The little boy was excited, but he didn't know why. His mom was excited, his dad was excited, but all the little boy knew was that he was going someplace. Five weeks shy of his fourth birthday, the little boy was dressed in something called a "uniform" that his mom had made for him. The little boy walked out of his home on Laclede Ave., holding his dad's hand waving goodbye to his mom.
It was October 5, 1926. Sportsman's Park, Game One. The first World Series game played in St. Louis. The little boy, mimicking his dad booed some boys, he later learned were named Ruth, Gehrig, Lazzeri, and cheered for the Cardinals because they lived in St. Louis, Hornsby, Bottomley, Southworth, and all the boys wore uniforms, just like HIS!
The little boy's first baseball game was a Cardinal win, but it was not the little boy's last game or the Cardinals last win. It was the beginning........
Though the Cardinals lost the next two games, the little boy knew his dad was happy because they won the "series", whatever that was.
The little boy and his dad continued to go to Cardinal games as they had the time and his dad had the money, walking down the street, catching the trolley.
The little boy went to the World Series again in 1928, but the Cardinals lost every time. The crowd did get excited in the last game when Ruth, whom everyone booed, hit three balls over the fence.
The Cardinals lost again in 1930 and the crowed really booed when a player named Foxx hit a ninth inning home run to break a scoreless tie giving the Athletics a 3-2 lead in games. The little boy, now seven, booed himself hoarse. The same two teams met the next year and this time the little boy was able to watch four games in St. Louis, including the Cardinals winning the last game to become champions again. The little boy was especially happy because being champions made his father so happy and he wasn't happy very often because work was "really bad" and there was seldom any money to go to ballgames.
Work got worse, and worse, and worse. There was no money for baseball games. The little boy was growing, but he was still too young to work. Until......
1934, times were hard. There wasn't any money for extras, ballgames, anything. The "little" boy, who was getting big for his age and his best friend couldn't stand not watching the Cardinals play. So they did something about it. They got a job. At Sportsman's Park. It paid nothing. Before the games, the Coca-Cola trucks would deliver cokes to the ballpark in 24 bottle wooden crates. The crates would be left on the curb for someone to take to the various concession stands to be iced down for sale. The boys got the job to carry the crates. Their pay: they got in free to watch the game. All was well, especially when they skipped school in October to work and watched those crazy Dean brothers each win two games and another championship.
The Gas-House Gang. Was baseball ever better? The Deans, Martin, Frisch, Medwick, Durocher. Bring your best, we'll beat you. But the rest of the 30's were not so good, second places, the downward slide, back to second.
Now a teenager, a job was needed to help the family. So the teenager bought a bike and worked as a deliveryman for a small grocer and as a soda jerk. The grocery delivered to an area where several of the Cardinals lived and the teenager had a chance to meet the players and their wives. Of all the players,his favorite was Johnny Mize, he tipped the best. Years later, the "teenager" was very upset when he learned Mrs. Mize had died in a fire.
One afternoon as the teenager was delivering groceries and bottles of drink, he was hit by a big long car. The boy was knocked to the ground and though he wasn't hurt, the bottles were broken and the groceries ruined. Quickly several men jumped out of the car, determined the teenager was not hurt and then the "boss" apologized, paid him for the damage, tipped him, and made sure the bike worked. The teenager didn't learn who the "boss" was until several years later when the "boss" became mayor of St. Louis before dying, while in office, in a tragic air accident over Lambert Airport.
There was a little more money now, money to go to ballgames more often, like the "old days". The Cardinals were playing pretty well and one Wednesday the teenager and his dad went to a doubleheader to watch the Cardinals play the Boston Braves. The Cardinals swept the doubleheader, but that wasn't all. A beanpole of a kid, who looked like a corkscrew at bat played the second game. September 17, 1941, game two. The teenager watched the beanpole get his first major league hit and his first double. Many more of both were to come. As his dad had done for him when he was little and as the teenager did for himself each time he bought a ticket, he added the ticket to his collection when he went home.
The Cardinals, many said, would have won the pennant that year if only the beanpole with the funny batting stance had been called up earlier. No World Series that October, then the 19th birthday, then December 7th.
