Top 5 Iconic Moments in Cardinals History

For the January project, United Cardinal Bloggers members will be writing about their top five iconic moments in Cardinals history.  Really, Daniel ?  Just five ?  No way.  Seriously.   I can think of five iconic moments, just in the 1964 season alone (the Lou Brock trade, Al Jackson nearly ending the season for the Cardinals, the final game of the regular season, Ken Boyer’s grand slam, and Gibson throwing a gem in Game Seven).

But rules are rules, so I give you my Top 5 Iconic Moments in Cardinals history, or at least the last half century.

5. September 8, 1998 – Mark McGwire hits number 62

For the next few moments, we will have to suspend any pretense of indignation over the steroids era.   We all remember exactly where we were and what we were doing when Mark McGwire passed Roger Maris for the single season home run record.  That’s why this is Iconic Moment Number 5.

I was passing through the Salt Lake City airport, on my way home from Boise, Idaho.   Between the two gates, and with about 15 minutes of time before my next flight boarded, I found a little bar that was showing the game.  As I stepped in, the Cardinals were batting in the fourth inning, and Fernando Tatis had just struck out.   The huge crowd noise from St. Louis, and raised voices in the bar, told me that Mark McGwire was coming up to the plate.

All I saw was the one Steve Trachsel delivery, but it was enough as McGwire hit a hard line drive down the left field line.   The only question was whether it was high enough to clear the outfield wall.   It was and then there was pandemonium in the stadium, the small Salt Lake City airport bar, and just about everywhere else in the country.   Baseball was back, and we had a new hero.

It is easy to forget that baseball had suffered a black eye just a few years earlier when a strike ended the 1994 season prematurely and deprived fans of a season champion.   Even die hard baseball fans stayed away once play resumed in 1995.    Attendance was down all across both leagues and the sport was seriously in need of some sort of event or charismatic hero to bring them back.   Three men did exactly that:   Cal Ripken closing in on Lou Gehrig’s consecutive game record and the single season home run record chase by Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire.

What made they McGwire and Sosa race so special is that they were generally likable  players who played for rival teams, both with their own rich history.  In many respects, this was similar to the great home run race between Roger Maris and Mickey Mantle in 1961, just with a twist.   Cardinals fans may have been a bit more personally committed during this historic battle because the legacy of Busch Stadium was one of hostility towards the long ball.  Even after major renovations in 1995, it was at best a fair ballpark.  While there had been some great power hitters in St. Louis, there was never a thought of a Cardinal winning the home run title, much less setting the single season record.

Until 1998.

But it was more than just fans of the Cubs and Cardinals watching closely during the late summer in 1998.   ESPN would run regular McGwire and Sosa updates, occasionally breaking into their coverage when one of them came up to bat.   We were all glued to our televisions as the home run counts went up, 55, 56, 57 and then 58.   Which one would break the record, and would they be able to keep it through the end of the season.

To make this moment perfect, the record was broken in St. Louis, against the Cubs with Sammy Sosa playing in right field.   Sammy Sosa applauded McGwire, and Big Mac returned the gesture towards Sosa.  And then the sequence of images we will all remember: Dave McKay pointing at first base, McGwire hugging Scott Servais of the Cubs before touching home plate, McGwire hoisting his son high into the air and giving him a kiss and then Big Mac jumping into the stands to spend a moment with the Maris family.   If you have somehow forgotten all of this, you can relive this moment by watching this video.

Tell me that you didn’t get goosebumps while watching that video.  While watching the video, it struck me how hard Mark McGwire ran to first base on that historic home run.   If there was ever one time to stand and admire, it would have been that home run, but McGwire knew that his team was down 2-0 at that point, and he would have plenty of time to admire it later.   It was not a sure thing, and if it didn’t leave the park, McGwire wanted to be standing safely on second base.

The iconic moment did not end there.   The two would battle for the remainder of the season, with Sosa pulling ahead of McGwire for a few games.  More important though, was the attention St. Louis received during this great season.  The additional revenue from attendance, both at home and away, gave the Cardinals money to invest in free agents and extending the contracts of their core players.   That allowed Walt Jocketty to retool the team into a perennial contender, and the impact of that can be still seen on the current roster.

4. October 1995 – Bill DeWitt, Jr. Buys the Cardinals

With six trips into post-season over the last decade, three trips to the World Series and two titles, it is easy to forget what the Cardinals were like in mid 1990s.   Whitey Herzog had been a magician with the payroll that he had been given from the Brewery in the 1980s, but things were much different since the passing of August Busch, Jr.  Good players were traded, or allowed to leave in free agency, instead of being extended and helping the team win.  Jack Clark, John Tudor, Gregg Jefferies are just a few examples.   Ozzie Smith’s popularity was probably the only thing that kept him in a Cardinals uniform during this period.

