Robison Doesn’t Buy the St. Louis Baseball Team
by D Fowler
Part 1 – Cleveland in the N.L.; but not for long
Frank Robison missed the news one day, and changed baseball history.
He’d sought another franchise, other than his Cleveland Spiders, in 1899, and in OTL, bought the St. Louis National league team, which had gone bankrupt. However, had he not bought them, things would have been very different.
The Spiders’ players would all be sold to the Browns, called the Cardinals by then, because Robison thought he could get better revenue. The Spiders went 20-134, and promptly folded, along with Baltimore, Louisville, and Washington in the N.L.. St. Louis got a team in the new American League, and while Robison wondered it St. Louis could support two teams, he died in 1911 before a move could be made, the city was a 2-team one for over 50 years. Cleveland also got a team in the A.L..
But, in the Alternate Time Line (ATL), Robison doesn’t hear about the St. Louis team being up for sale till it’s too late. And baseball history takes some different bounces.
The Cleveland Spiders have just finished going a respectable 78-76; they hadn’t drawn great, but as 1900 dawned, the National League still felt that Baltimore, not Cleveland, should be the team that should fold, along with St. Louis, Washington, and Louisville.
The 1899 team tried to sell the fans on the old name Brown Stockings, from the great teams of the 1880s – and wound up souring them on the name instead. They were fortunate that they hadn’t been forced to fold earlier, really. Someone bought them at a sheriff’s sale just for fun, and found it wasn’t very fun! 24-130 – what an awful team! They hadn’t been evicted from their ballpark or anything, but it was apparent that they had the worst collection of players ever to put on a uniform; they couldn’t pay their better regular players, so they owner had quickly sold them to others, and gone with a whole manner of different players.
So, the N.L. was back to 8 teams. Then, in 1901, the bidding war started for American league clubs, and Ban Johnson insisted on putting a team in Cleveland. In his words, "The Spiders don’t draw well at all; we can take that town easily."
When Napoleon Lajoie was prevented from playing for Philadelphia, and got sold to Cleveland, Frank Robison was in trouble. His club hadn’t drawn well anyway; and now?
Must of the ATL was the same as OTL otherwise, of course, till about 1904.
Robison would have felt – after another 6 years or so – that St. Louis might not support two clubs, but he would die before he could actually move to Baltimore as he’d considered. Now, he was even more certain about Cleveland. His own Spiders were awful, and losing fans left and right. He had a few choices – he could go with St. Louis, but their owner had the St. Louis Cardinals playing well in the A.L. by now. (The club refused to choose the name Browns, after the disastrous 1899 season when they’d gone with that name.)
Baltimore, however, had been a victim of poor owners and Ban Johnson’s desire for a team in New York. Robison, however, had the money to make it in Baltimore. When he mentioned, at a league meeting, that Baltimore would make a good stop, he was told to go for it; anywhere but Cleveland. In some ways, the N.L. owners wanted St. Louis, to counter the A.L., but any further west would be impractical, and Baltimore would let them take more of the East Coast. Maybe they’d even take back the Washington market; the Nationals had been abysmal that year.
So it was that in 1905, the Cleveland Spiders would begin play as the Baltimore Orioles. Ned Hanlon was offered a small share; he’d owned the International League’s Orioles. He was happy to get into the majors, and readily accepted. Now, Robison had a city all to himself.
The International League didn’t complain much. After all, they’d only had the city for two years themselves, with the A.L. having it for two years before that. Hanlon had the money to invest a little, though not a lot.
However, Hanlon fell on hard times, and the Orioles were again a very bad ballclub in 1908, though Robison was trying to invest in scouting. That’s when Hanlon decided to sell his share to Jack Dunn. Dunn couldn’t have normally owned a big league team – he wasn’t that rich – but he could own a share of a club. And, Robison was aging.
Dunn and Robison became good friends. Their partnership grew, and so did the Orioles. They weren’t good enough for a few years yet to burst through the triple threat of the Giants, Cubs, and Pirates, but by 1914, they would begin to.
As well as signing a man Dunn had had his eye on for a while – a man named George Herman Ruth, whom Dunn termed his "Babe."
Part 2: Federal League, Ruth, Rickey beginnings – 1914-1920 in baseball
A later author wrote, "Had Dunn owned the team himself, the Federal League threat would have meant he never could have competed. Indeed, Frank Robison’s haers had trouble themselves, with the FL in town. But, the Orioles were barely able to hang on, during those two years that the FL was in existence."
The Red Sox had inquired about Babe Ruth in 1914, hoping to do a waiver wire deal, as Joe Wood’s arm was clearly hurting. Still, they’d gotten Ernie Shore in such a deal with the Giants during the 1913 season, so they had some hopes of rebuilding a pitching staff.
When they couldn’t get Ruth, the Red Sox simply started Dutch Leonard – of the 0.96 ERA in 1914 – a lot more in 1915, relied on a youngster named Carl Mays, and hoped, till fortune struck in the form of a car accident involving Joe Jackson.
Cleveland was wary of losing their investment in Jackson. They sought to trade him. Jackson expressed an interest in Washington, but even without competing directly with the F.L., the Nationals couldn’t come up with the cash. Charlie Comiskey was going to be able, but then, the Red Sox came calling. They had money left over, since they hadn’t been able to purchase Ruth, and the asking price for Shore hadn’t been as great as it might have been had Dunn had him.
Cleveland wanted a good outfielder; the Red Sox had a great outfield. Eventually, Boston sent Harry Hooper and some minor players to the Indians, with $40,000, for Joe Jackson and pitcher Allan Comstock, who started a fair amount for Boston down the stretch before being injured. This let the Tris Speaker trade – when the Sox sent him to Cleveland - feel like less of a blow after a salary dispute, after the 1915 season. The Red Sox were able to overtake the White Sox in an excellent pennant race.
"They outbid Comiskey, which says something about the penny pincher he was at times," one writer of that era said, though it was more the case that Boston had better young talent. Boston’s Joe Jackson hit .375 in the Series, and the Red Sox beat the Phillies in 6 games.
Joe Jackson hit .334 for the Red Sox in 1916, while Speaker hit .385 for Cleveland. The key to the Red Sox’ pennant in 1916, though, was luring Bob Groom and Eddie Plank from the St. Louis Federal League franchise. Both were older and would soon retire, but for now, they helped the Sox to fill gaps in their rotation, and the Boston club beat the Dodgers in 7, after Boston barely got past the White Sox.
The White Sox would beat the Giants in the next year’s World Series.
Cleveland had a .300 hitter for 1918 in Hooper, though they traded him the next year to the Athletics for several players. Hooper had only hit .235 in 1915, but the Indians knew they had a good, young outfielder who could play quite a while for them; once the chance to trade him in mid-1919 came, though, they took it, as the Athletics had several players who would help them a lot in their 1920 Series winning season. Cleveland lost the 1918 Series, though, to the Cubs in 7 games.
The St. Louis situation was interesting. St. Louis’ owner was losing money, and had tried to make peace with the St. Louis entry in the Federal League. However, he had an even better offer for purchase from Sam Breadon.
He later said, "It was hard to compete with the Terriers, but the good thing is, this town could support two teams, if barely. Three, we never could have done, of course. However, we stayed rather healthy. I felt like I could afford to sell to the higher of two bidders; as much as I wanted to make peace with the Federals, I thought to myself, ‘Why not let them join the National League? We can handle it.’" The leagues were still rivals, so the A.L. didn’t mind giving the N.L. headaches.
The owners of Baltimore’s club had gone quietly out of business, as Ned Hanlon hadn’t wanted to compete against his former partner - now Frank Robison’s niece - and Jack Dunn. However, the Terriers’ owners would end up going to court, and filing a suit that ended up seeing baseball win and receive an antitrust exemption, with the court stating that baseball was not a business.
The St. Louis Cardinals of the American League would be owned by Breadon till 1947. Breadon’s first act upon buying them was ensuring that Branch Rickey would remain. With George Sisler and Rogers Hornsby already on board, Rickey would build a very good team.
Meanwhile, the Orioles had weathered the storm, and people in Baltimore were thinking about converting Ruth to an everyday outfielder, which he’d played a fair amount even in 1918. Baltimore challenged, with Ruth a one-man show at times, but the Cubs pulled away quickly and were by far the best team in baseball. Meanwhile, in the A.L., the Red Sox missed Jackson quite a bit because of the war. Duffy Lewis, another outfielder for them, also was in the service. Cleveland finished 4 up on Washington and 7 on the Red Sox when play was halted in early September.
The Chicago Cubs beat the Indians in a very low scoring World Series in 1918. The Orioles converted Ruth to an outfielder, especially because they had recently signed a young lefthander who some said might eventually be better. A man named Lefty Grove.
Part 3 – Baseball in the 1920s, and Joe Jackson’s Career
The White Sox had won by several games in 1919, as the Indians made a trade with the Athletics for Charlie Jamieson and a few others in 1919. Now, the Indians were finally on top. The memory of Ray Chapman’s death, like that of the seven Black Sox who had thrown the 1919 World Series to the Reds, hung heavy, but Babe Ruth was clobbering baseballs over in the N.L. like crazy.
Ban Johnson, it was said, was desperate to see his own league prosper, especially with the Orioles and Ruth having made the World Series, though they lost to Cleveland. There was, at least, some gratification; the Browns’ owner’s gamble had paid off, and the Terriers’ owners would soon lose in court in their suit against baseball, as it was declared not to be a business, and therefore not subject to antitrust rules.
Back to Johnson’s wishes, when Harry Frazee sold Joe Jackson, who had just hit .375 with 9 home runs, to the Yankees after the 1920 season for $60,000, some said years later that the deal looked a little suspicious. It gave the Yankees instant credibility, but most figured the Indians, winners by six over the White Sox and ten over the Yankees in 1920, would still be hard to unseat. What they needed was a really good pennant race in ’21, between the Yankees, Indians, and maybe even the Cardinals.
In the National League, however, the story was Babe Ruth. He’d hit 54 home runs, and Baltimore couldn’t fit the crowds that wanted to see the Babe play. The Orioles had won the pennant in 1920, the seventh different National League team out of eight to win, a record that would be very hard to surpass even when expansion came; only the Pirates were not part of that streak.
In the Orioles’ 1920 pennant, they just edged past the Dodgers in the final days, with an offense featuring Ruth’s incredible batting average, and Ken Williams’ excellent center field play, along with an excellent number of role players that Dunn had found. They also featured Jack Fournier’s hitting. He couldn’t field bunts well; he was so bad Charlie Pick - who shared second base duties with a couple other utility men who played other infield positions, too - sometimes ran in from second and fielded bunts while he covered the hole between first and second! Ken Williams almost went to the Cardinals, but the Orioles won the bidding war 1917 when the Reds let him go.
Cleveland had beaten the Orioles in the 1920 World Series, as Bill Wambsganss turned an unassisted triple play in one game. It was a great story, with Ray Chapman having died earlier that season. But, now, the A.L. hoped for a superb pennant race.
The pennant races took off as expected in 1921, with the Pirates mounting a challenge to the Giants, and the defending league champion Orioles threatening. The A.L.’s Cardinals were a formidable force against the Yankees and Indians, with Rogers Hornsby the man dubbed "savior of the American League." He had begun to play second so well by 1919, the Cardinals were forced to unload Del Pratt, who brought them much needed pitching in return when the Yankees sent them Urban Shocker.
With Ruth making trips into New York to play the Dodgers and Giants, it meant even more time the New York papers could cover him. He was a huge story everywhere, but New York especially loved him. As he powered his way toward yet another new record – the third straight expansion of the single season record – people wondered why he wasn’t in New York, where he’d be way larger than life. The Giants and Dodgers offered crazy deals in a joking manner, knowing if they really gave what they said it would wreck their teams. But, if there was a way to get him, they would.
The strength of Jack Dunn in holding firm was apparent, though. He and some minority shareholders – Robison’s niece had sold by this time – actually discussed an even bigger ball park in 1920, and when Ruth kept hitting the cover off the ball, it was agreed that a steel and concrete "Memorial Stadium" would be built to seat 60,000. It would be ready to start play in 1922. Not only Ruth, but Ken Williams would benefit quite a bit.
Years later, it was written that, "This Memorial Stadium showed the audacity of the 1920s, the sheer insistence that expansion would occur forever. Had it been placed in New York, one might expect it, but Baltimore, while a great baseball town, does not seem like the kind that, after Ruth, will regularly draw crowds of this size." Cleveland’s stadium, built to lure the 1932 Olympics, which it failed to do, would be even bigger. (Note – Baltimore’s is still close to 20,000 less than OTL’s Yankee Stadium was originally, so they do take population size into account to some extent. Perhaps they even bid for the Games, too, I hadn’t thought about that, but they could use it for that.)
The 1921 pennant race came down to the wire, as those in the A.L. had hoped. St. Louis, thanks to an outfield of McHenry, Baby Doll Jacobson, and Tobin, Hornsby hitting .337 at second, and Sisler hitting over .370 at first, powered their way past the Indians and Yankees, before losing to the Giants 5 games to 3, in the last World Series played as a best of 9 series.
In the National League, the Pirates faded, and the Orioles, behind Ken Williams and Babe Ruth, came from a large deficit to overtake the Pirates, before falling just short of the Giants. New York won on the final day to prevent a playoff.
In 1922, the Cardinals won the league title by two games over Jackson’s Yankees, who continued to share the Polo Grounds with the Giants. They knew that at some point they’d have to build their own stadium, though. George Sisler hit an unfathomable .430 in front of Hornsby, who hit .404 and had 43 home runs on his own, to lead the league. The Cardinals faced John McGraw’s Giants again, only to lose to them in 7. Baltimore had lost by a mere three games over the Giants, with Ken Williams carrying the load.
Oriole fans cried foul, claiming that Judge Landis had denied them a Series appearance because of a suspension of Babe Ruth for his barnstorming. Ken Williams had seemingly carried the team by himself at times, but the Orioles would keep falling just short of the Giants till the late 1920s, when Grove’s greatness would kick in and they’d win a few.
Branch Rickey was already building his farm system, and he felt a World Series victory was only a matter of time in St. Louis. However, it would be a few years. After 1922, Jackson finally broke through with a Series win for the Yankees.
The Cardinals hit a rough patch. Eye problems would hurt Sisler the rest of his career, starting in 1923. Austin McHenry, one of their outfielders, was diagnosed with a brain tumor, and played his last game in late July of 1922. That, combined with Sisler’s eye problems, their Series loss in ’25 to Pittsburgh, a very close pennant loss in 1926, and the untimely illness, and later death, of Urban Shocker, led many to say the team was jinxed.
It would be a short-lived joke, once they finally won a World Series in 1928. Still, despite that bad luck, Frank Robison’s descendants sometimes pondered during the 1920s just what would have happened had he bought the Browns in 1899.
Connie Mack’s Athletics, meanwhile, were starting to get better, too. He’d signed Baltimore native Eddie Rommel out from under the Orioles’ noses, and would also get Jimmie Foxx, on a recommendation from a former Athletics’ player, in the Baltimore area. With Foxx, of course, there was the promise of starting right away that enticed him, albeit at a number of positions, whereas Rommel was spotted in a game in New Jersey, playing for a minor league club. It was said that a Baltimore scout had soured on him when – at the same game – Rommel was knocked out of the box in the third inning in both ends of a doubleheader. Mack, however, saw something he liked and signed him.
"We’ve got quite a little rivalry going for players with Mack," Jack Dunn remarked. "It would be great if we met in the World Series once; some of the guys he’s stolen from us, versus some of the guys we’ve stolen from under his nose." Indeed, after Dunn signed Grove from under Mack’s nose, Connie Mack sent spies out to follow some of his scouts.
When Mack discovered George Earnshaw in Swarthmore College, near Philadelphia, the two clubs began a bidding war for him that Mack only won because Dunn was having trouble signing lots of big names by the early ‘20s, because of Ruth’s salary. He got a reprieve when the new Memorial Stadium opened, as he could draw lots more people.
Joe Jackson’s Yankees beat to the Giants in 7 games in 1923’s World Series, as New York planned to open a stadium of their own in 1925. They moved into a new, 55,000-seat stadium in 1925, built along the lines of Comiskey Park, with the desire of becoming an "eighth wonder." It was not the incredible place that it might have been had someone like Ruth been there, but it still lasted over half a century.
Jackson had just missed 200-hit seasons in 1913 and 1916, the latter because Fenway was a pitchers’ park that year. He had 1540 hits through 1919, but in 1920 he had 210, bringing him to 1750. His career with the Yankees would see some injuries, as he was on the latter side of age 30.
He played left field for the Yankees, and led his club to 92 wins in 1923, hitting .362. He averaged 190 hits from 1921-1925, taking advantage of the lively ball, and collecting 2 more 200-hit seasons, in 1921 and 1923. Injuries limited him to 108 games in 1926, but in the last month of 1927, he collected his 3000th hit for what would be considered one of the great teams of all time, as they won 105 games and won the league by 13. Jackson retired at the age of 40 with 3347 hits and a .337 batting average.
Part 4 – 1926 and beyond, and Mini-dynasties
The 1925 Cardinals had won a thrilling pennant race with Washington, making some late trades for veteran pitching to stave them off. Urban Shocker had slipped in 1924, but he improved enough in 1925 to lead a rejuvenated club, and the outfield of Bottomley, Jacobsen, and Harry Rice, with Chick Hafey one of several key reserve outfielders, leading a club that scored 955 runs. Branch Rickey had groomed George Sisler for the manager’s role, which Rogers Hornsby griped about, and turned the club over to him this year. In the end, the Cardinals lost the World Series to the Pirates in 6, and Hornsby and Sisler were gone after 1926; Hornsby because of attitude and Sisler because of decreased production, and the need to move Bottomley to first.
In the meantime, 1926 saw an incredible pennant race.
1926 saw a great pennant race in the N.L., with four teams chasing each other right down to the wire, and a fifth very close. The National League’s Orioles won 91 to take their pennant, and could have won more, were it not for Ken Williams’ injury, knocking him out for a month. Lefty Grove came into his own, winning 20 for the first time after a 16-12 record the year before, and several other offensive stars shown; especially Ruth, who was over his illness and/or injury of the previous year.
Meanwhile, in the American League, the Yankees and Cardinals came within a game of winning. Detroit finished three games out, and the Indians only six out. The winners, however, were the Athletics. Philadelphia won 90 games to the Cardinals’ and Yankees’ 89, with Detroit having 87 wins and the Indians 84. George Earnshaw of the Athletics won 4-2 on the last day of the season, with Al Simmon hitting a big home run for them.
The drama captivated the nation, and was the talk of baseball. Only 1908 could be compared to it at this point, and many pundits argued about which year was better.
Jim Bottomley had been signed to replace Sisler for the Cardinals at first, though he was playing a fair amount of outfield, too, in 1926. Sisler was traded in the off-season, along with Hornsby, in a series of big moves, as the Cardinals chose to retool after a few near misses.
Over in the N.L., the Orioles’ season was saved by the signing of Grover Cleveland Alexander in a waiver trade with the Cubs. The Cardinals were supposedly after him, too, but the N.L.’s clubs had the first crack at signing him. Alexander would lead the Orioles to pennants this year and next, though next year they would lose to the Yankees in a World Series filled with scoring.
This year, Babe Ruth hit 3 home runs in a game once for Baltimore in the World Series versus Philadelphia. Alexander won games 2 and 6, then came on in relief of Grove with the Orioles up 3-2 in the top of the 8th, getting the last five out for the save. Baltimore had won their first World Series.
Mack said later, "Unlike our teams of 1929 and 1930, that club was built more around pitching, as much as you could with the offensive explosion. We didn’t have the offensive juggernaut we would then, or in ’31 when the Cardinals got past us at the wire. But, this club was very good, too, and showed a lot of determination."
No team truly dominated this period in baseball history, there were no stretches of three pennants in a row, but what happened was that the Athletics, Cardinals, Yankees, Cubs, and Orioles were able to have very good teams. The Yankees had one of the great single seasons in baseball history in 1927, with Lou Gehrig hitting .625 in the Fall Classic versus Baltimore. Pitcher Dolly Gray won 22 for Pittsburgh in ’28, second behind Burleigh Grimes, after being sold to them late in 1927 by the Athletics, who got a couple minor ones sold to them in return. The Pirates’ pennant in 1928 came in the second straight good pennant race between them and the Orioles, a rivalry which would grow into one of the better ones in baseball.
The Cardinals had sold Hornsby to the Giants before the 1927 season, with the Giants selling them Frankie Frisch, an unusual trade of stars at a time when trades between leagues weren’t allowed as straight trades. It was, rather, a deal where Hornsby was sold to the Giants, with the Cardinals then buying Frisch.
"Frankie Frisch is the only fellow who would come close to Hornsby’s potential at second base," one scout said, explaining why they’d gone this unusual route. Ban Johnson was no longer there to prevent such dealings, and American League pride was still intact, because by now, Lou Gehrig was the undisputed leader of the Yankees.
1928 saw the Cardinals finally break through and win a World Series, thanks to trades for General Crowder and Heine Manush, who had careers years. With Manush there, the outfield starters were totally different from 1925, though Bottomley was at first by now, and Hafey had been a fourth outfielder in 1925. "Branch Rickey knows how to get the best out of players," a biographer said. Rickey would deal Manush and Crowder to the Senators during a bleak 1932 season, and they would be part of the team’s last pennant in Washington, in 1933. "He gave up quite a bit of young talent to get them, but then he got some in return, which was what he was always best at."
