Can it be 50 years since the St. Louis Cardinals team known affectionately as “El Birdos” won the World Series?
Yes, time has slipped away. It was a different era for baseball in 1967. Back then, there were no divisions, no wild cards, no designated hitters. There was the National League and the American League. The two winners met in the World Series, which was played in the afternoon.
Stan Musial was the team’s general manager. Red Schoendienst was its manager. The team dominated that season. It captured the National League pennant by 10.5 games with a 101-60 record. They went on to win a seven-game World Series behind three complete-game victories by Bob Gibson.
“That was some team,” said Orlando Cepeda, the 1967 National League Most Valuable Player, who famously christened the team El Birdos. “We had a lot of fun.”
It was a team of stars.
“There were a lot of great ballplayers on that team,” said pitcher Dick Hughes, who won 16 games that season.
Hall of Famers Gibson, Lou Brock, Cepeda and Schoendienst all were a part of it. Hall of Famer Steve Carlton was a young pitcher on the team. At age 22, he went 14-9 in his first full season with St. Louis. Some other stars were former home run champion Roger Maris; center fielder Curt Flood, who hit .335 that year; four-decade performer Tim McCarver as the catcher and the longtime voice of the Cardinals, Mike Shannon.
Shannon moved that year from right field to third base to make room for the newly acquired Maris.
“It had to be done,” Shannon recalled. “Roger was an outfielder and I was young so I made the move.”
Shannon drove in 77 runs, second on the club that season, and adapted well enough to third base.
Most moves that season paid off.
In 1967, the Cardinals entered the season with analysts giving them 12-1 odds of winning the pennant.
After acquiring Cepeda, in a 1966 trade for Ray Sedacki, he exploded in 1967. He earned his seventh All-Star Game berth – the National League won 2-1 – and for the season, he batted .325, with 25 home runs and 111 RBIs. His performance earned him the National League’s first unanimous selection for its MVP award.
Gibson and Flood, who hit a team-high .335 in 1967, won Gold Gloves that year.
But the road to the Series wasn’t completely smooth. In fact, it looked like that road was going to take a detour on July 15, when Bob Gibson took a line drive off his leg from the bat of Pittsburgh’s Roberto Clemente. But when Gibson went down, Nelson Briles stepped up. Briles took over Gibson’s spot in the rotation. His contributions exceeded expectations. He went 10-2 with an ERA of 1.89 in 14 starts.
“Nelly was just tremendous for us,” pitcher Larry Jaster said. “We didn’t miss a beat when he stepped into the rotation. He had a great season.”
It looked as if Gibson would be out for the rest of the season. McCarver didn’t think so.
“I have never said this in public,” McCarver said. “I thought it many many times, but when Bob broke his ankle and Nelson Briles took over in the rotation … lurking in the back, I knew, was Bob. There was no way that the Boston Red Sox were going to win a game against this man, and I mean that. No way, no chance.”
Gibson believed he wold be back, too.
“I didn’t think I was going to return that year because the doctors, at most, said I’d be able to pitch next year,” Gibson said. “I made up my mind to pitch before the season was over.
“I started throwing off the mound two weeks after the cast came off. Not hard, just playing catch, keeping my arm loose and throwing in the general vicinity of the catcher. After three weeks, I was going pretty good and thinking it may not take so long. The doctor came in … and said maybe I should slow down. After six weeks, I was throwing the ball really well. I came back, pitched five innings [on Sept. 6] and was ready for the World Series.”
What a World Series Gibson had. He was the star of the Series along with Brock. He won three games against the Red Sox, had 12 hits in the Series, reaching the .414 mark, while the Cardinals only hit .223 overall.
Still, it was Gibson on the mound that made all the difference. McCarver said he believed Gibson had an edge.
“As was the custom with owners in those days,” McCarver said, “they allowed center field to be filled with people in white shirts. Trying to hit Bob with white shirts as backdrop? No chance. One problem with that, from the catcher’s standpoint, you can’t catch it either. There was no way Bob was going to lose Games 1, 4 and 7 and he didn’t.”
However, it was more than people wearing white shirts in center field that contributed to El Birdos success. There also were Gibson’s fastball and his tough slider to consider – and there were the drive and determination that made him hard so hard to beat.
“I can’t explain it,” Gibson said. “I hated losing. I didn’t like my little girls beating me in dominoes. I had in the back of my mind, I wanted to be really, really good at what I did. I saw something once, that you should always set your sights further than you can reach. That’s the way I lived my life. I was going to try be the best at what I did. It was in baseball, but it could have been anything. That’s the way I go about life.”
“I was going to try to be the best at what I did. It was in baseball, but it could have been anything. That’s the way I go about life.”
Boston had to use its ace Jim Lonborg, the American League Cy Young Award winner, on the final day of the season, to clinch the pennant.
Gibson and Lonborg stayed a game apart in the World Series until they met in Game 7 – both 2-0 pitchers, with Lonborg on short rest. It was not a fair fight.
Gibson hit a homer run off Lonborg and the Cardinals were World Series champions with a 7-2 victory.
It was Gibson’s third straight complete-game victory.
“We were not to be denied,” McCarver said. “We always felt with Bob pitching we were going to win.”
For his efforts, Gibson won the Corvette that was given to the MVP of the World Series.
“It was a very special time,” Hughes said. “I’m glad I got have a part in it.”
The current Cardinals will celebrate the 1967 club’s World Series anniversary this summer. On May 17, against the visiting Boston Red Sox, a replica 1967 World Series Championship Mystery Ring will be given to fans. A Cepeda bobblehead will be given to fans on June 9 when the Philadelphia Phillies visit. A Gibson bobblehead is the giveaway on June 24 when Pittsburgh plays in St. Louis. On June 30, a 1967 World Series Championship Beer Stein will be given away when the Washington Nationals come calling.
A McCarver bobblehead is the freebie on July 8 against the Mets. Finally, on July 28, a replica 1967 World Series Championship Trophy will be given away against the Arizona Diamondbacks.