Compiled by sportswriter Jim Thomas and online sports editor Mike Smith. (Updated June 2019)
THE BEST SPORTING EVENTS IN ST. LOUIS HISTORY
Fed by Tiger-mania and enthusiastic overflow crowds, the PGA Championship at Bellerive in August 2018 was such a smashing success some wondered if it was among the best sporting events ever held in St. Louis. That got us thinking here at 900 North Tucker, home of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch and STLtoday.com.
After some research, it led to this list of the 20 greatest sporting events/moments in St. Louis history. (Plus one, thanks to a significant update from the spring 2019.)
Remember, the operative words here are "in St. Louis."
So, the Rams' Super Bowl victory over Tennessee doesn't count because it took place in Atlanta.
Ken Boyer's grand slam against the Yankees in Game 4 of the 1964 World Series doesn't count because it took place in New York.
Below are 20 that do count — compiled by sportswriter Jim Thomas and online sports editor Mike Smith, each of whom is in his 40th year as a full-time Post-Dispatch sports department employee. The events are presented in chronological order.
1904: MEET ME IN ST. LOUIS
St. Louis basically stole the 1904 Olympics from Chicago, holding it in conjunction with that year's World's Fair. The first Olympics held on American soil lasted nearly five months (July 1-Nov. 23). American gymnast George Eyser won six medals even though his left leg was made of wood. Frank Kugler won four medals in three sports (weightlifting, wrestling and tug-of-war). Lida Howell, one of six female participants, won two gold medals in archery. "Anthropology Days" featured Olympic-style events for members of the so-called "uncivilized tribes."
In the marathon, Frederick Lorz dropped out after 10 miles, rode several miles in a car, then hopped out and ran to the finish line. He was mistakenly recognized as the winner until he owned up to his "joke." The actual winner was Thomas Hicks, who was given strychnine, egg whites and brandy by handlers to help him get through the dusty, dirt course on a hot day.
1926: THE BABE AND THE KID
Its veracity is disputed by some historians of the game, but one of the greatest anecdotes in baseball history unfolded Oct. 6, 1926 at Sportsman's Park in Game 4 of the first World Series played in St. Louis. As the story goes, Babe Ruth promised ailing youngster Johnny Sylvester he would hit a "homer or two" against the Cardinals prior to the game. He hit three, which still shares the World Series record. Homer No. 3 sailed over the right-field pavilion, across Grand Boulevard and broke the front window of Wells Motor Co. As the story goes, Sylvester miraculously returned to health after the Babe's big day.
The Cardinals got the last hurrah, winning the first of their 11 World Series titles when Ruth — yes, Ruth — was caught stealing for the final out of a 3-2 Redbirds victory in the decisive Game 7 in Yankee Stadium. Thirteen participants in the '26 World Series would eventually be inducted into the Hall of Fame.
1944: STREETCAR SERIES
Fittingly, 1944 was the year MGM came out with its musical film "Meet Me in St. Louis." En route to their third consecutive National League pennant, the Cardinals became the first NL franchise to win 100 or more games in three straight seasons. As for the usually hapless Browns, they were the punch line to the description of St. Louis as "First in shoes, first in booze, and last in the American League." But with rosters depleted everywhere in baseball because of players serving in World War II, the Brownies won the '44 AL pennant, facing the Cardinals in a series played entirely at Sportsman's Park.
With a roster that included '44 MVP Marty Marion and future Hall of Famers Stan Musial and Enos Slaughter, the Cardinals prevailed in six games. The deciding game was a 3-1 victory on Oct. 9. For the Browns, it would be their only pennant in 52 seasons in the American League; they moved to Baltimore in 1953 and became the Orioles.