The Philadelphia Athletics finally broke out on top in 1929 and 1930, winning the 1929 World Series. The Cubs won the pennant in 1929, while the Orioles took the National League’s flag in 1930, with Ruth, Grove, rookie first baseman Ripper Collins, and a variety of others having super seasons. It was Baltimore’s fourth pennant, but it was won without Jack Dunn, who had died 2 years earlier.
After contending throughout the 1920s, and breaking through with a Series title in 1926, Baltimore would win the 1930 World Series, then one more pennant in 1931, losing to the Cardinals in the Series. Then, they would slip into mediocrity for a few decades, having captured five pennants during the "glory years" of Ruth, Grove, etc.. While the Cardinals were successful, Baltimore had been a bit more so, and everyone agreed that Robison’s move to Baltimore had been more than worth it.
Part 5: The "Gas House Gang"
Rarely has a team that won two pennants and World Series – 1931 and 1935 - received such fanfare.
It could be argued, of course, that their 1928 team was the start of the Gas House Gang, with players like Jim Bottomley already starting. Indeed, he’d been there in 1926. Dizzy Dean was still starting for the Cardinals in the 1940s. However, the team that most remember is the 1935 World Series winners, a team that nearly won the 1934 pennant before falling short by 4 games, and had numerous players from 1931
It started in 1931, with a Series win by a club which nearly topped the Athletics in 1930. Baltimore and Lefty Grove had beaten Philadelphia in that Series. In 1931, the Cardinals’ Pepper Martin ran wild on the bases versus the Orioles, and Lefty Grove lost a close game 7 for Baltimore after having won one against Philadelphia the year before. The 1931 Cardinals were World Champions.
It was seen as another triumph for Branch Rickey and manager Frankie Frisch. However, as things often do in baseball, the next three years offered the unexpected. Three different teams won pennants – the Yankees, who had an amazing offense, Washington, who had given some youth for veterans capable of winning in 1933, and the Tigers, who had a great cast of young players, plus Crowder and Goose Goslin from Washington.
St. Louis was close to purchasing Leo Durocher from the Reds in 1934, but some incidents when he was with the Yankees prompted them to consider selling a few players to Hollywood for Alan "Inky" Strange, a man who Dizzy said, "Had a name that fit our team well," even though his personality wasn’t as wild as the others’.
The Cardinals refused to bullied by the Yankees, though – "we’ve won just as much as you have," their owner declared. So, they went and got Durocher a few months later. Their refusal to be pressured by New York was a harbinger of things to come later, in the 1950s.
Interestingly, Bill James speculates that, if the Cardinals had won the pennant in 1934, they would not have in 1935. He writes, "Here’s what happened: After Lefty Grove’s 30-5 for the N.L. Orioles in 1931, Dizzy Dean won 30 – some say 29 – in 1934. He was prepared to hold out because of his 30-win season. However, Frankie Frisch talked him out of it. He was really upset they hadn’t gotten past the Tigers, and didn’t want Dean missing too much time. So, Frisch and Rickey play a little good cop, bad cop, with Frisch the good one, knowing Rickey won’t increase the man’s salary anyway. Frisch convinces Dean it’ll be better to push for more once they win the pennant, because anyone can do the things he did and finish second, but only a truly great player can finish first.
"Dean bought it. He guaranteed a World Series victory in 1935; he even promised another 30 wins. Wouldn’t you know, he came through on both.
"Of course, then he expected an even bigger raise in 1936, and when he didn’t get it, he held out well over a month into the 1936 season. Of course, he probably saved wear on his arm, too, with all he was throwing, so that may have been a blessing."
The Cardinals beat the Cubs in the Series in 1935, but Dean’s holdout had a major impact on them in 1936. The Yankees had finally built a very good farm system, and had Joe DiMaggio, Lou Gehrig, and many others. They finished 17.5 games up on the Cardinals and Tigers in ‘36. New York beat the Giants in 6 in the Series, then beat the Cubs in 1937, despite two very good outings from the Cubs’ Lon Warneke, who they’d almost traded before the season, instead relying on their young first baseman, Phil Cavaretta, and a few veteran pickups. Then, the Yankees won sweeps over the Pirates and Reds.
The Cardinals only finished 9 games back in ‘37, with Dean winning another 24 for them, but they were getting older and ready for "another retooling," as some called it.
The Cardinals came within 4, 97 wins to the Yankees’ 101, by 1939, and after a slump in 1940, they began their own incredible run of pennants, determined not to let such a close loss happen again. They not only felt cheated in 1939, they felt they could have won 1937, also, given the right breaks.
Part 6: 1940s Cardinals – Best Ever?
Some have argued, especially because they managed to dethrone the mighty Ynakees of the end of the previous decade, that the St. Louis Cardinals of the early 1940s could lay a claim as the greatest team ever. It was a great team, with Johnny Mize having come up in 1934, his bat almost helping to capture the pennant, with Jim Bottomley aging. After that and the close loss in 1939, Branch Rickey was pressured by the owner, despite concerns about money, to promote good, young players whenever he could. Especially in the middle of a pennant race.
"If Mize had been brought up earlier, we could have won ’34, some say; and the loss in ’39 with our great farm system has left a bad taste in everyone’s mouth, considering the rivalry with New York," the Cardinals’ owner said. He knew he was getting up in years, and that the Yankees were tough to beat. Whereas the Dodgers or Giants, in the National League, were tough, they were at least sharing the city. New York was the only team in that market in the A.L., and that made them seem like a much more daunting task. With young Stan Musial doing so well as 1941 dawned on the farm, he pressured Rickey to bring him up. While the spat over how to run the club wasn’t the main reason Rickey left for the N.L.’s Dodgers soon, some say it helped contribute to it.
Yankee fans, on the other hand, note that, "If it wasn’t for Gehrig’s injury, we would have won in ’41, and maybe later. The Cardinals were a great team, but we were right on their heels a lot; we showed the 1936-1943 Yankees could win four straight despite a very tough Cardinal team there, and without having any pasties to play like what the Orioles had become in the National League. So, we’re just as good."
It’s easy to understand how the Cardinals of this era could be considered the best, though the lack of lots of wartime players makes it hard to say. Only Stan Musial being at war in 1945, injury problems with pitcher Mort Cooper, and Dizzy Dean finally showing his age, kept them from a fifth straight pennant; they won four straight from 1941-1944. Instead, the Tigers beat them by a game, when Hank Greenberg homered on the final day. They came within a few games of the Red Sox in 1946, winning one final pennant in 1949 before losing the Series to the Dodgers.
Some argue that Dizzy Dean might have shown his age sooner were it not for the war, which is possible. He was never great at conditioning, and some wonder, if a line drive up the middle by one of the National League All-Stars in the exhibition would have caused him problems if it had hit him, as it almost did. As it was, it was a few inches to the left of him. Dean was able to propel them to a great pennant race win over the New York Yankees in 1941, one of four straight World Series titles.
In June of ’41, the Cardinals traded young pitchers Max Lanier, Bob Muncrief, and Ken Burkhart, plus Johnny Hopp, for Thornton Lee of the White Sox and cash, plus a couple minor players such as Moose Solters, by then a backup outfielder, and backup catcher Tom Turner, acquired mostly for his defense, which declined quickly. Lee was having his best season that year. The June 15th deal was crucial, as the Yankees began a long wining streak later that month, and the teams battled to the wire, with Hall of Famer Stan Musial being called up, and youngsters like Howie Pollet being placed in the rotation to provide the difference.
Musial, in fact, was called up June 15th, too – Joe Medwick had been doing very well for St. Louis, but they needed some insurance, so he was sold to Brooklyn, which was in the middle of a tough fight with the Reds, with the Dodgers sending some veteran pitching help in return.
The Cardinals won World Series versus the Dodgers twice, then over the Reds and the Pirates. The 1944 Series was notable in that there was talk about playing the games in a neutral site due to wartime travel problems, but Dean boasted, "Hey, let’s play ‘em all in Pittsburgh, we’d win anyway." They actually played every game in Cleveland, a midway destination for each, with proceeds to purchase war bonds.
In 1945, the war-depleted Cardinals still almost pulled out a pennant. They had sent Johnny Mize to the Tigers in a three-team trade, getting first baseman Rudy York and a backup catcher and a few other role players, plus cash, after the 1941 season. However, Mize was not back in time for 1945, and therefore wasn’t important in the Tigers’ victory over the Cardinals, a victory that was payback for the Cardinals’ win by two games over them in 1935.
In 1946, Boston needed a first baseman, but the Cardinals were intent on keeping York, feeling they had what it would take to win another pennant, after four straight and a near miss. So, the Red Sox instead outbid the Phillies for the Reds’ Frank McCormick. He proved to be a key part of that Sox team, though 1947 was his last good season, and it could be argued his poor year in 1948 – his last – helped keep the Sox from winning that pennant. Still, he was a key part of that Red Sox’ Series winning team in 1946, as well as three Reds pennants – and one Series win - in five years earlier.
That would be the Sox’ last pennant in that era, however. Detroit won the pennant in 1950, with Johnny Mize nearly lifting the Tigers to a Series win before they lose in 7 games to the Phillies, The Red Sox would not win another pennant till 1969.
The Cardinals, meanwhile, lost the 1949 World Series to the Dodgers, who finally beat them after losses in 1941 and 1942. Indeed, with the loss to the Red Sox and Yankees in 1946 and 1947, they lose 4 World Series in that decade. They won five pennants that decade, despite Pete Reiser being injured so much, the wartime rosters, then integration leaving the club fraught with lineup and roster change in that time. Branch Rickey had come over in 1942 to be part of that.
In 1949, with the Cardinals agin, Brooklyn finally broke through, with their hurlers trading shutouts with the Cardinals in the first two games, the Cardinals winning one in Brooklyn, then taking game 6 before Don Newcombe outdueled Harry Brecheen to win Game 7; it was later said this game proved conclusively a black hurler "could handle pressure as well as a white one." It was a victory for equality in a small way, but the Dodgers were just thrilled to finally get back at the team that had denied them in such close Series in ’41 and ’42.
The Yankees, meanwhile, finally came out on top in 1951, beating the Giants, and in 1953, beating the Dodgers. They won both World Series, as they had in 1947. The Dodgers would get their revenge on them, too, a few years later.
Meanwhile, the Yankees came out on top in the most important race with the Cardinals – after Mutt Mantle drove up to St. Louis to get his son a tryout, the Cardinals and Yankees engaged in a bidding war at Mantle’s graduation, and New York won. Casey Stengel told the scout, "Do whatever you have to keep this man from getting away." They did, but then they tried to do something underhanded for talent, and lost when the Cardinals called their bluff.
Before that, though, came 1952 – one of the years everyone talk about as among the lynchpins of the Cardinal-Yankees rivalry in this league of heavyweights.
Part 7: "The Last Hurrah," 1952, and a movie review
The Last Hurrah" is a good baseball movie" - it contains much truth, but Hollywood changed and exaggerated some things a lot, too. The 1952 season was quite entertaining, and didn’t need Hollywood to try to add to the drama.
As Robert Redford’s character said in the beginning, when they learn of the new owner, "It’s pronounced ‘sigh.’ Could be a good omen. Makes you think of Cy Young. But, you know, there’s the other kind, too."
Fred Saigh, baseball’s tragic hero. This kind of story would have come sooner if there had been someone many perceived as innocent in the Black Sox Scandal, a Joe Jackson, say, who was with Boston then before being traded to New York. Seven Men Out fared okay, but "The Last Hurrah" did very well at the box office.
Saigh had bought the Cardinals from Sam Breadon, one of the most successful owners of all time. Fans expected more Series wins from this aging team, but Saigh didn’t know anything about baseball at the start, and he just didn't have a lot of the same players. So, he learned – and came ever so close to a Series title in 1949. Don Newcombe and Harry Brecheen battled in games 1, 4, and 7, splitting the first 2, with Newcombe winning Game 1, and Brecheen Game 4. Brecheen had beaten the Dodgers 3 times in 1942, and Brooklyn was yet to win a World Series. In game 7, though, Newcombe outdueled Brecheen 5-3 to win game 7 and capture Brooklyn’s first World Series, proving to the world that athletes of color could thrive under such incredible pressure. That part of the story, Hollywood covered well, though in an exaggerated way. "Everyone gets their due someday; I guess whatever force decided Brooklyn had suffered enough, or maybe wanted to show, in a Southern city, the races could play equally well," Redford’s character told the man who played Saigh in the movie.
The Cardinals slipped in 1950, and were also under .500 midway through 1951. However, they were just below .500, not nearly as bad as Hollywood implied. It would be the club's last pennant till 1966, and they would have somewhat lean years, but no really bad ones.
Dizzy Dean, their superstar pitcher from their glory days, raves about Satchel Paige from the broadcast booth, talking about how if Satch and he had been able to pitch together, they’d have won ten straight pennants. That part is true; Dean kept boasting that he could pitch better than some of the poorer pitchers even now, and that Paige could, too.
The fans got behind the popular Dean, who won almost 300 games and 30 twice. Bill Veeck and others pushed for it, and the large black community in St. Louis – who might have seen black players on a poorer team the same year Jackie Robinson broke into the game – finally convinced Saigh he had nothing to lose by signing Paige, who had done well against his Cardinals in 1948. That much is also true; Paige was the first African-American on the Cardinals in 1951. Dean could even have uttered some of the jokes the actor who played him uttered in the movie - such as, when being asked by Saigh how old Paige was, replying, "Oh, about a hunnert (100) or so." However, it was not to "try to earn favor with whatever forces the Dodgers had in ’49." And, as the 1952 season dawns, Hollywood really takes liberties.
Saigh’s indictment for tax evasion came early in 1952, not in late August during the heat of the pennant race! The Yankees did get ex-Cardinal Johnny Mize from the Tigers in early May, in an effort to beef up their bench. There were moments of desperation, as Saigh’s troubles distracted the team, but that was all season. Satchel Paige did win a dozen games; Hollywood got that right. Manager Marty Marion was kept over as a full-time manager when he couldn’t get a big league job playing, and the Cardinals were unable to trade for another player who could play part-time and manage. And, Marion wasn’t afraid to use Paige once he saw how well he was doing. Paige was even an All-Star. But, he didn’t win the All-Star Game like in the movie – he only pitched to two batters, and gave up one hit. He also didn’t tell the Yankess’ Mickey Mantle to come sit on the infield grass while he struck out the side!
Hollywood did get the last few days of the pennant race right, however, with Stan Musial’s key hits there and in the Series. They also had the sale to August Busch, who was drawn in by the pennant race and the desire to keep the league’s premier franchise in St. Louis; league owners had searched long and hard to find someone. Bill Veeck had even considered selling his Orioles and buying them, but he wouldn’t have been able to afford the Cardinals, he didn’t think.
However, the sale was not consummated during the first game of the World Series; it was done in St. Louis in September. The final scene, with the owner walking out of the park after game five, as the Cardinals went back to Brooklyn, and listening to the Series in a prison cell, certainly could never have happened! He didn’t go to prison till early 1953, and one provision of the sale was that he stick around till after the Series; it wasn’t even official till November first. He celebrated the Series win with the team in the locker room, just as he had after that grueling pennant race, which they won by a game over the New York Yankees.
As for when he got his ring, after he got out of jail, the club held a private ceremony, but the talk with Redford's character - a general manager - and Musial about athletes and how they push to succeed, sometimes at all costs, probably didn't happen; this was just a way to bring full circle 2 things: 1. The discussion that had had happened throughout the film about how Saigh was like one of those athletes with a lust for success; and, 2. A comparing of the two men, the great Musial with his consistent gentlemanly traits and Saigh. Plus, the last lines of the movie are most likely apocryphal - the cabbie asks what he has as he's studying the ring, and he says in a pensive voice, "Something I could have had without all the other stuff. Something...I could have had fair and square."
Despite Hollywood’s missteps, however, it’s still a very nice story. It was a very good pennant race; one of the better ones ever.
Part 8 - "I’d rather have Bill Veeck!" – owner politics and westward expansion – 1954-1956
At 1954’s winter meetings, the Yankees traded for the Philadelphia Athletics’ Art Ditmar and a couple other hurlers, including a native New Yorker, sending the Athletics two players who would be crucial to them in 1958, Gus Triandos and Bob Cerv, with others also going to the Athletics. It was seen as a very fair trade. But, it could have been so much more – more trades and more lopsided. And, it would have been were it not for St. Louis being in the American League. Ironically, their native New Yorker wound up being traded back to the Athletics after a poor 1955 and 1956, and he posted his best seasons for them after the trade.
Here’s what happened. Fred Saigh, owner of the Cardinals, was indicted for tax evasion early in 1952, casting confusion over the club’s future. Augie Busch entered to buy the powerful franchise and keep it in St. Louis. Owners felt he’d done baseball a great favor, and the money he held in his beer company made him an instant hit.
A man named Arnold Johnson had purchased Yankee Stadium and the home of the Yankees’ Triple-A affiliate in Kansas City. He wanted to buy the lowly Athletics; he’d haggled with Connie Mack over the price, and Mack’s stalling ironically helped Busch gain more close friends and influence among A.L. owners. By the time owners were ready to vote, a few other A.L. owners smelled something fishy, but the Yankees seemed powerful enough to push the sale of the Athletics through, together with a move to Kansas City.
However, that would impact Busch’s territory, in an area where there had never been a second team in the owners’ memories. He heard from other A.L. owners about their concerns, and when the deal was proposed, he stood up and – after much arguing – stated, "I’d rather have Bill Veeck than this man! This is a clear conflict of interest the Yankees are trying to create, and the St. Louis Cardinals will not stand for it. I will invoke territorial rights of whatever sort I must to maintain league integrity."
The contention between American League owners intensified, as the league’s two most powerful franchises squired off not in a pennant race, but in a boardroom. "The Yankees would have won the day, no doubt, were it not for the Cardinals," wrote the author of the book, "The (almost) Kansas City Athletics." He went on to say, "St. Louis had won 12 pennants to New York’s 10, and almost Series for Series – St. Louis was 8-4, New York 9-1 in Series play, losing only in 1937. While the Yankees had won more recently, the Cardinals’ poor showing had been because of age and – before that - Fred Saigh not knowing much about baseball when he bought the club. They’d won four straight World Series only a decade earlier, and they’d still won pennants in 1949 and 1952. Their club was old, but Busch had begun to shake loose some cobwebs and revitalize it. For August Busch to own the Cardinals was critical, too; it was clear he had the money to rival the Yankees, and New York’s owners couldn’t get enough votes to throw the Athletics to Johnson; there was a major split."
Bill Veeck had been over in the National League with the Orioles from 1951 to 1953, when they were having trouble, before being bought out by Jerold Hoffberger. He’d driven N.L. owners crazy with his antics, and more or less been forced out when none would trade with him.
However, Veeck appeared at one of the many meetings the owners were having, and made a proposal – why not move the Athletics to Los Angeles?
After owners were done laughing, Clark Griffith, who was in quite frail health, admitted that he had considered it briefly himself, but that he was too loyal to Washington. It did sound plausible, however. Veeck’s antics had drawn some fans away from the Senators, but more importantly, as Clark’s son Calvin was beginning to see, TV was a big problem.
When Veeck suggested they could both move, Clark refused, but Calvin was intrigued by the thought – something had to be done with the mess that was the Athletics, so Calvin met privately with Veeck, in an effort to try and work things out; provided, of course, Calvin got the more lucrative Los Angeles market to himself; two teams would have to move out there, he felt.
After weeks of haggling, local buyers were found for a majority of the Athletics’ shares, but they were of very short duration. Meanwhile, the White Sox won the pennant in 1955, losing the World Series to the Dodgers.
Officials from Los Angeles had been at the Series to talk to representatives of the Senators. Though Walter O’Malley approached them to get some leverage against New York, so did the new Athletics owners.
William Harridge, American League president, declared that a team could only move west with unanimous consent, but with the Arnold Johnson deal basically shut out by Busch, they were resigned to scrapping their whole plan with the bumbling Athletics.
The Yankees, frustrated with so many close calls, had fired Casey Stengel after the ’55 season. The new manager was blessed with a Mickey Mantle Triple Crown in 1956. Managing his pitchers differently, he got 20-win seasons by Johnny Kucks and Whitey Ford, and a good number three starter. Art Ditmar, Ralph Terry – who struggled much of his rookie season - and a couple others all vied for the #4 spot. The Yankees won a close pennant race, but Don Newcombe’s 3-2 win in 10 innings in game 5 proved to be the turning point, and the Dodgers clinched their second straight World Series the next day. It was the Dodgers’ ninth pennant in 16 years, and 3rd Series title.
The major news came out of Philadelphia, though. The Athletics, able to do no better, saw one owner buy out the others, and seek to move the team to L.A.. However, that was where Calvin Griffith had been looking. As the 1956 winter meetings dawned, it was certain that someone would move to Los Angeles for the 1957 season – but who?
There was a problem, too – baseball was concerned about their anti-trust exemption. Bill Veeck suggested expansion to 10 teams, and a 162-game schedule, hoping to get another club himself. The Yankees suddenly jumped at the idea, picturing Arnold Johnson owning one of the expansion teams. This caused one of the great quotes of baseball lore from one of the Yankee brass. "Oh no, I agree with Bill Veeck; the world must be coming to an end!"
