In October, when the fountain flows red in Kiener Plaza it means one thing – the Cardinals have made it into the play-offs. And as baseball’s post-season arrives in The Lou anticipation swells for a pennant race. Formed in 1882 the St. Louis Brown Stockings underwent a name change in 1900 taking the field that season as the St. Louis Cardinals.
Re-named for a cheeky species of song bird that thrives in North and Central America the name would stick, abbreviated fondly over time as the Red Birds and the Cards.
The hopes of five generations of St. Louisans from every socio-economic and ethnic group have risen or fallen each summer since with the fortunes of the eternal boys of summer who sometimes, with great skill and luck, ripened into the men of autumn, swinging their bats and making mad dashes around the bases. It doesn’t matter whether you drive a truck or hold a first chair in the symphony, when it comes to baseball St. Louisans are one.
The seeds for unanimity were sown over a hundred years ago in Sportman’s Park when the Cardinals gave free passes to school kids who blossomed into avid fans.
I vividly recall that generation from my childhood in the early 1950s hunched over their radios or later relaxing in front of a black and white TV with “a cold one” – a bottle of Budweiser (or in my dad’s case a bottle of Pepsi) living each play vicariously with the Cardinals. As well as the occasional admonition, “Quiet down! Musial’s at bat.”
Or Dizzy Dean, shown here on the cover of Time Magazine, April 15, 1935 – the last National League pitcher to win 30 games in a season.
Stan “the Man” Musial (so named by admiring Brooklyn Dodgers fans) was selected twenty-four times for All-Star play. In his second full season with the Cardinals Musial was named to the All-Star Game line-up and then to every All-Star Team in the subsequent years that he played.
Bob Gibson earned nine Gold Glove Awards for pitching, winning the Most Valuable Player Award in both the World Series of 1964 and 1967. He holds a Major League Record for thirty-five strike-outs in a World Series, seventeen of them in the same game.
If Yankee Stadium is the house that Ruth built then Busch Stadium can be credited in large part to Stan Musial (http://baseballhall.org/hof/musial-stan) not only because he is ranked as one of the greatest hitters in baseball history but because of his strength of character.
Brewing magnate Augie Busch (August A. Busch, Jr.), who took ownership of the Cardinals in 1953 and held it until his death in 1989, made it clear that Musial would never to be traded. Like Bob Gibson, Musial would spend his entire career in professional baseball with the St. Louis Cardinals.
The quote on the base of Musial’s statue at the entrance to Busch Memorial Stadium from former Baseball Commissioner Ford C. Frick, sums Stan Musial up this way, “Here stands baseball’s perfect warrior. Here stands baseball’s perfect knight.”
Athletes have from antiquity held a special place in human societies as champions who battled opponents with their prowess, representing and taking entire communities or nations right along with them in spirit. It’s a mystique that persists into the 21st century.
Over and above giving us something to cheer about in difficult times, the economic boost that Cardinal baseball brings to the St. Louis region has been substantial: $56,000,000 from the 2009 All-Star Game and each pennant game played here this autumn will net the area about $5.6 million dollars alone. In a tough economy this means a lot.
Having made it through post-season play to the Wold Series seventeen times the St. Louis Cardinals won the World Series title ten of those times, more than any other team in the National League (tho’ a distant second to the American League’s New York Yankees and their staggering record of 27 World Series wins).
Thus it is that when Fall arrives and St. Louisans find themselves in a race for the National League Pennant along with the Cardinals, with prospects for World Series play, there’s magic in the air – scarlet in the trees, the fountain flowing red in Kiener Plaza and Red Birds running the bases. GO CARDS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
Photo Credits: Rogers Hornsby – 1921 Baseball Card, Stan Musial – Baseball Digest 1948, Bob Gibson – Baseball Digest 1962 and Dizzy Dean – Time Magazine 1935 – all in the public domain at wikipedia.org; Cardinals Fans at Busch Stadium 2009 – Thomas Kavanaugh; all other photos – Maureen Kavanaugh, author of this blog.
Post Script: St. Louis 12, Milwaukee 3 in Game 2! Way to go, Cardinals! Safe home.