July 3, 1967: Brock stolen base ignites brawl between Cardinals and Reds

On July 3, 1967, the St. Louis Cardinals and Cincinnati Reds started the Independence Day fireworks a touch early with a 12-minute[1] brawl that required 19 St. Louis police officers to restore order.[2]

Pursuing his 10th win of the season in front of the announced crowd of 47,663[3], Bob Gibson struck out Tommy Helms and Pete Rose in a perfect first inning before the Cardinals jumped all over the Reds’ Milt Pappas in the bottom of the inning.

Eight of the first nine Cardinals to come to the plate reached base. Roger Maris hit an RBI single to score Lou Brock, Orlando Cepeda added an RBI single to score Curt Flood, and Tim McCarver hit a sacrifice fly that scored Maris before light-hitting shortstop Dal Maxvill hit a bases-clearing double and scored on an error by Rose at second base.

Gibson, who was no slouch at the plate, singled before he was forced out at second on a Brock ground ball. With a 7-0 lead and Flood at the plate, Brock took off for second and was thrown out by Reds catcher Don Pavletich to end the inning. Despite the outcome, the Reds felt that the attempt broke an unwritten baseball rule. As Gibson explained in his autobiography, “Stranger to the Game:”

It’s certainly reasonable to operate on the premise that even a seven-run lead is not secure in the first inning, but the Reds didn’t care to see it that way. Even though Brock had been thrown out in the steal attempt, the gauntlet had been dropped.[4]

“A guy who tries to steal with a seven-run lead has to be nuts,” Helms said. “I don’t like to knock Brock for stealing bases. It’s money in his pocket when he leads in steals and who am I to say anything? But our club has pride. We don’t like to be shown up.”[5]

As Gibson continued to mow down the Reds’ hitters, Cincinnati reliever Don Nottebart demonstrated the Reds’ displeasure, first by knocking down Julian Javier, then by hitting Brock with a pitch to lead off the fourth. Gibson probably could have overlooked the knockdown pitch to Javier, but the right-hander couldn’t allow Nottebart to hit Brock without responding. The first batter up in the top of the fifth was Tony Perez, and Gibson’s first pitch buzzed by his head.

This “should have been an indication that I wasn’t trying to hit him,” Gibson wrote. “If a pitcher is trying to hit a batter, the last place he wants to throw the ball is the head because it’s the easiest thing to move. When I wanted to hit somebody, I threw slightly behind him because a batter will instinctively jump backwards when he sees the ball coming toward him. The brushback of Perez was merely a message to lay off Brock.”[6]

Perez, however, didn’t appreciate the message. After he flied out to right field, he confronted Gibson, and when Cepeda stepped between the two, the benches cleared. Even then, Gibson said, things were mild until Cincinnati reliever Bob Lee came onto the scene, shouting, “Where’s Cepeda? Where’s Cepeda? I’m going to punch his f–king lights out!”[7]

In Gibson’s telling, Cepeda then tapped Lee on the shoulder and coldcocked him, though Cepeda and Lee both minimized their part in the altercation to reporters after the game.

“I got between Perez and Gibson and it looked like everything was going to be all right,” Cepeda said. “We Latins used to have a bad name because of fighting and we don’t want any more of it. Perez was settled down, but then this Lee comes running from the bullpen and starts everything. Lee started calling me names. I said fighting is for Cassius Clay.”[8]

Lee, a 6-foot-3, 225-pound right-hander, was the only player ejected from the game.

“I came in from the bullpen because it looked to me as if Cepeda was going to swing at Perez,” he said. “I grabbed Cepeda and shoved him out of the way. I believe the umpires misinterpreted what I did as a swing. I didn’t swing at anybody and nobody hit me. Cepeda took one swing at me. I couldn’t get at him or I would have put his lights out. They held both of us back.”[9]

The brawl ended up spreading all over the field and into the dugouts. Gibson wrote that he ended up in the Reds dugout fighting Rose, Helms, and Perez:

“We were all wrestling around in the dugout, doing very well, thank you – I actually got in some good licks on Rose and Helms – when all of a sudden we looked up and there was Bobby Tolan, one of our young outfielders, on the top step, poised to dive on the pile with a flying leap. He must have been watching too many cowboy movies or something. I yelled, ‘Look out, that fool’s gonna jump on us!’ We moved just as Tolan left his feet and he landed headfirst on the dugout bench.”[10]

The fight was stopped twice before it was finally finished. Cincinnati manager Dave Bristol said the policemen used night sticks in their attempts to restore order, but the police denied this.[11]

Robert Casey, one of the police officers on duty, was taken to the hospital with a dislocated jaw that some of the officers blamed on Bristol, a charge the Cincinnati manager denied,[12] though he admitted that he nearly struck his backup catcher in the melee.

“I drew back to deck a capless guy only to discover it was (Johnny) Edwards,” Bristol said.[13]

Helms said that Gibson bruised his jaw and chipped a tooth, and Rose said Cepeda hit him from behind three times. Nottebart’s face was cut and Bristol ended up with a bruised jaw and a spike wound in his right leg.[14] Rose and Bristol both emerged with their shirts torn.[15]

On the Cardinals’ side, Hal Woodeshick was spiked in the ankle, Tolan was bruised from his interaction with the dugout bench, Javier’s glasses were broken, and pitching coach Billy Muffett had tightness in his neck.

“I’m not surprised about Muffett,” a Reds player said. “We had a headlock on him.”[16]

Gibson, who had a perfect game going prior to the brawl, suffered a jammed right thumb.

“It kept me from gripping the ball right,” he said.[17]

Cincinnati pinch hitter Jake Wood broke up the perfect game with a one-out single in the sixth inning. In the eighth, Art Shamsky hit a leadoff homer. Pavletich singled and scored on a groundout by Vada Pinson, and Floyd Robinson walked and scored on a single by Rose.

Gibson finished the game with 12 strikeouts and two earned runs allowed over 7 2/3 innings. Nelson Briles struck out three of the four batters he faced for his fifth save of the season.

Flood, Maris, McCarver, and Mike Shannon had two hits apiece for the Cardinals, who finished with 13 total hits (not counting those inflicted on the Reds during the brawl).

With the 7-3 win, the Cardinals improved to 46-29 and remained deadlocked with the Cubs atop the National League standings. By the end of the month, the Cardinals pulled ahead for good and had a 10 ½-game lead in the league standings by August 15. They showed more than a little fight in the World Series as well, beating the Boston Red Sox in seven games for the Cardinals’ eighth world championship.


[1] Lou Smith, “Pitch To Perez Triggers Fights,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 4, 1967: Page D1.

[2] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 4D.

[3] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 4D.

[4] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, New York; Penguin Books USA, 133.

[5] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 5D.

[6] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, New York; Penguin Books USA, 133-134.

[7] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, New York; Penguin Books USA, 134.

[8] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 4D.

[9] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Pages 4D-5D.

[10] Bob Gibson and Lonnie Wheeler (1994), Stranger to the Game, New York; Penguin Books USA, 134

[11] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 5D.

[12] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 4D-5D.

[13] Lou Smith, “Brawl Might Prove Boom For Reds,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 5, 1967, Page 39.

[14] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 4D.

[15] Lou Smith, “Pitch To Perez Triggers Fights,” Cincinnati Enquirer, July 4, 1967: Page D1.

[16] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 4D.

[17] Neal Russo, “’Boxing Makes Debut at Busch In Brawl Game,” St. Louis Post-Dispatch, July 5, 1967: Page 4D.

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