icon caret-left icon caret-right instagram pinterest linkedin facebook twitter goodreads question-circle facebook circle twitter circle linkedin circle instagram circle goodreads circle pinterest circle


June 15th used to be the big trading deadline in baseball and as usual Branch Rickey was in the middle of a big innovation. In 1922 Rickey’s Cardinals and the St. Louis Browns who shared the home field of Sportsman’s Park were in first place near the end of July for the first time in St. Louis baseball history. (Many people forget that Rickey was both field and business manager of the Cardinals from 1919 until May 1925 when owner Sam Breadon fired him from the field job ordering him to devote himself fully to front office scouting, signing, and evaluation.)

Then the Yankees and the Giants made one-sided trades – the Yankees getting third baseman Joe Dugan from their favorite trading partner the Red Sox and the Giants obtaining pitcher Hugh McQuillan from the Boston Braves – and both teams roared to the top of the standings and met for the second straight year in the World Series. In 1923 they would meet again and the Yankees would finally beat the Giants and the tide of championship play in New York would start to flow towards the Bronx Bombers.

Branch Rickey cried foul, telling one of his favorite audiences, a Rotary club in St. Louis, “How can those teams without unlimited resources in their deposit boxes have a chance to compete fairly?” In only his second year on the job Baseball Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis decided that it was a league matter and didn’t take any action against the New York behemoths. But starting in 1923 a June 15th trading deadline was approved by both leagues. Any deals after that date would be waiver deals, meaning that the lowest ranked teams in each league would have a shot at a player before any transaction was complete.

I grew up with that date as part of my fan’s calendar. Big deals were made in my lifetime at the June 15th deadline including the Cardinals getting future Hall of Fame outfielder and base stealing demon Lou Brock from the Cubs for pitcher Ernie Broglio in 1964 and the Mets trading for slugging first baseman Donn Clendenon from the Expos in 1969, deals that led to World Series victories in those years for each team. The June 15th deadline lasted until the 1990s when July 31st became the new trading deadline.

Flipping the cable channels last night I found the MLB network running a rebroadcast of the opening game of the 1968 World Series. I caught the last innings of a classic in which Bob Gibson broke Sandy Koufax’s single-game World Series strikeout record of 15 by fanning 17 Detroit Tigers including the formidable trio of Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Willie Horton in the 9th inning.

Memories flooded back as I listened to Harry Caray do the last half of the game on NBC with Curt Gowdy. Tony Kubek, Gowdy’s regular season partner on the Game of the Week broadcasts (who will be inducted into the Hall of Fame broadcasters’ wing next month), was relegated to roving interviewing duties in the stands chatting with among others Gibson's wife Charlene, recently retired Casey Stengel, and American League president Joe Cronin. In those days, each winning team’s main announcer did half of the game with Gowdy. Unfortunately, I missed Ernie Harwell’s part of the broadcast but it was a throwback to listen to Caray’ corny, ebullient old-fashioned pre-women's movement style. eg. “As you can see, Mike Shannon is very good-looking, ladies take notice.”

Following the vintage rebroadcast, Bob Costas interviewed Gibson and his battery mate Tim McCarver for an hour. Gibson is a true original, quipping that if he had known how much National League batters were intimidated by his glaring presence on the mound, “I’d have been uglier.” Actually Gibson didn’t have great eyesight and the glaring was usually because of his need to make sure that he had the right signs from catcher McCarver.

Gibson does a good imitation of Willie Mays’ high-pitched voice and he told the story of wearing spectacles one day when he met Willie off the field. “Gibson, you wear eyeglasses?” Willie piped. “You’re gonna kill someone out there.” McCarver repeated what I heard him say at the Baseball Alumni Team (BAT) dinner a couple of years ago about how the Cardinals relied on Gibson too much – he had won seven World Series in a row after a lone defeat in the 1964 fall classic - and that was why they probably lost the 1968 Series after leading the Tigers three games to one.

In brief additional segments Detroit stars Kaline and Horton told Costas that they thought the 13-1 rout they had inflicted on the Cardinals in Game 6, including a 10-run inning, had knocked the confidence out of the Redbirds. Hindsight is wonderful isn’t it? As long as you don’t take it too seriously as gospel. Everyone agreed that Mickey Lolich was the great star of the 1968 Series, winning three games over the 1967 defending world champions. “One month before the Series Roger Maris had told us that Lolich would give us the most trouble,” McCarver said despite Denny McLain winning 31 games in the regular season.

Mentioning McLain reminds me of the story that the (at least) twice-imprisoned former Cy Young winner told at a recent BAT dinner about how he celebrated the World Series triumph by hanging out in the Chaldean community of Detroit. “That’s Iraqi for those of you who don’t know,” McLain related. “I got so drunk that I didn’t know where I was. I wound up in the back seat of a car at four o’clock in the morning with a woman who looked like Saddam Hussein.” The audience at the dinner laughed nervously not knowing what else was coming from the erratic ex-pitcher but McLain to everyone’s relief ended his remarks shortly thereafter.

More tales of our heroes, real and faux, coming tomorrow. Ciao for now!
Be the first to comment