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St. Louis Cardinals' run to the playoffs.
With a blog that originated -- and matured into national status -- in Birmingham, AL, I've always assumed many of my readers are Atlanta Braves fans. In fact, I know many of my readers in the Birmingham metro area are Braves fans because they are friends with whom I've shared deep baseball discussions. Blog statistics show that we have regular readers in every corner of the country, with pretty decent numbers in various outposts around the world.
With that being said, our numbers always will be heaviest in a swath that stretches across the Deep South -- from Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, Florida, and South Carolina -- and that is solid Braves territory.. That means Mrs. Schnauzer, "Gabby the Investigative Tabby," and I were a tad torn as we watched yesterday's deciding Game 5 of the National League Divisional Series (NLDS) between the St. Louis Cardinals and Atlanta Braves.
We very much hope to get back to Birmingham (sooner, rather than later), but for now are based in Springfield, MO ("Queen City of the Ozarks"), where I grew up and became a Cardinals fan for as long as I can remember. I first started to follow the team at age 6 in 1963 when I happened to be perusing the radio listings in our local newspaper -- I was a strange 6-year-old, who actually did stuff like that -- and noticed that "San Francisco Giants v. St. Louis Cardinals" was scheduled for that evening on station KGBX.
I wondered what that was all about and tuned in at the appointed time (7:15 p.m., I think) and immediately was enthralled -- by the cheers of approval and groans of disappointment that came from the stands, by the crack of bat against ball, by the sounds of vendors ("Get your popcorn, hot popcorn," "Cracker Jacks, get your Cracker Jacks," "Beer, Cold Beer").
Mostly, I was entranced by Harry Caray and Jack Buck, who I consider to be the greatest baseball broadcasting team of all-time. Caray went on to work for a number of other clubs -- most notably the Chicago Cubs -- and later in life, became the subject of a classic parody by Will Ferrell. (See video at the end of this post.) Caray had the memorable home-run call -- "It might be . . . it could be . . . it is . . . a home run." Buck was the consummate broadcast pro, with a wry sense of humor: "They're having a power outage at the Reds game in Cincinnati -- not the hitters, the lights."
All of that is a way of saying I was thrilled that the Cardinals won yesterday's game, 13-1, and will advance to the National League Championship Series (NLCS) against the surprising Washington Nationals, who last night beat the heavily favored Los Angeles Dodgers (clearly the NL's best team during the regular season). Meanwhile the New York Yankees and (probably) Houston Astros will face off for the American League title -- although the Astros still have to get past the pesky Tampa Bay Rays in a game at Houston tonight. The two winners will advance to the World Series -- and while they remain long shots, the Cardinals are still in it, which has me revved up, mainly because their offense seems to be coming alive after being putrid for most of the season.
Still, I feel bad for Braves fans. They've had a lot of post-season heartbreak over the past 25-30 years -- with huge amounts of regular-season success -- and that trend continued yesterday when the Cardinals offense awoke to score 10 runs in the first inning and remove pretty much all drama about the outcome. (A by-product of my 35-plus years living in Birmingham is that my second favorite MLB team is the Atlanta Braves.)
Speaking of the regular season, the Braves won six more games than the Cardinals did during the year, and in moments when I was honest with myself, I had to admit that I thought the Braves had the better team. Plus, I thought the Cardinals blew their chance in Game Three when Manager Mike Shildt -- with the Cardinals leading, and the Braves down to their final out -- chose to intentionally walk aging Braves catcher Brian McCann to bring up shortstop Dansby Swanson, who promptly doubled in the tying run and scored one of two go-ahead runs.
After raging about Shildt's stupidity -- essentially gifting the series to the Braves, I thought -- I figured the Cardinals would roll over, ending the series with a loss in Game Four at St. Louis. To my surprise, the Cardinals squeaked out a dramatic, 10-inning win on Kolten Wong's double and Yadier Molina's sacrifice fly, sending the series back to Atlanta. The Cardinals' bats erupted early yesterday in Game Five against Mike Foltynewicz (who had pitched brilliantly in Game Two) -- "Where have these hitters been all season?" Mrs. Schnauzer said in disbelief. -- ending the Braves' season and sending the Cardinals to the next playoff round.
