I forgot Pepper Martin led the pre-Gas House Gang St. Louis Cardinals to victory over Connie Mack’s Philadelphia Athletics in 1931, setting a World Series record with seven stolen bases. Pepper’s swiped sacks success was equaled by Cards left fielder Lou Brock in the 1967 Fall Classic against the Boston Red Sox, a feat the Hall of Famer repeated in 1968. The Impossible Dream Summer of ’67 belonged to Yaz, but the Fall belonged to the St. Louis Cardinals.
The ’67 Cardinals sported four future Hall of Famers, five if you include Tim McCarver, who was inducted into the Broadcaster’s Wing in Cooperstown: Brock, Orlando Cepeda, and All-Time Greats Steve Carlton and Bob Gibson. Roger Maris played right field for them. Their teammates – including future Boston Manager Jimy Williams, whose work helming the Red Sox never made any one think of his mentor, Hall of Fame manager Bobby Cox, let alone Jimy’s Cards manager, Red Schoendienst.
Mike Torrez also was on that team, too, the very same Mike Torrez, who as a Yankee, won two games in their 1977 World Series triumph. The Mike Torrez who, a year later, as Red Sox starting pitcher, lost the American League East Division tie-breaker, Game 163 at Fenway Park, to his former teammates. The pitcher who made Bucky Dent famous, or infamous, if you’re a Sox fan.
Neither Williams nor Torrez made the 1967 World Series roster.
Red Schoendienst … make that SIX Hall of Famers on the ’67 Cards, Red was voted in as a player by the Veterans Committee in 1983, the same year Carl Yastrzemski was enshrined. (I just looked it up, as well as how to spell Yaz’s name, which I should know after 52 years!) Orlando Cepeda, who while in a Red Sox uniform won the first William Loeb Designated Hitter Award in 1973, didn’t garner enough votes to make into the Hall that year. Sixteen years later, the Veterans Committee put him in Cooperstown, where his example was used to justify Red Sox great Jim Rice’s own well-deserved place in the Hall.
The Cardinals went on to trade Carlton to the Phillies, a mistake akin to the Mets trading Lefty’s doppelgänger Nolan Ryan to the Angels. In his career, Lefty established the 300 Wins/4,000 Ks Club, of which there are only four members: Lefty, Ryan, Roger Clemens, and Randy Johnson.
Right-hander Bob Gibson established some records of his own, starting in the 1964 World Series, which the M&M Boys’ Yankees lost in seven under manager Yogi Berra. Continuing on through the seven-game ’67 World Series and into the 1968 Series, where his Cards were defeated after going the limit, Gibby racked up the most consecutive World Series wins (seven) and most strikeouts in a World Series game (17).
Did I tell you the father of frequent Mr. Baseball Show guest Peter Stilla came up with the “Impossible Dream” moniker for the 1967 Red Sox’s improbable pennant run? A Boston Globe sports editor, in early August, Peter Stilla Sr. tagged an article with the headline “Sox Live the Impossible Dream.” The night before, he and his wife had been to the theater and heard the highlight of the musical Man of La Mancha, the show-stopping song, “Impossible Dream.”
Baseball is unique in sports, due to the centrality of its past to its present. At its best, the link of past to present creates harmony, in which the present deeds of its players can be understood as part of a continuum, where the present owes a debt to the past, as well as to the future. The game of baseball illuminates the interrelatedness of everyone in the Human Comedy, or Tragedy, as pre-2004 Red Sox fans were want to think about this sporting life.
So many memories. At one time, it was probable that as many people remembered the day Joe DiMaggio’s 56-game hitting streak was stopped, or Bobby Thomson’s “Shot Heard ‘Round the World” was hit, as could remember the day FDR died. Many an American life has personal history, national and world history, and the game of baseball intertwined in memory.
Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist David Halberstam wrote about the combat troops in the jungles of Vietnam following Yaz’s incredible 1967 Triple Crown season, rooting him on during his Quest for the Impossible Dream. It became their dream, that year when Yaz seemingly single-handedly, won the American League pennant in the closest race to the wire, ever recorded in the annals of America’s Favorite Past Time. Yaz almost took his Red Sox all the way. Almost …
The game of baseball is the only sport where “Almost” counts. What other sport remembers, with such fondness, pennant winners that ultimately failed in the quest for a world title? Almost counts in baseball. Just like life.
John Weekes loved the New York Yankees, remembering them, clearly from the time he was an 8-year old American boy. As Mr. Baseball, John shared with me and his viewers his memories of the 1948 season, when it was the Red Sox, not the Yankees, who almost made it.
