Pictures from the past in St. Louis sports…
Wednesday February 1st 2023

Baseball Cardinals – October 4, 1964


As October arrives, the Cardinals are preparing to close out their regular season while focusing on the upcoming National League Divisional Playoffs. The Red Birds final 2009 regular season game will be Sunday afternoon October 4 at Busch Stadium against Milwaukee.

It’s somewhat fitting that the 2009 finale is on October 4. You see, forty-five years ago, October 4, 1964, was a red-letter day in Cardinal history. On Sunday 10/4/64, announcer Harry Caray uttered in triplicate those famous five words that have since become a part of Red Bird lore.

“The Cardinals win the pennant. The Cardinals win the pennant. The Cardinals win the pennant.”

Forty-five years ago this Sunday marked the climax of one of the most memorable baseball pennant races ever. It was a story of an incredible journey of the Cardinals and the collapse of the Philadelphia Phillies. 1964 was also the year that as a fourth-grade student attending St. Raphael the Archangel school in South St. Louis I first fell in love with baseball. There were many nights I fell asleep with a brown Lloyd transistor radio (which I still have) under my pillow while Caray and Jack Buck painted the pictures of the Red Birds and that 1964 pennant race.

1964 was an unforgettable season. Back in that day our land was undergoing major changes and challenges: politically & socially. The President of the United States was gunned down in Dallas eleven months prior. Racial tension unsettled the land. Lyndon Johnson introduced the Great Society. Arizona Senator Barry Goldwater was at the top of the Republican Presidential ticket.

And behind this backdrop was the 1964 Major League Baseball season. Locally, expectations were high for the Red Birds in 1964. In September 1963, the team won 19 of 20 to come within an eyelash of capturing the pennant. But St Louis would lose three straight at home to the Los Angeles Dodgers in the final week. 1963 would also be Stan Musial’s final professional season.

1964 started badly for Johnny Keane’s Red Birds. They stumbled out of the gate: losing more games than winning. Back in those days, there were no such things as Divisions or Wild Card teams. On June 15, St. Louis was stuck in 8th place in the National League with a record of 28-31. It was then when General Manager Bing Devine sent shockwaves across Cardinal Nation. Devine traded right-handed starter Ernie Broglio, an 18-game winner in 1963, to the Chicago Cubs for three players: Paul Toth, Jack Spring and a 25-year old outfielder named Lou Brock.

The phone lines exploded over the 50,000 red hot watts of KMOX: the Red Birds radio flagship station and host of the only real sports call-in show at the time. Broglio was a very popular player in town and no one really knew a lot about this guy Brock. But they would soon. #20 would finish 1964 with a .348 batting average and 33 stolen bases. He’d be the catalyst for the pennant push. After the Brock trade, the Red Birds went 65-38 for the rest of the way in 1964.

Although Brock’s presence in the lineup seemed to ignite the Cardinals, the Phillies maintained a solid lead in the Senior Circuit. On August 15, 1964, the Red Birds’ overall record improved to 61-54. They jumped into 5th place, but trailed Philadelphia by 9 ½ games. It was then when team Owner August A. Busch Jr. finally erupted. Busch fired Devine and replaced him with Branch Rickey disciple Bob Howsam. Busch (with Caray heavily lobbying) strongly considered firing Keane also. His replacement was rumored to be Leo Durocher. But the Big Eagle would eventually cool down: withholding a decision on his Manager’s fate until the end of the season.

Exactly one month later (9/15), Philadelphia was solidly in first place with a six-game lead over the second place Cardinals. Only seventeen games remained. But the Phillies would nosedive: losing ten straight games. For some reason, Phils’ Manager Gene Mauch used only three starting pitchers during second half of 1964. In the final 2 ½ weeks, fatigue would hit those starters hard.

Philadelphia came to St. Louis to open a crucial three-game series in the final week of the season. In the end, the Cardinals won all three games. In Game One, Bob Gibson would beat Chris Short 5-1. Southpaw Ray Sadecki got the win in the second game: a 4-2 St. Louis victory. Suddenly the National League race was in a first place tie between the Cardinals and Reds. In the finale, former Phillie Curt Simmons would defeat Jim Bunning 8-5 for the sweep: putting the Cardinals in first place, pending the outcome of the Cincinnati/Pittsburgh game.

As Buck later put it, “that game did some pending”. It was a scoreless tie at Crosley Field after seventeen innings. Caray and Buck stayed on the air in a darkened and deserted Busch Stadium reporting on the game in the Queen City. Pittsburgh announcer (and ironically Caray’s St. Louis replacement) Jim Woods was providing play-by-play over the telephone to Cardinal Nation. The Pirates pushed across a run in the top of the 18th inning on a squeeze play. The Reds didn’t score in their half. 1-0 Final: So after Midnight on October 1, 1964 the Cardinals sat alone in 1st place

On the final weekend, the Phillies would travel to Cincinnati for two games and the Cardinals would host the last place New York Mets in a three-game series. Things would then get more interesting. St. Louis lost the first two with the Mets while Philadelphia beat the Reds on Friday night. On the morning of 10/4/64, the National League race was in a first place tie: St. Louis and Cincinnati each at 92-69, with Philadelphia just one game back.

The Red Birds sent Simmons to the mound to start the finale. He only lasted 4 1/3 innings and left the game trailing 3-2. Gibson relieved: pitching on only one-day rest. The Cards would score three runs each in the 5th, 6th, and 8th innings to take a commanding lead. Meanwhile in Cincinnati, the Phillies were pounding the Reds 10-0.

Back at Grand & Dodier, Gibson was pulled with one out in the top of the 9th and 38-year old knuckleball pitcher Barney Schultz took over. Schultz got the final two outs: preserving an 11-5 Cardinal win and sending the team into the World Series for the first time in eighteen years.

St. Louis would meet the mighty New York Yankees in the World Series. Gibson, Brock, Ken Boyer, Tim Mc Carver, Carl Warwick, Mike Shannon and others contributed as the Red Birds beat the Yanks in seven games: bringing down the curtain to this remarkable season.

A few days after the Series clincher, Busch offered Keane a contract extension. But the Manager, remembering what occurred in mid-August, told the Big Eagle at a Press Conference no thanks: turning down the extension and agreeing to accept the Yankee open Manager job. The Cardinals would finish in 7th place in 1965 as the team grew old quickly. Boyer and Bill White would be traded after 1965 and Sadecki in 1966. Gibson, Brock, Shannon, Mc Carver Julian Javier, Curt Flood & Dal Maxvill would play in two more Series for the Red Birds. Time would move on.

But for Baseball Fans across the fruited plain, 1964 might have been as good as it gets.

“The Cardinals win the pennant. The Cardinals win the pennant. The Cardinals win the pennant.”

Has it really been forty-five years?

(Post script: While researching this piece, I re-read the late David Halberstam’s work October 1964 which chronicled that season. This book should be required reading for all Cardinal fans.)

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