As the amazing success story of El Birdos continues into September, Stan Musial could point the finger at many reasons. There were trades made and not made by the Cardinals. There was the shift of Mike Shannon to third base so that another RBI bat could be stuck into the lineup. There was the patient managing by Red Schoendienst, especially with the younger players. And there was the experience in tough pennant races by all eight frontrunners on the club.
Musial confessed he had to keep his fingers crossed as much as the next man when Bob Gibson suffered a broken led July 15. “Things looked dangerous then but our young pitching saves us,” said the freshman general manager. Dick Hughes pitched consecutive shutouts against the Dodgers and Giants in August. Steve Carlton posted six victories in six August starts to notch Pitcher of the Month honors. Nelson Briles has five wins and a 2.27 ERA as a starter since Gibson went down, and Ron Willis has done a superb job in the Cardinal bull pen.
Last spring in Florida, Schoendienst was asked whether he considered pitching one of the key points to the Cardinals’ hopes. “Pitching is everything,” Red said, firmly. Well, the Redbirds easily might have been without both Carlton and Nelson Briles this year. It was understood that Bob Howsam, then the general manager, turned down by the Cardinals’ brass in a proposed deal that would have brought Billy Williams to the Birds in exchange for Briles, Carlton, Alex Johnson and Bobby Tolan. “We needed a lefthanded-hitting outfielder and we went after Williams,” Musial said, “but when we got a chance to get Roger Maris from the Yanks for Charley Smith, we jumped at it. We had planned to get rid of Smith anyway.”
In the spring of 1966. Howsam was understood to have been nixed also in another major swap that would have cost Mike Shannon and Phil Gagliano as well as Carlton and Briles. In exchange, the Reds would have sent Leo Cardenas, Joey Jay and Gordy Coleman to the Cardinals. Musial ran his finger down the pitching statistics. “Hughes and Carlton have 27 victories between them and we couldn’t have expected more than ten a piece from them,” The Man said. “And Briles came through, too, both in relief and as a starter.”