Bradenton baseball fan witnessed epic ballgames 47 years apart

vmannix@bradenton.comMarch 1, 2012 

BRADENTON

The eternal optimism of spring training is more than a romantic metaphor to Bill Bishop.

It’s real.

“Everybody thinks their team has a chance,” said Bishop, 63.

For this lifelong fan it was two teams that made baseball history on the final day of the regular season 47 years apart.

Bishop was present at both games.

“I’m positive I’m the only one,” said the retired educator.

Last Sept. 29, Bishop was at the Trop for the Tampa Bay Rays’ 12-inning, 8-7 comeback victory over the New York Yankees that clinched the American League wild card.

It was an epic game -- the Rays started the season 1-8 and were nine games back four weeks earlier -- with so much riding on it.

Yet Bishop had been there once before.

On Oct. 4, 1964, the 16-year-old and his family were at old Sportsman’s Park in St. Louis for the Cardinals’ 11-5 victory over New York Mets that, coupled with Philadelphia’s victory over first-place Cincinnati, clinched an improbable National League pennant.

“The Phillies’ game was an hour ahead of us and when it was over, we knew all we had to do was hang on,” Bishop recalled. “And that’s what happened.”

Combined with Philadelphia’s notorious late season collapse -- the Phils had a 6.5-game lead with 12 to play and lost 10 straight -- the Cardinals came back from 11 games out on Aug. 23 and went on to win the World Series over the Yankees.

Being at either game would be memorable.

But both?

Bill Bishop is in a fraternity of one.

“Most of the Cardinals fans at that game were my dad’s age or older so almost all of them have to be dead,” he said. “There are probably several thousand still around, but the chances of any of them also being at that last Rays’ game are pretty remote.

“I’d love to meet them if there were, but I can’t imagine it.”

Besides, Bishop’s got proof.

The frayed 10-cent Cardinals’ game program and scorecard he filled out reads like a baseball’s who’s who:

Curt Flood, Lou Brock, Bill White, Ken Boyer, Dick Groat, Tim McCarver, Mike Shannon, Dal Maxvill, Curt Simmons.

“What a lineup,” Bishop said.

Truth be told, his father was the more passionate Cards fan.

Bishop was a crewcut three-sport athlete in Lebanon, Mo., and his favorite sport was football.

“The Cardinals hadn’t even been to a World Series in my lifetime to that point,” said the former Manatee High School guidance counselor. “Dad always told me about Dizzy Dean and the Gashouse Gang. He knew it was going to be a big game.”

They all were big games for the Bishop family, which made the eight-hour round trip several times a season.

“And that was 165 miles one way up old Route 66,” he said. “So when people tell me it’s too far to go from Tampa to St. Pete for a Rays’ game? C’mon.”

Bishop usually makes the trip to the Trop between 10 to 15 games a year with Mike Ingram, a Palmetto High educator.

Having moved here in 1972, he considers himself a Rays fan now.

Bishop wasn’t feeling it, though, in the early going Sept. 29 while keeping track of the Boston-Baltimore game on the Trop scoreboard.

A Red Sox win would be curtains for the Rays.

“We’re down, down 7-0, Boston was winning, I looked at him and said if you want to go, I’m willing,” he said. “But Mike said something big’s going to happen. He was right.”

Dan Johnson homered in the bottom of the ninth to tie it.

Evan Longoria homered three innings later to win it and, coupled with Boston’s defeat, put Tampa Bay in the playoffs.

“I was more excited by the Rays, because I knew what they had done,” Bishop said. “They’re are good as anybody this year.”

Even St. Louis?

“The Cardinals are my second-favorite team now.”

Vin Mannix, local columnist, can be reached at 941-745-7055. Twitter: @vinmannix

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