For the last month, perhaps longer, we Cardinals fans have been sharing stories from the 1964 season in the hopes that we might be able to relive just a bit of that amazing time. So far, it has worked. Not only did the Cardinals complete one of the biggest comebacks in the history of the game, they just did the unthinkable – beating the team with the best record, in their ballpark. They did it their way, with manager, Tony La Russa, making more changes than Lady Gaga at Madison Square Garden concert. And they all worked. This time.
There is another side to the 1964 story that might be coming into play over the next three games, and it is not the happy faerie tale that Cardinals fans embrace. Instead, it is a dark and twisted tale that makes Edgar Allan Poe seem an eternal optimist in comparison. It was the 1964 Phillies that had led the National League for most of the season, and had a seemingly insurmountable lead with just two weeks to play. Their end of this story is so horrific that it even has a name, the Phold, It is not spoken in fear that just doing so will conjure up a similar collapse today.
As in Cardinals Nation, most Phillies fans are too young to have experienced the Phold firsthand. That doesn’t mean they aren’t aware of it, or of the players and coaches involved. Where we place Bob Gibson, Bill White, Ken Boyer and Mike Shannon on a pedestal, the great play of Johnny Callison, Tony Gonzalez, Jim Bunning and Chris Short is largely forgotten. The long and distinguished managerial career of Gene Mauch always carries a “yeah, but” disclaimer.
- Led the AL with 24 wins in 1952
- Won the AL MVP in 1952
- Had been a star pitcher with the Phillies cross-town rivals, the Athletics
- Led the AL in ERA in 1957
- One of the best defensive pitchers of his era, 8 gold gloves
- After a good career as a starter, became a reliever in huge demand
But ask a Phillies fan and they will give you the details of how he blew the lead in game on September 26, smack dab in the middle of the Phillies long losing streak. They can recite the details of a passed ball with the bases loaded to tie the game, and later, after loading the bases again in the following inning, giving up a triple to Rico Carty. They know this story by heart, even if their parents were born after all of this took place.
Shantz had started the 1964 season with the Cardinals, but went to Chicago as part of the Lou Brock trade. The Phillies acquired the veteran reliever just before the postseason eligibility deadline, to help solidify the left side of their bullpen for the final push to the pennant. With the exception of that late September game with the Braves, Shantz had done exactly that – he had been very good. But that is not the way he is remembered in Philadelphia.
Memories of 1964 are coming back in Philadelphia, just as they are all across Cardinals Nation, but with a sinister twist. Like the ’64 Phillies, this 2011 team is expected to win it all. Five consecutive division titles, two trips to the Fall Classic, and one World Series title sets lofty expectations for this team. After dominating the NL East, and most of baseball, for the last five years, anything short of another World Series title will be considered a failure. But losing in the first round, to a wild card, that would be unthinkable – just like the last two weeks of September 1964.
We have to understand why Phillies fans act somewhat entitled. Their team, built around as good a core of players as we have seen in a long time, have been giving them something to cheer about for a long time. But they too have the ghosts of 1964 lurking in the shadows. The fans know that, the sports writers know that. And the players know that. After the split in Philadelphia to start the 2011 NLDS, perhaps the Phillies will show up in St. Louis with just a little bit of extra pressure. Instead of thinking about how to win, they start worrying that they might lose, and be compared to that ’64 team. They are a veteran team with a good manager who is unlikely to let that happen. Then again, they said that about the 1964 Phillies, about 3 games into that now infamous losing streak. If that is going to be happen again in 2011, it only seems fitting that it happen at the hands of the St. Louis Cardinals.
In case you were wondering, the last three losses of that horrific 1964 collapse took place in St. Louis. The last one, on September 30, shut the door on the Phillies World Series hopes.