The St. Louis Cardinals plan to take the duration of this weekend to celebrate the 40th anniversary of their victory in the 1982 World Series.
Given that the Milwaukee Brewers, their opponents in that series, are also their opponents to open the homestand, the timing is scarcely a surprise. And given the enthusiasm for replica championship rings, bobbleheads, and free jerseys, the marketing tactic is practically self-executing.
There are, of course, more reasons than the most craven to celebrate the championship. Entering the weekend in a razor-thin race with the Brewers for this year’s NL Central crown, perhaps it’s fortuitous to have an opportunity to remind them where they wound up in baseball’s most important measured hierarchy.
It’s an opportunity, too, to celebrate the players from that team who have been lost — Joaquin Andjuar, Bob Forsch, David Green and Darrell Porter, all key cogs for the champion Cardinals, have passed away in the intervening years, Green as recently as this past January. As a huge percentage of their remaining teammates gather to celebrate, it’s a tremendous opportunity for them to be fondly remembered.
In a broader sense, though, the 1982 World Series marks a turning point in the history of the Cardinals from which they moved into being not only a premier, historic franchise, but also one that could be defined in eras that now make up the familiar chapters in franchise history but then could hardly have been anticipated.
Herzog’s arrival in 1980 saw him start as the interim manager, claim the general manager’s office for himself while yielding the dugout to Red Schoendienst, and then seize back both positions before the 1981 season. The 1980 Winter Meetings, with no one in Herzog’s way, would arguably be the most tumultuous and consequential in franchise history.
Famously, ahead of that gathering in Dallas, Herzog told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, “I’m going to be amazing down there! Then, maybe again, I’ll find that I’m not so amazing.”
His first guess turned out to be correct.
Fingers here & gone; Sutter in
On December 8, 1980, Hall of Fame closer Rollie Fingers became a Cardinal in a trade headlined by catcher Terry Kennedy. At the time, rumors ricocheted around the meetings Herzog wasn’t done, seeking to build a two-headed bullpen monster. The next day, Dec. 9, he would succeed; Hall of Famer Bruce Sutter arrived from the Chicago Cubs for Leon Durham and Ken Reitz.
The Cardinals, under Herzog’s guidance, had built a bullpen to rival any modern creation, and formed the foundation for an expected championship run.
Fingers and Sutter would be teammates for three days.
A blockbuster trade with the Brewers on December 12 sent Hall of Fame catcher Ted Simmons — loath to move to first base — to Milwaukee, along with Fingers. Green and lefty Dave LaPoint would become key cogs in St. Louis; outfielder Sixto Lezcano and righty Lary Sorensen would not.
Porter, who signed as a free agent the day before the first Fingers trade, made all the catcher maneuvering necessary, and he would backstop the Cardinals to first place in the National League East in 1981.
Oddity in 1981, trades for McGee & The Wizard
Those division champions would miss the playoffs, owing to a quirk in the qualification rules that accompanied the strike-shortened season. With the year divided into halves, the 59-43-1 Cardinals would finish as the second-best team in both breaks in the calendar, despite an overall record which should have sent them to the NLCS.
Without the excuse of the schedule, but with malcontented Garry Templeton at shortstop, Herzog completed his last foundational trades in the 1981 offseason, shipping Templeton to San Diego in a package for Ozzie Smith and scooping Willie McGee away from the Yankees in a deal for Bob Sykes. The two years of wheeling and dealing were arguably the largest amount of talent churn in such a short period in franchise history, and the dividends paid off immediately.
Without the uniquely frenetic pairing of both off- and on-field style from the Whiteyball Redbirds, it’s unlikely the 40th anniversary of a championship would be celebrated in grand style this weekend. Acknowledging that singular force of change, too, is a whiplash throwback to an era of the game which frankly couldn’t exist in a modern sanitized, corporatized context.
Could 1982 Cardinals exist today? Doubtful
It’s not hard to understand why those in charge prefer the more predictable outcomes which accompany today’s game. It’s also not hard to understand why fans were and are entranced by a style which could perhaps be best described as pounding a beer, throwing stuff at the wall, seeing what sticks, and wiping some of that off just days later.
The conditions which allowed the 1982 championship to change the course of Cardinals baseball are impossible to repeat in a modern setting, but the living memory of those here to celebrate at least allows them to be thoroughly remembered and enjoyed. And while the nicknames may be lacking for these particular St. Louis and Milwaukee squads, the rivalry is perhaps as strong as it’s been in the intervening four decades.
Milwaukee, for their part, did steer into the theme with their own attempted closer shuffle around this year’s deadline. The results, to date, don’t appear nearly as positive.