[This post was written by Michael Burke, aka Pinson343. He’s been a research scientist for more than 30 years and currently works in Houston. “When I came of baseball age, which was before the age of 4 in a sports-minded family with three older brothers, the tradition was that each of us would root for a different team,” says Michael. “I ended up with the Cincinnati Redlegs as they were called for a while in the 1950s. So I’ve literally been a Reds fan since before I can remember.” Thanks for the post! — spm]

This post is a remembrance of the great 1964 NL pennant race that ended on October 2, fifty years ago. It is an elaboration of an excellent post, written by John Ring.  See 1964 Pennant Race: Hutch’s Final Season.

That post centered, as it should, on Fred Hutchinson. This is a collection of personal memories with digressions about some of the other major figures of that pennant race. I was 13 years old that season.

I’ve heard or read countless times that in the final two weeks of the 1964 season, the Philadelphia Phillies blew a 6 1/2 game lead to the St. Louis Cardinals.  Not quite true.  Going into Monday September 21, with twelve to play, they had a 90-60 record and led the Reds by 6 1/2 games and the Cardinals by 7.

On September 21, the Reds beat the Phils 1-0 in Philadelphia in the famous “Chico Ruiz steal of home with Frank Robinson at the plate” game. It set off an infamous postgame outburst by Phillies manager Gene Mauch. Mauch managed from 1960 to 1987. He is by far the winningest manager to have never won a league pennant, three times coming within a single victory. He was highly respected as a skilled baseball mind, emphasizing defense, speed and base-to-base tactics on offense.  His personality was not appreciated as much. Even by 1964 standards, Mauch was too “old school” – the school of Leo “the Lip” Durocher –  he relentlessly rode (trash talked) opposing players from the dugout as if deliberately trying to provoke them. He’d also sometimes scream profanities at his own players after a loss.

On that Tuesday night, with the Reds winning 9-2, he rode both Robinson and Ruiz.  Robinson homered.  On Wednesday night, the Reds won 6-4, with Ruiz hitting his second home run of the season. The Reds were down 3-2 in the 7th, when Vada Pinson hit a 3-run home run, his second homer of the game.

Toward the end of the Phillies losing streak, Mauch became uncharacteristically quiet. He has been heavily second guessed for using Jim Bunning or Chris Short with only two days rest six times from September 16 on, with the Phils losing all six games.

I was now in heaven with the Reds down by only 3 1/2 games and five games coming up against the Mets (51-100 at that point) and three against the .500 Pirates. Living in a suburb of NYC in Connecticut, the only two occasions I could watch or listen to a Reds game live was when they played the Mets (TV) or the Pirates at night (radio).

On Friday September 25 the Reds won the first game of a doubleheader 3-0 behind a Jim Maloney 1-hit shutout. They won the second 4-1, with Bob Purkey pitching 6 1/3 and Sam Ellis 2 2/3  innings for the save. Note how Fred Hutchinson used relief pitchers. The Reds were down 1-0 in the 6th when Frank Robinson hit a 2 run homer.

On Saturday the Reds won 6-1 with John Tsitouris  pitching 6 1/3, and Billy McCool going 2 2/3 for the save. In the Sunday doubleheader, the Reds swept again, Jim O’Toole winning the first game 4-1, and Joey Jay the second game 3-1.

Going into the final week of the season the Reds had won nine in a row and were now 91-66, a game ahead of the Phillies and 1 ½ games ahead of the Cardinals. The Reds came home to play three against the Pirates and two against the Phils. Only 10,800 showed up for the opener of the Pirate series, a Tuesday September 29 night game, disappointing the Reds players. But they were in it for Hutch.

That night they lost to Pittsburgh 2-0, the game was scoreless into the 9th.  They had 11 hits but were shut out by Bob Friend. The 1-0 16-inning loss to the Pirates was on Wednesday night. I listened to it until the bitter end with the radio on the floor just below my pillow, the volume turned way down as it became long past bedtime on a school night. On Pirates radio I had to tolerate the celebrated and insufferable homer Bob Prince, given to shouting out his nicknames for Pirates players.

Bob Veale struck out 16 in 12 1/3rd, Jim Maloney struck out 13 in 11 innings.

