Used to be that every 34-38 years the Detroit Tigers and St. Louis Cardinals met in the World Series. That’s how it went from 1934 to 1968, and then from 1968 to 2006. I guess we can book the 2042 World Series between these two clubs now.
Back in 1934 when the Tigers and Cards first met in the Series, the rosters were smaller but filled with a lot more great baseball nicknames. Can you imagine “Pepper” Freese playing third base for the Redbirds, “Goose” Berry taking the field in left for the Tigers, or “Schoolboy” Verlander squaring off against “Dizzy” Carpenter on the mound? No, the nicknames are less interesting now (we have John “The Federalist” Jay in center for the Cards, yawn), but the action on the field will still be thrilling.
In ’34, Dizzy Dean and his little brother Paul, who was stuck with the moniker Daffy (older siblings get all the breaks), led the talented St. Louis rotation against a powerful Detroit lineup. The Tiger offensive juggernaut was so good that they earned the label “The G-Men,” not only because several of the players had surnames that started with a G, but also because at that time in America, Government Men (or “G-Men”) were heroic law enforcement officers hunting down mobsters. In that matchup, the Deans prevailed over Charlie Gerhringer, Goose Goslin, Hank Greenberg, and the rest of Mickey Cochrane’s gang. But the Series was one of the most exciting and controversial in history.
In Game Seven at Navin Field in Detroit, the Cards were routing the Tigers when in the 6th inning Joe “Ducky” Medwick tripled and slid hard into Bengal third baseman Marv Owen. The two players pushed and shoved a little, but the real entertainment occurred in the bottom of the inning when Medwick trotted out to his position in left field. That’s when Detroit fans started to throw more than just a tantrum – they tossed garbage, beer bottles, plastic cups, and just about anything they could get their hands on toward Medwick. The startled Cardinal retreated from the diamond, and soon his teammates followed. Commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis ordered St. Louis manager Frankie Frisch to remove Mediwck from the game, which restored order. The Tigers lost the game, 11-0 and the Redbirds were world champions.
Somehow, in 1945 (amid a stretch when St. Louis appeared in the Fall Classic in four out of five seasons) the Tigers won the pennant but missed meeting the Cards in the Series.
Fast forward 34 years from 1934 and the two clubs met once again, this time with St. Louis as overwhelming favorites. The ’68 Tigers were an excellent team, they won 103 games, but the Cardinals were defending World Series champs. They also had just about the scariest pitcher to ever toe the rubber on their side – Bob Gibson – a serious man who was never called “Schoolboy” or “Dizzy”.
Once the Cardinals went out to a 3-1 lead in the Series, plans for a celebration parade where practically executed, but not so fast – the Tigers came back and won the next two to force a Game Seven. Gibson would face Mickey Lolich, winner of games two and five. Pitching on two days rest, Lolich stymied the Cardinal lineup and beat Gibson. A big play came late when St. Louis center fielder Curt Flood misjudged a flyball off the bat of Jim Northrup, resulting in a Tiger lead. Earlier in the series, in Game Five, Lou Brock had famously chosen not to slide and was tagged out at home plate when Bill Freehan blocked his way. It’s a series that members of the Cardinals still bristle at, while the members of the ’68 Tigers are legends in Motown.
Somehow, in 1984, the Tigers avoided meeting the Cardinals in the Series even though between 1982 and 1987, a span of six seasons, St. Louis advanced to the Classic three times. Once again the adversaries barely missed renewing their rivalry.
In 2006, 38 years after their epic battle in ’68, the Tigers collided in the Series for the third time. Both teams were wild card teams that season, but the Tigers, with 95 victories on their ledger, were favorites, having won seven straight games entering the Series. But a week-long layoff seemed to have an effect on the young Tigers, under first year manager Jim Leyland. The Cards won game one in Detroit against rookie Justin Verlander, as Detroit pitchers made the first two of what seemed like 40 errors they would make in the series. Veteran Kenny Rogers, with a strange black smudge on his pitching hand, mastered the Redbirds in Game Two, but once the series went back to St. Louis, the Cardinals took over. Despite leading all three games at some point, the Tigers were swept in St. Louis and lost the 2006 World Series. It was the first time the two storied franchises hadn’t gone seven games in the Fall Classic.