That all ended following the 1995 season, when a new ownership group, headed by Bill DeWitt, Jr., bought the franchise from the Brewery.   Although a resident of Cincinnati, DeWitt understood the unique relationship between baseball and the city of St. Louis.   His father, Bill DeWitt, Sr,. had been long associated with both teams in St. Louis, first with the Cardinals, then moving over to the Browns as an executive, eventually owning the team for a short while.

The first move the new ownership team made was as significant as any trade in Cardinals history, and that took place on October 23.  The Cardinals signed former Oakland Athletics manager, Tony La Russa, to be the new manager of the Cardinals.   La Russa was considered one of the best managers in either leagues.   La Russa followed in turn by bringing over some of his coaches from Oakland: Dave Duncan, Joe Pettini, Dave McKay.  Then came some of his former players from Oakland: Todd Stottlmyre, Rick Honeycutt, Mike Gallego, Dennis Eckersley.   The retooling went swiftly, but not without incident.

One casualty was Ozzie Smith, and it would remain as something of a dark cloud hanging over the La Russa time in St. Louis.   The fan favorite, now 41 years old, was replaced by a younger Royce Clayton, in spite of Smith playing better than Clayton.   Ironically, it would be Ozzie Smith, not Royce Clayton, representing the Cardinals in the All Star Game, for the last time in his hall of fame career.   Smith would announce his retirement before the end of the season.  Interestingly, his number would be retired before the beginning of a game against the Cincinnati Reds.   At least somebody understood how important Ozzie Smith was to the St. Louis area.

La Russa’s team won the division in his first season in St. Louis, coming to within a game of going to the World Series.  October baseball had returned to St. Louis, and would regularly for the next 16 years.

3. October 27, 2011 – Game Six of the World Series

In a season full of iconic moments, the greatest of them occurred during Game Six of the 2011 World Series.   The Cardinals had been counted out in August, when the Brewers ran away with the National League Central title.   The Atlanta Braves would be crowned shortly after as the NL Wild Card team, but a late season collapse opened a door for the “Never Say Die” Cardinals.   The NLDS was supposed to be a mere formality, not even a speed bump on the Philadelphia Phillies road to the World Series.   Somebody forgot to tell David Freese, Lance Berkman, the bullpen, and especially Chris Carpenter, who threw a 3 hit shutout in the decisive Game Five.

Entering the World Series, the Cardinals were the underdog to the heavily favored Texas Rangers.   The two teams played a most entertaining series, with the games going back and forth.  There were close games, the first two decided by a single run.   There were blowouts.  There were pitching gems.

And then there was Game Six.

If you are looking for a well played game, look elsewhere – this was not one of those.   But if you want entertainment, this one was off the charts.  The Cardinals took an early lead, thanks to a 2 run homer off the bat of Lance Berkman.   The Rangers would tie the game in second inning, before both pitchers, Colby Lewis for the Rangers and Jaime Garcia for the Cardinals, looked to be settling in.

Then came the Cardinals defensive mistakes.  A harmless fly ball to left field turned into a base runner when Matt Holliday, who probably should not have been in the game, dropped the ball.  Memories of the 2009 NLDS in Los Angeles spread across Cardinals Nation like a wildfire.   A seeing eye single by Mike Napoli would give the Rangers the lead. Things turned worse moments later when Cardinals reliever, Fernando Salas, threw a Colby Lewis bunt into center field for the second error in the inning.

Miscues were not the sole property of the Cardinals as a Rangers error in the bottom of the third fourth inning allowed the Cardinals to tie the game.

Another Cardinals error, this time on a routine infield pop up to David Freese, gave the Rangers another chance, they they took the lead on a Michael Young double.

In the bottom of the sixth inning, a bases loaded walk would tie the game again, this time at 4 runs each.   Back and forth the game went, just like the series itself.

Back to back home runs by Adrian Beltre and Nelson Cruz to start the seventh inning would give the Rangers the lead again.   They would extend the lead to 7-4 later in the inning with a clutch single by Ian Kinsler.   Leading 3 games to two in the World Series, it seemed to many as if the Rangers would win the World Series.   Not to Cardinals fans – we had seen this oh so many times over the last three months.  It isn’t over until the last out, or as would be in this case, last run is recorded.