1946: SLAUGHTER'S MAD DASH
Enos "Country" Slaughter singled to lead off the eighth inning in Game 7 of the 1946 World Series against the heavily-favored Boston Red Sox on Oct. 15, 1946 at Sportsman's Park. Two outs later, he was still on first when Cardinals manager Eddie Dyer called for the hit-and-run with Harry Walker at the plate. Walker's line-drive hit to left-center was fielded by Leon Culberson, who threw to cut-off man Johnny Pesky at shortstop. Slaughter was just rounding third base when Pesky caught the ball and turned. But for some reason, Pesky hesitated. Slaughter kept running all the way home to break a 3-3 tie beating a weak, off-line throw by Pesky to catcher Roy Partee.
After one of the most memorable plays in World Series history, the Cardinals hung on in the ninth for a 4-3 victory. "It was a gutsy play," Slaughter said. "But, you know, two men out and the winning run. You can't let the grass grow under your feet."
1954: FIVE FOR STAN THE MAN
On May 2, 1954, baseball's "Perfect Knight" sent three baseballs over the wall at Busch Stadium in the first game of a doubleheader against the New York Giants. Stan Musial munched on a sandwich between games, washed it down with a glass of milk, then went out and hit two more in the nightcap. Never considered a prototype slugger, Musial became the first player in major-league history to club five homers in a doubleheader. Modest to a fault, Musial said aftewards: "I still can't believe it. You mean real sluggers like Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Ralph Kiner — men like them — never hit five homers in a doubleheader?" Nope.
Eighteen years later, San Diego's Nate Colbert duplicated the feat with five homers in a twin bill in Atlanta on Aug. 1, 1972. Here's the rest of the story: Colbert, a St. Louis native and Sumner High graduate, was in the stands as an eight-year-old that day in 1954 when Musial hit his five at Busch.
1958: BOWLING'S FAB FIVE
If Budweiser was the self-proclaimed "King of Beers," the five-man Budweiser team was the king of bowling in the 1950s. Floriss Lanes in north St. Louis was the place to be, and bowlers from all over the country would find their way there for the action. In 1958, the pro tour was still a year away; it was an era of team play rather than individual competition.
On March 12 of '58, the five-man Budweiser team of Don Carter, Ray Bluth, Pat Patterson, Tom Hennessey and Dick Weber posted a record three-game pin total of 3,858 in the weekly Masters League. Bluth and Hennessey both rolled 300 games and the team's 15-game average was 257. The record would stand for nearly 36 years. The Budweiser team was called the "1927 Yankees of bowling" and all five team members on that record-setting night were eventually inducted into the Bowling Hall of Fame. Between them they won 12 ABC tournament titles, 37 PBA titles and rolled 64 perfect games.
1958: BOB PETTIT DROPS 50 ON CELTICS
The man known as "Big Blue," Bob Pettit, scored 50 points against the mighty Boston Celtics on April 12, 1958 at Kiel Auditorium, giving the St. Louis Hawks a 110-109 victory to clinch their one and only NBA title, four games to two. The 50 points was a league record for a championship series game. Pettit's night also included 19 rebounds and one technical foul (for throwing the ball in the air after being called for traveling in the first quarter). Taking advantage of a hobbled Bill Russell (ankle injury), Pettit scored 19 of the Hawks' final 21 points. His follow shot with 16 seconds left proved to be the game winner.
"When the final buzzer sounded, the St. Louis players jumped into each other's arms, received kisses from women spectators and back-pounding from male rooters," wrote Harold Flachsbart of the Post-Dispatch.
It marked the only time the Celtics failed to win the NBA title over a 10-season span from 1957-1966.
1968: SCHOCK TREATMENT
St. Louis got the last of six expansion franchises awarded by the NHL as the league doubled in size from six to 12 teams for the 1967-68 season. The St. Louis Blues finished their inaugural regular season with a losing record (27-31-6). Then again, so did everyone else in the West Division, which was comprised of all six expansion teams. But the Blues made history in the playoffs, defeating the Philadelphia Flyers and then the Minnesota North Stars to reach the Stanley Cup finals. Both series went seven games with Ron Schock's "Midnight Goal" at 2:50 of the second overtime giving the Blues a 2-1 victory over Minnesota in Game 7 on May 3, 1968 at the Arena.