The Cardinals have missed the playoffs every year since 2015 -- a long time for a franchise with demanding (spoiled?) fans. So yesterday's win unleashed a flood of childhood memories. There was our wonderful neighbor -- Irene Weatherwax -- who sent a missive to the Cardinals, asking if they could send an autographed photo of Harry Caray to the young fan. who lived two doors up the street. I never will forget the thrill of opening a piece of mail to find a signed photo of Harry Caray. The photo, I believe, has been lost to the winds of time, probably from the chaos following our 2014 foreclosure in Bimringham.
By the way, Mrs. Weatherwax knew I was a huge Cardinals fan because I would take a bat and ball into our backyard most days and create the game in advance in my imagination -- announcing the proceedings as they developed in my best and loudest Harry Caray voice. (I told you I was a strange kid.) Mrs. Weatherwax would stop me occasionally and say, "How did the Cardinals do today, Roger?" (Meaning the version of that day's game in my backyard.) "Oh, they won, 8-7," I'd say. The Cardinals always won in my backyard, in dramatic fashion usually, with tight scores.
My first full season of following the Cardinals was 1964, when they came from way back to overtake the Philadelphia Phillies for the National League pennant on the last day of the regular season and won the World Series in seven games over the New York Yankees (who had Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Elston Howard, Whitey Ford, and other luminaries.) Probably the key blow of that series was Ken Boyer's grand slam off Al Downing to help the Cardinals win Game Four. (By the way, Downing went on to pitch for the Los Angeles Dodgers and gave up home run No. 715 to he Braves Hank Aaron, breaking Babe Ruth's career record.) That Ken Boyer grand slam cemented a love for the Cardinals, and baseball in general, that probably never will away for me.
By the way, I can still reel off the usual starting lineup for that Cardinal championship team of '64:
LF -- Lou Brock
CF -- Curt Flood
1B -- Bill White
3B -- Ken Boyer
C -- Tim McCarver
RF -- Mike Shannon
SS -- Dick Groat (or Dal Maxvill)
2B -- Julian Javier
P -- (Bob Gibson, Ray Sadecki, Curt Simmons, Ray Washburn)
I didn't have to use Google on that -- Scout's honor.
Probably the greatest thrill of my childhood came on June 5, 1965, when my family drove to St. Louis to see a game in person -- the Cardinals against the Houston Astros. I recall my breath being taken away as we neared the end of a portal and could see the stunningly green grass of the outfield and overall beauty of the stadium; it was called "Beautiful Busch Stadium," and it really was beautiful. This was Busch Stadium No. 1, also known as Sportsmans Park, which once was home to both the Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns, who became the Baltimore Orioles.)
Thanks to the miracles of the Internet, I can call up the box score from that 1965 game. The Cardinals won 4-3 when Boyer hit a triple and Tim McCarver drove him home with a line drive off the right-field screen. (A ball had to go up on the roof to be a home run in that area of the park. I always thought that was uber cool; I also loved the big Longines clock in right-center field.) The Astros started a youthful second baseman that day named Joe Morgan, and he went on to become a Hall of Famer.
I saw many games at Busch Stadium 2, which is perhaps best known for Whitey Herzog's great Runnin' Redbirds teams of the 1980s -- featuring Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Vince Coleman, Tommy Herr, John Tudor, Bruce Sutter, and Joaquin "One Tough Dominican" Andujar. I hope someday to attend a game at the current venue, Busch Stadium 3, but I always will be grateful to have seen a game at Busch Stadium1, the original site of Cardinals baseball -- although several stadiums sat on the same piece of land, starting in 1866.
As for yesterday's game, I have hope that the Cardinals will advance to the World Series -- even though the Nationals have three superb starting pitchers in Max Scherzer, Stephen Strasburg, and Patrick Corbin. I was certain the Dodgers would beat Washington, and figured the Cardinals had little hope against LA. But against Washington, who knows; the Cardinals will be favored and have home-field advantage in a seven-game series.
I have good news for Braves fans -- they are set up for a string of successful seasons. CF Ronald Acuna Jr., 2B Ozzie Albies, and SS Dansby Swanson are among the best young players in baseball, and the Braves minor-league system is stocked with talent. The Braves have a bunch of promising young arms, especially lefty Max Fried and righty Mike Soroka.
The Cardinals also have a lot of young talent -- especially uber utility man, Tommy Edman, without whom they probably do not make the playoffs -- so maybe the two teams will see each other in the postseason for years to come.
(Below is a video of a Harry Caray-Jack Buck broadcast from 1963, followed by Will Ferrell's version of Harry Caray. After that, is a video recap of the Cardinals' first inning from yesterday. Still can't believe it played out that way.)