Category Archives: Sports

Fifty years ago: The 1964 World Series

I can’t say I actually remember the 1964 World Series. I like to think I do, but really my first World Series memories are from 1965, Twins versus Dodgers, and the main thing I remember is that we were allowed to watch some of it on television in Mrs. Findley’s Fourth Grade. I think it counted as social studies.

By 1966 — Orioles sweep Dodgers in four — I was fully into it. I went to my first major league games that year, in St. Louis, at what they now call Busch II, and haven’t gotten over it, yet.

But the 1964 Series is like the grandparent who died before your own birth, and yet somehow seems to have been part of your life. The 1964 World Series, played a half-century ago this October, was a milestone in the social evolution of baseball.

David Halberstam, in his book October 1964, describes it as a clash of old and new, the aristocratic — and calcified — Yankee dynasty versus the brash upstart Cardinals; an organization steeped in tradition, that had played in 14 of the last 16 World Series, against a club that hadn’t won a pennant in 18 years.

The Cardinals, belatedly but finally, had fully embraced integration — at least in part because, owner Gussie Busch said, black people drank his beer the same as whites. Several of the Cards key players were black, including speedy outfielders Curt Flood and Lou Brock and intimidating right-hander Bob Gibson. The Yankees had been slow to accept African-Americans, either as players or as fans, and the 1964 World Series roster included only two: catcher Elston Howard and pitcher Al Downing.

St. Louis, playing at home in the old Sportsman’s Park, won the first game 9-5, pounding Whitey Ford in his last game as a Yankee and taking liberties with Mickey Mantle’s damaged throwing arm. New York won the second game 8-3, with August call-up Mel Stottlemyre beating Gibson.

Mantle homered off Barney Schultz in the bottom of the ninth to give the Yankees a 2-1 victory in Game 3 and 2-1 lead in the Series. The Yankees appeared well on their way to another victory in Game 4, knocking out Cardinals starter Ray Sadecki in the first inning and leading 3-0 in the sixth when Ken Boyer hit a grand slam off Al Downing to put St. LouisĀ  up 4-3. Roger Craig and Ron Taylor shut out the Yankees on two hits in nine innings of relief and the series was tied.

Tom Tresh’s two-out, two-run homer in the ninth inning sent Game 5 into extra innings, but St. Louis won on Tim McCarver’s three-run homer in the top of the 10th.

Back in St. Louis, Mantle hit his second home run of the Series and Joe Pepitone hit a grand slam in a five-run Yankees eighth to even the series.

St. Louis jumped out 6-0 in Game 7 and led 7-3 in the bottom of the ninth. In the ninth, though, Clete Boyer and Phil Linz homered off Gibson, laboring to finish his third complete game of the Series, to get the Yankees to within 7-5. With two out, Cardinals manager Johnny Keane had Sadecki, a 20-game winner that year, ready in the bullpen.

But Keane stuck with Gibson, and Bobby Richardson popped out to end the game.

Keane, who had almost been fired during the season, resigned as soon as the Series was over and replaced Berra as manager of the Yankees. Ford, his left arm numb, retired. Mantle had hit .303 with 35 home runs and 111 RBI in 1964, but he the Yankees declined rapidly. Mantle retired before the 1969 season, and New York would not return to the World Series until 1976.

The Cardinals won two more pennants and another World Series with a core team of 1964 veterans that included Gibson, McCarver, Julian Javier, Dal Maxvill, Lou Brock and Curt Flood.

Keane was once asked why he left an obviously gassed Gibson on the mound in the ninth inning of Game 7.

“I never considered taking him out,” Keane said. “I had a commitment to his heart.”

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On baseball

This is the way baseball is. Pete Kozma spends most of the season in AAA, plays just 14 games with the Cardinals, and not only makes the post-season roster but conceivably could start the first game of the playoffs.