Earlier that season, Schock began wearing a helmet following the death of Bill Masterton after an on-ice collision. But Schock hadn't played particularly well with it on, and at the suggestion of GM Lynn Patrick he played without a helmet that night against the North Stars.
1968: GIBBY TAMES TIGERS
In what was since dubbed the Year of the Pitcher, no pitcher was better in 1968 than the Cardinals' fiercely competitive righthander, Bob Gibson. After finishing the regular season with 22 victories and a microscopic earned-run average of 1.12, Gibson faced a Detroit lineup loaded with menacing hitters in Game 1 of the World Series on Oct. 2 at Busch Stadium. Led by Al Kaline, Norm Cash and Willie Horton, the Tigers led the American League with 185 homers in posting a team-record 103 wins. But on this day, Gibson blew them away, out-dueling 31-game winner Denny McLain with a five-hit shutout.
After striking out the side in the ninth inning to close out a 4-0 victory Gibson had 17 Ks, breaking Sandy Koufax's Series record of 15. It was the sixth consecutive complete-game win for Gibson in World Series play, and it took him 144 pitches to get there. He got a congratulatory call from Vice President Hubert Humphrey after the game.
1973: WALTON NEARLY PERFECT IN NCAA CHAMPIONSHIP
The NCAA had a no-dunking rule at the time, otherwise it would have been 25-of-26 for Bill Walton and 52 points. But the big red-head had four baskets nullified for offensive goaltending and thus "settled" for 44 points on 21-of-22 shots. With the help of a couple of free throws Walton's 44 points was a championship game record in UCLA's 87-66 basketball victory over Memphis State on March 26, 1973 at The Arena.
Walton scored on tip-ins and turnarounds, ripped down 13 rebounds, and was intimidating on defense. Give an assist to Bruins teammate Greg Lee for Walton's magical night _ actually, give him 14 assists on one lob pass after another over the Tigers' defense to Walton under the basket. The victory was the 75th in a row for coach John Wooden's UCLA dynasty, giving the Bruins nine national titles 10 years. "I can see where people in the pros think (Walton's) worth $2 million," said Memphis coach Gene Bartow, who once coached at St. Charles High. "Isn't he something?"
1975: MEL GRAY'S PHANTOM CATCH
They were called the Cardiac Cards for a reason. In what was then a 14-game NFL schedule, eight of the football Cardinals' contests in 1975 were decided in the final minute of play. The Big Red went 7-1 in those games, with none more spine-tingling than a 20-17 overtime victory over rival Washington on Nov. 16 at Busch Stadium II. With 20 seconds left in regulation, quarterback Jim Hart threw a 6-yard pass to wide receiver Mel Gray for a touchdown. Or was it? With former Cardinal Pat Fischer defending for Washington, the ball was in and out of Gray's hands quickly. Two game officials signaled touchdown; one signaled incomplete pass.
Officials huddled for three minutes — an eternity in the days prior to instant replay — before finally ruling it a TD. Jim Bakken's extra point sent the game into OT tied 17-17 and the win launched the Big Red on a late-season run culminating in the Eastern Conference title and an 11-3 record.
1977: PELÉ PLAYS BUSCH
The greatest soccer player of all time had scored 1,268 goals over his illustrious career when the New York Cosmos faced the St. Louis Stars on June 23, 1977. But with tenacious marking from Bob O'Leary and Roger Verdi and acrobatic goaltending by John Jackson, the Stars kept the incomparable Pele' and the rest of the Cosmos off the scoreboard in a 2-0 victory. Among his three shots, Pele' sent a header over the net and fired wide on a free kick. His frustration showed with 5 minutes to play when he literally tackled the Stars' Al Trost from behind. "He should have had a caution for that but I guess because it was Pele' the referee decided to let it go," Trost said.
