Illuminations, Epiphanies, & Reflections
The Cardinals endured another odd-decade slump throughout the 1970s, but in 1980, St. Louis hired Whitey Herzog, the former manager of the Kansas City Royals, to turn the team around, and he did.
Herzog had made a name for himself with the Royals by putting together winning teams with speed. effective pitching, sound defense, and patient line-drive hitting. Specifically, Whiteyball concentrated on making plays, stealing bases, using the hit-and-run, hitting to the opposite field, and bunting. When Herzog arrived in St. Louis, he did so not just as the on-field manager but as the general manager as well. He had full control of the team from 1980 to 1982 (when resigned as general manager to devote all of his time to the team's on-field performance), and he used it to build a roster that excelled at his type of baseball. He packed the Cardinals with players like Vince Coleman, David Green, Tommy Herr, Ken Oberkfell, Terry Pendleton, Lonnie Smith, Ozzie Smith, Darrell Porter, and Andy Van Slyke. Cardinal line-ups throughout the decade usually had two or three base-stealing threats at the top of the order followed by a patient power hitter or two, like Jack Clark or Keith Hernandez, followed by more speedsters.
Nobody gave St. Louis much of chance to win its division at the beginning of the year. While Bruce Sutter was the Cardinals' star reliever, the pitching rotation only had two starters of note, Bob Forsch, a former 20-game winner, and the sometimes exceptional and sometimes unstable Joaquin Andujar.
"Questionable pitching and no power," said the experts. And . . . they were correct, but they just weren't used to Whiteyball.
The season started out slow for the Redbirds, but the rang up 12 straight victories in mid-April and settled into first place by playing in typical Herzog style. A July slump dropped them back to second for several weeks, but they moved back into first by early August. They never relinquished the division lead for the rest of the year, primarily because of repeated crucial come-from-behind Whiteyball victories, none of which was more surprising than slow-footed catcher Glen Brummer's steal of home in the bottom of the ninth with two outs and two strikes on David Green. Fittingly, Willie McGee's inside-the-park home run on 27 September, clinched the division title.
The Cardinals faced the self-proclaimed "America's Team," the Atlanta Braves, in the league championship series. Again, they were given short-shrift by most writers against the powerful Braves led by Joe Torre and Dale Murphy. Yet, they dispatched the Braves in three straight games with exceptional defense, speed, clutch hitting, and exceptional relief pitching. The 1982 World Series next pitted Whitey's Boys against Milwaukee's "Harvey Wallbangers," a collection of sluggers named after the Brewers' manager, Harvey Kuenn. Again, they were given little chance against their powerful opponents. And . . . yet again, they employed small ball to capture the World Series Championship for the first time in 15 years in an exciting final Game 7.
Whitey Herzog's Cardinals won the National League pennant two more times--in 1985 and 1987--over the next five years and both teams were considerably better than his 1982 edition, unfortunately both teams lost in seven-game World Series. The Cardinals won 101 games in 1985. They ran wild on the field, stealing over three hundred bases, and played one in one of their most thrilling post-season series ever against the Los Angeles Dodgers.
The final play of Game Six was voted by Cardinal fans as the most exciting play of all time at old Busch Stadium. With two outs and the score tied 2-2 in the bottom of the ninth, Ozzie Smith batted left-handed against the Dodger's star reliever, Tom Niedenfuer. Smith had never homered while batting from the left side, until this at bat, when he golfed a low fast ball over the right field fence for a 3-2 victory. "Go crazy, folks! Go crazy."
Two days later, in Game 6, Niedenfuer again was called in to pitch in relief. After Willie McGee singled and stole second, Lasorda had Niedenfuer issue an intentional pass to Ozzie Smith, no doubt remembering how Game 5 had ended. Jack Clark drilled the next pitch 450 feet deep into the outfield stands and win the pennant for St. Louis.
But 1985 still sticks in the craw of Cardinal fans and will always be remembered as the year American League Umpire Don Deckinger giftwrapped the World Series Championship and presented it to the cross-state Kansas City Royals. Deckinger made one of the worst-ever World Series mistakes by an umpire when he blew a call at first base in the bottom of the ninth inning in Game 6. The Cardinals and their fans were livid. Everyone in the ballpark, in the press box, and watching on television were astonished. Baseball Commissioner Peter Ueberroth personally came to the umpires' locker room following the game to confront Deckinger. When Deckinger feebly protested that he had gotten the call correct, Ueberroth simply stated, "No, you didn't."
Herzog and the Cardinals could not believe that Deckinger would be allowed to continue to umpire in the series, but he was. Not only was he allowed to continue, but he was allowed to serve as the homeplate umpire the following day in Game 7, a decision that Cardinal reliever Todd Worrell compared to throwing a stick of dynamite onto the field. The Cardinals and their fans, who had traveled to Kansas City, rode Deckinger hard from before the first pitch. In response he established a miniscule and moving strike zone for Cardinal pitching and a complete team meltdown ensued. Television cameras showed Herzog screaming at Deckinger from the dugout. John Tudor became a sitting duck on the mound and gave up five runs trying to throw a pitch that Deckinger would call as a strike. When he left the game third inning, Tudor was so frustrated that he cut his hand after punching a electric fan in anger. Joaquin Andujar followed Tudor to the mound and was ejected by Deckinger after charging toward him at home plate following a questionable called ball. After Herzog, too, gave Deckinger a piece of his mind, he followed Andujar to the showers.
While Herzog took the Cardinals to the World Series three times in the 1980s, he also had some very bad teams as well. None was worse then the 1990 squad. The team was in last place on July 7th, and showed no signs of life. Ten of the veteran players had not signed contracts, and Herzog felt they just weren't trying. In a surprise news conference that day, Herzog abruptly told reporters that the team was "so damned bad," and that he was so personally "embarrassed" by the Cardinals poor performance that he had resigned his position the day before. Whiteyball was over in St. Louis.
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