December 8, 1941, the teenager became a young man. In 1942 he became on old man.
By the end of the 1942 baseball season he had returned home, injured, finished, but alive, and still a Cardinal fan.The father, not expecting the son's return had bought only one ticket to the four possible home games. The baseball gods intervened. Someone offered to swap a ticket for games 1 and 2, plus money, for the ticket to games 6 and 7. The deal was made. Father and son went together to games one and two. The teams split, then the Cards won three straight in New York to win the series. 1943 was a much better year healthwise, but the Yankees returned the favor and took the series in five as father and son looked on.
1944. OH. MY. GOD. The sun rose in the west. Hell froze over. The St. Louis BROWNS won the pennant. The end times had arrived. Every World Series game was played at Sportsman's Park. Father and son went to all six games. In the middle of world-wide hell, St. Louis was heaven. The Cardinals were World Series champions again.
Labor Day, 1945, the Cardinals in a tight battle with the Cubs for first place, lose two to the Pirates to fall behind. Father and son wore long faces on the way home. After coming back against the Cubs to close to 1.5 games with four to go, the Pirates beat the Cards again and the three year World Series run dismally ends. But not for long.
1946. The troops and all the ballplayers were home. It was the Cardinals year. The Cards and the Bums ran away with the National League and the father with his son made it to as many games as possible. With a week to go the teams were a half game apart. St. Louis beat the Reds and double no-hitter Vander Meer to increase the lead to one, but after 152 games they were tied. Saturday they each won, the Cards taking a first inning lead against the visiting Cubs and never looking back. Sunday, Musial's home run gives the Cards the lead, but they lose and so do the Bums. Still tied. Season over. Best of three playoffs. Game one, St. Louis. Father and son are there to see Garagiola's three hits lead the Cards to victory. Now to the radio for game two in Brooklyn where the Cards blow out the Bums and return to the World Series! Father and son agree this has been the best season ever. It got better. Much better.
Red Sox versus Cardinals. Williams versus Musial. Game one. Sportsman's Park. Cards up 2-1, two out top 9th, a base hit ties and a home run in the 10th defeats the Cards. Game two, a four hit shutout by Breechen, who knocked in a run. Off to Fenway. Turn on the radios. Game three, Boston returns the shutout, game four the Cards strike quickly and waltz to a 12-3 win. Two games each. Game five, with a run in the 6th and three in the 7th, the Sox win handily.
The Cardinals come home trailing two games to three. Harry the Cat tries to follow up his shutout with a must win. After beginning with three scoreless innings, Breechen scores the first of three Cardinal third inning runs. After six it is still 3-0. The father and son are a mass of nerves, the stadium is so crowded they can hardly breathe. Finally after 15 innings, The Cat gives up a run, but only one. Cards win. Game 7.
Boston scores top first. Cards tie it bottom second.Bottom fifth Cards score two, but in the top 8th the Sox strike back. After two batters, it's second and third, no outs. Tying run on second. Game 6 hero Harry the Cat Breechen comes in and gets the next two. But, "Who's better than his brother Joe?", Dominick Dimaggio doubles and ties the game. Mid-eighth, tied, game seven. Father and son are in anguish, so close to escaping the top 8th trouble, but Dimaggio....
EVERY last person in Sportsman's Park is standing, yelling, trying to catch their breath. It is unbearable. Enos Slaughter. Single. No outs. The screaming increases. One out. Two outs. The screaming is even louder now, it is at terror level. Harry Walker at bat. The pitch, swing, crack of the bat. Insanity. Madness. Slaughter flies past third! Delirium. Heaven.
But it's not over.
York and Doerr lead off with singles. First and second, The Cat, worn out, trying to find the guts to finish. The noise level increasing with every pitch. Looking around the son sees many with faces buried in their hands. They can't watch. A groundout moves the lead runner to third. The son is yelling, screaming encouragement, heart racing, sweating, hoping, fearing, memories of the war and its' hell deeply buried. Pop up to Musial! TWO OUTS! Just one more! Please..... A new level of hysteria has infected Sportsman's at that moment. The weary Cat, throws, swing, crack, NO,NO,NO, SCHOENDIENST HAS IT!!!!!! TOSSES TO MARTY!! CARDS WIN!!!!!!!!!!! The greatest season, followed by the greatest World Series, ending with the two greatest innings.