Still others proposed that the Giants, who were considering moving anyway, could move down to Washington, thus preventing the need for expansion. Horace Stoneham rejected this idea; he wanted to make sure everything was okay with the new park in Minnesota, then he planned to seek permission to move his club there. "Washington is an old area, and we don’t know if they’ll ever be able to give us a new stadium. The only positive would be that a winning Giants team and a growing Orioles club would have a very good rivalry," he added, "but even there, what can match our rivalry with the Dodgers? That would remain strong no matter where we played." He was certainly right about that; indeed, in Minnesota, he could easily play it as "small town versus big city club.".
Walter O’Malley could see the writing on the wall – he tried to meet with officials from Houston after his trip to Japan, but not only did Gussie Busch not want to consider selling the rights to a lucrative minor league club to the best team in the National League, but also, O’Malley had some concerns about having such an integrated club in the South.
Yes, two clubs could share Los Angeles, but now it wasn’t a fresh, untapped market, and Calvin Griffith was tight enough with finances that he didn’t want the powerful Dodgers coming to L.A.; an expansion team would be fine, but he was worried about playing second fiddle to the Dodgers. So, Griffith would use his veto power over the region to block any move by the Dodgers. However, he said, "In a few years, once we’re established, perhaps then the Dodgers could come out here. However, I would still demand payment for allowing the area to be opened to the National League, and a lot more if it were an established club."
It was too iffy, and the N.L. couldn’t wait that long, though; they wanted to tap the market, too. So, O’Malley would simply continue to use New Jersey as a bargaining tool, unless something perfect opened up elsewhere; he certainly didn’t want Washington. Without a Western base in St. Louis, in fact, California seemed a bit of a reach for a National League team.
It looked like expansion would occur to Washington and Houston for 1957, but an initiative couldn’t be put on the ballot fast enough to approve a domed stadium now that so much time had been taken; league officials were quite wary of the intense humidity in Houston in the summer months. Roy Hofheinz had used his idea of a domed stadium to try and attract clubs, though it hadn’t been there when the Cardinals considered moving there, before Busch bought the club. So, Houston was kept out of the American League.
Finally, the National League agreed that starting in 1958, they would put a team in Los Angeles, owned by Gene Autry. His club would be called the Stars, with Griffith taking the name "Angels." And, Houston would get the other expansion club, with Busch finally convinced to give it up. It was a lot easier, knowing the Cardinals would more easily own the Southwest market with an expansion team in Texas, versus an established team; especially one as powerful as the Dodgers. The Red Sox hadn't even signed their first black player - they would do so in 1958 - so it would be easy for Houston to wait a couple years; they signed their first in 1960. Houston approved the dome in 1957, and Houston and the Angels would enter the league in 1958, once the stadium mesure passed.
In the American League, meanwhile, expansion would be in 1957, with the club moves.
Washington received one of the 1957 expansion clubs, and there was some debate about the other; Kansas City, Denver, and Dallas all laid claim, with Stoneham preventing Minnesota from making a serious bid. Kansas City was feared to be too small, once Arnold Johnson’s finances were looked into. It was decided that he wouldn’t be able to afford much. Dallas was an up and coming area, when put together with Fort Worth. They had a number of city denizens who would love to get baseball. So did Dnever.
However, there was one problem with Dallas, other than the segregation issue, which had made Houston iffy as it was. Denver had a richer owner. And, they had a nice stadium. There was contention about where to put the Dallas club, whereas Denver’s Bob Howsam had a bid prepared and a stadium ready when needed. Also, Busch felt that two expansion clubs in Texas might hurt the Cardinals too much in that region of the country; it was as bad as if an established club had moved there.
So, in the end, the Denver Bears became the surprise addition to the A.L..
It had begun with Busch saying he’d rather have Veeck. The problem was solved now, but the Bay Area – and all the owners – now wished for a good antacid.
The minority owner who had bought out all the others and moved the struggling Athletics was a man named Charlie Finley.
Part 9 – Transitions, Movers, and Shakers – 1957-1960:
The New York Yankees fell on hard times, but so did the Cardinals, in the late ‘50s. St. Louis bounced back for one last run at a pennant in 1957, only to fall 3 games short of the White Sox. The Yankees were in 3rd, then after losing to the Miracle Athletics in ’58, in a very evenly matched league, New York fell to 6th out of 10 teams in 1959.
A trade for a couple hurlers from Griffith’s Angels in the offseason – reliever Chuck Stobbs and a couple others, plus some good role players, forced them to give up Johnny Blanchard, Marv Throneberry, and cash. This trade gave New York a great outfield of Siebern – whom they considered trading but never did - Mantle, and Elston Howard for 1960. They roared to a pennant before falling to the Pirates in 7 games. Blanchard would be a great 4th outfielder for the Angels in ’61, before falling to earth in ’62.
"The Yankee farm system had started to decline some, and they didn't invest as heavily in it as they might have; they may have been relying on the prospect of getting the Athletics into their camp," one writer wrote. "Still, they kept Norm Siebern, who wound up being a good slugger in the Hank Bauer and Gene Woodling mold, and a semi-bad trade was what kept them from keeping Bob Cerv. They were also kept from making a few deals by the league rules – you couldn’t trade interleague, you could only sell players, and so they didn’t look at a few players they liked on the Orioles, like Don larsen….
Elston Howard did well as mostly a full-time starter after 1955, more and more at catcher as Berra aged; he might not have developed as quickly had he not been allowed to play full-time. And, more to the point, they still won more than the Cardinals did from 1951-1964, and could feel pretty good about themselves in the constant ebb and flow of power between these two clubs."
The Brooklyn Dodgers, meanwhile, realized they weren’t going to find a perfect situation elsewhere. Gene Autry would pay Calvin Griffith a sum that he wouldn’t have accepted from an established team, and Augie Busch’s ownership of the Cardinals plus segregation in the deep South complicated things with Houston. Still, while O’Malley’s main focus was on the New York area, he kept using Texas as a "possible third party."
It was more like a fourth or fifth party. Almost right after their 1956 Series win, O’Malley noticed that the West Coast was going to be closed, and probably Houston, too. So, he began negotiations with Manhasset, in Nassau County, which had some prime real estate and very wealthy people; he’d be out of the neighborhoods of Flatbush. New Jersey weighed in, too; Roosevelt Stadium couldn’t be expanded by enough, and Jersey City itself didn’t have any spots O’Malley liked a lot, but the governor of New Jersey vowed to try to find a way to lure the Dodgers there.
At about the same time the state was forming the New Jersey sports commission and considering a number of areas, including East Rutherford, O’Malley was going toe to tow with Brooklyn’s city council, engaged in a press war against Robert Moses. The East Rutherford idea caused this fight to heat up fast, as the idea of a "Dodgertown sports complex" in East Rutherford struck O’Malley as the perfect thing – close enough for the many who had moved away from Brooklyn to come to, if they got on the turnpike, yet in an area ripe for development. By July, 1957, it appeared O’Malley would build his stadium there. New York’s city government tried to put together a deal, but O’Malley kept refusing to have his team put in Queens. "If it’s not Brooklyn, it’s not worth being in New York." There was even some talk of the borough of Brooklyn seceding from New York, to see if they could work something out on their own.
Undaunted, after the Giants moved to Minnesota, in the winter of 1957-8, Joan Whitney Payson sold her shares in the team, and urged Nassau County to hire attorney William Shea, who had been pushing for New York to keep the team in the county. She felt that the county where her mansion was located had plenty of prime real estate. They did.
Nassau County set aside land near North Shore University Hospital, land that had housed one country club – which could be torn down - and on which another might have been built, had it not been set aside for a stadium. The towns of Hempstead, by far the larger of the two, and North Hempsted – the two of which shared a few villages and/or hamlets, anyway – decided to join forces and give Walter O’Malley what he wanted.
"There was mass confusion," Roger Kahn noted of the era, "but the important thing was, despite the hard feelings, the Dodgers remained close to their roots, at least. Few fans realize it could have been much, much worse; while they’re busy complaining about the Dodgers moving ‘where all the rich people are,’ they don't consider it could have been California, or perhaps Texas, rather easily." It wound up hurting Brooklyn, but the expansion of the interstate through Long Island and other improvements guaranteed by soon-to-be Governor Rockefeller clinched it. The Dodgers moved to where a good number of their fans had moved anyway.
They kept the name Brooklyn Dodgers, only because fans voting on it overwhelmingly favored that over the "New York Dodgers" (which reminded too many of the Giants and Yankees.) The Dodgers played their last game in Ebbets Field in 1960, and Dodger Stadium, seating 56,000, opened in 1961.
The Giants, meanwhile, had left for Minnesota in 1958. They’d lost a few very good players in the expansion draft – Jackie Brandt, who would surface in Baltimore later, and Leon Wager, who wound up being traded to the Yankees. But, numerous other clubs had also lost players in these drafts.
It would not be the end of the rivalry, though, as the Giants challenged the Dodgers throughout the early to middle ‘60s.
Part 10 – California Baseball a Big Success – Two Miracle Teams
The Yankees’ 1957 rotation – Ford, Kucks, Surdivant, and Ditmar, almost pulled out the pennant over the White Sox, but their trade of Hank Bauer and a couple other veterans for bullpen help didn’t pan out. Ralph Houk would direct his team to another pennant in 1960, after the young manager won the 1956 pennant, but they would lose the Series. The Cardinals contended for a while, but couldn’t quite make it.
One thing that helped a lot was the west coast clubs, who had a distinct home field advantage with the long travel. The Los Angeles Angels did well, but so did the surprising San Francisco Athletics, who won a number of close games against the Yankees, going 7-11 against them. That still isn’t great, but it would set the stage for next season, when the Athletics amazed everyone.
The Braves had beaten the White Sox 4 games to 3 in the 1957 World Series, a Series that captivated both towns, since they were so close to each other. Commissioner Frick declared it a "sign of baseball’s health, a well watched and exciting series in the heart of America." The White Sox had won 2 pennants in 3 years after nothing for over 30 years, and along with the Yankees were co-favorites going into the ’58 season; the Cardinals were picked for third, with fourth a muddle between the Red Sox, Tigers, and possibly the Athletics. San Francisco had a good manager – Lefty O-Doul, entering his second year – and had acquired a good first baseman in Bob Boyd, purchased from the Orioles for a few players. Vic Power, who could play almost anywhere, was still in the outfield, though there was talk of traded for a more pure right fielder.
Then, the Athletics made the first big interlingua trade since the Yankees had pushed for and gotten the right to make them at the 1956 winter meetings.
The Athletics sent Vic Power, Ray Herbert, and several young players for starting pitcher Bob Turley, starter/reliever Hal Brown, and a couple other positions players from the Orioles, and turned around and traded those young players to the Indians for Roger Maris, who had 28 home runs – and finished only 3rd on the team. Their catcher, Gus Triandos, had 30, and Bob Cerv, had 38. Boyd hit .315, and Charlie Finley made a couple other trades for older players, too – he was determined to win now. Gus Zernial was also still a potent force as a fourth outfielder.
Bob Turley also turned in close to a career year, and Philadelphia fans were upset – only their second year on the west coast, and the club had suddenly vaulted to the top of the league. Part of the reason, of course, was a great home field advantage; they hadn’t been drawing any fans at Shibe Park, they were drawing bunches at Seals’ Stadium, which had been expanded to 42,000 capacity, pending the construction of a new stadium.
Where would it be, though? Finley had taken to calling his club the Bay Area A’s, because while Candlestick park was going up, he was also courting Oakland, playing the cities off of each other to see who could give him the best deal. He even floated Dallas as a thought once during the season, prompting O’Doul to proclaim, "If he doesn’t keep his mouth shut, it’s going to distract us too much to win anything."
The Athletics survived challenges from several clubs to win with a 92-70 record, a low mark, but the league had quite a bit of parity around this time.
In the World Series, they stunned the Milwaukee Braves in 7 games, as Charlie Finley proclaimed that, "We have gotten revenge for 1914, and our Athletics are on top to stay."
Well, not quite – they contended for a time when the Indians won the pennant in 1959. Then, the Athletics had a few decent years, as Finley once again tried to win with veterans, but eventually, he scrapped everything by 1964 and started to focus on building from scratch. However, his rivals to the south had a better time of it.
Meanwhile, Gene Autry had obtained a bunch of players that nearly finished .500 in their first year, 1958, including a pickup from the very rich Giants, who tried to protect some of their farm system at the expense of a hurler who wasn’t doing well; Hoyt Wilhelm. The Hall of Fame knuckleballer started for Los Angeles for several years before going to Baltimore, then a few other clubs. Tony taylor was an excellent second baseman and ignited the top of the order the way Nellie Fox had been doing for the White Sox, though he wasn’t near as good as Fox. Still, it was helping a lot.
Jackie Jensen had been traded from Boston and had a huge year; the native Californian credited being back home. He was afraid to fly, but would try it one more season. Once the Cardinals slumped in ’58, Autry traded some of the young talent he’d acquired for players like Wally Moon, who became big sluggers in the Collisseum; Harmon Killebrew, meanwhile, was clobbering balls, young enough to threaten Ruth’s single season mark of 60 home runs one day, and keeping Calvin Griffith from regretting his decision to move, as the Angels were also drawing huge crowds.
Most importantly, the Stars got a castoff from the White Sox; pitcher Early Wynn, who had a career year in 1959, winning the Cy Young Award. He’d been traded to the White Sox in 958 for Minnie Minoso, after the Sox had won a couple pennants with Minoso. However, he did as poorly there, in a much more spacious Comiskey Park, so they figured the 38-year-old was washed up, and sent him to the Stars, getting something out of him while they could.
Autry could tell it was a down year for the National League, and hoped to win quickly; his team was on top, tied with the Giants, at the All-Star Break, and they withstood challenges by several clubs as they rode Wynn, Wilhelm, and a variety of others to the pennant. There, they shocked the Indians in 6 games to win the World Series.
Calvin Griffith’s Angels had built a ballpark at Chavez Ravine, which opened in 1961. They had been able to thrive in Los Angeles despite the Stars’ miracle club, as they were the most consistent performers. After losing by a comfortable margin to the Tigers in 1961 – a club which lost the Series to the Reds – they raced the Yankees to the pennant in 1962.
Griffith’s 1962 Angels won their first franchise pennant since 1933, thanks to Ralph Terry – ironically, a castoff in the 1957 expansion draft, after he’d done rather poorly in the bullpen in 1956. The Angels had outbid the Yankees in a trade for Terry a few years later. Terry wound up being the loser of game 7 versus the Minnesota Giants in a great game.
What happened was that it was 1-0 entering the 9th inning. Willie Mays launched a 2-out double that tied the score; the runner on first had looked back, and seen the right fielder hadn’t been able to get to it. "Clemente definitely holds him; Maris or Kaline would have, too," the announcer said, "but anyone but the best, and of course, as we saw, the game is tied." Willie McCovey was waslked, since his run wasn’t important, and while the Angels got out of the inning with the score tied, McCovey started the winning rally with a double in the bottom of the 11th, coming home on a hit with 2 out. The Minnesota Giants, after winning a playoff with the Dodgers to get there, were World Champions.
Los Angeles also won pennants in 1965 – losing to Brooklyn – and 1970 – losing to Baltimore. They hadn’t yet won a pennant at the time they built their ball park, but players like Killebrew and Kaat were firmly in the hearts of Los Angeles natives.
The expansion Stars weren’t so lucky. Their next best year, 1962, was a year that saw the Giants and Dodgers race to the pennant and need a three-game playoff to decide it. When Brooklyn swept the Yankees in 1963, and the Orioles beat the Yankees in 1964, baseball was clearly still entrenched on the east coast. The Stars had had Dean Chance, the Cy Young winner, but he wasn’t enough to help them contend.
In 1967, after two more straight Brooklyn pennants – they beat the Angels and lost to the Cardinals in the Series – the Stars did contend. However, they always seemed to be just on the cusp of the great pennant race between the Giants, Reds, and surprising Cubs. Still, Los Angeles had proven it was a good two-team town.
Part 11 – Yankees, Cardinals back on top
The New York Yankees nearly overcame the Angels in 1962, thanks to the emergence of rookies Joe Pepitone and Tom Tresh, and the early season trade for Leon Wagner to go with Siebern and Mantle in the outfield; Elston Howard was, by now, the full-time catcher. It had cost the Yankees some youth from their farm system, which had slowly been restocked, but they were determined to erase the near misses that had plagued them since 1953. Deron Johnson wound up as the biggest name, he put together a number of very good years for Denver as their star offensive player in the mid-‘60s.
The owners hadn’t gotten as much as they expected out of the Yankees, however, though they’d won a few titles early. They chose, with the team looking a bit lod, to cut their losses in 1962, and sell the team. There was a buyer eager to get into baseball; Joan Whtney Payson. After having helped the Dodgers in her home town, she wished to buy a partial stake – what wound up being 75% - in the Yankees. The sale was finalized in March of 1963. CBS television had also been interested, but Payson was a previous part owner and seen as having more potential to actually be involved in the team; she’d been with the Giants long enough as a minority owner A.L. owners quickly accepted her bid..
Wagner and pitching were the keys in 1963, as the club lost Mickey Mantle to injury for nearly half the season. Tresh, who had played third for them in the absence of Tony Kubek, moved over to third base permanently, and played quite well. Finally, in 1964, they broke through with another Series win - over the Orioles in 6 games.
1964 was a season of vindication for a number of career Yankees – Howard, Siebern, Kubek, Richardson, Skowron as a reserve – who won pennants with the club in 1956, 1960, and 1963, but hadn’t won a World Series before this year. This wasn’t as shocking as it might have been had the Yankees had a greater history of success, but it was still refreshing to see them win. They overcame hard challenges by the White Sox and Cardinals, who finished 2nd and 3rd, respectively.
Ironically, the previous owners had talked about firing manager Yogi berra for some time before the sale of the team, and admitted that they would have jumped the gun on an agreement if they’d still owned them. Payson was much more loyal, though, and kept Berra around till midway through 1966. The Cardinals, meanwhile fired their manager, Johnny Keane, after a disappointing 1965, when the pennant seemed ripe for the taking.
The Cardinals, who had struggled around .500, if not worse, since the 1957 pennant race, suddenly came in a strong second and third in 1963 and 1964. While they slipped some in 1965, a major trade in 1966 brought new life back into the franchise, just as a new manager came to town.
The Reds had been rumored to be offered Milt Pappas for Robinson by the Orioles, but they were reluctant to trade their star slugger within the league, even if they thought he was declining some; and part of it, too, was his outspokenness, so some believe they expected he might have some more great years left in his. Plus, the Orioles had won the National League by 5 games over them and the Phillies in 1964. Why make the 1964 pennant winners stronger?
So, Frank Robinson was traded to the A.L.’s Cardinals by the Cincinnati Reds for a couple players, most notably pitcher Ray Washburn, young outfielder Bobby Tolan, and pitcher Wayne Granger. Robinson wound up winning the American League’s Triple Crown, along with the MVP, in 1966. Though Orlando Cepeda had a great year the next year for the Cardinals, he lost to Triple Crown winner Carl Yastrzemski for MVP honors.
The Cardinals won both World Series, and would remain in contention for quite a while longer. Meanwhile, the Dodgers, who had won in 1963 and 1965 – over the Yankees and Angels, respectively - once again fell victim to the same team which had beaten them in 1941, 1942, and 1952. It was becoming a great postseason rivalry.
In fact, in Game 4 of that 1966 World Series, with the Cardinals up 2 games 2 1, Bob Gibson hurled the only no-hitter in World Series history, winning 1-0. The Cardinals clinched the World Series title the next day.
The Dodgers hit a downslide for a while, too. New teams were emerging, and pitching was dominant like it hadn’t been since the dead ball era. The Cardinals’ Bob Gibson had become a consistent 20-game winner, and went 25-10 in ‘66, with the help of Frank Robinson’s incredible season. Gibson and newcomer Larry Jackson were joined by a couple other holdovers, and a couple of great youngsters, especially Steve Carlton, though larry Jaster also saw quite a few starts.
Expansion was discussed at the Winter Meetings, as a number of people kept pushing for it, especially those in Milwaukee. The Braves had left the city for Atlanta. It was decided that the leagues would expand, with a target date of 1969.
1967 saw the Cardinals dominate again, with the Red Sox staging a great run to come in second. Meanwhile, the National League featured a tremendous 3-team race, with the Stars threatening to challenge but never quite making it. The Cubs had finished with 64 wins. That was good enough for last. They were about to complete a turnaround that Leo Durocher said might have been even better than his ’51 Giants.
Part 12 – Impossible Dreams for Cubs, Red Sox; Boyer Brothers in Series:
The Cubs won the National League pennant in 1967 because of a season many called "The Impossible Dream." At the same time, the Red Sox surprised many people, coming in second after over a decade of dormancy, 9 games behind the Cardinals.
The Cubs’ win was the most exciting, however, especially since they hadn’t sniffed a pennant race for 20 years, had often been last or almost last, and were ninth in 1966.
The Reds led most of the first couple months, thanks in part to the trade made with the Cardinals. Bobby Tolan was doing very well as the Reds’ new first baseman, and also spending some time in the outfield, with Lee May at first.
The Cubs were only 3.5 back at the end of May. Roger Maris was having a decent season in his next to last year after coming over to Chicago from the A’s in 1966. On June 13, the Cubs traded with Brooklyn, which looked ready to go from first to last. The Dodgers finished 8th.
