ST. LOUIS -- Major League Baseball's schedule makers kindly played into the Cardinals' anniversary plans by including the Yankees on their home schedule this season for the first time since 2005. It provided the perfect backdrop for a reunion of the 1964 Cardinals, a team that defeated the Yankees in seven games to capture the franchise's seventh World Series championship.
Thirteen players from that '64 club, along with Red Schoendienst, who was a coach on that team, paraded around Busch Stadium prior to Monday's series opener. The event gave the group an excuse to reunite and the fans an opportunity to reminisce.
"You develop a relationship in a pennant drive," said Dick Groat, who, at 83 years old, was the oldest living player from that team to attend. "It's different than anything you ever experience in life. Everybody's goal is to win a world championship. And, of course, I'm very proud to have beaten the Yankees twice in two different uniforms [also with Pittsburgh]. But when you go through a pennant race with guys, it's a closeness that never goes away."
That '64 team needed a late-season push to even earn a World Series matchup with New York. The Cardinals trailed Philadelphia by five games with 11 remaining on the regular-season schedule. An eight-game winning streak carved into that deficit, and a win on the final day of the season was enough for the Cardinals to hold off the Reds to win the National League pennant by one game.
"I've said and really believe that how we got there prevented us from being intimidated by the Yankees," Tim McCarver said. "I mean, these were the New York Yankees that we were playing. If a little team from the Midwest has a lot of time to think about it, I think any team would be intimidated by playing them. But winning it on the last day of the season, I think that was a blessing with us, because Wednesday we start the series and it's kind of an extension of the season."
The Cardinals and Yankees split the first two games in St. Louis, before the Cardinals took a 3-2 series lead by winning twice at Yankee Stadium. After a Game 6 victory by the Yankees, the Cardinals turned to Hall of Famer Bob Gibson. Pitching on two days' rest, Gibson threw a complete game to help the Cardinals to a 7-5 win.
On Monday, Gibson was selected to throw out a ceremonial first pitch, which McCarver, his former batterymate, caught. It was the first time the two had hooked up since 1974, the last year they were teammates. Gibson won MVP honors in the '64 World Series.
"I told [Gibson] last night: 'I'm 83 now, and whether I ever see you again, I want you to know that playing behind you was an absolute thrill,'" Groat said. "He was just a magnificent athlete and one of the greatest competitors I ever played with. He and Lou Brock both deserve to be in the Hall of Fame."
Brock, of course, was a member of that championship club by way of a midseason trade that sent, among others, Ernie Broglio to the Cubs. Brock, 24 at the time of the deal, went on to hit .348 and steal 33 bases for St. Louis.
"This group had a togetherness like no other," Brock said. "When you came and played St. Louis Cardinals baseball, you were playing a brand of ball that was superior to most other ballclubs."
Those who attended Monday's reunion -- a list that, in full, included Schoendienst, Gibson, Brock, Groat, McCarver, Mike Shannon, Jerry Buchek, Phil Gagliano, Ron Taylor, Gordie Richardson, Bob Humphreys, Charlie James, Carl Warwick and Julian Javier -- gathered at Shannon's St. Louis restaurant on Sunday and then again at Busch Stadium on Monday.
They lined up along the first-base line after being introduced via motorcade for one more salute, likely their last as such a large group.
"This is our own personal heritage of the organization," McCarver said. "It's the heritage of all the guys that are in this room right now. We all realize this may be the last time we see each other. We were so independently connected in a winning effort 50 years ago, and there's a lot to that."
And the most lasting memory of it all?
"Beating the Yankees," Gibson said. "That was the best part. How we did it, it didn't matter."
Jenifer Langosch is a reporter for MLB.com. Read her blog, By Gosh, It's Langosch, and follow her on Twitter @LangoschMLB. This story was not subject to the approval of Major League Baseball or its clubs.