Fans of the St. Louis Cardinals old enough to remember it don’t hesitate when asked to name their favorite World Series. The year was 1967, the opponent the Boston Red Sox. Flame-throwing Bob Gibson dominated the series that went seven games.
Lawrence resident Joe Reitz was rooting for the other side, but all these years later, it’s Gibson he talks about most when reflecting on the two games he watched from his Fenway Park seat.
“I think that was the greatest World Series a pitcher ever had,” Reitz said. “How can you do any better? You can’t pitch more than three games, and he pitched every inning. The only one that would rival that was (Sandy) Koufax in the ’65 World Series.”
Reitz, founder of the Lawrence affiliate of Family Promise, a non-profit organization that benefits families with children experiencing homelessness, saved each of his World Series tickets. The price on each ticket: $8.
Retired from Kansas University where for 18 years he was a professor of business ethics, Reitz was attending graduate school at Massachusetts Institute of Technology in 1967 when the Red Sox emerged from a four-team logjam to win the American League pennant on the season’s final day. He lived in suburban Watertown, Mass., with his young family and befriended a neighbor and fellow baseball fan, whose name he remembered as Angel Mancer Marquez of Venezuela.
“The Red Sox were awful,” Reitz said. “The previous year they had finished ninth, and they had been losers for years. Nobody from Boston sent out for tickets because everyone thought, ‘The Red Sox aren’t going to win the pennant.’ We filled out a form, sent in a check and got seats for Games 1 and 7.”
Reitz followed spring-training accounts of the Red Sox in the Boston newspapers.
“Desperate for some kind of news, (Red Sox manager) Dick Williams said, ‘We’re not going to have captains this year. I’m going to be the leader of this team, and we’re going to have a great year.’ Well, of course, everybody said (rolling his eyes) said, ‘Sure.’ Yastrzemski had been the captain the year before,” Reitz said.
The insult certainly didn’t hurt Carl Yastrzemski’s production. He won the Triple Crown with a .326 batting average, 44 home runs and 121 RBIs.
It was Yastrzemski who led the Red Sox to the pennant on the final weekend, which started with four teams still having a chance to win the AL pennant.
“That whole month of September, every time he came up with someone on base he was going drive them in,” Reitz remembered. “It was amazing. I’ve never seen anybody that clutch.”
Still, it wasn’t as amazing as the Gibson World Series performance, two-thirds of which Reitz witnessed 23 rows from the Fenway Park field, not far from first base.
In Game 1, Gibson defeated Jose Santiago, 2-1. Roger Maris drove in both St. Louis runs with groundouts, and Santiago helped himself with a home run. Gibson allowed six hits, struck out 10 and walked one.
At Busch Stadium in Game 4, Gibson tossed a five-hit shutout and was backed by three Lou Brock stolen bases in a 6-0 Cards victory.
For Game 7, the Red Sox sent Jim Lonborg, who delivered the pennant on the final day of the season and won Games 2 and 5 of the World Series, against Gibson.
“With Gibson on three days’ rest and Lonborg on two days’ rest, everyone knew what the outcome was going to be,” Reitz said. “It was an afternoon game, of course. God said World Series games should be played in the afternoon, so kids could play hooky and listen to it. Gibson’s pitching off that high mound in the shadows and he was dominant.”
Reitz remembers what he was thinking as he watched Gibson buzz a fastball under a chin one pitch and fling a slider by a fanning bat the next.
“I could feel it out there,” Reitz said. “There are guys in the batter’s box who do not want to be in there because, you know, Gibson would hit you just as soon as look at you.”
Gibson finished the ’67 Series with a 3-0 record, with a 1.00 ERA and 26 strikeouts in 27 innings.
Reitz also reminisced about Koufax, the other dominant National League pitcher of that era. Reitz, then in the Marines and stationed in Camp Pendleton, would drive to Los Angeles to watch Koufax pitch and Maury Wills steal bases.
Baseball fans who like to look back on the ballplayers of yesteryear generally can be divided into two groups: 1. Those who yearn for all things yesterday, and it’s not really the baseball they miss as much as their youth; 2. Baseball purists who find things they love about all eras.
In answering the question of whether there is a pitcher in today’s game he would drive to Kauffman Stadium and pay to see, Reitz showed he belongs in the second group.
“No,” he said after thinking about it. “But I’ll tell you who kept me going to Royals games this year. (Eric) Hosmer. I think if he stays healthy, he’s got a chance to be one of the really great players. And I think he’s the best-fielding first baseman in the game right now.”