Cards - Tigers World Series: Then and Now

Baseball historian John Shiffert looks back at the 1934 and 1968 World Series to help put the Cardinals-Tigers 2006 match into perspective.

News Item: October 10, 1968 – The Detroit Tigers defeat the St. Louis Cardinals, 4-1, thus winning the 1968 World Series in seven games.

What's that? Concluding a seven-game World Series by October 10? Impossible, right? The implications are staggering. They must have played the entire series in decent weather, warm enough that the batters' hands didn't spend a week buzzing like the inhabitants of your local beehive.

Warm and dry enough that, unlike Placidio Polanco, no one had to wear a hooded shirt underneath his uniform (and that was in the ALCS). Warm and dry enough that no one had to use dirt and/or pine tar to keep his hands warm, or maybe to grip the ball. Warm and dry enough that everyone in the park wasn't a stiff. What a concept. And, of course, one that is impossible to imagine in 2006.

Combine a 162 game season with a three-tiered postseason with the desire to squeeze ever last buck out of television and the regular season paying customers, and you have iced baseball. (Actually, baseball played on ice was a popular winter sport in the 19th Century.) Or at least baseball played under conditions fit for neither man nor beast nor Kenny Rogers' right hand.

And while it's a travesty for baseball, to say nothing of the nation's premier sporting event, to be played under such conditions as existed in St. Louis and Detroit in October 2006, it's hard to see what can be done to resolve the problem, or even if major league baseball sees it as a problem. Recall that they were still playing the 2001 World Series on November 4 of that year.

Sure, the regular season for what Roger Angell has so astutely called "The Summer Game," could be cut back to the traditional 154 games. (That's because it can't be started any earlier… we've already had regular season baseball in March.) Or they could cut back the preliminaries to the best-out-of-three and best-out-of-five. Or, better yet, cut out one round of the postseason entirely. Maybe MLB could keep the 162 game season and still shorten the time frame by re-instituting another famous tradition… the Sunday doubleheader.

Not going to happen, folks. Any one of these suggestions could restore the luster, and increase the odds of better weather, to say nothing of better play, for the World Series. But, none of them are going to happen. In a word… money. Cutting back the number of games, either in the regular season or the postseason, or instituting more doubleheaders (and thus cutting back on the total number of playing dates) would both do the same thing… cut down on the teams' (and probably the players') revenue. Can't have that, now can we?

There's something else we can't have. The thought of moving the World Series to exclusively warm weather sites, irrespective of the teams involved, is an abomination. A footballism that should be an anathema to all who care about baseball, to say nothing of the fans of the teams involved. While baseball has, in some ways (notably interleague play, the wild card and the extended layers of past season play) already sold out to the football mentality in a disgusting fashion, hopefully, the debasement of the World Series will never come to a World Series Bowl in front of snoozing fans in Honolulu or Miami or San Diego.

So, now is the winter of our discontent, not to be made glorious summer by any son of (New) York (or Milwaukee, or anywhere else). If we are doomed to watching baseball played under conditions that even football fans might find annoying, let us then turn to the past, to a time when the World Series was played under near-normal conditions, and produced some true classics of baseball.

Of particular note are the past struggles of the 2006 protagonists, the Tigers and the Cardinals. For the 2006 Series was the third time these two storied franchises have met in the Series. That may not seem like a big deal, but, if you look at the entire history of postseason play in Major League Baseball, you will find just one instance of two teams without a New York connection meeting more often in the Series.

Given that there have been five MLB teams based in New York since postseason play began in 1884, and given the hegemony at various times of the Yankees, Dodgers and Giants (the other two were/are the original and present-day Mets), it's not surprising that the heading of "Most World Series Match-ups" has a heavy Big Apple flavor.

Yankees v. Dodgers – 11 times (41, 47, 49, 52, 53, 55, 56, 63, 77, 78, 81)
Yankees v. Giants – 6 times (21, 22, 23, 36, 37, 51, 62)
Cardinals v. Yankees – 5 times (26, 28, 42, 43, 64)
Athletics v. Giants – 4 times (05, 11, 13, 89)
Cubs v. Tigers – 4 times (07, 08, 35, 45)
Cardinals v. Red Sox – 3 times (46, 67, 04)
Tigers v. Cardinals – 3 times (34, 68, 06)

While the Yankees, Giants, Dodgers and Cardinals dominate this list, it's interesting to note some of the 19th Century World Series match-ups, which nowadays look a little strange…

1884 – Mets v. Providence Grays
1885 – Cardinals (aka Brown Stockings) v. Cubs (aka White Stockings)
1886 – Cardinals v. Cubs
1888 – Cardinals v. Giants
1889 – Giants v. Dodgers

In case you missed it, the Cardinals and Dodgers franchises both had their starts as 19th Century American Association (aka The Beer and Whiskey League) teams. Hence these now-impossible, though intriguing (given the 20th and 21st Century enmity between the participants in the '85, '86 and '89 Series) World Series matches.

It's also worth noting in passing that the 1887 World Series was between the pre-historic Cardinals (Chris von der Ahe's Browns) and the Detroit Wolverines (a National League team that would go out of business after the 1888 season). It was a sloppy affair, running to 15 games although St. Louis had wrapped it up long before the last game was played.

Still, the 1934 and 1968 World Series, unlike the present sloppy event, were classics. The former was the Gas House Gang World Series… they only one that fabled – though maybe over-rated – aggregation played in. The brothers Dean, the Fordham Flash, Joe Medwick, Pepper Martin (aka, The Wild Hoss of the Osage)… and that was just on the Cardinals. The Tigers had Hank Greenberg, Mickey Cochrane, Charlie Gehringer and Goose Goslin… four legitimate Hall of Famers.

