When you reach yet another birthday, you tend to reminisce. Well, I do. I have to think quite a few people past the age of 50 do that as well. You’re grateful you got this far; you start to look at that “bucket list” of things to do in the next dozen years or so. But you also spend time with memories.
For me recently, those have been Cardinals baseball memories.
I blame St. Louis radio station KMOX for some of this. That is the “official flagship station” of the Cardinals’ radio network and, save for a few foolish years, has served as such for a very long time. I grew up listening to the station almost every day from April through September, so the voices of broadcasters such as Harry Caray and Jack Buck played a huge role in my life.
One of the things KMOX has done the last few years is interview fans, then put their responses on the air as a commercial for Cardinals baseball. The question asked of those fans: “What is your fondest Cardinals memory?”
Now, for a franchise that has been around for more than 130 years, won 19 pennants and 11 World Series championships, there are countless highlights. (I filled a huge book with them. You say you didn’t know that? Well, well, do I have a book for you! Cardinals Encyclopedia)
But that word “fondest” evokes a different kind of answer. It implies a special connection that evokes a smile, a certain warm feeling and maybe even a few tears of joy. I’d like to share some of those memories of mine – and I invite you to consider some of yours.
First, though, I am going to share the opposite of my fondest memory, and I share it because it goes with my birthday.
It was June 4, 1976, the day I turned 15 years old. I think that might have been the birthday that told me I wasn’t a kid anymore, because there was absolutely nothing to distinguish it from any other day. No party. No cake. My younger sisters spent the night at friends’ houses. Two things I remember about the evening is that my parents and I went to the hardware store – the hardware store – and then some ice cream from St. Charles Dairy.
We didn’t do that, however, until we had finished watching the Cardinals game. Keep in mind that back in the ‘70s, there wasn’t a lot of baseball on TV. So this was a treat, a chance to see my Cardinals play on my birthday.
The hardware store was more of a treat. The Cincinnati Reds, who had five runs off pitcher Lynn McGlothen in the first inning, clobbered the Cardinals 11-2 in a game that was over almost as soon as it started. For the Reds, Ken Griffey Sr. had a triple and George Foster belted a home run – all part of the Big Red Machine. About the only good things that happened for the Cardinals were two hits and a stolen base from Lou Brock.
Thankfully, I have had many birthdays much better and the Cardinals have provided many, many “fond memories.”
For this time, I will share some from before the time I starting writing about baseball for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch or at least didn’t have anything to do with that wonderful job. I’ll save some other memories for upcoming “Musing” reflections.
When you are finished reading mine, I would love for you to leave a comment on your fondest Cardinals memory – or some other similar memory from your youth that is equally as fond as some of mine.
Here are a few that don’t need a lot of explanation and aren’t necessarily specific:
Going to ballgames with my children (as little kids or now as young adults), which always means cotton candy, because they have my love for the game and appreciation for the Cardinals’ history. … Many, many dates with some wonderful women, many of whom still are friends and one of whom became my wife. Donna and I love attending ballgames together. … Countless nights spent in the left-field bleachers with my high school chums. I can’t tell you want those memories mean to me.
Meeting and talking with Paul Dean, brother of the famed Dizzy Dean, who himself was a successful part of the Gas House Gang in the 1930s. … The first time I ever sat in a major-league pressbox. It was early in the 1979 season. I was only 18 years old but writing an occasional story for my smalltown newspaper. The sports editor couldn’t pay me much, but I did give me a press pass for a game at Busch Stadium. I took my dad and thought I was in heaven. I also was too nervous to approach any of the writers or go to the clubhouse. … Later in the 1979 season, right before I left for my freshman year at college, several of my friends and I went to a game. We splurged and bought box seats. (Day-of-the- game purchase, and we had plenty of choices. Fat chance of doing that at Busch these days. I’m not sold on Cardinals fans being the best in baseball. String together a few seasons like the Cardinals had in the ‘70s and let’s see what the crowds look like.) I brought a press pass along for that game, too, and used it for my first visit to a major-league clubhouse. I remember that John Fulgham pitched a great game, that I listened as the writers interviewed him and that I didn’t realize until then what the clubhouse atmosphere was like.
