(BaseballStL) — Some call it chemistry, that indefinable element that makes a team greater than the sum of its parts. It is an intangible that cannot be viewed or quantified or even verified, but is used to explain how a team overcame malignant adversity and often, a superior foe.
Frequently players on a team that possesses it doesn’t recognize it until later, when perspective brings clarity. Chemistry is a kinship, a brotherhood that erases the individual, compressing each player’s talent and personality into a single being – 25 men moving and thinking as one.
What can so unite a team? Cardinal legend Tim McCarver knows because he lived it with the 1964 St. Louis Cardinal World Series champions. That once in a lifetime set of circumstances is not borne of a desire for money or fame, McCarver says. It is simple. “It is winning that makes you close.”
McCarver was one of 15 or so former Cardinal greats who gathered this week as the Redbirds honored the 1964 Cardinal team that upset the New York Yankees four games to three to win that World Series.
The Yankees had appeared in 14 of the previous 16 fall classics and had won nine of them. 1964 marked their fifth straight appearance in the Series and featured a lineup that included Mickey Mantle, Roger Maris, Whitey Ford, Elston Howard and Ralph Terry.
The Cardinals had not appeared in the series for 18 years. Their average age was 28.
Are teams today as close as those Cardinals were? “I think they are,” the ballplayer turned broadcaster said Tuesday. “Baseball is a license to be a little boy. You have to age but you don’t have to grow up.”
Current Cardinal pitcher Joe Kelly said the 2014 Cardinals are that kind of close-knit group. “We get along really well together,” Kelly said before Tuesday night’s Yankee game as he relaxed in the clubhouse with teammates Michael Wacha, Jaime Garcia and Shelby Miller. “This is a really good clubhouse.”
Kelly, like those three teammates, is very young, a trait the 1964 Cardinals shared.
“One of the reasons we all came back Monday is that we were so young back then,” said McCarver, who at age 22 in 1964, stunned the Yankees with his World Series performance.
It was that youth, McCarver said, that made the World Series victory so special in retrospect. “We were only together for a few minutes before it was like we were kids again,” said Hall of Famer Lou Brock.
Mike Shannon, a 24-year-old outfielder on that Cardinal team, said he remembered the New York newspapers did a position-by-position comparison before the Series of the starting Cardinals and Yanks. “They thought Mickey Mantle was better than me, a 24-year-old rookie nobody every heard of,” the current Cardinal radio announcer laughed.
Mantle hit 35 homers and drove in 111 runs that year; Shannon hit .261 with 9 homers and 44 RBIs. But Shannon’s home run in game one helped the Cardinals win 9-5.
In the end, players, not statistics, determine who wins a World Series. “Anyone can get hot for a week,” McCarver said. “Any team is capable of beating any other team because of that.” McCarver would know because it was him who got hot for that proverbial week, hitting .478 and smacking a clutch 3-run homer in the 10th inning of game 5 that stunned the Yankees and helped propel the Cards to victory.
Kelly said the current Cardinals respect and admire the tradition established by teams like the 1964 World Champions.
“It was really great to see those guys come back. They’ve always supported the town and the (organization) and they still love baseball. That’s what I’d love to do if we won the World Series; come back here in 50 years and be honored like that. It was great.”