For a franchise with the storied history and 11 World Series Championships of the St. Louis Cardinals, you can make an argument than any number of teams were the “best ever.” But if you want to tell the story of the Cardinals, if not baseball in general, I challenge you to find a team more packed with essential characters than the 1967 World Series Champs.
That club was honored last night at Busch Stadium, as this year is the 50th anniversary of their World Series win over the Boston Red Sox, who are in St. Louis for a two-game series.
To start with the obvious, you’ve got Bob Gibson anchoring the pitching staff and Lou Brock in his prime in left field. Both are Hall of Famers, one played his entire career as a Cardinal, the other played nearly all of it after coming over in a trade that fleeced the Cubs (which is even better). Gibson is #2 in games played as a Cardinal all-time among pitchers; Brock is #2 all-time among position players.
In addition to Gibson and Brock, you’ve got two other future Hall of Famers on the field for the Cardinals: Steve Carlton and Orlando Cepeda. But there was still one more Hall of Fame player in the dugout, if not on the field: Manager Red Schoendienst.
And what would The Greatest Cardinals Team of all-time be if it didn’t include the greatest Cardinal of all-time? 1967 was the one season Stan Musial served as General Manager.
So that’s six Hall of Famers, including the undisputed greatest pitcher and hitter in Cardinal history who all played a role in the team. But that’s just the beginning.
On the infield, in addition to Cepeda, you had two men who would go on to legendary careers as broadcasters: Tim McCarver behind home plate and Mike Shannon at 3rd base. Both are Cardinals Hall of Famers.
Up the middle, you had Dal Maxvill at short and Julien Javier at 2nd base. Both rank in the Top 20 all-time for games played by a Cardinal. But Maxvill’s Cardinals tenure went well beyond that. He briefly served as a coach under Ken Boyer, then spent nine seasons as the team’s General Manager in the late 80s and early 90s.
In the outfield, in addition to Brock, you had perhaps the most pivotal man in baseball history: Curt Flood. Just three years from the trade that would lead him to challenge baseball’s Reserve Clause and ultimately pave the way for free agency, Flood was still still very much in his prime, slashing: .335 / .378 / .414.
At the other outfield spot was some jobber named Roger Maris.
Even on the bench, the 1967 Cardinals were an interesting ball club. Backup Shortstop Jimy Williams would get just two plate appearances (of the 14 he would have in his career), but would go on to manage 1700 games for the Blue Jays, Red Sox and Astros.
Dave Ricketts, the backup catcher, appeared in only 52 games and would remain a bench player throughout his playing career. But he would spend more than 30 years as a coach and instructor in the Cardinals system, and is credited with teaching the art of catching to a string of Gold Glove winners, from Tom Pagnozzi, to Mike Matheny, to Yadier Molina.
The Cardinals have retired 12 numbers. Nearly half (five) of them were involved in the 1967 team, including Owner Gussie Busch. Ten members of the Cardinals Hall of Fame were connected to the team.
Any World Series winner is likely to have a few great players on the roster. But the breadth of legends on the 1967 Cardinals roster, spanning all the way back to Schoendienst and Musial, and all the way forward to today through the broadcasters and coaches, is almost certainly unprecedented.
Roger Maris told Sports Illustrated that the team was hungry for its own identity, to distinguish itself from the Gashouse Gang term that still lingered. The team found that identity when they were dubbed “El Birdos” by newly-acquired Orlando Cepeda.
In the Cardinal clubhouse Cepeda shouted the cheer he uses after every winning game. Three times he hollered, "El Birdos!" And each time the team hollered, "Yay!"
Viva El Birdos.