Tigers vs. Cardinals…they’ve tilted twice before… 1934 and 1968...but first...
2006: I shiver to think that these Cards might win the battle of the Mid-state beiges. I own that this bit-a-rave may read as North-Eastern liberal establishment gripe. I like the NY vs. NY vs. BO or some SF. I prefer the City-States with the extra progressives required to stem the Crimson Tide. I particularly enjoy it when the Yankees get to Sherman’s March all over the Braves. In Rove-world, a Cardinal Win will be that perfectly senseless maraschino cherry atop the rutabaga crisp. Just another team USA that doesn’t feel the need to try much until the gamblers quote points. (Speaking of: Why is Kenny Rogers good now? Always had nice angle on the curvice, but now his Uncle Charlie seems infused with a Rajah Clemens brand of edge. It’s not the pine tar, it’s the HGH rage. Kenny’s jaw now Xtra-lanternish; must need a mouth guard to stop him from rubbing his teeth down to chicklets.)
So if the 83 game winning Cardinal team can be eligible to win the World Series, I say yes, let’s just shorten the season into several shorter seasons with endless semi-demi wild card scenarios to decide who has the tie-breaker for all the rest of the semi-demi western whip-crack dressage. Yes, the yearly All-star exhibition of Men Evolving into Chemical Manimals should keep determining who gets more home games in the Series. Don’t even play the All-star game itself. Just do the homerun derby - NL vs. AL. And make the derby scoring a bit more complicated. Add points for distance. Still more for extremely archy arc. More again for best post homerun pose downs. Then make the loser league run across the infield just in jocks, socks and cleats - while the winners call them small.
The Gas House Gang had its charms, and any town that played a significant role in Blues/Jazz history + gave birth to Yogi Berra can’t be all-bad. That said, I’ve always found St. Lou to be pretty rednecky – and not in a charming Marshall Mathers growing up in a Detroit trailer park kind of way. If not red-redneck, at least the pink-neck of the chubby conventioneer who should use a bit more UV-block before sitting poolside at the Reno Hilton. Pink like the pink inside the White Rat Whitey Herzog’s ears. The pink inside the ears of the whitey who wears the Red premium polo shirt with a logo of the company that owns his ass. Or the Cardinal logo.
But to really dig in, to really get comfy in the box, I’ll relay that St. Louis was always that very southern mid-western town where you could still find 'colored' drinking fountains quite late in the Jim Crow game. When Jackie Robinson broke through in ’47, St. Louis was the town the Dodgers worried about most: Enos 'Country' Slaughter only played against Jack's Dodgers because he was forced to by the surprisingly progressive KT-Commissioner Happy Chandler.
This is all well-well covered in the Burns doc, but it bares re-telling that when Chandler got the job, the owners figured he'd keep the color line that Drunk/Racist Landis had propped in place (Mountain Landis even blocked Bill Veeck from trying to revitalize the perennial loser Phillies in 1939 because rumor had it that Veeck was gonna stock his team-to-be with Negro Leaguers.). Chandler didn't keep his job long -replaced by Babe Ruth's ghostwriter. But Happy was happy because he had soul. St. Louis does too. It’s just hard to see through all that red.
back-back to '34: the cabbage and water year of the Great Depression… Tigers were AL powerhouse: catcher-manager Mickey Cochrane (player-manager hyphenates big in low budge-era), Greenwich Village born 1st sacker Hank Greenberg and the Mechanical Man -2nd sack-superior Charlie Gehringer (“Wind him up in Spring Training and watch him hit .320.”). But the Gas House Gang (rarely washed their uni’s = keep the nut low), led by last NL 30 game winner Dizzy Dean and 19 game winner bro-Daffy, took Detroit in 7. During that decisive game, St. Lou triple crown winner Ducky Medwick (last NL-er to do that) earned unsportsmanlike ire of Detroit by being too damn good; as game became blowout, Ducky was pelted by whatever Tiger fans thought was ripe enough to throw…Commissioner Drunk-Racist Landis removed Medwick from the game just to get the darn thing into the books.
1968… Cronkite tells America that the Tet botch was part of the larger ‘Nam botch (not to say good old days were all that great, but I can’t see Couric telling same re: Iraq) …MLK and RFK both lost and speaking of Civil Rights (Civil Rights) : many worried that if Tigers took the title of ‘68, Detroit would redux post-MLK riots…But no re-burning of the Fords Mustangs…Los Tigres were mixed noice by Mayo(Smith): ye oldes like Kaline, Freehan & Mickey Stanley (the centerfielder who subbed at short so that hot Al could get more at-bats ) with new urbans (read blacks) like Downtown Gates Brown and Willie Horton. The Cards blend was good too: Gibson was the best pitcher in the year of the pitcher, Brock broke Series base-swipe records… and the fly-catcher was Curt Flood; in the 70’s, he gave up the end of his HOF-caliber career to challenge the reserve clause. A real baseball fan is, by definition, a humanist. When you add Flood’s unquant-able quals to his above average career quants, you give Curt a Hall plaque. I’m not the first to press Flood’s point. Check out NY Times Sports 10/26.
The Tigers had two raheeeally nice twirlers in ’68: hefty lefty Lolich won 3 in the Series – besting Gibson in the decisive 7th. And Denny McClain won 31 = the last to win 30+ in a season. Denny had one more good campaign in him post ’68 until early-onset of the dead-arm. With too much time on his hands, he took up the organ, got suspended for arms possession, then again for ‘consorting with gamblers.’ Ex-post ball-career, Denny did time for irritating the IRS, but remained popular in Motown – for a time as a radio personality? Detroit has never held time in the pokey against a guy with the major league skillsetz. Ron Leflore was in for armed robbery, then led the league in steals. Levar Burton played Ron in a TV movie based on Leflore’s prison/baseball auto-bio. I think Billy Martin played manager Billy Martin? I weigh in pro- McClain, mostly because he gave the nearly legless late-career Mickey Mantle the heads up on a meatball-grooved into his kitchen so the Mick could advance on the all-time homerun charts (a significant milestone pre-HGH). I like it when ballplayers love like that in a game that’s not pennant race significant. It’s like saying that it’s valid to chuck the rules in order to add happiness. Curing Polio and advancing the cause of Civil Rights = important; late season contest between already AL champs and out of it Yanks? Not quite so much.
This entry is for CBB Jr.
He appreciated things. Crisp things: a perfect sail day and The Elements of Style. But things with shades of grey too: The divine being in the shape of David Cone thinking his way in and out of trouble. On the night CBB Jr. died, Coney really came through. For the rest of the week, we just watched the games.