The years 1947 through 1963 were dark, frustrating times for fans of the St. Louis Cardinals. This was before playoff baseball, when the only way to play in the World Series was to finish first in the National or the American League. After the Cardinals won the 1946 World Series, the team finished second five times, but no better, for 17 seasons.
I didn’t give a hoot. As a teenager in the early 1950s, my team, inexplicably, was the woebegone St. Louis Browns. When the Browns were spirited away to Baltimore in 1954 and became the Orioles, it was impossible to switch allegiance to the Cardinals, who were still the Bad Guys. All around me were Cardinals diehards, suffering through the team’s many failures.
By 1964, Stan Musial, the sui generis of the franchise, had retired, but general manager Bing Devine assembled a formidable team, a vibrant mix of seasoned and burgeoning players. The cherry on top was Bob Gibson, a 28-year-old pitcher destined for the Hall of Fame.
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By August, however, it was the Same Old Cardinals. Gibson was no longer unstoppable; Johnny Keane, the manager, was on the outs with his star shortstop, Dick Groat; and Gussie Busch, the beer tycoon whose Anheuser-Busch had bought the team in 1953, was shopping for mass changes. On Aug. 12, Devine got a call from one of Busch’s advisers, reminding him that he had a meeting with the boss the next day.
“You know what’s going to happen?” the caller said.
“No, what?” Devine said.
“You’re going to get fired,” the caller said.
With Devine on the sidelines, and with Keane constantly looking over his shoulder as Busch considered Leo Durocher and others as his replacement, the Cardinals started winning. And the teams ahead of them — the Philadelphia Phillies, the Cincinnati Reds and the San Francisco Giants — collapsed.
On the final day of the season, with Harry Caray broadcasting from a corner of Busch’s field-level box seats, came the confirmation: “The Cardinals win the pennant! The Cardinals win the pennant! The players are coming off the field and headed our way. The crowd is all over the place! I don’t know if they’ll ever get here.”
Besides ending the 17-year drought, the Cardinals defeated the vaunted New York Yankees, four games to three, in the World Series.
All of these memories come rushing back in “’64 Cardinals: A Team, a Season, and a Showdown for the Ages,” a book written by Robert L. Tiemann and Ron Jacober. (Full disclosure: Jacober and I were college classmates, an eon ago.)
The crisp narrative by the authors shares top billing with hundreds of photos from that roller-coaster summer. David Halberstam might have said it better, with his analytic “October 1964” in 1994, but for sheer intimacy, “’64 Cardinals” touches all the bases.
I identify with every word. As a young reporter for the Metro-East Journal in East St. Louis, I covered that World Series. I still have a tattered photo of me interviewing pitcher Mel Stottlemyre of the Yankees after his victory in the second game.
It was Gibson, however, who was the hero in the deciding game. Overworked, the Cardinal ace went into the last inning with a four-run lead and won by two. He was voted most valuable player, but, as the authors point out, honors could just as easily have gone to catcher Tim McCarver, who batted .478 with a crucial home run in the pivotal fifth game.
The book is at its best in the final pages, when it goes inside the turmoil that followed the Series. At a team party at Stan Musial’s restaurant the night of the seventh game, first baseman Bill White bluntly reminded Bob Howsam, Devine’s successor, that “we won this title for Bing Devine.” The next day the Yankees fired their manager, Yogi Berra, and Keane, reminding Busch how insecure he had been all season, took the job in New York. “The sudden October success could not erase the rancor of the summer,” the authors write.
There are a few quibbles: A large team photo of the Cardinals lacks player IDs; and in an illuminating appendix, there’s an inscrutable two-page graph that fails to delineate the daily progression of the pennant race. But “’64 Cardinals” saves the day on the next page, with reproductions of the trading cards of 20 of the players. Included is Bob Uecker, second string behind McCarver and team jester. Uecker rode the bench in the Series and was docked $250 for denting a tuba — yes, a tuba — when he tried to catch fly balls during practice. On the card, the mischievous Uecker is shown as a lefthanded batter. Like hell he was.
Bill Christine, who wrote “Roberto!,” a biography of Baseball Hall of Famer Roberto Clemente, shared in a Pulitzer Prize when he was at the Los Angeles Times and is now working with Upton Bell on “Jocks, Journalists, Jesters and Frauds,” a collection of sports humor.
