Maybe next Wednesday afternoon in some American League city or other the 64th World Series will actually begin, though last weekend, as the seething four-team pennant race boiled on, it somehow seemed that the Series might end up being played in the middle of the Easter Seal drive. As late as last Thursday a man in Minnesota sat down with paper, pencil, A's, B's, C's and D's and figured out that there were still 75 possible ways that the American League pennant race could end, including ties. There were fears that when it finally was over the Series itself might be an anticlimax, but, as everyone knows, a World Series is never an anticlimax—not even when the Los Angeles Dodgers play the Baltimore Orioles.
While the American League race continued, the St. Louis Cardinals showed how a pennant should be won and, in the earliest clinching the National League has had since 1955, moved on toward becoming its 11th 100-game winner in the last 52 years. The Cardinals bunted, stole bases, hit and fielded, and everyone made a contribution. They proved again what a fine team they are—one of the finest ever to represent their league in a World Series.
The Cardinals already have a unique record in the Series. Ten times they have played in it, and seven times they have won, most for any National League team. In five of their seven world-championship years, the Series went seven games. St. Louis has never been beaten in a seven-game Series.
Students of the Series know the rich excitement the Cardinals have always brought to it. In the very first one St. Louis got into, back in 1926, 39-year-old Grover Cleveland Alexander won the second and sixth games and then came back in the seventh at Yankee Stadium to strike out Tony Lazzeri with the bases loaded to save a 3-2 victory and the world championship for the Cardinals. Pepper Martin, Dizzy Dean, Mort Cooper and his brother Walker, Harry (The Cat) Brecheen, Harry (The Hat) Walker, Stan (The Man) Musial and Enos (Country) Slaughter were all Cardinal Series heroes, as were Tim McCarver and Bob Gibson in 1964.
Many people will be seeing the 1967 Cardinals play for the first time during the Series. The most important thing to watch for (if television gives the viewer a chance) is their concentration on detail and their ability to do the small things so well. The home-run threat is there, but the home run is merely the parsley on the potato. Watch the Cardinals work together. Watch how the St. Louis infield and outfield seem always to be in communication with each other. Note the alert bench.
Some thought that the lack of experienced pitching would hurt the Cardinals and, at times, it looked as if it was going to. But a close examination of major league records since the last week of July is startling and revealing. The Chicago White Sox and Minnesota Twins are supposed to have the best starting staffs in baseball, and both are admittedly excellent; in the eight-week period from that final week in July, Minnesota's pitching staff gave up two runs or less in 32 games, and the White Sox did the same in 27 games. The Cardinal pitchers, performing in a league containing much better hitters, did it 37 times.
The powerful Cardinal hitting attack and the fact that St. Louis was so far out in front in the standings for so long obscured this fine pitching. With the exception of Gibson, the Cardinal starters are well known only to their families and the weekly paper back home. Of the 11 pitchers on the roster, only Gibson worked in the 1964 Series.
Of course, Gibson, despite the broken leg that sidelined him for seven weeks, is still the big man of the staff, as he proved late in the season. His record before his injury was 10-6, and his pennant-clinching win over the Phillies was his third straight after returning. He can hit, run, field and do almost anything except make his roommate, Curt Flood, mad. "Bob Gibson," Cardinal Manager Red Schoendienst once said, "is a great athlete who just happens to be a pitcher." Gibson's father died a month before he was born in Omaha on November 9, 1935 and his mother says, "Bob came into the world sick. He had rickets, hay fever, pneumonia and a rheumatic heart, and one side of his chest was lower than the other. When he was 3½ we bundled him in a blanket and took him to the hospital with pneumonia. I'll never forget that moment when he looked up at his older brother Leroy and said, 'Am I going to die?' Leroy told him that when he got out of the hospital he would buy him a bat and ball, and after that sports was everything to him." Eventually Gibson played shortstop and pitched at Creighton University and also became a basketball star. He signed with the Harlem Globetrotters, but the Cards made him quit after one year on the tour.