St. Louis Cardinals, World Series Champions.
Three championships and four pennants in five years. Everyone, including father and son, thought it would go on and on. Everyone was wrong.
In 1947, 1948, and 1949 the Cards came in second, 1949 being the most painful, falling out of first place with only two games to go, finishing with losses to Chicago. Although 1949 was painful, it was also wondreful because that year was the beginning of the young man's bride going to the games (well, every so often, anyway).
About this time and for many years thereafter, the young man's father had the greatest job ever created. he ran the private parking lot across the street where Cardinal players parked. Both father and the young man enjoyed those friendships and did they ever have stories to tell.They needed those stories too because the 50's were a terrible time for Cardinal baseball.
Sunday, July 3, 1960. The now not quite so young man was excited. So was his father. This was a very special day. They even rode the trolley the last few blocks to Sportsman's. As they had almost 34 years ago, they walked into the park this time watching with joy the new little boy discovering the building had no roof, that there was a field with dirt and big boys playing catch.
We sat behind home plate that day. Me between my dad and papaw. My first baseball game. Hank Aaron hit two home runs. When we walked out that day, I was in the middle, both hands holding theirs. The three of us with the same name. My dad, as was his custom, kept his ticket and this time he kept mine. One guess as to what I was wearing. Yes, the same one.
In August, 1963, the terrible news, that always comes, was announced. The Cardinals were lack-luster in third place, 6 games behind the first place LA Dodgers at 64-53.The Cardinals continued running in place and on August 29, 1963 were still in third, now 7 games behind at 72-60. Hope for the season was over. Cardinal fans, still reeling from the news wanted to go back in time. The Cards won nine straight before losing the second game of a doubleheader on September 6th. They were 81-61, 5.5 back. Harry Caray began singing, "The Cardinals are coming tra la, la, la." They won three straight to pull to three games back. Harry kept singing. The Cards swept a doubleheader on September 15th and were ONE game back (91-61). The Cardinals were coming tra la, la, la.
September 16th, the old ballpark was in a frenzy. The first place Dodgers were in town for three. Brogolio versus Podres. The son, now 40, was there with his father, pleading, imploring, begging, trying to will the Cardinals to a win. The Cardinals HAD TO WIN THIS YEAR. LA strikes first with a run in the 6th. The Man homers bottom 7th. Tie game. Bob Gibson pinch hits bottom 8th. Tied starting the 9th. Just a run away from being tied for first. Bobby Shantz pitching. Two runs, Cardinals lose, two back. Next night Cardinals must beat Koufax. Shut out. Three games back. September 18th, Cards blow a four run lead, then lose in the 13th, 6-5. Three game sweep for the Dodgers. They lead by four with seven to go. Season over.
Depression sets in.
Sunday, September 29, 1963. The worst day in the history of the Cardinals. The father, the man and the little boy showed up for the tragedy. Bob Gibson pitching threw blanks for 8 innings. The Cards won in 14, but no one cared, no one stayed to watch. In the fourth Musial singled. In the sixth, Curt Flood doubled and was knocked in with a single. A pinch runner came in for the batter who hit the single and the batter, STANISLAW FRANCISZEK MUSIAL, just like that, was no longer a baseball player. We left. Dejected. Depressed. There was no joy in St. Louis, The Man had retired. As we walked away, I asked my dad and grandfather if they knew of anyone else who was at the first game and last game. My grandfather despondently replied, "Yeah, Musial." Dad put our tickets away.
As bad as this was, and this was very, very, bad, it was about to get worse, much, much worse.
1964. No Musial. Plenty Philadelphia. the Phillies started hot and stayed hot. The Giants surged, the Cardinals couldn't play .500. On August 1, the Cardinals were 8 games back in 6th place. Four weeks later, still 8 back, but now in fourth place.