30 new books to pack in your beach bag this summer
📖 FICTION 📖
"This Time Tomorrow" by Emma Straub
"This Time Tomorrow" by Emma Straub • A woman turning 40 wakes up to the day of her 16th birthday. Will it give her a different perspective on how her life turned out? This Back to the Future episode may even offer her the chance to change her father's life. An expected bestseller (along with Jennifer Weiner's just-published "The Summer Place"). (Riverhead; May 17)
"Two Nights in Lisbon" by Chris Pavone
"Two Nights in Lisbon" by Chris Pavone • Fast-moving thriller about a woman who wakes in a hotel to find that her younger husband has disappeared. The author will be at the Jewish Community Center on June 7 in collaboration with the county library. (MacMillan; May 24)
"The Latecomer" by Jean Hanff Korelitz
"The Latecomer" by Jean Hanff Korelitz • The author of "The Plot" turns to a family drama involving triplets ready to go their own ways. Their mother, fearing a lonely empty nest, decides to have another child, "the latecomer," who further disrupts the family dynamics. (Celadon; May 31)
"Deep Water" by Emma Bamford
"Deep Water" by Emma Bamford • Psychological thriller begins with a married couple buying a yacht to explore exotic lands. Unfortunately paradise turns fearsome in this lauded debut. (Scout; May 31)
"Sparring Partners" by John Grisham
"Sparring Partners" by John Grisham • Grisham offers 3-for-1 in his first collection of novellas, legal stories that include the mystery of a Mississippi lawyer who disappeared, a man on death row, and two contentious brothers in St. Louis and their disbarred father, who is still trying to run their law firm from jail. (Doubleday; May 31)
"Tracy Flick Can’t Win" by Tom Perrotta
"Tracy Flick Can’t Win" by Tom Perrotta • The young heroine of Perrotta's "Election" (Reese Witherspoon in the movie) returns for a humorous high school sequel, although now she's an assistant principal who hopes for a promotion — despite her complicated life. (Scribner; June 7)
"After the Lights Go Out" by John Vercher
"After the Lights Go Out" by John Vercher • A mixed-martial arts fighter realizes he's suffering from CTE, pugilistic dementia, even as he awaits an important comeback fight. He also contends with an ailing white father, beginning to realize why his Black mother left. (Soho; June 7)
"Horse" by Geraldine Brooks
"Horse" by Geraldine Brooks • A novel of a great 1850s racehorse, his Black groom and a painting spans more than a century, inspired by the true story of stallion Lexington. By the Pulitzer Prize-winning author of "March." (Viking; June 14)
"Last Summer on State Street" by Toya Wolfe
"Last Summer on State Street" by Toya Wolfe • Set in 1999 Chicago, four girls live in a housing project slated for demolition in a coming-of-age novel about friendship and family. (Morrow; June 14)
"The House Across the Lake" by Riley Sager
"The House Across the Lake" by Riley Sager • The plot sounds like "Rear Window" set on a Vermont lake, with a woman who watches her neighbors through binoculars and becomes suspicious when one disappears. (Sager is at the Ethical Society June 22.) (Dutton; June 21)
"Lapvona" by Ottessa Moshfegh
"Lapvona" by Ottessa Moshfegh • Medieval historical fiction involves a blind midwife with spiritual insights and a vindictive governor during a year of famine. By the author of "My Year of Rest and Relaxation." (Penguin Press; June 21)
"Fellowship Point" by Alice Elliott Dark
"Fellowship Point" by Alice Elliott Dark • Longtime, aging friends may be at cross-purposes regarding a beloved piece of Maine one wants to donate to a trust. Family stories, secrets and friendships in sophisticated story compared by publisher to "a classic 19th-century novel." (Scribner; July 5)
"The It Girl" by Ruth Ware
"The It Girl" by Ruth Ware • The popular British author's new mystery concerns a group of Oxford friends, including a vivacious "It Girl" who is murdered. Ten years later, one of the group realizes that the man convicted of the murder likely wasn't guilty after all. (Gallery/Scout; July 12)
"The Last White Man" by Mohsin Hamid
"The Last White Man" by Mohsin Hamid • The author of "Reluctant Fundamentalist" imagines Kafka-like tale about a white man who wakes up, not to find he has metamorphosed into an insect, but into a brown man. (Gallery/Scout; July 12)
"Bronze Drum" by Phong Nguyen
"Bronze Drum" by Phong Nguyen • An epic about ancient Vietnam, based on oral history, tells the story of two sisters who raised an army of women to overthrow the Han Chinese. By a creative writing professor at the University of Missouri-Columbia. (Grand Central; Aug. 9)
📖 NONFICTION 📖
"Our Unfinished March" by Eric Holder with Sam Koppelman
"Our Unfinished March" by Eric Holder with Sam Koppelman • The former attorney general under President Barack Obama will discuss his history of voting and current threats on May 26 at the St. Louis County Library. (Tickets are required; see slcl.org). (One World; May 10)
"River of the Gods" by Candice Millard
"River of the Gods" by Candice Millard • The Kansas City historian and author of "Hero of the Empire" has a new adventurous history of the Nile River. Famous British explorers claimed to locate its headwaters, but they failed to include the essential help of an African guide, whom Millard now brings to light. (Doubleday; May 17)
"What the Ermine Saw" by Eden Collinsworth
"What the Ermine Saw" by Eden Collinsworth • A masterpiece by painter Leonardo da Vinci survives World Wars, the Nazis and a duke's wife, jealous of his teenage mistress in the portrait. (Doubleday; May 24).
