Everything Old is New again
Monday, November 02 2015 @ 11:30 AM EST
Contributed by: Magpie
So here's what happened...
We have a once-proud franchise, one that had been scuffling on the
margins of irrelevance for more than a decade despite the
presence on their playing roster of some truly outstanding players. All else having failed, team ownership decided to entrust the
team to a hometown boy. It's an internal promotion - the new guy had
been an assistant to the outgoing general manager. The new
GM slowly assembles the talent required to make this team a contender.
There are setbacks along the way - it took a few years to find the right manager, there were some trades that didn't work out, there were some unique
issues with team ownership. Eventually, however, in his sixth year on
the job - thanks in large part to a key trade and fuelled by a remarkable second half hot streak - it all came together in a 93 win season that ended, alas, with a memorable showdown against the eventual World Series champs.
Naturally, said GM isn't going to see a seventh year on the job.
I'm talking, of course, about the St. Louis Cardinals of the mid 1960s. (Admit it - you thought I meant some other team!)
In November 1957, the Cardinals promoted Bing Devine to the GM post vacated by Trader Frank Lane. Lane ran the Cardinals for just two seasons, during which Lane: a) traded 1955 Rookie of the Year Bill Virdon after he had a bad month at the plate (Virdon, a brilliant defensive player, would have a long and successful run playing CF for the Pirates); b) traded long-time second baseman Red Schoendienst to the Giants after more than ten fine seasons in St. Louis; c) tried to trade Stan Musial to Philadelphia for Robin Roberts. (Owner Gussie Busch wouldn't allow Lane to do that.) Lane moved on to Cleveland, where he made the deal for which he is best remembered today, trading away Rocky Colavito.
Bing Devine was a St.Louis native - he'd spent the previous two years serving as Lane's assistant GM. Prior to that, he had run the Cards' Rochester affiliate in the International League. The Cardinals were coming off a decent season in 1957 (87-67, eight games behind the Braves) - but they were still more than a decade removed from their glory years in the early 1940s, when they won four pennants (and three World Series titles) in five years. Despite the presence on their roster of Stan Musial, one of the greatest players and most admirable men to ever set foot on a big league diamond, the Cardinals had become an after-thought in a league that had long been dominated by the two New York teams.
Devine seemed to be inheriting a promising club. Stan Musial was 36 years old, but he was coming off yet another magnificent season (.351/.422/.612). Wally Moon, the 1954 Rookie of the Year, joined him as a second dangerous bat (.295/.367/.508) And the Cardinals had finally come up with a couple of young pitchers. Lindy McDaniel, just 21 years old, had gone 15-9 for the Cards in 1957; his younger brother, 18 year old Von McDaniel, had joined the team just days after finishing high school and tossed a two-hit shutout in his major league debut.
But the team fell on its face in 1958, winning just 72 games and falling to fifth place. Lindy McDaniel went 5-7, 5.80 and his kid brother came down with one of the first memorable cases of Steve Blass Disease. Young Von couldn't throw a strike all spring. He made appearance in April and couldn't record an out; three weeks later he tried again and walked 5 of the 11 men who came to bat. He was dispatched to the minors, and never played in the majors again. Three years later he was in Winnipeg playing Class-C ball, trying to hang on as a third baseman. Devine had made one significant trade before the season began, sending reliever Willard Schmidt and a couple of pitching prospects to Cincinnati for Curt Flood, a 20 year old centre fielder. Flood's arrival allowed Ken Boyer to return to third base, his natural position. Flood had a promising enough rookie season, but LF Wally Moon had a terrible season (.238/.342/.366) Moon had never been popular in St. Louis. He had replaced the beloved Enos Slaughter, and the fans just couldn't quite forgive him for that. At the end of the year Devine shipped Moon to the Dodgers for Gino Cimoli, another outfielder coming off a disappointing season. This deal did not work out - Cimoli never would amount to much, and Moon adjusted to his strange new ball park and gave the Dodgers several useful seasons.
Manager Fred Hutchinson had been dismissed towards the end of the 1958 season, but owner Gussie Busch was a hands-on kind of guy and he had decided who Hutchinson's replacement would be. He appointed Solly Hemus, who'd been the Cardinals' shortstop a few years earlier. The new manager didn't seem to make much of an impact. The Cardinals would win just 71 games in 1959. They barely avoided last
place. Stan Musial finally - finally - began to show his age. In his
first seventeen seasons, Musial had never hit below .310 - he'd seldom
hit below .330, in fact - but in 1959, he tumbled all the way to
.255/.364/.428 and it became clear that at age 38 he was no longer
physically up to the challenge of playing every day in the Missouri
heat. Also of concern - Solly Hemus apparently had some trouble relating to African-American ballplayers. Hemus didn't think Curt Flood was going to be a major league caliber player. Hemus also didn't think much of a hard throwing 23 year old right-hander who would make his debut with the 1959 Cardinals. That was a fellow named Bob Gibson. Devine had added another young African-American ballplayer to the roster, 25 year old first baseman Bill White. With the Giants, White was trapped behind Orlando Cepeda, just 21 years old and already a budding star. Hemus played White in left field in 1959, and White made the All-Star game. In 1960 White and Musial would swap positions, and White would win the first of his seven consecutive Gold Gloves. There was some other good news: Lindy McDaniel, working mostly in relief, bounced back to win 14 games, and rookie pitcher Ernie Broglio stuck with the team all season - he went just 7-12 but showed flashes of a powerful arm. And a catcher straight out of high school, a 17 year old named Tim McCarver, would hit ,360 in the Midwest League, .357 in the International League, and in September - still a month shy of his 18th birthday - made his National League debut. He'd be heard from a few years down the road.
