Mike Shannon and Jerry Buchek, the only St. Louis natives among the players on the 1966 Cardinals, had special roles in the first game played at Busch Memorial Stadium.
Fifty years ago, on May 12, 1966, Shannon produced the first Cardinals hit and the first Cardinals RBI in the debut game at the $26 million circular stadium in downtown St. Louis. Buchek delivered a RBI-single that tied the score with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.
The Cardinals capped a successful evening when Lou Brock got a bases-loaded single in the 12th inning, giving the Cardinals a 4-3 victory over the Braves.
A crowd of 46,048, a record for a sporting event in St. Louis at that time, turned out to see the Cardinals and their new home. Among those attending on that Thursday night were baseball commissioner William Eckert and National League president Warren Giles.
Each spectator was given a parchment “First Nighter” scroll as a souvenir. Many of the fans were dazzled by the scoreboard and its color graphics and animation. “No matter who hits a homer, the Anheuser-Busch eagle flaps its wings and a tiny, chirping redbird darts across one side of the board,” The Sporting News reported.
The seats were located farther from the field than those at the original Busch Stadium, formerly Sportsman’s Park, on North Grand Boulevard. The elevation of the upper deck was intimidating to some. “Fifteen more feet up and I’d be in heaven,” said former Cardinals manager Ray Blades.
Among the players, reviews of the stadium generally were favorable.
“This park is tailored to our type of club,” Cardinals outfielder Alex Johnson said to the Associated Press. “It’s a paradise for line drive hitters.”
Said Shannon: “There will be a lot of doubles and triples.”
Shannon had hoped his wife Judy and their four children would attend, but they couldn’t because they developed the mumps.
“So Mike showed off his punch without Judy,” wrote Neal Russo of The Sporting News.
In the bottom of the first inning, Shannon, batting second, singled off Braves starter Wade Blasingame for the first Cardinals hit. In the third, Shannon’s two-out triple off Blasingame scored Buchek from first with the first Cardinals run.
Braves leadoff batter Felipe Alou, playing on his 31st birthday, hit two solo home runs _ in the sixth off starter Ray Washburn and in the eighth of Tracy Stallard. The second home run gave the Braves a 3-2 lead.
In the bottom of the ninth, Johnson was on third with two outs when Buchek batted against Billy O’Dell. With the count 2-and-2, Buchek swung at a pitch near his fists and looped a pop fly that fell into short right field for a single, scoring Johnson with the tying run.
The Cardinals got a surprise in the 11th. Hal Woodeshick, a Cardinals relief pitcher, stroked a double off Phil Niekro. For Woodeshick, who had a career .092 batting average, it was his only extra-base hit in 11 big-league seasons. With two outs, Niekro issued an intentional walk to Julian Javier, then got Shannon to pop out to second, ending the inning.
In the 12th, the Braves threatened, putting runners on first and second, before Don Dennis escaped the jam by getting Alou to fly out to right.
The Cardinals took advantage of a Braves miscue in the bottom half of the 12th. Curt Flood led off and was hit by a Niekro pitch. Orlando Cepeda, the cleanup batter, bunted. Catcher Joe Torre fielded the ball and threw to second in a bid for a forceout. Instead, the ball sailed over the head of second baseman Frank Bolling. Flood advanced to third and Cepeda to second on the error.
After an intentional walk to Charlie Smith, filling the bases, Brock came to the plate against Niekro. With the infield drawn in for a play at the plate, Brock bounced a single up the middle, scoring Flood from third with the winning run. Boxscore
The next night, Shannon hit the first Cardinals home run at Busch Memorial Stadium. It was a solo shot off Braves starter Ken Johnson. Five days earlier, Shannon had hit the last Cardinals home run at the original Busch Stadium.