Kozma has never hit for much of an average, not even in the minors, but he’s 4-for-8 with three doubles against the best pitcher in baseball, the Dodgers’ Friday starter Clayton Kershaw. And he has a history of coming through with big hits and big plays in tight situations. Kozma is a natural shortstop, but if he starts Friday it will be at second base, in place of the left-handed hitting rookie regular, Kolten Wong.

That’s the way baseball is now. It’s not about which team has the best starting nine or even the best 25-man roster. It’s about who has the most players in the organization capable of contributing to a season — and in this case, post-season.

Baseball is unique among major team sports in that players play more games in one or two seasons than most other athletes play in a lifetime. And careers tend to be longer, too. This makes for the complex subtleties in the warp and weft of the game that create its texture. For those who prefer the slam-bang of football and basketball, the lickety-split mayhem of hockey, baseball can seem like a lot of standing around and spitting.

To those of us who know better, it is pure Hitchcock, all anticipation and surprise, sliders in the dirt and fastballs in the eyes. A pitcher, a hitter.

A hanging curve.

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Pepper Martin

(From a column written in 1992 during my career as a sportswriter)

In 1930 Pepper Martin hit .363 for Rochester in the International League. This, however, was not what impressed the parent Cardinals. Every player in St. Louis’ regular lineup hit .308 or better. Four reserves had averages above .320. No, what impressed general manager Branch Rickey was Martin’s salary: $4,500.

By shipping Taylor Douthit, who had finagled $14,000 out of the thrifty Mahatmah, to the Reds, Rickey saved the strapped (so he said) Cardinals $9,500 and happened upon a major star.

Martin spent eight long years in the minor leagues. He hopped freight trains to get to his first spring training. Until 1931, he never made more than a few thousand dollars a season.

When Martin got 12 hits in his first 18 at-bats of the ’31 World Series, his wife Ruby said, “He’s always been a hero to me. When we were in grammar school I stood on a soapbox to cheer for him. Now when the crowd yells my eyes get misty.”

—–

Although Martin was known as the “Wild Horse of the Osage,” he was born in Temple in southwestern Oklahoma and grew up in Oklahoma City. He turned professional with Guthrie of the Oklahoma State League in 1923.

He debuted with the Cardinals in 1928, appearing in 39 games and getting into one World Series game as a pinch runner. He went back to the minors the next year, and it was not until ’31, when he batted .300 with 75 runs batted in, that he established himself as a star.

Martin’s aggressive, headlong style made him injury prone, and by 1937 he was struggling to stay in the lineup. At the end of the 1940 season he was made manager of the Cardinals’ minor league team in Sacramento, despite hitting .316 that year.

Baseball players in those days generally had off-season jobs, and Martin had some doozies. He drove miniature stock cars for awhile, until the club made him stop, and played in a country music band. One winter he was general manager of the Oklahoma City minor league hockey team. He returned to the major league team in 1944, when most of the regular players were in the military, and batted .279 in 40 games. At age 54, he appeared in a few games as player-coach of the Tulsa Oilers in the mid-1950s.

In later years, Martin became athletic director of the Oklahoma State Penitentiary in McAlester. He died suddenly of a heart attack at age 61, in 1965.

 

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The Curveball

The story is that 14-year-old Arthur Cummings came up with the idea for the curveball while throwing clam shells on a Brooklyn beach in 1863. If he could make a clam shell curve, the boy mused, why couldn’t he do the same with a baseball?

The obvious answer is that, aerodynamically, a baseball is not a clam shell. Cummings, though, kept experimenting, and over the next few years became adept at spinning the ball up to home plate in a way opposing batters had never seen. It was tough to do. In those days the ball was delivered underhand, and strikeouts were rare.

As a schoolboy in 1865, Arthur Cummings pitched a team of Oswego County, N.Y. all-stars to victory over neighboring Onondaga County. Later that he year he joined an amateur team in Brooklyn, and was 37-2. Two years later, now with the Brooklyn Excelsior Club, Cummings’ sweet deliveries earned him the nickname “Candy.” It was by that name he was known the rest of his pitching career.

