the cardinals open the 1970 season as if tethered to a bungee cord. they jump off to a 7-2 launch, then fall to 3-12 over the next two weeks; they bounce back with a 10-4 run, only to go slack again at 6-12. on july 1 they fall into a 6-21 dive, but beginning july 30 they recoil and begin a 21-10 skein. to mix the metaphor badly, this is a team with an eating disorder: they stuff themselves full, throw everything up, then repeat the cycle.
this pattern also occurs within individual games — viz. the 11-10 comeback thriller over montreal
on august 8 (chapter one
of this post). that victory is the cards’ 9th in 10 games; they split a doubleheader the next day, take monday off, and on tuesday august 11 open a three-game series with the san diego padres.
another 2d-year franchise, another ripe compost heap of ballplayers
. the pads are the bottom of the 1970 barrel, 10 games worse than their expansion cousins in mtl but, imho, a far more interesting group of guys. they rank among the bottom three teams in nearly ev’y offensive category save two — homers (3d) and strikeouts (1st). their 1st baseman, nate colbert
, is a native st louisan, just 24 years old, en route to a 38hr, 150k, .837 ops season. their centerfielder, 26-year-old clarence gaston
(later famous as toronto blue jay manager "cito"), is in the midst of an insane career year — a .907 ops and top-10 finishes in avg, hits, slugging, and total bases. the following year his ops will be .650; his career ops in 1026 mlb games is .695. (he strikes out, by the way, 142 times in 1970.) another talented young player, 26-year-old right fielder ollie brown
, hits .292 with 23 jacks and an 821 ops. the roster also includes future espn analyst dave campbell; ex-cardinal ed spezio, a spare part on the ’67 and ’68 teams (and father of 2002 world series hero scott spezio); and fred kendall (father of current a’s catcher jason). they will finish 63-99 but aren’t nearly that bad; their pythagorean ratio projects to 70 wins. the 1970 cards, by the way, are similar underperformers, finishing five games off their pythagorean pace.
the series opener on august 11 pits earl wilson against poor nelson briles
, whose 1970 season could serve as a tombstone for the 1960s "era of the pitcher." the 26-year-old righthander had racked up 48 wins over the previous three years, adding a complete-game world series win in 1967. he entered 1970 with a career era of 3.07, but as play begins tonight, he’s at 6.71 on the season — and that includes a complete-game shutout in his previous start, vs the mets.
nellie’s back up to 7.18 after this evening’s two and a third ineffective innings. he bequeaths a 5-1 deficit to the bullpen, which improves it to 8-1 by the seventh-inning stretch. the cardinals chip away for two in the bottom half; torre homers leading off the bottom of the 8th, and then brock doubles home two runs with two outs to make it a game again at 8-6. with the bullpen depleted by briles’ short start and the sunday doubleheader, schoendienst trots out a familiar face — harry parker
, the starting pitcher from chapter 1 of this tale. it is his second big-league game, and it goes just as badly as the first; pitching just two days after his 5-1/3-inning start on aug 8, he puts a man on, gets two outs, but just just can’t close out the inning, yielding a walk and two singles to lengthen the gap to 10-6.
normally we — my family, i mean — would have departed by now. games started at 8 p.m. in those days, and it’s now past 10 o’clock and the outcome is pretty much decided. but my cousin josh is in town, visiting from long island, and nobody has to be at school in the morning; what the hell. we do leave our seats, per custom, and stake out standing room at the back of the section, the better to beat the traffic on highway 40 when the game ends. (traffic? paid attendance is but 16,734 . . . . ) a former cardinal, ron willis
, is on the mound for the bottom of the 9th; he made 113 appearances for the 67-68 squad. my man joe hague leads off with a hit; attaboy joe, never say die. allen forces him at second, but comes around to score on singles by torre and cardenal. the tying run’s now at the plate in the person of mike shannon
, whose career has literally reached the end — he will play his last ballgame tomorrow. plagued by some sort of non-baseball-related malady (wasn’t it his liver or something? . . . . no seriously), shanny hasn’t hit a homerun all season. but sd manager preston gomez, taking no chances, calls a righthander out of the pen, ron herbel. he retires shannon on a force for the second out but then walks ed crosby to bring the winning run to the plate.
the pitcher’s spot is due up, and schoendienst has already used most of his bench, including all the left-handed bats. his best remaining option is carl taylor
, a 26-year-old outfielder struggling through a disappointing season. for the pirates in 1969 he hit .348 in 221 at-bats, but he’s at just .257 for st louis so far in 1970, with five home runs. meanwhile the player the cardinals traded for taylor — dave giusti — is having a banner season as a relief ace, 9-3 with 26 saves. (giusti will save 140 more for the bucs over the next seven years and earn a world series ring in 1971.) and taylor’s half-brother, boog powell
, is in the midst of his mvp year for the orioles.
basically, everybody associated with carl taylor is doing well in 1970 except for carl taylor. but this is carl taylor’s night. with brock on deck (4 for 5 on the game) herbel doesn’t mess around with taylor; he throws him a strike and carl strokes it toward the left-centerfield bleachers. the flight is the exact opposite of hague’s high-apex longball against montreal; this one rides flat, like a stone skipping over water. i even remember thinking at the time that it didn’t look like much of a cut; he didn’t follow through on it, like the little league coaches said you’re supposed to. good rip or no, the ball carries — i keep my eye on it every inch of the way, as kids tend to do, rather than watching the fielder to see how it is going to play. based on the swing and the trajectory, i’m anticipating an out — but damned if doesn’t go over the wall! delerium ensues, of the type can only afflict boys who are up way past their bedtime on a summer night. none of us watch taylor round the bases or touch the plate. cousin josh, who doesn’t even like baseball that much — and to the extent he does, likes the mets — prances around in a display of jubilance i would term "simian," by which i mean it is uncannily similar to human behavior. my brother and i, both younger, follow his lead; even my dad can’t help but have some of the happy ape in him drawn out by that hit. it’s a grand slam, another walkoff homerun, another 11-10 win for the cardinals
— and an experience the four of us never fail to recall whenever circumstance brings us together.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
these two 11-10 games from 1970 — and the team’s season-long hot-cold-hot-coldness, its consistent inconsistency — strike me, in long retrospect, as harbingers for the whole decade to come at busch stadium. the cards aren’t going to pitch, the games sooth-said, and they’re going to look awful a lot of the time; nearly every good play the cardinals make will be undone by a corresponding bad one, and vice versa. the decade of manic depression is coming. when they’re down they’ll be waaaayyyy down, but when they’re up it will be intoxicating. a little unreal, perhaps, and a little dangerous; just when things get good, you’ll know they’re about to come crashing back down to earth.
but they’ll never hit bottom; they’ll always bounce back. the bungee cord’ll see to it.STL PITCHING TREND LINE
at busch stadium
1966: 3.11 team era, 2d in nl
1967: 3.05 team era, 2d in nl
1968: 2.49 team era, 1st in nl
1969: 2.94 team era, 1st in nl
1970: 4.06 team era, 6th in nl
1971: 3.85 team era, 11th in nl
as always, gotta acknowledge retrosheet
for their great data and box scores.viva el birdos