Gibson is one of the world's greatest television watchers—"The only man left," Flood once said, "who still gets a kick out of test patterns." Once he told Tim McCarver, "If there are eight million stories in The Naked City, how come they need reruns?" Gibson will open the World Series for the Cardinals. He gives up a fair amount of homers, but he is strong and as capable of striking out the side in the ninth inning as he is in the first. And he stays in games because he is a home-run threat himself.
As things stand now, Schoendienst probably will start Dick Hughes, the 29-year-old rookie right-hander, in the second game. Hughes spent nine years in the minors before reaching the majors. "It's been a long fight with a short stick," he says. He is very near-sighted: 20/375 in one eye and 20/300 in the other. Until he was in the seventh grade in Arkansas he did not realize that the other kids could see across the street. "Before I wore glasses," he says, "I couldn't recognize my mother." As a ballplayer he tried wearing contact lenses but developed a bad eye infection. "I had so many bandages over my eyes that my roommate used to direct me in eating...peas at 3 o'clock, meat at 6 o'clock, potatoes at 9 o'clock." Hughes has an excellent fast ball and a hard slider, and he keeps the ball down. His record going into the last week of the season was 15-6, and in 13 of his games he gave up two runs or less. Like Gibson, he is a hitter, too. He once batted .364 at Tulsa.
Nelson Briles is a third Cardinal righthander who will start in the Series. Briles, 24, came out of the bullpen when Gibson was injured and did a superior job, though his 1966 record, mostly in relief, was a discouraging 4-15. He once played three parts in Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream, and he met his wife while he was playing Joe Hardy in Damn Yankees, but there is a grimness to Briles when he's on the mound. This season he became a practitioner of the no-windup style taught by Pitching Coach Billy Muffett and, even though he lost a couple of games because of wild pitches early in the year, he now seems to be Muffett's best student. "When you pitch with no windup," he says, "you have to be pretty strong to begin with. The secret is in the rotation of the hips, which gives you the momentum to be able to drive off the mound."
Of the Cardinal left-handers, Steve Carlton is the best, and some astute baseball men maintain that he eventually will become one of the finest in the game. The clothes that Carlton wears are a source of fascination to his teammates. When he enters hotel lobbies the Cardinals look up in wonder at whatever new hue he has found. Sometimes the color is plum or tangerine. "You fellows," he said once to Hughes and Relief Pitcher Ron Willis, "wear pants that frighten a connoisseur, and yet you fail to appreciate it when I put you in the company of excellent thread."
Ray Washburn, who had his thumb broken by a line drive in June, probably will be used in long relief for the Series along with Larry Jaster, the 23-year-old Zero Hero of 1966 who shut out the Dodgers five times. The short men will be Willis and Joe Hoerner; both are good.
With Dal Maxvill at shortstop and Julian Javier at second base, the Cardinal double-play combination is far superior to that of any of the American League contenders. Because of an injury sustained in the last week of the 1964 season, Javier is the only Cardinal regular who has not started in a Series. Roger Maris and Orlando Cepeda have each had a year free from controversy, and each is capable of turning a Series around with one swing of the bat. Flood is the one question mark in the outfield. His arm has been sore for the final half of the season, and most of the time he has had to throw the ball underhand. When games are close and Schoendienst needs an arm in center field, he puts Bob Tolan in to replace Flood.
A playoff for the American League pennant could seriously affect the outcome of the World Series. An extended delay between the end of the regular season and the start of the Series might well throw the Cardinal hitting off. Moreover, a playoff would jumble the American Leaguers' pitching staffs, and two clubs, Detroit and Boston, have enough pitching problems even when things are going at their best.
The White Sox, though desperate and scrambling in the pennant race, probably would give the Cardinals more trouble than the other clubs. Their pitching is deep and pliable, and Manager Eddie Stanky has handled it brilliantly all season long. He knows that left-handed pitching can sometimes minimize the Cardinal attack and, along with Righthander Joe Horlen, Stanky has two top left-handers in Gary Peters and Tommy John. He also has exceptionally strong relief pitching.
