The seventh game of the World Series had barely ended last Thursday afternoon when the victorious St. Louis Cardinals formed a circle in the tiny visitors' clubhouse at Boston's Fenway Park and began a cha-cha-cha dance that was emphasized by the pounding of angry spikes on the cement floor. "Lonborg and champagne," the chant began, "hey! We will win in six, hey! I will brush them back, hey! Gibson goes in five, hey! The slipper didn't fit, hey!"
Normally, the Cardinals are a team with a rich sense of humor that rises high above kicking an enemy when he is down, but after beating the Red Sox 7-2 in the final game the St. Louis team decided to kick a little sand in the face of a team they did not like before the Series started and liked much less by the time it was over.
On entering the Series the Cardinals were assumed to be the best-balanced team to represent the National League since the Brooklyn Dodgers of 1955-56. and yet the Red Sox, a team that had "blown" 10th place in their final game of the 1966 season and only won the pennant—utilizing the extraordinary skills of Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg—on closing day of 1967, chased them down to a seventh game.
Certain things had happened to the Cardinals before the end of the regular season that had a vast effect on both the length and outcome of the Series. Orlando Cepeda suddenly went into a horrible slump, and Tim McCarver soon joined him. Shortly after Roger Maris joined both. Cepeda was hitting a league-leading .349 late in August but hit only .230 for the rest of the year. When Orlando is hitting he is a picturesque blend of grace and raw power; when he is not he looks like an overanxious schoolboy capable of doing nothing but popping up. McCarver had been a .300 hitter for most of the year, but he finally paid the price of catching 122 of the team's first 144 games and he hit only .222 the last three weeks. Maris, who led the Cardinals during the regular season with 18 game-winning hits, found that his timing had fallen off badly and in the final month his batting average dropped to a feeble .229.
But while Cepeda, McCarver and Maris were slumping on their way to the Series, Lou Brock was on a rampage that drew little attention outside St. Louis. "I felt better swinging the bat the last month than I had at the start of the season," Lou said a few days after the Series had ended, and that was significant because Brock had hit sensationally early in the year. "More than that, I felt looser on the bases than I had in a long, long time. Not just in stealing, but freedom in running them. I found that with this looseness I could go four, four and a half, five steps off first base and get back to it on a pickoff throw fairly easily." In his final 23 games, some of which he did not play in their entirety, Brock hit .370 and scored 20 runs while batting in 15.
And, of course, Brock was the man who swung the Series in favor of the Cardinals. This in no way diminishes the valor or excellence of Bob Gibson, who pitched three complete winning games only four weeks after his recovery from a broken leg, but never before in a Series of any length has a leadoff man enjoyed a period of prosperity such as Lou Brock had in this one. Everyone will remember his seven stolen bases and the versatility of his hitting, which ranged from beating out a bunt, to base hits to all fields, to doubles, a triple and a tremendous home run. It should also be recalled that six of the outs he made were the result of fine defensive plays by Boston. Brock was on first base 10 times (not including a single in the first game that resulted in Julian Javier's being thrown out at home for the third out of the inning). He went on around the bases to score six of those times and failed to advance beyond first base only once.
Maris, too, had an outstanding Series. He had a batting average of .385 and led all players with seven runs batted in. "I had been awful at the end of the season," Roger said after the Series, "and when I'm bad I'm bad all the way—both in batting practice and in games. But I seemed to hit the ball good in batting practice before the Series started, and after I hit the homer in the ninth inning of the fifth game I took batting practice in Boston the next day and hit four in a row out. Truly, my stroke hadn't been that good in a long while, and after the fourth one went out I just walked away, saying to myself, 'Don't waste it. Keep it.' "
It was lucky Brock and Maris were hot because Cepeda and McCarver came to bat with a total of 29 Cardinals on base and drove in only three of them. Curt Flood, who batted only .179 during the Series, was vitally important, too, despite that average. He did a professional job of advancing base runners and setting up runs and hitting when it was most necessary; he figured in six key runs, and he was also the man who broke Jim Lonborg's bid for a perfect game when he walked on a 3-and-2 pitch in the seventh inning.
Yet the one thing that made this Series different was the undisguised bitterness between the two teams, a bitterness that was certainly furthered by certain elements of the Boston press. For years many of Boston's baseball writers have been beating the brains out of Red Sox management and players, but once the club rose into contention this season many of those same writers jumped on the winning bandwagon as never before in any major league city. Close students of Boston journalism agree that coverage before, during and after the Series was more turgid than had been imagined possible. It seemed that every member of the Red Sox was "writing" for one Boston paper or another, and it also appeared that the Cardinals were reading every one of them. Cardinal wives were accused in the Boston papers of snubbing Red Sox wives and of draping mink coats over chairs so Sox wives could not sit down. And, in an unforgettable summation of the Series, one paper wrote, "The Red Sox looked better in defeat than the Cardinals did in victory.... Take Gibson out of the Cardinal lineup, and you've got a loser."
Brock, more practical or more mature than some of the other Cardinal players, said, "I stopped reading the Boston papers and what their players were supposed to be saying about us three days before the end of the thing. There is an element of professionalism in baseball that should not be violated. Once you start saying you're going to beat the other guy you better do it or you're asking for it." But the others kept on reading, and before the last game the Cardinals became incensed at two things that appeared in the Boston press. One was a quote from Manager Dick Williams, who replied, when asked what his lineup would be for the final game, "Lonborg and champagne." The line was carried in a blaring red headline on the front page. The other was a statement from First Baseman George Scott saying that Bob Gibson would not last five innings. "That about did it," said Dal Maxvill, the normally quiet and pleasant shortstop. "After that we weren't playing one game for the $3,000 between winning and losing shares. We never wanted to beat anybody all year long as much as we wanted to beat them in the seventh game."
The bench-jockeying between the two teams in this Series was many times as severe as that which normally goes on in a regular season, and when Brock stole second base in the ninth inning to break a record of 57 years' standing Reggie Smith hollered at him from his position in center field, "That's bush, stealing with a 7-2 lead." Brock looked out at Smith and hollered, "Reggie, the first chance you get to do likewise, you will!"
The fact that Boston was able to win its first pennant in 21 years and bring the Series down to the seventh game against a fine Cardinal team was an excellent thing to have happen to baseball at a time when baseball can use all the excellent things it can get. Even in losing, the play of Boston's Carl Yastrzemski and Jim Lonborg will be remembered for years. Lonborg probably had the finest summation of all about the Red Sox. "We've given a lot of people a lot of happiness, including ourselves," he said. "We're not going to be able to fathom the year until we sit beside a winter fireplace. We should have dinner together someplace and drink some fine wine, and maybe we will. Then we can sit across the table from each other and shake our heads."