The Series was a wild, back-and-forth affair, going seven games, with the basic story line being one of the game's oldest – good pitching stops good hitting. Despite the Bengals' ferocious line-up (their Legion of Doom infield also included Marv Owen and Billy Rogell), the Cards won it, as each of the Deans won two games, the last being Dizzy's memorable 11-0 whitewash. That game alone saw St. Louis score seven runs in the third on four Detroit pitchers, and Medwick get himself removed from the game, for his own good, by Kenesaw Mountain Landis, after he tried to remove Owen's leg without benefit of ether on a slide into third.

This was also the Series where Frisch, for some unknown reason, decided to use his ace, one Jerome H. Dean, to pinch run in game four. Ole' Diz went into second standing up in an attempt to break up a double play, and Rogell nailed him right in the forehead with the throw. Baseball legend has it that the headlines the next day read, "X-Rays of Dean's Head Show Nothing." That little mishap notwithstanding, the Deans showed they could pitch when healthy.

        G  ERA  W-L CG    IP    H   ER  BB  SO

Dizzy Dean   3  1.73  2-1  2   26.0   20   5    5   17

Paul Dean    2  1.00  2-0  2   18.0   15   2    7   11

St. Louis 8, Detroit 3
Detroit 3, St. Louis 2
St. Louis 4, Detroit 1
Detroit 10, St. Louis 4
Detroit 3, St. Louis 1
St. Louis 4, Detroit 3
St. Louis 11, Detroit 0

With Dizzy winning games one and seven (he lost game five despite giving up just three runs) and Paul wining games three and six, the Tigers scored exactly seven runs in their losses. And this from a team whose starting infield alone had driven in 462 runs in the regular season. (Goslin had another 100 RBIs, too.) Legion of Doom, indeed. On the other hand, as Diz is reputed to have said, "it ain't bragging if you can do it."

If the 1934 Series was defined by the Deans' pitching, then the entire 1968 season was defined by pitchers everywhere, not the least of whom was the Cardinals' Bob Gibson. Gibby and his mates on the mound were so good in '68 that the poo-bahs of baseball were afraid that a new Deadball Era was upon them, and promptly lowered the mound and enlarged the strike zone. And, after looking at Gibson's and Tiger ace Denny McLain's stats in '68, can you blame them?

Bob Gibson

W-L    GS    CG     SH     IP      H     BB    SO    ERA

22-9   34     28      13   305    198   62    268   1.12

Possibly the most remarkable thing about Gibson's season, and something that is seldom remarked-upon, is that in the games where he didn't throw a shutout, he was 9-9 with an ERA of 1.82. In other words, given any kind of support, he should have gone about 30-3 or so.

Then there was the actual 30-game winner, the first to do it since Dizzy Dean in, that's right, 1934 (he was 30-7, although one of his wins was courtesy of an error by the official scorer).

Denny McLain

W-L    GS    CG     SH     IP      H     BB    SO    ERA

31-6   41     23       6    336   241    63   280    1.96

In this case, the Series didn't go exactly as planned. Gibson and McLain did match up twice, in games one and four, but Gibson totally dominated both games, setting a Series strikeout record with 17 in the first, and then K'ing another 10 in the fourth. Only the Tigers' number two starter, Mickey Lolich, kept Detroit in it, winning games two and five.

St. Louis 4, Detroit 0
Detroit 8, St. Louis 1
St. Louis 7, Detroit 3
St. Louis 10, Detroit 1
Detroit 5, St. Louis 3

Still down three games to two, Tiger manager Mayo Smith tried McLain against someone other than Gibson in game six, and got an easy 13-1 win, setting up game seven between Gibson and Lolich. At this point, only the fifth game had been close, and, in keeping with the rest of the season, the losing teams had scored just nine runs in the first six games.

Cardinal fans, of course, recall October 10, 1968 as a day that will live in infamy, as the Tigers broke up a scoreless pitchers' duel when Curt Flood misplayed a seventh inning fly ball by Jim Northrup into a triple, ultimately keying Detroit's 4-1 win over Gibson. Thus, as die-hard Cardinals fan Jim Hardy can still tell you with a fair amount of venom, Mickey Lolich, with three wins, was an unlikely World Series MVP winner over the two Pitchers of the Year in the Year of the Pitcher.

Those were the two previous classic match-ups in the Fall Classic between the Tigers and the Cardinals. Between the cold and the rain, one of these two teams probably won the tie-breaker in 2006, weather permitting. Whoopee! No matter which team won, it wasn't a classic by any definition.

The Tigers made eight errors in five games… three by Brandon Inge (who is normally a pretty average third baseman in terms of fielding percentage… he looked awful in the Series) and a record five by their stiff-armed and frozen-fingered pitchers. Although eight of the 22 runs the Cards scored were unearned, they had no cause to crow, not after Chris Duncan played Smead Jolley with a fly ball in game five.

Face it, within a couple of years, no one outside of Detroit and St. Louis will really remember much about this Series, except for the weather. And that's a shame. The 2006 baseball season, like every other baseball season, deserves better.



A member of the Society for American Baseball Research, John Shiffert's background includes serving as a sportswriter, as sports information director for Earlham College and Drexel University, and as publisher of the Philadelphia Baseball File. He's been director of University Relations at Clayton State University since August 1995.

Shiffert's new book, "Base Ball in Philadelphia", is now available from www.mcfarlandpub.com. You can also order it through the Philadelphia Athletics Historical Society's website at www.philadelphiaathletics.org.


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