The turning point in the game would occur with one out in the bottom of the eighth inning.   Allen Craig, in for the injured Matt Holliday, would hit a solo home run off Derek Holland.   That would bring the Cardinals to within two runs, which turned out to be significant in about 10 minutes.

Neftali Feliz took over for the Rangers in the ninth inning, to protect the now two run lead, and give them their first World Series in franchise history.   72 saves over the last two seasons, an ERA under 3, and already 2 saves in the 2011 World Series, the Cardinals really had their backs against the wall this time.  Two things were in the Cardinals favor: they had been able to get to Feliz earlier, and this was not the first time they had been in a must win situation.  Both of those would come into play as the Cardinals did the unthinkable.

With one out, Albert Pujols doubles.   Lance Berkman walks, putting the tying run on base.   Feliz totally overmatches Allen Craig, and he strikes out for the second out in the inning.   David Freese steps to the plate and patiently waits for his pitch.  Cardinals fans were standing, but many of them had their rally towels over their eyes, afraid to look, yet peeking through, afraid to miss the magic.   That magical moment would occur on a 1-2 pitch, just as the Fox affiliate in Dallas/Ft. Worth sends out a text alert that the Rangers had Won the World Series.

In a moment that David Freese and Nelson Cruz will remember the rest of their lives, Freese hits a hard line drive to right field.   Cruz did not get back in time, perhaps underestimating how hard it had been hit, and the ball sailed over his head and hit the outfield wall.

To quote Joe Buck,

“And now the Rangers are one strike away.  Into right, well hit.  Back at the wall, it’s off the wall.  One run scores,    Here comes Berkman.  Freese has tied it, 7-7.   Unbelievable.”

Yes, Joe, unbelievable.   But the best was yet to come.

Josh Hamilton would put the Rangers on top again with a two run homer in the tenth inning.   Once again, the Cardinals would come up to bat, having to score two runs to extend the game.   And once again, they did that.

With Daniel Descalso and Jon Jay leading off the inning, both left handed hitters, Ron Washington went with his lefty reliever, Darren Oliver.   Both Descalso and Jay single off Oliver, putting the tying runs on base.     Edwin Jackson pinch hits for Jason Motte, and in an unusual move, even for Tony La Russa, Kyle Lohse pinch hits for the pinch hitter.   Lohse bunts the ball over the head of a hard charging Adrian Beltre.   Elvis Andrus makes a good play to come off third base his throw makes it is a close play at first.   Lohse is out, but the tying runs are now in scoring position with one out.

Ryan Theriot grounds out, scoring Descalso.   The score is now 9-8.   Albert Pujols is intentionally walked, bringing Lance Berkman to the plate.   Rangers reliever Scott Feldman works the count to 2-2.   Once again, the Cardinals are down their last strike.   And for the second time in an many innings, Cardinals fans are peek out from behind gloves, scarves and rally towels.

Once again, Joe Buck.

“The tying run is at second base.  In the air to right center, this game is tied.  Going to third is Pujols, and it’s 9-9. 

They just won’t go away.”

With the Rangers outfielders at “no doubles” depth, Berkman pokes the ball over the infield and Jay scores easily from second.

After Jake Westbrook pitches a scoreless eleventh for the Cardinals, David Freese steps up to the plate to start the home half of the inning .  Earlier in the game, the Fox Sports trivia question was about World Series Game Sixes that ended with a home run.   It was as if they knew what was coming.

For one last time, Joe Buck

“Freese hits it in the air to center.  We will see you tomorrow night”

Both Joe Buck and Tim McCarver had the wisdom to stay quiet and let the drama of the moment play out with nothing but the crowd noise.

Perhaps the most entertaining call of this play comes from the BBC.

Cardinals fans will forever remember the seeing giant scoreboard, with it’s bright red background, proclaiming “See you tomorrow night!”.

2. July 6, 1961: Johnny Keane takes over

After a successful run in the 1940s, hard times had come to the Cardinals as a series of shady financial deals by the owner sent the team to the cellar of the National League.   The franchise was rescued in 1953 when August “Gussie” Busch, Jr. bought the team.   Busch wanted a winning team as a way to market Anheuser Busch products to a national audience, and he started making the changes necessary to accomplish that goal.

It was slow going at first, but under new General Manager, Bing Devine, the talent level of the team improved.  Players like Bob Gibson, Ray Washburn, Ray Sadecki and Tim McCarver were scouted and developed.  Where the the talent was missing in the farm system, trades for players such as Bill White, Julian Javier and Curt Flood were made.   The Cardinals were becoming a very good team, yet winning seemed to allude them.

