A combination of momentum and confidence carried the St. Louis Cardinals to the top in 1964.
Hall of Fame outfielder Lou Brock, acquired June 15 from the Chicago Cubs in one of the most lopsided trades in Cardinals history, remembered the team's situation on the last day of the regular season.
The Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds were tied with 92-69 records, while the Philadelphia Phillies were one game back at 91-70. The Cardinals needed a win over the visiting New York Mets to clinch at least a tie for the National League pennant. If they lost, they faced a potential one-game playoff in Cincinnati.
"It was incredible," said Brock, 74. "Nobody brought a bag or an overnight kit. I think we realized if we had brought those things, we may have been slaughtered that (last) day. So that's the confidence that we had."
The Cardinals got home runs from Bill White and Curt Flood to defeat the Mets 11-5, with Bob Gibson getting the win in relief of Curt Simmons. Cincinnati, meanwhile, fell to the Phillies 10-0.
St. Louis, which had trailed by 10 games Aug. 4 and by 8 1/2 games Sept. 5, clinched the pennant by one game over both teams.
Brock and 12 other players from the 1964 team were honored Monday before the Cardinals played the New York Yankees. Others were Gibson, Tim McCarver, Julian Javier, Dick Groat, Mike Shannon, Charlie James, Carl Warwick, Phil Gagliano, Bob Humphreys, Gordie Richardson, Jerry Buchek and Ron Taylor. Red Schoendienst, a coach on the team before taking the manager's reins the next year, also attended.
"Had we lost the last game, it would have been the only three-way tie in the history of the game," said McCarver, 72. "I don't know if it was magic on our part. It might have been magic how we got there, winning on the last day of the season."
The Cardinals defeated the Yankees 4-3 to win the Series, with Gibson going the distance in Game 7 for a 7-5 victory.
"Beating the Yankees. That was the best part," said Gibson, 78. "How we did it, it didn't matter."
McCarver remembers people believing the Cardinals would buckle against the Yankees and their star power of Roger Maris, Mickey Mantle, Bobby Richardson and Whitey Ford.
"I've said and really believe that how we got there prevented us from being intimidated by the Yankees," McCarver said. "I mean, these were the New York Yankees that we were playing. If a little team from the Midwest has a lot of time to think about it, I think any team would be intimidated by playing them.
"But winning it on the last day of the season, I think that was a blessing with us because Wednesday we start the Series and it's kind of an extension of the season. We knew who we were playing with Maris and Mantle and (Joe) Pepitone and Ford and all the rich tradition of New York. But we weren't intimidated, and I think that helped us."
Groat, 83, said coming back from such a huge deficit to win the pennant was the Cardinals' most noteworthy accomplishment.
"We just wouldn't quit," Groat said. "Coming down the stretch, we won every big game we had to. Thank the Lord, the Phillies woke up and beat Cincinnati two in a row or we would have had a playoff, which none of us were conscious of."
Gibson said 1964 seems like yesterday in many ways.
"Well, it did (Sunday) night because after dinner we all had a couple cocktails and we started telling old stories," Gibson said. "That was a lot of fun. It was like it happened the day before yesterday. Everybody has gray hair, as you see, and no hair, so we know it wasn't the day before yesterday."
McCarver, in his first season as a part-time broadcaster with the Cardinals, called the 1964 championship "our own personal heritage of the organization."
"It's the heritage of all the guys that are in this room right now," he said. "We all realize this may be the last time we see each other. We were so independently connected in a winning effort 50 years ago, and there's a lot to that. I'm not too sure our country appreciates a tradition like that as much as it should. I know I do, though, and when you're a part of it, it really makes a difference. It's wonderful."
"This group had a togetherness like no other," he said. "When you came and played St. Louis Cardinals baseball, you were playing a brand of ball that was superior to most other ballclubs."
Brock made a huge impact, batting .348 with 33 stolen bases in 103 games with the Cardinals. He said manager Johnny Keane, whose job was in jeopardy until the team caught fire in September, instilled confidence in him immediately after the trade.
"(He) said to me, 'Welcome to the ballclub. We don't want you bunting the ball around. We know you can hit and we expect you to hit. In addition to that, we need somebody to steal bases, and you have been chosen,'" Brock said. "I got a chance to exhibit the things I could do as a ballplayer."