In honor of baseball’s first opening day in July, I thought I would focus this blog on ‘America’s Pastime”. Baseball is such a timeless game, opening day 2020 has featured some great matchups, from the Yankees and Nationals, the 2019 World Series Champs, to the Angels and Athletics with future Hall of Famers Albert Pujols and Mike Trout. These are not just future Hall of Famers but future ‘First Ballot’ Hall of Famers like Yankees greats Mariano Rivera and Derek Jeter recently. We got to go to an Angels game a couple of years ago and it was a great experience, beautiful stadium with that Southern California vibe, awesome place to watch a game.
Speaking of Albert Pujols, my favorite team when I was a kid was the St Louis Cardinals. Pujols is a legend in St Louis; World Series Championships, MVP’s, Rookie of the Year, this list goes on and on but that was after my childhood. The teams I am talking about are the 1970’s Cardinals led by the great Hall of Famer, Lou Brock. The Cardinals were my grandfather’s’ favorite team and I remember going to a game at the old Busch Stadium in St Louis when I was just a little kid. I cannot remember the exact year so I’m going to go with 1975. The 1975 Cardinals had a great team, they were only 82-80 that year and finished 3rd in their division but I thought they were great (the Cincinnati Reds of the mid-1970’s were one of the greatest teams of all time but that team will have to wait for another blog). My favorite players were the outfielders; Brock, Bake McBride, and Reggie Smith. All three batted over .300 for the year but I think the reason I remember them so well was a picture of the three from the program of all three running to the outfield together. It’s one of those images that takes on an iconic status in your memory, possibly due to the emotional attachment.
The Cardinals have always had great teams, they are second only to the mighty New York Yankees for most World Series Titles with 11. They have a ton of Hall of Fame Players such as Stan Musial, Bob Gibson, Ozzie Smith, etc., but the 1970’s Cardinals are my favorite. Let’s take a look at the everyday lineup:
This is a solid lineup. Catcher, Ted Simmons, led the team with a .332 batting average which is a great average in any era. A switch hitter, Simmons is a 2020 Hall of Fame inductee that batted over .300 seven times. As mentioned before all three outfielders batted over .300 which is the Gold Standard for MLB. Baseball may be the only game in the world where if you are successful 1 in 3 times you are doing well or maybe it’s a little simpler to say that if you get 3 hits in 10 at bats you are doing well. This is exactly what 4 out of the 8 everyday players did that year. Simmons was a great player, and while his career may not have been as flashy as his contemporaries, Johnny Bench of Cincinnati or Carlton Fisk of the Boston Red Sox (who were the starting catchers for their teams during the 1975 World Series, one of the greatest series in history), he was of the best catchers of his era. A young Keith Hernandez was at first, he only played 64 games that year and is probably best remembered for winning a World Series with the great New York Mets teams of the 80’s. The infielders at 2nd base, shortstop, and 3rd base, Ted Sizemore, Mike Tyson, and Ken Reitz were all solid MLB players. The outfield for the 1975 Cardinals was exceptional, Lou Brock at the age of 36 batted .309 and stole 56 bases. Brock was the all time stolen base champ until his record was broken by Ricky Henderson. Bake McBride was a solid player and would go on to have a lot of success with the Philadelphia Phillies (a team the Cardinals seems to trade a lot of their good players to, Pitcher Steve Carlton instantly comes to mind). Reggie Smith was a dangerous power hitter in a time when home runs were much more rare. He would go on to have a lot of success with the Los Angeles Dodgers, winning a World Series with them in 1981. The 1975 Cardinals had a solid lineup, with Brock leading the way. Here are Brock’s career stats, the bold numbers represent years he led the league. His 938 total stolen bases were also a MLB record that stood for many years. He also finished his career with 3,023 hits, with 3,000 being the Gold Standard for a hitter. This is what Hall of Fame resume looks like:
Here is a video of Brock breaking the stolen base record.
Now let’s take a look at the pitching staff
The Cardinals had a solid pitching staff in ’75, the superstar here is Bob Gibson. Past his prime at age 39, Gibson’s stats were not his norm, but make no mistake, Bob Gibson was one of the very best and most feared pitchers of his era. The National Baseball Hall of Fame wrote, “Bob Gibson may well have been the most intimidating pitcher in history.” The other pitcher of note is Al Hrabosky, a relief pitcher that actually won 13 games and saved 22. Great numbers that were fairly common during the era but never happen in today’s game. Hrabosky was unique for his pre-pitch ritual of going behind the mound and conducting a short but aggressive meditation session that always ended with him slamming ball into his glove. The standout of the Cardinals pitchers was obviously Gibson, let’s take a little closer look at his career stats:
This is another Hall of Fame resume; Gibson was a 2-time Cy Young winner and the league MVP in 1968. He won 9 Gold Gloves for being the best defensive player at his position. He also won 2 World Series with the Cardinals. With 251 career victories, 3,117 strikeouts, and a lifetime ERA of 2.91, as well as throwing a no hitter in 1971, it’s easy to see why Gibson was one of the very best pitchers of the era. In 1967 the Cardinals beat the Red Sox in the World Series, that was the year that Carl Yastrzemski hit for the triple crown in the American League, with Gibson leading the way winning games 1, 4, and 7 and being named series MVP (Gibson was a 2X World Series MVP). Lou Brock led the Cardinals with a .414 batting average in that series. Below are some highlights from Gibson’s no-hitter.
Baseball in 2020 is different. The season didn’t start until July 23 and there are no fans in the stands (some teams have cardboard cutouts in the area behind home plate and the outfield, Oakland has a great cutout of a young Tom Hanks selling hot dogs, and the season is only going to be 60 games but it’s finally back and that’s a good thing.