Stanky's problem in a World Series would be the same one he has faced up to all season long—a lack of hitting. The White Sox team batting average is .226, two points less than the "hitless wonder" White Sox of 1906. Contrary to common belief, the Sox, though fast, are not brilliantly fast, and they have to play a gambling game on the bases because of the shortage of hits. Even if Tim McCarver should throw out a few White Sox early in the game, it would make no difference to Stanky. He would still run. He needs his runners in scoring position when and if the hit ever comes.
Minnesota was the last one of the contenders to play in a World Series and gave a good account of itself. And now the Twins may be a stronger team. They have the superb rookie, Rod Carew, at second base, and in Dean Chance they have a fine starting pitcher capable of working three games. Unhappily, one of Chance's flaws as a pitcher is his motion. He pivots and turns his back to the batter, a time-consuming operation that is like opening a gate for such alert base stealers as Brock of the Cardinals. During one game this season the Kansas City Athletics stole seven bases off Chance. Of course, when his fast ball is moving, few runners get on to steal.
Twin fans remember the 1965 World Series with an if. "If only Tony had hit even a little bit...." Tony is Tony Oliva, a career .300 hitter who batted .192 during that Series. For the Twins to threaten the Cardinals, Oliva would have to produce. Harmon Killebrew is a good pressure player and much better at first base than at third, the position he played in 1965. And, aside from Chance, the Twins have three other good starters in Jim Kaat, Dave Boswell and Jim Merritt. But Minnesota is weak in the bullpen, and it is significant that only 30 National League pitchers were able to work complete games against the hard-hitting Cards through pennant-clinching day. Minnesota has a good outfield defense, but the erratic in-and-out play of Shortstop Zoilo Versalles makes this a bewildering club to analyze.
Boston's chances, like those of Detroit, center on hitting. Carl Yastrzemski could turn the Series into a wonderful thing for the Red Sox if he went on a tear, and powerful George Scott can hit consistently, too. The Red Sox have a good double-play combination in Rico Petrocelli and Mike Andrews. Andrews, a rookie, has been doing a lot of things this season to keep the Red Sox moving, both on offense and defense. The best Red Sox pitcher, Jim Lonborg, learned this year that he had to be "mean"—to brush back the hitters—and this helped him become a 21-game winner. Lee Stange has pitched grittily for the Sox, and José Santiago has been astonishingly effective both starting and relieving. Gary Bell has been strong, too, and John Wyatt is an experienced reliever. But, after Lonborg, Boston's pitching is not really impressive. All year long, the Red Sox provided the fans of New England with miracle after miracle, but a lack of strong pitching, particularly in a World Series, is often fatal.
The Detroit Tigers were almost an invisible contender much of the year, though when the amazing four-team stretch drive began the Tigers were right there. Some days they looked like a classic ball club, but there were other days when the pitching soured, and homers jumped off the bats of their opponents at all the wrong times. Any pitcher who works in Tiger Stadium for very long is going to see balls rattle around in those green seats, though, because baseballs carry well in Detroit. Through September 23, Tiger pitchers had given up 144 homers; Cardinal pitchers had given up only 94. Earl Wilson, Detroit's 22-game winner, allowed 33; Denny McLain 34, Joe Sparma 16, Mickey Lolich 14. Briles and Carlton of the Cardinals together have given up a total of 16.
Detroit has an excellent outfield, a good infield and strong catching. Detroit does not often use a running game, but Al Kaline, Bill Freehan, Norm Cash, Dick McAuliffe and Willie Horton are all home-run hitters, and so are Jim Northrup and Ed Mathews. One of the weaknesses of Detroit's club is the lack of right-handed hitting on the bench, but Mathews, Gates Brown, Lenny Green and Jerry Lumpe make the Tigers strong from the left-hand side.
Manager Mayo Smith has been plagued for most of the year by the inconsistency of his bullpen. Early in the season Fred Gladding was effective. Then it was Mike Marshall. Lately it has been Fred Lasher. In a World Series Smith would also get a chance to call on John Hiller, a left-hander who came up late in the season and won several games for the Tigers and saved others, though he failed sadly against the Senators last Sunday. But if the homers flew for the Tigers instead of against them and the relief pitching came through, they would have a glittering chance to upset the Cardinals.