The Cardinals Vs. The Red Sox: A Historical Perspective
The St. Louis Cardinals and Boston Red Sox are two of the most storied franchises in baseball history. The Cardinals have won nine World Series titles and the Red Sox have won five (including once as the Boston Pilgrims in 1903 in the inaugural year of the Series). The Redbirds are tied with the Athletics for the second most championships--behind the New York Yankees with 26, which works out to more than one out of every four.
Interestingly, the Red Sox won all five of their titles before the Yankees won their first. In fact, the Red Sox were so good, they were 5-0 in their World Series appearances between 1903-1918. And then something happened. Strapped for cash, Boston owner Henry Frazee sold Babe Ruth to the Yankees in January 1920 for $125,000 plus a $300,000 loan. The Babe had not only led the major league in home runs the previous two years (including a record 29 in 1919), but he had a career won-loss of 89-46 with an ERA of 2.19 (highlighted by a league-leading 1.75 in 1916). Moreover, Ruth was one of the stars of the 1915, 1916, and 1918 World Series championship teams and his 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings in the latter two Series was a record that stood until broken by Whitey Ford in 1961.
When Ruth arrived on the New York scene, the Yankees had never even won a pennant in their history. The Yankees proceeded to win seven A.L. pennants and four World Series titles during The Babe's tenure in New York, while the Red Sox have yet to win another World Series championship since Ruth's departure. Hence, the Curse of the Bambino.
Meanwhile, it took the St. Louis Cardinals 23 years before they made it to the World Series. Led by player-manager Rogers Hornsby, MVP catcher Bob O'Farrell, and first baseman Jim Bottomley, the Cardinals beat Ruth's Yankees in 1926. Grover Cleveland Alexander, fresh off two complete game victories in Games Two and Six, was summoned from the bullpen to protect a 3-2 lead in the seventh inning with two outs and the bases loaded. Despite a hangover from celebrating the night before, Alexander, 39, struck out Tony Lazzeri in one of the greatest confrontations in World Series history and then whitewashed the Yankees in the eighth and ninth innings to preserve the Cardinals victory and the franchise's first world championship.
The Cardinals won the World Series in 1931 and 1934. Second baseman Frankie Frisch earned MVP honors in '31 (with a slugging average of less than .400) and Dizzy Dean won the award in '34 (while becoming the last pitcher to win 30 games in a season in the N.L.). The 1930s Cardinals included the "Gashouse Gang" and General Manager Branch Rickey, arguably the greatest front-office executive in the history of baseball.
The Cardinals were the dominant team in the National League during the 1940s, winning three World Series championships in the decade. Stan Musial won three MVPs during that span, including 1946 when the Cardinals beat A.L. MVP Ted Williams and the Red Sox in the World Series in seven games. Enos Slaughter scored the decisive run in the eighth inning of Game Seven, achieving everlasting fame for his "mad dash" home from first base on Harry Walker's two-out double to left center. Harry Brecheen won three games for the Cardinals, including the final two--an accomplishment unmatched until Randy Johnson beat the Yankees in Games Six and Seven of the 2001 World Series.
After a dry spell in the 1950s, the Cardinals rebounded and won world championships in 1964 and 1967. Third baseman Ken Boyer won the MVP in '64 and first baseman Orlando Cepeda earned MVP honors in '67 while leading St. Louis to its most wins in a season (101) since the 1942-1944 stretch in which the Redbirds won at least 105 games each year. Bob Gibson won the Cy Young Award in 1968 by putting together perhaps the single greatest year ever by a pitcher (22-9, 1.12 ERA, and 13 shutouts), yet the Cardinals fell to the Detroit Tigers in the World Series in seven games.
The Cardinals didn't win another pennant until 1982 when Whitey Herzog led a team that hit the fewest home runs in the league (67) to another World Series championship. St. Louis won two more pennants during the '80s but lost the seventh game of the 1985 and 1987 World Series.
It's been 86 years for the Red Sox and 22 years for the Cardinals since winning the World Series. The last time these two franchises met in postseason play was in 1967 when St. Louis beat Boston, four games to three.
Carl Yastrzemski (.326, 44, 121), the 1967 MVP and the last player to win the Triple Crown, and Jim Lonborg, the 1967 Cy Young Award winner, were the stars of a Boston ballclub whose season was dubbed The Impossible Dream. The Red Sox, who finished in ninth place the previous year, edged out the Tigers and Twins by one game to win the pennant with a .568 winning percentage--the lowest in league history.
The Red Sox came into the World Series as dramatic underdogs that year, yet fought and clawed their way into the seventh and decisive game before falling to the Cardinals, 7-2, at Fenway Park when Gibson outdueled Lonborg (who was pitching on two days' rest) for his third victory of the Series.
Woody Williams and Tim Wakefield, the scheduled starting pitchers in Game One of the 2004 World Series, were both born in August 1966 and had just celebrated their first birthdays when the Cardinals and Red Sox last faced off in the World Series. Williams and Wakefield come into today's matchup sporting regular-season ERAs in excess of 4.00, perhaps the only time in the history of the series that the Game One starters had such lofty ERAs.
The 2004 World Series is set up just like 1967 with the Red Sox at home in games one, two, six, and seven. Who will be this year's Bob Gibson? Or Lou Brock? Or Roger Maris? Will any pitcher win three games like Gibson? Will someone hit .400 with three home runs in a losing cause like Yaz? Will the Cardinals beat the Red Sox for the third time? Or will the Red Sox finally the break the Curse?
Stay tuned. We're about to find out.