By Tony Hooker
Results may not be those that are desired.
The first major league game I ever attended was on July 12, 1974. (I didn’t remember the exact day, just the year, but for baseball nerds like me, baseballrefence.com is a must and I was able to quickly find the game in question.
In 1974 ten-year-old me had not yet discovered rock ‘n roll, or the fairer sex, or any other distraction other than cub scouts, and my entire world revolved around baseball, specifically around Cardinal baseball.
So you can imagine my excitement when I found out I was going to a big-league game, and Bob Gibson would be starting for the Cardinals against the Atlanta Braves and Hank Aaron, who had broken Babe Ruth’s career home run record earlier in the year. As I do to this day, the first thing I did was get a scorecard and start penciling in the names of the starters. For the Cardinals, I could almost recite the starters to this day. (to be truthful, I did look them up) Lou Brock, my favorite player, leading off, then Heidemann, whom I don’t remember, followed by Reggie Smith, Ted Simba Simmons, Bake McBride, McCarver, Reitz, Tyson and Gibby. For the Braves, Garr in left, Robinson at short, Evans at 3rd, Dusty Baker in right, (Wait. What? Instead of seeing Hammerin’ Hank, I get Dusty freaking Baker? Oh well, I’m still at a big-league game at Busch Stadium, the promised land to a baseball crazed prepubescent VG chubster like me) Office in center, Davey Johnson at first, One of seemingly hundreds of Perezes who were playing in the bigs, Marty, was at 2nd, with Johnny Oates and the unforgettable Roric Harrison on the mound. Harrison went 30-35 over the course of a four-year career. So to review, Aaron isn’t playing, a career journeyman is starting for the Braves, and the Cardinals have the meanest, nastiest toughest pitcher ever starting for them. This game’s in the bag for my birdies, right?
Not so fast, my friend. In the top of the first, Darrell Evans drew a two-out walk, and then Baker drove him in. Of course he did. In actuality, his and Aaron’s records were quite similar that year, with both hitting 20 bombs and Baker did drive in 87 that year. It’s ok though, because Gibson retired Office to end the inning. The Cards go 1,2,3, in the bottom of the first. Gibby gets through the 2nd without giving up a run. The Cards go 1,2,3 in the bottom of the second. Top of the third, Garr singles, steals second, gets sacrificed to third by Craig Robinson and scores on an Evans sac fly. It’s ok, only 2-0 and it’s still early.
The Cards go 1,2,3 in the bottom of the 3rd. Really Roric “Cy Young” Harrison is pitching a perfect game through 3?
Gibson gets through the top of the 4th unscathed, and Brock reaches on an infield single to lead off the bottom half of the frame. Now we got something cooking, right? Not exactly. The “base burglar”, who would pilfer a major league record 118 bases in ’74, was caught stealing by Johnny Oates, and so the bases are empty with one down, and ten-year-old me thinks the world has just ended. Luckily for me, the Cards had their secret weapon, Jack Heidemann, in the lineup. Heidemann, who came to the Loo in a midseason trade with Cleveland for Luis Averado and Ed Crosby, hit .271 for STL in his one partial season. Anyway, back to the 4th inning. Heidemann singled. Reggie Smith singled, and then reason Baseball Hall of Fame selectee Ted Simmons, the best switch-hitting catcher ever, cranked a monster bomb into the right field stands to give St. Louis a 3-2 lead, and there was joy in my soul.
And of course, Gibson being Gibson after being given a lead, cuts through the bottom of the Braves lineup, 3 up, 3 down.
In the bottom of the 5th, Brock singles again, and the Cards looked to add to their lead, but Oates again threw out Brock trying to steal second. Doesn’t that heartless bum know that Lou’s my favorite?
Gibby again gets the Braves out in order in the top of the 6th, and then Heidemann singled in the bottom of the frame, but Simmons couldn’t repeat his earlier fireworks and grounded into an inning ending double play.
Gibson trotted out to the mound for the top of the seventh and gave up a pair of singles before ending the frame by pinch hitter Norm Miller to ground out. In today’s game, Gibson would have been cooling his heels in the dugout, glaring at anyone who came near, after relinquishing the ball to the first of a score of flame throwing relief pitchers after allowing a baserunner. Not so in 1974. As manager Red Schoendienst once confessed, there were many times that he looked at his bullpen and didn’t see anyone who could do any better than a tired Bob Gibson.
The Cardinals went quietly in the bottom of the frame, with relief pitcher Joe Niekro retiring McBride, McCarver and Reitz in order.
Once again, Gibson headed to the mound for his eighth inning of work, on the Busch stadium Astroturf, in August, at the age of 39. What a warhorse he was. The inning began ominously, with Garr getting his third hit of the day to lead off the top of the eighth. Then, finally, the matchup I had been waiting for. Now pinch hitting for Atlanta, number 44 Hank Aaron! Almost assuredly the first and only time I’ll see two hall of famers going head to head in person. (although Davey Johnson and Dusty Baker can both make strong HOF cases as managers) Almost predictably, the at bat ended without drama, as Aaron hit into a fielder’s choice. The wheels, however, were starting to come off, and Gibby relinquished three runs on the strength of a single, a bases loaded walk and a squeeze bunt.
The Cards could do nothing in the bottom of the eighth, and the Bravos tacked on two insurance runs, charged to the mad Hungarian, Al Hrabosky, in the top of the 9th to win 7-3.
All in all, it was a great game to watch, even though the good guys ended up on the losing end. I hope that this quenched just a bit of the thirst for baseball that diehard fans possess. It was fun to write, to be sure. If you wish to share your favorite sports events, drop me a line and tell me about them.