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A Storied Rivalry, Part III

The third part of a four part series chronicling the shared history of the Cincinnati Reds and the St. Louis Cardinals

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A mystery solved?

In 1967, the Reds were an up and coming team. They had a solid core of young talent, including 25 year old Tony Perez and 26 year old Pete Rose (with 19 year old Johnny Bench waiting in the wings, spending most of the season in the minors). The Cardinals, however, were established stars. They won 101 games that year on the way to a World Series championship. In July of that season, the Reds were trying desperately to stay in the pennant race as the Cardinals began to pull ahead.

On Monday, July 3, the two teams met for an afternoon game at Busch Stadium. The Cardinals jumped all over the Reds, scoring seven runs in the bottom of the first inning and knocking Reds starter Milt Pappas out of the game after recording only one out. With future Hall of Famer Bob Gibson on the mound, seven runs were likely more than the Cardinals would need. The Reds therefore took offense when, in defiance of baseball's unwritten rules, future Hall of Famer Lou Brock attempted to steal second base. He was unsuccessful, but the Reds apparently felt he was piling on, because on his next at bat, Reds pitcher Don Nottebart struck Brock with a pitch to send a message.

Given Gibson's reputation, everyone in Busch Stadium had to know what was coming. Future Hall of Famer Tony Perez led off the next inning for the Reds, and Gibson sent a pitch behind Perez's head. Perez dodged the pitch, and flew out to end his at bat. On his way back to the dugout, he paused at the mound to speak to Gibson, and future Hall of Famer Orlando Cepeda ran in from first base. I don't know what the record is for future Hall of Famers involved in the setting up and execution of an on-field altercation, but this has to be on the list. Cepeda later claimed he was trying to defuse the situation, but his action caused the Reds bullpen, led by the 6'3" 225 pound relief pitcher Bob Lee, to bolt onto the field, and the brawl was on. Cardinals catcher Tim McCarver has called it the worst brawl he was ever involved in. Eventually, several St. Louis police officers had to intervene to end the fight. There were injuries on both sides, including a broken tooth for the Reds' Tommy Helms and a jammed finger for Gibson. One policeman had a dislocated jaw. Bob Lee was the only player ejected from the game, and that was for illegally entering the field of play. Gibson, who had a perfect game through thirteen batters going at the time of the brawl, would stay in the game until the eighth inning. The Reds would eventually scrape three runs across and lose the game 7-3.

Gibson would later claim that this incident lit a fire in the Cardinals that would propel them to the National League pennant and World Series victory. It was around this time that Cepeda took to leading his teammates in the clubhouse cheer "Viva El Birdos!" The Cardinals would win a second straight National League pennant the following year, ultimately losing to Mickey Lolich and Denny McLain's Detroit Tigers in one of the closest World Series ever.

However, after that run, the Reds and Cardinals would yet again show themselves to be teams moving in opposite directions. The Cardinals made a few uncharacteristically bad trades in the early 1970's – most notably trading a young Steve Carlton to the Phillies. The Reds, meanwhile, were building one of the best teams in history. The Cardinals would not make the playoffs in the 1970's and only break .500 against the Reds once in the decade, while the Reds had six playoff appearances, four pennants and two World Series championships. The Reds managed to spoil the Cardinals fun at every turn, even when things looked like they were going the Cardinals' way. On June 30, 1976, Cardinals pitcher Rick Wise – the pitcher they received in the Carlton trade – was two outs away from a no-hitter against the Reds when Joe Morgan singled to deny Wise the accomplishment. Two years later, almost to the day, the Reds' Tom Seaver completed the job, when on June 16, 1978 he allowed zero hits as the Reds beat the Cardinals 4-0 at Riverfront Stadium in Cincinnati. It was the second time Reds pitchers no-hit the Cardinals.

It's important to remember, though, that the Big Red Machine was built by two former Cardinals. Much of the credit for the Reds' success in the 1970's goes to the general manager at the time, Bob Howsam. While some of the pieces were already in place before he got there, Howsam was responsible for hiring Sparky Anderson as manager (Anderson was yet another former Cardinals employee, having been a manager in their minor league system before the Reds hired him away and installed him as manager at AA Asheville), as well as trading for Joe Morgan and George Foster, signing Dave Concepcion and drafting Ken Griffey, Sr. But Howsam had previously served as the Cardinals' general manager. He held that post in 1965 and 1966, and while those were not successful years for the Cardinals, he helped lay the groundwork for their success later in the decade by hiring Red Schoendienst as manager and acquiring Orlando Cepeda and Roger Maris.

The DeWitt family is even more intertwined between the two teams. Born in 1902, Bill DeWitt Sr began his career in the Cardinals organization, working under legendary executive Branch Rickey. He went on to be the general manager and owner of the American League St. Louis Browns. In 1960, he became the general manager of the Reds, later buying controlling interest in the team from the estate of Powel Crosley after the Reds' 1961 pennant winning season. While his legacy is slightly tainted due to his execution of the much reviled Frank Robinson trade, he is responsible for acquiring Pete Rose, Tony Perez and Johnny Bench, among others. He essentially brought together all the pieces of the Big Red Machine that were already present when Howsam took over. He later sold the team to a syndicate that included Cincinnati Enquirer publisher Francis Dale as well as his own son, Bill DeWitt Jr.

Bill DeWitt Jr, besides having been part owner of the Reds, has had ownership stakes in several other baseball teams, as well as the NFL's Cincinnati Bengals. In 1996, he purchased the St. Louis Cardinals from the Anheuser-Busch corporation, and he still serves as team chairman and chief executive officer today. His son, William O. DeWitt III, is team president.

If there's one fact that symbolizes the incestuous nature of the two teams in the 1960's and 1970's, it's this: In the late 1960's, when Francis Dale and Bill DeWitt Jr and the rest of their partners bought the Reds, they also introduced the familiar Mr. Red "running man" logo. Mr. Red is shown wearing the uniform number 27. The reason for that number choice was recently revealed to be because Dale's son, who was a big baseball fan himself, wanted the number as a tribute to his favorite player. Unfortunately, his favorite player turned out to be Dal Maxvill, the good glove, weak bat shortstop of the St. Louis Cardinals (Maxvill, incidentally, went on to spend a decade as the Cardinals general manager himself before being replaced by some guy named Walt Jocketty in 1994). This is coming from a post that quotes an unnamed but "unimpeachable" source, so take it for what it's worth, but given the ownership group's pedigree and the Cardinals success at the time, as well as the constant overlap between the teams at the time, it seems as likely an explanation as any. It's therefore very possible that an entire generation of Reds fans grew up with a Reds logo whose uniform number is a tribute to a Cardinals player.

Next week, please join us for the conclusion in Part IV, wherein the Reds and Cardinals finally join forces, but on the wrong side of history. And we bring the rivalry up to the present day.

You can find Part I of this series here, and Part II here.

Other Sources:

Cincinnati and the Big Red Machine by Robert Harris "Hub" Walker

The Machine by Joe Posnanski