From the St. Louis Cardinal batting cage in a pregame frolic this spring came an amazing assortment of line drives and long, high smashes that simply disappeared into the Florida haze somewhere over Tampa Bay. Right in the middle of it all a writer who was used to such displays left to get a sandwich and thoughtfully asked the world champions' new manager, Red Schoendienst, if he wanted anything. "You might bring me back a 25-game winner," said Schoendienst.
"Anything else?" asked the writer.
"That'll do," said Schoendienst.
Indeed it would. Except for pitching the Cardinals are overflowing with talent. From top to bottom the batting order is the most frightening collection of hitters this side of the All-Star team. "And I don't even like the looks of their bat boy," said one opposing manager. About the biggest problem facing Red Schoendienst this year was an organizational one: whether to bat Curt Flood (.311, 211 hits) in the leadoff spot ahead of Lou Brock (.315, 200 hits), or vice versa. After coming to St. Louis last June from the Cubs, Brock demonstrated that he is capable of leading the National League in every offensive category, including stolen bases (he stole 43 last year, second only to the Dodgers' Maury Wills). Schoendienst has to put Brock in the batting order where his hits, his power and his speed will be most productive. The possibility that Brock might go hitless some day does not really bother Schoendienst very much. Besides Flood, there are Bill White (.303, 191 hits, 21 homers, 102 RBIs) and Ken Boyer (.295, 185 hits, 24 homers, 119 RBIs) to fill the breach. Even when an opposing pitcher gets to the traditionally softer section of the order, he must face Dick Groat (.292), who hit only one homer but batted in 70 runs anyway. Ex-Manager Johnny Keane took the hit-and-run away from Groat last year, but Schoendienst has given it back and that could add zing to the already impressive Cardinal attack. Farther down are Catcher Tim McCarver, a streaky performer who needs just 12 more percentage points to lift his average to .300, and Julian Javier, the speedy second baseman whose .241 average last year was his lowest in four seasons. "And show me a better eighth-place hitter than Mike Shannon," says Schoendienst. There may be a few who arc better right on his own team, and even if they don't play, they sure can pinch-hit: Tito Francona, who came to the Cardinals from the Indians; Carl Warwick, whose three straight pinch hits tied a World Series record; and Bob Skinner, who sometimes does weird things in the outfield, but has a way with a bat. And don't overlook rookie Ed Spiezio, a chunky fellow who hit .360 at Tulsa. Spiezio has one problem, however. He plays third base, and so does Ken Boyer. The solution may be to put Spiezio in right field, and that no doubt is where he will go if Shannon falters. This group can pop fuses in every scoreboard in the league.
It seems a bit farfetched to say that any team with Bob Gibson (19-12), Ray Sadecki (20-11) and Curt Simmons (18-9) has a pitching problem, but if the Cardinals have a flaw, here it is. Trainer Bob Bauman helped make winners of Gibson and Sadecki by racing them up and down the steps in Busch Stadium in tennis shoes. "It made them mad at somebody," said Bauman, "and it strengthened their legs." Gibson and Sadecki are young and strong and should be even better, but Simmons is 35 years old, and Bob Purkey—who was obtained from the Reds—is the same age. They tend to puff a little without romping up and down Busch Stadium. Tracy Stallard (10-20 with the Mets) and rookie Nelson Briles will start and relieve. Barney Schultz spent 21 years pitching for 18 different teams, but now he has found a welcome home for himself and his bewildering knuckle ball as No. 1 man in the bullpen. Ron Taylor is the long man. A secret weapon may be Ray Washburn, who tore a shoulder muscle early in 1963 after winning five straight. He is throwing hard again for the first time since.
"It's nice to turn around," said Stallard, "and see somebody like Curt Flood chasing fly balls for you." Stallard is right. Flood comes close to being the best center fielder in the business. At one time Flood was flanked by Stan Musial and Minnie Minoso, both elderly gents. Flood described it as "Old Taylor in right, Old Granddad in left, with a little Squirt for a chaser." It's better now. Shannon plays right field well, and Brock makes up for his lack of judgment with brute speed. Nor will any of the Cardinal pitchers have to worry about balls hit to the infield. Boyer is an acrobat at third, and though Groat is not fast, few shortstops position themselves as well. With Javier and White on the right side, a ball has to be hit like a dart to get through. Catcher McCarver broke a finger on his right hand in spring training and has had difficulty throwing; in reserve is good-field, poor-hit (.198) Bob Uecker.
Speed, hitting, fielding—the Cardinals have it all, including a swagger that comes with being the champions. If the pitching holds up, they could run away with the pennant.
Flashy Lou Brock scored 111 runs last season, third best in the league, and he stole 43 bases.