Now, for a few with specifics:
* My first-ever game in person was May 22, 1968. I was almost 7 years old and my dad promised he would take me to the game. He was working really long hours, though, and usually not getting home until after I was in bed. That afternoon, he called home and told my mom he wasn’t going to make it in time to take me. I was devastated, crying and decided just to go to bed early. Late in the day, Dad called back and told Mom if she could bring me to his office, we would go. I got out of my pajamas faster than any time in my life, and soon Dad and I were on our way to Busch Stadium. Well, Dad missed the exit off the highway, so we got to the game in the second inning. And Dad fell asleep at one point in the game, so we left about the seventh inning. Years later, when I was a dad and working long hours myself, I gained a greater appreciation for what was going on. But it was an incredible experience. And, again years later, I gained an appreciation for the game we attended: A 1-0 Dodgers victory over the Cardinals, with Hall-of-Famer Don Drysdale pitching a complete-game shutout and Cardinals Hall-of-Famer Bob Gibson allowing only three hits in the greatest season of his career.
The 1985 National League playoff game against the Dodgers in which Ozzie Smith hit his game-winning lefthanded home run. I was there with the friend who had been the best man in my wedding. Since I was there in person, I didn’t get to hear Jack Buck’s famous “Go crazy, folks, go crazy!” radio call until much later.
My first-ever spring training. It was in 1980, my first college spring break, and I went with buddies Henry, Greg and Phil. We got a ton of autographs, a lot of sun and saw a bunch of baseball. Way more fun than the drunken spring-break memories most college kids have.
May 29, 1971: It was “Bat Day” at Busch Stadium, a game between the Braves and Cardinals that promised a wooden, game-usable bat to every kid in attendance. More than 47,000 people showed up – including me, my sisters and my parents. Bob Gibson started for the Cardinals but was chased after giving up five runs in three innings. The Braves led 7-5 going into the bottom of the ninth. Lou Brock led off with a single and went to second on Matty Alou’s single. Ted Simmons tried to move the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt, but pitcher Cecil Upshaw committed an error on the play and the bases were loaded with no one out. The crowd at Busch Stadium was going crazy. Just imagine all those kids pumping those bats up and down in the air and all 47,000 people chanting “Tor-re! Tor-re! Tor-re!” as cleanup man Joe Torre walked to the plate. The outfield was in for a potential play at the plate, but Torre lofted a flyball over their heads and to the outfield wall. He ended up with a bases-clearing triple, the Cardinals won 8-7, and 9-year-old Mike Eisenbath had himself a hero for life in Mr. Joe Torre.
On August 14, 1971, my parents, my two sisters and I went to the I-70 drive-in to see two movies: “Big Jake,” with John Wayne, and “A Man Called Horse,” with Richard Harris. We didn’t spend much time watching the movies, because that’s the night Bob Gibson pitched the only no-hitter of his career. Just about every car in the place had the game on the radio – including us – and there was a huge cheer that went up when Gibson struck out Pittsburgh’s Willie Stargell to end the game.
On September 11, 1974, the Cardinals played the Mets in New York. As with every night of my life when it was my bedtime but the Cardinals were playing, I listened on the radio next to my bed. I fell asleep with the radio on. Some time around 3 a.m., I woke up and the game was still going! As it turned out, I awakened just in time to hear this play: Bake McBride was on first base for the Cardinals and appeared to be picked off, but the pitcher erred on the throw to allow him to go to second, and he ended up dashing around to score on the catcher’s subsequent error – in the 25th inning! The Cardinals held on to win 4-3.
This could be a really long story, since it is one of the most colorful and favorite memories of my life. I might talk more about it another time. For now: Seventh Game of the 1982 World Series, Cardinals against the Brewers at Busch Stadium. I had attended dozens of games with my friends that year, which was my last before joining the adult world as a college graduate, and a bunch of us were at that game in the left-field bleachers. As it appeared the Cardinals would win, we moved toward the front of the bleachers and sat atop the wall, waiting to let ourselves down to celebrate. But as Bruce Sutter struck out Gorman Thomas for the victory, everyone moved toward the field and someone pushed me off the wall. I fell to the ground and broke my left ankle. Still, I hobbled to second base in order to share a high-five with my buddies, as we had planned.
Now, what about some of your memories?