On October 16, 1964, during a post-World Series press conference, Cardinals manager Johnny Keane announced that he was resigning. On the same day, the New York Yankees, whom the Cards had just bested in the World Series, fired their manager, Yogi Berra. Four days later, the Yankees hired Keane to replace Berra.
The Yankees had been talking to Keane for some time. Keane’s move to the Yankees may already have been arranged when he resigned, though the club said on that date that four candidates (including Keane and Alvin Dark) were under consideration.
A native of St. Louis, Keane had been in the Cardinals’ organization since 1930, first as a minor league player, then as a minor league manager, next as a big league coach, and finally as St. Louis manager since mid-1961. Only during World War II was Keane not employed by the Cards. Unable to enlist due to a skull fracture sustained playing baseball, he served as a supervisor for a ship building company during the War.
Why, after leading the Cardinals to their first World Series in 18 years, did Keane want out?
The answer lies in management’s treatment during the 1964 season of Keane’s close friend Bing Devine and of Keane himself. With Cardinals seemingly out of the race in August, after having made a strong run at the pennant the previous year, owner Augustus Busch, Jr. asked for and received the resignation of general manager Bing Devine.
With his long-time friend out, the writing seemed to be on the wall for Keane. Rumors swirled that St. Louis was talking to Leo Durocher about managing the Cards in 1965. The rumors were true.
Keane typed a resignation letter and carried it with him, in case Busch asked him to step down. At some point, he also entered into talks with the Yankees’ front office.
Meanwhile, the Cardinals came back from the dead to win the pennant and the World Series. Accordingly, management offered him a new contract with a big raise.
Keane politely rejected it in favor of the Yankees job. He had decided on September 28 that he would, as his resignation letter said, resign “as of the last National League championship game, whether it be the end of the season or at the end of the World Series.”
As one sportswriter said at the time, he thereby struck a blow for working stiffs all over America.
Unfortunately for Keane, the move didn’t work out. Although the Yankees were probably better than the Cardinals in 1964 — and might well have won the World Series had Whitey Ford and Tony Kubek not been injured — they had reached their sell-by date. Ford (age 35), Mickey Mantle (a beat up 32), and Elston Howard (35) were near the end of the line. So was Kubek who would last just one more season due to injuries. Roger Maris, who like Kubek still should have been in his prime, would play in only 46 games in 1965 because of a bad hand.
When the Yankees started poorly in 1965, the clubhouse quickly turned against their new manager. This was not surprising. Yogi Berra, one of their own, had been the subject of sniping and complaints in 1964. For an outsider like Keane, it was much worse.
The Yankees finished 77-85 in 1965. This was 22 games worse than in 1964 under Berra. When the team got off to a 4-16 start in 1966, management put Keane out of his agony.
The California Angels hired him as a special assignment scout. However, in January 1967, Keane died of a heart attack at the age of 55.
Had Keane remained with the Cardinals, he would also have managed a team in decline. Ken Boyer and Dick Groat were 33; Bill White was 30. The pitching staff was in better shape, but Curt Simmons was 35 and ace reliever Barney Schultz 37.
Under Red Schoendienst, the Cards went 80-81 in 1965. But they had something the Yankees lacked — great pitching in the farm system. It included Steve Carlton (age 20) and Nelson Briles (age 22). In addition, though Keane couldn’t know it, the Cardinals’ already established young stars — e.g. Lou Brock, Mike Shannon, and Tim McCarver — had considerably better careers ahead of them than their Yankee counterparts like Tom Tresh, Joe Pepitone, and Jim Bouton.
By 1967, the Cardinals were World Champions again. The Yankees had to wait until 1977.
NOTE: I have modified the second paragraph of this article since first posting it.
UPDATE: Two of my sources for this post seem to be at odds over when Keane wrote his resignation letter. His SABR biography says that Keane “carried a resignation letter with him during the last frantic weeks” of the season. But an AP story from October 17, 1964 quotes Keane as saying he began talking seriously about resigning with his wife on September 18, but didn’t make his final decision until September 28.