"His Name Is George Floyd" by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa
"His Name Is George Floyd" by Robert Samuels and Toluse Olorunnipa • A biography of the man whose murder by police two years ago sparked civil protests around the globe. Floyd, a native of Houston, experienced racism his entire life, the authors find. (Viking; May 17)
"Little Brother: Love, Tragedy, and My Search for the Truth" by Ben Westhoff
"Little Brother: Love, Tragedy, and My Search for the Truth" by Ben Westhoff • Westhoff, the white son of physicians, became a mentor to a underprivileged Black boy in St. Louis. He later investigates his mentee's fatal shooting, determined to find the killer and learning more about the forces of violence and poverty. (Westhoff talks about his book at the Ethical Society May 25.) (Hachette; May 24)
"Brace for Impact" by Gabe Montesanti
"Brace for Impact" by Gabe Montesanti • A queer woman writes about her difficult upbringing and how she found confidence playing roller derby for Arch Rival. (The author will be at .ZACK May 26.) (Dial; May 24)
"African Founders" by David Hackett Fischer
"African Founders: How Enslaved People Expanded American Freedom" by David Hackett Fischer • The Pulitzer Prize-winning author argues that "historians should not focus solely on the tragic moral paradox of racism and slavery without also considering the positive, enduring impacts that enslaved and free Africans have had on the United States’ founding ideals," says Library Journal in a starred review. (Simon & Schuster; May 31)
"Travelers, Tracks and Tycoons" by Nicholas Fry and John Hoover
"Travelers, Tracks and Tycoons: The Railroad in American Legend and Life" by Nicholas Fry and John Hoover • In connection with an exhibit in New York at the Grolier Club, a catalog details many of the St. Louis Mercantile Library's historic holdings about railroads. (The Grolier Club; June 5)
"The Watermen" by Michael Loynd
"The Watermen" by Michael Loynd • New York native Charles Daniels became America's first star swimmer, winning Olympic Gold in St. Louis in 1904 and developing the "American crawl." (The author will be in conversation with Jackie Joyner-Kersee at the Jewish Community Center on June 15.) (Ballantine; June 7)
"The Twilight World" by Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hofmann
"The Twilight World" by Werner Herzog, translated by Michael Hofmann • The film director's first book in years recounts his acquaintance with a former soldier who protected a Philippine island from the Allies for decades after World War II, not realizing the war was over. (Penguin; June 14)
"Under the Skin" by Linda Villarosa
"Under the Skin: "The Hidden Toll of Racism on American Lives and on the Health of Our Nation" by Linda Villarosa • Individual accounts of racial health disparities come together in a book that explains how Black Americans “live sicker and die quicker.” (Doubleday; June 14)
"The Colony" by Sally Denton
"The Colony" by Sally Denton • An investigation into the 2019 murder in Mexico of three Mormon fundamentalist wives and their children, this true crime story delves deeply into a polygamist outpost and how it intersected not only with a sex cult, but also drug cartels and farmers fighting over water rights. (Liveright; June 26)
"Invisible Storm" by Jason Kander
"Invisible Storm" by Jason Kander • The former Missouri state representative and secretary of state writes in detail about suffering from and getting help for PTSD, a result of his Army service in Afghanistan. (Mariner; July 5)
"Proving Ground" by Kathy Kleiman
"Proving Ground: The Untold Story of the Six Women Who Programmed the World’s First Modern Computer" by Kathy Kleiman • More "hidden figures" are illuminated in this story of forgotten women who figured out how to program the ENIAC, the first all-electric, all digital computer. (Grand Central; July 26)
"The Big Lie" by Jonathan Lemire
"The Big Lie: Election Chaos, Political Opportunism, and the State of American Politics After 2020" by Jonathan Lemire • Politico correspondent writes about the Donald Trump presidency and the escalation of lies in politics. (Flatiron; July 26)