After the game, Pele' raced over to Jackson and shook his hand. Pele,' then 37, retired at the end of the '77 season with his Cosmos winning the NASL title. The crowd of 32,605 at Busch Stadium was the largest to see a professional soccer game in St. Louis.
1985: 'GO CRAZY, FOLKS!"
As chronicled by Post-Dispatch baseball writer Rick Hummel, switch-hitting Ozzie Smith had not hit a home run in his previous 3,009 major-league at-bats from the left side of the plate. But then it happened, on a 1-2 pitch from the Dodgers' Tom Niedenfuer on Oct. 14, 1985 at Busch Stadium. Smith's ninth-inning blast off a concrete pillar behind the right-field wall gave the Cardinals a 3-2 victory in Game 5 of the National League Championship Series. In eight major-league seasons to that point, the Wizard of Oz had only 13 home runs — all from the right side. "Naturally, I'm dumbstruck," Dodgers manager Tommy Lasorda said. "In all my years in baseball, you learn one thing — never expect the expected to happen."
Announcer Jack Buck's home run call framed the moment in baseball history: "Go crazy folks! Go crazy!" Two days later in Los Angeles, another dramatic homer — by Jack Clark — gave St. Louis the NL pennant.
1986: MONDAY NIGHT MIRACLE
The Blues finished 12th overall in the NHL during the regular season, but were No. 1 in the hearts of Blues fans after Game 6 of the conference finals against Calgary on May 12, 1986 at The Arena. Down three games to two in the series and trailing 5-2 with under 13 minutes to play, things looked bleak for the Bluenote. But St. Louis got a goal from Brian Sutter and two from Greg Paslawski to send the game into overtime tied 5-5. Paslawski's goal with 1:08 to play came after his steal at the side of the Calgary net and bad-angle shot caught Flames goalie Mike Vernon off-guard.
After 7½ minutes of overtime, Doug Wickenheiser scored to cap what remains one of the greatest comebacks — and most memorable games — in Blues history. It was Wickenheiser's first goal in 17 games that postseason. Calgary went on to take the series, with a Game 7 victory, but the Monday Night Miracle lives on in franchise lore.
1993: TRIPLE THE FUN AT BRAGGIN' RIGHTS GAME
Stormin' Norman Stewart didn't just leave the Missouri bench to protest a foul called against Tigers guard Julian Winfield, he made it nearly to midcourt. Maybe Stewart's histrionics unnerved Kiwane Garris. Because with the score tied 97-97 and no time left in double overtime, the Illinois guard — a 91 percent free-throw shooter entering the game — missed both foul shots. Mizzou went on to post a 108-107 victory in triple overtime on Dec. 22, 1993 in a classic Braggin' Rights farewell to The Arena. The series moved to what is now the Enterprise Center the following season.
The Tigers, who would go undefeated in Big Eight play that season and reach the NCAA Tournament Elite Eight, prevailed despite having five players foul out. Garris scored 31 points for the Illini but missed 10 of 22 free throws. "I didn't feel bad for (Garris), because he had on an Illinois jersey," said Mizzou guard Melvin Booker.
1998: 62 FOR BIG MAC
Mark McGwire's shortest home run of the season, a fourth-inning line drive that barely cleared the left field fence, brought down baseball's most hallowed record. McGwire's 62nd home run of the season, off the Cubs' Steve Trachsel, eclipsed Roger Maris' previous mark of 61 set 37 years earlier. The taint of baseball's "Steroid Era" wouldn't be felt for years, so there was nothing but delirium at Busch Stadium on Sept. 8, 1998 in the form of flashbubs, fireworks, streamers and cannon shots. As he circled the bases, McGwire embraced first-base coach Dave McKay, was congratulated in some fashion by every Chicago infielder, gave a forearm bash to third-base coach Rene Lachemann, pointed to his mom and dad in the stands, and then hoisted son Matthew aloft after crossing the plate.
