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The St. Louis Team That Needed 5 Straight Wins Got Them — All In One Long Day

Mathews-Dickey Boys' & Girls' Club
The Riverfront Times recently published a deep dive into the Mathews-Dickey Knights' July 4, 1977, quintupleheader. On Monday’s show, we heard from two of the men who were part of that memorable team.

Even one baseball game has plenty of innings — seven, nine, or, if there’s an especially stubbornly tied score, perhaps even 11 or 12 innings. But it all pales in comparison to the 39 innings Tom Sullivan and his teammates completed over the course of a single summer day (and night) in St. Louis 43 years ago.

The Mathews-Dickey Knights’ championship quintupleheader on July 4, 1977, is the subject of a recent Riverfront Times cover story by local journalist Richard Weiss. And for Tom Sullivan, then a 22-year-old outfielder, what happened over the course of that uniquely exhausting day remains vivid in his memory.

“It taught me perseverance and persistence, because you had to will your way through a tremendous amount of heat, exhaustion [and] great athletes that you’re competing against,” said Sullivan, who is now the interim president and CEO of the Mathews-Dickey Boys & Girls Club. “And so being able to just block everything out — tiredness, hunger — and just compete on a high level, that’s a lesson learned for me.”

On Monday’s St. Louis on the Air, host Sarah Fenske looked back on that pivotal 1977 championship with Sullivan and Martin Mathews, the 95-year-old co-founder of the club and himself a St. Louis baseball legend.

Mathews-Dickey Boys' & Girls' Club
Martin Mathews (at left) with co-founder Hubert “Dickey” Ballentine in the club’s early days.

Mathews, who was juggling multiple jobs at the time alongside all the mentoring and baseball, had to leave for a shift as a doorman after the second of the five games that sweltering day. By that point in the tournament, though, he was feeling pretty hopeful about the outcome for his team, even though the drama wouldn’t wrap until 2:30 a.m. on July 5.

“They were determined they were going to win,” he said.

Much was at stake for everyone involved, as Sullivan explained, and not just because of the $1,000 prize.

“These teams come from all over the regions, as far as Tennessee, as far as Chicago, and then some local teams,” Sullivan said. “It was a very illustrious tournament. It filled the public parks in a way that we weren’t used to, where everybody could have a good time on a Fourth of July weekend. And so everybody in our community who looked up to us were there to watch, and we also had to display ourselves the way that we were taught.”

He and Mathews agreed that, while the Knights had many memorable seasons, there was never another year quite like ’77.

That season, and so many others, were also about much more than baseball, for both Mathews and for Sullivan.

Sullivan said his life was never the same after he met Mathews growing up.

“I’m happy about that day when Mr. Mathews walked on a baseball field and hit fungoes with me,” Sullivan said. “Couldn’t have been a better reward for me, just living in this city, than to meet someone as great as Mr. Mathews, who’s given his entire life, along with Hubert ‘Dickey’ Ballentine, to serve children of the community.”

Related Event
What: 60th Anniversary Celebration of the Mathews-Dickey Boys’ & Girls’ Club
When: 6 p.m. Friday, Oct. 16
Where: Virtual event

Learn more about the event and this story on the Before Ferguson Beyond Ferguson website.

Do you have a favorite memory of the Mathews-Dickey Knights from the team’s heyday? Tweet us (@STLonAir), send an email to talk@stlpublicradio.org or share your thoughts via our St. Louis on the Air Facebook group.

St. Louis on the Air” brings you the stories of St. Louis and the people who live, work and create in our region. The show is hosted by Sarah Fenske and produced by Alex Heuer, Emily Woodbury, Evie Hemphill and Lara Hamdan. The audio engineer is Aaron Doerr.

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Evie is a producer for "St. Louis on the Air" at St. Louis Public Radio.

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