The Cardinals took a step forward in 1960, going 86-78 and climbing up to third place. Ernie Broglio emerged as a star, going 21-9, 2.74 to lead the staff. Broglio and veteran Larry Jackson (18-13) were joined by a teenager and a retread. Curt Simmons, a Phillie Whiz Kid ten years earlier, was picked up off the scrap heap and went 7-4, 2.66, while 19 year old Ray Sadecki won 9 games in his first taste of major league action. Lindy McDaniel had a brilliant season in the bullpen (12-4, 2.06), leading the league in saves, although the category had yet to be invented, of course. White and Boyer anchored the infield corners. Towards the end of May, Devine traded veteran LH Wilmer Mizell to Pittsburgh for a young minor league infielder named Julian Javier, who was immediately installed at second base. Like Curt Flood, Javier didn't do much with the bat but both youngsters provided elite defense up the middle.
The Cardinals were hoping to move into contention in 1961, but the team spent the first half of the season spinning its wheels. Broglio had some arm problems and went just 9-12. In early July, with the team in sixth place at 33-41, Devine was finally allowed to dismiss Solly Hemus and install his manager of choice. Johnny Keane had spent almost 20 years managing in the minors before joining the Cardinals coaching staff in 1959, and had worked with many of the young St Louis players along the way. One of those young players was Bob Gibson, who worked his way into the rotation that season, winning 13 games. The Cardinals turned their season around in the second half, going 47-33 for Keane to finish 80-74 in fifth place.
But they didn't get much better in 1962; the record was marginally better (84-78) but they were still looking up at five teams in the National League. Stan Musial, age 41, came up with one last magnificent season (.330/.416/.508), but in a league where men like Koufax and Drysdale, Spahn and Marichal were setting the pace, the Cardinals' staff was still missing a top of the rotation ace, and the lineup had holes behind the plate and at shortstop. The day after Bobby Richardson caught Willie McCovey's line drive to end the 1962 World Series, Devine traded veteran starter Larry Jackson and relief ace Lindy McDaniel to the Cubs for outfielder George Altman and pitcher Don Cardwell; three weeks later he flipped Cardwell to the Pirates for shortstop Dick Groat, the 1960 MVP.
The trade for Groat filled the hole at short; meanwhile Tim McCarver looked to be almost ready to take over behind the plate, as indeed he was. Veteran Gene Oliver opened the 1963 season as the starting catcher, but by May McCarver had claimed the job and in June Oliver was traded to the Braves for veteran Lew Burdette. On the mound, Broglio would bounce back from his troubles to win 18 games, as did the rapidly blossoming Bob Gibson; old pro Curt Simmons turned back the clock with a 15-9, 2.48 campaign. The Cardinals leaped into first place with a 14-6 April. Then Sandy Koufax came to town. A pair of Dodger victories dropped the Cardinals to second place, but they kept on the Dodgers heels and overtook them in mid-June. They held the lead for a couple of weeks, but a dreadful west coast road trip saw them lose eight straight games to fall out of the lead and as low as fourth place for a couple of days. As September approached, the Cards were a solid second place at 72-60, but they were 7.5 back of the Dodgers.
And then they made a run. They won 9 in a row, before Bob Veale of the Pirates shut them out in the second half of a double header. They gained just two games on the Dodgers during all this, but they did not seem to be discouraged. They just went out and did it again, running off 10 straight victories, 19 of 20 all told. By September 15 they were 91-61, just one game back of Los Angeles. Who were coming to St. Louis for three games.
The Dodgers won all three. Podres and Broglio hooked up in a 1-1 game, but the Dodgers scored two in the ninth against the St.Louis bullpen. The next day Koufax did his Koufax thing (a four hit shutout.) In the finale, with the Cardinals in desperate need of a victory to stay afloat in the race, Bob Gibson couldn't hold a 5-1 lead. The Dodgers sent the game to extras, where Dick Nen's first major league homer broke up the tie, stretching the LA lead to 4 games with just seven left for the Cards to play. The Dodgers won 5 of their next 6 to put away the pennant race, and went on to sweep the Yankees in the World Series. But Devine's Cardinals were clearly knocking on the door, and 1964 might be their year. Except for this old man looking over the GM's shoulder...
