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. Louis 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.”