The failure of the Red Sox to match up with the National League champion Boston Braves in the 1948 World Series, as every true fan knows, was due to manager Joe McCarthy. Late of The Bronx and recently transplanted to the fertile soil of The Fens of Boston, McCarthy named Denny Galehouse as the starting pitcher for the American League tie-breaker with the Indians.
The manager of nine pennant winners in two leagues, Marse Joe chose a washed-up reliever to start the all-or-nothing, make-or-break game, rather than go with his ace lefty, 15-game winner Mel Parnell. (The following year, Parnell’s 25 wins would eclipse the record for most W’s by a left-handed Red Sox pitcher, established by George Herman Ruth).
The Red Sox lost the 1948 pennant.
Mr. Baseball could not forgive Casey Stengel for LOSING the 1960 World Series by not starting his ace lefty, future Hall of Famer Whitey Ford, in Game One of the Fall Classic. (Ironically, Whitey also would go on to win 25 games the following season.) Senior Circuit pennant-winner Pittsburgh fell victim to the two shutouts Whitey pitched in that very odd Series, which went the limit. Casey Stengel’s Yanks outhit and outscored the Pirates by wide margins, but wound up losers.
Game Seven of the 1960 World Series proved to be Casey’s last game managing in The Bronx, ending his string of 10 pennants and seven World’s Championships in 12 seasons. Mr. Baseball was fond of quoting the great left-handed pitcher Warren Spahn, who had been managed by Casey on the Boston Braves at the beginning of his Hall of Fame career, and then on the New York Mets, at the end of it.
“I’m probably the only guy who worked for Stengel before and after he was a genius.” – Spahn
This was THE Casey Stengel, arguably the greatest baseball manager ever, and surely, the most colorful and beloved. How could Mr. Baseball be upset with the legend who’d won so much for him and other Yankees fans?
“Even I could’ve won the World Series with those teams,” Mr. Baseball said, expressing his disgust for The Ol’ Perfessor. “They were loaded with talent.” He then told of how Stengel, as a New York Giants outfielder, hit the first World Series home run ever at Yankee Stadium, in 1923. And how as a Brooklyn Robin, as the Dodgers were then called in honor of their manager Wilbert Robinson, Casey had appeared in the 1916 World Series won by the Red Sox.
The game of baseball, like the game of life, is full of what-ifs and maybes. Why didn’t Casey start his best starter in Game One, instead of holding him back to Game Three? It was a timeless question, right up there with why didn’t MacArthur prepare the Philippines for the Japanese attack in the wake of Pearl Harbor, or why didn’t Nixon didn’t burn the White House tapes?
Losing the 1960 World Series was an unforgivable sin to Yankees Superfan John Weekes, I discovered. Stengel should have arranged his rotation so that Whitey was ready to pitch Game Seven and win the Series for the Bronx Bombers! John bled Yankees navy blue.
Maybe Mr. Baseball was right. Whitey Ford not only threw two shutouts in the 1960 series, but the following October, he threw another shutout for new Yankees manager (and future Red Sox skipper) Ralph Houk, who had Whitey start Game One of the 1961 World Series. Whitey then pitched seven scoreless innings in his second start to notch another W, as the New York Yankees returned to the Catbird Seat as World’s Champions.
The ’61 Casey-less team featured the home run derby put on by the M&M Boys, switch-hitting Mickey Mantle and 1960 MVP Roger “Asterisk” Maris. The M&M Boys chased RUTH’S RECORD, most homers in a season, a contest won by Roger with 61* in that expansion year, when the American League added two teams. The Mick, #7, the fan favorite, one of the game’s All-Time greats, poled 54 circuit clouts, 12 hitting left-handed, the rest swinging as a righty.
There was no asterisk for Whitey Ford that year, when he broke the World Series record for consecutive scoreless innings pitched. When queried about his feat by the press, Whitey said, “I guess it was a bad year for The Babe.”
Yes, that Babe: Babe Ruth. Winner of an ERA title and twice a 20-game winner for The Hub’s American League franchise!, The lefty pitching star who had hurled 29 2/3 consecutive scoreless innings, starting with his sole winning start in the 1916 World Series (where he did not face Casey Stengel), and into the 1918 World War One World Series, where he won two. In Boston, The Babe was on his way to being a Hall of Fame pitcher, but the Baseball Gods had other plans for him.