Solly Hemus, the last player-manager for the Cardinals, had taken over in 1959.   Hemus had a fiery personality, and seemed a good fit for a team that was in rebuilding mode.  Unfortunately, his tough approach did not seem to work with all of the players, especially some of the young African-American players.  Bob Gibson spent as much time in the bullpen as he did a starter and Curt Flood was a platoon outfielder, playing behind Carl Warwick.  Nobody was clear of their role, and a mistake could land you on the bench, or worse, back in the minor leagues.

In late June, 1961,  the Cardinals went into a prolonged slump, losing 10 of their last 15 games, falling 14 1/2 behind the Cincinnati Reds.   That was enough for Gussie and Bing Devine, and they made a change in the dugout, making long time minor league manager and coach, Johnny Keane the new Cardinals skipper.

The first thing that Keane did was to establish roles for some of his players.   He would turn center field duties over to Curt Flood, and he responded quickly, hitting .337 for the remainder of the season.  Flood would turn into one of the best defensive center fielders in baseball as well as a dependable .300 hitter at the top of the batting order.   Bob Gibson would be his next project and the hard throwing right hander became one of the best right handed pitchers in baseball history.  Stan Musial was taken off the bench and put back in the outfield where he could finish out his Hall of Fame career on a high note.

Keane could be just as hard as Hemus when he needed to be.   Perhaps the best example of that came in a game against the Cincinnati Reds on June 5, 1962.  Trailing 4-1, Johnny Keane brought young lefty, Ray Sadecki, into the game to hold the score.   Sadecki had been a top prospect, shooting through the Cardinals farm system and in the rotation at age 19.  Inconsistency, a trait that would haunt Sadecki for most of his career, put him in the bullpen in 1962 with the hopes that he would work things out and return to the rotation.

No matter how bad you could imagine an inning could go, it was nothing like what happened to the young lefty.   A leadoff home run by the opposing pitcher, a single, two errors by Sadecki brought Frank Robinson up to the plate.  A three run homer by the future Hall of Famer gave the Reds a 9-1 lead, and Sadecki a trip to the showers.  As a result, Sadecki missed the celebration when Stan Musial hit a walk-off home run in the eleventh inning.

That was just the beginning for Keane and Sadecki.  Keane called him into his office the next day and fined him for his performance, questioning his effort.  Sadecki objected to that characterization, and the two got into a shouting match that eventually led to Sadecki asking to be traded.   Thinking he was suspended, he did not show up the following day, which led to him actually getting suspended.   After more inconsistent performances, Sadecki ended up back in the minors where he obliterated the AAA hitters.

During the off season, Bing Devine and Ray Sadecki worked things out and the young lefty returned to the team, and took back his position in the rotation.   Keane and Sadecki maintained something of a cool relationship throughout the remainder of their time together.  Keane never warmed to Sadecki, constantly poking him, but Sadecki had the last laugh when he won 20 games and became a big part of the Cardinals amazing 1964 season.   When it came to Game One of the World Series, it was Sadecki on the mound for the opener, and he was the winner.

Another element that Keane brought to the Cardinals was speed.   One player he had his eyes on was a young but inconsistent outfielder in Chicago named Lou Brock.  He realized what a player like Brock could bring to a team like the Cardinals.  Keane got his wish in June 1964, when the Cardinals sent fan favorite, Ernie Broglio, to Chicago for the relatively unknown Brock.  As he had done with Curt Flood, Keane put Brock out in left field and near the top of the batting order and it didn’t matter how many times he struck out or how many errors he made in the outfield.  He was the every day left fielder.   And he transformed the Cardinals into a team that would go to the World Series three times in the decade, winning twice.  Whitey Herzog would use a similar approach, taking his team to three more World Series two decades later.

1. July 15, 1967 – Bob Gibson breaks his leg

The Cardinals had overcome adversity just a month earlier when Ray Washburn had broken his hand while pitching a gem in Los Angeles.  While missing nearly a month, a young hard thrower named Jim Cosman had filled in admirably, but wildness had started becoming a problem for the young right hander.  In Wasburn’s absence, the Cardinals had built up a 4 game lead over the Chicago Cubs and Cincinnati Reds.   Just as Washburn was activated from the disabled list, tragedy again struck the Cardinals, and this time it could mean the end of their pennant hopes.