The Dodgers sent hurlers Jim Brewer and Phil Regan, along with outfielder Tommy Davis and outfield prospect Jim Hickman, to the Cubs. The Cubs sent Brooklyn pitchers Bill Hands, Bill Stoneman, and Cal Koonce, along with a few other prospects.
For quite a while, there was a three-way tussle for the top – the Cubs, Giants, and Reds. The Stars then began a long winning streak that threatened to make it a four-team race. The drama captivated the nation, as the hard-luck Cubs, which didn’t even have lights, so no night games, challenged all the way, with a very young rotation. They didn’t have tons of offense, but had enough for Wrigley Field. Fergie Jenkins won 20 for the first time.
The Reds faltered at the end. The Cubs won on the last day, when Billy Williams hit a 2-run home run in the 10th to win, 5-3, and take the pennant from the Giants, 93 wins to 92; the Reds had 90. Fans were all excited to see Chicago take on the mighty Cardinals.
Bob Gibson won games 1, 4, and 7, and the Cardinals also managed a win at home in game 2. Fergie Jenkins, who pitched the last day of the regular season, was held till Game 3, and picked up the win. He was saved for Game 7, and did well, losing 4-1.
It was a great story. It was also the Cardinals’ 10th Series win, tying them with the Yankees. Each club was now 10-4 in World Series play, in just under 50 years.
The Cubs thought they had a plethora of good starter for ’68, but Jim Brewer was found to be better out of the bullpen, and one starter, Nye, had started to struggle. Joe Niekro was showing signs of the slump that would cause him to be traded again early in ’69, so with the club below .500 in early summer, they sent Brewer back to the Dodgers, along with Niekro, for a struggling Dodger pitcher, Bill Singer, and some minor hurlers. Singer had one of only two 20-win seasons – the other being in ’73 – in 1969, and the Cubs won the division with 95 wins before being swept by Baltimore in a low scoring NLCS. Some said that Cub team was even better than the ’67 squad, but the Orioles won 103 in 1969 to capture the East the first of two straight seasons. They Cubs managed one win against the Pirates in the ’71 NLCS, but that was to be expected; Pittsburgh had won 98 ball games, with Baltimore 95 in an excellent pennant race, while the Cubs won only 85 in a very weak division. They wouldn’t win another division till 1984.
Ironically, in their search for another fourth starter, the Orioles used Joe Niekro, among others. He’d stumble around for several clubs, after a couple years on the Dodgers, before becoming a consistent winner when he learned to control the knuckleball better. The club that signed him was the Pirates, who went from two straight division titles to falling 20 games behind the Orioles, then 13 back of the Dodgers, realizing they needed someone as a consistent starter to match up with the Dodgers and Orioles in their division.
Another great story came in 1968 – Bob Gibson had an amazing ERA of 1.07, and yet only went 25-10 for the Cardinals, as offense was down all over, and Frank Robinson was injured for almost a month total.
Meanwhile, the Tigers had been too far out in 1967 to give up one of their hurlers for a veteran. Fred Gladding was in some trade discussions with the Astros for Eddie Matthews. Instead, Detroit waited till Ken Boyer was put on waivers by the White Sox early in 1968, and claimed Boyer to back up at third.
Detroit’s Denny McLain won 31, and the Tigers bested the Cardinals, 103 wins to 96, in the last "true pennant race," as one writer called it. Expansion would mean a split into divisions next year.
The Giants started out strong in 1968, determined to finally win a pennant after their win in ‘62, then close calls for several years. They’d started out 5-8 in ’67 and had to roar from 7 back to lose by a game. Here in 1968, they beat the second place Cubs and Orioles by 7 in the N.L., and Juan Marichal finally won a Cy Young Award.
When the Tigers won that World Series in 7 games, it marked a unique milestone. Ken Boyer had finally earned a World Series ring – he’d missed out on a Cardinal one, coming up just after they went in 1952, and being traded just before their 1966 title. His brother Cloyd, however, had won one as a seldom-used pitcher for the ’52 Cardinals. And, their brother Clete Boyer had won a Series ring for the 1958 Athletics. Three brothers, three Series rings with three different clubs, separated by 16 years!
The Red Sox were next, in 1969. After being 7 games up early, they’d slipped to only 3 ahead of the Tigers in the A.L. East, and seemed to be fading
Then, on June 15, they made a big trade – they got right fielder Walt "No Neck" Williams and shortstop Luis Aparicio, plus bullpen help, from the White Sox. They sent them right fielder Tony Conigliaro – who had feuded with management some and "never got along with Yaz," according to one paper - infielders Luis Alvarado and Syd O’Brien, pitcher Ray Jarvis, and a couple other minor league players. Rico Petrocelli was moved to third base, and George Scott was moved from third to first. The move solidified their pitching staff and added to their team speed and defense, while "eliminating some distractions," as one paper said.
"We would have traded Tony after the season, anyway – he and Carl Yastrzemski didn’t get along as well. We wound up trading Jim Lonborg after 1970, too, because after a good first half he fell off the planet, it seemed," Dick Williams, their manager, said. "This was a good team, and once we got things settled, with Andrews and Aparicio at the top of the order, and Williams having a great second half coming from a real pitcher’s park over to Fenway, it wasn’t that hard to come back and win 96 ball games like we did."
Indeed, Conigliaro, for all his slugging prowess, never had a really high batting average, and management could tell he wasn’t as gifted as Yaz. Conigliaro played through 1981, but his stats were more along the lines of sluggers like Rocky Colavito; especially without his home games being at Fenway. Then again, Comiskey probably deadened his stats a little, too. He did play till he topped 400 home runs, though, finishing his career as a DH and ending up in the 1979 World Series with a third team.
Aparicio was a player they’d been eyeing, anyway; it was just that now, they could get him, and have a chance to use him to win right away, whereas with Baltimore in the A.L. East, instead of the N.L. East, there would be no chance, the way the Orioles played this year and next. So, Boston pulled the deal earlier than they would have. In fact, there were rumors that if Boston had really faded, Dick Williams’ job might have been in jeopardy.
Williams stayed the whole season, however. Aparacio’s excellent play helped fuel a Red Sox’ push to first place, and later hold off a Yankee charge. Yastrzemski’s 2 home runs versus the Angels in the last game of the ALCS helped propel the Sox to the World Series versus the Orioles. Boston, which had tasted a pennant race in 1967 and come up short, was finally back in a World Series.
Their pitching wasn’t that great, but their offense was incredible. Still, the Orioles improved to 3-4 in Series play, as they won 4 games to 2. Incredibly, this was the first ever Series loss for the Red Sox, after wins in 1903, 1912, 1915, 1916, and 1946. Their drought of only one pennant between 1917 and 1968 was finally over, and fans at Fenway were rejuvenated, meaning that the grand old ball park would be spared the fates of some others. The Sox would win more pennants there over the next few decades, too, though not another World Series for a while.
Part 13 – Expansion and Moves – 1966-1977
Bud Selig started phoning other A.L. owners the minute the Braves announced they would leave. He found a very willing ally in Gene Autry.
Autry had been financing major league travel on the West Coast, and wanted a second West Coast team to help his Stars. He wanted a third, also, but the Cubs were against that. They feared the league would split into divisions, and even if not, they preferred not having to play any more games out West than they had to, to help their local media. Still, Autry’s support meant that Selig would get his voice heard; and the Cubs’ demands meant Selig wouldn’t get crowded out by a second west coast expansion team.
One city was sure to get a team – San Diego, whose Jack Murphy Stadium would open in 1967. Seattle made a strong bid, but the A.L. seemed more eager to expand there, especially since Cleveland’s owner was a firm proponent of the area, having almost moved the Indians there before Cleveland made him an offer he couldn’t refuse.
The problem was that the Cardinals wanted a regional rival; now, it was they who clamored against a third team on the West Coast, unless they could get a rivalry with the White Sox. The White Sox, in turn, wanted to stay in the East; this was before the 1967 pennant race, when the two were so close till the Cardinals ran away with things in August and the White Sox fell to fifth.
Milwaukee, then, wasn’t as good of a fit in the A.L., unless they wre in the same division as the White Sox, Tigers, and Indians. Bud Selig didn’t mind the N.L.; he would have the Giants, as well as the Cubs, as rivals. Even if the Giants were in another division.
The Dallas area was seen as possible, but they were just like Denver as far as a regional rival. Transportation would be much easier, Ewing Kauffman said, if the team were put in Kansas City; there would be a straight shot through to Denver, then to the three teams out West. The city had a AAA club of the Cardinals after breaking with the Yankees, and had their own Municipal Stadium, plus a plan for the Harry S Truman sports complex.
In the end, then, they got the second team, going from red to royal blue and choosing the name Royals to signify they were "far different from the old days of minor league Cardinal Red in the early 1960s." San Diego and Milwaukee got National League teams finalized at the March, 1967 spring training meetings, and Kansas City and Seattle would go into the A.L.; the latter pending approval of a dome. Expansion was set for 1969, to give Seattle fans a chance to vote late in ’67, then the teams a chance to organize better. It took over a year to start up the organizations, to plan whether to split into divisions (they did), and so on. That wasn’t the end, though.
Bob Short would move his Senators to Texas in 1972, but before then, the wheels came off of Seattle. Numerous problems kept cropping up, and baseball tentatively looked at New Orelans as a possible site if the Pilots fell through. There was bickering over a location for the Kingdome, Sicks Stadium had big problems, and so on. They did play their first season in 1969, but the Cleveland financier who had helped stopped, others backed out, and by the spring of 1970, things looked very bleak. They agreed to play 1970 in Seattle, since no buyer could be found, but owners were looking elsewhere to try and salvage this franchise. Bob Short had been trying to keep them away from Texas, because he was already looking there, though.
Instead, the city which felt they were "a year too late" came to the forefront. At the time expansion was announced, Montreal’s bid for a team had failed. The wildly popular Expo ’67 proved the city could host a major event, though. The Dodgers’ AAA city for several decades, Montreal was considered a prime spot; all they needed was a stadium upgrade.
They’d promised baseball in early 1970 to build Olympic Stadium whether or not they hosted the Olympics; now, they needed to find a place in the meantime. They finally did in Jarry Park. A group from Montreal bought the woeful Seattle Pilots in June of 1970, and moved them to Montreal for the 1971 season. That moved the White Sox to the West for one year, but Bob Short’s move of the Senators to Texas pushed the White Sox back into the East.
In 1977, Seattle and Toronto entered the A.L., giving the league the following divisions: A.L. East: Boston, Chicago White Sox, Cleveland, Detroit, Montreal, New York, Toronto
A.L. West: Denver, Golden State A’s, Kansas City, Los Angeles Angels, Seattle, St. Louis, Texas
Some had thought about keeping the Rangers in the East, but the White Sox preferred the East and rivalries with Detroit and Cleveland by this time, versus the West, where St. Louis had never been as huge a rival as they might have become had the White Sox been more consistent winners after 1920, when the Cardinals first started becoming good.
Charlie Finley had threatened to move his team to a few places, in addition to playing the Bay Area cities off of each other, before selling in 1980 to Walter Haas and a few minority owners, including Bob Lurie, who sold his share in 1993. In the meantime, Finley had driven the American League’s owners crazy in numerous ways.
As the second round of expansion began in 1969, though, the 100th anniversary of the Red Stockings provided baseball fans with the ability to look back at a great rivalry between the Crdinals and Yankees for league supremacy.
Part 14 - Still National Pastime
On the 100th anniversary of the 1869 Red Stockingss, the Sporting News ran an analysis of the Yankee-Cardinal rivalry so far. "Over the last half century," it said, "they have demonstrated the great pastime that is baseball – one team for the big city, one for Middle America. Their all-time rosters are filled with Hall of Famers. The Yankees boast an outfield of Jackson, DiMaggio, and Mantle, and a variety of very good players who starred for them, Gehrig at first – who was so great he might just have been as good as the Cards’ Sislter and Mize combined – Berra and Dickey behind the plate, and a plethora of other All-Stars. And yet, the Cardinals have Dean with almost 300 wins and Gibson, who appears to be on his way, on the mound, the aforementioned first basemen, Hornsby, Musial, and quite a few All-Stars themselves at many positions.
"They have finished either 1-2, or at least within 5 games of each other with one in first, almost a dozen times. Each had runs of four straight pennants, with the Cardinals challenging till the last week or two in two of the Yankee ones, and the Yankees in three of the Cardinal ones. Each boasts a squad some argue is the greatest of all time – the Yankees have a couple. One knocked the other out of the playoffs with fatal blows a few times in years neither won.
"These two clubs were the talk of baseball for many years – the big city club and the Middle America team built with shrewdness and determination. When the Yankees’ power awed crowds in the Depression, it kept other teams focused on something, but so did the comedy of the Daffiness boys; then, when the Cardinals’ cunning kept sneaking past the Big City Boys during the war, it kept reminding people that America could overcome a powerful enemy.
"The National League, begun only 7 years after the Red Stockings, saw more balance during the last fifty years, till the Dodgers began to dominate; this may occur again, as the Dodgers are presently on a downslope, as are the Yankees. It was the league of parity a number of times. It made sense for the Giants to move to Minnesota – indeed, they have thrived. However, that would make no sense in the American League, for even though the Yankees have been on a similar downslope for a while longer, it is still a league defined by one thing – memory of a great rivalry.
"It was argued, for a time, that the split of baseball into divisions, and the moving of the Cardinals to the West for 1969, might hurt – ‘What if they win every division,’ some asked, while others inquired, ‘What if the Yankee-Cardinal rivalry fails to remain, now that the league has split?’
"After all, the Dodgers and Giants insisted on remaining in the N.L. East, with the Orioles, Pirates, Phillies, and Atlanta Braves. This meant that N.L. West got the Reds, along with the Cubs, Astros, Stars, and new San Diego Padres and Milwaukee Brewers. This is a league of parity, and rivalries – it’s not as dramatic a change as the Cardinals and Yankees going from 18 to 12 games a season. There lots of good clubs, not two great ones, now that the Dodgers are on a downslope for a while.
"The blessing for Cardinal fans is that the new A.L. West features several good rivals. There’s the new cross-state Kansas City Royals and the Golden State Athletics – also a historical rival – along with Calvin Griffith’s Angels, the Denver Bears, and the new Seattle Pilots. Meanwhile the Yankees get the Red Sox, Indians, Tigers, White Sox, and Senators. It would be harder to get one of those clubs to go west.
"The game has survived, and thrived, for 100 years, and looks ready to survive for 100 more, a great sea of calm and slow pacing in an era of rapid change. Memories will not fade of bygone days; instead, hopefully, new memories will be created. And, it is unlikely that the game could be any worse off – as noted, five years out of eight from 1936-1943, every Yankee-Cardinal series was a playoff anyway, and baseball survived. Now, it is more likely that others will enjoy the show, too. And, if the clubs should meet in the new League Championship Series, it will just rekindle the memories of the grand, old rivalry that has always existed between these two ball clubs."
Part 15 – Golden State A’s – State of Confusion
When Charlie Finley became part owner of the Athletics late in 1954, he was seen as a bit of a maverick, but with others surrounding him, he wasn’t allowed to be too wild. Some of his promotion ideas did help to try and draw fans. Finley’s promotion of black baseball in Philadelphia, going back to Octavius Cato, gave Cato recognition he hadn’t had in a long while, and was actually considered to be helpful in promoting the nascent Civil Rights movement in July of 1955, a year when the Phillies had only just signed a black player for the first time. However, Finley was soundly vetoed on concepts such as hiring Connie Mack back as a bench coach and giving him a one-day contract to pinch-hit for the Athletics in his 90s!
By late summer, 1956, when Calvin Griffith spoke of moving his Senators to Los Angeles, Finley could tell that he was unlikely to chase the Phillies out of town, and that Philadelphia would not support two baseball teams. He’d earned enough extra money through other means that he could buy out the other owners; given the Athletics’ poor performance, that didn’t cost a lot. And, Griffith could invite him to join him on the West Coast, thus allowing the schedule makers to have a much easier time. Gene Autry was already saying he’d finance the extra travel, if he got a team in the N.L.
League owners were concerned about Finley’s wilder ideas, but they really had no way to keep him out, since he was a minority owner before, and their interests in getting a second team on the West Coast matched Finley’s interests in getting out of Philadelphia.
A good team in 1957, and winning the pennant in 1958, meant that – except for an overabundance of references to mules, the gold rush, and so on - there wasn’t too much wild about him. He seemed like another Bill Veeck, but owners weren’t horribly upset at that. Veeck hadn’t pulled his more outlandish stunt ideas, like hiring a midget. And, his hiring of Lefty O’Doul as manager, and bringing other former Pacific Coast stars into the picture had ensured a lot of fans would come out to watch.
1958’s pennant, however, didn’t last. Bob Cerv, Gus Triandos, and others became just good players, and failed to win pennant after pennant. Finley started trying to sign other veterans with the hope of repeating the "glory of ’58." The team’s move in 1960 from an expanded Seals Stadium to Candlestick Park didn’t help, as he went from 35,000 to over 50,000 seats, and he expected to fill them. Therefore, as the ‘60s wore on, his antics grew more outlandish.
It’s tough to say when the idea of changing the name to Golden State entered his mind. It was likely around the same time that he changed the uniforms to Kelly Green, Sutter’s Fort Gold, and white. And, when he began to play San Francisco and Oakland off each other as far as stadiums. A later historian of the era said, "He was fine for a few years, he was getting his new stadium, and the city even went so far as to include some things he wanted. However, he also wanted to draw fans from across the Bay, and even in 1958, the unofficial name was ‘Bay Area’ Athletics. People figured that was okay; just like the Nationals had been unofficially the Senators for years, the Bay Area Athletics could be a good, unofficial name to draw fans.
"However, in the 1960s, that was taken to an extreme. He kept seeing if Oakland or San Jose or a few other Bay Area communities could give him a better stadium. For a while, it was a major distraction. You could say winning too soon spoiled him, but I don’t know that it had any impact – it seems like he would have been this way no matter what. It’s just that here, he had more to back it up.
"People tried to tell him he’d never draw 4 million a year – Griffith hadn’t drawn 3 million in his first pennant year, 1962. But, he wouldn’t listen, and when Oakland started building that coliseum that seated 65,000, suddenly, he changed the name, and told San Francisco unless they expanded Candlestick, he was moving across the Bay.
"One of the city’s leaders remarked that Finley was really fashioned after Emperor Norton – that’s a compliment. Emperor Norton was comical, and harmless, just really showy. Finley was not harmless; though he was entertaining. And, his ‘Emperor Norton’ days in the 1960s did draw fans; just not wins."
The same was true of his signing of not only old-timers like O’Doul, but Bay Area natives who had played in the majors decades ago, like Hap Myers and Harry Hooper, the latter of whom was given a one-day contract and an at-bat. O’Doul, in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, before he retired due to health reasons, was technically a player-manager for a while, but that was as much so Finley didn’t have to pay for an extra player, and only when they were out of the pennant race. O’Doul, for his part, batted a couple times to please Finley, and draw fans, but he privately admitted, "As popular as I am in San Francisco, I don’t think Finley would fire me – but I never can tell with him." He lasted till the middle of 1962, when he retired.
By 1968, however, Finley had scouted and signed a number of very good players, and was finally building his own team, after a few years of veterans trying to recapture the glory of the ’58 team that had been put together partly before he came on the scene. The team contended in 1969, losing to Griffith’s Angels in a "great California pennant race," doing so again in 1970.
Griffith had fired Bay Area native Billy Martin after 1969. With Dick Williams still with the Red Sox, having won the 1969 pennant, Finley outbid the Tigers for Martin’s services, and he opened the 1971 season as A’s manager. He guided them to the pennant before a loss to the Pirates in 7 games. He was said to have overused Vida Blue, the Cy Young winner, since Blue was such a young pitcher, though he claimed he tried to spare him, not starting him too often. "If I had a veteran lefty, now," Martin said, "we’d have won more than 99, beaten those Cardinals by more than five games, and a good one might go 350 innings. I could work him like I couldn’t a younger pitcher," he said, ignoring the fact Blue himself had logged over 300 innings.
Soon, a chain of events would occur that gave Martin what he wanted. It started what would be at once one of the greatest and wildest seasons in baseball history.
Part 16 – 1972 and Lefty I – Lefty to the A’s, Redbirds get Blue
Several important events in the life of the St. Louis Cardinals are of note as we begin.
They came within 4 games of the division lead in 1969, their second straight near miss; the fact they came so close, and that they had a proven slugger in Frank Robinson, kept them from trading Curt Flood like they pondered; instead, he played out the dismal 1970 with them, then retired. Robinson, the veteran slugger who nearly helped them to one last division title in 1971, was getting old. They sent him to the Dodgers in the offseason.
A much larger trade almost saw the Cardinals trade Robinson and Steve Carlton to the Dodgers for a bunch of youngsters, but the details couldn’t be worked out.
The Dodgers had finished in a tie for third, behind the Pirates – with 99 wins – and the Orioles – with 97, and considered acquiring both, but were leery of losing too much young talent. Instead, they worked a rather large, three-team trade, the principals of which saw Dick Allen go from the Phillies to the White Sox, and Tommy John go from the White Sox to the Dodgers.
Carlton held out as threatened, though, the 2nd time in 3 years. He wanted a $10,000 raise to $65,000. Vida Blue of the Athletics, meanwhile, made under $20,000, but after his Cy Young campaign, he demanded a huge raise.