September 7, 1964. Labor Day. Doubleheader versus the Reds. The Cardinals began the day tied for third with the Giants, two behind the Reds, 7.5 behind the Phillies. I got to go again. The three of us, all with the same name. None of us had a clue. These were the last home games before a long road trip.The Cardinals swept. When we walked out we were happy about picking up a game on the Phillies and we'd caught the Reds. It was SO good the Cardinals won those games. SO good. As we drove off in the car, none of us knew, or even imagined, that my grandfather, my Papaw, had seen his last baseball game-ever.
The Phillies collapse hardly registered. The Cardinals surge to win the pennant brought no joy. The first World Series in 18 years. My dad's 10th, my first. Yankees, Mantle, Maris, Ford. it was a daze. Seven games, four in St. Louis. An empty seat for four games. Me in the middle as always, clutching dad. Afraid. Sad. Game 7, Gibson pitches on two days rest, a complete game. McCarver steals home. Cardinals win, champs again.
1965 wasn't fun. Dad hardly went to a game. 1966 was worse. Sportsman's was closing down. Why? That's where all the memories are. And to close it down to move into a toilet bowl, made no sense. The wound was still too fresh.Sadness: went to all the home games at Sportsman's, including the last. We would move around and try to sit in the various places where my grandfather sat. Dad sat where he had for World Series games, Musial's first and last. When we walked out for the last time, we never looked back. We never went back. Later that season, went to our first game at the toilet bowl. Neither of us liked it.
The man had his memories, but life moved on. Shortly after the 1967 all-star game he went to the new stadium, to watch a Saturday match-up between Bob Gibson and Roberto Clemente. The Cardinals were in first place ahead of the Cubs. In the fourth Clemente hit a line drive off Gibson's leg for an infield single. Gibson kept pitching. No one realized what had happened. Dizzy, The Cat, Gibby, the man's favorite Cardinal pitchers. The Cards won the pennant by around ten games, then faced the Red Sox again. No Musial versus Williams. This time it was Gibson versus anyone and everyone.Opening two games split in Boston, Gibby the winner. The new stadium hosts its first World Series. Mike Shannon home run, Nellie Briles the complete game win. Game four Gibson. Cards up 3-1. Game five for the win, not to be, Lonberg with a masterpiece. Back to Boston, back to television. Game 7. Gibson. Gibson home run, Gibson three-hitter. Gibson for President. Cardinals champions.
The next year, the man would summarize in one word, "Gibson". or, two words, "Gibson, shutout". The man, now firmly in middle age, went to numerous games and would come home almost in disbelief of what Gibson was doing. The Cards won the pennant again and it was time to blow away Detroit for the championship. Game 1, new stadium. Gibson versus McClain and his 31 wins. We sat behind the first base dugout, back a few rows. Was it our imagination or could we hear the ball spin? K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K,K. The ballpark exploded. Gibson. Game 2, Lolich and Detroit blow us away. When Gibson won game 4, Cards went up 3-1 and the series was over. But, Lolich won game 5 to send it back to St. Louis. We walked out of game 6 after a 10 run third gave Detroit a 12-0 lead. Game 7. Gibson, Lolich. The two best pitchers going for the championship. Squandered Cardinal opportunities. Double plays, runners picked off. No score after 6. The man kept saying this is '46, this is '46, we'll pull it out. Top 7th, two outs no one on. Single, single. Northrup flyball to Flood---disbelief, shock, that didn't happen, wake me up! The man walked out of the stadium in silence. No talking in the streets, everyone was silent. When he finally spoke he said that was the most heartbreaking loss in Cardinal history. Stunned silence. It took years to get over the flyball to centerfield. Many years.
Saturday, July 3, 1982. The man, just months shy of 60 was excited. I was excited too. This was a very special day. As we walked into the stadium, like we had first done together 22 years to the day earlier, we watched with joy as the new little boy discovered the building had no top, that there was a field with dirt and grass, and that there were boys playing catch. The hated cubs won. The little boy's first baseball game. When we walked out that day, the little boy was in the middle, one hand holding Papa's, the other hand holding mine. The three of us, all with the same name. Two of us lost in memories of the one not there. As was our custom, we kept our tickets. One guess as to what the little boy was wearing. Yes, the same one.
