived in their clubhouse, Bob Bauman, the trainer, decidedto try something—anything—to change the team's luck. Bauman is a dedicated andproficient trainer, and he knows the ways of athletes. When things do not goright he will put signs on the team's vitamin bottles labeled "RBIs" or"Hit and Run." He also makes excellent soup, and he decided that sincethe Cards were going so bad tomato-rice was the soup they needed. Thedoubleheader with Atlanta that day was a crucial one. Once before during theseason a critical point had been reached and the Cards had recovered. On June 7they lost their third game in a row at home to the Houston Astros by the tidylittle score of 17-1. They bounced back then, bounced so high, in fact, thatthey won 15 of their next 17 games. Against Atlanta, with the tomato-rice soupin their systems, they won both ends of the doubleheader and, while they didn'tbelieve in eating the same soup for the rest of the season, they did decidethat red and white were nice colors and that a monument of some sort should beconstructed to honor tomato-rice soup. A new baseball was painted half red witha china marker and used in infield practice, and with the red-and-white ballcame prosperity. The Cards won 13 of the next 15, and a set of rules grew uparound the ball. Only Coach Dick Sisler is allowed to catch the ball whenCepeda tosses it into the bench after the final warmup throw. There must be anew ball for each series, but anytime a ball loses a game it must be discardedand a new ball painted and put in use. When Cepeda once threw a winning ballinto the stands by mistake, two brand-new balls had to be given as ransom tothe fan who caught it.
In Atlanta theCardinals came out of the clubhouse one night after winning, and while theirbus was there the driver was not. They waited and waited and waited. Phonecalls were made. Finally Hoerner decided he would drive the bus back to thehotel. Naturally, he had never driven a bus before in his life. The playersfooled with the various switches to see what each did, and then Hoerner startedthe bus and took off. Almost at once he found he could not negotiate a turninto an underpass. This might bother some ball clubs and it might even bothersome professional bus drivers, but it didn't bother Hoerner. He maneuvered hisway out of the hang-up so well that his teammates began to call him"Bussy," just as all baseball teams call all bus drivers"Bussy." On the way Hoerner began to realize that technically he wasdriving a stolen bus through the downtown streets of Atlanta in the dead ofnight. Someone was certain to call the police, he felt, and he kept his eyepeeled for squad cars. He saw four, but none stopped him. Near the hotel asquad car had pulled another bus over to the side of the road and one of theCardinals yelled, "Look, Joe, some nut must have stolen a bus." Hoernerswung the bus in close to the curb outside the hotel, smashed a sign andparked. And, of course, the bus company later apologized profusely for thedereliction of its driver and for putting Mr. Hoerner through so much trouble.The Cardinals loved it.
The team thriveson adversity. When the Cardinals lost the services of Bob Gibson with a brokenleg (suffered on July 15 when he was hit by a line drive from the bat ofRoberto Clemente), their uncertain pitching was supposed to cave in. Gibson,who was throwing batting practice on Aug. 28, may not get back into therotation until the middle of September, but his absence enabled Nelson Briles,a 24-year-old right-hander with a discouraging record of 4-15 last year, tostart, and Briles has done splendidly. Briles uses the no-windup style thatPitching Coach Billy Muffett teaches so well—as do Relief Pitcher Ron Willis(three earned runs in his past 19 appearances) and Starter Dick Hughes. Earlyin the year Hughes appeared in 10 games as a relief pitcher, but since hebecame a starting pitcher his record is 13-4. At the age of 29 he could win theleague's Rookie of the Year award.
The loss ofGibson was not the only one that the Cardinals suffered this season. They lostRay Washburn for 22 days when he was hit by a line drive and broke a finger.But contrary to common belief, the Cardinals do have pitching depth. And luck.There was some laughter when the Cardinals acquired Jack Lamabe from the Metson July 16, only to have the Mets beat him the same day, but since the end ofJuly Lamabe has made eight appearances without giving up an earned run. Lastweek in the clubhouse at Candlestick Park, Lamabe watched his wife Janet appearon a television quiz show and win a wine collection, a tape recorder, anelectric range, a stereo set, a full length fur coat and a 1967 PontiacFirebird sports car. "Hey Jack," whispered Hoerner, "she isn'treally that smart, is she?"
Nobody is safefrom the needle. Young Bobby Tolan, who played well filling in for Curt Flood,has a strange blue suit that, the Cardinals claim, lights up city blocks."The Air Force," says Maris, "is adopting the color to put on thewing tips of planes so that pilots won't bump when flying in tightformations." But twice when Tolan has worn the suit to the ball park he hasdriven home winning runs, so the Cardinals like the suit.
Of all theCardinals, there is something very special about Tim McCarver. He is tough andcan hit, and he runs the bases with speed, bravado and force. In 1966 he becamethe first catcher ever to lead the National League in triples (13). He takescharge of a game—any game—whether it is baseball or bridge or the word gamethat he starts on bus and plane trips. As a needier his face should go on thepost-office wall as one of the 10 most wanted. But during a ball game, when Timgoes out to the mound he is all business, and if he thinks his pitcher isn'tconcentrating he raises more than dust. His pleasant young face turns hard andtough. When he yells at his infield, they hear him.
In the words ofLou Brock, "The Cardinals are ready for a showdown all the time. There area lot of players on this team who have responsibilities [a total of 62children], and we've come too far down the road to turn back now."
The red-and-whiteball may be a mystery to some, but Stan Musial's daughter explained last week:"Red is the color that signifies aggressiveness." Understanding theword game played on the back of busses and planes is not the key factor;joining it seems to be. The precious honey from the high hills of Puerto Ricohas Orlando Cepeda leading all of baseball in batting, and last Sunday night asEl Birdos waited for the chartered bus that would take them to the airportfollowing their last long road trip of the year there was a suspicion that JoeHoerner wanted the bus to show up but not the driver. Very spirited team, ElBirdos. Maybe a great one, too.