Busch wanted to unload Carlton, and his GM tried first with those in his own league, since he was most familiar with them. He couldn’t stand Finley on one level, but admired his penny-pinching ways. He knew Blue would demand more – perhaps more than Carlton – but also knew Blue was younger and could be inked to a long-term deal, with incentives. There were rumors of some wild partying, but they had Bob Gibson to take him under his wing and "turn him from a thrower into a pitcher." This was necessary since Blue was only in his early 20s, but the hidden reason was, Gibson would hopefully be able to keep him out of trouble, with the same tough demeanor he showed on the mound.
Busch was hesitant, but when told he could have a left-handed Bob Gibson, he went for it. Finley sent Blue and Dave Duncan to St. Louis, with Duncan packaged in another deal later; the A’s went with Gene Tenace as the full-time catcher.
This let Finley save more money, and he gave Carlton $62,000 a year for the next two years, with incentives for winning 20, 25, and 30. Carlton figured he’d have the 20 figure easy. Blue, meanwhile, was signed for $70,000 for 3 years; Busch figured he’d have a bargain, and if Blue underperformed, he could always cut his salary later, and it would be less expensive than trying to sign Carlton to a multiyear edeal, since Carlton was more proven and his salary might go up faster.
Finley might have hedged once Carlton got going, but fans came out to see him pitch in droves. It should be noted here that the lack of an antitrust case meant the players didn’t strike, though they came close. The animosity was there, but not quite as bad as it could be. However, Carlton would have won 30 in 154 games, anyway.
As it was, Lefty Carlton – also called "General" by Finley, as he "led the charge" and was made up to be "a reincarnation of that famous Californian, General John Fremont" – kept winning and pitching so much, Finley took to comparing him to another great, Lefty Grove. "Connie Mack got outbid by Baltimore for him back in the 1920s, but now we got our own," he declared. He seemed to be torn between comparing this team to the great Athletics teams of the past and staying on his California kick, a pattern which was far greater because the club had been there since 1957. This continued as the season wore on.
Vida Blue won a pedestrian 16 games for the slumping Cardinals, and Bob Gibson had to reportedly get in his face a couple times for things, though this wasn’t known till later. They clashed a few times over the next few years, but in the end, Blue came to greatly respect Gibson, and later credited staying out of trouble to his presence on the Cardinals.
Part 17 – 1972 and Lefty II – "General" Carlton’s "Perfect Storm"
Meanwhile, by the time Carlton was finished in 1972, he’d done the following: 1. He pitched in three of the first six games (winning all) because of off days, which whoever was the ace would have done; 2. Completed the most games over a season since anyone in the lively ball era; and, 3. Won more games than anyone in the lively ball era.
This combination of one of the best pitcher seasons ever, a manager often accused of overusing pitchers, and an owner bent on sensationalism created the "perfect storm for gaudy pitching stats," as Bill James later termed it.
Carlton was 10-2 in his first 12 starts, as of May 30; his ERA wasn’t as great as it would be later, but this A’s team had good offensive numbers and a much better defense thant he poorer teams, like the Phillies. The next game, versus the Cardinals, Martin kept him in for 13 innings, and he took the loss, 5-4. Martin let him get a couple extra days of rest to line him up for a couple doubleheaders later in the month; one of them was an off day. Still, he wound up 2-4 with one no-decision in June; one loss was in relief, as Martin had no qualms about bringing "the man with the golden arm" in.
His loss on June 29 would be his last for a long while. He went 8-0 the next month, including one 11-inning 1-0 game versus the Red Sox, won the games right before and after the All-Star Break (it was three days’ rest, and Martin didn’t use him during the game itself), and his only non-complete game since mid-June was one where Rollie Fingers went 3 1/3 innings after Carlton left with a 7-5 lead, and held on for the save. Carlton’s last win of the month came on July 31st.
He won three more straight before a loss to the East-leading White Sox on the 16th of August, at which point he was 23-6. Charlie Finley had already been touting this as "the year of the next 30-game winner," and said with the offense the A’s had, it was a sure thing. He invited Dizzy Dean and Lefty Grove to come and be part of the celebration, ignoring the fact the entire foursome – Carlton, Hunter, Holtzman, and Odom - was quite fearsome, and they had a good offense.
Their defense was also among the best, unlike some teams, like the Phillies, who had limited range. But, Finley didn’t care as much; this was all about drawing fans.
Carlton won the next game, versus Cleveland, 3-1, partly thanks to his own hitting, as he drove in one run and was the middle hit when another was knocked in. Still, Finley wanted more – he wanted Martin to use Lefty in relief. That would draw more fans in his days off, and it would ensure gaudier stats, in Finley’s mind.
Yes, he knew Lefty winning 30 would cost him money, but he felt it was better for his team at the gate if they had a 30 game winner, and more if he won more. He also now ordered the team to wear the gold tops every time Carlton started.
Fingers had to go 1 2/3 for the save the next time Carlton started, and Lefty lost to Cleveland August 29th, only going 6, so Martin decided to bring Lefty in in the 11th on September 2nd; he went 2 innings, and his hit sparked the winning rally. He was 27-7, with almost a month to go in the season! Finley was asking Martin to try and get him to 35 wins, as with the White Sox in the East, the A’s had a commanding lead.
Finley declared, "This is the biggest thing since Walter Johnson; we’ve got to promote this great pitcher!"
Carlton spouted the following response to reporters: "If he dares to mention ‘Old Hoss’ Radbourne, I’m quitting the club!" This comment was in reference to the man who had pitched every day for part of the 1884 season, winning 60.
With a doubleheader scheduled on the 4th versus the Denver Bears, but nothing on the 5th, Martin decided to use him only for a few innings, though he gave Lefty the option of waiting till the Cardinals on the 6th.
Finley overruled him – he said, "The Bears are awful draws, unless Ryan pitches, and he’s just now coming into his own; the Cardinals are great. What if he draws Gibson or Blue and loses 1-0? Just pitch him 5 innings." Martin gruffly agreed, and Carlton won, 3-0, with Fingers and two other relievers helping as he won his 28th. He won his 30th versus the Angels 8 days later, on the 12th.
Lefty’s 30th was at Los Angeles, but Finley invited fans to come in for a few bucks and watch on a large screen, with concessions at half price. He made lots of money on this "home away from home" game, but other such endeavors in 1973 proved to be unprofitable, as fans soon tired of the concept.
Lefty actually lost his next game, to go to 30-7, but won his last 5, including two more in relief. His final win in relief was on the 1st of October, when he came on in the bottom of the 7th and went two innings, being pinch-hit for the second time his turn came up, at Kansas City. Then, he went five on the 4th at Denver for the his 35th win.
Part 18 - 1972 and Lefty III - Aftermath of 30+ wins
The White Sox had won the East with 91 wins, and took on the 102-win A’s in the playoffs. Because Finley had pushed so hard for Carlton to get 35 wins, which he did at 35-7, he would be unavailable till game 3 or 4 – unless, of course, Martin used him in relief. He’d gone 363 innings, and completed over 30 games. As he put it, "I hope I do only go in game 3 and once in the World Series; I should be doing ads for Rice-a-Roni, because my arm feels like it." He would slip to 15-15 the following year, then have two decent to good years before coming back strong in his free agent year, 1976, before going to the Phillies.
The White Sox almost won game 1 behind Wilbur Wood, who had his own Iron Man competition going; but at least he was a knuckleballer. However, Catfish Hunter went into the 11th, and the A’s came out on top.
Blue Moon Odom tossed a shutout to win game 2, then Steve Carlton and Tom Bradley went scoreless through 9 innings. Wood came on in the 11th in Chicago, and Carlton pitched through the 10th. Wood got the win, as the Sox prevailed in 12. Catfish Hunter started game 4, as he’d done well in game 1, but 4th starter Ken Holtzman was available, and he bailed Hunter out in the 10th, giving up the tying run but getting out of the jam. The story goes that Carlton chided Martin about being forced to go to the bullpen. However, Holtzman held on for another inning, and got the win when in the top of the 12th, the A’s scored a run, and Darold Knowles got the save. The Golden State A’s were going to the World Series.
The Series was somewhat anti-climactic, and filled with pitching, despite the great Reds team they played. Carlton won game 1 with over 3 innings of relief help, and Blue Moon Odom tossed a great game 2 for the win. Catfish Hunter and Jack Billingham engaged in a great game 3, before giving way to the bullpens, and the Reds won in 12. Then, Reggie Jackson, who had avoided injury and had a great ALCS, took over in games 4 and 5, with two home runs in each. Jackson wound up as Series MVP, and Ken Holtzman and Steve Carlton even won their games rather easily.
Finley liked to proclaim that Carlton had won the most games, counting postseason, of anyone since 1908. it was true – "the perfect storm" for a pitcher, a great season, a pitcher in his prime who could take the tear, an owner willing to push things, and a manager willing to trust in his starters.
However, as noted, it didn’t last. Martin had gotten tired of Finley telling him what to do, and once they stopped winning, he and Finley feuded more and more.
Carlton slumped, and even missed a few starts next year, and the two years after that, before rebounding as he learned how to care for his arm better, including what would become a famous muscle test of moving it around in a bag of rice. His ERA went from a little over 1.60 to around 3.50 n 1973. Despite a better offense, his luck wasn’t as good. His innings dropped by almost 100.
When a sweep by the Angels the last week of the season gave the division title to the Bear, Billy Martin’s fate was sealed. He was fired after the season. Meanwhile, Carlton would have two good seasons in 1974 and 1975, then when Charlie Finley knew Carlton would "never re-sign with Finley in charge," he traded Carlton to the Phillies in June, and he helped them to their first division crown, after signing with them for more years.
Part 19 – Please Play for Denver and Tom Terrific
Tom Seaver, one of the greatest pitchers of his era, is a bundle of what-ifs.
When the then-commissioner voided the Braves’ signing of him, they let several teams compete in a special draft. Joan Payson’s Yankees won the rights to him. Also among them were Philadelphia, Cleveland, and Denver, who would have their own ace, Nolan Ryan, soon.
Denver had begun using a humidor to deaden baseballs in 1969, after the White Sox had done so in 1967 to try and help their home club. The experiment was stopped there, but it was seen as a great idea in Mile High Stadium, where balls would fly all over. It did help to bring offense down, and the Bears’ hurlers actually started gaining confidence.
Tom Seaver won 25, and the Yankees almost overtook the Red Sox, in 1969, winning 89 to Boston’s 96; good for a team that had been in last in 1966, thanks to the sudden aging of a lot of their talent. They might have won the division, but they still had some older players from their championship years of 1963 and 1964, and had only begun to build a good team again. They did surge past the Red Sox in the latter parts of 1973 and ’74, though, and won division titles in 1970, 1973, 1974, and 1976, before slipping until Payson’s heirs sold the club. As one historian noted, "They were like the Pirates may have been, had the Dodgers moved west and Pittsburgh been the best Eastern team in the 1970s; a club in a modestly weaker division that just couldn’t get over the hump except once or twice." These Yankees only won two pennants, in 1974 and 1976, ironically two of Seaver’s lower win total years, though he did win 19 in 1974. That year, the Yankees overcame a rotator cuff injury to Mel Stottlemyre in mid-summer to win the series in 7 games over the Brooklyn Dodgers, with help from call-ups such as Ed Figueroa.
This Yankee era has some interesting what-ifs of its own because of Payson getting older; though the team bid for Catfish Hunter as a free agent, uncertainty over her status or the team’s meant they didn’t put forth the effort they could have. Otherwise, they might have won the division in 1975, though the Reds sweeping them in 1976 is still likely, as that Reds team was one of the best of all time.
It was one bad trade the Angels made – sending Willie Crawford and a couple others for Ron Blomberg and a few others – that really helped the Yankees, as Crawford was a very good right fielder, then DH, for several years for the Yankees, before the Los Angeles native retired. Griffith was in L.A., but after three pennants from 1962-1970, he was still a bit of a penny pincher, sending a few veterans away for young players. Blomberg, of course, could have been really good, except for injuries.
Denver, meanwhile, had lots of trouble drawing pitchers in the 1960s. Had they gotten Seaver, they likely would have won more than one pennant in the ‘70s, but they did have Nolan Ryan, Jerry Koosman, and they traded for the veteran they needed to get them over the hump in 1973, Jim Kaat. They also had a reliever, Tom Murphy. Muprhy had such trouble as a starter in the late ‘60s he once joked that he wouldn’t be surprised, in that rare air, if a ball got hit back to him and knocked his uniform off, like when Charlie Brown pitched.
Owner Howsam said pitchers like Ryan were needed because they could get lots of strikeouts; though he struggled when young, Howsam was proved right when he tossed two no-hitters and won 23 for the first of 2 straight years in 1973. "A no-hitter – now that’s how to keep them from hitting the ball!" he proclaimed. Ryan would toss a record seven in his career, four for Denver, though only one was at Denver.
Howsam’s Bears bought Kaat from Calvin Griffith’s Angels in the heat of the pennant race in 1973, when Griffith thought he was washed up. He, Ryan, and Koosman, with Tug McGraw’s "You gotta believe" cry from the bullpen, wound up shocking the Yankees. Then, when everyone figured the mighty Reds’ offense would score at least 10 per game in Denver, the Bears stunned the Reds in 7 games, with Ken Singleton, Rusty Staub and Don Money the hitting stars.
Cincinnati had needed 5 games, and a comeback from 2-1 down, to beat the Orioles in the NLCS. They, did thanks to a superb 12-inning game, then a 2-1 nailbiter in game 5.
Kaat joined Ryan as a 20-game winner in 1974, Murphy had a great year in relief, tossing 135 innings and saving 26, as McGraw struggled mightily, and the offense was just good enough that they won the division by a couple games over the Cardinals and A’s. However, it was bad enough that, with the Yankees having home field advantage, they lost the ALCS in 4 games.
That, however, is where it ended to some extent. Singleton left as a free agent in 1977, bound for Baltimore. The team signed Bobby Grich as a free agent in ‘77; he was torn between the Bears and Angels, both of whom offered a lot, but wanted to stay in the American League. Grich slumped, Koosman was horrible, and Ryan said he wanted to go to his home state Astros as a free agent after his contract was up.
With the Astros having had a great second half to pull into second, only 6 behidnthe Reds at 83-79, they traded Floyd Bannister, Cliff Johnson for Ryan, with a few minor leaguers on each side. Kaat got old and went to the Phillies after 1976. Money, acquired from those awful Phillies with a couple others after the Phillies’ dismal 53-109 season in 1972, stuck around the longest with Denver, till 1983. By 1979, an excellent outfield with a career year from Oscar Gamble and DH Jim Spencer, plus the signing of free agent Tommy John from the Dodgers after 1978, got them to another division title, where they won a pennant. However, this time, Denver lost to the Pirates in 6 games. Grich wound up leaving for the Angels when the team slumped after 1980, and the team seemed to have a rather bare minor league system; some top ones had been traded for Willie Aikens in June of 1979, with Rusty Staub and Don Money both nursing injuries.
Tha Yankees, meanwhile, were depleted by owners who didn’t want to pay after Paysons’ death. Cincinnati swept them in 1976, after beating the Red Sox in 7 in 1975. After Payson’s death in ’75, the owners kept the club together for one more run, then they had some lean years till George Steinbrenner bought them in 1980. Their division title in 1976 had been with 98 wins, but besides them only Boston was above .500 in that division, and that with only 86 wins.
"This was the one decade that was unique in their lore," wrote one historian. "The Yankees and Cardinals hadn’t yet met for the division title, though the Cardinals were somewhat close in ’74, and had probably only come up short in the trade of Reggie Smith because the Red Sox didn’t want to trade him within the league, sending him to the Phillies for Rick Wise and Bernie Carbo instead before the ’74 season. By the time the Cardinals won a division in ’79, the Yankees were struggling, and it wasn’t till ‘85 they met in an LCS, though since the later expansion they’d met a few times."
Part 20 – Free Agency Era Begins; 1976-1979, and smaller markets prevailing
As noted, Catfish Hunter wasn’t signed by the Yankees, as some confusion in their ranks with Ms. Payson’s illness kept them from a really high bid, though their worth had kept rising and they could have probably outbid the winners – Gene Autry’s Los Angeles Stars. Without a superb ace to anchor the staff, Autry "wanted Hunter more than any of the others." Griffith, despite his miserly ways at times, was still the toast of L.A., having won three pennants and contended in many other years, including recently in ’74 with some of the players he’d traded veterans for, according to one writer.
Owners had locked players out in 1976, but Commissioner Kuhn had forced them to open the doors. Free agency didn’t ruin baseball, but after the Reds beat the Yankees, repeating as Series champions, a bidding frenzy ensued for a large number of players.
The Phillies had beaten the Dodgers and Pirates by 5 games in the N.L. East in 1976, but lost to the Reds – five-time defending division champs, and winners of 4 pennants in 5 years. Philadelphia wanted a staff ace, so they signed Steve Carlton off the Athletics, while retaining Reggie Smith. Carlton’s teammate for 5 years, Reggie Jackson, was wooed by a number of teams, but ended up with the Brooklyn Dodgers, who had called before he made up his mind. Steinbrenner later said if he’d owned the Yankees, he’d have signed him very quickly, "before the Dodgers had a chance to call him." Brooklyn needed a right fielder, having used a variety of players there over the last few years, including Cesar Tovar, a converted centerfielder, in their pennant winning year of 1974.
The Dodgers ended up in two gripping pennant races with the Phillies in 1977 and 1978. The winner won the World Series each year. The division earned the nickname "National League Beast" by the end of 1977, when the Orioles finished with 92 wins, yet were in 4th! Pittsburtgh lost Rennie Stennett to injury in September, or they might have done better than their 95 wins and a 3rd place finish. Brooklyn got off to a hot start, but the Phillies kept hanging tough and the Dodgers lost the lead. The Phillies nearly needed a playoff after a couple losses in their last three games, thanks to errors by their normally sure-handed outfield, but the Dodgers lost their last game to the Giants. The Phillies beat the Reds in 4 games. Cincinnati, incidentally, had their own comeback, when the Cubs were up by 6 on August 1, then folded to lose the division by five. The White Sox had challenged the Red Sox till the last week, and the Royals even had a challenge from the Rangers and Angels.
The Phillies beat the Royals in 5 games in 1977, with a potent middle of the order of Smith, Schmidt, and Luzinski. Steve Carlton won Game 1, and while the Royals won Game 2, the Phillies took all 3 games in Philadelphia.
The Dodgers and Phillies slugged it out again in ‘78, with the Orioles, Pirates, and even the Giants threatening, in an incredible 5-team race. Minnesota was 83-79, in 5th, yet only 9 games out, not eliminated till the end. Brooklyn won by a game this time, and won the NLCS in 4, while the Red Sox, with home field, bested the Royals in 4. The Dodgers beat Dennis Eckersley in game 1, but the Red Sox won 3 of the next 4, buoyed by Luis Tiant’s 3-2 win in game 2, and a key strikeout of Reggie Jackson by Bob Stanley in the 9th inning there. However, Brooklyn won game 4 in extra innings, letting them keep Burt Hooton in for longer in game 5 when he struggled. Reggie Jackson broke a tie with a home run off Stanley in the 6th inning of Game 6, as the Dodgers won 5-3, and Brooklyn prevailed the next day to win the World Series.
Free agency would mean an era of great competitiveness for a good while, starting in ’79.
Montreal had signed Tony Perez in 1977, promising he could be the cornerstone, veteran leader they needed, rather than just being one of the crowd with the Reds. After the Red Sox lost the ALCS to the Royals in 1977, with Bill Lee taking a couple of those losses, including one in the 10th of game 5, the Expos had traded for the veteran hurler, who had slipped quite a bit from his 3 straight 17-win seasons from 1973-1975. They had also hired Dick Williams in 1978; after leaving the Red Sox in 1971, he’d managed the Yankees from mid-1972 through 1977, when he was let go by Payson’s heirs following a major selling off of talent, a "convenient fall guy," according to one writer, "to take the blame for the club’s disinterest in paying high salaries." Williams had won three division titles in four years at one point, two pennants, and a World Series.
He would continue his Hall of Fame managerial career with these Expos, developing the squad that would vault to the top in 1979 and win a pennant in 1981.
Four different teams had won the first four A.L. East battles – Boston, New York, Detroit with young hurler Pat Dobson as one of three 20-game winners, and then the White Sox.
Then, from 1973-1978, the Yankees had won two divisions, the Red Sox one, the Yankees one, then the Red Sox two. The A.L. East winner had won 4 of the last six pennants, though, leading some to fear dominance by richer teams.
However, the Expos proved they would be in the pennant race for keeps. They traded for veteran outfielder Tony Conigliaro of the White Sox in early June, and while the Red Sox were 5.5 up in mid-August, a month later the Expos were 4 games up. They would end up winning the division by 3 games.
They took on the resurgent Bears, with the Expos featuring what some called an "outfield for a generation," with young Tim Raines part of the playoff roster, and said by some to be ready to push Conigliaro to the DH spot by 1981 (which he would), if not 1980. Keith Hernandez, on the other hand, won the MVP award for the Cardinals that year.
Montreal won one in Montreal, but the Bears’ Jerry Koosman won the 2nd, 4-1. Craig Swan took game 3, against the mostly righthanded Expos, though he needed plenty of relief help. Floyd Bannister’s youth got the best of him in game 4, but the Bears prevailed in five, with free agent Tommy John getting the win. Willie Aikens, acquired from some young players in a midseason trade from the Angels, got a key hit to break it open.
