1968 St. Louis Cardinals
Manager: Red Schoendienst
Regular season record: 97-65 (.599), first in National League
Post-season: Lost World Series to Detroit Tigers (4-3)
Staff Comments (individual rankings in parens)
Ray Mileur (6) The last World Series before division play began, the 1968 season is filled with tons of memories and has become known as the “Year of the Pitcher”. The Cardinals won 97 games in the regular season to return to the World Series due in large part to Cy Young Award winner and NL MVP, Bob Gibson, who went 22-9 with 13 shutouts during the regular season with an ERA of 1.12. In the American League, Denny McLain won 31 games for the Detroit Tigers.
Gibson pitched three complete games in the fall classic, winning two of three, including Game One when he struck out a record setting 17 batters. The Cardinals led the series three games to one after four games including an embarrassing 10-1 loss for the Tigers in Game Four. The Tigers fought back, outscoring the Cardinals 22-5 over the next three contests, taking the series in seven games.
The fat man, Mickey Lolich won three games for the Tigers including the deciding Game Seven against Bob Gibson. Lolich walked away with the World Series Most Valuable Player Award and the Detroit Tigers captured their first World Series Crown since 1945 and became only the third team in history at the time to rally from a 3-1 deficit to win a seven game fall classic. Gibson’s 1968 season will be forever etched in my memory. It will likely be the best season-performance by a pitcher in my lifetime.
Jerry Modene (12) A season that is remembered mostly for Bob Gibson’s magnificent season on the mound; one looks at his season – especially the Game Scores – and wonders how he ever managed to *lose* nine games. What’s forgotten is that Gibson started off the season with just four wins in his first nine decisions, despite an ERA of 1.54, as he simply got no run support at all (the Cards scored 2 or fewer runs in 19 of his 34 starts!!!). It was at that point that he started his famous winning/shutout streak that eventually brought his season ERA down to 0.98 before it crept back up to the still-record 1.12 ERA that we all remember today. (Yes, I know about Dutch Leonard, but *he* didn’t pitch 304 innings!)
There was more to the 1968 Cardinals though, than Gibson – Nellie Briles won 19 games, Curt Flood hit .301 (that average would have tied Carl Yastrzemski for the AL lead) and Lou Brock slugged 48 doubles and stole 62 bases in 74 attempts. The 1968 Cards led the race nearly wire-to-wire, but lost seven of their final 10 (a scenario familiar to observers of the 2005 team) going into the World Series. Gibson (pictured below) pitched perhaps his greatest game ever in Game 1, when he struck out 17 Tigers, but the Cards couldn’t finish the Tigers off and fell short in Game 7 in one of the more bitter World Series defeats in team history.
Rob Rains (8) The 1967 World Champions made very little changes to their roster before the next season, with good reason. The ’68 club won 97 games, finishing nine games ahead of second place San Francisco, for the franchise’s second consecutive pennant.
Where rookie Dick Hughes had come along to replace the injured Bob Gibson the previous year, Gibson returned healthy in 1968 and virtually took over all of baseball. His performance that year still ranks as one of the greatest individual seasons in the history of the game.
Unlike the 1967 club, however, the Cardinals faltered in the World Series. They took a 3-1 lead against the Detroit Tigers but could not close out the final win, losing three consecutive games, including the final two in St. Louis. The loss also marked the end of the Cardinals; glorious decade of the 1960s and began a long cold spell in St. Louis as the team would not get back to the Series for another 14 years.
Brian Walton (12) This club dominated their competition, holding down first place for all but 13 days. It was more remarkable when remembering that this was the final season in which the entire ten-team league was ranked in the standings together.
Six top 40 all-time Cardinals players were on manager Red Schoendienst’s club: pitchers Bob Gibson and Steve Carlton, infielder Julian Javier, and outfielders Lou Brock and Curt Flood. Rookie catcher Ted Simmons also had a cup of coffee in the majors.
In a reminder of the dearth of offense across MLB in 1968, here are a few Cardinals factoids. Did you know that this club did not have a single player with as many as 80 RBI and only two players with double-digit home run totals, Orlando Cepeda (16) and new third baseman Mike Shannon (15)? Flood hit .301, but no one else even reached .280.
Gibson’s record season (franchise bests in ERA, WHIP, shutouts, fewest hits allowed) made him the MVP as well as the Cardinals’ first-ever Cy Young Award winner. To top it off, he also picked up his fourth consecutive Gold Glove Award on his way to nine straight. In the Series, Gibson fanned 17 in Game One and 35 overall, both records.
Consider this. Gibson’s dominating season during the “Year of the Pitcher” is often cited as one reason MLB lowered the mound by a third - five inches. When else in baseball history did one player’s dominance help inspire a major rule change?
Nellie Briles, who joined the rotation the year before when Gibson suffered a broken leg, won a career-high 19 games. Joe Hoerner won eight and saved 17 more, also a career-best. Ray Washburn tossed the franchise’s first no-hitter in 27 years.
Flood also took home his sixth of seven consecutive Gold Gloves. Shortstop Dal Maxvill won his only GG, making three NL fielding winners on the club. Brock led the league in doubles (46), triples (14) and stolen bases (62).
Key: NR = not ranked
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