The Reds went 0 for 14 with runners in scoring position; the loss was frustrating beyond words. They were aggressive on the bases, stealing four times, two by Frank Robinson. Robinson and Ruiz each stole 3rd.

On Thursday night the Reds were desperate for a win.  They were rescued by an unlikely hero, a seldom-used backup catcher Jim Coker, in a 5-4 win.

Coker went 3 for 4 with a double and solo HR, scoring 2 and driving in 2.

Joe Nuxhall pitched 2 1/3 innings of middle relief to get the win. Ellis picked up a 2 inning save, his 14th. The stage was set for the final weekend.

Going into that final weekend, the Cardinals were in first place at 92-67, the Reds were ½ game behind at 92-68. The Phillies had lost 10 in a row to fall to 90-70.

Friday night, October 2nd, the game that the Reds season turned on, was one of the wildest and most heartbreaking games in Reds history. See John Ring’s account if you haven’t read it yet. Also see OhioJim’s comments on that thread, he was there. The Reds almost broke the game open in the 4th, but the rally was killed by a triple play. Pinson and Robinson were running on the pitch, and Deron Johnson hit a drive that looked like it would score both of them. But LFer Alex Johnson, a weak defensive OFer but capable of a spectacular play due to his athleticism, made what the newspapers called a “miraculous” catch to start the triple play.

The Reds took a 3-0 lead into the 8th. David Halberstam’s description of the Reds meltdown in his book October 1964:

“The Phillies, still sleepwalking, were behind, 3-0, in the seventh. In the bottom of the 7th … Chris Short hit Leo Cardenas with a pitch. Cardenas wanted to fight, and his teammates had to stop him. Somehow, the scuffle seemed to wake up the Phillies. With one out in the eighth, a bloop hit by Frank Thomas landed near second. The Reds thought that Cardenas should have had it, but that his mind was still on the confrontation with Short. Jim O’Toole seemed furious with Cardenas and lost his cool, walking one and then giving up a hit. Suddenly the Phillies broke through for four runs and won the game. After the game, in the Reds’ locker room, O’Toole, still furious, went after Cardenas and threw him to the ground. At that point Cardenas grabbed an ice pick and started after O’Toole, but others pulled them apart.”

Saturday was a day off.

The Reds and Cardinals were tied going into the final day of the season, thanks to the Mets’ unlikely wins over the Cardinals on Friday and Saturday. The Phillies were 1 game behind.  The Mets were highly motivated to win those games by their elderly manager Casey Stengel, who was a friend of Fred Hutchinson and wanted Hutch to win the NL pennant and hopefully a WS ring against the Yankees.

Stengel, a Hall of Famer, was one of the most colorful and comical figures in major league history.  “In 1919, Stengel was being taunted mercilessly by fans of the Brooklyn Dodgers, his old team. Somehow Casey got hold of a sparrow … With the bird tucked gently beneath his cap, Casey strutted to the plate amidst a chorus of boos and catcalls. He turned to the crowd, tipped his hat and out flew the sparrow. The jeers turned to cheers.”  (Wikipedia account with multiple citations.)  Bernard Malamud made use of that antic in The Natural.

Stengel is best known for managing the Yankees to 7 World Series wins and 10 pennants from 1949 through 1960. He played as an OFer for John McGraw’s Giants against the Yankees in the 1922 and 1923 World Series.

In the 1923 World Series he hit two game winning home runs. He once slid into every base after hitting a HR, which made McGraw (Little Napolean) furious.

The Yankees won their first Word Series in 1923, beginning the greatest dynasty in baseball history.

The outcome on Sunday seemed inevitable to me, I was numb. The Mets led early, but the Cardinals pounded their bullpen. Jim Bunning shut out the Reds 10-0.

I liked that Cardinal team and told the disbelieving kids at school they would beat the Yankees. Their players included Hall of Famers Bob Gibson and Lou Brock;  Ken Boyer, Bill White, Curt Flood, Dick Groat, Tim McCarver, backup catcher Bob Uecker, and Mike Shannon (much better as a player than later as a Cardinals radio broadcaster). The Cardinals won in 7.

The Yankee dynasty ended abruptly after their 1964 World Series loss.

Thanks for the memories, Hutch, Robby, Pinson, et al.