It happened fourth inning of a home game on July 15.   Leading off for the visiting Pittsburgh Pirates was Roberto Clemente.  He hit a hard line drive up the middle that hit Bob Gibson in the right leg, just above his ankle.  You could hear the sound of the ball hitting his leg clearly over the radio, and the hushed voices of Harry Caray and Jack Buck added to the drama of the moment.

Eventually, Gibson got up and indicated he would stay in the game, unaware that his leg was broken.    He walked Willie Stargell and then got Bill Mazeroski to fly out to center field.   On a 3-2 pitch to Donn Clendenon, Gibson reached back for a little something extra.  His leg gave out and he was down again, writhing in pain.   This time he would not get up.

The news for Gibson and the Cardinals was not good.   Their star right-hander would miss the next two months, most of that time being spent in a cast.  Not only was his timetable for returning questionable, not many players had returned from such a serious injury – not just in 2 months, but ever.  And certainly not to a 32 year old starting pitcher.

If ever there was a time for a team to give up, the afternoon of July 15 was it.   But this group of plucky Cardinals was not about to let that happen.   Whether it was the vivacious Orlando Cepeda yelling “Viva el Birdos”, or the unhittable slider being thrown by Dick Hughes, the team rallied without their ace and extended their lead to 12 games before Gibson returned in September.   The hero was a young right-hander named Nelson Briles, who filled in for the injured Gibson.   He would win 10 games in a row, including a nifty complete game against the Red Sox in Game Three of the World Series.    The forgotten hero was rookie Dick Hughes, who really took over as the ace of a very young pitching staff, and was just brilliant for the final three months of the season.

This iconic moment does not end with the game against Pirates, the miraculous season of Dick Hughes, the emergence of Nelson Briles, the Cardinals winning the NL Pennant or even Bob Gibson’s total domination of the Red Sox in the World Series.

It carried on through the next season where Bob Gibson totally dominated opposing hitters, as if he had something to prove.   Perhaps he did as he was unable to carry the Cardinals to the NL Pennant as he did in 1964.   Instead, he rewrote the history book with one of the greatest pitching seasons in baseball history: 22-9, a 1.12 ERA, 13 shutouts, 28 complete games, and NL MVP and the first of his two Cy Young Awards.  The scariest thing about Bob Gibson was that he even pitched better than that when he returned from the disabled list in 1967.

The 1967 and 1968 seasons were the most exciting in my lifetime.   The thing that I remember most from that period was how a team did not let something like losing their best pitcher get in the way of winning a World Series title.   I guess the same thing can be said about the 2011 Cardinals.

As with any top 5 list, some great moments had be left off.   Those would include

  • Ken Boyer’s grand slam in the 1964 World Series
  • Bob Gibson pitching on one day rest to win the 1964 NL Pennant
  • Lou Brock breaking the single season and career stolen base records
  • Bob Gibson’s no hitter
  • Bob Gibson’s 3000th strikeout
  • Bob Forsch’s two no-hitters
  • Bruce Sutter striking out Gorman Thomas to end Game Seven of the 1982 World Series
  • Ozzie Smith’s “Go crazy folks” home run in the 1985 NLCS
  • Jack Clark’s “Adios, Goodbye and maybe that’s a winner” home run in the 1885 NLCS
  • Terry Pendleton’s home run to center field at Shea Stadium
  • Bob Gibson vs Denny McLain in Game One of the 1968 World Series
  • Glen Brummer stealing home
  • Mark Whitten’s 4 home run game in Cincinnati
  • Albert Pujols home run off Brad Lidge in the 2005 NLCS
  • Carlos Beltran, caught looking to end the 2006 NLCS
  • The errors by the Detroit pitchers in the 2006 World Series
  • Vince Coleman and Willie McGee stealing 4 bases on one pitch

Rules are rules, so I will not include any of these (see what I did there).   Do you agree or disagree with any of my top 5 ?  Feel free to tell me some of yours in the comments.

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6 Responses to Top 5 Iconic Moments in Cardinals History

  1. StLouis says:

    You have a great St. Louis Cardinals site.. I am working on a St. Louis tourism and business site and would be honored to share your post in a sports catagory section. Please let me know if that is ok with you.
    – Michael Kern llc


  2. Bob, I miss these articles. I think this one was just the right length and at times, made me feel like I was there.

    Thank you and looking forward to the season


  3. Pingback: The Top 5 Iconic Moments in Cardinal History « Diamond Diaries

  4. Pingback: UCB January Project: Top 5 Iconic Moments — United Cardinal Bloggers

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