I found Mr. Baseball’s loathing of Casey Stengel bewildering. As a Red Sox fan, I suffered through Don Zimmer and Johnny Mac and Grady Little and many other bum managers over too many summers of Baseball Hell before Terry Francona arrived, and with him, absolution from the greatest curse in all sports history. (I was too young to experience Pinky Higgins of Connie Mack’s World’s Champion Athletics during his second stint as helmsman of the Boston Nine.)
What was losing one World Series, when there’d been so many victories to relish?
Mr. Baseball’s anger became comical over the run of his show. After all, John had experienced the thrill of 24 American League pennants and 17 World Series victories since he was a tyke, to my seven & four, with all of my World Series victories beginning when I was older than Yaz when he last hung up his cleats! Since I created the graphics for his Mr. Baseball TV show, I often put a winking Casey in the intros and backgrounds. John took it with his typical good grace.
John loved having his own Mr. Baseball show. It was great fun to visit with John at Billy’s Sports Bar, where they’d have him up on one or more screens. While John and I were talking baseball with Billy’s patrons, Mr. Baseball and I would be talking baseball, overhead on TV.
One afternoon, I visited John at the North End Bistro, where he tended bar. While he served a customer, I glanced up at the TV, and there he was: Mr. Baseball, in all his glory, in living color, as the NBC network announcer used to claim from inside the Boob Tube, when many viewers still saw the world, as televised to us, in black-and-white.
On my show, John indulged me by wearing an orange blazer to match my orange blazer, which was my homage to the god-awful brightly colored blazers worn by sportscasters in the 1960s and 1970s. It was a garish decade, and the three networks that dominated the airwaves just had to show you the joys of color TV by being – IN COLOR.
“The thrill of victory, and the agony of defeat – in Living Color!”
My TV show deals with politics a lot. In all of the times I spent with John, I never learned about his “politics,” other than his abiding commitment to humanity, and to what was once called “The American Way of Life” – Fairness. John Weekes abhorred racism, and was a harsh critic of the segregation that marred America’s Favorite Pastime, before and after the color bar. That was fitting for a man known as “Mr. Baseball.”
When I remember John Weekes, I think of how he was always there for me. When my politics got me into a big rhubarb, when people started avoiding coming on my show, John always showed up. He wasn’t afraid. John Weekes was to me what Joe DiMaggio was to his beloved New York Yankees in 1949, the first Yankees Championship he remembered. Joltin’ Joe was there when the Yankees needed him. For me, John Weekes was a true teammate.
“Where have you gone, Joe DiMaggio?”
I miss Mr. Baseball mightily. We won’t see his likes again, except on the Mr. Baseball Show archive at ipmnation.com.
When I heard that John had been taken on waivers, I called my friend Peter Stilla. Like all of us who had known him, Peter was shocked by the loss.
“Well,” Peter said. “Now Mr. Baseball’s in heaven, arguing with Casey Stengel over the 1960 World Series.”
Marse Joe McCarthy once told sportswriters, he had a dream that he’d died, and the Devil wanted him to manage a baseball team against the Devil’s own. The Devil, to Marse Joe’s wonderment, told him he could pick anyone he wanted. Any of the great players in the After Life. Babe Ruth. Lou Gehrig. Anybody.
McCarthy soon got a phone call from Old Scratch. Picking up the horn, Marse Joe told the Devil he didn’t have a chance, all the best players were on McCarthy’s team. The Devil replied, “I’ve got the umpires.”
There’s lots of talk about people you meet in heaven. If I do manage to get a ticket to Heaven instead of the Hot Place, I wouldn’t be surprised if one of the first people I meet is John Weekes, Mr. Baseball. Most likely, he will be arguing with Casey, with Whitey, in tow. (Forgive me the pun on tow-head Edward Charles Ford, whose blonde hair was the root of his nickname “Whitey,” but Mr. Baseball had a great sense of humor, and loved jokes.)
That would be heaven. Sitting around with John Weekes, talking about baseball, with an eternity to pour over stats and finally determine, once and for all, just who was the greatest hitter of all time. The Splendid Splinter, Ted Williams might have a thing or two to tell us.
Oh, by the way, Gavvy Cravath, the 5-foot-10-inch, 186-pound product from San Diego who won six home-run titles, was the first major league player to hail from The Kid’s hometown. You can look it up.
A celebration of John’s life is scheduled for Sunday April 14, 4-8 p.m. at at Billy’s Sports Bar & Grill, 34 Tarrytown Rd, Manchester. All are welcome.