Over the next decade, Cummings pitched for a variety of amateur and professional teams. In 1872 he pitched every inning of a 52-game season for the New York Mutuals, and led the National Association in innings pitched, complete games and strikeouts — with a grand total of 14. In 1874 he struck out six consecutive Chicago White Stockings.

Cummings retired from baseball in 1877 at the age of 28, and opened a paint and wallpaper store.

Then and now, there is considerable disagreement over whether Cummings “invented” the curveball. Other pitchers, most notably Fred Goldsmith of the White Stockings, insisted they developed the pitch before Cummings. No other pitcher in baseball’s early days was more closely associated with the curve, however, and when the Baseball Hall of Fame opened in 1939, William Arthur “Candy” Cummings was inducted posthumously as the father of the curveball.

Until the early twentieth century, the curveball was considered by some to be unsportsmanlike and a form of cheating. The president of Harvard forbid his team to use it, and at one point the curveball was illegal (the spitball, however, was not). Over the years, the curveball and its derivatives have flummoxed would-be hitters and physicists alike. A fierce debate raged for many years over whether the curveball actually curved or was merely an optical illusion.

Asked his opinion, the great Cardinals pitcher Dizzy Dean replied, “Go stand behind a tree sixty feet away, and I’ll hit you with an optical illusion.”

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How soccer is like a David Lynch movie, and other mysteries

I started writing about soccer in 1980. I was on the Tulsa World sports staff and, initially, wrote an occasional sidebar on the Tulsa Roughnecks of the North American Soccer League. Later, I became a more regular fixture on the soccer beat, and covered the Roughnecks during their strange run to the 1983 Soccer Bowl title.

A lot of sports writers brought up on balls and strikes and first downs didn’t like covering a sport in which a 1-1 draw was an exciting result, but I did. I can’t even say why, exactly. Maybe it was the foreignness of it. Soccer in those days was as exotic to most Americans as Dr. Who and sushi. The United States had not played in a World Cup in 30 years and wouldn’t for another 10.The North American Soccer League required each team to have at least three U.S. or Canadian players on the field at all times; a lot of those were goalkeepers and naturalized Europeans. American field players were miles behind the rest of the world, athletically and technically.

Soccer has certainly grown over the past 35 years. The U.S. has qualified for every World Cup since 1990. It’s best players now hold their own in the best leagues in the world. For the most part, though, I would have to say we still don’t get it.

My theory is that soccer is just too random and too unstructured for Americans to fully comprehend or appreciate. Soccer is a game with very few rules, and the ones it does have are often arbitrarily applied. It is officiated by a single referee responsible for a playing area larger than an American football field, with players scattered from one end to the the other and sideline to sideline. Yes, he has two assistants, and those assistants have been given more responsibility in recent years, but the referee is still in charge. What he says go. Unlike American timed sports, where an impersonal scoreboard clock ticks down the final seconds of a football or basketball game, the referee alone decides the moment a soccer match ends. His decisions carry enormous weight. By sending a player off or awarding a penalty kick, he alters the game in a way not even a baseball umpire or basketball referee can.

Every time a flag drops in an American football game, seven or eight guys in striped shirts get together to decide whether there was a penalty or not. In soccer, one man blows a whistle and that’s pretty much it.

Americans are bottom-line kind of people. They want results. All that dribbling and passing and juggling is swell but if it comes to naught 99 times out of 100, we figure we might as well go to the ballet. And about half the goals that are scored look like accidents. The ball gets blasted into a crowd, it ricochets off two or three players and goes in the net off a defender.

Every sport is a form of performance art, but soccer is more free-form than most, certainly more free-form than baseball or football and even more than professional basketball. It is a game of both structure and creativity, and we Americans seem to have trouble wrapping our minds around it.

For me, soccer is a little like a David Lynch movie. I don’t always understand it, but I can’t stop watching.

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