Their opponent? The Pirates. They had acquired Joe Niekro for almost nothing after 1974, feeling the need to bulk up on hurlers with their team 20 back, then 16 back, of the division winners in 1973 and 1974. Bert Blyleven anchored the staff, with Niekro winning 20 in 32 starts and a number of bullpen outings. John Candelaria, Jerry Reuss, Jim Rooker, and Jim Bibby were main starters who were also used. Pittsburgh won 102 games to the Orioles’ 100, in a super pennant race; the Orioles would repeat as 100-game winners the next year, and win the pennant. Pittsburgh captured the pennant in 4 over the Brewers, who won their second straight division.
Denver took the first game of the Series, as Willie Aikens had two home runs, something he repeated in game 4. The Bears won two of the first three. However, the Pirates won a very good game 4 that went extra innings, and they went back to Denver up 3-2 in games. Willie Stargell hit 2 home runs off Bears pitchers in game 6. After the game was out of reach, with it 7-2, Pirates, Stargell hit one that went an estimated 525 feet; it was later said that was one ball that hadn’t been deadened. The Pirates were the World Series champions.
Still, the Expos had been a great story, and 1979 had proved one thing – it would not be all large market teams winning every year, as some had feared.
Still, the Pirates weren’t untouched by free agency problems. Joe Niekro wanted more starting opportunities than the "extreme Captain Hook" strategy of Chuck Tanner, ans signed with the Astros.
Reuss and a couple others, including Bill Madlock, were traded to the Dodgers for Rick Rhoden, Mickey Hatcher, and a couple of their bright, young sluggers around the 1983 trading deadline; the Pirates were too far back of the Dodgers and Orioles, they weren’t planning to bring Dave Parker back, and they felt they needed a fresh start. .
Another new owner entered the free agency fray in early 1980, too. His name was George Steinbrenner.
Part 21 – 1980-1: Speed, Strikes, Swaps, Sales (Steinbrenner, etc.)
The number one story of the year was the team Vin Scully, on the Game of the Week, called "The Philharmonic of Hitting." Kansas City had traded for Rod Carew. With George Brett hitting .390, they flirted with .300 as a team before settling for .291.
The Royals had been fed up with John Mayberry’s fielding after the ’77 Series. They really wanted another first baseman, after a problematic 1978 campaign. Rod Carew, who had hit .388 for the Angels in ‘77, was available because he demanded out of Los Angeles, after the Angels fell flat in the 2nd half of ’77 and again in ’78. Calvin Griffith made very unflattering comments about race. As one announcer said, "It’s bad enough these fans have to deal with complaints that fans leave after the 7th inning, without the kinds of things Griffith said."
The price for Carew was high, and included Kansas City’s prized prospect, Clint Hurdle. However, the Royals gladly sent him, figuring Carew would be a big help after the club lost in the playoffs in 5 to the Red Sox in ‘78 – partly due to Boston having home field.
They only finished 2nd in 1979, as they had a great pennant race with the Cardinals - which had drawn a record number of fans to both – before both lost to the Denver Bears. They still felt they got the better end of the Carew trade, as Hurdle played right field with the Angels but struggled with alcohol issues, which would dog him as he went to several teams before ending his career. Meanwhile, the Royals let go of Herzog – snapped up by St. Louis – and hired Dick Howser, an original with the then-expansion team.
They needed a rightfielder with some power in 1980. They offered Al Cowens and a few other players, but there wasn’t a great market. So, they signed or traded for a number of players, including Bake McBride in a three-way deal involving McBride going to the Stars, then the Royals, Cowens going to the N.L. Stars, Don Baylor going to St. Louis, where he could play outfield and eventually DH, and each of the three clubs getting minor leaguers, too. It’s the same type of deal, when St. Louis traded for Lonnie Smith after the ’81 season, that they said they might have worked with the Phillies, had they been in the same division, though even as it was, they used the Indians as a go-between when the Cardinals got Smith.
Indeed, the Cardinals and Phillies had a good relationship. With the Royals’ fast start, (thanks to Carew and McBride with Brett hurt for parts of April and May), and the Cardinals slumping, St. Louis traded Vida Blue to the Phillies for Larry Christenson, with some minor leaguers involved on each side; Christenson was younger, but both pitchers appeared to have tired arms at times, though Blue was coming back strong after a bad 1979 season that some said might have cost the Cardinals the division, though John Deny, traded from them after the ’79 season, had also done poorly.
McBride, who the Cardinals felt might be on a downslide after 1979, had his best slugging season since ’77 in 1980, while the Cardinals got an outfielder who would shift from right to DH – with George Hendrick moving back to right – in 1982, when Willie McGee joined.. The Royals also got pinch hitters such as Larry Hisle and Oscar Gamble.
The Royals’ lineup was incredibly fast, and filled with good hitters. It regularly featured Willie Wilson, Carew, Brett, McRae, McBride, Otis, Darrell Porter or John Wathan, Frank White, and U.L. Washington. A number of others could fill in for McBride, and versus tougher lefties, they could bat McRae or Otis third and Brett fourth, though once Brett heated up after May, that was never a problem. The club won the World Series in 5 over the Orioles, who beat the Astros in 4 in the NLCS, thanks to their normal excellent pitching. It was the classic battle between a great hitting club and a great pitching one, with the key being that the Royals were built for speed, not just power, hence they were not as susceptible to slumps. George Brett was named Series MVP.
This became the mantra for the teams of the 1980s, though it was really an era when a great variety of clubs thrived, with many varying styles.
Strikes were another problem. With no trade of Curt Flood as had been rumored at the time, thanks to the Cardinals’ contending till the last week in ’69, relations between plays and owners wasn’t quite as acrimonious. When the club slumped in ’70, as Carlton lost 18, the rumors started again, and Flood approached management. He said that, because of the contract squabbles, he wouldn’t mind a trade, but listed only certain teams; he did end up traded to the Cubs, where with somewhat diminishing skills he was an important fourth outfielder in 1971 before retiring after 1972. There had been a thread of one in early ’72, but things calmed down some.
Flood’s example of being able to name teams led to discussion, as the 70s waned, of players being able to reject any deals, or at least certain players. A strike nearly broke out in the latter part of 1980, but an agreement was made quickly. However, in 1981, things would get very hairy.
The union had never actually held a strike to start the season, as the 1976 one had been a lockout. March 1 was set as the strike date. The season didn’t start till early May because of it, and the other games simply wouldn’t be made up. More on that later.
Several teams were sold in the 1980-1 time period. Foremost among these was the purchuase, in January of 1980, of the New York Yankees from the heris of Joan Payson by George Steinbrenner. He promised to rebuild the club from the team that finished sixth, fifth, and sixth the last three years. As he said, "Ron Guidry may have had the best Yankee season by a pitcher ever, at 21-4, but nobody knew because they’d sold off so much talent by early 1978. He deserves a World Series win like every other great Yankees has had had one time in their lives."
Besides the Athletics, which have been covered, late in 1980 the Wrigley family started negotiating to sell the Cubs to the Tribune Company. This led to Wrigley Field getting lights after a while.
When the Cubs won divisions in 1969 and 1971, night postseason games were still only a consideration. They’d had night games on weeknights for the first time in ’71, and with the Cubs nearly winning in ’77, talk had been that the park should get lights. Wrigley had refused, and with the Brewers winning the next two divisions while the Cubs floundered in the middle of the pack, it wasn’t seen as a huge priority.
However, they hadn’t been eliminated mathematically in 1977 till a week was left in the season, and when the Tribune bought the club, part of the stipulation was that they could only put lights in if they still fit in with the surrounding architecture, and if the club would host no more than 18 night games a year during the regular season. With World Series weekend games still in the afternoon, this made sense. Wrigley wound up getting lights in 1983.
Calvin Griffith sold his Angels to a group of Los Angeles businessmen late in 1981, having laid the foundation of a team that would be in last in ’82, but would win later that year. Griffith had been troubled by fan boycotts and other distractions.
Horace Stoneham had considered selling, but he was still making decent money in Minnesota. His club had the powerhouse teams of the "National league Beast" in town consistently, he had a very good rapport with fans, and his club had contended again in 1978. True, they faltered in the end, but he’d eventually hired some good baseball people and sold part of his ownership to Wheelock Whitney, Jr., who alsoowned part of the NFL’s Vikings. He was struggling, but making it.
However, Stoneham himself noted before the 1981 season that, "With the rise in salaries, especially Steinbrenner signing Dave Winfield to such a big contract when we’d hoped to lure him here, to his home state, I am very concerned for the financial future of the sport, at least for men such as myself."
He could sign a few, trading for Gaylord Perry to return to Minnesota for the great pennant race of 1978, where the Giants almost pulled out a miracle win, and getting Joe Morgan and Reggie Smith in ’82, when his team battled in an incredible pennant race where only 10 games separates first from last. However, that wasn’t enough, and when the team fell flat again in 1983, he sold his remaining shares. The man who had brought baseball to Minnesota was loudly cheered, though, when he threw out the first pitch as the Giants reached the World Series again in 1987.
Finally, after over two decades, counting the minors, in the Braves’ organization, Phil Niekro was traded before the 1981 season. The Braves got second baseman Jim Morrison – who could also play third, as a precaution against another injury to Bob Horner, and indeed could fit anywhere on the diamond – and a couple hurlers for the soon-to-be 42-year-old, who had gone 21-20, then slumped in ‘80. Morrison wound up as the key, a part-time role player for a few years as his offense tailed off, then suddenly a starter in 150 games at numerous positions in 1984, perhaps his best year.
As owner Ted Turner said, "When you finish at least 18 games back at the end every year, and 20 back most years, there’s little margin for error. Phil has been an amazing talent, and should make the Hall of Fame." He would, in the mid-1990s. "But, he was more valuable to us now, as trade bait, with us again 21 games behind the leaders - it was almost 30 last year – and needing young talent to shore up what we’ve been building." Indeed, the Braves’ closest finish since their move had been 12 games back in 1967, in that great pennant race, and 13 back in 1968. Since divisional play had begun, their nearest finish had been 17 back in 1969 and again in 1974.
The White Sox would go on to contend in 1981, and win a division title in 1982, before the mighty Yankees soared past the team to win the division and the pennant with 98 wins to the Sox’ 95; LaMar Hoyt won 25 for New York.
The Braves finally did begin to contend for a short while, but Turner admitted that he was always losing money off of them; but for them being a cash cow for his cable channel, they might have moved, after Hank Aaron was traded to the Tigers to be the DH for a couple years at the end of his career, and to help encourage the youngsters on that team.
Part 22 – 1981-2: Wild Pennant Races Boost Baseball’s Image
When baseball finally got underway in 1981, after the strike that took off the first month-plus of the season, there was plenty for baseball to cheer about; two straight years of amazing pennant races. The best way is to recap each.
1981 N.L. East:
The Dodgers got off to a fast start, just like in ’77, with Fernando Valenzuela 8-2, but the Phillies were right on their heels this time, and Reggie Jackson did so poorly in the regular season, Rick Monday often replaced him in right against tough lefthanders late, or Pedro Guerrero was moving over from center to right, which was more comfortable for him, with Rudy Law or even Mickey Hatcher in center. Mostly, though, it was Monday.
Hence, the Pihllies looked ready to provide a repeat of ’77. They had failed to sign Pete Rose, who wound up with Autry’s L.A. Stars instead as a leadoff man, playing second and the outfield, then first after Willie Aikens was traded in mid-‘79. Richie Hebner stayed at first base, as they won a Series in ’77 with him. Hebner had been good in 1980, but really fell flat in 1981 after a number of injuries; he was released after ’81, sold back to Pirates, who use him as part-time player.
However, Lonnie Smith was a very capable leadoff man, playing almost full-time, with Reggie Smith injured almost the whole season. And, the Phillies traded several prospects to the Stars for Pete Rose, as they were desperate to find a quality first baseman. Rose hit .325 on the year, despite being over 40, and Juan Beniquez was moved to first base full time for the Stars. With Keith Moreland catching, along with playing first and the outfield, and Mike Schmidt’s near-Triple Crown year, which netted him the MVP award, the Phillies chased the Dodgers to the end.
Still, it was close; Reggie Smith’s shoulder injury in 1980 had prevented the Pihllies from a big run to try and catch the Orioles, and he was limited to pinch-hitting and rare first base duties here. The Dodgers, and even the Orioles, were in the thick of it till the end. However, the Dodgers had been unable to acquire a lefty like Jerry Reuss of the Pirates, and Rick Rhoden had a somewhat poor season, especially compared to Reuss. Vida Blue won some close ballgames, and in the end, Schmidt’s incredible play got the Phillies to a 2.5 game lead over the Dodgers, with the defending league champion Orioles good enough for third, a few games back, and the Giants in fourth. Pittsburgh and Atlanta brought up the rear. In the end, Brooklyn beat the Phillies by two games.
1981 N.L. West:
Milwaukee had lost the division to Houston after two straight division titles. They made a big trade for Rollie Fingers, Ted Simmons, and others. However, Simmons had a dreadful slump, as he struggled with injuries and a new league, and the Reds, of all people, shocked everyone by winning.
The Brewers came within a game while Johnny Bench was hurt. Gene Autry’s Stars, behind Pete Rose’s hustling play and a .319 average, along with free agent signee Bobby Grich, even made a push, and battled third place Houston to the end even after both fell short. The Reds held on for the win, with the Cubs, then the Padres, way, way back.
The Phillies lost to Tom Seaver in game 1, then won games 2 and three. The Reds, surprising many by throwing their 4th starter against the Dodgers’ better 4th starter, Marty Bystrom, tied it up. However, Philadelphia won the pennant, when Mike Schmidt homered off Tom Seaver in the bottom of the 9th to win, 2-1. Carlton and a couple relievers had been too much for the Reds that day.
1981 A.L. East
One division which seemed easily Montreal’s to win, the Expos struggled early, and the Yankees, behind free agent pickup Dave Winfield, even made some noise, as did the Tigers, White Sox, Red Sox, and for the first month even the Indians, before a disastrous west coast swing doomed them. Indeed, the White Sox led till late August, when the Yankees swept them in 3 straight; Chicago finished fourth. In the end, the Expos won, only because of a couple late season trades; with the season starting late, the trading deadline was pushed to July 31 this year.
1981 A.L. West
Denver still had a decent squad, though like the Phillies new owners were making it trickier. However, the Cardinals surprised a lot of people, with their outfield of Lezcano, Hendrick, and Baylor, and seemed to be the most unlikely division titlist. Except, the Athletics were challenging again, behind MVP Rickey Henderson.
Readers will note that the Royals aren’t in here; they started out 23-27, 8.5 games out from the Cardinals and Athletics, and mired in fifth. With only a 120-game season, due to the strike, they didn’t have much hope. With too many clubs to hop over, they ended up in fourth, as the Bears hit a very rough patch. Meanwhile, three teams finished within 3 games of each other in a very tight division.
Montreal finally made it. They won rather easily, in four games, losing only the third. However, they had some weak spots, as they suffered from a lack of offense after their top four hitters; it was a club totally built on pitching by now.
1981 World Series:
The fact they were built so much on pitching, it seemed, really hampered Montreal. Stever Carlton was unavailable till game 3, but his 4-2 win, followed by a 5-4 extra inning win where Vida blue started on 3 days’ rest, sparked the Phillies, and they wound up as the first team to lose their first two, then win 4 straight in the World Series. Philadelphia’s Mike Schmidt hit 2 home runs against the Expos in game , as the Pihllies clinched their 2nd world title in 4 years.
When the Texas Rangers wound up 65-97, in last place, winning 4 of their last 6, they ensured it would be the first time in baseball history no team ad finished below a .400 winning percentrage, or above .600. That was only part of the story, though.
1982 A.L. East
Starting with the A.L. because the N.L. was so wild, the Whtie Sox had traded for Rudy Law of the Dodgers, and Phil Niekro won 20, the last 43-year-old to do so since Warren Spahn. He was 20-10, with a few relief appearances, amazingly enough. The Red Sox looked ready to win, but the White Sox – known by some as the "Wheeze Kids" for their starting staff which, along with Trout, Bruns, and Dodtson, featured Niekro and 5th starter Jerry Koosman – ended up on top, with Montreal, which was expecting to win, falling flat and ending up tied for third with the Yankees at 85 wins; Detroit was a game behind them, in 5th place. Chicago won with only 90 wins, and 5 teams had been within 6 games.
1982 A.L. West:
The "normal" division among the group still featured an excellent Cardinals-Royals pennant race, with the Cardinals winning after stealing Willie McGee from the Yankees in a trade.
It also featured a harbinger of things to come in the rivalry’s renewal, as Don Baylor, who had been acquired in a trade to DH for them, was signed by the Yankees after this year. Fittingly, within 3 years, the two would compete in the classic 1985 ALCS.
Phil Niekro might have had part of a shutout washed away – or worse, a rain-shortened game – if the game at St. Louis had been earlier, but it was later, since the East winner played first, and the game was never started. Instead, he tossed a shutout the next day, but the Cardinals won game 2, then took two in Chicago to win the pennant. Concerns about what could have happened caused baseball to make a rule that no postseason game could go less than regulation.
The standings only tell part of the story.
N.L. East: N.L. West
Baltimore 91 71 Milwaukee 91 71
Philadelphia 87 75 L.A. (N) 89 73
Brooklyn 84 78 San Diego 78 84
Minnesota 83 79 Houston 73 89
Atlanta 82 80 Chicago (N) 69 93
Pittsburgh 81 81 Cincinnati 65 97
1982 N.L. East
The Orioles had traded Doug DeCinces for Dan Ford, then sent Ford to Denver for Mike Ivie, who had played DH in their pennant year of ’79, after coming from the Giants in mid-June, but also played first and even third and left for them; however, he was an old 29, and was only a role player this year and next. Baltimore figured they needed help, with the Dodgers’ and Phillies’ good pitching. They might have made more trades, if they’d won the Reggie Jackson sweepstakes, but they had to keep using their multiple platoons and win a very tight division.
The Dodgers wanted to keep Jackson, but also didn’t want to deny their young starters a chance to come up, so they wanted to give him 2-3 years; he wanted 5. The Phillies, near his birthplace, needed a rightfielder, having traded Lonnie Smith in a 3-way trade to get pitcher John Denny and catcher Bo Diaz, so they were intent on signing him. So, too, were the Padres, who – if the Phillies did lose out – were ready to trade some of their outfielders, put Jackson in right, and put Tony Gwynn, in center. Reggie had been on the West Coast for his first ten years as a major leaguer, and had attended college in Arizona. The Yankees also pursued him, but were also wary of his down year in ’81, so offered him 3 years. The Angels also pursued him, and their high bid for 5 years won out.
This meant the Orioles had to continue playing with a "bunch of good players and one great one," as one put it; the great was Eddie Murray, though he’d be joined this year by Cal Ripken, Jr.. They started 6-12, and the Braves started 10-3, but the Dodgers held the early lead. The Phillies charged past them, and so did the Pirates; then, they went on their own winning streak, while the Giants nipped at their heels,a nd the Braves sank back. Finally, the Phillies were in the lead by a few as September began, till the Orioles got past them. It was an incredible pennant race, with ten games separating first from last.
In this one, the Brewers had a 5-game led going into September, then saw that shrink to 1 with Rollie Fingers injured; it got back up to 2.5, but they didn’t clinch till Saturday, when they and the Angels each lost; they won the last game of the season, while the Angels lost again, give them the final margin.
The Brewers surprised Jim Palmer with a route in game 1, and won the pennant easily.
1982 World Series:
After Milwaukee won a shutout in Milwaukee 10-0, the Cardinals wont he next 3, though Bruce Sutter hat to pitch 2 innings for the save in game 4 after the bullpen struggled to start the 8th; the Cardinals won 5-4. They lost game 5, but won game 6 back in Milwaukee to win their first Series since 1967.
Part 23 – Rivalry Renewed; Yankees back on top of league; Redbirds, not Red Sox, main rivals for Yankees
The 1983 New York Yankees were loaded. They had an outfield of Steve Henderson, Ken Griffey, Sr., and Dave Winfield, and opened with Reggie Smith at first – they’d barely outbid a Japanese team – but with rookie first baseman Don Mattingly filling in much of the time. Don Baylor was the DH, and the starting staff was Ron Guidry, LaMar Hoyt, Dave Righetti, and Shane Rawley. The latter two were even supplanted by Tom Seaver, who had been signed to help push the team to the top. And, that they did, fending off a hot White Sox team - the defending division champions - to win 98 ball games, and Seaver’s pitching was good enough after coming back from the Reds, they were able to move Righetti to the closer’s role in spring of ‘84.
They beat an Athletics team with a surprisingly good pitching staff, but the Orioles downed them in 7 games. Still, Steinbrenner claimed that he had "restored the pride of being a Yankee." Seaver won his 300th in 1985, the same year Phil Niekro won his for the White Sox. Unfortunately for the Yankees, they would win only one other division in the 1980s, losing to the Athletics in 6 games.