About a year earlier, owner Gussie Busch had hired Branch Rickey, the legendary old Mahatma himself, to serve as a... consultant. Rickey had originally made his reputation running the Cardinals for Sam Breadon - it was in St. Louis that Rickey invented the farm system, an innovation everyone eventually copied (and in the process completely destroyed the old free minor leagues.) After twenty years together, Breadon and Rickey had a falling out. Rickey moved on to Brooklyn, where he famously brought African-Americans back into the major leagues after almost sixty years of blacklisting. Rickey lasted less then ten years in Brooklyn - he engaged in a power struggle with Walter O'Malley, and lost, like everyone who ever tangled with O'Malley. Rickey then had an unsuccessful stint with Pittsburgh, was involved in some desultory efforts at forming a rival league, before at last returning to the scene of his first glories. Rickey was 81 years old by this time, but he was that unusual thing - he was an ambitious eighty-year old. He still had a taste for power and accomplishment and he had his owner's ear. Of course, the Cardinals did have a GM in place...
In 1964, the Cardinals essentially brought back the same team that had fought so hard with the Dodgers. But they couldn't seem to get untracked. They hit the All-Star break 10 games behind the Phillies, sputtering along at 39-40, and Rickey was telling Busch that changes were required. That he needed to replace Devine, and he needed to replace Devine's manager too. Rickey had candidates in mind for both jobs. Finally in mid-August, Busch asked for and received Devine's resignation. Rickey's protégé Bob Howsam would be the new general manager. Devine's man Johnny Keane would be allowed to finish the season, but Busch and Rickey had already arranged to have Leo Durocher take over the team in 1965.
The Cardinals were 9 games behind the Phillies when Devine was pushed out the door, but they were also playing great baseball. In mid-June, Devine had traded Ernie Broglio and a couple of young pitchers to the Cubs for a disappointing young outfielder named Lou Brock. The Cubs were disappointed that Brock couldn't play centre field. The Cardinals didn't care about that; they already had Curt Flood. They installed Brock in left field and at the top of the batting order and instantly started to play more like themselves. It was just too bad that the Phillies were having such a great year and had such a big lead. On September 20, the Phillies were 90-60, with 12 games left to play - they held a 6.5 game lead on Cincinnati and St. Louis, who were tied for second.
And then the Phillies ran off their famous 10 game losing streak. When the dust had settled, Bing Devine's team was in the World Series. The Cardinals prevailed over the Yankees in seven games, and the Yankees instantly fired their manager, Yogi Berra. This was the second time in five years the Yankees - a franchise whose sense of entitlement, then as now, really has no limits that can be measured by human instruments - had fired a manager for the crime of losing the World Series.
In St. Louis, an abashed Gussie Busch offered Johnny Keane a new contract. Keane turned him down, and took the Yankees job.
That didn't work out very well for Keane. He arrived just in time to see the forty year old dynasty crumble into dust, like Ozymandias himself. Keane would be fired by the Yankees early in 1966, and die of a heart attack a year later.
The team Bob Howsam inherited had won a World Series. Howsam tried to claim some credit, which didn't sit well with many of the players and not at all well with the public in St. Louis. The Cardinals fell all the way to 80-81 and seventh place the following season, and were just marginally better (83-79, sixth place) in 1966. In January 1967, Howsam resigned the St.Louis job to take over running the Cincinnati Reds. Things worked out better for him there. Much, much better. Things worked out for the Cardinals, too. Stan Musial replaced Howsam as the GM - the team won 101 games, and beat the Red Sox in a gripping World Series.
And Bing Devine? He went to work for the Mets, nominally as assistant to GM George Weiss but effectively the man in charge (Weiss, who had run Ed Barrow's farm system, was kind of the front office equivalent of Casey Stengel by this point - a great old Yankee, with a glorious past. Emphasis on "old" and "past.") While in New York, Devine entered the auction for Tom Seaver and landed him, brought Gil Hodges in to manage the team, and drafted Nolan Ryan.
After just one season in the role, Stan Musial decided that he didn't want to be a GM, and Gussie Busch saw an opportunity to correct his old error. Busch was able to secure Devine's release from the Mets and bring him back to St. Louis as his GM. The prodigal son came home - he never had moved his family from St. Louis to New York when he took the Mets job - and he was finally the man in place when the Cardinals team he had largely built went to the World Series for the third time in five years.
Except this time the Cardinals lost in seven games.
The year after that, the Mets team Devine had helped to grow in New York pulled off their miracle championship.
A strange and twisted tale, with happy endings for almost everyone. Two championships for St. Louis. One for the Mets. Down the road, two more championships for Bob Howsam in Cincinnati. World championship rings for everyone but Bing Devine.