None of which McGwire remembered afterwards. "I was numb," he said. "I thought, 'I still have to play this game. Oh my God, I can't believe this.' "
2000: THE GREATEST SHOW
In 28 seasons with the football Cardinals and now five with the Rams, St. Louis had never experienced a home playoff game. Until Jan. 16, 2000, that is, when the Rams played host to Minnesota in the NFC divisional round at the Trans World Dome. It was worth the wait. (Personal note: The crowd noise at the start of a 49-37 Rams victory was the loudest I experienced in 26 years covering the NFL. They were all waving yellow foam noodles.)
Kurt Warner completed a 77-yard TD pass to Isaac Bruce on the Rams' first play from scrimmage but Minnesota led 17-14 at the half, feeding criticism by some in the national media that the Rams weren't for real. But starting with Tony Horne's 95-yard kickoff return for a TD to begin the second half, the Rams scored the game's next 35 points before the Vikings added late cosmetic points. "Well, so much for not having any playoff experience," coach Dick Vermeil said.
2000: PROEHL'S PLACE
From the season opener against Baltimore through the NFC divisional playoff game versus Minnesota, the 1999 Rams scored 73 touchdowns. None of them belonged to veteran wide receiver Ricky Proehl. Coach Dick Vermeil told him to hang in there — he would make a catch sometime during the season to win a big game. It happened in one of the biggest games of all, the NFC title game against Tampa Bay on Jan. 23, 2000 at the Trans World Dome.
A week earlier against the Vikings, the Rams had scored seven touchdowns. But in a physical, intense contest, the Greatest Show on Turf couldn't find the end zone against the Buccaneers' swift, rugged defense. With the fourth quarter winding down, St. Louis trailed 6-5, until Kurt Warner threw a 30-yard TD pass to Proehl on a fade route down the left sideline with 4:40 to play. Proehl finally got to do the Bob 'N Weave, and the Rams were going to the Super Bowl after an 11-6 win.
2011: FREESE FRAME
Nothing came easy for the 2011 Cardinals. They were 10½ games out in August, didn't earn a wild-card berth until the final day of the regular season . . . and then came Game 6 of the World Series against the Texas Rangers. They were down 7-5 in the ninth and down to their last strike when David Freese's two-run triple sent the game into extra innings. They were down 9-7 in the 10th before tying the game on a two-out single by Lance Berkman, who also was down to his last strike.
In the 11th, the place went Bonkers when Freese hit a walk-off homer to the lawn in center field, giving the Redbirds a 10-9 victory at Busch Stadium and tying the series at three games apiece. After the Cardinals won Game 7 the next night to claim their 11th World Series championship, Freese was named World Series MVP and presented the key to the city by St. Louis mayor Francis Slay. Not bad for a kid from Lafayette High.
2018: TIGER'S TOWN
Neither rain nor heat nor humidity could keep the crowds away. They came to see the best golfers in the world at the 100th PGA Championship at Bellerive Country Club. OK, many came to see Tiger Woods. Woods didn't disappoint, working himself into contention after a so-so opening round and in the process working the massive Bellerive crowds into a frenzy. Woods couldn't quite catch Brooks Koepka for the title, but his tournament-closing birdie brought a trademark Tiger fist-pump and an explosion of cheers on Aug. 12, 2018. That led to an amazing closing scene as Woods walked off the course through a sea of admiring humanity.
Koepka finished atop a star-studded leaderboard, holding off Woods by two strokes to win the second major championship of his career. Woods was among several golfers and media members to salute the crowds and the atmosphere as St. Louis reaffirmed its position as a great sports town.