For now, the incredible rivalry was renewed, and the teams played an incredible ALCS in 1985, one that saw th4e Yankees go up 2 game to none, before the Cardinals came storming back. First, Danny Dox won game 3, then John Tudor won game 4 with Ozzie Smith hitting an inside the park home run going the other way in the top of the 9th at Yankee Stadium. With the popularity in the 1970s, it had never been refurbished, but still, he showed incredible power, hitting that ball to the monuments to greats like Gehrig, DiMaggio, Joe Jackson, and so on. Tom Seaver, starting on his usual 4 days’ rest, outdueled Joaquin Andujar 2-1 to give New York a 3-2 lead.
Then, Jack Clark his a game-winning home run off Dave Righetti in the last of the 9th in game 6, and the Cardinals exploded to win game 7 in very convincing fashion. Their opponents, the Los Angeles Stars, would also take 7 games to defeat, partly because Tudor was only available for games 3 and 6.
St. Louis and New York would meet in the playoffs next in 1996, and then three straight years, 2000-2002. . The Yankees would take turns winning those four with St. Louis, before the Cardinals would sweep the Yankees in the wild card round in 1995, with the Yankees looking quite old, while the White Sox beat the angels before upending the Cardinals, as the White Sox won their first World Series since 1917.
However, one more important result came of this\; a rivalry that never grew as huge as it could have been, though it’s still a great local rivalry.
Boston and New York had had a rather spirited rivalry going for a while. However, it never became the overheated one it could have, with the incredible sense of urgency. Part of this was the fact Boston had won in 1946, and while they had lost the Series to a "New York team" in 1978, in the Dodgers, they had come out rather even in their battles with New York. Sure, the Yankees had come out winners a tad more often, but New York hadn’t done so at the expense of the Red Sox on a consistent basis. When they won the World Series in 1986, it would erase any thought of a jinx.
In other words, the presence of two teams of consistent winners in the American League, instead of just one, had evened things out a bit for everyone. However, once free agency started making players’ contracts a lot larger, two things would happen. First, the Braves – partly thanks to a big trade – would win 4 pennants in 5 years, and 2 World Series. Second, the Yankees and Cardinals would dominate from 1996-2003 in the American League, except for the Indians’ win in 1997, a World Series win over the Orioles.
Part 24 – Tigers on the Prowl, Best time for Los Angeles baseball, 1985-1987
Before briefly covering the Tigers’ magical 1984 season, and the National League’s odd season, it should be noted that 1984 could be considered the start of L.A. baseball’s Golden Age, because of Dwight Gooden’s arrival with the N.L. Stars.
The Stars had missed out on a few things – Rod Carew had gone to the Royals, Don Baylor had his resurgence in ’83 with the Yankees after going to the Cardinals in the Al Cownes-Bake McBride 3-way deal before 1980. The Angels had gotten quality prospects, but then they traded most of those for pitching help in the ’82 pennant race.
However, the Stars’ poor finish, as the 3rd worst team in the N.L. by half a game over the Braves, allowed them to draft Dwight Gooden in 1982. Each L.A. team finished 3rd, though in vastly different circumstances. The Stars were tied with the Royals, only 5 games off the pace, despite an 82-80 mark. The Stars were 82-80, but 14 games behind the Cubs in a much less rightly packed division. The Angels contended most of the way before ending up tied with the Royals; the Stars never entered the Cubs/Padres battle.
Detroit’s Tigers, of course, were the big story, as they started 35-5 and ran away with the league. The defending league champion Yankees finished 2nd, 14 games out. Detroit easily beat the Cardinals, who had slumped mightily last year, traded Keith Hernandez to Denver, and seen the Athletics – with their great pitching staff of Norris, McCatty, and others – finally break through and win the division, before being swept by the Yankees. The Cardinals would win the division again next year, giving them four in five years.
For now, the 1984 Tigers swept them, and awaited the winner of the battle between the Cubs and a wild N.L. East.
Atlanta’s Darryl Strawberry went through the normal sophomore slump. The Phillies had looked very good for a while, and fought the Orioles and Braves for the division lead. The Braves started Jim Morrison at every position but catcher and pitcher that year, mostly at second and first while starters battled injury and age, respectively, then at third when Bob Horner went down, then at second again and in right when Ken Oberkfell was acquired from the Cardinals, and a couple times in left, center, and short, with a few more at first after that. And, even some more at third, because Oberkfell struggled. Morrison ended up with a .278 average, 21 home runs, and loads of fun joking about his travels.
The Phillies made some ill-advised trades and had a 9-20 September, while the Orioles saw their offense slip badly in many places outside Ripken and Murray. The Braves won90 games to the Orioles’ 88 in the end; which was sort of expected, since they had some very good young pitchers. They also had an excellent bullpen.
That bullpen was helpful, as the Braves won one game in Chicago, but the Cubs’ first two victories at Atlanta proved crucial, as the Cubs won game 4, 5-4, for their first pennant since 1967. They still hadn’t won a World Series since 1918, though.
There was no controversy about lights, since they’d been installed in the early 1980s, thanks to the Cubs’ contention in ’77, nearly winning the division before losing it in September.
However, Rick Sutcliffe let a 1-0 lead slip away in Chicago, and the Tigers won the opener 6-2. The Cubs won game 2 behind Steve Trout, but the Tigers took games 3 and 4, with Jack Morris getting the complete game win in the latter. Then, with Sutcliffe trying to keep Cub hopes alive, he allowed 5 quick runs, and when the Cubs tried to battle back, Kirk Gibson hit a long, 3-run home run off Lee Smith to clinch the 8-4 victory. Sutcliffe would later claim responsibility for not bringing the Cubs their first world title since 1918, and would eventually stay with them instead of going to the Royals as a free agent in the offseason.
That was for later, though. Presently, the Braves were signing free agent Bruce Sutter. Therefore, they traded Claudell Washington and Donnie Moore to the Stars for outfielder Gary Pettis, pitcher Kirk McCaskill, and a couple minor leaguers. Mike Witt had pitched a perfect game the last day of the ’84 season, Gooden was Rookie of the Year, Ron Romanick was a good looking youngster, and the Stars felt they could part with a starter to give them a very dependable outfielder who could play cener and bat leadoff, and a good, young reliever.
They were right. They fought off a late challenge from the Reds to finish with 97 wins, and Gooden outdueled Valenzuela in game 1 of the NLCS in California. The Dodgers won 2 of the next 3, but then Mike Witt and Fernando Valenzuela fought to a 2-2 tie that took both bullpens into the 12th before Juan Beniquez, the Stars’ starting first baseman, won it with a suicide squeeze. The Angels won the next game, too, to get to the Series.
Gene Mauch’s only World Series wasn’t a pretty one. Gooden suffered from nerves, and the Cardinals’ Joaquin Andujar won 6-4. Mike Witt beat Danny Cox, 4-2, thanks to a very good bullpen, as the Stars beat the Cardinals at their own game. They lost game 3 to go down 2-1, as John Tudor beat Ron Romanick 3-0, then – with Godden already having thrown so much, including on 3 days’ rest when he lost in the NLCS – Mauch started his 4th starter, John Candelaria. The lefty outdueled Andujar 3-2, leaving some to wonder why he wans’t the game 3 starter versus the speedy Cardinals, though Romanick had been better in the regular season. Gooden left it to relievers to win game 5, which he left with the score tied at 2; the Angels won 3-2 in 11. However, Tudor won, game 6, 2-1, and Andujar won game 7, with help from a number of others, 4-2, with Candelaria the starter, and with Romanick also giving up a couple runs later. It was a very good Series, but for the 2nd time in 5 years, the Cardinals were world champs. Gooden wouldn’t get his Series ring till 1996 with the Yankees, as would Strawberry as a role player.
The 1986 Red Sox would win their first World Series since 1946, after 3 straight losses in classic World Series. The Red Sox and Bears, with George Foster playing his final season as Bears DH for the Bears, played. With home field, the Red Sox split first two against a Bears’ staff of Darling, Fernandez, Aguillera, Schiraldi, and Lynch; they didn’t trade for Bob Ojeda like they considered because they’d finished in 3rd, still 13 games behind the Cardinals, so figured they’d keep building with youth. They won 92 games as it was. Ojeda won a close game 3, then Oil Can Boyd started a close game 4 that the Red Sox lost in 13 innings, before Clenens started game 5. He let an 8th inning 4-2 led slip away to make it 4-4, then the Red Sox won in the top of the 9th in a 2-run double by Dwight Evans. The Red Sox won the pennant in game 6 back in Boston.
Meanwhile the Phillies and Astros did the same in the N.L.. The Phillies Larry Andersen, and not Steve Brdrosian, the closer, turned out to be the surprise star; the Phillies might have released him after getting him early in ’84, but they were in first, so didn’t want to rely too heavily on youth. He improved markedly the second half of the season. They will trade him to Houston after the disappointing 1987 season.
The Stars had been within a couple games of first this year, after a great battle with Houston. However, while fans would love following Godden’s career, it was the Angels, in the American League, who would win the next few titles for L.A..
Calvin Griffith had sold them a few years earlier to the Disney coroportation. The man in charge of the club did something then, which vaulted them to the top, after a dismal 1986.
With the Expos already suffering the loss of Gary Carter via trade, and Andre Dawson wanting to bolt, they were desperate to hold onto Tim Raines. The team was in dire straits. Had Montreal contended for a while in ’83, things would have been different. If there had been fewer teams at the top, and the club wasn’t mired way back in 6th from ’84-86, things might be different. However, Montreal fans, with Toronto doing so well in their own division, were starting to be turned off of the team.
So, the Expos tried to offer large contracts to Andre Dawson and Tim Raines, each of whom decided he’d rather play in the United States. Because of a few different things, which will be discussed in the next section, the Expos felt forced to trade each, as they had done with Carter.
St. Louis had slipped into a tie for 4th with the Athletics, a game behind the Royals and well behind the Bears and Rangers, while the Angels had stumbled to last before the trade brought them up to 6th, a game behind St. Louis. Now, however, they were ready to soar to first in a dramatic pennant race over the Cardinals, as they had acquired Raines in mid-’86 for a variety of minor leaguers. Dawson had been traded to the Red Sox for a few prospects in late July, the new trade deadline, but injuries meant he was mostly a role player, though he did shift Dwight Evans to first in some games versus tough lefties. He signed with the Cubs after the season, as Chicago had a lot more room for him.
Part 25 – Interlude – The Pete Rose Affair, and failed collusion
Mention of Raines and the Angels leads to some matters involving free agents that are good to discuss here. However, it is also the era of the Pete Rose Affair, which will be discussed first.
The 1983 Brewers, fresh off their first pennant, were in 2nd, only a half game behind the Angels, when offered a trade for Gorman Thomas; they refused. They figured their star slugger would rebound, and he did somewhat, allowing the Brewers to withstand a ferocious push by the Astros before winning the A.L. West by a game. They then lost in a repeat of the ’82 playoffs to the Orioles, and decided to trade Thomas.
They wanted a singles hitter who could really energize things; they chose Pete Rose, whom the Phillies failed to re-sign. He would play left, young Dion James would play center, and Ben Oglivie would shift to right field. Rose had barely adequate range, but James was quite fast, and Rose played first whenever Cooper rested or was hurt.
Milwaukee fans were elated. As one sign read, "Bartholomay robbed us of the home run king, now we have the hit king!" They were hopeful of keeping him there till his career was over. And, even into 1985, he played well; a strong spurt after the ’84 season led to him being signed to a two-year contract, and on September 9, 1985, as they hosted the Cubs, the Brewers’ Pete Rose lashed a double off Ray Fontenot for hit number 4192. He was a role player in 1986 before retiring. As one writer said, "Milwaukee fans were adamant that their National league club would not be deied a record this time. They were a last place or near last place team by this time, and they needed the draw, anyway. This was despite some overtures from the Reds to return."
Owner bud Selig knew Rose wanted to get into managing, but had qualms about some of the things he’d heard about Rose’s gambling; he’d brought his franchise a record breaker, and would hide the problem if need be. He told Rose to mange in A ball, while Marge Schott’s Reds faced a more interesting problem.
During the ’84 season, Schott wanted to sign Rose so she wouldn’t have to pay for both a player and a manager. Golden State A’s second baseman Joe Morgan and Tony Perrez were also available, though. Morgan had said he wanted to get into managing, so – with this being his last year – she purchased him and hired him, partly figuring he wouldn’t do too well, and she could fire him after this season or next.
Instead, Morgan surprised her by doing quite well. He started Eric Davis in every game, hoping to get him more major league experience. This led to some slumps that might not otherwise have come, but he led the club to second that year, a game ahead of 3rd place Houston. However, he and Schott had feuded constantly, over things like whether to play Tony Perez, another of the Big Red Machine. When the club got off to a slow start in 1986, she fired him and replaced him with Perez, caused Dave Concepcion, still with the club, to quickly announce that he would never be a candidate for manager of the club. The Red won a division title in 1988, losing the NLCS to the Dodgers, but wouldn’t win the World Series till 1990.
Rose feuded with Selig till Rose’s trial for tax evasion, which wound up sending him to prison. Only at this trial, which came after he was elected to the Hall of Fame, did word come out about his gambling on baseball, possibly while he was playing, though that was never certain. He couldn’t be unenshrined in Cooperstown, but he was baned from baseball for life.
The confusion led someone to complain about the situation where Selig tried to cover things up by saying, "It figures, after how he’s been as commissioner; one of them’s a born liar, the other’s convicted." (OOC: Alternate quotes can be fun.)
One place where cronyism didn’t work was the attempt at collusion in 1985. George Steinbrenner likely would have agreed to withdraw the offer to Carlton Fisk he made in December of ’85, had he been around the "old boys’ network" of owners longer, but he’d owned the Yankees less than 6 years. He’d just lost a World Series in 1983, and had never won one; hence, he signed Fisk over the White Sox owners’ objections.
This started a flurry of signings that broke down the attempt to prevent players from signing and thus escalating salaries. Tommy John signed with the Phillies, who were worried about Steve Carlton’s health. The Brooklyn Dodgers signed Kirk Gibvson, playing to move him to center, or put Guerrero back there and Gibson in left. A few other players also changed hands, too. The players’ association agreed to let bygones by bygones, as long as it didn’t happen again. It wouldn’t. However, it would mean two things for the future.
The first was a better relationship between players and woners, though not incredibly better. When owners locked out the players for a few weeks in 1990, it signaled there would still be trouble in labor negotiations.
The second was somewhat more urgency on the part of the owners to help the smaller markets. They refused to consider extending things beyond 1993, when the collective bargaining agreement would end. The result would be chaotic, and would include a very long strike/lockout, the near use of replacement players for a 100-game season, and the wackiest season anyone could imagine, a 1994 season that lasted only 60 games, and featured the most unlikely .400 hitter.
That was for the future, though. 1986 has been covered. 1987’s free agent class included Andre Dawson and Tim Raines, who, as mentioned, were traded. The Expos did contend for a while with their many young players, but fell flat again in ’88.
Jack Morris was another highly touted free agent after 1986; he signed with his home state Minnesota Giants, who had surprised many by coming in second. The loss of Morris and Gibson cost the Tigers the division in ’87, but young John Smoltz came of age in ‘91 and, along with MVP Cecil Fielder, led the team to their last playoff appearance till 2006. Smoltz would ultimately be traded, early in 1995, to Atlanta for a few prospects.
Ron Guidry chose to remain with the Yankees, Bob Boone, Doyle Alexander, Willie Randolph, Bob Boone, and Rich Gedman changed teams. Paul Molitor, Jack Clark, and Dennis Martinez were free agents after 1987 who were the biggest names, with Clark going to the Yankees, and Martinez to the Padres, who were trying to build a winner.
They built a club that got to the World Series and lost in 1989, then lost the NLCS to Pittsburgh in 1991. Pittsburgh won divisions in 1990 and 1991, then lost the World Series in ’91. Both clubs saw their fortunes eaten up by richer clubs, which really worried baseball. This set the stage for the Braves and the Dale Murphy trade, and then the wackiest season on record.
Part 26 – Braves trade Murphy, Expansion, Strike looms, New divisions, Montreal fades
With Darryl Strawberry and Dale Murphy both doing very well, and the Braves wanting to keep the younger of the two, they traded Dale Murphy to Denver after 1987. Some GMs might have refused all that the Braves demanded, but Murphy had just hit 47 home runs hitting in front of Strawberry. However, it became an awful trade for the Bears as they give up Len Dykstra, Howard Johnson, Sid Fernandez, and Dave Magadan for Murphy and a couple prospects, such as Andres Thomas, and pitcher Marty Clary. Thomas, in particular, was supposed to be a young, slugging shortstop, but injuries greatly hampered himm while Murphy declined.
The Braves were still only average, but were no longer the laughingstock of the N.L.; Sid Fernandez was still there when the Braves finally won a pennant in 1992, and was even there for their 1993 and 1995 Series titles, though except for ’92 and over half of ’93, he was also injured a lot. With no Smoltz, the Braves relied on Kent Mercker when Fernandez went down, with Pete Smith at 5th starter, from 1991 through 1994.
They avoided free agents like Rafael Belliard and Sid Bream in 1990, and chose to sign Terry Pendleton from the cardinals. At that same time, Strawberry left for the L.A. Stars as a free agent. Their defense improved somewhat, as Dave Magadan moved from 3rd to first. David Justice moved from first to right. Howard Johnsonw as kept at short, but he would only be a starter one more year, as his batting average never got really high. He played all over to some extent in 1991, in fact, and became a utility player in 1992, as Jeff Blauser took over at short full time.
As to why they didn’t sign Belliard in ’91, they still liked Johnson’s offensive potential. It was figured Johnson’s fielding was just as bad at third when he’d been tried there. It was better to have Treadway – later Lemke - and Pendleton both around him and have better offense, than to sign Belliard, who provides no offense, and have Johnson slip as he had in ’90.
The Braves could have won in ’91, but Fernandez was only available half of July and all of August before more injuries came; they started to charge from 9 back, but could get no closer than 2.5 back of the Pirates before fading again in September, to finish 5 back. Los Angeles beat the Pirates in 7 in the World Series.
Fernandez was healthy all of ’92,a nd this time, the Braves edged the Pirates in the pennant race. They lost to the Blue Jays, who wont heir first world title and got Dave Winfield a ring, but they were a great story, a team that had grown most of their talent, and who had made very wise decisions.
In 1993, Fernandez was healthy through the first couple months, then the Braves made the Fred McGriff trade as he went down; unlike the Pirates, who had seen their best depart as free agents, the Padres traded all theirs. Fernandez comes back to start again in August, and the Phillies blew a 6.5 game lead to the Braves.
This time, Atlanta beat Toronto in the Fall Classic. It was a great 7-game Series, one which was a portent of things to come. The Braves would trade for the Tigers’ John Smoltz early in 1995, as the Tigers sought prospects to rebuild. They could still use Fernandez as a fifth starter, but by this time, injuries were catching up with him; he would only pitch a couple more years after this, and then not too often.
The Pirates and Padres weren’t the only clubs in trouble. The Golden State A’s had left Oakland in 1993 for a large ballpark overlooking the San Francisco Bay. Baseball had also expanded in 1993, to Miami (the Florida Marlins) and the Oakland Oaks, to give the N.L. a team in the Bay Area.
But, Montréal, without Dennis Martinez to anchor the staff, had had lots of trouble in the years after their magical 1987 season. They’d traded for Mark Langston, desparate to try to win a division in a very bad year, but even then they couldn’t do it, as they fell to third and 85-77 at the end. They hadn’t contended in 1990 or 1991, and too many teams were ahead of them in 1992 and ’93. Even their 89-73 season saw them only tied for third with the Yankees.
If something didn’t turn around, many signs pointed to Tampa as their new home. (More trouble than in our timeline because of loss of Raines, less contention in pennant races.)
New divisions were thought to be the key. The A.L. was pretty easy; Texas didn’t want in the West if they could help it, and they seemed to speak outdest; Denver was a larger market, further west, and able to compete with L.A.; they’d reach the playoffs in 1994 for the first time since 1986. Chicago got back in which St. Louis and Kansas City, and Cleveland got a renewed rivalry with the White Sox, while the Tigers got to have a rivalry with the Blue Jays. Detroit would win the pennant out of the East as a wild card in 2006, just as Boston would in 2004.
In the N.L., it was trickier. Brooklyn wielded lots of weight, and wanted to keep their rivalry with the Phillies, as well as their rivalry with the Giants, though it wasn’t as pressing as it once was. The Brewers wanted with the Cubs, which made sense, and both wanted the Giants if they could. Pittsburgh wanted to stay with the Phillies, but they realized being in with a large market team wasn’t as easy; it was better to be in with just one, Atlanta, rather than with the Dodgers and Cubs. So, they took the Central, though the Central was arguiably more East.
First, though, there was the strike. Owners locked players out the minute the collective bargaining agreement ended, after the World Series in 1993, as owners were terrified of how things had gotten in baseball’s economy. Players struck, as well, and for some time it looked like 1994 might be totally washed away. Then, owners decided to try replacement players.
At the eleventh hour, owners were prevented from having a proposed 100-game season with replacements. Instead, an agreement was reached, a luxuty tax implemented, and after the free agents of 1994 were signed, a very odd 60-game season would be played. 4 games with everyone, 2 more against teams in one’s division. One series, home and away, that was it. It was the most ridiculous things they had seen, according to many on the Internet. The brainchild of Bud Selig – as was the move to wild card teams and three divisions this year - it would create very odd results.
And, it gave rise to a new Yankee "legend."