1982 was the Cardinals first time in the expanded post-season. The old man was somewhat disgruntled by this fact, but the Cards swept Atlanta and were finally back in the World Series. Hopefully to dispose of the demons from '68. The old man didn't find the series that interesting until it returned to St. Louis for games 6 and 7. Six was a blow out win for the Cards, but the Cards trailed by 2 moving to the bottom 6th in game 7. As the Cardinals rallied, the old man finally caught the World Series excitement of his youth. He never understood his lack of enthusiasim for this series, but decided he was glad he had gone to it.
After being at the new stadium for games 3,4,and 5 of the '85 World Series, the old man returned to television for game 6. All he said afterwards was, "Clark should have caught the ball. If we're champs, we'll win tomorrow."
DD, he never blamed you.
The old man now reached the age of his father's and grandfather's death. These thoughts formed the backdrop for the 1987 World Series. As the Cardinals limped back to St. Louis, losing the first two games, he wondered if this would be the last World Series he would see. Could his Cardinals win one more time? The Cards swept the three St. Louis games, with the old man in attendance, and he was hopeful for another championship, but it wasn't to be, leading to belated, "Maybe next year" (s). But it wasn't next year, or the next, or the rest of the centuray.
Baseball was changing and so was the old man. No longer as confident, no longer as sure of step. He reached 80 and no one thought he'd see 81. But he did. It was the baseball year 2004. The Cardinals ran away with their division, the old man attended a few games. Goodness, did he like Pujols. "That kid is good." Maybe some day he could be mentioned in the same sentence as The Man. The old man didn't make the playoffs, but he rallied for the World Series. You couldn't miss that.
Now he was in the middle, holding hands with his son and grandson. Could he see one more championship? The new stadium was still a toilet bowl. Game 3, Cards down 0-2, but back home. Didn't matter, they lost game 3. Down 0-3, the old man decided to skip game 4, it was too much effort. Another championship wasn't meant to be.
The old man hung in there . 2006. Winning streaks, losing streaks. Way too much of an ordeal to go to the games. The Cards weren't good, but neither was anyone else. That Pujols kid though, he was good. Then San Diego is defeated. The old man perks up. He watches every game of the Mets series and after it is over announces he's going to the World Series in this new, new stadium. At least it looks like a ballpark.
Game 3. The old man is there, wedged between son and grandson. It was a struggle. Eighty, imagine that, 80 years after the first one, Hornsby, Ruth, the Deans, Medwick, Slaughter, Musial, Gibson, he gets them all confused. Cards win up 2-1. He can't make it to the fourth game. Game 5, just a couple of weeks shy of birthday 84. Cardinals win, champions again. Walking out of the new, new stadium, holding on to son and grandson, the old man is happy. World series championships 80 years apart, there for both of them. Championships in three stadiums, there in each stadium. When he made it home, he fumbled around and found his ticket.
Time takes its toll. Diseases take their tolls, some more than others. Over time, the old man began to wear down, sometimes the old memories were all that remained. Seems life is a cycle. The older you get, the younger you get.
2011. The old man is still here, but his mind is mostly elsewhere. It is impossible for him to get around. The days of going to Cardinal games ended in 2006. He wears his Cardinal cap and jacket all the time, but does he know?
The Cardinals are out of it. It's time to call it a season.
It's time to call it a life, a good life.
As the Cardinal season is at its bleakest point, over ten games behind the Braves, the family gathers as the little boy, teenager, young man, man, Dad, Papa, old man, now little child completes his journey around the bases and crosses home plate, wearing his Cardinals cap.
The little boy will miss his first Cardinal World Series.
Or will he? Maybe over the last few weeks he whispered to Cardinal hitters to help them hit better, to pitchers to pitch better, blow a ball fair, or foul, turn a long fly ball into a front row homer, place pebbles for lucky bounces, move them to prevent bad bounces. Most likely he spoke with his father, who in 1964 caused the Phillies to collapse while the Cardinals surged, and learned the secret, which caused the Braves to collapse while the Cardinals surged. Maybe he spoke to a squirrel.
It's game time and the son and grandson will be there. There will be an empty seat and when we return home afterwards, I will add that third ticket to my dad's collection.