2019: STANLEY'S GLORIOUS RETURN
For the first time since 1970, the Blues returned to the Stanley Cup Final. This town of toasted ravioli-crunching, pork steak-munching, Bud-guzzling Blues fans was electrified once more — never more than on the evening of June 1, when downtown St. Louis was overrun by a blue-clad mob for Game 3 of the championship series against the Boston Bruins.
Frenzy turned to frustration in the 7-2 mauling that followed, but the never-say-never, worst-to-first Blues miraculously recovered to win three of the final four games and win the first Stanley Cup in the franchise's 52-year history.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: 1960'S AND '70'S
Oct. 15,1964: Homers by Lou Brock and Ken Boyer helped the Cardinals and Bob Gibson hold off the New York Yankees 7-5 at Busch Stadium in Game 7 to clinch the '64 World Series.
Nov. 7, 1965: Playing with two broken hands — and casts on both hands — Big Red safety Larry Wilson somehow intercepted a pass against Pittsburgh at Busch Stadium I.
July 12, 1966: On a day in which the temperature reached 105 degrees, the National League won the All-Star Game over the American League 2-1 at new Busch Stadium, which had opened just two months earlier as a centerpiece of downtown redevelopment.
Dec. 16, 1974: The Big Red rallied from a 14-0 deficit to beat New York Giants 26-14 at Busch Stadium and clinched their first division title in St. Louis.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: 1980'S AND '90'S
Oct. 30, 1980: Before what's still the largest crowd in college soccer history (22,512), perennial power St. Louis U. won the Bronze Boot game 5-1 over defending NCAA champion SIU-Edwardsville at Busch.
July 11, 1982: John McEnroe outlasted Mats Wilander 9-7, 6-2, 15-17, 3-6, 8-6 in a Davis Cup quarterfinal tennis match at the Checkerdome that lasted 6 hours, 39 minutes.
Oct. 20, 1982: "That's a winner! A World Series winner for the Cardinals!" Jack Buck shouted above the roar as the underdog Cardinals took out the Milwaukee Brewers — aka "Harvey's Wallbangers" — in Game 7 of the World Series at Busch Stadium.
Oct. 25, 1990: En route to a franchise-record 86-goal season, Brett Hull had his second hat trick in as many nights against Toronto in an 8-5 Blues win at the Arena.
Summer of 1997: Championship racing debuted at refurbished Gateway International Raceway. Up first: A capacity crowd of 48,500 on May 24 watched Canadian Paul Tracy win CART's Motorola 300 for Indy cars. More than 100,000 spectators attended the four-day NHRA Sears Craftsman Nationals in late June, and a sell-out crowd of 52,000 sat in 100-degree July heat to see Elliott Sadler win the Gateway 300 in NASCAR's Busch Grand National series.
HONORABLE MENTIONS: 2000'S
Jan. 27, 2002: Aeneas Williams' interception with 1:47 to play preserved a 29-24 Rams victory over Philadelphia in the NFC title game at the Dome at America's Center.
April 4, 2005: It's an Illini Invasion downtown with No.1-ranked Illinois advancing to the NCAA Final Four at the Edward Jones Dome — the first in St. Louis since the 1978 event at The Checkerdome. Despite a near home-court advantage, Bruce Weber's Illini fell to No. 2 North Carolina 75-70 before a raucous capacity crowd of 47,362 in the reconfigured Dome.
Oct. 27, 2006: Rookie Adam Wainwright fanned Detroit's Brandon Inge to end the season as the Cardinals won the World Series in five games at Busch.
May 23, 2013: Chelsea vs. Manchester City in an English Premier League exhibition kicked off a summer of soccer in St. Louis and attracted a record Busch Stadium crowd of 48,263. On Aug. 10, a crowd of 54,184 watched as Ronaldo and Real Madrid dominated Inter Milan in a friendly at the Edward Jones Dome.
Jan. 2, 2017: Two third-period goals by Vladimir Tarasenko led the Blues to a 4-1 Winter Classic victory over Chicago before 46,566 at Busch Stadium.