Part 27 – 1994’s 60-game season, and Paul O’Neill, baseball’s last .400 hitter
If you’d heard that a player would hit .400 at the start of 1994 and the wacky 60-game schedule, you’d likely have said, "Okay, Frank Thomas? Bunch of walks, and if he gets hot…" Then, if told it was a right fielder, you’d have said, "Oh, of course, Tony Gwynn. Perfect, makes lots of sense. Bit old, but not too much." Even John Olerud might have made some sense, he hit .363 last year, and if he was a late bloomer as a great hitter…
But, Paul O’Neill? He was a great leader, to be sure, and a true gentleman. He was a great teammate, one who smiles nicely and is always willing to discuss his "record." But, as the season wore on, and he – not Gwynn, who hit .391 and only inched over the mark a couple times, not Bagwell, who was over it for a month before settling in at .380, not anyone else – was chasing that elusive mark, the baseball world held its breath. After a near disaster of epic proportions, this man was leading the charge to do what it was said could never be done anymore. After all, how many players had even been at .400 just over two months into a season?
He was constantly fed questions like, "How does it feel to be at .430 ¾ of the way through the season," "Are you upset some will put an asterisk on this season because of its length?" and, "Doesn’t it bother you that your name is never mentioned with Cobb, Hornsby, and the like?" Indeed, many wondered why it wasn’t Gwynn, though Gwynn himself was polite and encouraging to O’Neill. O’Neill had only had his first .300 season last year! Olerud was at least still in his mid-20s when he hit .363!
It wasn’t the only oddity; almost everyone started every game, and yet at the slightest nick, a reserve would be used, lest a player be out for 6 games, and miss a tenth of the season. There were quite a few off days, meaning each starter got about 15 starts, as many clubs went with four starters and just used the bullpen obsessively.
Jimmy Key went 10-1 for the Yankees, while Greg Maddux was 11-3, and David Cone was 12-2 for the Royals. Cone and Maddux won the Cy Young Award in their leagues.
It was the shortest season since the 1870s. Bud Selig had promised there would be baseball. He was blamed for setting up the replacement teams instead of working with the courts on something which would have given them a real 100-game season, once the impasse became clear. However, in the end, he had delivered baseball. And, Paul O’Neil kept delivering into the outfield. Thought he stress was enormous, as people wondered whether he was "worthy" of the honor, he insisted on playing every game, and in the finale, he went 2-4 to get to .402 on the year.
The standings were wild, too. Because the season was so short, they were seeded with division winners 1-2-3, with 3 rounds of playoffs instead of just one wild card team and 3 division winners like there would be later. Some said this made the pennant races much cheaper, while other said that if they were going to have this short a season anyway, to be fair they had to do it like this. A one-game playoff would decide whether a team got in or out, if they were tied. Each round, up to the LCS, would be 5 games. There was a trade deadline of 2 weeks before the end of the season.
Montreal 38 22 Brooklyn 34 26
New York 37 23 Minnesota 30 30
Boston 29 31 Philadelphia 28 32
Toronto 28 32 Milwaukee 25 35
Detroit 26 34 Chicago 24 36
Chicago 35 25 Atlanta 38 22
Cleveland 34 26 Cincinnati 37 23
Kansas City 34 26 Baltimore 36 24
Texas 28 32 Pittsburgh 29 31
St. Louis 25 35 Florida 24 36
Denver 30 30 Houston 37 23
Seattle 27 33 Oakland 27 33
Golden State 24 36 San Diego 26 34
L.A. Stars 23 37 L.A. Angels 25 35
The Royals had signed Alex Cole as a free agent, as the Angels already had Raines and Mack in left and center; Raines had moved back to left with his age. They’d traded Kevin McReynolds back to the Bears, where he’d gone in a trade in 1987, for Vince Coleman, formerly of their rivals the Cardinals. Now, they sent Coleman and a few pitchers to the N.L.’s expansion Oakland club for some veteran outfielders.
They lucked out in one way, though. Mike Kingery had had an injury, which kept him from suiting up much in 1993; but, the free agent period was so short because of the strike/lockout, he never got another look; he had his best year, and shifted Brian McRae to left, with Alex Cole in right. Their goal – the best defense anywhere, which would support their many good starting pitchers.
They had a hurler who they’d traded away who re-signed with them – David Cone – and a couple longtime Royals – Mark Gubicza and Bret Saberhagen. Were it not for Saberhagen’s injury in mid-’93, the Royals might have gotten past the Cardinals for the division title; as it was, they were 3rd, 3 out, with the Rangers only a game out.
That’s the story on the team that pulled the upset. Here’s the way the playoffs shaped out, with them going 2-2-1 so visiting teams had a chance, till the normal 2-3-2 LCS.
1-game playoff Monday: Toronto 13, Texas 9, Blue jays keep showing they have little pitching, but they still give A.L. East four representatives.
Montreal over Toronto, 3-0: Expos sweep, but fans in Montreal excited about possible World Series for first time since 1981.
Chicago (A) over Boston 3-1 – Clemens outduels Fernandez 2-0 in game 1, but is forced to try to come back in game 4, and takes the loss, White Sox look dominant
Kansas City over Denver 3-0: No real surprise in battle of great pitching versus great offense, but it means Expos must face 6 seed Royals while White Sox face other winner.
New York (A) over Cleveland 3-0: Yankees have Indians’ number, but two games extra innings, and Indians know the great pennant race will continue next year.
Chicago over New York 3-2: Yankees upset they won more but White Sox had home field, claimed they were two best teams, etc., but point it, Jimmy Key won game 1 2-1, Jack McDowell’s slump meant he was held back till game 3 and lost, 8-6, in New York, while Wilson Alvarez picked up the win against a Yankee team with more lefties. Then, Alex Fernandez came back and tossed game 4 agaisnt a 4th starter, and Alvarez and the plethora of Sox relievers downed New York and Key 1-0 in 10 innings.
Kansas City over Montreal, 3-2: When Bret Saberhagen topped Ken Hill 3-1 in Montreal, it set off a firestorm of protests that not only did the best team in the league not get farther than this, the two best didn’t! The fact Larry Walker and John Wetteland, among others, became free agents right after the game didn’t help.
Kansas City 4, Chicago 3: Saberhagen won games 3 and 7, Cone won game 2, the royals got a 15-inning win in one game, while the White Sox won in 12 in another, but the, and the White Sox were totally worn out by the Yankee series.
Atlanta over Philadelphia, 3-0: Phillies said to have "no right to be here." They didn’t.
Houston over Pittsburgh 3-1: When the Pirates won game 3 in Pittsburgh, you’d have thought it was the World Series. Fans may have known what was coming, as they would go a long time after 1992 without a winning record.
Brooklyn over Minnesota 3-0: The Giants’ fans just weren’t that enthused, and Northern Virginia was looking rather nice. It would let the rivalry continue. The club hadn’t had much since ’89, and then just a great pennant race.
Cincinnati over Baltimore 3-2: It’s not that the Reds’ pitching was super, apart from Jose Rijo. The Orioles just didn’t have a great offense.
Brooklyn over Atlanta 3-2: Braves’ offense was down, with Ron Gant, Len Dykstra out, others ailing, and Dodgers had Bobby Bonilla in left, having traded Henry Rodriguez and a couple other prospects in 1993, and Mike Piazza catching.
Houston over Cincinnati 3-1: When Jose Rijo couldn’t start till game 3, it figured that might be the end; still, a great ride.
Brooklyn over Houston 4-2: Dodgers upsetting some purists, as though they did sign Reggie Jackson in ’77, they’ve always seemed more of a home grown team. Still, they do have Hershiser, Piazza, Ramon Martinez, Eric Karros, and a variety of others, to go along with Bobby Bonilla and Tim Wallach, and the trade of Ramon Martinez and Henry Rodrigez had netted them Delino DeShields and Brian Barns, the man who – with Tom Candiotti and home grown Pedro Astacio – formed the "swing men."
Tommy Lasorda described it best. "We have to manage this year like it’s college, because the season’s short like that, we don’t have a great bullpen, anyway, and we just have to get to the point where we make it to the playoffs, just like those that qualify to try to advance to Omaha (and the College World Series). Worrell and the others are struggling. So, we got three frontline starters in Hershiser, Gross, and (Ramon) Martinez, then we got three guys who can start or relive, depending on the need. Brain (Barnes) will probably end up leading us in saves." (He did.) This job of managing, and taking the Braves to 7 games in the NLCS next year, cemented his spot in Cooperstown.
Kansas City wins, 4 games to 3:
It wasn’t what was expected, but it was what baseball had needed, as was Paul O’Neill’s very unlikely .400 season, and as would be Cal Ripken Jr.’s breaking of the consecuitive game record next year.
Bill James wrote of this season, "It felt like the end of an era, a time when we should cherish the chance of the small market to win, because we may be entering another era when some teams won’t contend for generations. It felt like the Royals were winning because there was a sense of urgency."
He would be right. The Indians were a mid-level market team, that won in 1995 and 1997, taking the Seires in ’97. However, the Series from 1995-2003 would tell a lot.
1996: New York (A) over Atlanta in 6 (2nd time the rivals meet in A.L. playoffs, Cardinals are wild card team and lose hotly contested series to Yankees)
1997: Cleveland over Baltimore in 7
1998: New York (A) over Houston in 5 (Brooklyn Dodgers sign Randy Johnson as "the new Koufax" after this year; Padres, as wild car, down Braves in 5 while Astros sweep Cubs, then Astros with padres’ hurlers tired, beat padres in 7 before losing the New York in a sweep; Tony Gwynn got into his Series in ’89, though)
1999: New York (A) over Atlanta in 5 (Expos move to Tamps after this year)
2000: Brooklyn over St. Louis in 7 (West-winning Athletics over White Sox, Cardinals over East-winning Indians, Cardinals in tough 7-game Series can’t get pitchers set, so Dodgers beat them for first time since 1949 in Series)
2001: Brooklyn over New York (A) in 7 (line single over the infield to win in top of 9th)
2002: Los Angeles (N) over St. Louis in 7 (Cardinals beat Yankees in playoff, 3rd meeting since league split)
2003: Florida over New York in 6
Part 28 (and last) – Parity, moves, present day
The 2003 Marlins were borne on the backs of the 1996 and 1997 teams, which sold lots of veterans when they couldn’t get past the Braves and Orioles in that tough Central.
When the Giants kept losing, Bud Selig tried to convince Carl Pohlad, who had bought the Giants in the 1990s, to move the team to Washington, D.C. after 2001, to satisfy those who had complained about the Expos not being pushed toward D.C.. The Expos had already moved to Tampa, which had been having several teams looking at it. An ownership group that might have moved them to Arizona fell apart because of finances in 1999, else the move to Tampa might have been to Arizona instead.
The Marlins also had continued stadium troubles, but, since they had many good, young players from the ’97 deals, when they realized they couldn’t get past the Braves or Orioles to the wild card, they tried to stay together. They had won 2 pennants in 3 years, in 2003 and 2005, after all.
However, as of late 2008, despite a couple pennants, they were possibly going to move to the Western division and Phoenix, while the other divisions would be aligned a bit more logically; Brooklyn, Baltimore, Minnesota, Philadelphia, and Atlanta in the East, and Chicago, Milwaukee, Cincinnati, Pittsburgh, and Houston in the Central for 2009.
The Giants, meanwhile, had been prevented from moving by Minnesota legislators, and wound up returning to the playoffs, thanks to some great moves by Omar Minaya and Frank Robinson to grab some veterans, in 2004. They made the World Series before losing to the Red Sox.
Baseball had seen an increase in attendance overall, though. Fans continued to enjoy it in the small markets, as well as the large. Some mistakes had been avoided – the home team was always the division winner with the best record in the first round, for instance. And, the leagues have alternated Series home teams since…well, forever. Jokes about what Bud Selig might have decided if the All-Star Game had ended in a tie once are so far-fetched at times.
New ball parks are being opened all over, and have been for almost 20 years. Even the Dodgers opened a state of the art facility, which the NBA’s Nets will soon move next door to, much like the Cleveland Indians’ and Cavaliers’ complex. It’s back in Brooklyn, after almost half a century in Nassau County.
Paul O’Neill is retired, and a Yankee broadcaster now. He laughs at the way history has come full circle. "I hit .310 over 15 games – back in ’68 that was great, but when I did it, it was a major slump that almost cost me a .400 season. Me, a .400 season," he says with a laugh. "Fans aren’t the only ones who say to themselves that ‘Paul O’Neill’ and .400 don’t go together. But, till the day I die, I’m gonna be asked who the next one will be. And, I’m going to keep remembering what Ted Williams told me that night in Yankee Stadium, when I clinched it."
A pause, sometimes with someone asking him what it was, and then he continues.
"He told me, ‘Son, you’re playing this final game. You’re not resting on that .400, you’re determined to play, even though your team can only be a wild card and has clinched its spot. Don’t ever let anyone say you happened to fall into it. You played all 60 games this year, and that’s what makes a real ballplayer.’" And, though it seems strange, with Williams’ endorsement, baseball historians accept it.
There have been 8 different teams in the World Series in the last 4 years. Cincinnati won a division in 2006, and the joke is that the Cubs could even win the Series some year now. After all, the former Expos played in another Series, this time with the Phillies winning in 7 games. The weather was brilliant when they played in Philadelphia, but when they were in Tampa, it was horrible in Philadelphia. "Somebody must like this game," as one blogger said.
The Yankees and Cardinals keep trying to win in their own ways; New York with a few more free agents, St. Louis with mostly home grown talent. It’s almost a sure thing that Albert Pujols, young as he is, will get a ring someday, just like lots of other stars for the Cardinals. Right now, he’s just biding his team on a very good team that, like the Yankees, just hasn’t been able to make it over the hump.
What if Robison had read the paper that day, when he could have bought the National League’s St. Louis franchise in 1899? Would there have been two ballclubs like that? Could the Cardinals have been as good – if not better – if they’d been in the other league all these years? What of the Dodgers, the Red Sox, the Giants? It’s fun t ponder. :-)
Appendix – Series winners and losers
1903: Boston over Pittsburgh in 8
1905: New York (N) over Philadelphia (A) in 5
1906: Chicago (A) over Chicago (N) in 5
1907: Chicago (N) over Detroit in 5
1908: Chicago (N) over Detroit in 5
1909: Pittsburgh over Detroit in 7
1910: Philadelphia (A) over Chicago (N) in 5
1911: Philadelphia (A) over New York (N) in 6
1912: Boston (A) over New York (N) in 8
1913: Philadelphia (A) over New York (N) in 5
1914: Boston (N) over Philadelphia (A) in 5
1915: Boston (A) over Philadelphia (N) in 5
1916: Boston (A) over Brooklyn in 6 (Joe Jackson has big year, replacing Tris Speaker as key of Boston’s offense)
1917: Chicago (A) over New York (N) in 6
1918: Chicago (N) over Cleveland in 7
1919: Cincinnati over Chicago (A) in 8
1920: Cleveland over Baltimore in 8 (Red Sox sell Jackson to Yankees)
1921: New York (N) over St. Louis in 7
1922: New York (N) over St. Louis in 5
1923: New York (A) over New York (N) in 4
1924: Washington over New York (N) in 7
1925: Pittsburgh over St. Louis in 7
1926: Baltimore over Philadelphia (A) in 7
1927: New York (A) over Baltimore in 5
1928: St. Louis over Pittsburgh in 6
1929: Philadelphia (A) over Chicago (N) in 6
1930: Baltimore over Philadelpiha (A) in 6
1931: St. Louis over Baltimore in 5
1932: New York (A) over Chicago (N) in 4
1933: New York (N) over Washington in 6
1934: Detroit over New York (N) in 6
1935: St. Louis over Chicago (N) in 5
1936: New York (A) over New York (N) in 6
1937: Chicago (N) over New York (A) in 7
1938: New York (A) over Pittsburgh in 5
1939: New York (A) over Cincinnati in 4
1940: Cincinnati over Detroit in 7
1941: St. Louis over Brooklyn in 5
1942: St. Louis over Brooklyn in 4
1943: St. Louis over Cincinnati in 7
1944: St. Louis over Pittsburgh in 5 (Series at neutral site, all proceeds to war)
1945: Detroit over Chicago (N) in 7
1946: Boston (A) over Brooklyn in 6
1947: New York (A) over Brooklyn in 7
1948: Cleveland over Boston (N) in 6
1949: Brooklyn over St. Louis in 5
1950: Philadelphia (N) over Detroit (A) in 7
1951: New York (A) over New York (N) in 7
1952: St. Louis over Brooklyn in 7
1953: New York (A) over Brooklyn in 6
1954: New York (N) over Cleveland (A) in 5
1955: Brooklyn over Chicago (A) in 5
1956: Brooklyn over New York (A) in 6
1957: Milwaukee over Chicago (A) in 7
1958: San Francisco (will become Golden State) Athletics over Milwaukee in 7
1959: Los Angeles Stars (N) over Cleveland in 5
1960: Pittsburgh over New York (A) in 7 (Sibern’s 2-run double in final game ties it, before Mazeroski’s home run wins it in bottom of 9th)
1961: Cincinnati over Detroit in 7
1962: Los Angeles (A) over Minnesota in 7
1963: Brooklyn over New York (A) in 4
1964: New York (A) over Baltimore in 6
1965: Brooklyn over Los Angeles (A) in 7
1966: St. Louis over Brooklyn in 5 (Bob Gibson a no-hitter in Game 4)
1967: St. Louis over Chicago (N) in 7
1968: Detroit over Minnesota in 7
1969: Baltimore over Boston in 7 (Braves edge Cubs for N.L. West with 91 wins, to 90 for the Reds and 88 for the Cubs. Chicago never can find a good 4th starter, having traded Hands to win the 1967 pennant)
1970: Baltimore over Los Angeles (A) in 5
1971: Pittsburgh over Golden State A’s in 7 (Cubs edge Braves for the N.L. West, 85 wins to 83, lose in 4 to the Pirates for the pennant.)
1972: Golden State over Cincinnati in 7
1973: Denver (A) over Cincinnati (N) Baltimore Orioles win by a game on final day versus Dodgers, but this pushes Jim Palmer back to game 3, which he wins; he started and won the final game to prevent playoff. This lets the Reds come back to win games 4 and 5 and take the pennant)
1974: New York (A) over Brooklyn in 7 (Still in Old Yankee Stadium, renovated once Steinbrenner buys in ’79; Seaver main cog in very low scoring Series)
1975: Cincinnati over Boston in 7
1976: Cincinnati over New York (A) in 4 (After this season, Reggie leaves Stars and signs with Dodgers, Carlton with Phillies)
1977: Philadelphia over Kansas City in 5 (Mike Schmidt Series MVP, Reggie Smith in right NLCS MVP after great pennant race down to wire with Dodgers)
1978: Brooklyn over Boston in 7 (Reggie Jackson, signed in ’77 to play right field, hits 3 home runs in one game.)
1979: Pittsburgh over Denver in 6
1980: Kansas City over Baltimore in 5
1981: Philadelphia over Montreal in 6
1982: St. Louis over Milwaukee in 6
1983: Baltimore over New York (A) in 7
1984: Detroit over Chicago (N) in 5
1985: St. Louis over Los Angeles (N) in 7 (Yankees play them in ALCS for first time)
1986: Boston over Philadelphia in 6
1987: Los Angeles (A) over Minnesota Giants in 7
1988: Brooklyn over Golden State in 5
1989: Golden State over San Diego in 4 (Orioles, last place a year ago, eliminated in final week as Giants win; Padres win 7-game NLCS; few fatalities in quake as everyone rushed home early to watch the Series, as the team is followed by whole Bay Area; Padres may have Dennis Martinez)
1990: Cincinnati over Golden State in 4
1991: Los Angeles (A) over Pittsburgh in 7 (no Smoltz for Braves)
1992: Toronto over Atlanta in 7
1993: Atlanta over Toronto in 7
1994: Kansas City over Brooklyn in 7
1995: Atlanta over Cleveland in 6 (Braves trade prospects for Smoltz, including Jason Schmidt, so no Denny Neagle trade)
1996: New York (A) over Atlanta in 6 (2nd time the Cardinals and Yankees meet in A.L. playoffs, Cardinals are wild card team and lose hotly contested series to Yankees)
1997: Cleveland over Baltimore in 7
1998: New York (A) over Houston in 4 (Brooklyn Dodgers sign Randy Johnson as "the new Koufax" after this year; Padres, as wild car, down Braves in 5 while Astros sweep Cubs, then Astros with padres’ hurlers tired, beat padres in 7 before losing the New York in a sweep; Tony Gwynn got into his Series in ’89, though)
1999: New York (A) over Atlanta in 5 (Expos move to Tamps after this year)
2000: Brooklyn over St. Louis in 7 (West-winning Athletics over White Sox, Cardinals over East-winning Indians, Cardinals in tough 7-game Series can’t get pitchers set, so Dodgers beat them for first time since 1949 in Series)
2001: Brooklyn over New York (A) in 7 (line single over the infield to win in top of 9th)
2002: Los Angeles (N) over St. Louis in 7 (Cardinals beat Yankees in playoff, 3rd meeting since league split)
2003: Florida over New York (A) in 6
2004: Boston over Minnesota in 5
2005: Chicago (A) over Florida in 4
2006: Brooklyn over Detroit in 6 (Giants rally to within one of Dodgers, meet in NLCS, Dodgers with home field win in 6 as classic rivalry renewed)
2007: Boston over Los Angeles (N) in 7
2008: Philadelphia over Tampa (was Montreal) in 5